Where to Winter Break?
November 19, 2004 10:28 AM   Subscribe

WinterBreakFilter: If you were a 19-year old college student in California with a working car, a few hundred dollars, the period between December 9th and January 3rd, a sense of adventure, sidekicks as needed, some knowledge of the French language, and a general desire to do something memorable this year....

What would you do?
posted by rfordh to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total)
french speaking canada?
posted by andrew cooke at 10:30 AM on November 19, 2004

drive & camp baja, catch your own fish, drink only beer.
posted by luriete at 10:38 AM on November 19, 2004

Make for Baja.
posted by majick at 10:38 AM on November 19, 2004

Why not here? or check out some more tourist traps here
posted by crusiera at 11:00 AM on November 19, 2004

french speaking canada?

... is a long way from California. They don't even bother with French signage in BC.

Coincidentally: If it were me, I'd go to BC -- especially Vancouver. Ferry to Victoria is probably too fat for your wallet. And take along people who don't care whether they actually get anywhere, because there are lots of cool things to see and do between CA and BC.

BTW, nothing wrong with Baja, I guess. I just find BC more interesting.
posted by lodurr at 11:02 AM on November 19, 2004

What kind of adventure are you looking for?

Hawaii - restful.

Vegas - not restful.

Maybe just wait til just before the date and see what last minute deals are available on site59?
posted by jasper411 at 11:03 AM on November 19, 2004

I can vouch for the fun at Wall Drug - plus the Badlands are breathtaking.
posted by jalexei at 11:37 AM on November 19, 2004

Response by poster: I don't have to make use of the french. I'm just saying, if that opens anything up...

Baja debauchery is, of course, in the running. So is a roadtrip towards the northwest with random stops en route. Site59, StudentUniverse, and SmarterLiving are amongst my daily bookmarks for travel deals, and I'm weighing the costs of attempting a trip abroad.

Being 19, I've written Vegas off somewhat. Is that a mistake?

And I'm down for either relaxing or non. If I don't take a trip somewhere, I'll probably read a bunch of books, take some AskMefi advice on good writing habits, drink, and generally hang out around here. Just thought I'd fish for alternatives before resigning to that fate. Thanks for everything so far.
posted by rfordh at 11:39 AM on November 19, 2004

I'd love to give a plug for montreal, but frankly maybe there's a better time. Oh, it gets so cold. :(

And also "some knowledge of the french language" tends to be torn to shreds, pretty quickly. Most Canadians take nine years of french, and outside of reading road signs, it's still pretty much useless in Quebec. imo.
posted by cmyr at 11:46 AM on November 19, 2004

You're in Santa Cruz, right? I don't know what kind of debauchery is available in Baja that isn't available in SC. I'm sortof biased against Mexico, though... nearly every one of my trips there hasn't turned out great, and I tend to view the Baja peninsula as a dirtier, more lawless/less safe version of California. Nor am I big into vice as recreation, so take my advice with that in mind. But here's my thought: stay in California. Get a backroads of California guide and pick something. It's amazing how many people think California is the Bay Area, LA, and maybe Yosemite. You don't have to be one of those people. If you've got built in travelling companions, you'll likely entertain yourselves as well in whatever state highway hotel/dive as in Ensenada or Rosarita. Though if you really are looking to join in with random revelry, this isn't good advice.
posted by weston at 11:52 AM on November 19, 2004

Baja debauchery is, of course, in the running.

No, no, no. You'll want to avoid the debauchery, I think: it's greatly overrated. If you do head South, you should make an effort to avoid your fellow American college students as much as possible. luriete's suggestion is a good one. Personally, I would consider a road trip into the Mexican mainland: turn South at Mexicali and keep going until you run out of time. The Pacific coast between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta is relatively uncrowded (and beautiful). Hell, with the time you have, you can probably make it to Guadalajara, too. It's kind of the cultural capital of Mexico: a big city, but with a lot of the old colonial Mexico preserved. A really fascinating place.

You might, actually, want to leave your car at home and rely on the (extensive) system of long-distance buses in Mexico. I'd avoid the railway, though.

I can't recommend Mexico highly enough. Just stay away from the tourist traps! This means Tijuana, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, the Cabos, etc. You can have fun here, but it won't be the same kind of cultural adventure that you can have in the rest of the country.

Speaking of adventure, it that's what you're really interested in, there's always Mexico City. It's huge, confusing, and pretty dangerous, but it'll definitely be an experience.

Plus, French and Spanish are both romance languages...

Being 19, I've written Vegas off somewhat. Is that a mistake?

I would argue that it's never a mistake to write off Vegas.

The Northwest is good too, but I'd recommend visiting in the summer.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:05 PM on November 19, 2004

I've written Vegas off somewhat. Is that a mistake?

Not really, unless you like to gamble and enjoy kitsch.
posted by kindall at 12:32 PM on November 19, 2004

Hmmm, it does seem to be true that 21 seems to be a cutoff age for many (though not all) activities in Vegas - I have no idea how much this is enforced on a regular basis though (as opposed to when you win a million dollar jackpot).

Can any MeFi's in Vegas help with this? Do they check IDs before allowing you to get into shows/parties/casinos? What is New Year's like in Vegas?
posted by jasper411 at 12:35 PM on November 19, 2004

Agreed with mr_roboto about the Northwest road trip...when it's nice here, it's the best place on earth. The rest of the time, it's a rain-soaked, sunless nightmare.

(I did a sorta-similar trip (in reverse) last summer: Washington to California, then heading east through Joshua Tree to Zion/the Grand Canyon/Bryce, and hitting Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Crater Lake on the way back, staying on smaller highways/backroads wherever possible. Vegas was monstrously overrated, but that's because we went about it in the worst possible way: showing up on a Saturday without reservations of any kind.)

At any rate, if you enjoy camping and your car has decent mileage, it can be a ridiculously cheap holiday--with willing sidekicks along for the ride, even more so. (Unless you stop off at Powell's City of Books in Portland, which is a) endlessly cool, and b) designed to bankrupt you.)
posted by Vervain at 1:26 PM on November 19, 2004

Ok so being a historian and someone who studies Americana you could try a trip on Route 66. I'd say that maybe Chicago in late December isn't so great. On the return trip you could try taking I-80 back as it closely follows the Transcontinental Railroad route.

Then again, I'm a history geek.
posted by Numenorian at 1:39 PM on November 19, 2004

Mr. Roboto is on a great train of thought here. To develop:

drive down baja. Take the ferry over to Los Mochis, and jump on a train to Copper Canyon. Overnight train - you can sleep on it. You can explore caves that are miles deep, with quartz crystals the size of small trucks. It's really quite extraordinary.


there's room for a bit of debauchery if you want on the way there and back.
posted by luriete at 1:53 PM on November 19, 2004 [1 favorite]

ski vacation in BC. I'd recommend the interior, maybe Kelowna or Red mountain in Rossland if you're good. This gives you the added advantage of legal boozin'. Much cheaper and less touristy than Whistler.
posted by sauril at 2:00 PM on November 19, 2004

Take the ferry over to Los Mochis...

Oh man; I've always wanted to take that ferry. That's a great idea. And it'll give you a chance to see the Chihuahua desert, which is just desolately beautiful.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:09 PM on November 19, 2004

The ferry will eat up a good chunk of that few hundred dollars. I've done the mainland drive mr_roboto suggested. The drive is very easy but is is a long distance to get to Nogales and to then get out of the shadow of Baja. I remember arriving in the tropics as a magic moment. If you're into groups, you might want to check out green tortoise.
posted by rdr at 4:02 PM on November 19, 2004

As someone who's been visiting Vegas since highschool, I can tell you that being 19 can definitely put somewhat of a damper on your time.

You might as well forget the clubs. They know their fake ID's and they all card at the door. The casinos on the other hand might work for you if you are an old looking 19. When I hit 22, they stopped ever asking for ID, but before that I'd get periodically questioned. There are casinos known for the laxity when it comes to age (ie Casino Royale, which has the best craps odds). Of course, it'd be a shame to put a quarter in the slot and hit a jackpot at 19. Also, Vegas is pretty crew dependent, so if you're there with the wrong peeps, you got problems.

Oh wait, a few hundred bucks.. Vegas is definitely out if you ask me. It ain't like the good old days.
posted by drpynchon at 4:35 PM on November 19, 2004

Death Valley on Green Tortoise. Or Central America, if you can swing the cash.
posted by obloquy at 4:44 PM on November 19, 2004

Mammoth in California for skiing.
posted by plinth at 5:04 PM on November 19, 2004

Strike that because of the cash flow. Sorry. I'd recommend finding a copy of "Amazing America" by Jan and Michael Stern if you're into the roadside kitsch.
posted by plinth at 5:05 PM on November 19, 2004

If you like to camp, go to Baja and avoid all the places you know by name: TJ, Rosarito, Ensanada and all that. Baja is a wonderful relaxing place if you avoid large numbers of Americans. If you're interested, drop me a line and I'll tell you how to find an excellent camping spot.
posted by samh23 at 6:07 PM on November 19, 2004

Response by poster: Cool. Thanks for all the suggestions, guys. I'm kind of surprised that "a couple hundred bucks" sets off alarms in terms of fun potential. But, I'll definitely look closely at everything here.
posted by rfordh at 8:56 PM on November 19, 2004

Climb Mount Orizaba, an 18,000 ft volcano in Mexico. For about $300 total you can: catch a bus from the border to Mexico City, (take the late bus and sleep) then out to the little town of Tlachichuca and stay with Senor Reyes in his old salt mill/mountain lodge. He'll offer to drive you up to the base camp, but it's a one day hike if you do it yourself. Spend a day or two acclimating to the altitude, then get up rat 2 a.m. and summit. Cheap crampons and an ice axe might cost another $150. The $300 includes food and return bus. The mountain is an easy climb, but the altitude is tough; take baby steps. You don't need a tent. There will be other people doing it also, so you can kind of tag along. Some have done it from the Xalapa side, and say it's better because you pass through the coastal tropical rainforest, but I've never done it.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:04 AM on November 20, 2004

One caveat: not to scare you, but people have died climbing this. I'm not sure how, because other than the altitude, it's a super easy climb. Maybe they weren't wearing crampons.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:10 AM on November 20, 2004

As a college student in California with approximately the same means (minus the french), I would recommend a cross-country trip of some sort, esp. if you have friends at other universities. My girlfriend and I went to Boulder, CO to visit a friend there, and passed by all kinds of amazing national parks, explored the Utah desert, passed through the Rocky Mountains during an unseasonal snow... in short: an amazing time. We did the entire trip in less than a week (L.A.-> Vegas-> Boulder-> Back Home...ahh to be young), but with the time frame you have set out you could really see quite a bit of country (and sleep more than we did). Bring a tent and sleeping bags and you could post up in parks a long the way, stay with friends (or friends of friends), or get a cheap motel when you're jonesing for clean sheets in order to keep costs down.

Gas prices have become quite an issue as far as travel-costs are concerned, and of course you'll want to get your car all checked out if you're going to be driving any distance, so you have to factor that in to your travel plans. Having more people in the car to chip in on gas always helps with those costs, but can be cramped too if you get more than three people in a car for any real length of time (although taking turns driving/sleeping can help alleviate the insanity of sitting in a car for an entire day).

Hope the trip turns out as good as mine. Hide your drugs well in Utah.
posted by rooftop secrets at 10:00 AM on November 20, 2004

I'm late to the party, but head to the low desert, either in Mexico or southern Ca/AZ/NM. Warm days in the low canyons, a good fire and cheap whiskey at night. Camp for free on BLM land.
posted by LarryC at 6:49 PM on November 22, 2004

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