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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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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What Happens to Lost Luggage?

December 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Have you ever wondered where lost luggage goes? Contrary to stories you may have heard, it doesn’t get landfilled, and the airline staff don’t divvy up their findings at the office holiday party.

They have all kinds of items recovered from lost luggage at the Unclaimed Baggage CenterWhile only 2% of all checked luggage is ever truly “lost,” that’s still quite a lot of stuff that never finds its original owner.

Instead, all the lost luggage in the United States is taken to the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. There the bags are opened, and their contents are sorted, tagged and sold to interested consumers for anywhere from 50 – 80% off. The Center processes roughly 1 million items per year. Items like jewelry, electronics, and even wedding gowns are sold in the Center. The rest is either thrown away or donated to charities.
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Packing for Extended Trips

December 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Traveling for a long period of time means planning and packing differently than you would for, say, a weeklong trip. For one thing, unless you are highly wardrobe efficient, headed somewhere incredibly warm or very tiny in stature, it is unlikely you can fit more than about a week’s worth of clothing into a carry-on suitcase

Traveling on extended trips — what I define as two weeks or more — means you need more clothes, which could mean a bigger suitcase, which means you’re probably going to have to check your bag. On the other hand, it’s possible to travel for two weeks or more on a single carry-on. It just takes careful planning, preparation, and some laundry detergent.

When my family and I go on long vacations, always by car, we not only follow these steps, we even pack our clothes into laundry baskets and plastic packing tubs. Since we usually rent a house and not a hotel, we don’t get odd looks when we carry our stuff inside. We manage to fit everything into the back of our SUV, and I can still see over the top of it all when I’m driving.
Car stuffed with luggage
Based on my experience, here are a few ways you can pack for your extended trips without backing a moving van up to your house.

1. Check the weather AND the local standards.
Dressing for a summer in New York or Oregon is different than dressing for summer in Western Europe. In Europe, everyone dresses stylishly, which often means the “American style” of dress will get more than a few annoyed glances. That means packing your nicer clothes, which may take up a little more room than you would for an extended stay in the U.S. Plan accordingly either way. But if you follow the rest of these steps, you should still be able to manage.
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Take an Educational Trip Without Your Kids Knowing It

November 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When you homeschool your children, everything can be a learning opportunity. Resourceful parents can turn a trip to the grocery store into a math lesson, and a day of errands into a lesson on time management and stress reduction.

Many parents want to enrich their children with learning and mind expanding activities, even during their free time. The problem is, most kids hate the idea, and so sometimes you have to sneak learning into family events like you’d sneak your dog’s pill into a piece of cheese. Other times you have to struggle with the dog over the pill, and remind her that you’re the parent, and as long as she’s living under your roof, you’re taking family vacations together.

Wait, what? Where was I?

Basically if you’re one of those nerdy parents, like me, who want their kids to learn something while you’re on vacation, you can either sneak in a little learning by making a single stop (or two) as part of a bigger trip. Or you can take a vacation that’s just one long learning adventure, and ignore the groans and protests. Either way, here are several ways to sneak some learning into your family fun.
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Best All-Inclusive Resorts for Families

November 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

One vacation on my wish list is one of the all-inclusive resorts I keep hearing about. To stay at a place where everything is managed for you, from the food to the activities to the entertainment. The only thing missing from my dream vacation would be my own little golf cart that I could drive everywhere, including through the buffet line at breakfast.

All-inclusive resorts cover everything while you’re there. And there’s plenty to do at most, depending on which resort you choose. They’re also more budget friendly than you might imagine: you can save as much as 25 percent on an all-inclusive resort, compared to a pay-as-you-go vacation, which may often have a few surprise charges, like an expensive meal or impulsively chosen extra activity.

The Balsams Grand Resort at Dixville Notch, NH, one of many all-inclusive resorts in the US.

The Balsams Grand Resort at Dixville Notch, NH.

All-inclusive resorts also eliminate the need for a rental car. Generally, everything is on property, so you can always get a resort shuttle, or hire a cab. Plus, they usually have airport shuttles to pick you up and take you there.

If you are interested in an all-inclusive resorts vacation, you don’t have to leave the country to do so. There are several located within the United States that are also exceptionally family friendly.

If you like Vermont, you may like the Tyler Place Family Resort on Lake Champlain, featuring 165 acres and a mile of private shore on the lake. There are craft classes you can take, sail boarding, paddle boarding, bicycling, swimming, canoeing, and plenty of places to sit on Adirondack chairs and hammocks and just relax. They have activities for the kids throughout the day, and you can even turn them loose for a kids’ dinner, while you and your spouse relax in a quiet dining room.
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A Regional Guide to U.S. Amusement Parks: Southwest

November 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

This is part 6 of a 6-part series reviewing some of the different amusement parks throughout the United States. We’ve covered the Northeast, East Coast, Southeast, Midwest, Northwest, and now we’re covering the American Southwest.

Those of you who live in the American Southwest don’t have to worry about frigid and bitter winters, which gives you a little more leeway in your winter fun. And if you’re vacationing in the region to escape the snow and cold, maybe you can visit one of the region’s amusement parks while you’re there.

This time, we’re covering Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, and California. (We’ll throw in Hawaii as a bonus, which has an interesting theme park). According to my count, there are 129 amusement parks in the region, with 56 of them in California alone. This makes California the leader in theme parks, as Florida only has 50. (Which, as a new Floridian, fires up my competitive spirit a bit.)

While California may have one of the largest concentrations of amusement parks, the other states still have plenty to do too. Here are a few of the places I’d like to visit, if I ever get the chance.

First, if you’re a Six Flags fan, you’ve got a few choices. There’s Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA, and Six Flags Hurricane Harbor and Six Flags Magic Mountain, both in Valencia, CA. There’s also Six Flags Fiesta Texas (San Antonio, TX), Six Flags Hurricane Harbor (Arlington, TX), and Six Flags Over Texas (also in Arlington). Six Flags always offers some of the fastest coasters and thrill rides in the country, but they have something for younger kids as well. So if you’re looking for a Six Flags adventure this winter, chances are you’ll be able to find more than one.

They may be closed for the season, but Cliff’s Amusement Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico is open every day from April through October, and they’ve got plenty of thrill rides to make it worth the wait. There’s the Cliff Hanger, a 120 foot vertical drop; the 3,000 feet long New Mexico Rattler (one of the top 25 wooden roller coasters in the country); and, the Fireball, an 80 foot looping roller coaster that will take you upside down 13 times.

Knott's Berry Farm, one of 56 amusement parks in California

Knott’s Berry Farm, one of 56 amusement parks in California

It may have started as an actual berry farm in the 1920s, but Knott’s Berry Farm is now the 12th most visited amusement park in the country. You can see why, when thrill seekers flock to the Supreme Scream, a 252 feet faster-than-gravity vertical drop that reaches speeds of 50 mph on the way down. There’s the Silver Bullet, an inverted coaster that takes you through a spiral, corkscrew, cobra roll, and a 109 foot initial drop. And then the Xcelerator, which goes from 0 to 82 in 2.3 seconds, and then hurtles you 90 degrees straight back down. Seriously. Straight. Down. (Watch the video to see how it looks.)

If you find yourself in Hawaii, be sure to visit the island state’s only theme park, Sea Life Park in Honolulu, on Oahu. While it’s not a traditional theme park, with rides and characters, it’s filled with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like swimming with dolphins, having encounters with sea lions, and even swimming with Hawaiian native reef sharks and rays. If you’ve ever wanted to experience marine life up close and personal, Sea Life Park Hawaii needs to be on your bucket list.

What’s your favorite amusement park in the Southwest? Do you have a favorite from your childhood, or do you have a go-to theme park for you and your family? Share your favorite, or your best memories, in the comments below on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

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