Escapes: Canada, you light up our lives in so many ways

Passengers aboard the Aurora 360 Experience’s chartered 737 enjoy a spectacular above-the-clouds view of the northern lights.
(Paul Boorstin)

When you’re away from home, you don’t want everything to be the same. For Sharon Boorstin, it wasn’t.

That’s partly what made her trip to the Yukon so refreshing. She hoped to see the northern lights, but she didn’t expect to fall in love with the Canadian wilderness.

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. On a warmer note, Janet Hook of our Washington bureau reports on a walking safari in Africa on which she saw most of the Big 5 and all of the Little 5, which was a surprise and a dandy one at that.

In the not-so-dandy category: Buying an airline ticket isn’t easy, but you knew that. We offer suggestions of questions you need to answer to ease your angst and strategies to employ if you feel pressure to upgrade. In the opposite of angst, we offer a deeper dive into the history of Portland, Ore., for a weekend escape and an object lesson in sisterly love.


All of this and, of course, the End paper, in which one more reader shares her worst moment in her travel history. It involves damaging a train car. Read to the end to find out how she wiggled her way out of that one.

And now, the rest of the stories.

It was chill in the Yukon

Webster’s describes the Yukon as a northwestern Canadian territory east of Alaska. Writer Sharon Boorstin describes it as otherworldly. She did go to see the northern lights, but her other experiences were equally enchanting.

She found a no-frills dip in the thermal Takahini mineral pool “certainly different,” she said — the polar opposite of a SoCal spa experience. But “to look up and see so many stars” was a revelation, she said. And isn’t that what we want in a trip — to see something that speaks to your soul as this one did?

In Africa, little things mean a lot

If you’re going on an African safari, you’re probably there for the giraffes, lions and zebras. Janet Hook found herself enchanted with the ant lion, the buffalo weaver and the rhinoceros beetle. On foot, she came across these and other reminders of the wildness of the place: a hippo skull, a zebra leg that was lunch for some critter. It created a different kind of bond for this restless traveler.

Clockwise from top left: ant lion, buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, rhinoceros beetle, elephant shrew.
(Bill Patterson and Getty Images)

What? You mean I don’t have a seat?

That’s the unpleasant surprise writer Jessica Roy confronted on a flight home over the holidays. When she checked in and tried to select a seat, she found none available unless she bought an upgrade. She did what many people do who want to, say, take the same flight with a spouse who already has a seat: She paid the price of an upgrade, just to be sure. Read why, in the end, she didn’t really need to spend the money.

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People will say they’re in love

They’re a cute couple, especially now that they have two little ones on the way. She’s so concerned about her soon-to-be-babies that she spends every day trying to ensure there are no complications. That’s why Jackie and her mate, Shadow, are such an internet hit. Jackie is the proud mama who awaits the hatching of two little bald eagle eggs in the San Bernardino Mountains. And they’re stars of the utterly addicting eagle cam, Mary Forgione writes.

The Big Bear Lake eagle pair bonds by working together to build up the nest.
(Friends of Big Bear Valley)

Sisterly love opens her eyes to the world

She wasn’t a traveler. Her older sister was. One magical trip opened a whole new world to this younger sibling. Read her story of how sisterhood introduced her to new realms and made her a traveler reluctant no more.

An important part of Portland’s past

Chinese immigrants helped build Portland, Ore. Dorothy O’Donnell spent a weekend in the city’s Chinatown, which still has some reminders of a people who once made up 12% of the population and provides a window into that community’s history.

Staff members of the Lan Su Chinese Garden take pictures of a sudden snowfall in Portland, Ore.
(Liz Moughon / For The Times)

Buying a plane ticket without angst or guilt

Who knew that an airplane journey could also be an emotional journey? And yet it clearly is — or at least, I think of it as competing interests that conspire to make you lose sight of your goal: going, seeing, doing and celebrating. Here are the three questions you need to ask yourself so you have no regrets.

What we’re reading

You want to get away to someplace quiet that’s not crazy busy and has great wildlife spotting opps and a panorama that will take your breath away? We suggest … San Francisco? Yes, Britta Shoot writes for Atlas Obscura, because the place in question is Brooks Island, a speck in San Francisco Bay that’s half a mile from Richmond. The islet is overseen by Matt Allen, the caretaker. You can see it on trips through the East Bay Regional Park District.

Don’t read this item if you have liquid in your mouth unless you want to do a spit take. Consumer columnist David Lazarus reports in his newsletter that JetBlue is raising its baggage fees. That’s not a surprise in an industry in which paying for bags has underwritten airline recovery, but here’s the narrative the airline is putting out there: It “will reduce transactions in the airport lobby and improve the customer service,” JetBlue told its employees in a memo. Read Lazarus’ full dissection. Just don’t do it with your mouth full.

I got my first passport at 9, and my father impressed upon me that it was such an important document that I would be disinherited if I lost it. I’ve been nervous about it ever since, because I believe it to be the gold standard of identification. So I was surprised to read in Afar magazine that a U.S. passport didn’t make the cut in its Top Five “most powerful passports in the world” article.

The winner is … Japan, Lyndsey Matthews writes, citing the Henley Passport Index, which is based on the number of places a passport holder can go without a visa. Japanese holders can get into 191 countries. (The U.S. ranks eighth, in a five-way tie with the United Kingdom, Norway, Greece and Belgium, at 184.) Singapore is just one behind Japan, and South Korea and Germany are tied for third. Coming in last: Afghanistan, whose passport gets holders into just 26 countries. Even North Korea fares better.

Mt. Fuji, Japan's tallest peak, as seen through Shinjuku skyscrapers. Japanese passport holders can access 191 countries without a visa.
(Kimimasa Mayama / EPA-EFE/REX)

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End paper

It is rarely polite to laugh at people, especially if you have suffered the humiliation of being the object of ridicule. Guilty as charged. But that didn’t stop me from tittering, giggling, then guffawing at the story Rosalie Maggio of La Crescenta sent me.

She was traveling with her girls, Katie, then 12, and Liz, then 15, in Munich, Germany. On a short train hop, everyone got off one stop before they did, and unfortunately, they soon found out that they had reached the end of the line. First clue: Everything shut down. Second clue: That included the lights.

The mother bear found something that appeared to be an emergency device with a wooden handle, so she tugged on it with all her might and ended up with a wooden handle. She had broken something clear off whatever it was affixed to.

Here came the security guy to find out what in the ho-hum was going on. The mom, fearing she would be going to German prison, cued her daughter Katie to cry, which she said Katie could do at the merest provocation.

What the train guy found: one weeping 12-year-old, one hugely embarrassed 15-year-old and one flummoxed mom who begged forgiveness with the few words of German she knew.

The train restarted and returned to the last stop, where the three scrambled off. Maggio still has the wooden handle.

As Sharon Boorstin pointed out in her Yukon story, as Janet Hook noted in her Zambia story and as Rosalie Maggio found on her misadventure above, we take from our travels the thrill of the different or even the ridiculous. We pack our expectations, but we must put them aside to discover what’s at the heart of the journey — whether it’s the thrill of the weird and wonderful, the pleasure of seeing a land and its bugs (check out the pictures of Zambia) or the adrenaline of saving your children by breaking a train.

Wherever you are and wherever you find that heart, travel safely and well, and remember that we will be here to welcome you home.