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)

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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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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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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Four Teen and Tween Travel Tips

June 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

You’ve never been eye rolled until you’ve been eye rolled by a teenager. And as the father of three teenagers, I can tell you, they’re sharp. And a tough audience. Seriously, you tell a few good jokes — I mean, really good jokes — and your kids act all embarrassed to know you. What’s that all about?

Those eye rolls can come pretty fast too, when you’re on vacation. So here are four tips you can use to make your teens and tweens happy about the upcoming family vacation. Or at least not so eye rolly about it all.

1. Put a limit, not a ban, on video games and phone time

Group of people as they travel, posing together in front of a stone wall, like a castle.You don’t want your kids spending their entire vacation staring at a tiny screen, but neither do you want them to go without their personal devices, especially when you’re just dying to sneak a peek at Facebook while you wait in line.

Instead, put a time limit on phones and games, and reserve that time for the evenings, after dinner. If you can actually manage a total media blackout for everyone in the family, more power to you. But those little devices can go a long way to alleviating boredom on a rainy day.
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Five Family Travel Gadgets to Get Before Your Next Trip

May 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Thanks to technology, there are all new kinds of travel gadgets you can use to make your life easier on your next vacation. But this article isn’t yet another regurgitation of the same old “get a cheap tablet” advice. We all know those:

Erik Decker's EasyACC Battery Pack and iPad, one of his most important travel gadgets

My EasyACC Battery Pack and iPad. Note the awesome Tpro Bold 2 backpack in the background!

  • A cheap tablet that uses wifi only.
  • A portable DVD player for backseat video viewing.
  • Better yet, a small laptop for DVD viewing; it can double as your travel laptop at the hotel.

Those are all great gadgets, and I highly recommend them. But there are are a few gadgets that you may not have considered. At the very least, they’ll make life easier, and maybe even save you some money.
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Eight Ways to Prolong Your Mobile Phone Battery Life

April 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

After last month’s news about how closing dormant apps don’t help your mobile phone battery life, that got me to thinking about how to actually extend a phone’s battery, especially during a long day out.

Atlantic Unite's USB Port to charge your mobile phone battery

Atlantic Unite2’s USB Port

Now that we live in Orlando, my family and I often spend a good 8 – 10 hours wandering around one of the theme parks, and my mobile phone battery is usually nearly dead by the end of the day. Of course, it doesn’t help that I play Ingress (an augmented reality geolocation game played on your phone), but there are some things I do to try to extend my battery life throughout the day.

1. Reboot your phone

Do this the night before, while it’s plugged in. This way, you’ve closed any memory and processing leaks that might use extra power. Don’t forget to keep your apps updated, because new versions are sometimes less of a power drain than their older predecessors.
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