Sunday, June 28, 2009

When a Vacation Doesn't Feel Like a Vacation

I took a much needed trip back to Denver this past weekend, mostly to get away from the heat and pressure of my life in Chicago. Things have been crazy hectic, and I don't see them letting up much this summer. So a long weekend home to visit my family, relax, get a haircut--which was desperately needed,--and escape the stress of work seemed like a great idea.
Unfortunately, the weekend did not go exactly as I had planned. Right before I left, I was informed by my university that one of my immunizations had expired and I needed to get a booster tetanus shot before next week. The only time available, however, to get the shot was when I was home. So I had to make a last minute--super early in the morning--appointment to get a shot. (By the way, I despise shots, probably one of my biggest fears, so needless to say I was not very happy about this situation.) Once I was injected with my immunization, I headed on over to the hair salon. This was one of the high points in my trip. Let's just say my hair had quickly turned into a mop of dry brittleness and it needed some attention. So it got colored and chopped, and it certainly feels like a weight--literally--has been lifted off my shoulders.
But in the back of my mind, there was the reality that I had a freelance article due to be posted that day, and I still hadn't finished the last paragraph. I had plans with my mom to go shopping--something that is somewhat of a tradition of ours--and I wanted to enjoy it without worrying about my deadline. So I wandered around Cherry Creek and helped her buy shoes--and of course got some for myself. There was still plenty of time when we were finished to get home, finish the article, and submit it. But the weather didn't want to cooperate. It started to downpour just as we were checking out of our last store. The car was more than two blocks away, and we figured we could run. But then the tornado sirens began to sound, and we thought better of venturing outside.
I did finish my article, and I got it published. But as I wiped the sweat from my brow, I glanced at the clock and knew I had to change quickly and run downtown to meet some friends from college. This was yet another thing to try to tackle--seeing friends while I was home. But 2 1/2 days does not give you nearly enough time to see everyone and do everything you want. But I made the effort as much as I could.
I enjoyed my time at home--part of me didn't want to leave--and I was able to have a good time catching up with my family. But despite the moments of relaxation and peace, my trip was more packed with schedules and obligations than I would have liked. It was almost a trip I needed a vacation after. But now it is back to the real world, back to my life in Chicago.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What Happens in Cabo...

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico...notorious for Spring Break shenanigans. But truth be told, I'm past the whole body-shot-wet-tshirt-contest-drink-til-I-pass-out vacation. I would much rather lay out next to a pool, get a massage, enjoy nice dinners and cocktails, and take in the local scenery. So when I read that Cabo--a city in Mexico that did not have one single case of the swine flu--had high end deals going on where there would be no tequila-slamming college students, I have to admit I was intrigued.

The Baja Peninsula stretches down from the southern tip of California to the bordering state of Baja California Sur. The Pacific Ocean lies to the west, and the Gulf of California to the east. Plenty of cities line its coast, but Los
Cabos is probably the most famous. Beginning as a small fisherman village, Los Cabos was soon discovered by the corporations and hotels, and has since been transformed into one of the favorite beach destinations for tourists.

There are numerous hotels dotted all along the beaches of Cabo, but right now Marquis los Cabos is offering 20% off the entire hotel bill. It may not seem like that much, but depending how long the stay, it could add up to some big savings. The resort has spas overlooking the ocean, 28 casitas with private roof-deck or terrace pools, and an open-air lobby with mountain views. Las Ventanas al Paraiso is offering a $200 credit to visitors who book with them through Oct. 14. They also have a variety of other packages worth checking out. Each resort offers spa treatments galour, and I myself could use a good massage--stress and tension truly warp my back. The impressive Esperanza Resort has an immaculate spa with an outdoor canopy of flowers, steam rooms, plunge pools, and private treatment rooms. Once again, check out the deals available, there are a number to choose from.

Apart from beautiful accomodations, participating in entertaining local activities is always a nice addition to a vacation. I mean, really, who wants to
stay in hotel the whole time anyway? Enjoy horseback riding on the beach or through the mountains. Or if getting wet is more your thing, Cabo Adventures Tours has activities like swimming with dolphins, yacht racing, or sunset sailing. They also provide Jeep Safari rides and canopy tours for those looking for a little more adventure. Right now, you can save up to 30% off regular prices on more of the popular tours.

As someone who is truly craving a relaxing vacation, I li
ke what I hear about Cabo. I think it's calling my name...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What Have You Got to Lose?

Honestly...nothing.

In the past few weeks, one of my good friends has entered and won numerous contests. Usually they are just on the radio, and the prizes are concert tickets. But still. He gets free tickets, plus other benefits like backstage passes. So I'm jumping on the contest bandwagon and registering for random contests just for the hell of it. I mean, why not. If I don't win, so what? It's not like I spent money on it or anything. I'm not losing anything by entering my name. But if my name is called, I am rewarded with something sweet.

So, you will notice the American Eagle sweepstakes link on my page now. Everyday I can play for a $50 gift certificate, and my name is automatically entered each time for a trip to St. Thomas. And who wouldn't want to go to the Caribbean? I mean, I would love to go there on a vacation. Concert tickets are all well and good, but I would much rather win a trip somewhere. Especially if it's to a place I've never been. Now, the gift certificate is nice, too, because I love buying clothes. But obviously I'm crossing my fingers for the big win.

I also am participating in Daily Candy's contest through Comcast. It runs through the summer, and each day they give away a different prize. There aren't any trips offered, but there are quality beauty products, bags, jewelry. Any girl's fantasy.

So if there are any other contests out there I can enter, let me know. Preferably, I would like ones that offer a trip somewhere...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Take Advantage While You Can

It's a good time to travel, but not for long. Airlines are making changes to their businesses in order to avoid dropping ticket prices. There is a growing consensus among executives that lowering seat prices just to maintain market share is not smart. Rather than sell seats below cost, airlines are thinking of shrinking through capacity cuts and consolidation.

There are plenty of good deals still out there for the budget traveler, and people need to pounce now in order to take advantage of the cheap prices. Why not get more bang for your buck on a trip to New York? London? Greece?

An especially good way to find the best deals is to surf around the internet on all those budget travel sites. You know the ones I'm talking about: travelocity, expedia, hotwire. But there are plenty of other sites that many may have not heard about before.
There are plenty of others I am sure, but these will provide smart shoppers with options so they can compare deals. But personally, I think Travelzoo does a great job of finding sweet deals for you.And while you have to sign up, it's totally worth it to receive prime deals and prices.

So while companies are looking to increase fares in the near future, there are still decently priced tickets being offered right now. So grab them while they're still hot!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Tourist for the Day

Rarely do people take the time to explore their own city. You live there, why would you do all the stuff that tourists do? That's what I thought, too, but visiting those crowded, expensive sites can be really fun, at least once and while.

Just this past Friday, I decided to spend an afternoon with my friend at Navy Pier, one of Chicago's most famous tourist attractions. My friend and I opted for one of the
many boat tours offered on the pier, and we chose the Seadog speedboat cruises. Large speedboats that rush riders up and down the Chicago skyline on the waves of Lake Michigan. It was only 30 minutes, but it gave us a fun ride on the water and some facts about the city. The ride was short and sweet, not too eventful. If you're looking for something a little more entertaining, I recommend the Extreme, which is faster than the other boats and gives people more of a rollercoaster like experience.

After disembarking from the boat, we thought to ourselves, "we've never been on the historic Ferris wheel." So we decided to brave the line (and the price) and go for it. It was only $6 and lasted about 5 or 6 minutes...but it wasn't really worth it. I have to be honest here. Yes, it is an experience, and I can say that I've ridden it, but it was slow and not all that exciting. It's probably not something I would do again.

Overall, the afternoon was enjoyable. It can be rewarding to visit the places where hoards of tourists frequent--there's obviously a reason they all go to thes
e sites. So if you're willing to deal with the crowds and the prices, I would recommend taking a day to be a tourist.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Oh...It's On

As people pass by one another on the street, casually they state, "it's on." Phoning friends, workers, colleagues, just to say those two words. Scene after scene, people are challenging...something. But what? What exactly is "on?"

The fight for better travel fares, that's what.

Southwest is presenting their summer deals with new commercials promoting new low fares to certain cities around the U.S. With airlines reporting a decrease in ticket sales of about 9% this summer, they are looking for anyway to get people traveling again. What better way than cheap plane tickets?

Some of their summer deals include: Chicago to Boston $89 (one way); Chicago to Cleveland $49 (one way); Denver to LA $79 (one way); Tampa Bay to New York City $114 (one way), the list goes on and on. You have to admit, some of these prices are pretty appealing, and maybe worth jumping on. Summer is the best time for deals, because more and more people are inclined to take time off and enjoy the gorgeous weather. Southwest, however, has always been known for their low fares. But I'm sure there are plenty of other airlines providing discounts and cheaper flights. You just have to search for them.

As for me, I'm seriously considering taking on the economy with a cheap flight somewhere. One of the cities on my list of places to visit is Boston, where one of my best friends happens to live. For $89, I could visit a city I've never seen and spend time with a good friend...talk about killing two birds with one stone.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Trip to IKEA

Yesterday I made my first trip to IKEA, and it was a little overwhelming. There was so much to look at, three stories worth of random household items and furniture. I saw some things that were pretty nice, and of course the price was very reasonable. But after wandering around for what felt like forever, I decided to make my escape from the various aisles and massive crowds. As I was leaving, however, I noticed they had a section of the store where they sold traditional Swedish food. Last summer I had the privilege of visiting Stockholm where a friend is studying to get her PhD. And while I was there, she introduced me and my friends to some incredible food. So when I ventured over to the marketplace, I came across some of those delicacies. I was tempted to purchase some of it, but truth be told Swedish food isn't known for it's health benefits. (Since I've been trying to eat healthier, I opted for walking away.) But seeing a bag of mini Kanelbulle (cinnamon rolls), and Kringla (pretzel-shaped cookies), brought back some memories of my three days in Sweden.

My friend, Ingrid, informed me while I was there that Sweden is known for it's pastries and coffee--two things I never really expected. I always associated them with Italy or France, so it was surprising to hear. But she didn't just open my eyes to the food, but also to the city of Stockholm. I had never been to Sweden, and honestly knew very little about the country. I expected it to be cold and somewhat bland. But I was completely wrong. The weather was gorgeous--it was the end of July--and the city was exciting and vibrant. The great thing about Stockholm is that it's a walking city, so if you want to just wander around there is plenty to see and stumble upon. Some great historical sites are the beautiful Skogskyrkogården (the Woodland Cemetery), Drottningholm Palace--home of the royal family,--and the remains of the Viking settlement, Birka on Björkö island in Lake Mälaren. Old Town, the oldest part of Stockholm, includes the royal palace, museums, and scenic walks that give visitors great views of the city.

While Stockholm is the capital and the largest city in Sweden, there are plenty of other beautiful destinations. If you wander further north of Stockholm, you reach the city of Sverige and the northern regions. This area is probably best for the outdoorsy types, because it is a vast landscape of woodlands. Also, there are two well-known national parks, Abisko and Sarek. Northern Sweden is also the ancestral home of the Sami, the indigenous people of the region.

But head south of Stockholm, and you get a complete contrast to the rugged north. About 80% of the population resides in the south, so there are plenty of people around to enjoy the rolling country and beautiful seaside cities with. The region is a popular destination for holidays where people can enjoy an old-fashioned seaside trip, or staying in lakeside cottages, or visiting one of the larger cities.

Personally, I would have loved to stay longer than three days, and been able to visit the other regions outside of Stockholm. Perhaps another visit is in order, and since my friend will be there for another three years, I will have my own personal tour guide--and a free place to stay, of course.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I want to ride my bicycle

I'm in the market for a new bike.

And honestly it's probably the best investment I could make right now. Think about it...most standard bikes are relatively inexpensive (I'm not looking for one of those high class, fancy models), they get you where you need to go, they help protect the enviornment, and they are a good way to stay healthy. Chicago is a fairly bike-friendly city, and it's easy enough to get around. Another positive: It allows you to see a city from a completely different point of view. Admittedly, seeing the city you live in from another perspective may or may not interest you. But think about traveling around other cities on the seat of a bike...I can only imagine the experience that awaits.

My boyfriend had (or maybe has, I think he still wants to do it) a desire to bike through Europe. Now, I don't know if I have the physical capacity to attempt something like that, but mentally I'm dying to do it! Cars and trains allow you to see the countryside and cities, but from the safety of an enclosed space. Being on a bike puts you one on one with the elements, you can switch your route at the last minute and take some trail that is off the beaten path. Bikes allow you into places a car couldn't fit. It's exciting to think about how different your travel experience would be if you just changed your mode of transportation.

For now, I just want a bike to ride around the city, down to the beach or park, and maybe even to work once and a while. I'll look into the Europe excursion sometime in the future.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Seriously Need a Vacation

I don't even care where I go, I just need a break from it all. I'm in my final week of classes, and I have a long paper due next Tuesday, and then I'm finished for the summer. But, in reality, it doesn't end when I submit that 10-12 page, wanna-shoot-myself-in-the-head paper. I still have work and an internship through the summer, and since I'm not getting paid at my internship I have to get credit for it over these next three months and write a 25-page paper about my experience. On top of that, I've been given a new assignment at my internship where I get to write a by-line for a publication that my company works with. It's exciting to get another opportunity to write and get my work published, but it's more stress placed on me because I'm not a marketing major (I work for a marketing research company) and when I have to point out possible trends, create graphs and tables from data I don't understand, I worry that I'm going to screw something up. What if what I think is a trend isn't actually one? Or what if I look at the numbers wrong and create some out-of-whack table? What if the magazine and my company doesn't like what I write because God knows I don't always know what I'm talking about? I'm not a marketing expert. Hell, sometimes I don't even think I'm that great of a writer. Self-doubt can be a bitch.

So I've decided that when I get home from work tonight, I am booking a flight. In all honesty, it isn't going to be to anywhere exciting. I just need to leave Chicago for a few days. I'm thinking home to Denver is the best plan. I can relax with old friends, see my grandparents, shop with my mom, get a haircut (I desperately need one) and just spend time away from the stress of the city. Sometimes you just need to get away.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cruising away from it all

It may be June, but Chicago doesn't seem to care. With clouds gathered in the sky, temperatures around 50 degrees, and rain every other day, it sure doesn't feel like summer. Chicago weather definitely likes to mess with its residents, and many aren't thrilled with this game of hot and cold.

So many are getting away to the warmer climates. Prices for cruises are insanely good right now, and people are taking advantage. One of those people happens to be my boyfriend, and as I type he is enjoying his five day cruise in the caribbean which stops at George Town, Grand Caymen, and Cozumel, Mexico. And I'm stuck here in the cold and gloomy weather finishing up classes and working. Envious doesn't even begin to describe my feelings right now. But if I had the chance like he did, I would have grabbed it in a heartbeat.

I've only been on one cruise ship, and that was about six years ago on a senior class trip in high school. The boat was smaller than many of the cruise ships I had seen, and probably lacked many of the amenities that the luxury boats provided, but it was a blast all the same. Admittedly, the location played the biggest factor--it was a three day cruise of the Greek islands. Plus, I had my best friend traveling with me, which makes everything more enjoyable. Traveling on a boat is an experience in itself. I was used to getting around by car or plane, where you are trapped in a confined space for a certain amount of time. The cruise ship got me to where I wanted to go while I sunned myself on the deck, sipped pina coladas with my friends, and wandered around to the various buffets. It was heaven. And while disembarking on the islands we visited was exciting and eye opening, it was just as fun jumping back on the boat to make our way to the next destination.

Time and money do not permit me to book a cruise right now, but it is just another thing I'm adding to my list of travel goals. This, of course, will not be a first. But I would love to experience one of these larger cruise ships that tower over my special little boat and trips that last longer than two nights. Also, there are plenty of different locations cruises venture to, and all of them sound like incredible places to visit.

First stop: Dubai/Emerates.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Commute...Commuté

No doubt you've seen those new McDonald's commercials to promote their McCafé coffee where they add an accent to the end of standard American words to make them sound more leisurely and high class. And while holding a McCafé mocha with decadent chocolate syrup, whip cream, and fudge topping might make your commute more enjoyable, it still does not make public transportation any less frustrating.

Let me just say that I love how easy it is to get around Chicago. As someone who hails from Denver where public transportation is almost nonexistent (though I hear they are improving it) I find it incredibly refreshing that I don't have to jump in my car everytime I want to go somewhere. There is usually always a bus or a train that takes me to exactly where I need to be. That being said, the convenience factor can be forgotten when buses take forever and trains creep along the track at a snail's pace. I've been the victim of stop and go El trains on numerous occasions, and it can be especially frustrating when I need to get somewhere by a certain time. When the train does seem to be running smoothly, usually the interior is a bustling mess of people crowding close to one another so others can board. And more often than not, there is always someone whose own needs and space come before anyone else's. You know who I'm talking about: The person listening to their music at the highest decible, or the person with four bags that take up space equivalent to two people, or the one who has to lean against an entire pole so no one else can grab a hold and are therefore thrust into other passengers.

Traveling from one part of the city to the other is pretty easy and saves me the hassle of driving downtown or getting stuck in traffic. But public transportation has its flaws as well, and it makes it difficult to appreciate the practical benefits. For instance, it definitely saves me money on gas. It forces me to walk, which helps with excercise and saving the planet. So despite the times where I want to shoot myself when the train decides to stand for what feels like an eternity, or the guy next to me has a problem with personal space and hygiene, I find myself grateful for the buses and trains that get me where I need to go. And for those intensely irritating days, I'll just grab myself a treat--a McCafé perhaps...with extra chocolate.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Destination: Novel

summer reading...
Those two words used to strike fear in the hearts of middle and high school students everywhere. Who wants to spend their three months of vacation reading books for school? I mean, not only does it keep you from doing everything else you want to do, but you actually have to pay attention to plots, characters, and themes. Who knows, there may be a paper or test on them when school starts up again in fall. Like many students, I hated dealing with summer reading. I preferred reading for pleasure, choosing books that I was interested in, not books I was told to read. Now that I'm in graduate school, I have the freedom to select whatever I want to read during these long summer months. And there are some interesting new travel novels that will surely keep me entertained as I sun myself on the beach--or more than likely my porch. Here is just a quick overview of a couple books that really stood out to me.
  1. Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead, by Peter Manseau-- The title alone should spark some interest. Basically, Manseau travels around the world in search of artifacts--body parts mostly--belonging to saints and other holy figures. An entertaining story about a man's desire for spiritual transcendence through these holy relics.
  2. 99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist's Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink, by Kate Hopkins--Anything about alcohol has got to be entertaining, especially whiskey (extremely dangerous). Kate ventures with her friend Krysta to the distilleries of Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and the U.S. in search of the best whiskeys.
  3. I'll Never be French (No Matter What I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany, by Mark Greenside--A New Yorker turned Californian ends up in a tiny Celtic town in Brittany at the western edge of France. The book chronicles the experience of a man adapting to life in a place where he does not speak the language and is unfamiliar with how things are done. But through it all, his life changes, and he develops a second life in France.
There are plenty of other travel essay novels, but these were the ones that I was interested in reading. Also, this is what I hope to one day be doing with my life. Writing about my travels, or places I live. But perhaps I need an ulteriar motive like some of these authors, although I don't think I'll go in search of whiskey or dead saints' remains. I guess I'll have to think about what the point of my book will be.

If travel is your thing, check these books out. If not, just pick up any book and enjoy a good summer read...I promise there won't be a test.