Five Things to Listen to That Aren’t Music On Your Next Trip

April 25, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve ever been on a trip and wanted to listen to something else other than music, you would find there are quite a few options available if you only knew where to look. Maybe you’re a fan of podcasts or audiobooks, maybe you want something more like a movie for your mind, or maybe you’d like to hear what’s happening in another part of the world.

If you’re looking for something other than music, and you want to be informed, entertained, or educated, there are several options for you to try. And whether you’re traveling by yourself or with your family, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Here are a few of the options I use whenever I’m on the road.

1. Listen to News From Another Country

Sure, sure, you can listen to your local news, and you should do that anyway. It’s always good to be informed about what’s happening close to home. But it’s sometimes interesting to hear what other countries are saying about what’s happening over here. And it’s especially interesting to hear what kinds of issues are affecting those countries.

For example, I like to listen to the CBC and BBC via their apps or the TuneIn app. It lets me hear about their local issues, as well as some of the global news we never hear at home.

I also have a Canadian podcast I listen to called CANADALAND (they capitalize it that way, not me!), which covers not only Canadian media criticism but a lot of their local issues affecting different provinces and cities. It’s interesting to have some insider knowledge about a different country, and I’ve had some great conversations with several Canadians about what’s happening back home.

2. Podcasts

I’m a regular podcast listener because I like it better than most commercial radio these days. I have about 12 – 15 podcasts I listen to every week. There are a few general interest podcasts, like Alec Baldwin’s Here’s The Thing, Broken Record With Malcolm Gladwell, and David Tennant’s aptly-named podcast, David Tennant Does A Podcast.

As a writer, I also have some writing specific podcasts I never miss, like Jeff Pearlman’s Two Writers Slinging Yang, Grammar Girl, and The Downtown Writers Jam With Brad King.

Whatever your job, hobby, or side hustle happens to be, I can almost guarantee there’s a podcast about it. Just find your favorite podcast app — I prefer Overcast, but Stitcher has a premium model that gives you extra content — and pick a few podcasts to start listening to. Don’t feel like you have to listen to every episode all the way through — fast forward or just delete and move on. Try out new shows and find what you lie as you settle into an easy-to-manage routine. That way, when you’re heading out on your trip, you’ve got a small bank of episodes saved up and ready to work through.

3. Audiobooks

The audiobook industry is a billion dollar industry, and is a great way to read books without actually reading them. You can borrow CDs from your library, download electronic resources from the same library (get the Hoopla or OverDrive app; ask your librarian if you’re not sure how to use it), or download thousands of free audiobooks through services like LibriVox.

And you can also download the latest books through Amazon’s Audible, a service that lets you download three titles each month. The first month is free, and then you pay $14.99 each month thereafter. If you’re leaving on a trip soon, take it for a test drive and decide whether to keep it right after your trip ends.

4. Audio Drama

This used to be called “radio theatre” (note the -re, which means it’s fancy), but now it’s called audio drama because it’s rarely heard on the radio. it doesn’t matter what you call it though, because there are literally tens of thousands of hours of content available on the Internet, most of it for free.

The Overcast app and Decoder Ring Radio Theatre podcasts, one of my favorites on every road trip. Consider this for your next trip.

The Overcast app and Decoder Ring Radio Theatre podcasts, one of my favorites on every road trip

A lot of it comes in the form of new podcasts, like one of my favorites, Decoder Ring Theatre (which produced several of my plays nearly seven years ago), Girl In Space by Sarah Werner, and the wonderful The Orbiting Human Circus.

There’s also plenty of OTR (old-time radio) you can download, like Great OTR, a website run by a friend of mine.And nearly all of the OTR content online is free to download: Just Google “free old-time radio” and you’ll be shown thousands of hours of free old radio shows, from comedies to mysteries to science fiction to police drama.

Download them to your hard drive and load them to your favorite MP3 player., or save them to Dropbox, and then use an app like Cloudbeats to listen to the files directly from Dropbox. (Make sure you set this up before you leave on your trip though.)

5. Stand-Up Comedy

My wife and kids love listening to stand-up in the car. They’ll turn on Pandora or YouTube Radio, select a favorite comic, and then hit play. Since most of these comics’ acts have been released as albums broken down into tracks, the algorithms will generate random playlists of similar comics and take them through a plethora of comics and their work, just like if you started listening to one song from a favorite artist.

It’s a great way to find new comics, stumble on some old favorites, and turn the trip into a series of hilarious surprises. My family will reach the end of a two-hour trip and not want to get out of the car once they arrive, because they’re waiting to finish just one more routine.

(Be careful listening with little kids in the car: some comics are not suitable for children, and given the random nature of their work, you may find yourself quickly fumbling for the Next button.)

What do you listen to when you’re not listening to music? What are some must-hear programs and podcasts? Share your suggestions with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream, and be sure to connect with us on Instagram.

Get The Best Hotel Deals On Your Time

March 28, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

I asked a friend, Daniel Bell, a hotelier at a high-end luxury hotel in Orlando about some hotel booking tips, especially if you want to find a good bargain at a nice hotel. This is what he wrote.

For most of my adult life, I was not a frugal grocery shopper and did not value my dollar that much. I just bought what I wanted, no matter what it cost. If I had the money in hand, I would get it.

I started to wise up as I got older, and started paying attention to grocery stores that had offered special deals, especially Publix with their BOGOs and BOGOHOs (Buy One Get One/Buy One, Get One Half Off). Now, I take more advantage of the money I do have by seeing what will give me the best bang of for my buck.

You should adopt the same mindset when it comes to travel. As a hotelier, I know that deals are everywhere for travelers, including at luxury hotels, but how do you find the best ones without wasting a lot of time finding them?

Here are some tips for finding the best deals for hotels.

Hire a travel agent

The Ellis Hotel, formerly the Winecoff Hotel, in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Ellis Hotel, formerly the Winecoff Hotel, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Why do all the work if you can get someone else to do it right? Getting a travel agent is not for everyone though. If you are someone who does not care much about the fine details, as long as you have a place to rest your head, then a travel agent might be the right fit for you. They already have relationships with hotels and know how to book rooms online. And they have the know-how on finding great deals for you.

All you need to do is tell your agent where you want to go, let them know your budget, tell them what specific requests you have for the room and they will do the rest. Best of all, you don’t pay the agent for this work; they get commissions from the airlines and hotels for their work.

Google is your travel buddy

Do a Google search of the hotels in your destination area and you’ll see a short list of the top five hotels., as well as the typical rack rate prices. But there’s usually also a website and contact information for each hotel. So call them up and ask them two simple questions:

  1. What special deals and packages do you have for these dates?
  2. Are you part of a rewards program? (If the answer is yes, ask how can you sign up.)

From there, go to any of these travel sites and compare the prices. Hotels let these sites give deals that even the hotels do not advertise themselves, so you might find a better deal on a travel site than the hotel can give.

Rewards Programs

No matter how often you travel, becoming a rewards program member can be beneficial, even if you only go once a year. Many of these programs involve a way for you to save money and get a return, based on your loyalty to that specific hotel chain.

Some of these chains are part of a bigger network of hotels that honor one single rewards program. And others will reward you with points if you use their branded credit card. For example, a credit card from Marriott or IHG (Holiday Inn) can help you earn points for every dollar you spend.

You can even get special upgrades if you use that credit card to book your hotel room. (The same is true for airline credit cards and booking airline tickets.)

How do you find hotel bargains? What are some of your favorite hotels to stay in, regardless of whether you got the best rate or not? Share your favorites with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Four Things Travelers with Medical Issues Should Know About Luxury Hotels

March 14, 2019 by · 3 Comments 

I asked a friend, Daniel Bell, a hotelier at a high-end luxury hotel in Orlando about some of the things he wishes every hotel traveler knew before they checked into their hotel, especially as it pertains to medical issues. These tips can make your stay much more pleasant and enjoyable, and help you deal with medical issues if they arise. This is what he wrote.

People check into hotels for various reasons. I have been working for a luxury hotel for two years, and I’ve met all kinds of travelers, newbies and hotel veterans, businesspeople at a conference to families on a relaxing weekend away from home.

This may come as a surprise, but not everything goes right every time you stay at a luxury hotel. We try our very best to make your stay a great one, but there are times when you may need something extra or important, and you may not know how to get it. Whether you have a medical need, a personal need, or just that right detail to make everything special, there are certain things you should know when you arrive at your luxury hotel.

1. Ask all of your questions.

The Grand Bohemian, a luxury hotel, in Orlando, FL.

The Grand Bohemian in downtown Orlando, Florida.

Do not be afraid to ask any and all questions that come to mind, both when you book the hotel and when you check in. For example, if you or a family member have pet allergies, ask if the hotel is pet-friendly. Some rooms are designated as pet rooms, so you may get checked into one, and your allergies can flare more than an S.O.S. signal. Ask about nearby restaurants, especially if you have special dietary needs. If you forget your prescriptions, ask the concierge where the closest pharmacies are, and whether any of them deliver.

2. Don’t assume you’ll remember what to bring.

Travelers forget things all the time — we’re all human. I get calls from guests who forget simple things like feminine hygiene products. It’s a simple thing, but not having that item can cause a lot of problems. A luxury hotel should be able to provide your small toiletries and personal items, but you should know where you can buy personal hygiene items. (Another question to ask the concierge.) There are times my hotel has run out of these items, so it’s always good to have a backup plan, but don’t be afraid to ask if the hotel has any of your item in stock.

3. Make sure you know how to use the phone for emergencies.

Not all luxury hotels have medical personnel on property. That means there is very little the hotel can do to address a medical situation. If you or a loved one have a medical condition that might ever require an emergency call, it’s imperative that you know how to use the room phone and learn the procedure of calling the paramedics. You might think it’s universal, but in the United States, you dial 911, but in the United Kingdom it’s 999. South Africa is 10-177, and in Germany, it’s 112. And don’t forget, sometimes you have to dial 9 first just to get an outside line.

4. Make special requests when booking the room.

My hotel always wants to serve our guests with excellence, but we prefer to know any special requests in advance. Luxury hotels do allow special requests to be made upon booking a room because we have certain amenities to honor those requests. If there are certain things we should know (e.g. don’t put someone with pet allergies in a pet-friendly room), it helps us serve you better if you let us know what needs to be in the room before you stay at the hotel. That way, it’s already waiting for you when you arrive.

Those are some of the basic things to remember when checking into a luxury hotel, and I’m sure you’ve had some valuable experiences as well. What else would you tell your fellow travelers? Are there other things you’ve seen or done in the past?

Share your ideas and suggestions on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Michael Rivera (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

11 Secrets to Packing Light On Your Next Trip

February 28, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

A friend recently told me that the last time she and her husband flew somewhere, they packed one big suitcase so they could avoid paying for a second checked bag charge on their airline.

“Didn’t you carry on your bags?” I asked.

“Well, just our personal bags. But we figured we could save some hassle if we just checked our bag.” (They did, but they still paid the fee for it.)

I tend to be a little. . . frugal when it comes to needlessly giving other people my money. I’m not cheap by any means — I’ll happily make frivolous, impulsive purchases, like a latte or a book. But I’ve found that I have less money to spend on those things if I do things like pay to check my suitcases. Especially because I know the ultimate secret to gaming the luggage system.

Pack everything into a carry-on bag!

Okay, it’s not really a secret, but I see so many people packing giant suitcases for relatively short trips that I think a lot of people still don’t know it.

Packing light is really quite simple. You get two carry-on items per passenger: a personal item that fits under your seat (a purse, backpack, or briefcase) and a carry-on suitcase, such as a 21-inch rolling suitcase. In my friend’s case, they could have each taken their own carry-on bag and never checked a bag in the first place.

And yet people will pack a large suitcase per person(!) for a one week vacation, even when they’re going to a place where shorts and t-shirts are suitable. I mean, if you’re traveling to Antarctica, you can be forgiven for packing more than one bulky sweater. But if you’re traveling to a non-winter destination this Spring Break, or are going on a business trip for less than 10 days, you should be able to fit everything into a single rollaboard suitcase. Here’s how you do it.

Packing light in an Atlantic carry-on suitcase

Okay, so we didn’t roll the clothes, but we’re still packing light for this trip.

  1. You don’t need one outfit for every day. Take one pair of pants for every three days and one shirt for every two days of your trip. Make sure you have enough underwear and socks for the entire trip (I usually add one extra pair of each), but you can also do laundry halfway through the trip or at least wash your underwear and socks in the sink.
  2. Pack clothes that go with each other. Don’t take unique outfits. Wear colors that can go together so you can mix and match them and create new outfits. For example, two pairs of pants and three shirts gives you six outfits. That’s better than six pants and shirts.
  3. Roll your clothes, don’t fold them. Folding your clothes can cause wrinkles, but if you roll your pants and shirts carefully, you can prevent wrinkles. Some packing experts also suggest you fold-and-stack your shirts vertically, but you still have the wrinkling problem.
  4. Don’t take “just in case” clothes. My wife and I used to pack a nice outfit “just in case” we ever went to a fancy restaurant. We finally stopped doing that since all the restaurants we went to allowed casual clothes. If we wanted to go to a nice restaurant, we made reservations in advance so we could pack accordingly.
  5. Don’t take basic toiletries. If you’re staying in a hotel, they’ll have things like shampoo, lotion, and toothpaste so leave yours at home. Otherwise, get travel-size toiletries, or better yet, buy your items when you arrive.
  6. Your children also get a carry-on bag. If you’re taking your young children with you, don’t pack their stuff in your bag. Let them be responsible for pulling their own little carry-on behind them. And if they’re too small for that, just remember, if they’re old enough to require a ticket, they get their own bag too, even if they’re too young to actually manage it.
  7. Wear your biggest, heaviest shoes on the plane. They’ll take up a lot of space in your bag, so wear them on the plane instead, and pack your smaller, lighter shoes. And just like your clothes, don’t take shoes for one day; take shoes that can be worn anywhere.
  8. If you think you might work out, you won’t. So don’t take your exercise clothes and shoes if you’re not sure you’ll do it. If exercising isn’t a regular habit yet, this is not the time to start, so don’t waste space with stuff you won’t use.
  9. Buy clothes at your destination. If you’re heading to a place known for its fashion, like France or Italy, don’t take a lot of clothes with you. Take advantage of your surroundings and pick up some trendy fashions at the local shops. That gives you plenty of room in your suitcase, but it also helps you look more like a local.
  10. Ship large and bulky items ahead. My father-in-law and I used to travel to trade shows in other states and even other countries. He always insisted on filling a large suitcase with samples and sales literature and taking it with us. Luckily, this was in the day before you had to pay for a checked bag, so it wasn’t expensive, but it sure was a problem the first time the airline lost our bag. We stopped checking our trade show items and shipped them ahead after that.
  11. Never, ever take your pillow. I know people who pack their pillows because they want all the comforts of home. But if you want the comforts of home, stay home. Otherwise remember, you’re going on vacation to get away from home. Experience new locales, new food, new customs, and most of all, new pillows.

Do you believe in packing light for your vacation or business trips? Do you take a carry-on bag or do you check a big suitcase? Share your ideas and suggestions on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

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Things to Pack and Avoid for a Full Day at the Theme Parks

February 14, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

As a veteran of the Orlando-based theme parks, I’ve seen it all. Families who plan for every contingency, and shove it all into a backpack whose size and weight would make a soldier nod quietly in appreciation.

People who come in so woefully unprepared that they spend $50 – $100 just to satisfy some small-but-nagging need they didn’t plan on, like a sweatshirt on a chilly day.

And people who know how to pack and plan for an entire 15 hour day, bringing the things they need and avoiding the things they don’t.

Here are a few things you should pack and not pack if you’re going to spend an entire day at Disney, Universal, Sea World, King’s Island, Six Flags, or any of the many theme parks dotting the country.

Things to Bring

A U.S. Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) straps on a backpack while laying back on the pack, then rolling to one side and raising up from all fours. If you have to do this to pack for a day in the theme parks, you're taking too much.

A U.S. Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) straps on a backpack while laying back on the pack, then rolling to one side and raising up from all fours.

  • Sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats): It doesn’t matter what time of year you’re in the parks, or even if it’s a cloudy day, you can still get a sunburn. So take some sun protection, especially sweat-proof sunscreen, and use it regularly. Wear the hat and sunglasses to avoid getting a burn on your face and to protect your eyes.
  • Snack foods: Even if it’s just for a quick burst of energy or to tie you over when your kids are hungry two hours before dinner, take some granola bars or other individually-wrapped snack items. I personally like Clif bars, because they’re dense and filling despite their size. I used a few of these on my recent #DisneyParksChallenge.
  • Rain ponchos: If you come to Central Florida in the summer, it’s almost certainly going to rain in the afternoon. Buy some cheap ponchos at a Walmart and stuff them in your bag and wear them as needed. Pitch them at the end of your trip, because you’re not going to get them folded that small again. Hint: A lot of theme parks clear out when the rains come, so don’t leave when it gets rainy. Summer rains here last no more than an hour, but the parks will be a little emptier. Make lunch reservations for 1:30 or 2:00 because that’s when it usually starts.
  • Battery pack: For some reason, cell phones burn through their batteries more at the theme parks. (You can slow it down if you shut off Bluetooth and wifi.) But that may not be enough, so it helps to have some kind of battery backup. Whether it’s a 20,000mAH battery pack or one of those credit card-sized one-off chargers, you’ll need something to juice up and get you through the rest of the day.
  • Cell phone charger
  • This one is optional, but very helpful. Stuff a 3′ charging cord and cube into your bag just in case you find an electrical outlet during a rest break. Some restaurants have them tucked away in the corners, and you can occasionally find a plug in a bathroom. Even 10 minutes in a plug can buy you an hour of power. And if the universe is smiling on you, you’ll find an empty plug when you sit down for your lunch or dinner break.

Things to Avoid

  • A stroller: Unless you’ve got one of those all-terrain strollers with dual shocks and a portable generator, don’t bring a stroller with you. You can rent them inside every park everywhere, so there’s no point wrestling with one on the trip down and back.
  • Extra clothes: Unless you know for sure that you’re going to get cold, don’t take extra clothes “just in case,” or a change of clothes for a messy toddler. Similarly, if the morning is cold, but the day will warm up, try to tough out the cold temps rather than carrying around a sweatshirt or jacket all day. Keep in mind that we crank the AC up pretty high here in the summer and you can get cold if you spend a lot of time indoors. So if you get cold easily, take the sweater. Otherwise, don’t plan on every contingency. Check the weather before you go and pack accordingly.
  • Three days’ worth of diapers: You’re only going to the park for a single day. That requires at most six diapers. Don’t fill up your bag with the whole week’s worth of diapers. Just take what you’ll need each day. And put some wipes in a Ziploc bag, rather than taking the entire package. A lot of new parents pack up their kid’s entire changing table for day trips, and end the day with a bag that’s just as full as when they started.
  • Big bottles of water: Yes, you’re going to get thirsty. Yes, you need to stay hydrated. And yes, park water is expensive. But there are some parks that will give you water for free. You can get ice water when you sit down for lunch and dinner. And you can fill up your water bottle in a bathroom sink or special water bottle refill station. So there’s no need to bring a 1.5-liter bottle of water with you into the park. That’s 2.2 pounds of extra weight you’re carrying. Bring a smaller bottle and refill it as needed.

There are other things that are optional, but I tend not to carry just because of the weight, like a camera (my phone takes great pictures) or a guidebook (you can download an e-version on your Kindle app).

If you’re not sure of whether you should take something, think of the worst case scenario if you don’t have it, and decide whether you can live with that. Forgetting diapers for your 1-year-old can be a disaster, but leaving your guidebook behind won’t ruin your day.

What are your must-pack and must-avoid items on your theme park days? What do you absolutely need to have? Share your suggestions on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

How to Survive Walking a Lot on Vacation

January 31, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Last week, to commemorate the ending of my family’s Disney Annual Passes (we’re switching over to Universal for a while), I decided to try the #DisneyParksChallenge. A few other friends had done it, and other people have done it on vacation, so I thought I would give it a whirl.

The goal is to visit all four Disney World Parks — Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and EPCOT — and ride the three “best” rides in each park. I changed it a bit and rode my three favorite rides. I made it, but it was definitely a challenge. Here’s what I did.

Magic Kingdom

  • Haunted Mansion
  • Big Thunder Mountain
  • The Tomorrowland People Mover (Space Mountain gives me neck pains, plus the People Mover is honestly one of my most favorite rides.)

Animal Kingdom

  • Dinosaur
  • Expedition Everest
  • Primeval Whirl (Okay, this one is a silly little rollercoaster, but I like to scream inappropriate things and make my kids laugh.)

Hollywood Studios

  • Rock n Roller Coaster
  • Tower of Terror
  • Star Tours

EPCOT

  • Test Track
  • Mission Space
  • Soarin’

Author Erik Deckers standing in front of EPCOT's Spaceship Earth. He did a lot of walking that day.When it was all done, I had walked 25,837 steps, 13.2 miles, in a span of 13 hours. I did it by myself, driving between parks, and even met up with a friend for the very first ride of the day (Haunted Mansion). And I learned a few lessons that I think are applicable to anyone who’s going to do a lot of walking on vacation, whether it’s all in one day, or several days spent wandering around a city or a bunch of theme parks.

Wear comfortable shoes. This is not the time to break in a brand new pair of shoes, or you’re going to get blisters and serious foot pain. Consider getting a new pair of running shoes, walking shoes, or boots and break them in for a month or two beforehand. If you’re traveling to Europe though, don’t wear running shoes or tennis shoes. That immediately identifies you as an American; wear stylish walking shoes instead.

Don’t carry water, buy it during the day. I saw a number of people carrying Camelbak style water backpacks. I understand that hydration is important, but unless you’re hiking somewhere in the desert or out in the countryside, you’ll have access to water. For one thing, most theme parks provide free water at all their restaurants. For another, there are public restrooms and sinks where you can get water. And in a pinch, you can always buy a bottle of water for a few bucks. But water weighs 8 pounds per gallon, and you don’t want to lug all that weight around when you can find it in literally hundreds and thousands of places around you. Skip the Camelbak if you’re in civilization.

Pack as light as you can. If you’re going to walk a lot, you want to carry as little as possible. On my little trek, I carried my phone and a Clif bar in my pocket in each park. I also had a credit card-sized phone charger in another pocket. (I forgot my 20,000 mAh battery charger!) I also charged my phone when I drove between parks, but I also charged up during a break at a restaurant with extra outlets. So carry a charging cable and an adapter cube; they’re light and can give your battery a boost if you can find a plug.

Avoid carrying a backpack. There are two types of people who carry backpacks in Disney: 1) Parents of young children, and 2) People who pack for every contingency. If you’ve got young kids, that’s understandable. You need diapers, formula, food, and so on. But don’t pack for inclement weather or drastic temperature changes unless you know they’re coming. Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. Also, spread the load out among your party, rather than one person carrying it all. If you have to carry a pack, keep it as light as possible. However much it weighs in the morning, it will feel like five times that much by the end of the day.

Carry a couple high-protein snacks. I always made sure to have a Clif bar in one of my pockets, so if my energy flagged, I had a quick snack to keep me going. Of course, I had lunch in a cooler in the car so I could eat between parks, but if you’re walking around a city for six or seven hours, you don’t always have the time or money to get a snack every time you need a boost. So keep an energy bar, a banana, or even a peanut butter sandwich handy. It’s a lot cheaper than a coffee shop bagel or overpriced hamburger. And then get a decent lunch when you feel like it. (Maybe go before or after the normal lunch hour to avoid the big rush and long lines.)

How do you handle day-long walking trips? Is there anything you carry or don’t carry? What should we know before we head out in the morning? Share your tips and stories on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (used with permission)

Planning and Packing Tips for Your Family’s Spring Break Trip

January 17, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Spring break is coming up in a few months, which doesn’t seem possible, since we just finished with [insert preferred winter holiday here]. But Spring Break happens in March and April for most of the country, and many families plan some sort of out-of-town trip for that time period.

If you’re heading somewhere warm, like down here in Florida (or over in Texas, Arizona, and California), there are a few planning and packing tips you should plan on (and a few you should avoid) as you’re preparing for your next vacation.

One of our packing tips is to not overpack your car; ship things ahead if you need to, or buy items when you arrive.

  1. Avoid the college crowds. Some families make a mistake venturing into the college spring break destinations — Panama City Beach, Miami, Daytona Beach, etc. — not realizing how much they’re going to have to explain to their young children. Plus, these places will be so packed that you’ll have a tough time finding a place to stay, and everything will be very expensive. Keep in mind that many of the popular destinations — Disney World, Disneyland, most beaches, etc. — will be super packed too.
  2. Don’t pack your pool toys. If you want to get your kids a bunch of pool toys, bucket and shovels, and so on, wait until you get to your destination. There’s no point in packing something you can easily get at any drugstore or Walmart (we have those here in Florida). Save your luggage space and weight. In fact, consider leaving them behind when you go home. They’re cheap to buy and easy to replace, and unless you have a pool at home, you’re not going to use them for several months anyway.
  3. Don’t pack baby food and diapers. Again, we have baby food and diapers for sale down here. I’ve seen parents of babies pack an entire week’s worth of diapers in their own suitcase, only to discover their hotel is literally two blocks from a grocery store. Since extra bag fees can be as much as $50 per bag, you’d be money ahead if you just shipped the diapers. So avoid the hassle altogether and just buy the diapers once you arrive.
  4. If you fly, leave on a Friday and return on a Sunday. Flights are cheaper if you can leave on a Friday and/or return on a Sunday. So if you’re spending a whole week on vacation, make it a 10-day trip and get the lowest possible price for the time out.
  5. If you drive, leave in the middle of the night. The south-bound highways are packed on Friday and Saturday before Spring Break, and the northbound lanes are packed on Sundays. You can avoid a lot of that traffic if you leave at 3:00 in the morning. We did this for years when we drove from Indianapolis to Florida, and we saved ourselves so many headaches. Also, use the Waze app on your mobile phone to get up-to-the-minute traffic alerts.
  6. Make dinner reservations right now. If you’re staying in a Spring Break hotspot, and there are some great restaurants you want to try, book the reservations now because they’ll be gone by your vacation. If you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for, book a couple restaurants for the same night and then cancel the others a couple days beforehand, once you make up your mind. (But don’t just fail to show up. That’s inconsiderate and rude.)
  7. Avoid the clichéd destinations. Of course, the temptation is to leave the northern states and head south for warmer weather. And since it’s the middle of January, you’re probably looking at us here in Florida, wishing a January blizzard on us. (Don’t worry; we make up for it with furnace-like summers.) But Spring Break in Florida is packed! Head to a less-traditional Spring Break destination — Atlanta, GA; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC — and skip the crowds, but enjoy the warmer weather.
  8. Protect your money. Never carry all your money in one place, and never show it all when you pay for something. Carry only one or two credit cards at all times, so if you lose one, you can still operate with another you hid in your suitcase or the hotel safe.
  9. Don’t tell social media you’re on vacation. Posting photos of your vacation only tells crooks that your house is empty, as well as your whereabouts. Thieves and other criminals browse social media for check-ins, photos, and notices that people are either not at home, or are at places not familiar to them. Save the photos for when you get home.
  10. Get travel insurance. You may only be taking a relaxing vacation at the beach to read books, but that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong. You can get sick or injured and get hit with unexpected medical costs or miss out on tickets and reservations you already paid for. Get insurance that will cover medical costs and replacement costs for reservations.

Where do you go for Spring Break? What kinds of packing tips do you have for those of us who will be heading out for a much-needed respite from winter weather? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Five Tips to Help You Travel With Friends and Family

December 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Working in my wife’s family business saw us frequently traveling together, whether it was for trade shows, sales calls, or going on vacation. Every January, we would drive from northern Indiana to Atlanta for several days for our big industry trade show. After it was over, we would drive home for a week, and then turn around and drive to Orlando for a week’s vacation.

I know other families who will vacation with friends, renting a couple cabins for a week or spending a long weekend in a new city. It can be a lot of fun for everyone involved, but if you don’t plan it right, you can run into a few problems.

If you’re going to travel with friends or family, here are a few tips you need to consider.

1. Make sure you’re compatible.

Travel with friends can be fun, if you can agree on the what, where, and when. This is a group of people around a campfire at the beach.This is tough if you and your friends can’t even make it through a dinner together without someone getting irritated (even if you’re good at hiding it). If you can’t manage that, what makes you think you’re going to last an entire weekend?

Make sure you all enjoy the same things. If someone prefers museums and symphonies, while someone else prefers rock concerts and dive bars, there will always be one unhappy person on the trip. So make sure you know what your friends like before you commit to the trip.

2. Decide your itinerary early.

While I love just rolling into a new city and seeing what I can discover, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people are planners and prefer to know what they’re doing every minute.

Plan an itinerary where everyone gets something they want. Let each person pick a day or pick an activity, even if everyone else is not as enthusiastic about it. One friend may want to spend a day in a museum, even while someone else wants to go to a ballgame. Do both, and let each person introduce their friends to something they love.

Decide when you’re going to start the day. Some people prefer to sleep in until 9 and keep the party going late into the night. Others are up at 4:30 AM and ready to go by 5:00. Do not travel with those people. They’ll do terrible and awful things, like expect you to be ready to go at 5 AM too.

3. You don’t have to do EVERYTHING together

If you’re going to be gone for several days, be sure to give everyone some time to themselves. Take an afternoon and split up. If some people want to go shopping while someone else wants to go for a hike or sit by the pool, that’s fine. Not everything has to be an organized excursion.

If you’re traveling together as couples, then split up into different pairs and groups. For example, husbands and wives can pair off and do their own thing, or you can organize by activity: anyone who wants to go shopping can go shopping, anyone who wants to take a walking tour can do that. Don’t pair off by family or by gender, go by activity preference. If you’re traveling with several people, it can make for an interesting dynamic and let people get to know each other better.

4. Discuss any allergies, dietary restrictions, and medical issues in advance

Don’t pry into someone’s personal issues or health, but you should at least be aware if someone has a food allergy that might cause an issue for them. Whenever I travel with someone, I usually ask if they have a food allergy. If they say yes, I ask if it’s something they need an Epi-Pen for, but beyond that, I don’t pry.

Similarly, if you have a friend who can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t eat certain foods — vegetarians, religious restrictions, dietary preferences, food sensitivities — make sure you know that in advance so you can plan your meals accordingly.

5. Decide how you’re going to split expenses.

Most places are able to split everything out between couples and friends — restaurants, show tickets, hotel rooms and so on are all easily divided among groups. It’s the other stuff, like renting a big house, buying groceries, and paying for group excursions that can be a little tricky.

Work it all out beforehand, try to pay for as much in advance as you can, and collect the money. Use an app like Venmo or PayPal to transfer money immediately, and commit to paying each other right away. Consider putting some money in a pool for the group to pay for things like gratuities or drinks for the last evening.

Finally, make sure everyone can actually afford to go on the vacation you’re planning. Don’t book a luxury vacation and invite people who are on a Motel 6 budget. It will only create resentment and could cause some financial hardship if someone is trying to keep up and spend beyond their means.

Traveling with family and friends can be a lot of fun, if you invite the right people and do something you can all agree on. Start small with a day trip or even a weekend getaway. Figure out your compatibility with low-risk trips before you book that four-week European vacation.

Would you travel with friends or family? Is it something you’ve done, or something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy? Share your memories (and horror stories) with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: PXHere.com (Creative Commons 0)

Vacation Like Anthony Bourdain

December 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been on an Anthony Bourdain kick lately. I’ve always been a fan, back to his Kitchen Confidential days, and like most everyone else, I was shaken when I heard he died. So I’ve been reading and rereading articles about how he liked to travel and experience new places.

A March 2018 article in Time Magazine — 3 Things to Never Do While Traveling, According to Anthony Bourdain — explained how Bourdain liked to encounter new cities and countries, places to go, and places to avoid when you’re looking for some place to spend your vacation.

I’ve always tried to follow some of his travel dictums — like avoiding pre-packaged holiday tours and straying off the beaten path — but this article was a good reminder about what’s good and fun about travel.

So whether you’re taking family out of town for a week, or you’re just looking to tag a day or two to the end of a business trip (also called bleisure travel), here are a few of Anthony Bourdain’s secrets.

The Eiffel Tower - Anthony Bourdain says to skip trying to take a picture from the top. He says it's lethal to your soul.First of all, skip the tourist traps. Travel expert after travel expert will all tell you to skip the most popular sights just to save time and avoid lines. Besides, said Bourdain, traveling to Paris just to stand on the Eiffel Tower is “lethal to your soul” and a selfie in front of the Great Pyramids is “completely overrated.”

Imagine standing in line for four hours just to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower or to see the statue of David. And will you be able to see David all by yourself? No, you’ll be crammed in with a whole crowd of other people all raising their phones, trying to get a photo of the statue that doesn’t have a dozen other phones in front of it. Why? Just to say you saw it? In that six hours, you could visit another museum, go on a walking tour of Rome, or see a symphony or a play. You won’t be able to see it up close, and all you’ll have is a cell phone photo of your memories.

Instead, he would rather walk into a city and see what he can find. There’s something special about the serendipity of new discoveries that makes travel exciting. I like to visit a new city and find the arts neighborhoods, the places where the artists live and do their work, where the local restaurants outnumber the chains, and where the cool stores have avoided the crush of the malls.

Bourdain would land in a city and then just strike out in a direction to see what he could find, and the payoffs were almost always worth the risk.

Second, don’t try to create a schedule of all the places you have to see. Instead, explore and let the city happen to you. Serendipity, remember?

As Bourdain told Time just a few months before he died, “The sort of frenzied compression of time needed to take the tour, to see the sights, keeps you in a bubble that prevents you from having magic happen to you. Nothing unexpected or wonderful is likely to happen if you have an itinerary in Paris filled with the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.”

Third, stray off the beaten path. Look for the real moments of the city. Just catch a cab to somewhere away from the tourist traps, but still within the regular part of the city. For example, in Indianapolis, if you head just half a mile northeast from the convention center, you’ll find where all the locals like to eat and go to the theater. In Orlando, that area is Mills 50, which is about 15 – 18 miles away from Disney World. In New York City, that means going to Brooklyn, and not Times Square. Or it means instead of going to Paris, going to Brittany and Normandy instead, or even Brussels, Belgium.

For one thing, going to the less-touristy destination means you can stretch your travel dollars. Believe me, visiting Minneapolis costs a lot less than visiting Chicago, and Portland, Oregon has plenty to do and it costs a lot less than San Francisco.

Oh sure, if you’re going for that traditional, city-defining experience — music in Nashville, amusement parks in Orlando, movie stars in Hollywood — then there’s no substitute. Portland will never beat San Francisco.

But if you just want to get away, see some sites, eat some great food, and avoid doing what everyone else does, travel like Anthony Bourdain. Go where other tourists fear to tread, walk into the city and see what you can find, and never, ever fall into the same traps that waste half your day by standing in line.

What kinds of vacations do you like to take? Do you find your own adventure, or do you prefer something that other people have done so you can share the experience? Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Moonik (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Twelve Holiday Travel Tips for 2018

November 15, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Thanksgiving is coming up in a week, which is going to kick off the holiday travel season. Three major religious groups have holidays in the month of December, which means there are going to be plenty of people traveling for The Holidays, which means lines and long waits, plenty of traffic and crowded airports. Here are a few tips to make your holiday travel less stressful.

1. Book everything NOW

Airline tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms and Airbnbs are all going fast, and you’re going to have a tough time finding any room at the inn, or a way to get there. And it’s only going to get harder as we get closer. Book your travel arrangements now, and then confirm them by phone a day or two before your travel days. You’d be surprised — or maybe you wouldn’t — at the number of travel plans that go awry because of a glitch.

2. Have gifts delivered to your destination

Many presents loaded into the back of a car. One of our holiday travel tips is to have your gifts delivered to your destination.Unless you’re just loading everyone into the car, don’t try to pack and carry all your gifts. Order them from your favorite online store and have them delivered to your destination. This beats trying to pack everything into your suitcase and checking it. If you have to pay to check your bag, you probably could have shipped your gifts for the same price. (Or for free, if you have Amazon Prime or your online store offers free shipping.)

Also, don’t try to time it so the packages coincide with your arrival. Order them as soon as you can — delivered in your name — so they arrive a few days before you open them. This gives you a little cushion in case something goes wrong.

But if you decide to take your gifts with you on the plane, don’t wrap them, since they may need to be checked at security.

3. Get travel insurance

Airlines are not very forgiving if you ever have to cancel your travel plans because of illness. You won’t be able to get a refund, although they might let you exchange your tickets. The same is true for many other travel providers. Travel insurance can help you recover your costs, even if they can’t help you salvage a vacation.

Travel insurance is also helpful if you get sick or injured while you’re traveling, especially when you’re overseas, and require medical attention. Your own medical insurance will probably not cover you when you’re out of the country, or even out of your network, so double-check what it will cover when you’re traveling, and make sure your travel insurance covers medical costs.

4. Pack only what will fit in a carry-on

Only take carry-ons, and try not to check any bags. If you roll your clothes and pack thinner layers, you can get up to 10 days’ worth of clothes in a standard carry-on, and never need a checked bag. Remember, you’re going for a short holiday vacation, you’re not moving there.

How are you going to do that, you ask? Here are seven additional tips:

  1. Roll your clothes, don’t fold them. Rolling takes up less space and results in fewer wrinkles.
  2. Pack half as many clothes as you think you’ll need and then do laundry one day while you’re there.
  3. Mix and match outfits. Rather than packing individual and unique outfits for each day, wear colors from the same palette so different shirts and pants go together.
  4. Only pack one bulky sweater. Take thinner layers and a pullover fleece to keep warm. You can swap out the t-shirt/undergarments, and re-wear over layers to save space.
  5. Don’t take your own pillow. I’ve seen people check two suitcases and take a carry-on because they packed their winter parka and pillows from home.
  6. Don’t take a lot of books and things you “hope” to do. Put books on a Kindle or tablet, and look for things to do at your destination.
  7. Rather than trying to take big toiletries, like hair spray or big shampoo bottles, just buy what you need when you’re there. Again, if this can save you from checking a bag, you’re saving anywhere from $25 – $50.

5. Be polite and patient

Traveling can be stressful throughout the year, but when everyone’s doing it, things tend to get a little stressful and we’re more likely to let our emotions get the best of us. As Marcie Boyle, a travel agent in Chesterfield, MI recently told USA TODAY:

Expect that everyone believes their trip is more important than yours. Expect the airports and planes to be crowded. Expect security, restroom, and restaurant lines to be extra-long. Expect to encounter less experienced travelers who may not know the tricks for getting through an airport quickly.

In short, just remember that everyone has a place to go, and the professionals are doing their best to get everyone there. If you blow your top at a ticket agent, not only are you going to ruin their day, but you may not get what you were hoping to get.

Remember, gate agents have the power to say “yes” and “no” to whatever you need, and yelling at them won’t get a “yes.” I’ve been in a few situations where the person in front of me yelled and screamed at a gate agent, and couldn’t get a ticket to another flight. But when I showed up, as sweet as honey, not only did I get the ticket I needed, I even got a food voucher.

So be nice, be polite. Remember, this is the season for family and togetherness. If you can be patient, pack light, and plan ahead as much as possible, you’ll be able to arrive at your holiday destination with a minimum fuss and stress, and be able to enjoy your holiday, whichever one you celebrate.

How do you pack for holiday vacations? Where do you go, to visit family or have a family getaway? Share your tips and stories with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Frank Jania (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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