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

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How to Avoid Getting Sick on Your Next Vacation

September 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It was certainly a honeymoon to remember, as my new bride and I both got a stomach virus three days into our Disney World trip. As we lay in bed, battling our illness, trying to salvage what was left of our honeymoon, we realized we had been contaminated by someone who attended our wedding. We hugged and kissed so many people that day though, we couldn’t be sure of the guilty party.

(First of all, if you’ve been sick, or you’re fighting an illness, don’t go to a wedding!)

But we could have just as easily gotten sick on that vacation, and as I’ve been traveling more and more, I’m realizing how lucky I’ve been to not get sicker over the years.

So as you start traveling for the fall and winter, here are a few tips for you to remember to avoid getting sick on your next vacation.

First, make sure you get plenty of sleep in the days before you leave. If you’re sleep deprived, your immune system will be a little weaker, and it will be hard to stave off any potential bugs you pick up on your travels. Continue to stay rested on your trip as well. You may be tired anyway with all the sightseeing and walking around, so make sure you get plenty of sleep.

Second, get into the habit of coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow, not your hands. Don’t believe me? The next person you shake hands with, imagine they sneezed into their hands 10 seconds before you saw them. Ick, right? So show everyone else the same courtesy. Teach your family to do the same, so they don’t put their germ-infested hands all over you and your stuff. And while we’re at it, don’t sneeze into a tissue and then tuck it into a sleeve. That’s only spreading your germs further.

Third, wipe down hotel room remotes and even your hotel room doorknobs with disinfectant wipes. Remember that thing I just said about sneezing into your hands? The last person in your room didn’t do that, and you don’t want their germs. While you’re at it, wipe down your mobile phone once a week — mobile phones carry up to 18 times the bacteria as the flush handle on a public toilet. You can even use a UV sanitizer like Phone Soap to sterilize your phone.

Use hand sanitizer after you handle public items like doorknobs, phones, and even soap dispensers and faucets. Do this especially before you eat or handle food. Cruise ships are notorious for having norovirus (a stomach virus), and while they’re generally okay, it doesn’t hurt to take precautions. If you’re on a cruise or in a widely-traveled public place, carry a small bottle of sanitizer with you.

Do laundry regularly and wear clean clothes. You may think that shirt is clean enough for a second day, but pathogens have a way of clinging to clothes that otherwise appear clean. When you’re on vacation, you can easily pick up an illness from your clothes as you do other contaminated surfaces.

Take steps to avoid motion sickness. Avoid reading in the car (that always did me in when I was a kid), avoid spicy and greasy meals, choose seats that suit you, use some preventative products, and learn some coping methods. If you get seasick or motion sick easily, there are a lot of products that are supposed to help prevent that. But if you’re going on a cruise, you may want to test a couple of the products in a shakedown run. Try a lake cruise first with one or two of the products to see if they work.

Finally, keep copies of important health documents saved to your phone or a cloud drive. I like Google Drive and Evernote to keep track of important documents. Both programs work on my iPhone, iPad, and laptop, and they also work on Android and Galaxy devices too. Scan the important information, sync it to the cloud, and you’re all set. If you ever need it, you can retrieve the information and share it with your health care providers.

How do you stay healthy on vacation? Do you have any special tips or tricks? Or horror stories about a vacation-related illness? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Gadini (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

How Waze and Google Maps Work on Your Phone

August 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It was May 2016, and I was on my way to Indianapolis, driving from Orlando. As I was nearing Atlanta, my phone beeped frantically. It was my GPS app, Waze, telling me to exit in a half mile.

I had learned from experience to always follow Waze, so I got over and exited onto some county highway just in time. As I exited, I saw cars stopping on the highway, backing up almost to the exit, the line stretching up as far as I could see

I followed the new directions, driving along county roads east of Atlanta. It took 30 minutes, and Waze finally deposited me back onto the highway, 10 miles north of where I had exited, back into the traffic jam I had left. I was back in the same line of traffic, but only for one mile, and I was only stuck in it for 20 minutes.

Waze location services screen on an iPhoneIt happened less than 30 seconds before I had to exit, but something alerted Waze and got me to change course.

How did Waze know to tell me when to exit?

Have you ever wondered how the traffic function on Google Maps or Waze works? We no longer have the eye-in-the-sky news helicopters flying around town, alerting us to traffic jams., but the GPS systems are gathering traffic data from somewhere.

It’s our phones.

Well, not our phones, per se, but our anonymous aggregated data.

Google Maps gathers its data — our location, direction, and traveling speed — from all Android and iPhone users who have Google Maps and Waze open while they’re driving. It already has all the maps of the U.S. and a lot of the rest of the world (thank you, Google Maps!), and it has kept track of previous travel data, so it can predict future traffic patterns based on past traffic.

And since Google owns Waze, the two share the same data so you can use one or the other and be sure they’re both accurate with real-time information, not something that’s 15 or even 60 minutes old. I never had this experience with a Garmin GPS. We bought one a few years ago, and I stopped using it two weeks later because I downloaded Waze. (My wife was not happy about that.)

Google Maps also knows the speed limits on all the roads and compares that to the current speed of all the cars — well, phones — traveling on that road. If it’s slower than the posted speed limit, or if the cars have all stopped, it updates the traffic conditions and gives it a traffic rating, all according to the speeds that are being shown.

Now, they don’t transmit all your personal information, like “Erik Deckers is heading home to [address] in his Ferrari Testarossa and will arrive at [time].” But it does track “there’s a user traveling on I-4 at 30 miles per hour, but it’s normally a 55 mph zone. In fact, there are a couple hundred phones all traveling at that speed in a 55 mph zone. That’s a traffic jam!”

Google can also predict traffic patterns by analyzing tens of thousands of users who have driven on highways at the same time every day. They know that every day between 4:00 and 6:00 pm that northbound I-69 in Indianapolis is clogged up, or that I-80 through Des Moines is jammed up between 4 and 6 CDT. And that no one has moved on I-405 around Los Angeles since 2008.

That means they can also predict when traffic will be at its heaviest. This way, if you ever use the “Go Later” function on Waze, it will look at the historic traffic patterns, and tell you what time you have to leave in order to arrive at your desired time.

(I always leave 15 minutes before that, if I can help it because you never know when there’s going to be a crash that makes everything worse.)

Waze and Google Maps are also up to date on the latest construction traffic patterns. There’s a lot of construction around Disney World right now, and the two have always been up to date with the latest changes. That’s because they’re also using our traffic data to improve their maps by seeing where people might deviate or take new routes, especially when the current maps are showing something else.

My Atlanta story happened again recently when I was returning to Orlando from a weekend in Atlanta. I knew where I needed to exit off I-75 to get home, but all my routes told me to exit around Gainesville, and I couldn’t figure out why. I had thought about ignoring it, but remembered my promise to myself: Always follow Waze.

I exited where I was told and saw that the traffic, just like last year, was backed nearly up to the exit. I realized traffic was backed up for about 5 miles and 30 minutes. My detour took less than 10 minutes, and I missed the entire traffic jam. Once again, Waze to the rescue!

In the end, a GPS system like Google Maps/Waze is only as good as the data it’s getting. So you can help your fellow commuters or vacationers by keeping one or the other open while you drive. But if you’re worried about privacy — remember, they’re not gathering personal data, just anonymous aggregated data — you can turn off your location services on your phone. (Which will also mean Waze won’t be able to guide you accurately.)

Do you use a GPS to get around town or only on vacation? Do you have a favorite program or method to find your way around a new city? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Used with permission)

Travel Tech to Make Your Trips A Little Easier in 2017

August 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Every year, there are new gadgets and apps to that promise to make our traveling life a little easier. Whether it’s a cell phone attachment that works as a digital scale and a battery charger, or a coffee shop guide app that shows you all the coffee houses in the world’s major cities, there are lots of new things that can help you make your next trip much easier and enjoyable.

These are a few of the different gadgets, gizmos, and gewgaws to consider getting before your next family vacation.

Waze is one of my favorite travel tech options when I'm on the road

Waze is one of my favorite travel tech options when I’m on the road

1. Get Waze on your mobile phone. It’s a few years old, but it’s by far the best GPS app out there. You may love your Garmin, and you may use Google Maps on your phone, but honestly, I’ve learned to use and appreciate Waze far and above the others. I became a believer when Waze diverted me around a 3-hour traffic jam in Atlanta by changing my route 30 seconds before I reached the 10 mile line of cars.

That’s because Waze, which is owned by Google, gathers its traffic data by aggregating anonymous data from all the Android phones, iPhones using Google Maps, and even Waze users traveling on the road. Then it converts that data into up-to-the-second traffic patterns, alerting you to traffic slowdowns, accidents, construction zones, police cars, and even road hazards. (My next post will discuss how exactly all this works.)

You can download TV shows and movies on Netflix now. If you or your kids have some favorite shows you want to watch, Netflix will let you download them on your home wifi so you’re not at the mercy of crappy hotel wifi or racking up big data charges on your cell phone bill.

Or if you’re like me and have an old wifi-only iPad, you can’t download anything in the car. So download a couple shows, and let your kids watch in the back seat. (Or you can watch when you reach your hotel.) You can also buy movies and TV episodes on iTunes, and save those to your hard drive or phone, which also makes them available even if you don’t have wifi.

Wear a SCOTTeVEST to carry your tech.. SCOTTeVEST is like one of those fly fisherman vests I used to wear on my yearly fishing trips, but they look much classier. For one thing, all the pockets are on the inside, giving you a smooth exterior. For another, they’re designed specifically to carry your electronics gear. I’ve seen SCOTTeVESTs that will hold an iPad in a back interior pocket, phone, charging cords, battery backup, notebook and pen, sunglasses, passport, and so on.

I’ve also read a few travel articles by extreme “no luggage” travelers who will pack everything they own — which amounts to one extra pair of underwear and t-shirt — into the back vest pocket, as well as their tech, and travel the world wearing their luggage.

Use a Bluetooth shutter button to take better selfies. Prop your camera up on a flat surface or use a miniature tripod. Then, when you’re all posed and ready to go, press your Satechi Bluetooth remote (or other brands; there are dozens to choose from) and it will snap a picture. No selfie stick, no asking strangers to take your photo, and nothing that shows half your arm; just a nice, normal photograph. I’m not a big fan of selfies, but I’ve used one of these remotes before and it’s changed the way I take photos when I travel.

Carry a couple short charging cords like the myCharge PowerCord or an Anker 1 ft. charging cable. I like these smaller cables because they fit into my work backpack or even my pocket with ease. As long as I’ve got my laptop, or even a converter cube and a hotel desk lamp, I don’t need to whip out one of those 6-foot boa constrictors every time I need a power boost.

You might also want to consider the Ventev portable chargestand. This is both a charger and a phone stand. It will charge your phone for up to 12 hours of talk time, and you can use it in either horizontal or vertical orientation to watch your favorite videos on the plane or before you go to sleep. It has a built-in cable, so you can use it horizontally, and is available for both Apple and Android devices. It’s ideal for a hotel or home nightstand charging station but can double as a battery pack on a flight or car trip.

What’s some of your favorite travel tech? Do you have anything you like to carry to make your vacations easier? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (used with permission)

Does Your State Have a Tourism Trail?

July 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re ever looking for a short vacation you can do close to home, but don’t know where to start, try a tourism trail. A tourism trail typically focuses on food, alcohol, history, or sports, and is usually created by tourism boards or local businesses.

For example, Indiana has six separate wine trails, all created by the Indiana Wine Grape Trail. Covering different parts of the state, you can spend a day or two each on trails in southeastern Indiana, northeastern Indiana, or Indianapolis.

But if you don’t want Indiana wine, there are wine trails in nearly every state. Check out America’s Wine Trails to pick a wine trail in your favorite part of the country or something close to home.

When I was a travel writer in Indiana, I even devised an Indiana Microbrewery Trail. It’s a fantasy beer trip around the Hoosier state, in three parts, each taking two days.

The Woodford Reserve Distillery is part of the Kentucky Bourbon Tourism Trail

The Woodford Reserve Distillery is part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Kentucky has its own Bourbon Trail, something I wanted to visit with a couple of knowledgeable bourbon expert friends and a limo driver but never had the chance.

Maybe you’re feeling a bit hungry and you prefer the Upper Midwest. You can tour the food trails around Wisconsin and Michigan. If you’re into farm-to-table food, check out California’s California farm trail website and pick a few places to visit on the west coast.

If you’re in the mood for some art, New Mexico has its own art trails, as does Connecticut and North Carolina. Or maybe you’re a fan of fiber arts. The Midwest has its own Midwest Fiber Arts Trail for year round travel.

If you’re interested in small town history, you could drive the National Road (US 40), which rolls 620 miles from Cumberland, Maryland through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and ends in Vandalia, IL. You could drive it in a very long day, or spend a few days exploring some history and smaller towns in the eastern United States along the way.

If you’d rather rough it and do a little camping, check out the National Park Service’s National Trails System website for information on the Iditarod, New England National Scenic Trail, or even the Lewis & Clark national trail, plus dozens and dozens more.

What about taking your family to all the major league ballparks in the country, or even all the minor league ballparks in your own state? Try picking up a book like The Amazing Baseball Adventure: Ballpark Wonders from the Bushes to the Show by Josh Pahigian, and see how many ballparks you can see over the years.

Or maybe you like minor league baseball. There are 8 teams in the California league, 10 teams in the Carolina League, and 12 teams in the Florida League, all Single A-Advanced minor league baseball teams. Try spending a summer or two visiting each of the ball clubs, and watching a game in each ballpark.

There are also 14 teams in the International League in the eastern half of the US, and 16 in the Pacific League in the Western half. These are all Triple A ball clubs, and you could probably hit a few in a week. It may take you a while to reach them all, but if you don’t want to do the more popular Major League Baseball trip, a minor league trip is still filled with history and a celebration of “nearly there.”

Every state has some kind of food, wine, alcohol, cultural, sports, or art trail. It just takes a little digging and exploring, and the area convention and visitors bureaus or travel bureaus can help you. Some trails even have their own websites and managing agencies.

Are you a tourism trail visitor? Do you have any favorite trails that you like to cruise, or any that you’re looking forward to? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Ken Thomas (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

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.
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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.
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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.
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