Sometimes even I need to sink my toes in the sand

I sunburn easily. I already have too many freckles. I have light blue eyes, so I squint a lot in the sun. And I come from pale Norwegian and Scottish stock, with redheaded relatives as part of the pack – so, in fact, I’m just not genetically inclined toward strong sunshine. I prefer moderate, temperate weather. I enjoy my vast collection of sweaters and cardigans and winter coats and scarves.

So, as one might expect, I’m not a huge sun and sand person. (I’ve said it before but it bears repeating.)

But occasionally, even I dream of sunshine and palm trees. Like today, when the Weather Network’s forecast for the foreseeable future is “feels like -16” or worse:

December 2014 weather

On days like this, I want to run away and wear sandals somewhere that looks like this:

Los Angeles palms

Los Angeles palms

Or this:

Methinks my escape to New Orleans in late January can’t come too soon! Anyone else planning a sun-filled escape anytime soon?


Getting over my theme park moratorium

I’m not a big fan of crowds. The city I live in – Toronto – is a city of festivals and events, especially in the summertime. To be honest, I simply tend to avoid them because of the crowds, the line-ups and the inability to see anything (I’m only 5 feet tall). And I don’t tend to like amusement and theme parks for the same reason.

So about 18 months ago, when my sister invited me to travel to Disneyland in California with her family, I was willing, but had a few trepidations. I’d be more than happy to spend a week with their family – I just wasn’t sure I’d enjoy the theme parks. My sister assured me that I would be pleasantly surprised.

Last March, I joined them. And I found out I had misjudged Disney. My sister was right. It was kind of awesome.

Disneyland rides are so fun

Disneyland rides are so fun

We went to Disneyland on three different days – traditional Disney and the California Adventure Park (my personal fave). We visited Universal Studios (I really wish the Harry Potter and/or Minions rides had been opened when we were there), and Santa Monica pier. We strolled down Hollywood Boulevard and sunk our toes in the Pacific. I may lose all credibility as a serious traveller, but I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed it all. It was quite fab.

And I had to hand it to Disney – they’ve got it down to a science. Despite all the people, all the strollers, all the crazy, they make it totally enjoyable. Everyone we encountered from the Disney world was friendly, helpful and welcoming. And let’s not forget – I’m childless, so my tolerance for the kind of crazy that family oriented theme parks offer is likely lower than your average parental figure. I was more charmed than I would have expected.

Highlights included:

  • Watching how excited my niece and nephew got about everything.
  • The food was surprisingly good, notably the Princess brunch we had down in Ariel’s Grotto.
  • The absolutely incredible evening water and light show called World of Color – riveting!
  • Fave rides: Radiator Springs, Toy Story Midway Mania and Star Tours.

So now that my bias against theme parks has been shattered, perhaps I should put my mind to overcoming my other travel no-go: the cruise. Floating around for a week in a giant apartment building with half a dozen pools and a movie theatre has never struck me as the ultimate vacation. But what do I know?! I didn’t think I’d enjoy Disneyland…

Holidays in the Southern Hemisphere

Pohutakawa tree

Pohutakawa tree

Growing up, I knew a few families who went away for Christmas. Visiting relatives. Removing themselves from the frenzy that is the holiday season. It makes sense. But my family never did that. The holidays were at the house. Stockings, tree-trimming, Christmas music and baked goods. Lots of baked goods.

Then, in 2005 I moved to New Zealand to pursue graduate studies. I was lucky enough to be able to afford to go back home every year, but after the first visit back, I made a monumental (for me) decision: henceforth, I would travel home only during Canada’s summer.

That meant missing Christmas in Canada in favour of Dunedin, New Zealand. In December, the town is emptied of students, the wonderful farmers market is bursting with goodness, and I generally got my flat to myself for a week. So relaxing. I loved holidays in Dunedin.

Dunedin Octago @ Christmas

Dunedin Octago @ Christmas

And if the town’s centre (the Octagon) looked a bit weird (to me) with a giant Christmas tree surrounded by green, leafy trees and a summer marketplace, who cared. Sure I missed out on some baking and holiday meals (I admit I’m a sucker for a traditional turkey dinner), but so much the better for my waistline.

The strangest thing for me about being in the Southern Hemisphere during Christmas was the season. My rational mind knew it was December, but all the vegetation was bursting with colour. Flowers were blooming. Trees were lush. Grass was green. Weirder still, it was light late into the evening. My brain had a hard time reconciling Christmas with all those summery signals!

Trinkets and Trash: Souvenirs are just more stuff you have to carry

I pack light. Very light.

In fact, I’d rather do without something than have to carry it around with me. Since I tend to travel on the economical side, I’m usually heaving my luggage through transit turnstiles rather than taking a civilized taxi cab. Lighter is better. Less is definitely more. The heaviest thing I usually carry is my camera, and even that I’ll often forgo in favour of my phone camera.

So if I often can’t convince myself to carry my own camera, imagine how I feel about carrying around cheap and cheerful “souvenirs” for everyone I know back home. My family and friends know better than to expect them. All I usually bring home is my photographs.

But don’t mistake me; there are a hundred things on every trip I want to bring home. I just know that if I have to carry them around, I’ll end up resenting it. There are some exceptions, of course. I will generally allow myself something if its small and light and easy to carry:

  • fridge magnets tuck away easily, and they’re something I always need more of
  • rings are a perennial favourite – small samples of art I get to wear and remember my trip
  • things that can be shipped ahead easily (example: my Moroccan carpet below)

I’ve been on travels with friends who spend half their time trying to find something for everyone back home. It’s a lovely thought, but not always practical. And so much of it is just junk. I mean, who needs a shot glass with the Eiffel Tower etched in glitter? I certainly don’t.

Rather than bringing stuff home, I send postcards instead. I buy a big bunch and whenever I need a break from my wanderings, I relax with a coffee and write short missives to people back home. That way they know I’m thinking of them, they get a nice picture from wherever I happen to be, and everyone receives the novelty of physical mail in their mailbox. And I don’t have to carry anything. Win, win.

Do other people have this same aversion to being burdened with stuff on their travels? What do you bring home to your friends and families?