Try Some Winter Family Getaways This Season

October 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I like winter. I like the bracing cold. I like the snow, although I don’t like the ice so much. I like seeing my breath and feeling little icicles form on my mustache. I love walking outside during the first snowfall when everything is so quiet because the snow has absorbed the sound.

Of course, I don’t get that here in Central Florida. We barely cracked the low 40s this past winter, and I miss it. Mostly.

So if I want a winter getaway, I’ve got a few places I would like to go in December or even January to get my snow fix for the year. Maybe you can check one of them out this coming winter and tell me how it goes.

Vermont/New Hampshire/Maine
I once spent a couple summer days at The Balsams Grand Resort in Dixville Hollow, New Hampshire. It was gorgeous, and I nearly got to spend the summer there. I also remember wishing I could come back for the winter, because they had some great winter activities as well: horseback riding, winter hikes, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, bonfires, and sitting inside by the fire with a book laughing at the weirdos out in the cold.

Northern New England is a veritable winter wonderland for anyone who’s a fan of cold and snow. A New England fall is a beauty to behold, but the winters are amazing, and they last well into July (well, early May. But, still. . . ). All three states have plenty of resorts, parks, slopes, and inns to visit. Check with a few local visitors bureaus and find some of the activities and areas you’d like to try.

Mackinac Island/Mackinaw City

Mackinac Island in winter makes for a beautiful winter family getaway

Main Street in Mackinac Island

Another fun winter locale is Mackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw), which has a lot of the same activities as New England: plenty of outdoor winter sports, hiking, and just enjoying the scenery. Unlike the summer and early fall, winter is not a major tourism season, so there’s plenty of room and very few people. Just remember this is the time for many of the islanders to take a break, so many of the businesses will be shut down or on reduced hours, so be sure to do your research. But there’s still plenty to do if you know where to look.

Mackinaw City is the mainland port to Mackinac Island, and they have a lot going on in town as well. Plus, if the lake hasn’t iced over yet, you can take a ferry ride over to the island for the day and do some exploring, but still make it back to the mainland in time for dinner and a warm night in your hotel room.

Chicago or New York
As much fun as the great outdoors is, there’s something magical about the big city in winter. While I’ve never been to New York in the winter, I’ve been to Chicago plenty of times. And being there in December is a sight to behold: everything is brightly lit and decorated, and there’s a buzz in the atmosphere as everyone is rushing around for last minute holiday shopping.

I like to get my gift shopping done early anyway, so it’s always extra relaxing for me to hang out at a coffee shop and watch people race around in a panic. And being in Chicago while all this is going on is the best feeling ever. There’s always something to do, sights to see, places to visit, great food and entertainment, and of course, plenty of shopping.

Rocky Mountains (Denver, Boulder, Aspen)
I can’t mention winter getaways without the American face of winter getaways: Colorado, specifically Denver, Boulder, and Aspen. Long known for their winter activities, there’s plenty of downhill skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, hot air ballooning, ice climbing, and anything else you can think of. Being in the mountains though, everything is about downhill skiing.

But if you’re not a skier, the Aspen Chamber of Commerce has a whole list of other things you can do while the rest of your family is hitting the slopes: snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, paragliding, and of course, yoga. You can’t shake a ski pole without finding yoga.

Of course, not everyone feels about winter the way I do. My wife doesn’t, for example, which is why I live here now, and not Indiana. And I have to admit that while I always enjoyed December in Indiana, I was just sick to the teeth of it all by March. So we started vacationing down in Orlando every February, and found that warm weather recharge helped us hang on for the last few weeks of Indiana’s slush and mush.

So if you’re not a fan of below-zero wind chill, sliding off into ditches, or having your boogers freeze the second you step outside, head down to Orlando for a week or two. Plus, if you come in late January and early February, the crowds are a lot smaller than the summer, and there’s still a lot going on. (And let me know you’re coming; I can make a few non-Disney recommendations!)

Wherever you go, just remember to allow some extra travel time on either end of your trip. You could get caught in a snowstorm coming or going, and you’ll need an extra day to get to where you’re going. Check out the road trip feature of The Weather Channel app to see the weather report along your travel route so you don’t get caught in a surprise storm.

Where do you go for your winter vacations? Do you hunker down at home, visit family over the holidays, or do you have fun in the snow (or with Mickey)? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Mary McGuire (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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)

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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How to Introduce Your Non-Disney Friends to Disney World

October 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When we moved to Florida a year ago, I wasn’t too keen on the idea, unless we moved to Orlando. If we didn’t pick Orlando, I wasn’t going.

“Why?” my wife asked.

“Because it’s the most magical place on Earth,” I said. “I want to be near Disney World.”

So, yes, we absolutely moved to Orlando because of Disney World.

One of my favorite sights at Disney World is Spaceship Earth at Epcot

One of my favorite sights at Disney World is Spaceship Earth at Epcot.

It’s my wife’s fault, really. She was the one who got me hooked on our honeymoon. I was all in after half a day at Magic Kingdom. And now, we’re annual pass holders, and we’ll visit one of the parks for a few hours every couple of weeks, or hit the Food and Wine Festival and Flower and Garden Festival several times each.

But we also have a lot of out-of-town friends who want to visit Disney World for the first time, and there are a few things we recommend so they can have the biggest amount of fun in a short time. These are our top four Disney World tips for new Disney families.
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Change Up Your Roles on Vacation

July 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

If your family is like mine, everyone has specific roles. Someone does the dishes, someone mows the lawn, someone cooks dinner, and still others go to work at a 9-to-5 job.

And yet, when we go on vacation, it seems like the only person to get a break is the person who has the actual job. Everyone else is still in their same roles as at home. (Well, the person mowing the lawn gets a break too.)

Coleman stove

My dad used to cook on a stove like this when we camped on our vacations.

When you’re a family traveling on a budget, one of the best ways to save money is to rent a house and cook meals in it, reducing the number of times you eat in a restaurant. In my family of five, we can spend $100 at a casual diner without putting much effort into it. But when we make our meals in a vacation house, we can stretch $100 over a week of dinners.
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The 9-Step Hotel Safety Checklist Used by Some CIA Operatives

July 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

You know how, when you’re on a mission, and you reach your hotel, you check for surveillance equipment, and secure the door against counter-intelligence operatives?

Not so much? Me neither.

Holiday Inn Express Daytona Beach ShoresDrew Dwyer does. He’s a Marine veteran and former CIA operative who shared his hotel check-in safety checklist with He’s been on countless missions in other countries, and developed a habit of making sure his hotel room was as safe as he could make it.

Our vacations may not be as danger-filled and exciting as Dwyer’s, but there are still a few things we can do to be safe while staying in a hotel. Here are a few of the items from Dwyer’s list.
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Top Resorts/Hotel Brands for Families

March 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

As a family of five, hotel stays can be a little tricky. They’re cramped, crowded, and can make vacations pricey. So we’re always careful about where we stay when we hit the road. We’ll try to book ahead of time, but there are times we have to rely on Travelocity or remembering previous stays to find a hotel that meets our standards.

Holiday Inn Express Daytona Beach ShoresWhen we’re on the road, we have three criteria:

  1. The place has to be clean, or have a reputation for being clean. This is one time I favor chains over local options, because those chains have corporate standards to meet.
  2. We prefer a continental breakfast. It’s actually cheaper in the long run.
  3. We want a pet friendly hotel. It varies from hotel to hotel, depending on ownership, but you can find them with some research.

Last year, Parents Magazine picked their own choices for Top Family Friendly Hotels, naming as their top five budget hotels, the Residence Inn, Hyatt Place, Springhill Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, and Wingate by Wyndham.
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