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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2022 Resolutions

Welp, it has been a weird, disappointing, exciting, and interesting year, but we made it and this house is happy and healthy, so I guess we're doing something right. Not everything is great, but we do what we can with what we have to work with. We welcomed a new baby to the family, while also saying goodbye to our furry little girl. We started to get back to normal, realized we couldn't, and now we're trying again. 

I'm looking forward to what 2022 has in store for us all. Here's to brighter days with more travel and more fun with friends.

So, what do you think 2022 has in store for us? I don't love making resolutions, because they rarely turn out, but travel ones are usually pretty safe. Well, for me, it means more travel (I'm carrying that over from 2020), and getting back on a plane. In fact, I'll be on one in just a week, which is scary and exciting all at once. This last year we were able to squeeze in two short road trips, and if all goes as planned, this year will see me doing a few short trips and a few longer ones. 

I have tickets to Tucson in January, Las Vegas in February, we'll see about July, and we have tickets on a new airline (Play) to Paris in September. I'm hoping to get a few more quick trips in there somewhere, but we'll play those by ear. 

I'm going to continue doing our Destination Date Nights, even though these last few months saw me slacking. This season is always busy for me with birthdays and family things. These are what I had planned for the first half of last year, which I made pretty good progress on:

In 2021 we also got to:
Oops! I guess I didn't get to as many as I hoped. I tried! One a month was pretty good though. So, upcoming, we do have Australia. I've also sourced a new background company for ones I need to have customized, which will make these a little easier to get to:
  • Iceland
  • Moscow
  • African safari
  • Toronto (Canada Day)
  • New York City
  • Boston
  • Prague
  • Portugal
  • Germany (Oktoberfest)
  • Auckland
And we'll see where we go from there, unless you have some specific suggestions for me. 

Everyone on my friends list is vaccinated now and either boosted or will be boosted (or boosted again), so I'm hoping we'll also get to do in-person gatherings of more than a handful of us and we'll get back to Harry Potter parties and birthday blowouts and all those fun things. We both had pretty low-key birthdays this year, which was fine. We spent quality time with our loved ones. I'm hoping to do that and also party hard with friends this year.

So, here's what I know I'll also be looking forward to in the coming year, because I'm not trying to make any resolutions beyond travel ones:
  • Learn French (I said I might do this last year, but I have an actual goal this year, so it's going to happen as best as it can.) We now have a lifetime subscription to Babbel now and I've been binging Emily In Paris on Netflix.
  • I'll still be doing Zoom brunches with friends, but also a few in-person ones, too. 
  • We'll be eating out more in restaurants that make it safe to do so. Portland has a running list of establishments that require a negative Covid test or vaccination proof to dine inside, and we've been making use of that.
  • Keep striving to be as smart as possible and not get Covid! I will continue wearing my masks, washing/sanitizing my hands often, social distancing where I can with strangers, and enjoy outside things like street art and gardens.
  • Being kind to strangers, because everyone's still having a rough go of it out there.
I'm looking forward to what 2022 has in store for us all. Here's to brighter days with more travel and more fun with friends...and more food that we don't have to cook ourselves or eat inside our own house.

What are your resolutions or hopes for the new year? Any travel plans?

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Happy Holidays to You & Yours

I'm spending the holiday with my family, so I just thought I'd bring you a few pics of people out ice skating at our local mall and their decor.

I'm spending the holiday with my family, so I just thought I'd bring you a few pics of people out ice skating at our local mall.

Have a great weekend and you'll have a new post on Wed. My last post of 2021! I really can't believe it's already been another year. 

What are some of your hopes for 2022?

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

5 Last-Minute Holiday Travel Gifts

I can't believe this month is almost over. I have talked to a lot of people who still aren't done with their shopping. If this is you and you still can't figure out what to get for that traveler on your list, or you just got paid, so haven't been able to shop until now, I have some great last-minute ideas for you. They're also perfect if you're traveling to visit people and need to save room in your carry-on.

I have talked to a lot of people who still aren't done with their shopping. If this is you, I have some great last-minute ideas for you.

Airline miles

If you know what your recipient's favorite airline is, you can gift them miles to let them fly for free or more cheaply on their next trip. Right now, lots of airlines have deals going, like Alaska, who right now has 40-50% bonus miles on purchases, depending on the number of miles you buy. 

Southwest Airlines just has a straight-up buy or gift page, no special deals at the moment, but I know a lot of budget travelers who strictly fly them, so your money may go further. 

Language classes

Right now, you can give Babbel as a gift to someone at up to 60% off. They have online classes, tutorials, an app, and more, all included in a monthly subscription. Get a 6- or 12-month subscription for 50% off, or a lifetime subscription for 60% off. A lifetime, guys! They can learn 14 different languages, and if more are added in the future, they can learn those, too! We just booked a trip to Paris for September, so I might even get this for myself!

Go City attractions pass

Get them the gift of sightseeing and attractions for their next or favorite city with Go City. I've used their passes many times and they save so much money, but they also make amazing and thoughtful gifts. They can see and do more for your dollars than if activities were purchased separately. In fact, many times you can save up to 40% off by rolling it all into this one pass. Choose from 29 cities worldwide or get them a gift of London Pass, Paris Pass, or Dublin Pass. They may even get special discounts for other things in the city, like transportation and restaurants. I love it and so will they!

Staycation box

Gift the traveler in your life a subscription box to Try the World. They'll get a box full of gourmet foods, drinks and snacks from a country and learn all about the flavors of the destination. Each box also features recipe cards and stories, plus the products inside are all curated specially from small, family-owned companies who use traditional methods to give you (or your giftee) an authentic experience. 

Right now, your gift counts for double, because with any box you buy or gift, you'll get a second box free. As always, the more you purchase up front, the cheaper each box will end up being. Choose from 1-month, 3-month, 6-month or 12-month subscriptions. This deal is only for the food box, but if you're looking for a more frugal option, snack boxes are also available.


I'm a big fan of experiences over stuff. It creates lasting memories and you can include everyone in them if you want. We've purchased experiences for our entire family to participate in before and it was a big hit. Check out daily deal sites like Groupon, Goldstar, and Living Social for things you can do or gift to others. I am also a big fan of city scavenger hunts. Check out Urban Adventure Quest for deals on small groups, couples, and big groups. You play on your phone, so it's super easy to follow along while you're out there, and it's Covid-friendly!

I hope this helps with your last-minute gift scramble. You can probably still get many things on my regular gift list in time for Christmas from Amazon. Have a wonderful holiday, and if you don't celebrate Christmas, or your holidays are already over, have a great weekend!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links that may result in me being monetarily compensated if you make purchases through them. Thanks in advance, as it allows me to keep this blog running. 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Winter Long Weekends & Microcations

On average, Americans get two weeks of vacation time and most only take a portion of that, and some don’t take any at all. First of all, that time is owed to you, so you need to take it, especially if you don’t want to burn out. We all need time to recharge, but we don’t always have the time to take a full two weeks, or even one. I love a long vacation, but then knowing I spent all my vacation time in one go is a big bummer. No more recharging for me, right?

More and more people are taking long weekend trips (3-4 days) and microcations  in order to get away. It can be good for your health and sanity.

Well, more and more people are taking long weekend trips (3-4 days) and microcations (average 4 days) in order to get away. It’s known that getting away, even for this short amount of time can be good for your health and sanity. We all want that, don’t we? Even a short getaway is better than no getaway, and it really helps us feel better about ourselves and relax, plus it makes your vacation days last longer if you aren’t using them all at once, and you can look forward to more than one trip per year.

Imagine taking 3-4 mini vacations a year rather than one big one. The daunting idea of coming to a humongous pile of work waiting for you becomes a more manageable little pile of work that doesn’t make you long to go back on vacation and never come back. You don’t feel guilty taking 1 or 2 days off a work week and hotels are even cheaper Sunday-Thursday nights, so you’re saving money too!

So, where should you go?

Here are some perfect budget destinations for Winter, which gives you some time to plan, pack, and book:

Las Vegas: Three days is the perfect visit to Sin City, especially if you don’t leave The Strip. If you do, you can easily find lots of free and cheap ideas to fill your time. You don’t even need to gamble.

Catalina Island, CA: Maybe you don’t have time to fly to the Bahamas (which is also a great winter destination), but you can get a bit of that feel with lovely California weather.

Panama: Got time to get out of the country, but not that much time? Hit up Panama where you can swim, snorkel, see some historical sites, explore the rainforest, go sailing. You name it, you can find it there.

Puerto Rico: Technically, still in the U.S., plus there’s great weather and white beaches and it’s practically empty during this time of year.

Montego Bay, Jamaica: While the flights aren’t super cheap, the hotel rates are, so if you find a great rate on airfare, this is the perfect winter getaway.

Spain: Take yourself for a short trip to Europe, where the weather is awesome, the exchange rates are great, and you can spend your days sipping drinks on the beach, admiring historical buildings and eating your weight it delicious tapas.

So, now you know where you're going and since you won't be there that long, you don't have to take that much either. That means your budget trip just go more budget-friendly. Need help with your packing list? Check out my post here or see my IG post above. I'll be posting another packing post soon, with how I'm packing for 4 days in Arizona - for 2 people - in a small carry-on and a tote for the plane. 

You'll still want to check out the travel advisories and restrictions for trips out of the country and think about getting travel insurance or what you might do if you get sick while away from home. Or you can start planning for next winter when we'll undoubtedly be able to travel more freely. If you do plan to travel now, please consider getting vaccinated (if you haven't already) and boostered. I want everyone to be as safe as possible for themselves and everyone around them. 

What are your favorite winter destinations?

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The 2021 (Mostly Virtual) Yule Ball

With Covid still rearing its ugly head in the form of new variants and people still being irresponsible, this year PDXpelliarmus, a chapter of Fandom Forward (formerly Harry Potter Alliance) decided to keep everyone safe and go virtual for a second year for our annual Yule Ball. Last year's was a big success and this year we did it up even bigger, with workshops and book discussions, a tea party, and a pop-up dance party.

This year PDXpelliarmus, a chapter of Fandom Forward (formerly Harry Potter Alliance) decided to go virtual for a 2nd year for our annual Yule Ball.
This dress has a cape!

If you've missed my previous Yull Ball posts, check out 2019's pictures, 2018's, and 2017's. This is always a great event that raises a large amount of money for charity. This year we raised money for Color Outside the Lines, a non-profit that brings art and other creative activities to foster kids. While Fandom Forward has decided to become more inclusive of other fandoms, our chapter - PDXpelliarmus - has tried to focus on Harry Potter, the fandom that brought us all together, and continue spreading the good message that we, the fans, are book 8 and the fandom belongs to us. We don't condone The Author Who Must Not Be Named's views on trans rights, because trans rights are human rights. Also, imagine how much better Harry's life would have been with art and music in the years before he went to Hogwarts.

I wanted to really bring in the Yule Ball feel with the silvers, whites, and blues. I ordered a customized backdrop through Zazzle, which I think I will do in the future for any other ones I want, because it was exactly what I wanted, including the larger size, and was faster than the others I've ordered, even from American sellers. I combined a few different kinds of glass pieces with twinkle lights to simulate the castle ice sculptures. I also got a clear glass owl to look like ice from a seller on Etsy. Unfortunately, it came in many pieces, but I put it back together with hot glue. I figured I only needed it for this anyway and it wouldn't be noticeable. 

I added some silver and white picks to a pot of herbs and also hung silver sparkly pine cones from my light fixture instead of the more traditional floating candles. A friend sent me a light-up Hogwarts, my tiered tea server is white and silver, and I have several silver tablecloths from when I did a Yule Ball birthday party. I also purchased these super cute Madam Puddifoot plates from Litjoy Crate. Unfortunately, they are sold out, but I highly recommend buying any of their magical goods. 

Here's the finished set-up, with a tea service from a local patisserie. We weren't able to work with any bakeries or tea shops to create a menu for us like we have in the past, because everyone is stretched thin and stressed out this year, and we completely understand. For this reason, I created a DIY feast menu for folx, if they wanted to really do Yule Ball up right at home. It links to recipes I've used in the past for my own Harry Potter parties. (Eric was the Hufflepuff House ghost, for those of you wondering.)

On Saturday night, our resident DJ, DJ Switch, spun us some nerdy tunes and we all had a dance party in our own homes over Zoom.  This is always a great time and I can't wait for next year when we're back in person.

That said, we did have a pop-up dance party on Sunday night to end our awesome weekend. It was very small, but that didn't make it any less fun. It was very cold and rainy, but we had hot Butterbeer, excellent music, and we danced our hearts out to keep warm and enjoy being with other people. We even had this awesome little cauldron tree. 

So, that was another part of my birthday weekend that I wanted to share with you. I hope you enjoyed it. I also hope you're all having a great December and holiday season. 

How are you celebrating the end of 2021?

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Immersing Ourselves in Van Gogh

It's my birthday weekend! As part of my gift, we went to see the Beyond Van Gogh exhibit and a friend joined us. If you are even a little interested in art, this is a must-see. The exhibit puts you right into the artwork and shows you a different way to experience it. 

We went to see the Beyond Van Gogh exhibit and a friend joined us. If you are even a little interested in art, this is a must-see.

I thought I'd bring you a little bit of this exhibit, because Eric thought it was going to be something completely different than it was, but he still had a great time.

Gotta take advantage of a photo op! 

You start your visit with a trip through Vincent's life that includes excerpts from letters to his brother and friends. 

Once you have gotten through that part, you find yourself in a room that comes to life with colors and shapes and at one point a self-portrait of Van Gogh. I didn't get my camera in time to get it full on the wall, but here he is, sliding down the wall.

Don't be afraid like others to spend more or less time in here. It's a small space and at one point I saw people looking at each other like "should we leave?" Because what you really want to see is in the next room anyway.

Floor-to-ceiling screens along the walls and in the middle of the room, projecting Van Gogh's works 15 feet high. 

You're taken through his art pieces as he went through life and the transitions are simply amazing. It's artwork in itself, especially the one that gets you to Starry Night.

Take time to really view his self portraits. You'll see moving backgrounds, smoke curling out of pipes, blinking eyes, and more. 

Don't worry about where to stand once you're inside, because wherever you are, you'll be able to see everything, as long as you're willing to look around. That doesn't mean that roaming is discouraged. In fact, we had several small children in the room while we were there and I thought this was great. Traditional museums can be stuffy and boring, but this exhibit wasn't quiet or uninteresting and I can just imagine the memories of running through Van Gogh they'll have later.

You won't be surprised to find that there's also a gift shop at the end, where you can buy lenticular prints and magnets, 3D pop-up flowers, regular prints, shirts, patches, and more. I loved these large reproduction paintings. 

This was a great birthday activity and I hope they do this with more artists. It's beautiful and a great alternative to a regular museum. I think it's a great way to get people more interested in art. This is also why I love street art. 

The exhibit will take you about an hour to complete, from entry to reading to a full rotation of the art and life of Vincent in the main hall. Of course, you're welcome to stay as long as you want. Your visit is only limited by your timed ticket. This also makes a great gift if it's coming to your (or your recipient's) town.

Have you ever been to an interactive or immersive art experience?

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Keeping Your Kids Occupied While Traveling

Whether you have to take a 12-hour flight, use a cross-country railway service or step aboard an ocean-going ship, traveling with your kids is never easy. There are so many different risks and dangers that you need to be aware of, including the risk of severe boredom, and it's your responsibility as a parent to reduce the likelihood of these events or scenarios from taking place.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Figuring out how to keep your children occupied and comfortable during long travel doesn't actually have to be as difficult as you might expect, as you'll soon begin to enjoy your journey when you don't have to chase after chaotic little ones that have endless energy and enthusiasm. So, if you want to learn more about how you can keep your kids occupied and happy while traveling, then read on to uncover a variety of tips and tricks that you can utilize now!

Explain In Detail

First and foremost, you must explain to your children that you are all heading off on a vacation or trip, and that you all must travel as a result of your need to visit a different location. Explain to them that you will be unable to have fun in a different country without going on a plane, train or ship, as you need to be able to cover a lot of ground and travel many miles to reach your destination. If they have a better understanding of why you need to take part in such traveling, then they will be far more patient and accepting of the whole process. Being aware of what's going to happen will make it far easier for them to manage, and they can even begin to plan their own methods to keep themselves occupied if you make such a suggestion. Not knowing why you're leaving your friends and home can be a really scary process for children, especially if it's their first vacation or they're never experienced a plane or ship before. 

Puzzles, Books & More 

One of the best ways to keep your children occupied during lengthy travel is by investing in a host of different puzzles, books and board or card games that you don't need to plug in or charge. Having access to arts and crafts equipment or fun learning opportunities through word searches and color-by-number books will no doubt reduce your stress levels when traveling as a family, as your little ones will be as silent as a mouse filling in their puzzles or letting their creative juices flow. Bringing a few books along that they can really get stuck into is a brilliant way to pass the time, as you can get sucked into a good book for hours on end - by which point you may have reached your destination! Keeping their minds active and encouraging them to learn at every opportunity will even benefit your children's long term development, so it's a win-win situation. Don't worry if you forget to bring your puzzles and books, as most train stations and airports have stores that stock these items to help you to stay sane during your travels! 

Stock Up On Tech Entertainment

In recent years the sheer volume of different tech based entertainment options has reached dramatic levels, as there are hundreds of thousands of different devices, apps and websites that you can explore to keep yourself and your children occupied. Whether you choose to invest in a tablet that can be used to download countless different games, a smartphone that can be used to speak with friends and family, or even a dedicated children's electronic education device that includes activities like spelling and mathematics, you're bound to keep your little ones out of trouble.

Don't forget to use something like Family Orbit - parental monitoring app to stop your kids from accessing unsafe sites. Be sure to protect your tech whenever you're traveling, as accidentally dropping, smashing or losing your device could see you lose a huge amount of money (and send your kids into a manic panic). Get the best insurance package that you can find to make sure you will be reimbursed if anything happens to your family's tech when you are on the move. 

Keeping your kids occupied while traveling has never been such a simple task when you can take the time to make the most of some of the brilliant tips, tricks and ideas that have been carefully detailed above. There's no time like the present to prepare your entertainment kit, so what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy your family vacation with your little ones now! 

How To Survive A Long-Haul Flight

You just spent a ton of money on an awesome trip that you're super excited about, but first, you have to get there. I find that the flight isn't the worst part of your trip, like a lot of you think. Yes, it can be awful, but if you have the right things with you, then you can make your flight fly by and even get some good sleep. 

Long-haul flights can be hard, but if  you have the right things with you, then you can make your flight fly by and even get some good sleep.

Jet lag is awful and it's hard to deal with life when you just want to lay down and sleep wherever you are. So, here are my best tips for making your flight bearable, even if you're in economy.

Get a really good travel pillow
I have had a lot of travel pillows. Most are made the same and don't really offer any support, meaning you wake up with a terrible neck ache and possibly a hurting back. Eric and I both have a FaceCradle, which some people have told me they don't like, but we love, so find something that works for you. I like the FaceCradle, because you can lean forward into it and it allows me to sleep like I would at home. It's also good for people who are tall or who slouch in their seat. It eliminates the strain on your neck and back, though I do like to put an airplane pillow or my jacket behind me in my lumbar for extra padding.

If the FaceCradle isn't for you, maybe the Turtl, the twist memory foam, the evolution from Cabeau, or the Travelrest will work for you instead. Don't settle for one of those generic U-shaped ones that offer no support at all. It's always best to invest in a good pillow that you can take on all your trips. Just imagine having to sleep in the middle seat all the time, and choose a pillow based on that.

Have a sleeping plan
Along with your travel pillow, this is going the single most thing that makes your trip better or worse. You need to get on your destination time as quickly as possible, so know the time difference, know how much sleep you can live with and then make a plan to make it happen. Sleeping your entire flight or staying awake your entire flight will not be your friend. I promise. 

We flew to London at 6pm our time (PST), which is 2am GMT. I knew we would be arriving at noon local time and we would be served dinner and breakfast on a 10-hour flight. This means I needed to be awake the first and last two hours to eat. I can pretty much make it on 5-6 hours of sleep if I have to, and definitely one day isn't going to kill me. My plan: 
  • Watch a movie until dinner  (Eric and I started one at the same time so we could watch together on our respective screens)
  • Chug an Emergen-C and take my allergy pill (which makes me sleepy) right before dinner (Eric also took a DreamWater)
  • Eat dinner and finish watching my movie
  • Close my eyes and sleep for 5 hours (I only woke up once, and I was able to drift back off)
  • Wake up, chug some water to hydrate
  • Start a second movie
  • Eat breakfast and prepare to arrive at my destination
We arrived in London, got a bite to eat, took the train to a different airport, had dinner, then hopped on a plane to Edinburgh, got an Uber to our Airbnb, and then went to bed around 10:30pm. When we woke up from a full night of sleep, we were refreshed and ready to start our vacation. It was 20 hours worth of travel, but it could have sucked really hard if we hadn't had a good plan before we left home. Here are more tips on how to beat jet lag.

Bring snacks and water
Don't rely on the drink and snack cart for all your needs. I'm always hungry or thirsty when it's inconvenient. Delta was actually really good about having snacks and plenty of drinks available throughout the flight, but not all airlines are that cool. Bring healthy, but tasty snacks, especially if traveling with kids. I also always bring a reusable water bottle that keeps my drink cold for a long time, so I don't wake up and have to drink lukewarm water. You also aren't at the mercy of the crew to bring you drinks, which is never frequent enough to keep you from getting slightly dehydrated.

Bring games/books/podcasts
Again, not all airlines have entertainment available, or sometimes your seatback monitor doesn't work, so make sure you have backup entertainment or things that will help you fall asleep, whether that's an audio book or a meditation app. If you need to stay awake for a few hours, bring something interesting enough that it keeps you busy.  

You might find this stupid, but smiling can really help improve your mood. If you have a middle seat and want to die, pretending it doesn't suck can definitely help. It also brightens the mood of people around you and just makes your trip a little bit better.

Wear comfortable clothes
OMG, is this important. Avoid tight clothes, confining shoes, and get yourself some compression socks for long flights. You won't be sorry. I tend to layer, because the plane can go from sweltering to freezing in a minute, so you never know what you're going to have to contend with. I wear comfy pants that also look nice, and a breathable top, a cardigan over it, and possibly add a travel blanket or scarf to the top. For long flights, I don't like shoes, so I wear slip-on shoes to the airport and then change into slipper socks on the plane. Want a visual for what to wear on the plane? Here's a post and here's a photo of me at the airport.

You don't have to travel first class to be comfortable. I also highly recommend Airplane Pockets for your long trips. It expands your seatback pocket to hold all your stuff you want during you flight (and organizes it too!) and is antibacterial, so it protects you from germs that might be on your tray table or in your seat pocket. I got mine during their kickstarter campaign and they are extra awesome for long flights, plus you can slip them off, fold them up, and shove them back in your bag at the end of your flight.

I hope your holiday flights and beyond are as comfortable as possible. 

What are your favorite tips for flying well?

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links that may result in my compensation should you make a purchase through those links. This allows me to keep bringing you useful content and I thank you in advance.
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