Friday, December 18, 2009

Too Many Pictures to Count

You've gone on your trip. You spent days, weeks sightseeing, meeting new people, enjoying the local cusine and night scene. Your camera is full almost to its limit with pictures. You've returned home to reality. Now you want to share your experience in the best way possible. But how?
Sure, you could sit everyone down on the couch, have them surround your camera, and watch the film reel of photos flow by. But how fun is that, really? And let's face it, the computer isn't much better. Why not a scrapbook?

For those who have the time to spare, creating a scrapbook can be a release, an escape to your past vacations. It can be enjoyable to spread out all your colorful pictures and place them delicately and deliberately into formations and arrangements on the page. Stamping stickers, quotes, backgrounds, and borders makes the image complete, and appealing to the eye. You can even make it more personal by adding ticket stubs, flyers, maps collected from your travels. Most scrapbooking material can be found at Target, Wal-Mart, Michaels, even a local grocery store--though the selection may be limited. A personal favorite of mine, however, is Paper Source. A store dedicated to arts and crafts. You can find everything there from decorative paper to stamps, from unique pens to stickers, from design scissors to custom embossing. But be careful. If you're anything like me you will get lost in the masses of items and end up spending your whole paycheck. It can be expensive, so choose wisely.

For people without the time or the budget to scrapbook themselves, there is an easier option. It's called MyPublisher. Most people now have digital cameras, so those pictures are inevitably going to end up on the computer. Instead of picking out pictures, putting them on a flash drive or cd, bringing them to the store and paying upwards of $0.20 a print, you can simply download MyPublisher and import all the pictures you want into the program. They have various layouts to choose from--including a travel option--and then you can format the pages with one picture or twelve pictures. It's really up to you. You can even pick the cover--linen, book jacket, leather--and the size. Once you have designed your photobook, buy it. They print, bind, and deliver your book all for a pretty decent price. I have used this service three times now, and I'm never disappointed with the results, and everyone loves the books. They go perfectly on my coffee table.

Of course, not everything has to be done on the computer. For those particularly special pictures, get them blown up, printed, and nicely framed to place around your house or apartment.

Display those vacation photos proudly!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Newsflash: Who Wants to Go to Mexico?


Thanks to the travelzoo newsdesk, I have learned that Apple Vacations is offering a week-long vacation package to three Mexican hot spots--Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Cozumel--for 60% off the original price. For a 7-night all inclusive trip--including airfare--prices start at $599.99**. To put this in perspective, that's about $90 per day per person for roundtrip flights, hotel accomodations at top resorts, airport/hotel transfer services, all meals and drinks (including alcoholic), and day and evening activities. Seems like a pretty good deal to me. Unfortunately it is only for a limited time, and travel must occur in the month of January--don't you hate limitations??? But if I had a week to spare, any of these hotels would be worth spending it at.

Cozumel- Melia Cozumel

Cancun- Blue Bay Club

Puerto Vallarta-Riviera Nayarit

This is just one of the many travel deals going on right now, and if time and money permit, it seems like a great one to go for. Plus, this bitter cold weather in Chicago just makes the sunny, white sand beaches of Mexico sound even more appealing.

**Taxes are not included in this price, so be aware of extra fees.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

For the Traveler in Your Family

It's the holidays--if you haven't noticed--and time for Christmas shopping. For those lucky few out there, gift ideas are streaming in like a strong wifi signal. But for the rest of us, finding the perfect gift is a little harder to come by. If you have an avid traveler in the family or as a close friend, I have a couple quick tips for possible presents.
If your world trekker enjoys venturing to countries where English is not the national language, opt for Rosetta Stone (or something like it because it is pretty expensive). Language learning systems are great gifts for anyone interested in learning a new language and hoping to use it on a future trip. Right now there are some decent holiday deals everyone should take advantage of.
They travel so much their luggage is starting to look a little worn out--and the fact that that zipper won't close all the way is a recipe for lost luggage disaster. Why not buy them a new suitcase? Or how about a whole luggage set? For those who practice tough love with their luggage, consider some serious baggage they will have a hard time breaking in. For something a little sleeker to suit that sophistacated type, there are some smaller, more creative, items you can look into.
Modern travel is not getting any more luxurious. In fact, making flying more enjoyable is next to impossible--unless you can afford those first class beds with private televisions and free champagne. So visit PB travel for cool accessories that make flying a little more tolerable. (Note: this website caters to women, but there are some pretty cool items.)
Something truly unique for a jetsetter is a personalized city map. Yes, you heard me right. A La Carte Maps combine the guidebook and the map in one easy to use tour guide which reduces the hassle of carting around a huge guidebook with so many places to visit it will make your head spin. You can get one made for a specific city, or there is the option to "create your own" city map where you can document the locations and adventures yourself. The possibilities are endless.
Finally, the best, and most obvious, gift for the traveler in your life: book a trip!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Being Spontaneous

If there is one thing I love in this world, it's an impromptu trip. Especially one home to Denver.

Let me rewind for a second. Every year my parents throw an amazing company Christmas party that their employees chat about for months to come. I am usually in attendance at this party, but this year, sadly, I wanted to get some more hours in at work to help pay off some high credit card bills--I have a shopping problem, I have acknowledged and accepted it. As a result, my travel plans home for the holidays had me missing out on the infamous festivities. However, things were in my favor this year.

My boyfriend is taking grad school classes online because his company will pay for it and he wants to get his Masters taken care of sooner rather than later. But because he took on two classes, he has had a lot of work to do, and his stress level is beyond a normal, healthy state. With the knowledge that his finals are next week, being around the apartment can be a large distraction for him, and I have nothing to do whatsoever, he decided he would pack up his things and head home to Crystal Lake for the weekend in the hopes of getting some real hard core studying done. When my mom heard this, she made a snap decision: Home was not the answer, he needed the apartment to himself. So she jumped online, found some great prices for flights, and booked me a ticket home to Denver. This way, not only would I be gone and out of his way, but I would also get to join in on the Christmas party tomorrow night.

When she called me last night in sheer delight of this plan, I was a little apprehensive. Did it really make sense to go home for a couple days, come back to Chicago to work for a few days, and then head straight back to Denver? Did I even have the time to do it? Would it be too stressful of a trip because it was so quick? After I had a moment to think about it, I realized I was the only one creating the stress in this situation. I have no commitments right now to hold me back, and I should take advantage of that while I still can--before classes start again and a full-time job becomes my life. Plus, as my boyfriend so astutely pointed out, I rarely get to see my parents--maybe two or three times a year, if I'm lucky. This year I have been lucky enough to see them more, and this was just one more opportunity. And I don't want to sound presumptuous, but these company Christmas parties are the best. It seemed too good to pass up. After rearranging some plans, I called my mom back and told her I was coming. She was elated.

I am aware of the fact that most people do not have this kind of time to just book a spontaneous trip somewhere for the weekend. But if by some chance you can find an extra day or two and a decent price on a flight--trust me there are many--then it may be worth a spur-of-the-moment vacation. Even if it's just up to a cabin a couple hours away, or into a city the next state over. Or maybe splurge for something bigger, a quick trip to Florida, California, the Bahamas. It can be anything you want it to be, and with all the obligations we have nowadays, wouldn't it be nice to just throw that schedule away for a few days and fly by the seat of your pants?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Four Corners of the United States

Once again, a conversation with my boyfriend has sparked an idea. We were chatting on a drive back to Chicago from Milwaukee about the places in the United States we have visited or would like to visit. This may not sound all that exciting, but usually when we talk about travel we discuss exotic locations around the world we hope to go one day. But it occurred to me there are plenty of places in my own country that I have not visited and would like to. Steve said he wants to go to every corner the of the country: the Northwest--Seattle; the Northeast--Maine; the Southwest--Arizona/California; and the Southeast--Florida. (He has already made it to Key West, the southern most point of the U.S.--apparently.) Of those, I have only been to California and Florida, so I have a lot more ground to cover in my life.

There are fifty states in our country, and I have been to twenty-seven. Twenty-three to go. At the top of my priority list: Washington and Oregon
. Ever since I went to Vancouver this summer, I have been dying to go back to that North Pacific environment. After that, I'd love to go to Louisiana and see New Orleans. It will be a nice change from the frigid cold that has finally hit Chicago.

As much as I long to travel the globe and see all the world has to offer, there are regions around America that foster culture, history, and entertainment worth visiting. So maybe in the next few years I can make it around this country and see all the cities on my list. It just keeps growing the more I think about it. Looking forward to the road ahead...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Up In The Air

Traveling is a way to connect with other cultures, other worlds, other people. But for Ryan Bingham, it is a way to disconnect. With a job that keeps him flying constantly across the country, Ryan detaches himself from the pressures and stresses that come with people. He avoids weighing his life down with the baggage that inevitably comes with getting into relationships.

Up In The Air, the newest film from Oscar nominated director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You for Smoking), tells the story of a seemingly happy, yet cynical business traveler (George Clooney) who spends his life jetting from airport to airport. Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is a corporate downsizer, hired by large businesses to fire employees during an economic crisis. As he travels around the country, he finds comfort in the aspects that most people hate about flying: tight cabins, synthetic oxygen. He is the member of every travel rewards program imaginable and has a mileage goal in mind less than 10 people have ever reached. But Ryan's world is thrown for a loop when his boss (Jason Bateman) decides to cut costs with an idea from newcomer Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) to ground his employees, for good. With no real home to return to, Ryan is faced with the prospect of setting up a stable base--something he has avoided all his life. With some help from a sultry, conspicuous traveler, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), and his sister's wedding approaching, Ryan gets a glance at a life he never thought he could have, and a true connection with another person.

I had the privilege of seeing a screening of this movie last night, and I highly recommend it. With just the right combination of sarcasm, irony, and heart, this film delivers on numerous levels. If the acting doesn't get you, then the script certainly will. Quick wit, insight, and blunt comments make for an unpredictable and enjoyable ride through the life of the ultimate traveler. You do not need to be a jetsetter to appreciate this film, or someone who has been fired, or someone who has fired someone else. You just have to be someone who relates to the curveballs life can deliver. Because it ultimately begs the question: Where will you go next?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Just a Quick Thought...

...First, I'm sorry the entries have been lacking. I just finished the fall quarter last week, and now I have all this time on my hands and somehow I do not know how to handle it. I promise more posts to come.

...Second, IT'S DECEMBER!!! Christmas season is in full swing!! The Christmas lights and trees are going up all over the city!! The snow is falling--and for all the Chicagoans, it just started today!!

And with this holiday season comes the office blues. No one wants to be sitting in an office when the fectivities are taking place. Plus, the weather can be dreary, except when the snow is falling and settling nicely on the ground--and causing no traffic problems whatsoever in a perfect world. So to ease those times when you're feeling a little blue about sitting at a desk all day, find ways to celebrate the season while working.

1. Throw a holiday party at work-it doesn't have to be big and extravagent. Take a lunch hour, bring in Christmas cookies and some delicious casseroles--or sandwiches work, too--and have some sparkling cider. People will appreciate the break from the grind.
2. Find a Christmas Market: Plenty of cities have small markets selling crafts, gifts, and food. Chicago has the Christkindlemart in Daley Plaza. It's German, but anyone can go and enjoy the hot wine served in little boots, beer, brats, strudels, pretzels, and numerous vendors with delicate creations from all corners of Germany and beyond. What a way to experience the holiday and another culture all at once.
3. Take a trip!--Sure it's the holidays, and you should spend it with your family at home with a Christmas tree and presents. But why not jet off somewhere to go skiing? How about lazing on the beach? Or enjoying a nice mountain cabin? There are a lot of winter deals out there, so check them out and book a spontaneous vacation. That will certainly lift your spirits.

Personally, I'm looking forward to heading back to Colorado for two weeks to snowboard, lounge around the mountains, and spend time with my family and friends. It doesn't get much better than that.