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 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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How to Travel With Teenagers

January 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Going on a road trip with your teenagers seems like a lot of fun, until you realize, you’re going on a road trip with teenagers. Whether it’s a three-week summer road trip to trace Route 66, or a quick three-day weekend to visit family, travel with teenagers can be a little stressful. They don’t always want to do what we’d like them to do, their idea of fun may not match up with the rest of the family’s, and their interests seem, well, unusual.

(Not like when we were teenagers! We were a delight and never gave our parents a single problem.)

The Family Truckster from National Lampoon's Vacation. The "perfect" car for travel with teenagers.

The Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation. This is on display at the Auto Attractions Museum in Roscoe, IL.

I’m the father of three teenagers, and I know the struggle of trying to get your teenagers to be excited about family vacations. If you can get your teenager in the car, here are a few things you can do to help them enjoy their time with the family, and maybe even look up from their phones and video games for a little while.

Teach them how to read a map. This is one thing my dad did for me when we would go for long trips. He would hand me the map and ask me to navigate for him: Find the route, determine our current location, and calculate our arrival time based on our distance from the final destination. Turns out, he already knew all that information, but he would explain how to determine all of that based on the map and then let me figure it out. Not only did it teach me to read a map properly, but it made me feel invested in the actual journey. We may have GPS to do all of that for us now, but I think people who know how to read a map have a better understanding — and appreciation — for how their GPS works.
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How to Travel with Your Pet

December 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

For many people, pets are a part of the family. They would no sooner be left behind on vacation than one of the children.

But if you want to travel with your pet, whether by car or by plane, there are a few things I recommend you do to make sure your furry companion is comfortable and less stressed.

Use a pet carrier when you travel with your pet by plane, or if they hate car travel.

Make sure your pet carrier is large enough for your cat or dog to turn around.

Traveling By Car

If you’re traveling by car, pack a pet carrier, whether a collapsible soft-sided or hard-sided model. Depending your pet’s size, the right carrier may not fit into your car, so make sure you test this out before purchasing one. You may not want to keep your pet in her carrier the entire trip, but if you do, there are a few things you need to remember.

  • Keep your pet in the back seat. Air bags can cause serious injury in case of an accident.
  • There are special “sky boxes” for small dogs, and I’ve seen seat belt harnesses for larger dogs. Cats should ride in enclosed carriers, however.
  • Make several stops so your pet can have a bathroom break. They may be nervous about riding in a car, and may have to go more often than they do at home. Also, be sure to clean up after your animal. Don’t leave “anything” behind. Read more

Road Trip Survival Techniques

December 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Taking a road trip has always been exciting for me. I enjoy the journey as much as I enjoy the destination, and I like driving, so that makes car vacations a lot more fun for me than hopping on a plane to get where I’m going.

However, I’m also the first to admit that while road trips are fun, they get dead boring after the first hour. You pile in with your friends or family, chants of “Road trip! Road trip!” fill the car, and you play your favorite songs on the radio.

The Great American Road Trip - Death Valley

The Great American Road Trip – Death Valley

After about an hour, when everyone has (hopefully) quit chanting and you’re tired of the music, you realize you’ve got another 18 hours and 900 miles in front of you.

So how do you survive — both literally and figuratively — a long, multi-state, many-hour road trip? As a road trip veteran, I’ve got a few ideas, but I also checked with Lily Brooks-Dalton, the current Kerouac House writer-in-residence, world traveler, motorcycle road tripper, and author of Motorcycles I’ve Loved, about some of her suggestions.

1. Get your vehicle checked out

“Get your vehicle serviced before you leave,” Lily said, “and know how to handle it if things go awry.”

That means get the oil changed, get the fluids topped off, check the tires, check your battery life, and make sure your spare is properly inflated. Also, make sure your AAA card is somewhere handy.
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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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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.

A Complete Guide to U.S. Amusement Parks: Southeast

October 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

This is part 5 of a 6-part series reviewing some of the lesser-known and smaller amusement parks throughout the United States. We’ll cover the Northeast, East Coast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and Northwest.

If your part of the country is getting a little colder, you’re probably interested in heading down south to get that last little bit of warmth before winter sets in. Or maybe you’re looking for a place to go during Winter or Spring Break.

While most people will head to Florida, there’s still plenty of warm weather in other parts of the Southeast. That’s why a lot of families head down to the U.S. Southeast for some amusement park fun. There are more than a few of the favorites you might want to check out when you head down this way.

When it comes to the Southeast states, we’re including Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and of course, Florida. As near as we can tell, there are roughly 107 theme parks, amusement parks, and themed attractions in the Southeast, with 50 of them in Florida alone. We decided to skip Disney World and Universal, since they’re already so well-known, and picked a few of the smaller amusement parks in the region.

Anyone who has ever stepped on a LEGO in the middle of the night knows their kids will absolutely love Legoland Florida (Winter Haven, FL). Located about 45 miles southwest of Orlando, Legoland is built on the former site of Cypress Gardens. Since the park is geared toward younger visitors, there are plenty of kid-friendly rides for everyone. Ride the Dragon, an indoor-outdoor roller coaster; the Coastersaurus races by life-sized LEGO dinosaurs; or pedal your own speed on the Technicycle, where riders can go higher based on their own pedal power. And don’t forget the Legoland Florida Water Park, with water slides, water rides, and wave pools.

Baton Rouge Park, Dixie Landin', one of the many amusement parks in the American Southeast

Baton Rouge Park, Dixie Landin’ as seen from I-10 (Wikimedia Commons)

Next time you’re in Louisiana, you’ll want to check out Dixie Landin’ (Baton Rouge, LA). It’s got one of the biggest roller coasters in the state, the Ragin’ Cajun, which clocks in at 14 stories tall; the Hot Shot, a 200 foot combo drop; and the Splinter log flume ride, with 26 and 50 foot drops. There’s also the Blue Bayou Water Park, if you’re looking for a little wet and wild fun. Be sure to float along in their Lazy River; drop down Lafitte’s Plunge, a 90 foot water slide; and ride the waves in the Hurricane Bay wave pool.

If you’re a Six Flags fan (and how could you not be, since they’ve had amusement parks in every region we’ve covered), be sure to check out Six Flags Over Georgia (Austell, GA, 20 miles west of Atlanta). There are 35 rides for thrill seekers, as well as young families. Whether it’s the all-new Blue Hawk, the 2800 feet long roller coaster, the Acrophobia’s 200 foot drop, or the Georgia Cyclone, the wooden roller coaster, there’s something for everyone who wants to feel their stomachs in their throats. Check out the Hanson Cars, Yosemite Sam’s Wacky Wagons, and Rabun Gap Railroad Station for the little ones.

Folks in Alabama will want to check out the Alabama Splash Adventure (Birmingham, AL), which was recently purchased by the same family that owns Holiday World in my old home state of Indiana. There’s the Splashdown water slide funnel, the Rampage roller coaster, and the Teacup rides for the little ones. And the Kochs have brought Hoosier Hospitality to Alabama, as they offer free soft drinks all day long.

And if you find yourself in either North or South Carolina, check out Carowinds in Fort Mill, SC, which crosses the border between both states. Roller coaster fans will want to try out the Carowinds, because they boast 13 of the biggest, baddest coasters in the country, including “two of the tallest and best steel coasters in North America.” There’s the Fury 325, which has a 325 foot drop, and is 6,602 feet long with speeds up to 95 miles per hour. And The Intimidator, inspired by Dale Earnhardt himself, with speeds up to 75 miles per hour, and a 74 degree drop that’s 211 feet long. And if that’s not enough, check out the Afterburn, an inverted steel coaster with six inversions, including a space drop, vertical loop, a batwing, and an immelman. I don’t know what that last one is, but it sounds dangerous, so you guys go on ahead. I’ll be in the 20-acre water park, Carolina Harbor, listening to you scream.

What are your favorite amusement parks in the Southeast? Where do Southerners go when they want to have some warm weather fun? Leave us a note about your favorite in the comments below on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Infrogmation of New Orleans (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

Five Things You Need To Do When You’re Stranded On Vacation

October 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

As I write this, it’s the day before Hurricane Matthew is supposed to hit Central Florida, and Facebook has been abuzz with everyone preparing, making sure they have enough water, medicines, batteries and devices are powered up, and so on.

It reminds me of when we lived in Central Indiana, and were occasionally faced with impending snowstorms and blizzards. Grocery stores were wiped out, people bought water, bread, and canned food. And now, grocery stores are wiped out of water, bread, and canned food.

Radar photo of Hurricane Matthew. A lot of people had to hunker down on vacation.

See that little black marker? That was us. It had stopped raining in that area, and we got a break.

Thanks to Facebook, we are now very aware of when our family and friends are snowed in, rained out, stranded, marooned, or just plain stuck on their vacation, because of bad weather. And if you’re on vacation, it could be that you’re rained out of a day’s activities, or you’re stuck in a location for several days because of bad weather.

If you find you’re going to be stuck while you’re on vacation, whether you’re in a hotel, cabin, or even someone else’s house, there are a few things you should have, or plan on doing, in order to make the time go faster, as well as to keep safe.

1. Power up all batteries and devices

Make sure every electronic device you’re going to need is always charged. Plus, any non-essential devices might be good entertainment for the kids if the power goes out. Just remember, there won’t be any wifi, so don’t count on Netflix to keep you entertained.

Always make sure you have at least one battery backup “for the adults.” If you’re in a power failure, this may help you stay informed about your situation if you go too long without power.
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