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

Consider Visiting Quirky Places on Your Next Family Vacation

July 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve got a weird sense of humor and always appreciate the unusual and quirky. I collect typewriters, I listen to radio theater, and I love stories about little-known historical events. My tastes in travel and family vacation run a bit unusual as well. I’m fascinated by cities that have unusual histories or have odd attractions that no one else in the world has.

When I visited Washington D.C. years ago, I made sure to visit my friend who ran the Bead Museum (now closed), a museum dedicated to artistic beads throughout the world. I was intrigued by the way different civilizations had all discovered putting holes in pretty objects to wear around their necks and wrists, but I was more intrigued that there was a whole museum about it.

When I lived in northern Indiana, I lived about 40 minutes from Mentone, Indiana, home of the world’s largest egg. It’s a 10 foot high concrete egg that weighs 3,000 pounds in the middle of town, and I occasionally drove to see it just to say I did.

I saw a documentary about hot dogs called A Hot Dog Program back in the 90s, so I’ve made it a point to try to visit some of the hot dog restaurants mentioned in the program, like The Varsity in Atlanta and The Dirty O in Pittsburgh. I’ve been to three of the 12 or so that were featured.

And if you like old-time baseball (1920s era), check out the House of David and Mary’s City of David baseball teams. They play nearly every summer weekend at Eden Prairie Park in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Take Short Trips to See Odd Attractions

The Gil Hodges mural in Petersburg, Indiana is one of the nice little out-of-the-way travel attractions.

The Gil Hodges mural in Petersburg, Indiana is one of the nice little out-of-the-way travel oddities.

Vacations and trips don’t always have to be about museums and theme parks and spending thousands of dollars. Occasionally, when my family and I wanted a one-day trip, or I wanted to take a couple of the kids and do something weird-but-funny, we would visit one of these roadside oddities. Even if it was just to say that we saw the largest egg in the world (and then get lunch somewhere), or wanted to see a historical marker of minor significance, we would do it.

It was the kitsch and the goofiness of the trip, but it was also spending time together, doing something we would always remember.

Even before we moved to Florida, we had been to Disney World so many times, the trips were all running together. But my oldest daughter can still tell you about the time we went to Johnny Appleseed’s supposed burial place in Fort Wayne, Indiana during the Johnny Appleseed Festival.

My family remembers the time we went to the Triple XXX hamburger stand in West Lafayette, Indiana, the state’s first drive-in restaurant.

And my son and I have seen the mural in Petersburg, Indiana (Population: 2,351) dedicated to Gil Hodges, the greatest pro baseball player to never be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s there, because that’s where Hodges, who played for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets in the 1950s, was from. We even met Petersburg’s mayor, R.C. Klipsch, that day.

My point is, we remember those little trips just as much as we remember the big ones, because they were marked by something unusual and out-of-the-ordinary, and it gave us something to enjoy about our state, or just to laugh about on the way home. (Any good dad worth his salt knows a few good egg yolks jokes.)

The next time you’re trying to think of something to do one weekend, or even just for one day during your family vacation, don’t splurge on a big trip to your nearest theme park. Just go out and visit a couple roadside attractions within 50 miles of home, and make a day of it. Grab some lunch at a restaurant that’s famous for something (like pork tenderloins in Indiana, the best burgoo in Kentucky, or one of the many barbecue joints in Georgia). That’s real traveling, and it’s the best way to see the real America.

A quick visit to Wikipedia will turn up the Largest Roadside Attractions, where you can find information on the World’s Largest Golf Tee (Alberta, Canada or Casey, Illinois; they’re fighting about it), World’s Largest Clam (Long Beach, Washington), and the World’s Largest Loaf of Bread (Urbana, Ohio). You can also check out RoadsideAmerica.com for a complete list of all sorts of roadside oddities and attractions in the U.S.

Nearly every city and town in the United States is known for something. Someone famous is from there, or some historic battle was fought there, or they have the largest kitchen implement known to mankind. Even tiny Mentone, Indiana (population: 989) is known for having the world’s largest egg, and that makes it pretty special in its own right.

What are some of the oddities and attractions in your part of the world? Do you have any favorites that you like to visit on a family vacation, or hope to one day? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Used with permission)

How to Survive the Summer Heat on Vacation

June 29, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Living down in sunny Florida has given me a whole new appreciation for “hot summers.” Growing up in Indiana, we had plenty of hot weather, but the weather people would start to freak out if we had more than two weeks of 90+ degree temperatures.

Here in Central Florida, we started getting 90+ degree weather in May, and it won’t go away until September, which makes me realize Indiana doesn’t know how good they have it.

But life goes on, and people still come down here for summer vacation, as well as go to other hotspots like Texas, Arizona, and South Carolina. Even Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and northern Minnesota can hit 90+ degrees for a few weeks in the summer. And this week, Phoenix is facing a week of 120+ degree days.

So unless you want to travel up to the Canadian Northern Territories this summer, you’re going to have to deal with some heat wherever you go. Some people may be miserable, other people will enjoy it, but you should know how to get through it safely, and with a minimum of discomfort. Here are a few recommendations to surviving a blazing hot summer vacation.

1. Treat the summer like winter

Summer Heat Ayia Napa Sunset Cyprus Sun

Winter in the north is simple: never go outside when you don’t need to. We would dart from the house to the car, the car to the store/office/restaurant. I even found I could live without a giant parka if I did this.

It’s the same in Florida in the summer: limit your time outside whenever possible, and keep the distance between you and air conditioning to a minimum. If you’re going to be outside, then prepare accordingly. Do outdoor activities in the early morning or evening. Spend the middle of the day in museums, at a spa, or at restaurants. If possible, plan an indoor activity right after an outdoor activity. (Trust me, nothing on earth feels better than stepping into an air conditioned room after you’ve spent a couple hours outside.)

2. Wear light protective clothing that wicks sweat

If you’re going to theme parks, the beach, or spending the day outside at a family reunion, you’re going to get hot and sweaty. But you can reduce some of the discomfort if you wear light-colored clothing to reflect some of the heat (or just, you know, don’t wear a black or navy blue t-shirt). Wear t-shirts and undergarments that will wick away sweat — you can find those kinds of clothes at most athletic apparel stores or places like Duluth Trading Company.

Do this for your socks as well. Whenever I’m going to be doing a lot of walking outside, I’ll wear a thin pair of nylon or rayon socks under a regular pair of cotton socks to help prevent blisters.

3. Wear a hat

A hat will protect you from the sun and keep sweat out of your eyes. The idea is to protect yourself from direct sunlight, so the wider the brim, the better (think about why cowboys wore cowboy hats and not, say, tiny porkpie hats or bowlers). Hats can also help prevent sunburn on your face and neck. A baseball cap doesn’t offer much protection, but it’s better than nothing.

Women can wear big floppy hats and look stylish, while I think men in those big floppy safari hats look a bit ridiculous. Still, that doesn’t stop my dad from wearing one, and he’s always talking about how it helps him survive the summer heat, so maybe there’s something to it.

4. Use water/sweat-resistant sunscreen

It’s not enough to just slap on some sunscreen and think you’re protected for the day. In about 30 minutes, you’re going to sweat it all off and not even realize it. So get some sweatproof/waterproof sunscreen and put it on any exposed skin.

Even if you’re wearing a hat, you’ll still be plenty exposed to the sun, so put it on your face and neck as well. Don’t forget, sunlight reflected off water — a pool, lake, or ocean — can burn you just like regular sunlight. I’ve sunburned my face while fishing (and wearing a hat) plenty of times to learn that lesson.

4. Drink plenty of water

Without getting into how much you should drink or whether other beverages are an appropriate substitute, make sure you drink plenty of water on outdoor days. Otherwise, you can get muscle cramps or. . . serious intestinal distress if you go too long without it.

Also, remember that you lose more liquid from your body than you realize, especially if you’re visiting a dry climate, like the desert, where you don’t feel like you sweat very much. I remember the first time I went to Reno, Nevada and was amazed to discover I didn’t sweat very much. Someone told me that was because my sweat was evaporating — I mean, someone responded to something I said. It wasn’t like a complete stranger came up to me and said “Welcome to Reno, where your sweat evaporates in the desert.” But it did mean I was losing more water than I realized, which could have been dangerous.

Soda, fruit juice, and even milk are suitable substitutes, at least when it comes to your immediate survival, but you really should drink water, because it replaces your sweat and electrolytes better than anything else on the market. Iced tea and coffee are diuretics though, which means you’ll lose more than you take in, so avoid those for fluid replacement.

5. Don’t scoff at car sun shades

I never used these in Indiana, and always thought they were a little wimpy. But when I got to Florida and tried them out, I was sold. Depending on where you go (or live) in the summer, you’ll want to have some kind of windshield screen in your car. Use it whenever possible. You’ll remember the first time you ever grab a white hot steering wheel.

Similarly, park in the shade whenever you can. And if that means the difference between paying to park in a garage versus parking on a surface lot for free, you might want to consider paying for the parking.

How do you beat the summer heat? Do you have any special tips or tricks you use to avoid overheating or turning into a whiny fuss, like me? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Megapixel.com (Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

Solving the “Where To Go For The Holidays” Problem

June 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Research firm DK Shifflet recently released their Monthly Top 5 list of traveler trends. This month’s topic is What types of activities do families with children 12 and under participate in most often when traveling in the U.S.?

Surprisingly, “threatening to ‘turn this car around and go back home!'” was not on the list, even though it would have been what my dad participated in the most when my sister and I were kids.

Instead, the researchers contacted over 50,000 U.S. households and said that the number one travel activity is “visit friends and relatives.” As many as 30% of the families surveyed said they do this the most often.

(Notice they didn’t say “enjoy the most.”)

In fact, the list goes like this:
5. National/State Parks, Theme/Amusement/Water Parks, Touring/Sightseeing – 12% of families
4. Beach/Waterfront – 16% of families
3. Culinary or Dining Experience – 19% of families
2. Shopping – 24% of families
1. Visit Friends/Relatives – 30% of families

Of course, this makes the most sense. There are family birthdays, holidays, and special gatherings to attend a few times a year, and since most people have a day off here or there, and the kids are out of school for an extra day on Memorial Day and Labor Day, it’s not surprising to spend a 3-day weekend at a family member’s.
How does your family figure out where to go for the holidays?
Of course, if you’re like most families, figuring out where to go for the holidays is always a problem. The big debate usually goes “how about Thanksgiving at your parents, Christmas at mine this year?”

“But we went to Christmas at your parents last year!”

“Because they live five hours away. Your folks live 30 minutes from here, and we see them all the time!”

One thing that ultimately solved this dilemma for us —and I consider this the defining moment in our lives when we finally became adults — is when we declared we were no longer traveling to any family homes for Christmas.

“Our kids need to have a feeling of home and tradition at Christmas,” we said, “and we’re not going to get that bouncing between one house and the other trying to include everyone on one day. If you want to see the kids open presents on Christmas Day, you can come and stay with us.”

I have to say, I hadn’t felt like that much of a grown-up since I got my driver’s license or ordered my first drink as a 21-year-old.

Our parents agreed that this was for the best, and then we only had to figure out what to do about Thanksgiving. Then, it was just a matter of figuring out who would have the best spread that year, and then wrangle an invite for the other set of parents.

That was often a decent solution until my wife decided she wanted to do Thanksgiving at our house a few years in a row. Luckily, her parents only lived a few miles away, so her mom was able to come over and help out.

Still, regardless of what you choose to do, the most important thing is that you spend family time together and create some memories. It may not seem like as much fun, and you may wish you were at the beach or a theme park instead, but that time together will be some of the things you’re talking about years later.

How do you figure out where to go for the holidays? Do you have an innovative solution? Tell us about them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Satya Murthy (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

How to Travel Light On a Family Vacation

February 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been a long-time proponent of traveling light because I hate carrying a lot of stuff. I’ve gotten to the point in my work life that I never carry paper, and it bothers me when someone hands me a piece of paper. (I even scan business cards with my phone and hand the card back to the owner.)

Minimalism is the key to travel, and I’d rather do without something not-so-important than lug it along “just in case.” That’s how I keep my business backpack so light.

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

My family has been bitten by the minimalist bug as well, and we’ve spent the last several years shedding unwanted stuff in our lives. So it’s only natural that we adopt this approach to our travel, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Here are a few things we’ve learned over the years.

1. Skip the Suitcases Sometimes

Whenever we’re staying in a house or an Airbnb home, we’ll skip suitcases entirely, and pack all our clothes in a Rubbermaid tub. Then, we just carry the tub into the house and unpack. There’s more room in the back of the car, and I can even see over our stuff when I look at the rearview mirror.

But if we ever stay at a hotel, we take the smallest suitcases we can (like an Atlantic Ultra Lite 3 21″ spinner). When my family travels with suitcases, we can pack for a 7 – 10 day trip in carry-ons and a backpack or two.

The other option is to pack everyone’s clothes into one large suitcase, and take turns lugging it around. I don’t recommend this if you’re flying though, because if that suitcase gets lost, you’ve got some big problems. I also don’t recommend it, because I’m the one who ends up lugging it.
Read more

How to Eat Healthy On the Road

February 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

My family has a lot of food allergies and sensitivities between us. One can’t eat gluten, another can’t eat dairy, another has a peanut allergy, and the fourth can’t have a lot of processed meats. I’m the only one who escaped any kind of food issue.

This makes eating on the road very difficult. We can’t just buzz into a fast food restaurant for a quick lunch. We need to carefully plan and plot our trip, so everyone can get something they want without being shortchanged.

Plus, eating healthy is a good habit to be in, and every meal on the road shouldn’t be ordered at a drive-thru window anyway.

Here are a few ways to eat healthy on the road, whether you’re just trying to watch calories or if you have food allergies that limit what you can eat.

1. Pack your food

A nice salad helps you eat healthy on the road

Those are figs in the center. I never knew what a fig looked like.

If there are certain foods you can and should have, pack them in special airtight containers and tuck them in your suitcase. That way, even if everyone else wants fast food, you’re not watching them eat.

If you’re traveling by car, you have additional options. Take a small cooler with you, and be sure to pack plenty of cold packs. (It will also help keep everything cool if you can freeze some of the food you’ll need later on.)

If you’re flying, however, remember the TSA liquids rule. That means Grandma’s French onion soup has to stay at home, but things like gluten-free bread are okay to take. Also, don’t pack any fruit if you’re traveling overseas, and don’t bring any home with you.

Finally, your hotel may have a mini fridge available, but often times these are filled with mini bar items that you can’t even touch without getting charged. Ask the hotel if they can remove the items or provide you with another fridge. Just know there may be a charge for that.
Read more

Five Ways to Practice Online Security While on Vacation

February 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

One mistake travelers tend to make on vacation is letting their guard down when it comes to cybersecurity. Chances are, our home wifi is already fairly secure, and we feel free to pay our bills and do our banking online without any worry.

So you may think nothing of logging into your bank account and paying a few bills while you’re on vacation, or using your laptop in your hotel room to use Facebook and check emails.

Except public wifi hotspots are risky and unsecured at best. They may even be fake networks set up by hackers looking to break into your laptop. If you’re going to use any electronic devices to go online, it’s strongly advisable to follow a few security rules and use a few security tools to ensure your devices and information remain safe.
Be careful with your electronics when you're on vacation.

1. Be VERY Careful About Strange Wifis

Free hotel, restaurant, and airport wifi networks are notoriously unsecure, and you’re at risk just by logging into one. Never do anything with your finances or share personal information on an unsecure network without a VPN (see below). Even networks that require a password are still not very secure, so additional protection is important.

Worse yet are the fake networks set up to trick you into logging on. For example, if you’re staying at a Holiday Inn, you might expect to see HolidayInn as your network of choice. But perhaps there’s also a **HolidayInn** network. So you choose the second one, thinking it’s also safe. Except it’s not.
Read more

Five Apps You Need On Your Next Road Trip

February 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

As a frequent driver, I love what my mobile phone can do. It’s a mini computer and camera that lets me make phone calls, and thanks to the various apps that are available, I could leave my house right now, and drive all the way across the country without a laptop or pre-planning, and navigate the entire trip.

But I couldn’t make it without my phone.

That’s because I use certain apps just to find my way around anymore. Whether it’s ordering coffee, booking a hotel, or finding somewhere to eat, there’s an app that’s sure to help any traveler on any trip. But there are a few that are perfect for road trips. Here are my top five.

Siri/Android Virtual Assistant

First, let’s get this out of the way: I don’t text and drive (and you shouldn’t either). Instead, I use Siri to send and read my texts.

If you have your mobile phone plugged into a power source, you can call out “Hey Siri” and she’ll answer. I plug the phone into the AUX jack on my stereo, so I can hear everything going on. When I say “Hey Siri, read my texts,” she’ll read any new texts, then ask if I want to respond. I dictate a short response to her, including all punctuation (because I’m a geek that way) and she sends it for me. There will be occasional errors, based on my pronunciations, like “will” instead of “we’ll,” but the people I text understand when I’m dictating, and will figure it out.
Read more

Should You Drive or Should You Fly? A Vacation Formula

January 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

When heading out on vacation, the biggest decision you’ll make is how to get there. Do you drive or fly? If you fly, you can get there sooner and spend more time at your destination. Driving is more budget friendly, but it takes a couple of extra days out of your vacation time.

In my travels, I’ve driven and flown to dozens of destinations. On some airplane trips, I would have been satisfied with driving, and on some car trips, I wish I’d been born with wings. But for the most part, we made the best decision we could with the information and resources we had. If you’re trying to decide, here’s a handy 3-step formula you can use to help make your decision.

How far is your destination?

Kids on a planeI typically won’t fly anywhere if I can make the drive in less than six hours. If I fly, I get to the airport two hours early, and it takes me at least 45 minutes to drive, park, and get inside. My flight will take at least one hour. Then I have to disembark, walk to the rental car counter, get my car, and drive to the hotel, all about two hours after the plane touches down. And if I take the hotel shuttle, then I’m without ground transportation.

This all takes at least 5.5 hours.

But if I drive, I can take the same amount of time, and have my car with me in a new city, which lets me explore on my own. I’m in control of my progress and circumstances.
Read more

Avoid These Budget-Busting Traps on Your Next Vacation, Part 2

January 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

You can plan and save, clip coupons, and work on strictest principles, but you’ll almost always go over budget on your vacation.

It happens to all of us; it doesn’t mean you’ve failed at vacation. Chances are, you fell into a budget-busting trap without even realizing it. Last week, we looked at two major budget busters, including eating in restaurants for three meals every day, and booking surprise, spur-of-the-moment activities.

To help you avoid overspending on your next vacation, here are two more budget traps to watch out for.

Vacation souvenirs can really drain your budget if you're not careful.

Vacation souvenirs can really drain your budget if you’re not careful.

3. Buying Souvenirs

Maybe it’s just me and my family cutting down and trying to live minimally, but I don’t quite understand the allure of souvenirs. Sure, it’s nice to have a little knick-knack that reminds you of your trip. But go on enough vacations, and pretty soon you have a full shelf of tchotchkes, and maybe even no idea where they all came from.

Of all the souvenirs we’ve bought over the years, I don’t think we have any over 10 years old. But we’ve kept all the photos we’ve ever taken.
Read more

Avoid These Budget-Busting Traps on Your Next Vacation, Part 1

January 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It doesn’t matter how much we budget and plan our vacation, we almost always go over the amount we planned on spending.

I don’t just mean me and my family, I mean all of us. If you’ve planned and taken a vacation, I’m willing to bet your rainy day fund, that ultimately you spent more than you planned. It hardly ever fails.

To help you avoid overspending on your next vacation, here are two budget traps to watch out for. We’ll have two more next week for you.

A hotel with breakfast included is a great way to avoid eating out too many times on vacation

Hotel Niwa Tokyo breakfast buffet – If you can eat like this, you can skip lunch completely!

1. Eating Three Restaurant Meals Every Day

Eating in a restaurant three times a day can be a real drain on your wallet, especially since most restaurant portions are oversized to begin with. But most Americans have been taught that we “need” to eat three meals a day. And if you’re staying in a hotel without a kitchen, chances are you’ll eat three restaurant meals.

But do you really need to?

Space out your meals so you eat two larger meals in a day — say, a late breakfast and a normal dinner. If you get hungry in the middle of the day, have a snack, not a full-blown lunch. I’ve started carrying peanut bars when we visit the amusement parks to get me through the day. It’s certainly cheaper than a $10 mediocre burger, and we save a little money so we can instead spend the GDP of a small country on dinner!
Read more

Next Page »