4 Festive Holiday Road Trips To Take in December

Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.
Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.

Road trips are often reserved for the freedom of summer vacation, but if you miss the open road, there’s no reason you can't find holiday-inspired adventure along the highway during the winter. Work these festival stops into a trip back to grandmother's house, or follow the trail for a merry and bright day trip.

1. PORTLAND, OREGON TO SALEM, OREGON

Oregon holiday road map
Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.

Stop 1: Christmas Festival of Lights in Portland

If you can't get enough of belting out "Jingle Bells" and "Deck the Halls" with family and friends, take the music of the season one step further at Portland's Christmas Festival of Lights. This month-long festival runs through December 30 and features more than 160 indoor holiday concerts. The 2017 festival marks 30 years of holiday performances at what organizers consider to be the world’s largest choral festival. And if your road trip companions aren't feeling the music, there's always a lighted pathway, puppet shows, and a petting zoo complete with baby camel cuddles.

Stop 2: Oregon Garden in Silverton

Heading one hour south from Portland, swing into Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical garden that becomes a German-inspired Christmas wonderland. Open most days in December, the Christmas in the Garden event has drawn in thousands of visitors (peaking at 35,000 attendees in 2016) thanks to its Christmas market, ice skating rink, biergarten, and never-ending glühwein—a spiced, mulled wine popular in Deutschland. There’s also snowless tubing, two restaurants, and more than 600,000 Christmas lights hung throughout the botanical garden for a festive and glowing holiday adventure.

Stop 3: Christmas Tree Hunting Near Salem

The nearby Salem area is home to nearly 20 Christmas tree farms, making it a great stop for picking up the family tree before wrapping up a road trip. While that may seem like market saturation to non-Oregonians, the number of tree farms throughout the state isn't at all surprising, considering Oregon is the top Christmas tree-producing state in the nation, harvesting an estimated 5.2 million trees in 2016. Douglas and Noble firs are easiest to find, since the two varieties make up a combined 86 percent of the state's Christmas tree population. With 42,000 acres of tree farms throughout the state, it shouldn't take too long to find the perfect fir to take home.

2. ROCHESTER, NEW YORK TO ITHACA, NEW YORK

New York holiday road map.
Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.

Stop 1: George Eastman Museum in Rochester

Even if you snap a selfie with a cell phone instead of using a point-and-shoot, it's worth swinging through Rochester to thank George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, for his impact on the photography industry. The George Eastman Museum is housed in Eastman's former residence, and has collected and preserved photography and cinema history since 1949. During the winter holidays, the museum is also host to Sweet Creations, a gingerbread house display that features more than 50 edible structures. Running through December 13, visitors can view the tiny homes among other exhibits. But unlike most of the museum’s artifacts, these displays are auctioned mid-month with funds used towards museum restoration projects.

Stop 2: It's A Wonderful Life Festival in Seneca Falls

From December 8 through 10, the 9000 residents of Seneca Falls celebrate the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. The town claims to be the inspiration behind Bedford Falls, the fictional setting for the 1946 Christmas film, and even has the evidence: Director Frank Capra visited in the 1940s, exploring the town and getting a haircut. Now, Seneca Falls celebrates with a three-day festival featuring a gingerbread contest, soup cook-offs, and several panels about the meaning of life. But even if you miss the fest, Seneca Falls is a lovely drive down memory lane, thanks to its classic, 1940s style.

Stop 3: Ithaca Ice Festival in Ithaca

If you've ever wanted to see just how a giant ice luge or fancy ice sculpture is made, Ithaca's annual Ice Fest is the place to go. Ice carvers from around the country compete for the chance to win cash prizes in three rounds of carving competitions. From December 7 to 9, ice carvers compete based on how quickly and impressively they can transform blocks of ice into art, while crowds watch from the ice bar or sample more than 20 different kinds of chowder during the fest's adjacent annual chowder cook-off. If that seems too chilly, don't worry—there’s also a litany of fire demonstrations and a silent disco to warm you up.

3. DEARBORN, MICHIGAN TO HOLLY, MICHIGAN

Michigan holiday road map.
Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.

Stop 1: Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, in Dearborn

Christmas past blends with Christmas present in Dearborn, Michigan, where weekends in December play host to the Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village festival. Throughout the month, Charles Dickens reigns supreme, with mid- to late-1800s carolers, reenactors, and performers milling about the town to spread history-based cheer. But, that's not the only era represented; visitors can take a spin on a 1913 carousel or visit a Civil War encampment. Model T rides are available, as well as ice skating, historic home tours, and live reindeer. It's almost too much Christmas history for any one town.

Stop 2: Christmas Markets in Detroit

Detroit is home to a variety of Christmas celebrations, but holiday market lovers will enjoy browsing through various local vendors at the city's Christmas Markets. Through Christmas Eve, the market spreads through eight spots in the city, including Cadillac Square and Capitol Park, and takes its German inspiration seriously with dance bands, glühwein, and accordion and polka performances. There are also heated tents, an ice rink, and the city's 60-foot Christmas tree to enjoy.

Stop 3: Holly Dickens Festival in Holly

If you haven't had enough Dickens adventures on this trip, stop into Holly, Michigan, where the town hosts the longest-running Dickens festival in the country. Running for 44 years, the three weekends after Thanksgiving (through Dec. 10 this year) are filled with performances of A Christmas Carol, horse-drawn carriage rides, vintage photos, museum tours, tea parties, and shopping. If that wasn't enough, couples can renew their vows with the help of Queen Victoria while attending the festival.

4. ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA TO BREVARD, NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina holiday road map
Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.

Stop 1: Christmas At The Biltmore in Asheville

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is known for being a romantic getaway for couples and a perfect Christmas town. It's also home to The Biltmore, the largest private home in the U.S. The Vanderbilt mansion has historically accepted guests for Christmas since 1895, and it still opens for the holiday season each year. Visitors get an upper class taste of Christmas throughout December, which includes 55 decorated trees, more than 1000 poinsettias, "miles of ribbon," and other opulent décor. Christmas at the Biltmore also includes a gingerbread house tea, candlelight tours, carriage rides, and garden and grounds decorated for winter. Go on and pretend it's all yours.

Stop 2: Santa on the Chimney at Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock State Park, about an hour's drive south of Asheville, is home to a 535-million-year-old rock face—aptly called Chimney Rock—that you can climb. But on December 9, you can also see how Santa takes on chimneys of all sizes. The big guy with the presents rappels the 315-foot rock as park-goers and Christmas enthusiasts watch. Visitors also get to snack on holiday treats and hang out with live critters that call the park home.

Stop 3: Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum in Brevard

"Jingle Bell Rock" turns 60 years old this season (it debuted in 1957), and in Brevard, you can jump right back to that time. The Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum (called ATOM) hosts the country's only known display of aluminum Christmas trees—most dating to the 1950s, when the tinsel-colored trees were mass produced by the millions. Decades-old ornaments bedazzle the restored trees (which are given pseudo-scientific names, like Silvercus pinii holidaeus), and retro-inspired musical guests perform original Christmas carols through December 23. This blast from the past might wrap up a road trip through North Carolina, but it is sure to create plenty of modern memories. And after all, isn't that the best part about holiday adventures?

7 Top-Rated Portable Air Conditioners You Can Buy Right Now

Black + Decker/Amazon
Black + Decker/Amazon

The warmest months of the year are just around the corner (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), and things are about to get hot. To make indoor life feel a little more bearable, we’ve rounded up a list of some of the top-rated portable air conditioners you can buy online right now.

1. SereneLife 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner; $290

SereneLife air conditioner on Amazon.
SereneLife/Amazon

This device—currently the best-selling portable air conditioner on Amazon—is multifunctional, cooling the air while also working as a dehumidifier. Reviewers on Amazon praised this model for how easy it is to set up, but cautioned that it's not meant for large spaces. According to the manufacturer, it's designed to cool down rooms up to 225 square feet, and the most positive reviews came from people using it in their bedroom.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Black + Decker 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner and Heater; $417

Black + Decker portable air conditioner
Black+Decker/Amazon

Black + Decker estimates that this combination portable air conditioner and heater can accommodate rooms up to 350 square feet, and it even comes with a convenient timer so you never have to worry about forgetting to turn it off before you leave the house. The setup is easy—the attached exhaust hose fits into most standard windows, and everything you need for installation is included. This model sits around four stars on Amazon, and it was also picked by Wirecutter as one of the best values on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Mikikin Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $45

Desk air conditioner on Amazon
Mikikin/Amazon

This miniature portable conditioner, which is Amazon's top-selling new portable air conditioner release, is perfect to put on a desk or end table as you work or watch TV during those sweltering dog days. It's currently at a four-star rating on Amazon, and reviewers recommend filling the water tank with a combination of cool water and ice cubes for the best experience.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Juscool Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $56

Juscool portable air conditioner.
Juscool/Amazon

This tiny air conditioner fan, which touts a 4.6-star rating, is unique because it plugs in with a USB cable, so you can hook it up to a laptop or a wall outlet converter to try out any of its three fan speeds. This won't chill a living room, but it does fit on a nightstand or desk to help cool you down in stuffy rooms or makeshift home offices that weren't designed with summer in mind.

Buy it: Amazon

5. SHINCO 8000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $320

Shinco portable air conditioner
SHINCO/Amazon

This four-star-rated portable air conditioner is meant for rooms of up to 200 square feet, so think of it for a home office or bedroom. It has two fan speeds, and the included air filter can be rinsed out quickly underneath a faucet. There's also a remote control that lets you adjust the temperature from across the room. This is another one where you'll need a window nearby, but the installation kit and instructions are all included so you won't have to sweat too much over setting it up.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Honeywell MN Series Portable Air Conditioner and Dehumidifier; $400

Honeywell air conditioner on Walmart.
Honeywell/Walmart

Like the other units on this list, Honeywell's portable air conditioner also acts as a dehumidifier or a standard fan when you just want some air to circulate. You can cool a 350-square-foot room with this four-star model, and there are four wheels at the bottom that make moving it from place to place even easier. This one is available on Amazon, too, but Walmart has the lowest price right now.

Buy it: Walmart

7. LG 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $699

LG Portable Air Conditioner.
LG/Home Depot

This one won't come cheap, but it packs the acclaim to back it up. It topped Wirecutter's list of best portable air conditioners and currently has a 4.5-star rating on Home Depot's website, with many of the reviews praising how quiet it is while it's running. It's one of the only models you'll find compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, and it can cool rooms up to 500 square feet. There's also the built-in timer, so you can program it to go on and off whenever you want.

Buy it: Home Depot

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Calm on the Fourth of July

iStock/Getty Images Plus/melissabrock1
iStock/Getty Images Plus/melissabrock1

The Fourth of July can be rough for dogs. Fireworks displays light up their senses with unfamiliar noises, flashes, and smells, and parties flood their homes with strange guests who may invade the rooms they usually have as private retreats. And when distressed dogs escape, howl, or thrash around the house, Independence Day can quickly become a nightmare for their owners, too. To minimize Fido's stress this holiday, we spoke to some dog experts to discover the best ways to keep your canine calm on the Fourth of July.

1. Exercise Your Dog

Anthony Newman, the dog whisperer who runs New York City's Calm Energy Dog Training, says that exercise is a great way to help your dog let off some nervous energy. "Whenever Fido is going to be neglected for an extended period of time, or around any stressful stimuli, it always helps to tire him out just before—and even during the night if you can," Newman says. "As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog! He'll be calmer, happier, and more peaceful."

2. Keep Your Dog Indoors

Dr. Stephanie Liff, head veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care, says the best place to keep your pet during a fireworks show is inside and away from the windows. "If the pet is very scared, an escape-proof crate or a sound-insulated room, such as an internal bathroom, may help the pet to feel more secure," Liff tells Mental Floss. "If you cannot keep your pet inside, make sure that the pet is prevented from escape (monitor all exits and tell guests to monitor your pet)."

3. Socialize Your Dog

While your dog may feel more secure in a room away from all the noise, Newman points out that keeping your dog isolated in another room for too long can be stressful for your pet. "Release his curiosity and let him in on the fun, to run around and play with both two-legged as well as four-legged guests," Newman says. "Then back to his obedient room, bed, car, crate, or spot. Rinse and repeat as needed throughout the night."

4. Take Control of Your Dog

According to Newman, the best way to keep your dog calm during the chaos of July 4th is to stay in charge. "If your dog winces, shivers, and runs away at loud noises, the last thing he wants is to feel like nobody else is looking out for him," Newman says. Don't let your dog run rampant around the house or follow him around trying to soothe him. Instead, Newman says it's important to "take control by attaching a super-light leash that you can grab and lead him whenever you need."

5. Explore Medicating Your Dog

In extreme cases of nervousness, Liff says that you should talk to your vet about medication to sedate your dog.