We’ve recently written posts about how to pack for trips to cold and medium climates. To round out the advice, this post will be how to pack for packing advice for hot climates. This might seem strange considering it is mid-January, but last year at …
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A few weeks ago, we wrote about packing for cold weather destinations. We thought we’d continue along those lines and write about packing for other climates, so this post will be number two of the series and discuss packing advice for Medium Climates. Medium = …
I know not everyone loves winter or winter travel, but there are so many great winter activities! If you throw a little travel into the mix, you have got yourself one hell of a good time.
You may choose to travel to a particular destination specifically because it is winter and you want to experience their winter fun. Or you may find yourself in a cold-weather climate because it was the more affordable option. Or perhaps you just do not like beaches. Whatever brings you to a colder climate during the winter, you will find unique activities to make the most of your winter travel experience. Below are some suggestions you can (and should) try on your next adventure. In fact, some are an adventure all on their own! I also include some tips for winter fun while on the road.
If you have never downhill skied or snowboarded before, you are going to want to go somewhere that provides lessons. On the bright side, most ski hills provide lessons. For those of you lucky enough to already know what it feels like to swoop down the mountain (preach!), there are endless possibilities to the places you can visit. R and I are lucky enough to live in the western U.S. so finding a decent place to ski is very easy. In fact, we both own season passes to our local ski resort. However, that has not stopped us from enjoying a resort or two in other parts of the world. Vermont’s small, icy hills took us no time at all to get down. Whistler showed us what skiing in May looks like. And Zermatt, Switzerland, made my 30th birthday dreams come true.
Although not as difficult as downhill skiing, cross-country skiing does require some practice before you get the hang of it. (In fact, I am still not sure I have got the hang of it.) A lesson or two would not be remiss for the beginner. If you have done it before, then by all means, rent or bring your skis and hit the trails! I have only cross-country skied in Idaho and Utah, but I would love to cross-country ski in Norway one day. Note: this is a great workout. Be sure to wear layers and pack some water.
I have no desire to play myself, but I love to watch. In fact, it is my favorite sport to watch live. I especially enjoy attending games in smaller towns and communities. The local pride and atmosphere cannot be beat. If you are traveling anywhere in Canada or the northern U.S., check the hockey schedule and hit up a game.
Ice fishing is certainly something we do here in Idaho. However, it is not nearly the religious experience it is in places like Minnesota. If you are spending time there, do bundle up and find a local to take you out on the lake for an hour or two. Although it is not the most exciting of winter travel activities, it is unique and if you catch a fish or two, you may have yourself a tasty dinner.
If you have never cross-country skied, snowshoeing may be a better option. Actually, it is a nice option even if you do ski. The trails are often shared with skiers, so you get to go the same beautiful places, but it is not quite as difficult—there is a much smaller chance of falling. It is also a good work out, but it is a little more low key. I find it easier to focus on the scenery around me when I am snowshoeing as opposed to cross-country skiing. It is also easier to pack snowshoes. When my friend in New York mentioned the possibility of snowshoeing, I did not hesitate to pack mine.
I am not terribly good at ice skating. But I do well enough to get by and have a good time when it is presented to me. My favorite experience was in Vienna, Austria. A friend and I had just arrived in the city one February and were busy acquainting ourselves with what the city had to offer. We had not gone far when we stumbled upon the Vienna Ice World (they transform Vienna Rathausplatz into a huge ice rink with ice paths that wind through City Hall Park). Yes please! We immediately found a place to rent some skates and then spent the next couple of hours gliding around with locals and tourists alike. At one point, it started to snow a little. Magical is really the only word to describe that winter travel experience.
If you are not a skier or snowboarder, many resorts offer tubing or sledding hills. Usually, a machine drags you up the hill in your tube, and then you pick a trail to ride down. It is a lot of fun and because a machine does all of the uphill work, it is not too exhausting. Of course, you can always sled the old-fashioned way by hiking up a hill and then riding your sled or tube back down. You get a great workout doing it this way in addition to having a good time. If you want to find the best place to go sledding, be sure to ask a local.
This is not something I have had the opportunity to experience just yet. However, I am looking forward to checking it off my bucket list one day—preferably in Finland. Regardless of where you experience dog sledding, it will be an experience you will not soon forget. And it is one not many people can say they have tried.
In Idaho, for whatever reason, we call snowmobiling sledding (e.g. let’s take the sleds out, what kind of sled do you ride, my sled got stuck on a cornice, etc.). I also know some folks that call it snow machining. Regardless of the name you use for snowmobiling, it is fun. Like, a lot of fun. It is a lot like riding a jet ski, but with more power and without the risk of drowning (although you could hit a tree). Renting one is usually pretty easy. Or find some locals and see if they will let you tag along. Just do not try to high mark on your first voyage.
(Note: if you really want to try something fun and you have ridden snowmobiles before, rent a snowbike instead.)
Only once have I seen a curling competition. We arrived in our beloved Stanley, Idaho, one winter night and to our surprise, there was a curling competition going on. I will not lie, it was cold! And I had no idea what was going on. But it was a lot of fun and I would definitely go to another competition—especially if I was in Scotland. I also would not mind trying it myself, provided there were no people milling about that I might accidentally hit.
I have yet to attend a winter festival I did not like. I mentioned the Vienna Ice World earlier and soon R and I will be experiencing the Christmas markets in Belgium (so excited!). Some are more grand and some are more small town. Regardless, they make a lovely addition to winter travel. Here in Idaho, the McCall Winter Festival features snow sculptures, nighttime parades and snowbike races. It is a good time for all.
Hot Springs and Hot Tubs
My favorite time to sit in a hot springs or hot tub (known as a hot pot in Iceland), is when it is cold outside. I especially enjoy it if there is snow all around me. Yes, getting in and out is not much fun. But the actual soak is delightful and well worth the frantic time it takes to get in and out of the hot water. And nothing feels better after a day on the slopes than a nice soak in hot springs or hot tub.
There is a place in Stanley, Idaho, where guests can enjoy a natural hot springs with a view that is out of this world. You have to trek through the snow for a hundred yards or so, but the experience is so worth it. It is one of my favorite places in the whole world, especially during the winter.
Visiting hot springs and pools in other countries is especially fun winter travel. The Blue Lagoon in Iceland had been on my bucket list for years. When I finally got to experience it, it did not disappoint at all. One thing I found very entertaining was sitting in that warm blue water while the lifeguards walked around in parkas.
Tips for winter travel:
- Dress warm. There is no faster way to ruin a good time than being cold and wet. If you pack, borrow or rent the right clothes, you will not have to sacrifice a minute of your fun.
- Consider renting. In my experience, it has always been cheaper and more convenient to rent skis than to check my own onto the airplane. This may not be the case if you are planning on skiing every day of a two-week vacation. Snowshoes, skis, poles, even snow pants, can all usually be rented for a fee that makes it not worth carrying them around.
- Plan around your daylight hours. Winter means more than cold and snow, it also means shorter days. And although night skiing can be fun, if that was not part of your plan, you may be just a bit disappointed. Check your schedule and plan accordingly.
- Take breaks. Hot chocolate does wonders when it comes to increasing your core body temperature. Plus, visiting various cafes and lodges is fun!
Winter is a wonderful time to travel—especially to cold-weather climates. It usually requires a bit more gear and a lot more clothes, but the experiences are one of kind and something you will not soon forget.
This week we are excited to have a guest author, my friend from grad school, Genevieve Brown. Like us, Genevieve enjoys traveling. Unlike us, she sometimes travels with a side of volunteering. We asked her to tell us a little bit more about volunteering abroad, …
One of the biggest impediments to travel is cost. Even though B and I have talked about how we don’t spend as much as you would think on our trips, travel still costs more money than staying at home. One way to keep travel costs down is to take advantage of points and mileage that various credit card companies offer when you get one of their cards. We are not experts, but this post will talk about a few of the travel credit cards that we have and offer some advice on booking travel with rewards points. And if you are looking to save some money, we wrote a post with 10 suggestions for how to save money while traveling.
How this Works
To get people to sign up for credit cards (and make money off of them through interest on balances, greedy grubbers), credit card companies offer ‘bonus’ rewards. When you are approved for a card and spend a set amount during a time period, typically $3,000 or $4,000 during three months, the credit card company will release the promised bonus. These bonuses can be an excellent way to earn miles/points for future travel. The bonus amount varies from company to company and a few times during the year, one or two cards will offer a ridiculous amount of rewards.
The catch from these bonus rewards (apart from the risk of running up a debt on your credit card) is that some cards come with annual fees, which are usually waived the first year. Once you have your bonus rewards, some companies allow you to redeem them easier than others. Highly disciplined credit card users will sign up for the cards, receive the bonuses and then cancel the cards before they are required to pay the annual fee. This can be a lucrative strategy, but might not work all of the time if the credit card companies catch on. I know one person with excellent credit who was denied one of the cards below because he had opened and closed too many credit cards within the previous year.
What Cards we Have and Can Recommend
*Credit Cards particulars can change. The following is what is current when this post was written.
Delta Skymiles American Express
Delta offers some of the biggest rewards when it comes to new card member bonuses. I currently have the Platinum version of this card and when I opened it, I received 60,000 SkyMiles.
- 60,000 SkyMiles is a hefty amount. In past years, I frequently flew to Seattle from Boise and was able to use my SkyMiles on Delta’s partner Alaska Airlines (they have since dissolved this option) and a round trip ticket would be between 10,000-12,500 miles.
- When you fly Delta, you will get to board in Zone 1, which always makes me feel cool and slightly superior to the poor suckers in Zone 5.
- You can check a bag for free. We all know how annoying it is to pay for checking a bag, but to be honest, I’ve only taken advantage of this a few times. Most international flights allow you to check for free and I typically carry on domestic flights.
- Each year (AFTER, the first year) cardholders get a companion certificate fare, so you book a flight and your buddy (B, where you at?) gets to fly with.
- The annual fee is a $195. This is on the higher end and you only get the companion fare after you’ve paid the annual fee for two years. So if you can make sure your first companion fare is over $400 and subsequent are over $200, this card is worth the cost.
Chase Reserve Visa
This card makes me feel like a baller. It is thick metal and just feels so good to hold in my hand. I was also approved for a high credit limit, which I thought was high until the bank lady told me that was one of the lower ones she’d seen with this card. Oh. Anyway, Chase was having a crazy promotion for this card and I received 100,000 miles for applying.
- 100,000 miles is a lot of miles. And if you use them on travel, you get 50% more miles. So basically, I earned $1,500 in free travel just by applying for this card.
- $300 travel reimbursement annually. This means my first $300 dollars I spend on travel (e.g. airplane tickets, hotels, rental cars, etc.), magically disappears from my credit card bill.
- Free Global Entry. B and I already have this and paid the $85 for it. However, if I still have my card in three years when my Global Entry expires, this card will reimburse that charge.
- Priority Access Lounge Membership. Along with this card, you get a membership to the Priority Access Card. This means when you are at airports with lounges that are members with Priority Access, you and one guest get to go to that lounge for free. I hadn’t really been to an airport lounge before I got this card, but I gotta tell you, I LOVE doing it now. Lounges have free WiFi and free food and sometimes private bathrooms. It’s awesome. And some airports have restaurants that are members. For example, when I was flying through the Denver airport last month, I flashed my card at a restaurant and got free breakfast, up to $27. Sweet, right?
- 3X points on travel purchases. I actually forgot about this until I was researching for this post. This means that I should be using this card on all travel purchases because 3X the points is better than I get with my other cards.
- The annual fee for this card is as heavy as the card is: $450. But before you balk at that, you can automatically subtract $300 because I burn through that in travel in the first few months out of the year.
B has this card. It seems pretty similar to the Delta card with airline specific perks. She received 60,000 miles bonus for signing on.
- That’s a good amount of miles for signing on. We are currently planning our next international trip and it would cover B’s entire flight—from Boise. That’s crazy talk.
- Priority boarding.
- Free checked bag on domestic flights.
- 2X miles purchased on United.com.
- Two free airline lounge passes per year. If you were to just pay for a lounge pass, it would be about $30-ish dollars to get in, depending on the airport.
No foreign transaction fees. This came in real handy in both Australia and the Azores.
- Exclusive offers. While searching for airfare recently, B found some really good deals on flights that were “exclusive for card members.”
- The annual membership is $95. If you checked your bags four times, this would cover this annual membership.
So you have your card, now what do you do with all of those points? You know that phrase, the more you put into something, the more you get out of it? Well, that’s true with miles and points. If you do a lot of digging and research, you can really get a lot out of your points. I’m usually not that patient/dedicated, so I use the easy way and probably don’t get as much out of them as I could–but still plenty to make this whole thing worth it to me.
How to use the rewards
To book with miles using your miles, you can go to the specific airline’s website and select ‘Miles’ or ‘Rewards’ on your flight search. The results pop up with how many miles you need to spend and then you just reserve the flight like you would normally do, selecting the flight and putting in all of your info.
To book with points, you go to the credit card’s travel website and search for travel just like you would on Expedia or the like. The results will tell you how many points you are using; on Chase’s site, you can actually slide a little scale and it shows you a combination of points/dollars it would take to book that travel.
You can do it!
It used to be more challenging to book rewards travel, but it is actually pretty easy these days. I’m sure some of the flights don’t show up, but my experience has been pretty positive when I have used my points and miles. And the idea of booking travel for free makes the whole process that much more exciting.
Maximizing Your Rewards
There are several websites dedicated to ways people can travel for free. I like NerdWallet to do a comparison of credit card benefits. ThePointsGuy is all about using your points in the most beneficial way (think booking flights using your miles with airline’s partner websites). B went to a whole class that taught people how to use credit card points to travel for free. Really, if you want to put a lot of time into it, there are lots of opportunities to make the most of your rewards.
Travel is awesome. Traveling for free is even more awesome. As long as you are smart about it and logically weigh the costs/benefits for credit card offers, you can save a lot of money booking travel using rewards.
Update: after writing this post B and I both cashed in 60K miles (she on United and me on Delta) for a trip next year. A similar trip from Boise would have cost us around $1,000 each.
Unless you have been hiding out in the mountains away from civilization, you will have heard that August 21, 2017, is the day of the Great American Eclipse. The ‘Path of Totality’ or ‘POT” starts on the Oregon Coast and stretches its way through the continental United States before exiting on the Georgia Coast. All of the states in the Path of Totality will have a prime-time view of a very cool astronomical event (weather permitting). There has been enormous hoopla in every state we have been in recently that has been on the POT (Idaho, Kansas, Missouri) so deduction tells us this event is a BDD for lots of Americans.
What it is
If you are like me, and solar systems never really interested you, then you might be feeling a little left out because you don’t really understand what all this eclipse stuff means. Have no fear, I can help you out. A few weeks ago I attended a class at the library taught by a director of a local university’s planetarium. She was nice enough to dumb down the science behind the eclipse so even I could understand it. I’m happy to share what I learned with you.
(Disclaimer, if you are really educated in this area, my explanations are probably going to drive you crazy. Forgive me if I describe things in a way that makes it easiest for me to understand. I’m sure you can find lots of articles online written by actual scientists that do a much better job.)
The director lady began her lecture by having a little boy sit on a stool next to a table with a lamp on it. The boy’s head represented the earth, the lamp the sun, and a little styrofoam ball was the moon. As the ball orbited the head, the moon makes one revolution around the earth in ~29 days. While it is circling the earth, it spins in one circle.
Man in the Moon?
At this point in the lecture my mind was already blown. I’ve heard the term, ‘the man in the moon,’ but I never knew what it meant. Well, you’ve probably noticed that when you look at the moon there are some dark spots. If you squint your eyes and use your imagination, these spots can look roughly like a face. So, because the moon spins in one circle as it makes its one orbit of the earth, the spots are always facing the earth, and the man in the moon is always looking at you. Crazy town, right? Like I said, mind blown.
(If you can’t picture this, you might want to try it out for yourself. Put an orange on the table and draw a circular path with a cherry around it. If you cut a face in the cherry you’ll see it is always facing the orange.)
What Makes a Total Solar Eclipse?
With this first little nugget of wisdom, the director lady moved on to the eclipse. I learned my first fact: total solar eclipses happen in the same area about once every 400 years. However, eclipses are not terribly rare and if you become an eclipse chaser (yes, that’s a thing), you can see a few a year. Caveat: not all solar eclipses are total, see below. Because the Great American Eclipse is going to be a total solar eclipse, we will just talk about that kind. For a total solar eclipse to happen, four things need to take place.
You need to be on the side of earth that is closest to the sun. Seems basic, right? If the sun is facing India and you are in Idaho, you probably aren’t going to see much of anything. It’s gonna be dark outside.
It needs to be a new moon in the lunar cycle. This means the opposite of a full moon. You won’t see any part of the moon because it is between the earth and the sun. Imagine the man in the moon’s back is facing the sun. Like when you stand with your back to a campfire and your bum gets all roasty-toasty but your nose is cold; the Moon Man’s back will be warm and toasty but what’s facing the earth will be shaded.
This one gets a little tricky, but the moon’s orbit needs to be directly between you, on the earth, and the sun. Picture the earth, moon and sun with a straight line going through the middle of them, like a skewer on a tasty shish kebab. This doesn’t happen all of the time because the moon’s orbit pattern is a bit wonky and doesn’t just stick to the fattest part of the earth. Add that the earth does its own funky spin and you get a bit of a skewed circle, sometimes it is higher and sometimes it is lower. You get the possibility of a solar eclipse when it is lined up just right.
The moon needs to be closest to the earth. As you are picturing the drunken sailor routine of the moon’s orbit, now imagine it as if you were looking at the orbit from above. Instead of looking like a perfect circle, the orbit is actually a little squished so it is closer to the earth in some areas and further in some areas. Have you ever put one hand on one side of a hula hoop and the other hand on the other side and squeezed your hands together? The hoop isn’t a perfect circle anymore, it is more of an ellipse. So, in order for the solar eclipse to be total, the moon needs to be in the squished in part of the hula hoop. (Very scientific, yes, I know.)
If the moon is further away from the earth during a solar eclipse, there will be a small ring around the moon where you can still see the sun peeking around it, kind of like if you bite a peanut m&m in half, you would see the chocolate ring outside of the peanut. In a total solar eclipse, the moon appears larger than the sun so no part of the sun can peek out once it reaches totality.
What about the POT?
The sun will be hidden for different amounts of time, depending on where you are on the POT. Right smack dab in the middle of the path, the sun will be covered up for about two minutes. Just think about that: all this excitement for two measly minutes. In Idaho, we have all been taking this eclipse very seriously and have spent loads of time (way more than two minutes) planning for the event. Roads are going to be shut down, portapotties placed along the freeways, and all first responders will be ready and waiting to help if people crash their cars into each other while staring at the sky.
What Should I do to Experience a Total Solar Eclipse?
We’ve been given some tips about how to stay safe. If you want to join the throngs and see the Great American Eclipse, you might look into the following:
- Make sure you have enough food and water before the eclipse weekend, because out-of-towners are expected to flood the towns on the POT and buy everything off the shelves.
- Fill up your car with gas and maybe get a spare gas can or two.
- Throw a sleeping bag in your car, just in case you get stranded driving to or fro.
- Buy yourself some groovy eclipse glasses. Apparently,looking directly at the sun for prolonged periods of time will burn up your retina. This is not something I’m willing to burn, even just a little bit, so I will be rocking my shades.
I am planning on braving the POT, so you know I will have done all of these things. I sincerely hope the hype around the eclipse is just that, hype (hello, Y2K).
P.S. you’ll still might be able to see a cool eclipse even if you are outside the POT. It just won’t be total.
P.P.S. did you know there will be a Great American Eclipse 2.0 in a few years? If you miss your chance this year, you only have to wait until 2024 to see the next one streak across the U.S.
P.P.P.S. (last one, I promise) if you think my explanations are rubbish, here is a cool video that explains what the total solar eclipse is all about.
I am currently in Kansas City for a week. The reason: work. Now, packing for business travel is very different than packing for a personal trip. In general, it requires more clothes. Luckily, I work for a very casual company and the dress code is …