About Erik Deckers

Erik Deckers is a travel writer, as well as a content marketer and book author. He is the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years

Find more about me on:

Here are my most recent posts

Planning and Packing Tips for Your Family’s Spring Break Trip

January 17, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Spring break is coming up in a few months, which doesn’t seem possible, since we just finished with [insert preferred winter holiday here]. But Spring Break happens in March and April for most of the country, and many families plan some sort of out-of-town trip for that time period.

If you’re heading somewhere warm, like down here in Florida (or over in Texas, Arizona, and California), there are a few planning and packing tips you should plan on (and a few you should avoid) as you’re preparing for your next vacation.

One of our packing tips is to not overpack your car; ship things ahead if you need to, or buy items when you arrive.

  1. Avoid the college crowds. Some families make a mistake venturing into the college spring break destinations — Panama City Beach, Miami, Daytona Beach, etc. — not realizing how much they’re going to have to explain to their young children. Plus, these places will be so packed that you’ll have a tough time finding a place to stay, and everything will be very expensive. Keep in mind that many of the popular destinations — Disney World, Disneyland, most beaches, etc. — will be super packed too.
  2. Don’t pack your pool toys. If you want to get your kids a bunch of pool toys, bucket and shovels, and so on, wait until you get to your destination. There’s no point in packing something you can easily get at any drugstore or Walmart (we have those here in Florida). Save your luggage space and weight. In fact, consider leaving them behind when you go home. They’re cheap to buy and easy to replace, and unless you have a pool at home, you’re not going to use them for several months anyway.
  3. Don’t pack baby food and diapers. Again, we have baby food and diapers for sale down here. I’ve seen parents of babies pack an entire week’s worth of diapers in their own suitcase, only to discover their hotel is literally two blocks from a grocery store. Since extra bag fees can be as much as $50 per bag, you’d be money ahead if you just shipped the diapers. So avoid the hassle altogether and just buy the diapers once you arrive.
  4. If you fly, leave on a Friday and return on a Sunday. Flights are cheaper if you can leave on a Friday and/or return on a Sunday. So if you’re spending a whole week on vacation, make it a 10-day trip and get the lowest possible price for the time out.
  5. If you drive, leave in the middle of the night. The south-bound highways are packed on Friday and Saturday before Spring Break, and the northbound lanes are packed on Sundays. You can avoid a lot of that traffic if you leave at 3:00 in the morning. We did this for years when we drove from Indianapolis to Florida, and we saved ourselves so many headaches. Also, use the Waze app on your mobile phone to get up-to-the-minute traffic alerts.
  6. Make dinner reservations right now. If you’re staying in a Spring Break hotspot, and there are some great restaurants you want to try, book the reservations now because they’ll be gone by your vacation. If you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for, book a couple restaurants for the same night and then cancel the others a couple days beforehand, once you make up your mind. (But don’t just fail to show up. That’s inconsiderate and rude.)
  7. Avoid the clichéd destinations. Of course, the temptation is to leave the northern states and head south for warmer weather. And since it’s the middle of January, you’re probably looking at us here in Florida, wishing a January blizzard on us. (Don’t worry; we make up for it with furnace-like summers.) But Spring Break in Florida is packed! Head to a less-traditional Spring Break destination — Atlanta, GA; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC — and skip the crowds, but enjoy the warmer weather.
  8. Protect your money. Never carry all your money in one place, and never show it all when you pay for something. Carry only one or two credit cards at all times, so if you lose one, you can still operate with another you hid in your suitcase or the hotel safe.
  9. Don’t tell social media you’re on vacation. Posting photos of your vacation only tells crooks that your house is empty, as well as your whereabouts. Thieves and other criminals browse social media for check-ins, photos, and notices that people are either not at home, or are at places not familiar to them. Save the photos for when you get home.
  10. Get travel insurance. You may only be taking a relaxing vacation at the beach to read books, but that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong. You can get sick or injured and get hit with unexpected medical costs or miss out on tickets and reservations you already paid for. Get insurance that will cover medical costs and replacement costs for reservations.

Where do you go for Spring Break? What kinds of packing tips do you have for those of us who will be heading out for a much-needed respite from winter weather? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Five Tips to Help You Travel With Friends and Family

December 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Working in my wife’s family business saw us frequently traveling together, whether it was for trade shows, sales calls, or going on vacation. Every January, we would drive from northern Indiana to Atlanta for several days for our big industry trade show. After it was over, we would drive home for a week, and then turn around and drive to Orlando for a week’s vacation.

I know other families who will vacation with friends, renting a couple cabins for a week or spending a long weekend in a new city. It can be a lot of fun for everyone involved, but if you don’t plan it right, you can run into a few problems.

If you’re going to travel with friends or family, here are a few tips you need to consider.

1. Make sure you’re compatible.

Travel with friends can be fun, if you can agree on the what, where, and when. This is a group of people around a campfire at the beach.This is tough if you and your friends can’t even make it through a dinner together without someone getting irritated (even if you’re good at hiding it). If you can’t manage that, what makes you think you’re going to last an entire weekend?

Make sure you all enjoy the same things. If someone prefers museums and symphonies, while someone else prefers rock concerts and dive bars, there will always be one unhappy person on the trip. So make sure you know what your friends like before you commit to the trip.

2. Decide your itinerary early.

While I love just rolling into a new city and seeing what I can discover, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people are planners and prefer to know what they’re doing every minute.

Plan an itinerary where everyone gets something they want. Let each person pick a day or pick an activity, even if everyone else is not as enthusiastic about it. One friend may want to spend a day in a museum, even while someone else wants to go to a ballgame. Do both, and let each person introduce their friends to something they love.

Decide when you’re going to start the day. Some people prefer to sleep in until 9 and keep the party going late into the night. Others are up at 4:30 AM and ready to go by 5:00. Do not travel with those people. They’ll do terrible and awful things, like expect you to be ready to go at 5 AM too.

3. You don’t have to do EVERYTHING together

If you’re going to be gone for several days, be sure to give everyone some time to themselves. Take an afternoon and split up. If some people want to go shopping while someone else wants to go for a hike or sit by the pool, that’s fine. Not everything has to be an organized excursion.

If you’re traveling together as couples, then split up into different pairs and groups. For example, husbands and wives can pair off and do their own thing, or you can organize by activity: anyone who wants to go shopping can go shopping, anyone who wants to take a walking tour can do that. Don’t pair off by family or by gender, go by activity preference. If you’re traveling with several people, it can make for an interesting dynamic and let people get to know each other better.

4. Discuss any allergies, dietary restrictions, and medical issues in advance

Don’t pry into someone’s personal issues or health, but you should at least be aware if someone has a food allergy that might cause an issue for them. Whenever I travel with someone, I usually ask if they have a food allergy. If they say yes, I ask if it’s something they need an Epi-Pen for, but beyond that, I don’t pry.

Similarly, if you have a friend who can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t eat certain foods — vegetarians, religious restrictions, dietary preferences, food sensitivities — make sure you know that in advance so you can plan your meals accordingly.

5. Decide how you’re going to split expenses.

Most places are able to split everything out between couples and friends — restaurants, show tickets, hotel rooms and so on are all easily divided among groups. It’s the other stuff, like renting a big house, buying groceries, and paying for group excursions that can be a little tricky.

Work it all out beforehand, try to pay for as much in advance as you can, and collect the money. Use an app like Venmo or PayPal to transfer money immediately, and commit to paying each other right away. Consider putting some money in a pool for the group to pay for things like gratuities or drinks for the last evening.

Finally, make sure everyone can actually afford to go on the vacation you’re planning. Don’t book a luxury vacation and invite people who are on a Motel 6 budget. It will only create resentment and could cause some financial hardship if someone is trying to keep up and spend beyond their means.

Traveling with family and friends can be a lot of fun, if you invite the right people and do something you can all agree on. Start small with a day trip or even a weekend getaway. Figure out your compatibility with low-risk trips before you book that four-week European vacation.

Would you travel with friends or family? Is it something you’ve done, or something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy? Share your memories (and horror stories) with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: PXHere.com (Creative Commons 0)

Vacation Like Anthony Bourdain

December 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been on an Anthony Bourdain kick lately. I’ve always been a fan, back to his Kitchen Confidential days, and like most everyone else, I was shaken when I heard he died. So I’ve been reading and rereading articles about how he liked to travel and experience new places.

A March 2018 article in Time Magazine — 3 Things to Never Do While Traveling, According to Anthony Bourdain — explained how Bourdain liked to encounter new cities and countries, places to go, and places to avoid when you’re looking for some place to spend your vacation.

I’ve always tried to follow some of his travel dictums — like avoiding pre-packaged holiday tours and straying off the beaten path — but this article was a good reminder about what’s good and fun about travel.

So whether you’re taking family out of town for a week, or you’re just looking to tag a day or two to the end of a business trip (also called bleisure travel), here are a few of Anthony Bourdain’s secrets.

The Eiffel Tower - Anthony Bourdain says to skip trying to take a picture from the top. He says it's lethal to your soul.First of all, skip the tourist traps. Travel expert after travel expert will all tell you to skip the most popular sights just to save time and avoid lines. Besides, said Bourdain, traveling to Paris just to stand on the Eiffel Tower is “lethal to your soul” and a selfie in front of the Great Pyramids is “completely overrated.”

Imagine standing in line for four hours just to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower or to see the statue of David. And will you be able to see David all by yourself? No, you’ll be crammed in with a whole crowd of other people all raising their phones, trying to get a photo of the statue that doesn’t have a dozen other phones in front of it. Why? Just to say you saw it? In that six hours, you could visit another museum, go on a walking tour of Rome, or see a symphony or a play. You won’t be able to see it up close, and all you’ll have is a cell phone photo of your memories.

Instead, he would rather walk into a city and see what he can find. There’s something special about the serendipity of new discoveries that makes travel exciting. I like to visit a new city and find the arts neighborhoods, the places where the artists live and do their work, where the local restaurants outnumber the chains, and where the cool stores have avoided the crush of the malls.

Bourdain would land in a city and then just strike out in a direction to see what he could find, and the payoffs were almost always worth the risk.

Second, don’t try to create a schedule of all the places you have to see. Instead, explore and let the city happen to you. Serendipity, remember?

As Bourdain told Time just a few months before he died, “The sort of frenzied compression of time needed to take the tour, to see the sights, keeps you in a bubble that prevents you from having magic happen to you. Nothing unexpected or wonderful is likely to happen if you have an itinerary in Paris filled with the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.”

Third, stray off the beaten path. Look for the real moments of the city. Just catch a cab to somewhere away from the tourist traps, but still within the regular part of the city. For example, in Indianapolis, if you head just half a mile northeast from the convention center, you’ll find where all the locals like to eat and go to the theater. In Orlando, that area is Mills 50, which is about 15 – 18 miles away from Disney World. In New York City, that means going to Brooklyn, and not Times Square. Or it means instead of going to Paris, going to Brittany and Normandy instead, or even Brussels, Belgium.

For one thing, going to the less-touristy destination means you can stretch your travel dollars. Believe me, visiting Minneapolis costs a lot less than visiting Chicago, and Portland, Oregon has plenty to do and it costs a lot less than San Francisco.

Oh sure, if you’re going for that traditional, city-defining experience — music in Nashville, amusement parks in Orlando, movie stars in Hollywood — then there’s no substitute. Portland will never beat San Francisco.

But if you just want to get away, see some sites, eat some great food, and avoid doing what everyone else does, travel like Anthony Bourdain. Go where other tourists fear to tread, walk into the city and see what you can find, and never, ever fall into the same traps that waste half your day by standing in line.

What kinds of vacations do you like to take? Do you find your own adventure, or do you prefer something that other people have done so you can share the experience? Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Moonik (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

7 Must-Pack Items for Your Next Vacation

November 29, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When I go on vacation, my goal is to be away from the hotel, Airbnb, or family member’s house as much as possible. I want to be out doing things, seeing things, and experiencing a new place. Maybe it’s a house on the beach, a visit to a new city, a return trip to Indiana, or I’m at a conference, spending a couple of “bleisure” days before or after a trip.

Regardless of what I’m doing, there are a few things I always pack wherever I go. These are things you should pack for your next vacation or holiday trip.

First, make sure you have a portable battery pack to keep your phone charged while you’re out and about. There are several brands available, but I’ve always had good luck with the Anker brand of batteries. The typical battery pack is a little bigger and heavier than a mobile phone, weighing about 12 ounces, and it fits in a purse, backpack, or even a pocket. Get one that’s at least 20,000 mAH, and you’ll be able to charge an iPhone 6 or 7 times, and a Galaxy phone 5 or 6 times. Then, just charge it up each night when you’re back at your hotel or house.

Mobile phone with a battery nearly dead. Be sure to take a battery and charging cable on your next vacation.Next, be sure to carry a charging cable and USB plug with you during the day. If you can ever plug into a wall socket, even if it’s just for 20 minutes while you’re eating lunch, you can extend your phone’s battery reserves and avoid tapping into your portable battery until later. My daughter carries one in her backpack whenever we’re cruising Disney World or Universal Studios. When we stop for lunch, we can take turns getting a 15-minute boost of power.

Speaking of power, consider tossing a PowerCube, a small charging block by Allocacoc, into your suitcase. It comes with three regular plug outlets and two USB charging ports, and is just a couple inches in size. You can get PowerCubes that plug directly into the wall or come with a 5′ or 10′ extension cord. This lets you plug multiple devices into a single plug, or you can even plug another cube in and expand your charging capabilities. Perfect for the family with multiple devices and only a couple available sockets.

Finally, if you go on working vacations like I do, or you absolutely need wifi access for your devices but you’re traveling in a foreign country, consider carrying a mobile wifi hotspot like the Skyroam Solis. One of these units is $150, and costs $9 per day to operate (they have pay-as-you-go day passes for access). If you absolutely have to have wifi access during a trip, and you don’t want to pay for hotel wifi, or you’re going to be away from civilization for a time, a mobile wifi hotspot will connect up to five devices and save the day.

Be sure to take a travel pillow with you for the actual trip. I rarely take one myself, but I know plenty of people who swear by it. You can sleep sitting up without giving yourself serious neck pain, which is not a fun way to start or end a trip. One tip I’ve learned is to turn the pillow so the fattest part is supporting your head while you sleep. It keeps you from getting a painful crick in your neck, and helps you avoid the constant head dropping that happens when you first nod off.

Also, be sure to take along a few Ziploc bags. You’re supposed to use one for your 3-1-1 bag if you fly anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to roll up a few extras and tuck them into your suitcase.

  • Use snack-sized bags to pack your necklaces, one per bag. This prevents tangling.
  • Carry a couple 1-gallon bags to pack wet clothes, muddy shoes, and anything you don’t want contaminating your clean clothes.
  • Tuck an extra quart bag into your toiletries case, in case something happens to your original 3-1-1 bag.

Finally, I always like to take a book. I know, I know, I just got done telling you how to keep your gear charged up, and you could always use a Kindle or even the Kindle app on your phone to read e-books. But there are times that a regular book just feels better. I love the tactile experience, and some books even have that lovely smell that only a book lover can appreciate. Plus, you can read a book on a plane, a book won’t chew up your battery life, and it’s not a devastating loss if you lose a book. Besides, you never want to use your phone to kill a bug you found in your hotel bathroom.

How do you pack for holiday vacations? Where do you go, to visit family or have a family getaway? Share your tips and stories with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Pexels.com (Creative Commons 0)

Twelve Holiday Travel Tips for 2018

November 15, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Thanksgiving is coming up in a week, which is going to kick off the holiday travel season. Three major religious groups have holidays in the month of December, which means there are going to be plenty of people traveling for The Holidays, which means lines and long waits, plenty of traffic and crowded airports. Here are a few tips to make your holiday travel less stressful.

1. Book everything NOW

Airline tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms and Airbnbs are all going fast, and you’re going to have a tough time finding any room at the inn, or a way to get there. And it’s only going to get harder as we get closer. Book your travel arrangements now, and then confirm them by phone a day or two before your travel days. You’d be surprised — or maybe you wouldn’t — at the number of travel plans that go awry because of a glitch.

2. Have gifts delivered to your destination

Many presents loaded into the back of a car. One of our holiday travel tips is to have your gifts delivered to your destination.Unless you’re just loading everyone into the car, don’t try to pack and carry all your gifts. Order them from your favorite online store and have them delivered to your destination. This beats trying to pack everything into your suitcase and checking it. If you have to pay to check your bag, you probably could have shipped your gifts for the same price. (Or for free, if you have Amazon Prime or your online store offers free shipping.)

Also, don’t try to time it so the packages coincide with your arrival. Order them as soon as you can — delivered in your name — so they arrive a few days before you open them. This gives you a little cushion in case something goes wrong.

But if you decide to take your gifts with you on the plane, don’t wrap them, since they may need to be checked at security.

3. Get travel insurance

Airlines are not very forgiving if you ever have to cancel your travel plans because of illness. You won’t be able to get a refund, although they might let you exchange your tickets. The same is true for many other travel providers. Travel insurance can help you recover your costs, even if they can’t help you salvage a vacation.

Travel insurance is also helpful if you get sick or injured while you’re traveling, especially when you’re overseas, and require medical attention. Your own medical insurance will probably not cover you when you’re out of the country, or even out of your network, so double-check what it will cover when you’re traveling, and make sure your travel insurance covers medical costs.

4. Pack only what will fit in a carry-on

Only take carry-ons, and try not to check any bags. If you roll your clothes and pack thinner layers, you can get up to 10 days’ worth of clothes in a standard carry-on, and never need a checked bag. Remember, you’re going for a short holiday vacation, you’re not moving there.

How are you going to do that, you ask? Here are seven additional tips:

  1. Roll your clothes, don’t fold them. Rolling takes up less space and results in fewer wrinkles.
  2. Pack half as many clothes as you think you’ll need and then do laundry one day while you’re there.
  3. Mix and match outfits. Rather than packing individual and unique outfits for each day, wear colors from the same palette so different shirts and pants go together.
  4. Only pack one bulky sweater. Take thinner layers and a pullover fleece to keep warm. You can swap out the t-shirt/undergarments, and re-wear over layers to save space.
  5. Don’t take your own pillow. I’ve seen people check two suitcases and take a carry-on because they packed their winter parka and pillows from home.
  6. Don’t take a lot of books and things you “hope” to do. Put books on a Kindle or tablet, and look for things to do at your destination.
  7. Rather than trying to take big toiletries, like hair spray or big shampoo bottles, just buy what you need when you’re there. Again, if this can save you from checking a bag, you’re saving anywhere from $25 – $50.

5. Be polite and patient

Traveling can be stressful throughout the year, but when everyone’s doing it, things tend to get a little stressful and we’re more likely to let our emotions get the best of us. As Marcie Boyle, a travel agent in Chesterfield, MI recently told USA TODAY:

Expect that everyone believes their trip is more important than yours. Expect the airports and planes to be crowded. Expect security, restroom, and restaurant lines to be extra-long. Expect to encounter less experienced travelers who may not know the tricks for getting through an airport quickly.

In short, just remember that everyone has a place to go, and the professionals are doing their best to get everyone there. If you blow your top at a ticket agent, not only are you going to ruin their day, but you may not get what you were hoping to get.

Remember, gate agents have the power to say “yes” and “no” to whatever you need, and yelling at them won’t get a “yes.” I’ve been in a few situations where the person in front of me yelled and screamed at a gate agent, and couldn’t get a ticket to another flight. But when I showed up, as sweet as honey, not only did I get the ticket I needed, I even got a food voucher.

So be nice, be polite. Remember, this is the season for family and togetherness. If you can be patient, pack light, and plan ahead as much as possible, you’ll be able to arrive at your holiday destination with a minimum fuss and stress, and be able to enjoy your holiday, whichever one you celebrate.

How do you pack for holiday vacations? Where do you go, to visit family or have a family getaway? Share your tips and stories with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Frank Jania (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Six Ways to Entertain Yourself on Your Next Road Trip

October 26, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Ah, the glory of the road trip. I’m one of those weird people who like driving, especially at night. I can’t think of a better way to start a road trip than five hours alone in the car while it’s dark. I enjoy the solitude, the lack of traffic, and the chance to be alone with my thoughts and my music.

And there’s nothing cooler than driving on the highway on a summer night with Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” blasting on the stereo. (Click the video below and listen while you read this. Tell me I’m not right about that.)

But if you’re taking a many-mile drive, listening to the car radio is going to be frustrating — too many commercials, poor range, and cookie-cutter playlists that are identical from town to town. Plus, not many of us listen to an actual radio anymore; we get our music from other sources.

Still, if you’re still punching buttons and twisting knobs, give some streaming audio a try the next time you find yourself in the car. There are many dozens of choices and channels, but here are a few ways for you to get started with mobile audio.

1. Podcasts

If you’re not listening to podcasts yet, you’re missing out. We’re in the Golden Age of Podcasting right now, and there are shows about nearly any subject you want to know about. These aren’t just amateur productions made by someone shouting into their computer’s microphone. There are plenty of radio stations and professional podcasters with studio-level equipment producing some exciting content.

Just do a basic iTunes search for your favorite hobby or subject you’d like to learn more about, and pick a few of the ones that interest you. I listen to several writing and language podcasts (Grammar Girl, A Way With Words), business podcasts (Business Of Story, Marketing Over Coffee), special interests and collectors (I Hear Of Sherlock Everywhere, The Eephus Baseball History podcast), interviews (Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, How to be Amazing), and audio theater (Decoder Ring Theatre, Girl In Space).

There are also several different podcast listening apps available. I’m not a big fan of the Apple Podcast app, because it’s too clunky and hard to use. But I like Overcast, and I keep hearing great things about Stitcher. Plus, if you’re a Stitcher paid user, several podcasts like Grammar Girl have special bonus content available only to Stitcher subscribers.

2. Spotify

An old car radio. If you had to rely on this for your road trip, it would be very boring indeed.A lot of people use Spotify, but they don’t pay for the service. That’s understandable. Why pay $9.95 to stream music when you’ve got other free options like Pandora or the radio in your car?

The one benefit of Stitcher is that you can search for your favorite music, test out new music, and create different playlists to suit your mood. Plus you can find the music your friends are listening to, because Spotify has a social aspect to it. You can see what they’re listening to, and make some interesting discoveries. And best of all, the paid option is ad free. You just don’t get that on the appropriately-named “commercial radio.”

I also like Spotify because you can find individual artists and do deep dives into their discographies without cluttering up your musical mood with other artists like Pandora does. Listen to Tom Waits’ early work, find Arcade Fire’s latest album, or re-discover that one-hit wonder band you liked in the 90s, only to discover they’ve been making music for the last 25 years.

3. Pandora

On the other hand, there’s something cool about discovering new music at random, based on your musical preferences. Are you a big Prince fan? Just enter his name on the Pandora app (or their website at Pandora.com) and see what comes up. You’ll hear other pop-rock artists he played with, artists he produced, or similar artists who were around at roughly the same time.

It’s also a way to find new genres you might never have considered. One of my favorites is Balkan Beat Box, which is actually an Israel-based band that plays a combination of Jewish, Southeastern European (mainly Balkan), Gypsy punk, and electronica. And while BBB may be a band, I’ve come to think of their style as a little genre unto itself. (Pop that onto your Pandora app as you’re headed down the road, and you won’t need caffeine for a couple hours.) Just find an esoteric band whose music you might like, enter it, and see what Pandora finds for you.

4. TuneIn

Do you have any favorite radio stations around the country or even around the world that you just can’t listen to anymore? Are there any Internet-only radio stations you enjoy while you’re on your computer, but can’t get on your phone?

Enter TuneIn, the Internet radio broadcaster. Years ago, my only option for Internet radio was iTunes on my laptop, and I had my three favorite radio stations: WFPK (Louisville), KCRW’s Eclectic 24 (Santa Monica, CA), and CelticRadio’net’s Highlander Radio (online only). Imagine my joy when I discovered I could get all of these on TuneIn in my car. I can stream all of these stations on TuneIn, as well as pick up other radio stations from around the world, as well as different podcasts and on-demand radio shows.

TuneIn also offers sports broadcasts for the different sports and leagues you may like. Some of these require a TuneIn subscription, like listening to the NFL. But if you left your favorite college or pro team behind when you moved across the country, TuneIn is a great way to keep up with your favorite teams.

5. Sports Radio

When I was a kid, I loved listening to the Cincinnati Reds on AM radio, especially at night. And I can recreate the feeling with the MLB TV app which gives me access to (nearly) all MLB games on TV (nothing in-market, so it doesn’t help if you live in or near your team’s favorite city), as well as their radio broadcasts. I can drive in my car, listening to the home broadcast of a Reds night game. And when the game is over around 10 pm, I can pull up a broadcast of a West Coast game and listen until 1:00 in the morning. (Just don’t try to watch the games while you’re driving!)

As an added bonus, I can watch MLB games on my laptop or Apple TV (as well as other streaming TV devices). I can even listen to the radio broadcast while watching the TV broadcast (laptop only). I can do the same with the NFL app, and the NBA and NHL have similar options for their fans. You can even get a Minor League Baseball subscription if you love small-town baseball. Of course, some minor league teams even broadcast their games on their local radio stations, which you can pick up on TuneIn.

And if you’re a sports talk fan, the ESPN radio app lets you listen to radio streams from 15 of the largest markets, as well as all their big sports talk shows.

6. Old-Time Radio

I’ve been a fan of old-time radio (OTR) ever since I was a kid. (And yes, it was called “old-time radio” back then. I’m not that old!) The detectives, superheroes, space fighters. The comedies and “scary” stories. You could imagine what was happening because they told you but never showed you. They were movies for your mind.

Thanks to U.S. copyright laws, many of these OTR shows are available for download, or you can get an old-time radio streaming app for iPhone and Android. You can download the stories for offline usage, so you can use your wifi instead of chewing up your data. (Keep in mind, apps like Spotify, TuneIn, Pandora, and sports radio apps all use data; podcasts and downloaded OTR do not).

You can also find episodes of your favorite show on different websites and download them to your regular MP3 player. I made a whole Ellery Queen playlist this way and burned through it on a recent road trip to South Florida. You can find your favorite genres, shows, and characters through a simple Internet search and then use the apps to pinpoint the shows you want to hear.

Best of all, OTR shows are all family friendly so you can let young kids listen to it without worrying about anything inappropriate. Even the scary stories aren’t that scary, although you may want to preview a few of them before you let little kids listen.

Thanks to today’s broadband technology, there’s no reason you have to suffer through today’s commercial radio on the road — constant commercials, short broadcast ranges, and suffering through songs you don’t actually like. Try one or two of these apps, explore them while you’re still at home, and then get ready for your next road trip or plane trip with hours of entertainment to accompany you while you travel.

How do you listen and keep yourself entertained on a road trip? Where do you get your favorite music or talk radio? What are some apps, programs, and genres you would recommend? Share your tips and ideas on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Bru-nO (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Use Home Automation to Help With Your Travels

October 12, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Travelers in the 21st century have so much cool gadgetry to play with, I’m always torn between staying home to play with it and going out on the road to test it out.

Thanks to voice assistants like the Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google Assistant, Apple Home, and Cortana, you can automate certain home functions to not only make life easier, but you can function while you’re on the road.

Of course, there’s the direct function — “Alexa, turn on the study light,” “Okay Google, play Arcade Fire.” — that lets you control things around the house. You can turn on appliances by using wifi-enabled smart plugs (like this one from TP-Link, $16.99 on Amazon). Just plug in a lamp or appliance, connect it to the app on your phone, and you can tell your smart speaker to turn it on and off.

(If you jump on the home automation bandwagon, get devices from the same manufacturer so you can control them all with one app. Think long-term about what you would like to do and then make sure one manufacturer makes all of those. Also, if you don’t have a smart speaker yet, pick one that is supported by most manufacturers. I’ve found Amazon Alexa has the most device support with Google Assistant coming in second.)

But you’re not just limited to smart plugs. There are also light switches, light bulbs, and thermostats that can connect to your smart speaker and this is where home automation can really help you travel.

You can trigger a smart device either by your smart speaker, you can do it with the mobile app made for that device.. This means you can control things when you’re anywhere in the world.

For example, we all know we’re supposed to lower our thermostat to 60 degrees when we go on vacation during the winter. That’s warm enough to keep pipes from freezing, but cool enough that you’re not going to have a huge heating bill when you get home. Except you forgot to turn it down before you left and you didn’t realize it until you were six hours away.

Rather than fretting about your utility bill the entire time, just set the thermostat to the right temperature from your phone. You can also use a smart thermostat to schedule temperature changes. For example, if the house is empty during the day, bump the temperature 6 – 8 degrees up (summer) or down (winter), and return it to normal 30 minutes before you get home. But rather than do it by phone every day, you can set this as an automated schedule on your app.

Advanced Home Automation for the Traveler

But this is all basic stuff. I mean, it’s useful and helpful, but if you really want to automate your travels, you need to look at some workflow automation services.

There are two main automated workflow services, IFTTT.com (which stands for If This, Then That) and Zapier. IFTTT has curated a small collection of travel-related applets, but you have to search more on Zapier for any useful zaps.

Screenshot of IFTTT.com. This is a great resource for home automation.

But for what we need, we don’t have to choose. Just pick one service and start using it. Get used to how they work, find the recipes you want to use, and practice using them. Then you’ll know how they work when it’s time to leave.

Here are a few recipes you can use the next time you travel (IFTTT calls them “Applets,” Zapier calls them “Zaps”. I’m just going to keep calling them “recipes” so I don’t have to keep writing “Applet or Zap”).

  1. Save all photos to Dropbox or Google Drive. You can clog up your phone if you take a lot of vacation pictures, so this is a way to back them all up to the cloud so you don’t lose them if you lose your phone.
  2. When you check in at a place (the airport), email or text someone so they know you’re safe. If you’re traveling on your own, or even if you need to let someone know when to pick you up, use a recipe like this to alert people when you check in via Foursquare.
  3. Send vacation pictures to your family. One recipe I found lets you email photos up to five people from your Gmail (others will let you select up to 20). You can also upload them to an RSS feed or a WordPress blog. Sure beats those slide shows we sat through when I was a kid.
  4. Cross-post Instagram photos to Twitter. Normally on Instagram, you can share your photos to Twitter, but the photo itself doesn’t publish, only a link to the Instagram page. You can push the native photo out to Twitter with a recipe so your tweet will look exactly as you want it to. And then set up another recipe to post anything from Instagram to your Tumblr blog.
  5. Get airline ticket price alerts from The Flight Deal. If you’re flexible on your travel dates, you can set an alert to let you know when there’s a flight deal out of a specific city, like your closest airport. When you get the deal, buy the ticket, and plan your vacation!
  6. Automatically adjust your thermostat based on your Google Calendar. When you set a vacation on your calendar, your Google Assistant can adjust your thermostat up or down when it knows no one will be home. This can be on top of your regular daily schedule.
  7. Get travel alerts from the WHO or State Department. Depending on where you’re traveling, you may need to know if there’s anything you need to be worried about, like civil unrest or other travel warnings from the State Department, or a disease outbreak notification from the World Health Organization.
  8. Get weather alerts texted to you. You can have rain and snow alerts texted to you whenever there’s an inclement weather forecast in your area. For example, Zapier has Will It Rain Today and What’s The Weather zaps to tell you if you need to pack an umbrella or sweater.

Home automation has come so far since those days of plug-in lamp timers that would turn lights on and off at exactly the same time every day. Now you can turn smart devices on and off with your voice or via your phone, keeping your home safe, secure, and efficiently run while you’re away.

Have you joined the home automation revolution? How do you use home automation and workflow automation to make your life easier? Do you use it for vacation? Share your tips and ideas on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Go Device-Free On Your Next Vacation

September 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Living down in Orlando, Florida means we see a lot of tourists. A LOT of tourists. And I’ve noticed that, wherever we go, especially to Disney World, people still spend a lot of time staring at their phone and missing out on the fun and joy of the most magical place on Earth!

Parents and kids alike, when they stop for lunch, will spend several minutes swiping, swiping, swiping at their phones, looking at whatever they think is more important than the trip that’s no doubt costing them a few thousand dollars, and they traveled hundreds of miles to get to.

(Of course, you need something to do while waiting in line, so I can’t blame anyone for being bored for a 90-minute wait for Tower Of Terror.)

I’m sure many people are just documenting their times, sharing photos to Instagram and Facebook, telling all their friends what a wonderful time they’re having.

But I want to issue a challenge: The next time you go on vacation, avoid using your phone for as long as you can.

A giant cell phone at the Disney World Pop Century Resort - A great place to try to go device-free for vacation

A giant cell phone at the Disney World Pop Century Resort

Set a No Phones rule for a day or two, and see how it goes. No social media, no texting friends, no checking email, and no pictures (kind of; more on that in a minute). No one can look at their phone for the entire day. And if you really want to commit to it, leave your phones in the hotel.

That doesn’t mean the entire family should be without a phone. At least one adult should carry a phone for emergencies. (And if you really wanted to avoid temptation, get a pay-as-you-go phone only for that purpose.)

Of course, you may want your kids to carry their phones in case they get separated and you need to get in touch with them. Instead, ask them to delete their social media apps (they can easily be downloaded later), and tell them no texting. Have them put their phone in airplane mode, and they won’t be able to receive texts or phone calls from friends.

Make it a challenge. See who can go without checking their phone the longest. I’ve heard of some people who, when they go to lunch together, will stack their phones on the table. The first one to break down and check theirs has to buy lunch for everyone. That includes answering phone calls or responding to the sweet siren song of the text notification.

Sweeten the pot a little bit. Everyone can carry their phone, but the first person to check theirs for any reason (other than checking reservations) has to do a family chore at the end of the day. Or anyone who checks their phone has to put some money into the family kitty, and that’s used to help pay for dinner on the last night out. (And no checking phones during bathroom breaks!)

If you need to take photos, you can carry an inexpensive digital camera (you can get them for less than $100), and just upload the photos when you get back to your hotel that night (assuming you brought a laptop) or when you get back home. Or, if phones are in airplane mode, they can still take pictures.

Finally, there is a question of personal security you should consider. It’s not a good idea to share vacation photos on social media while you’re actually on vacation. You’re essentially telling everyone that you’re not at home, which means your stuff could be stolen while you’re away. So even if you don’t take the no-phone challenge, at least consider refraining from posting vacation photos until you get home.

What are your family rules about mobile phones on vacation? How do you encourage face-to-face communication on vacation? Share your ideas and stories on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Jared (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

How to Avoid Getting Sick Before Your Vacation

September 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

You’ve planned and saved and dreamed. You’ve pored over travel guides and websites. And you made lists, bought supplies, and packed and repacked everything five times. It’s your big vacation and you’ve been looking forward to it for months!

Except now, the night before you leave, there’s a little tickle in the back of your throat and your nose is running.

You’re getting sick. It feels like a cold, and with any luck, you can get over it with a day or two of rest and a few pain relievers. But it could be the flu, and not only will you be miserable for a few days, but traveling will be agony.

If you want to avoid getting sick before your vacation (or at all!), there are a few things you need to do in the days and weeks before you leave in order to stay healthy.

First, pull your kids out of school and don’t let them out of the house until you leave.

Okay, don’t really do that; that would be terrible. But do share these practices with your kids, because it’s usually our kids who bring colds home with them and spread them to the rest of us. And then they’re the ones who are all better by the time vacation starts, while the parents are slowly dying in the front seat.

1. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough

And don’t do it with your hands! When you sneeze or cough, do it into the crook of your elbow or on the upper sleeve of your shirt.

Why? Imagine this scenario: You meet someone and you shake their hand, because that’s what polite people do. What you don’t know is the other person sneezed into their hands 30 seconds earlier, and they’re sporting the beginnings of a cold. And now you’re laid up in bed for two days because Typhoid Barry or Sherry didn’t know the etiquette about coughing and sneezing!

Also, don’t ever blow your nose into a tissue and then stick it up the sleeve of your sweater. Think about what you just put into that tissue. Now think about where you just put it. Why would you even save that? (And don’t get me started about handkerchiefs!)

2. Get plenty of sleep.

The temptation as you spend the next few days getting ready is to stay up late or get up early finishing last minute projects around the house. I know when I go on vacation, I rarely sleep more than a few hours before we leave. I also stay up late most nights, which puts me at risk of getting sick anyway.

When we’re exhausted, our body’s immune system doesn’t work at peak efficiency, and we’re more likely to get knocked down by a bug. So get your eight hours every night. Take a nap during the day, if possible. Don’t stay up later than you normally do. Sleep is essential for our health, so make sure you’re getting plenty of it.

3. Stay hydrated

You can avoid getting sick before your vacation if you take care of yourself.

Make sure you wash your hands after you do this!

One way to keep from getting sick is to drink plenty of water, since it helps flush out your system. And if you get sick, you can speed up your recovery this way too.

You should be drinking plenty of water throughout the day, although I don’t know how much. Some people say eight glasses a day, others say one ounce per pound of body weight (or at least your desired body weight). And still others emphasize liquids and not just water.

Instead of trying to figure out glasses and ounces, the general rule of thumb is to drink enough so that when you go to the bathroom, everything is, uh, “all clear.” As long as it’s clear when you go, you’re getting enough water.

4. Wash your hands for 20 seconds

Do this especially if you ignored item #1. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. That’s as long as it takes to sing the Alphabet song or to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. That will eliminate nearly all of the germs on your hands. You especially need to do this if you’re preparing food or getting ready to eat.

Also, remember there are plenty of dirty surfaces you come in contact with throughout the day. So it’s a good idea to take some anti-bacterial wipes to wipe down tables, airplane and airport armrests, and even the check-in kiosk at the airport (which is the dirtiest place in the entire airport!).

And try to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. You can pick up germs and then transfer them into your system by rubbing your eyes, “scratching inside” your nose, or even putting food in your mouth. Carry some hand sanitizer in your luggage, car, purse, backpack, or briefcase.

5. Take your medicine if you start to feel sick

While I can’t tell you which medicines you should take, I can tell you that trying to tough out a cold or flu is not a good idea. You’ll feel absolutely miserable the entire time, and it’s just not worth it. Let your body heal itself without putting more stress on it by feeling miserable.

This also means drinking plenty of fluids. So if you’re not much of a water drinker when you’re healthy (item #3), you absolutely need to start when you’re sick. You’re more likely to sweat, you may go to the bathroom more often, and you’re more likely to get dehydrated. So drink up while you’re laying in bed or on the couch.

Finally, remember that you’re still contagious for up to 48 hours after you recover from an illness. You can still spread a cold or flu even after you feel better, so make sure you wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow, get plenty of sleep, and encourage the rest of your family to do the same. This way, no one else in the family will get sick.

How do you avoid getting sick, especially before trips? Share your tips and tricks on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: PXhere.com (Creative Commons 0)

How to Find the Cheapest Airline Ticket Price Available

August 30, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Finding the cheapest airline ticket price can be a bit of a crapshoot. I was talking to a friend who says he subscribes to Airfare Watchdog as a service. A few months ago, he saw a ticket price from Orlando to Las Vegas for $118, so he marked it to keep an eye on it.

He said that he has never seen that price again, and only sees ticket prices for $185, regardless of the airline. But the $118 has disappeared forever.

Now, $185 is a good price for a flight to Vegas. After all, you’re asking a company to transport you nearly 2500 miles in a couple hours, and you’re worried about $67? You couldn’t make the drive to Vegas for $185, so that’s even a good deal.

But still, when you want to take four people for that price, you’re looking at a $740 price tag, which starts to get pricey. So how do you make sure you get the cheapest tickets you can? Here are a few tips to try.

1. Use a Credit Card with Travel Points

United Airlines sometimes offers the cheapest airline ticket prices, but you have to know how to find them.My friend travels enough and uses a dedicated credit card enough that he’s able to take an annual honeymoon with the points he’s accumulated. He uses this credit card for everything, and then pays it off each month, which really racks up the points. When it comes time to buy his tickets, he’s accumulated enough points that his tickets are often free.

Get a credit card that accumulates travel points, like a Chase Visa or American Express Gold (they partner with Delta and accumulate miles) and use it for day-to-day buying. Pay your bills with your credit card, and then pay it off each month. Get a card that’s branded with your favorite airline, and you can sometimes get additional points when you buy certain items.

2. Subscribe to a fare watch service

There are apps and services like Momondo, Thrifty Traveler, and Hopper, which can track places you want to visit, or send you special deal alerts for different destinations.

In some cases, you have to be ready to buy at that moment, for others, you have to be ready to leave that weekend. You can also use Google Flights to monitor a specific destination and fluctuating ticket prices.

Google Flights and Momondo will both tell you whether the price is the best one available, based on historical data. Hopper uses historical data and current ticket prices to create a calendar of best and worst times to fly. And Thrifty Traveler will tell you when there’s a serious deal you should consider, even if it wasn’t originally on your itinerary, so be open to new options.

3. Book Early

The closer you get to your departure date, the higher the price gets.

That’s as simple as I can make it. Buy your tickets as soon as you decide to go.

4. Be Flexible on Dates

Friday departures cost more than Wednesday departures. It costs more to fly on Sunday than Monday. And your mid-week trip will cost less if you travel on Saturday instead of Friday. (Making the case for a nice bleisure trip if you’re traveling for business.)

When you need the cheapest airline ticket, select the flexible travel dates option on your website. It will show you the cheapest prices which may offer you some unusual travel times. You may be flying out at 5:30 in the morning or late at night. You may go a day earlier than you wanted or leave a day later than you hoped. Either way, if you need to save money, then don’t lock in your travel dates until you know when you’ll be flying.

5. Buy Immediately!

This last one is an important one. Don’t start researching ticket prices until you’re ready to buy. My friend said he saw the $118 ticket price, and he could have bought it, but instead he saved it for later, and the price “disappeared.” It’s not going to be back either, because that was a one-time special offer.

It may show up if he checks in again anonymously (more on that in a minute), but because these websites use cookies and keep track of your IP address, they know that you’re already interested in a fare to that location, and so they may hide the “enticement price” in the future.

So if you need to do some research, you can Google a destination — “how much are airline tickets to Las Vegas?” — and get a budgetary figure, but if you find a low ticket price, buy it immediately. Don’t wait until you’re closer to the date, don’t put it off until you feel less worried. If you need to save $268 on four tickets to Vegas, buy them as soon as you see them.

And if you already peeked, and need to “reset” your cookies, there are a few things you can try:

  1. Clear your cookies. Go into your browser preferences and delete your cookies. This will delete everything like saved passwords, login information, website preferences, and so on, but the travel websites won’t recognize you. Probably.
  2. Do an Incognito or Private search. In your browser, go to the New window, and look for the Private/Incognito setting. This is a new window that works like you completely wiped your browser, and when you close it, nothing will be saved. That means you can visit a website “for the first time” every time.
  3. Use a VPN. A Virtual Private Network is a piece of software that actually directs your web browser to another server before going out and visiting whichever website you choose. So while you sit in Columbus, Ohio, you can make it look like you’re sitting in St. Louis or Houston. This will disguise your location from the website, and they won’t know your individual location.

How do you find your cheap airline ticket prices? What’s your favorite service or method? Share your tips and tricks on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Cliff/United Airlines (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

Next Page »