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Dreaming of a white Christmas? Hang out with reindeer virtually, minus the cold

Laptop inside a snow globe
Escape to your winter wonderland — virtually — this week.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, travelers, and merry Christmas Eve. I had a blast putting together last week’s all-virtual Escapes edition — and I hope you enjoyed reading it — so this week, I thought I’d bring you more virtual travel adventures.

Let’s be honest — as Southern California travelers, we often get the urge to visit chilly places around the holidays. But trips to remote ski lodges can quickly go from romantic to masochistic — just ask anyone who’s had to snowboard with wet gloves or drive mountain roads during a blizzard.

So maybe you’ll enjoy experiencing these wintry locales virtually from the comfort of sunny Los Angeles. These expeditions will take you to four cold-weather destinations, from the South Pole to southwestern Indiana. You can travel by boat or reindeer sleigh. All without needing to stuff a suitcase full of parkas and long underwear.

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As always, let me know if you have a favorite virtual travel method or COVID-safe activity, and I’ll do my best to feature it in a future edition of Escapes.

🐧 Walk in Shackleton’s shoes in Antarctica

Even the most intrepid travelers may not make it to Antarctica in their lifetimes. But not for lack of desire. A quick Google search reveals that trips to the icy continent often cost $10,000 — or much more.

Enter Shackleton 100, a website created to celebrate the centenary of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic mission. Its interactive map lets virtual adventurers explore the continent.

Using the map, you can walk inside ultra-remote places such as Shackleton’s hut — full of rustic provisions — and Half Moon Island, home to scores of chinstrap penguins. And it doesn’t cost you a penny to get there.

Screengrabs from Shackleton 100's site showing a map and a photo of Antarctica
Take a detour to the South Pole this week with the help of Shackleton 100.
(Screengrabs from Shackleton 100; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angles Times)

🦌 Take a sleigh ride in Lapland


Get a taste of what life is like in Rautas, a reindeer herding village in Sweden, with this interactive video. Viewers can use their mouse to get a 360-degree view of a reindeer farm and a swift sleigh ride through winter woods.

If you’d like to further immerse yourself in northern Sweden’s winter wonderland, Lights Over Lapland offers a video tour of an ice hotel, as well as the northern lights as seen in Abisko National Park.

video of interactive sleigh ride lays on top of blue and yellow squiggle background
Move over Santa, we’re taking the reins on a sleigh ride this week with lightsoverlapland.com
(Screengrab from lightsoverlapland.com; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

⛰️ See the beauty of southeast Alaska


This virtual tour of destinations in and around Sitka, Alaska, lets viewers soak in views from southeast Alaska’s Harbor Mountain Trail, Sitka Sound and other jaw-dropping places.

If you fall in love with Sitka and don’t want your virtual adventure to end, continue your visit with the National Park Service’s tours of historic sites in the area.

video of boat touring through a lake in southeast Alaska with rainbow background
Take a tour through southeast Alaska and soak in the icy views from the warmth of your bed.
(Screengrab from youvisit.com/tour/alaska; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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🎅 Earn your place on the nice list in Santa Claus, Ind.


I was born in Bethlehem, Penn. — also known as Christmas City. And, yes, spending the holidays there is basically like living in a Hallmark movie. This week, I wrote a story about my quest to do every Christmassy thing I could while working from home during the pandemic.

Now, having established my Christmas City credentials, I have to plug another yuletide-friendly town: Santa Claus, Ind.

Visitors to Santa Claus can visit magical attractions like Santa’s Candy Castle — chock-full of “old-fashioned & hard-to-find candy” as well as more than 30 flavors of cocoa. The Santa Claus post office is another must-visit if you’re ever in town; the Santa Claus website encourages travelers to drop by to “receive the famous Santa Claus postmark” during the holiday season.

To get a sense of what Santa Claus has to offer, watch this virtual tour of its museum and village.

illustration of letters addressed to Santa Claus, Indiana
Send yourself to Santa with a virtual visit to Santa Claus, Ind.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading


  • The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park has come under fire for hosting a lavish Thanksgiving feast for hundreds, Times reporter Hayley Smith writes.
Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

  • Many lodgings in California are open only to “essential workers” or people who must quarantine — not to vacationers. But many hotels and Airbnbs are letting travelers make their own decisions, Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds and assistant travel editor Mary Forgione discovered during a survey of more than 50 lodgings.
  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park will receive more than $500,000 to help its redwoods recover from last summer’s devastating wildfire, Times staff writer Faith Pinho reports.
  • Many emotional support animals are soon losing their service animal designation aboard aircrafts. Now only dogs will be able to qualify. “Sorry, peacocks,” says Times contributor Elliott Hester.
  • Speaking of canines, your dog may make it a lot easier to find adventure during the pandemic. “When you’re not supposed to leave your house, much less travel to exotic locations, dogs help bring the outside world inside,” writes Walter Nicklin in the Washington Post.
  • There are fewer than 300 fully ordained female monks in Thailand, Isobel van Hagen reports in Atlas Obscura. She describes their experience, as well as their desire for recognition and respect.
  • Ever get disappointed by bad weather or closures during a vacation? You’ll relate to Emily Pennington’s account of her trip to Glacier National Park in Outside Online. It’s a good reminder that nature is always in charge.

📸 Favorite photo

Visitors at the Pier in Manhattan Beach.
With annual holiday decorations on display, a sign in Manhattan Beach alerts visitors that face coverings are required.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song


“‘tis the damn season” off Taylor Swift’s second quarantine-fueled record of the year is pure holiday angst. The track tells the story of a person traveling home for the holidays, only to get swept up in a nostalgic, (most likely) ill-fated affair with a former flame. It’s wintry, wistful and pretty angry.

In other words, it’s a great road song to leave you with this Christmas Eve in 2020. Happy holidays, fellow adventurers.

aerial shot of snowy town street. Lyrics from Taylor Swift's "'tis the damn season" splay across
Moody holiday anthem of the year award goes to Taylor Swift’s “‘tis the damn season.” Play it to get in your feels.
(Larry Tseng / Unsplash; Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)


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