Christmas Travel

Traveling over the Christmas holiday has become a bit of a tradition for me and I thought it would be fun to reflect back on some of the places I’ve spent Christmas. It really started as a necessity, trying to squeeze as much out of my PTO as possible, and using holiday weekends certainly helps! Here are some of my favorite winter holiday destinations:

Redstone, Colorado

The first Christmas trip I can recall was when I lived in Seattle; my mom and sister were in Illinois and we decided to meet in the middle. We spent a couple nights at Glenwood Hot Springs and for Christmas Eve, checked into the Redstone Inn. I had no idea how wonderful Christmas could be when there are no dishes to wash at the end of the night! Not to mention hot tubbing in the snow, and a horse-drawn sleigh ride to a neighboring castle!

Christmas Eve sleigh ride at the Redstone Inn

Oahu, Hawaii

A few years later, before my mom retired, she treated us to a Christmas trip to Hawaii. This was my first tropical Christmas and I thought I might miss having a white Christmas, but I really didn’t! In the Midwest, there is plenty of winter before and after Christmas, so I didn’t miss the cold and snow at all. Hawaii is a great winter holiday destination, and you will be singing “mele kalikimaka” before you land!

12/22 - Hale Koa luau

Who wouldn’t want to snorkel with dolphins on Christmas Eve?! (In the wild, of course; not one of those places with poor captive dolphins – that’s disgusting! Thinking about doing it? Read this please.)

12/24 - Waianae Wildlife CruiseSnorkeling with Spinner Dolphins

St. Croix, USVI

My mom and I spend the winter holiday on St Croix in the US Virgin Islands, two years in a row. We returned on Christmas Eve, or left on Christmas day so we could still celebrate at home as well. I suppose if you’re really religious, or have a huge family, spending the actual holiday in an airport could be depressing, but not me! In fact crowds are a bit calmer on the actual holiday as most people don’t want to be in transit. Any of the Virgin Islands would make great winter holiday destinations.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

In 2014, we traveled to the Galapagos Islands over Christmas. This was a 10 day trip, so traveling at Christmas really helped reduce the vacation days I used at work. We planned it more than a year in advance, and ended up celebrating Christmas at my house the day we flew back. Talk about a crazy day – starting in Quito, Ecuador and ending with pizza and guests in Chicago that night!

Group photo - Randy, Elayne, Leigh, Beryl, Mendel, Diane, Heather, Dieter, Lisa


Panama City

Panama City is a great winter holiday destination as it’s a short flight from the States, and a warm, tropical climate. My mom and I spent a Thanksgiving holiday there one year after finding a great deal on Skyscanner.

Barefoot Panama City and Canal TourCasco Viejo

Baja, Mexico

In 2016, I flew to Baja, Mexico on Christmas Day. My present to myself was a first-class seat, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially given the 5am departure time! (I paid with airline mileage, I could never part with real money like that!)

As you can probably  tell, I’m not much of a sentimental (or religious) person, so missing Christmas isn’t a big deal to me.  I do miss going to my hometown and getting together with my aunts, uncles and cousins at the holidays, but with everyone grown up, married and starting their own families, it was already becoming so difficult to coordinate that we just get together in the summer!  I don’t think my nephew will remember that we celebrated his first Christmas on the 29th instead of the 25th, and even if he does, I’m always going to be that aunt that misses big events because I’m traveling the globe, so they may as well get used to that while they’re young, right?! 🙂

Has you ever celebrated Christmas somewhere other than home? Any suggestions where I should consider for next Christmas?

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Christmas Travel

Galapagos Islands Packing List

Packing for a 10 day cruise of the Galapagos is a daunting task, especially when flying to and from the frozen tundra of Chicago. OARS provided us with a packing list, which made for a good starting point. There were definitely things I didn’t use at all (tripod) and things I’d wished I’d brought along (fleece or lightweight down jacket) Here is my Galapagos packing list.

Galapagos Packing List

Here I’ll show the suggested packing list, along with my comments and notes, in the hopes that someone may find this useful for their own Galapagos trip. I should note that we traveled at the end of December, on the cusp of rainy season, so we had some overcast days, but no rain.

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Galapagos Gear and Personal Items:

  • Duffel bag: bring your gear packed in soft luggage or a duffel bag rather than a suitcase that will stow easily on the boat – We used the LLBean Large Adventure Rolling Duffle, and shared it for two of us (not realizing luggage on international flights is free!)  We were sweating the 50 lb weight limit, but just scraped by! The closets on the boat actually had room for a small roller-style suitcase, so a collapsible duffle isn’t totally necessary. Since we were sharing luggage, I used several Eagle Creek packing cubes to keep my stuff organized.
  • Daypack: it should be large enough to carry your water bottle, camera and rain jacket and can double as your flight carry-on bag I brought my usual daypack and almost never took it hiking. My mom used a fanny pack, which worked perfectly. I usually stuffed a bottle of water in my camera bag and that was fine. None of the hikes were long enough to require a full daypack.
  • Water Bottle: heavy duty and minimum 1 liter capacity. For day hikes, hydration systems like a CamelBak® are great but you will need a water bottle while in the kayak. 1-liter bottles didn’t really fit under the water purifier faucet, so we ended up just reusing the 16 oz water bottles that were provided with our cabin.  Again, the hikes weren’t super long, so 16 oz was usually enough water.
  • Headlamp or flashlight, extra batteries and bulb I didn’t bring this, and didn’t need it. Some people wore them to read on deck after dark, but we were more interested in stargazing.
  • Plastic bags: 1 large trash bag and assorted zip-loc bags to separate wet or dirty clothes These did come in handy, especially for packing stinky shoes and wet clothes for the long ride home!
  • Polarized sunglasses with securing strap and a spare I bought a cheap-ish pair specifically for this trip as I didn’t want to get my good sunglasses ruined or lost. Saltwater and sunscreen aren’t great for plastic. I brought, but never used, the securing strap.
  • Small, quick-drying towel I packed a couple of these, but didn’t use them.  They would have been helpful to dry off our feet for hikes after wet landings, but I always left them on the boat!
  • Toiletries including biodegradable soap and shampoo Each bathroom on the boat had soap and shampoo, so this wasn’t really necessary either.
  • Sunscreen: waterproof & SPF 30 or higher A must!
  • Lip protection: SPF 30 or higher Also a must!  My mother assumed her lipstick had SPF and looked like Angelina Jolie after a day in the sun. Sunburned lips are extremely painful and can ruin an otherwise enjoyable meal, so make sure you have plenty of lip SPF on hand!
  • Moisturizing lotion or cream This was good to have as well as aloe vera. It’s nice to smell good after a day in the ocean 🙂
  • Insect repellent: Mosquitoes are generally not a problem, but it’s always best to be prepared I brought only a small tube and never used it. There were flies on some of the hikes, but not enough to warrant putting more chemicals on our skin.
  • Personal first aid kit (Band-aids, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, sea sickness and stomach medication, moleskin, eye drops, etc.) I went overboard here and brought a motherlode med kit with a little bit of everything….just in case. And ended up sharing with several people.
  • Spare pair of glasses and/or contacts (blowing sand can cause problems for contact wearers)
  • Earplugs: we may motor into the night and waves slapping the hull can be loud Didn’t need these either, as I’m a very sound sleeper, but several people did mention the noise so it’s not a bad idea
  • Cash for National Park entrance fee, gratuities and incidentals  I brought $600 cash, which proved to be just enough. I didn’t really shop on this trip, but there were people to tip in Quito, which I hadn’t thought about ahead of time. In addition to the $100 fee for the Galapagos, I tipped $120 to our guide and $140 for the crew. I had a small bar bill for my daily Coca-Cola, and various other small expenses. I think I came home with a bit of cash.  Soda was $2 on board, and I think wine was $5 a glass, which was very reasonable.


Galapagos Islands Footwear

  • Sport sandal or amphibious sport shoes Keen’s were great for this trip. (I’ve since converted to Chaco sandals – love them!) My mom only brought Keens (no hiking shoes) and did OK.
  • Athletic shoes or light hikers: 1 pair, comfortable and with good tread for hikes, the city and travel I would recommend hiking shoes as some of the hikes are pretty rocky. Since we flew from winter climate, my Merrell hikers were the shoes I wore on the flight, too.
  • Hiking socks: 3 or 4 pair, light-weight synthetic or synthetic/wool blend I think I brought 3 pair of socks on the cruise. With short hikes, I re-wore socks for a few days as I only wore them an hour or two at a time
  • Comfy socks with grip soles or slippers for onboard the boat (no land shoes onboard); you can go  barefoot I brought flip flops, but only wore them on the flight to and from the Galapagos.  We were barefoot on the boat. Socks would have just gotten wet, so I don’t see the need.

I will say, all shoes go into a bin on the boat to avoid dragging mud and sand all over the boat. This bin can get pretty stinky, so a quick drying shoe is a good idea. The Keen’s were pretty bad by the end of the trip, so garbage bags came in handy!

They suggested socks for the tortoise day, as ants were common, but then we all wore wellies anyways.

Galapagos Islands Clothing

  • Long-sleeved shirt: lightweight, quick-drying and light color for sun protection (UPF-rated shirts are great)  I brought a few quick dry shirts, but wished I had brought more of the lightweight UPF style with the rollup sleeves.  The quick dry were too heavy in the heat.  I had brought one UPF shirt, and bought another one in Puerto Ayora.
  • Long pants: lightweight, quick-drying and light color for sun protection  I wore pants once, it was just really too hot for pants at all
  • Lightweight fleece jacket or top I talked myself out of bringing my fleece and I regretted it.  It definitely got cold(ish) and damp up on deck after dark and a fleece jacket would have been great.
  • Shade hat or visor with securing strap and a spare  I love straw hats and any excuse I can find to wear them!  I brought a hiking-style hat too, which was great for dipping in cool water when it got too hot.
  • Rain jacket & pants: a lightweight, hooded jacket is recommended. Rain pants are optional. I wore the rain jacket a few times, and it came in handy as an extra wind layer when we landed in Chicago.  The rain pants stayed in my suitcase the whole trip, though.
  • Swimsuit / swim trunks: 2- piece suits recommended for women. Tankinis are a great option. I brought 2 tankinis so that I could alternate each day and have a dry suit to wear. I also brought two cover-ups which were great for hiding from the sun while on deck.
  • Underwear: quick-drying While it is possible to wash these out in the sink, underwear don’t take up a lot of room. I brought enough for every day.
  • Pajamas I brought PJ bottoms, a tank top, and a lightweight cotton robe, which was nice to have
  • Quick-dry shorts: 2-3 pair  I think I wore the same pair of shorts every day.
  • Quick-dry t-shirts/tops: 4 2 or 3 was plenty for me.  Really, you’re in and out of clothes all day, so you can really re-wear a lot.
  • Casual clothes for evenings and in Quito (Note: evenings can be cool) This is true, one good heavier outfit is good for your time in Quito.

Galapagos Packing List Optional Items

  • Sarong: useful as a cover-up from the sun, or as a wrap Very useful as a towel, coverup, skirt, etc
  • Rash guard tops for snorkeling and paddling 1-2 I searched high and low for my rashguards and couldn’t find them.  Definitely would have come in handy with my neoprene pants that I brought.
  • Personal snorkel gear (we provide gear but many prefer their own) I found the provided gear just fine, no need to bring my own
  • Shorty wetsuit (can be rented for $5/day) The boat provided full wetsuits, which I wore every day.  I had also brought neoprene capri pants, but without a rashguard to wear with them, it was too cold for me.
  • Binoculars: compact Definitely would have been useful
  • Camera and accessories Of course!  I had my Nikon D3000, my iPhone and a borrowed underwater camera.  The tripod, however, was useless.  The boat moves constantly, and we were on the go on all of our hikes.  With the Nikon, I had 3 lenses and got the most use out of the zoom lens (70-300mm), even though we were close to the animals, I got some great shots with the zoom.
  • Walking stick: collapsible I never used one – the boat had a few to loan, not enough for every passenger, so if you’re not comfortable rock hopping, you might bring one
  • Clothes pins Definitely used these to dry our things on the deck every day!
  • Sketchbook, notebook and pen, paperback book I’m not much of a journaler, but I had brought out the printed itinerary and each evening, tried to write down what we had seen.
  • Bandana Always!  Great for dipping in water to cool down your neck or forehead.
  • Spare rollup duffel for purchases while in Ecuador (or purchase one in Ecuador) I didn’t bring an extra bag, as I knew we wouldn’t shop much.  Ironically, the only souvenir I bought was a tote bag at the Galapagos airport.
  • Not on the list, but I brought a paperback book, plus my Kindle, iPod shuffle and some G2 powder, which really came in handy.  It was nice to have an alternative to water day after day on our hikes.

If you follow the suggested packing list line for line, you’ll survive just fine, but there were definitely a few things not needed.  It will really depend on the individual traveler, but as a backpacker, I’m used to living with what I can carry on my back!

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