Christmas Shopping 101

I’ll admit – I am one of these annoying people that loves Christmas. I start shopping early, I put my tree up early (it went up yesterday, no joke) and I always plan a bunch of Christmas related activities.

However, what I really do not like is trying to navigate the insane crowds that seem to be appearing earlier and earlier each year. Last Sunday, more than a full month before Christmas. I decided to run out and have a look for a few things, the lines at the local Toys R Us store were about 20 people deep and there was absolutely nowhere to park at the mall. This lead me to come home in frustration and whip out my laptop.

I’ve been doing more and more shopping online in recent years, but this will probably be my heaviest year yet. With a big list and a lack of patience I find it’s the best way to get things done.

So, where do I shop? That’s the whole point of this post!

Note: This will be heavily geared toward Canadian shoppers, but Americans may find pieces of it helpful, as most sites ship to both countries.

Beyond the Rack – This is a discounted site where you can find things that have been sold off from various brands/designers. It’s a great way to get some quality stuff for a good price. The only thing about this site, and I really mean it is ORDER EARLY. Most of the time it takes about 2-3 weeks for merchandise to get from their origins to the Beyond the Rack facility and then a further week or so to get to your home address. So if you want to order from them do it NOW if you want to get it in time for Christmas.

The Children’s Place – If you have any little people on your list, the Children’s Place is a great stop. They always, I repeat ALWAYS have a sale on. And, if they don’t, Google “the Children’s Place promo code” and you’re sure to find one. Just last week I ordered about $100 dollars worth of merchandise for about $40 shipped, taxes in. Also, they ship very quickly. My shipment left Toronto on a Tuesday night and arrived at my house in Newfoundland less than 24 hours later.

Snorg Tees – Snorg specializes in funny, topical tshirts. They have a lot of product (I always find myself on the site for probably an hour, time I get through it all). They do charge for shipping but I don’t generally get charged duties on them, and the times that I have, it’s only been nominal.

Amazon – It’s cliche, but cheap prices, quick shipping and a large variety of product make this one of my favourite sites – especially if you want to order something mid-December (because you’ll still get it in time for Christmas).

Blurb – This option will take the most time, but it makes a great gift. You can download the site’s software and make yourself a book of any kind. In the last few years, whenever I’ve returned home from a road trip, I compile photos and make one of these for my travel companions. There is easier software out there, but after a small learning curb I like what you can do with Blurb. Also, the books range from about $20 and up but you can often get coupon codes for 40-50% off of your order.

Gap – As you might have noticed, I love a good sale! So the fact that every year Gap offers 40-50% off sales leading up to Christmas is great. You can get some great stuff for yourself for all those Christmas events, as well as some good presents. I’m particular fond of their athletic line. It’s durable and good quality and cheap than Lululemon.

Think Geek – Think Geek is a fabulous site filled with great, fun and nerdy goods. But I am warning you now – if you are Canadian you are going to pay duties on your order and it’s not going to be pretty.

Above all of these great options, if you live in an area that isn’t as insane as where I live, I strongly recommend that you get out an support your local business community. Even if you have to pay a little more, it’s worth it. I’ll always try and make a round or two of the downtown area before the holiday season – it’s a fun way to pass an afternoon.

On the Battlefields of Virginia

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After spending a bit of time in rural (ish) Virginia we all quickly developed an affinity for the state. So much so that Dion still talks about someday moving there! What did we enjoy about Virginia? Well, a lot of things.

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The grounds outside of the Historic Powhattan Resort.

We stayed at the Historic Powhattan Resort which is just outside of Williamsburg and that was a great plus point on its own. Although it’s a part of the Diamond International group (and you may get subjected to a sales pitch) it is a great place to stay if travelling with a few people. We had a moderately sized condo with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small balcony. It seemed not a lot of people were staying there at the same time we were (it was mid-week and in September) which was all the more great for us. The resort has a pool, hot tub, tennis courts and a large number of wildlife. On top of it being cicada season we also saw a group of deer and two skunks (we made sure to keep our distance from those guys!)

We also spent some time learning some local history. We visited Historic Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg and did the driving tour of the Yorktown battlefields.

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Note: In case of war, do not replicate this pose. You will die.
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Met myself a new friend.

Coming from Canada, it was a pretty interesting way to spend the day. None of us are major history buffs or anything, but since our country has never had any major wars fought on it, it was cool to see the old trenches and cannons.

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Oh hi, local Newfoundland restaurant.

Another random/weird experience that we had in Virginia was coming across a local restaurant chain! In the information left in our room we’d seen a brochure for “Jungle Jims” restaurant. We instantly thought “nahh can’t be, must just be a same name coincidence”. But nope, in the middle of Virginia we found the only franchise of a restaurant based in Newfoundland to exist outside of Canada. It was surreal and of course we had to go eat there. However, don’t get too excited because we discovered not long after coming back home that the restaurant closed. So there goes the chance for Americans to experience such local gems as “monkey fingers and fries” and “Jim’s chicken taquitos”.

As for tips for visiting the Williamsburg area?

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All of this cost about $45. In Canada it would be closer to $75.

Tip #1 – Save money by visiting the local Walmart or chainstore. If you want to save some money, or simply don’t want take out for every meal, I suggest taking a stop at one of these places. You’ll be able to get breakfast food, snacks, weird souvenirs and even liquor – which is something that you definitely cannot do in Canada.

Tip #2 – You’re going to need a car. I mean, it’s probably a given, that if you visit somewhere outside of a large city that you’ll need your own transport. But this is definitely true of the Williamsburg area. If you want to visit the battlefields, explore the historic area, etc. just save yourself some hassle and pick up a cheap rental.

So that’s my thoughts on the Williamsburg area. Have you ever been there? Where are your favourite places in Virginia?

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(Less than) 24 hours in Washington D.C.

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If you’ve ever stumbled upon my blog, you’ll find one of my most favourite things to talk about is travel. I could talk for days – especially if I find someone who’s been to some of the same places as I have.  Because of this, I thought I’d take some time to explore a little more in-depth some of my favourite places that I’ve been. Many have been visited while on long road trips, meaning that I’ve seen a little of a lot, but I try to make that ‘little’ as meaningful as possible.

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Shane and I being a little too overtired (also, check out the Washington Monument photobombing us).

First on my list is Washington, D.C. which is a fantastic city which I’ve spent less than 24 hours, but I managed to see quite a bit in that short span.

We arrived in Baltimore only to immediately grab our rental car and proceed on the roughly one hour drive to Washington.

After travelling on an early am flight from St. John’s (through Toronto and then through Baltimore) it was an insanely exhausting day, but we also knew it would probably be our only chance in a long time to see the city (since we would only be there for one night before heading on to Virginia). So as soon as we were checked into our hotel, we laced up our sneakers and caught the subway to the Capitol District.

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Checking out the (outside of) the Smithsonian.

Tip #1 – Everything is further away than you think it is. When you’re in front of the Washington Monument, gazing toward the Capitol Building you may think “wow, this really isn’t too far!” Do not be fooled, it is. You’ll walk for probably 40 minutes or more to get there. But the walk is very nice and you’ll pass the Smithsonian and a bunch of other interesting buildings along the way.

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The Capitol Building at dusk.

 

Tip #2 – Don’t be afraid after dark. No really, Washington is surprisingly quiet after dark. As dusk hit, really the only people that we saw around were joggers, which actually comforted us, because we figured if they felt safe enough there, so should we.

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The subway station seemed pretty fancy to us!

Tip #3 – Use the Subway. While we had a rental car, we didn’t want to be worried about driving in downtown DC, so we decided to take on the subway system and you know what? It was super easy. When we first arrived, we had to ask for help (which people were very okay with providing) but after a quick lesson we were on our way. It was very quick and timely.

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Arlington National Cemetery – white stone grave markers for as far as the eye can see.

Finally, although the majority of our ‘visit’ was spent outside of buildings, on our way to our next destination we did make time to stop at Arlington National Cemetery. I’d basically consider myself to be a pacifist, but there’s something about seeing the graves of thousands and thousands of people that have died in protection of their country that can bring a tear to your eye. It’s a huge place, we only saw a part of it, but still it was most definitely worth the stop.

So there you have it! Are there many, many more awesome things to see and do in Washington? Most definitely, and I recommend you check them out. But if you only have a few hours to spare, you can see some great things. Should I find myself in the city again, I would probably arrange to take a few tours and eat some local food, as all we had time to ‘indulge’ in was McDonalds! 

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Shane checking out Obama’s pad (from a distance, of course!)