Four Post-Holiday Return Travel Tips

December 28, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A month ago, you couldn’t swing a full Christmas stocking without hitting an article about pre-holiday travel plans, and what you were allowed to bring on a flight and what you couldn’t.

Things like “don’t pre-wrap gifts in case the TSA needs to check them” and “Pies are allowed through TSA security checkpoints” are very helpful to know.

But what about going home? What special things do you need to know about that?

If you’re like most people, going home usually sees less careful packing, a lot more chaos, and an increased chance of leaving something behind. You’ve got gifts to fit into your bags and you have to get to the airport on time, or you have to hit the highway while everyone else is heading home too.

Here are four ways to avoid stress at the airport or on the road during your post-holiday return travel trip.

1. Remember, the 3-1-1 rule always applies, even on sealed bottles.

If you got a bottle of Scotch, wine, or even a bottle of perfume, even if it’s sealed up, you can’t carry it onto the flight with you. You are allowed to check it in your luggage though, but you want to make very sure it’s well-padded.

Fodor’s Travel Guide recommends you wrap a bottle in clothing a couple of times to protect it:

One method involves putting the wine bottle in a sock, wrapping a piece of clothing around the bottle’s neck until it’s as wide as the bottom of the bottle, and then wrapping the bottle with additional clothing pieces (like shirts). You can add a watertight plastic bag for some extra security. Travelers can also use bubble wrap, instead of clothing, to wrap the bottle, which adds some additional protection for the journey.

2. Ship your gifts home instead of carrying them.

I hope you left plenty of room in your suitcase for the return trip home for all the gifts you got. If you didn’t, you can fill up another suitcase and check it, paying the checked bag fee.

Better yet, you can ship your gifts via UPS or USPS and not have to deal with them until you get home. If you send them the day before you leave, you can also make sure you get home before the gifts arrive. While the costs will vary, there’s a decent chance it will be less than the checked luggage costs, and you won’t have to horse that suitcase around the airport and back to your car.

3. You can bring back leftovers, but they need to be frozen solid.

The TSA will allow frozen eggnog to be taken onto flights during your holiday return travel trip. The TSA will allow things like eggnog or Grandma’s famous wildebeest gravy, but it must be frozen solid and in a cooler. You can also use those freezer packs to keep everything cold, but they must also be frozen solid.

Also, keep in mind that if you carry on a cooler, that counts as one of your carry-on items: you still get a carry-on bag and a personal item that’s small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of you. So if your cooler is a third item, check the carry-on bag or pack the personal bag in the carry-on. Don’t try to cheat and bring on the third item.

(And just ask Grandma for the gravy recipe in the future.)

4. Get the travel apps for your travel method.

I’ve harped again and again on having the right apps on your phone for travel: your airline’s mobile app (which lets you check in 24 hours before your flight) and/or Waze, the real-time GPS app that shows you traffic jams and accidents.

No matter what other apps you get, you need a GPS app and your airline app if you want to avoid the travel hassles our parents dealt with when we were kids.

If you don’t have those installed yet, install them and set them up before you head home. Take a few minutes and familiarize yourself with them, and try to do it a day or two before you leave. You can always use Waze to help you get back to the airport on January 2nd, because you can avoid any traffic delays and get there on time. And of course, the app will help you check in faster and avoid the whole check-in line.

And if you still have to check bags, check them at the porter stand outside the airport and then use the app to check in. Just don’t forget to get to the airport two hours early.

What are some of your post-holiday return travel tips? How do you reduce your headaches when you’re heading back home? Share your best tips in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Konstantin RyabitsevM/small>

Five Travel Memoirs to Scratch That Road Trip Itch

December 14, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

While I’m not a roving nomad like, say, Nomadic Matt, who has spent several years traveling the globe, I have put a lot of miles on my car and on my feet. And there’s nothing better than a good travel memoir to stir up those wanderlust feelings and make me start thinking about the other end of the road.

Sometimes reading the book is enough to scratch the itch, and at other times, reading them only makes me want to throw some shirts into a bag and drive to visit a friend for a few days. But despite being a travel writer for several years, I’m not a fan of the guidebook style of writing, telling you where to go, where to stay, or the best times to visit the sights.

I prefer travel memoirs, stories about why the author did the things they did or what they felt when they saw what they saw. I’m more interested in the story of the journey than the cost of the destination.

So here are my five favorite travel/road trip memoirs that I strongly recommend any traveler reads before their next big trip, whether it’s a minivan road trip to Disneyland or a 16-hour flight halfway around the world. These are the five books that hold a special place of honor on my shelves and I return to whenever I’m feeling cooped up at home.

Erik Deckers' favorite travel memoirs

  1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig). My first encounter with this book was during my Intro to Philosophy class in college, and it became a constant in my life. I still own the original copy I bought back in 1985, although I purchased another copy to read since the original is about ready to disintegrate. A novel within a novel within a philosophical treatise, ZAMM is the pursuit of the definition of Quality as a philosophical construct, a flashback journey where the hero seeks his own answers and sanity, and a motorcycle road trip for a father and his young son. And all three stories collide together in a way that makes this a novel of a generation. I called it “my generation’s On The Road” more than once,” and it’s a title well-deserved.
  2. The Sun Also Rises. (Ernest Hemingway). One of the first travel memoirs I ever truly loved, Hemingway’s 1926 novel about a group of American and English tourists who travel around Spain to watch bullfighting and the famed running of the bulls made me wish for the simple life of sitting in cafes and day drinking. Of course, that’s never been anything I’ve ever aspired to — the best I can do is sit in a coffee shop and get jittery on lattes — but the story made me dream about how exciting living in a foreign land for several months could be. If you want a glimpse into what Gertrude Stein labeled “The Lost Generation,” start with Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical look at his 1925 travels in Spain.
  3. On The Road and Dharma Bums (Jack Kerouac). I cheated and picked two books since they’re both semi-autobiographical about the author. On The Road is about Sal Paradise (Jack) and his best pal, Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassidy), and their journey across the country in search of meaning, poetry, and a good conversation. Dharma Bums is about Ray Smith (Jack) and his best pal, Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder), as they climb a mountain in search of meaning, poetry, and the Buddha. Jack wrote Dharma Bums at a little house in College Park, Orlando, while he waited for On The Road to be published. That house later became the Kerouac House writers residency, where I was the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence.
  4. Motorcycles I Have Loved: A Memoir (Lily Brooks-Dalton). When I first heard that a 20-something had written a memoir, I wondered what exactly it was that a 20-something could teach anyone about life. Then I read it and all was made clear: a lot. Lily Brooks-Dalton, fellow Kerouac House writer-in-residence, made me want to ride motorcycles in a way that only Robert Pirsig ever did. She details her first efforts at riding and then buying a motorcycle, learning how it handled, and the problems she encountered when she bought one that was too big for her. It helped me understand that owning a motorcycle is more about feeling comfortable on what you’re riding, not horsepower and loud engines. If it wasn’t for a promise I made my favorite uncle when I was 8, I’d own a motorcycle right now, and Lily would be the reason I did.
  5. The Bruno, Chief Of Police series (Martin Walker). While not technically travel memoirs — in fact, it’s a French murder mystery series — author Martin Walker paints such a lovely picture of the Perigord region of France that every time I read one of his books, I want to go there in the worst way. Bruno Courreges is the chief of police in the fictional town of St. Denis where he knows everyone, plays rugby and tennis, hunts and grows his own vegetables, at least when he’s not solving murders with international implications. Walker’s descriptions of the French countryside, as well as Bruno’s own gourmet cooking creations, makes me want to spend six months living in France as Bruno does. Of all these books I’ve listed, nothing gives me the travel itch more than a new Bruno mystery.

What are some of your favorite travel memoirs? Do you have any that inspire you to leave the house, or any that you return to whenever you want to remember a favorite place? Share some of your favorite books in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Take Vacations During Off-Peak Travel Times

November 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

One of the greatest joys I have as a traveler is going to a normally-busy place sometime in the off-season and feeling like I have the entire place to myself. Mackinac Island, Disney World, overseas trips to Germany and The Netherlands. They all feel like a private playground when I visit while everyone else is at work or school.

It’s like I’ve discovered a secret location that only a few people know about. We all stroll casually around, smiling at each other, knowing we’re in on the same secret. You can walk up to rides, there are no lines for museums and exhibits, there’s no one on the beach, and you can get seated within minutes during normal meal times And you’re spoiled for choices when choosing a hotel room at an inexpensive rate. It’s glorious!

I’ve also been in Disney World, Chicago, and several resort towns during peak vacation times, and it’s — well, let’s just say I didn’t feel so special on those days. Hotels are expensive, traffic is evacuate-before-a-disaster heavy, you’ll wait for a week at a restaurant, and the crowds are so big that even an extrovert like me just wants to crawl under the covers for a week.

As a result, my family has been a regular practitioner of traveling during off-peak times. Hotels cost a lot less, there are often discount packages available for some destinations, and you can get a more personalized experience as the staff can focus more attention on you, or at least not be so harried when they try to help you.

So I’m very interested in Offpeak.io. It’s a website that analyzes the travel times in major cities and give you an idea of what’s a peak travel time versus an off-peak time in a chosen city, so you can book your travel plans accordingly. The site is still in beta, but what I’ve seen so far is pretty spot on.

You can use Offpeak.io to find out if there are any major events going on in your chosen city — sporting events, festivals, and holidays — what the weather should be like, and even check the average hotel rates and number of available hotels.

The results appear in a bar graph showing occupancy rates. The smaller the bar, the more rooms there are; the higher the bar, the more crowded everything is going to be. The hotel room rates follow the median price for a hotel room too: higher bars mean higher expected rates.

The occupancy/room rate graph from Offpeak.io will let you know about peak and off-peak travel times.

The occupancy/room rate graph from Offpeak.io will let you know about peak and off-peak travel times.

The end of January and early February are always off-peak travel times because there are no major holidays, and everyone is back at school (which makes running around Disney World a dream!). You can find hotel rooms for a median rate of $78 on a February weekday in Edinburgh, Scotland, but then the weather is cold and rainy at that time. A comparable hotel in Boston will cost $189, which is pretty cheap for Boston, but the city is going to be most likely buried under a foot of snow.

Offpeak.io has information on 111 cities, including Amsterdam, Mexico City, Osaka, Cape Town, and Melbourne. But no Indianapolis, Offpeak? Seriously? You’ve got Cleveland in there, but not Indianapolis? (Hint: The end of May is horrible for finding a hotel in Indianapolis, especially on the west side. If you’re not going for the Indy 500, stay on the northeast side.)

Be sure to pay attention to the weather in your area, and plan your travel methods accordingly. You may find a cheap hotel rate in Boston and Chicago in January or February, but you can almost count on the weather being a factor in any cancelled flights, highway closures, and hotel availability. On the other hand, when are you going to find hotel nights that cheap in Boston and Chicago at any other time of the year?

When do you like to travel? Do you go the same time as everyone else and just fight the crowds? (You’re a better person than I am!) Or do you like to go when no one else is around? Share your strategies with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Prepare for a Road Trip With Your Mobile Phone

November 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I’m getting ready to leave for an 7-hour road trip today (Tuesday), from Orlando to Pensacola, so I can read some of my humor columns at their annual Foo Foo Festival. (By the time this publishes, it will be the day of my reading!) I’ve never made the drive, but I’ve traveled I-75 many times, so I know what to expect. But there’s still some planning and preparation I need to make before I head to Pensacola.

1. Figure out what time to leave.

The Waze app shows you the best and fastest routes to take on your road trip.

The Waze app shows you the best and fastest routes to take on your road trip.

I always show up to a conference or event the day before I have to speak, in case something goes wrong en route. But I’m also worried about traffic. I know what time traffic gets heavy around Gainesville, so I need to get through there a couple hours before or after. I use Waze to help me determine the worst times for rush hour traffic and plan accordingly. I also try to leave Orlando before rush hour begins for the same reason.

2. Check the weather on the route.
One year, when I lived in Indianapolis, we were in danger of being iced in 24 hours before we were scheduled to leave for a Florida trip. So we packed up in a hurry and headed out of town, getting about seven hours away and out of the range of the storm. We learned it’s always a good idea to be flexible in our plans if we’re traveling during a particularly harsh weather season. We have always turned to the Weather Channel’s trip planner function that will show you the expected weather along your route. This can let you plan for inclement weather and allow yourself a little extra time, or hunker down in a hotel, during a storm. Weather Underground has a similar trip planner on its website.

3. Pre-plan your stops.
While you don’t need to plan every gas stop and restroom break, you should at least have an idea of when and where you’ll break for meals. Don’t just do the whole fast food drive through thing though. For one thing, that’s a little boring for the palate, but it’s also not as healthy as getting a decent meal at a sit-down restaurant. Plus, the high carbs could make you sleepy in the afternoon. Instead, try some interesting and local restaurants; check out the RoadFood website or TVFoodMaps, an app that shows you all the different places that have been featured on the different TV programs.

4. Include a fun stop or two
There may be a few tourist sites you want to explore on your road trip, so allow yourself some extra road time. I’ve been wanting to see the Lodge cast iron cookware factory near Monteagle, Tennessee for several years, and I’m hoping this time will be my chance to see it. If you don’t have anything planned, leave some extra time anyway, in case you make an unexpected discovery along the way. Whether it’s an outlet mall, museum, or one of those small-town pecan stores — is it “pe-KAHN” or “PEE-cann?” — in Georgia, take a break and enjoy the actual “road” part of your road trip.

5. Entertain yourself

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

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

Normally, I would take a plane instead of making a 7-hour drive, but I have a few reasons for doing so. For one, it’s an issue of price — I’m taking my family, so it’s not an effective use of our money. For another, I enjoy driving, so I always love a good road trip. Plus, I get to catch up on some of my favorite podcasts while everyone else sleeps.

I recommend the Overcast app for podcasts, and the NPR news app for finding local stations along, or just use the NPR One app to listen to public radio news, shows, and podcasts on demand (like Decoder Ring Theatre’s Red Panda audio theater adventures; they produced a few of my radio plays a few years ago). And of course, there are a plethora of music streaming apps — Spotify, Pandora, iTunes Music — to choose from if you don’t like your local radio choices while you’re on the road.

How do you plan for a road trip? Do you plan and map out your route, or just jump in the car and head in that direction, hoping for the best? Share your strategies with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit (Waze): Erik Deckers (used with permission)
Photo credit (Overcast): Erik Deckers (used with permission)

Family Vacations: Airbnb Versus Hotels?

October 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

How do you feel about staying in someone else’s home during family vacations? I don’t mean visiting family during your holiday break (which is no picnic, let me tell you). I mean renting someone else’s house for a night, a week, or even a few weeks?

If you’re traveling somewhere for a few days on one of your family vacations, would you rather rent a hotel room with a brand you can trust so you can get an experience you can expect? Or would you rather be adventurous, stay in a place that lets you experience the real part of a city, and have a lot more space than you would in a cramped hotel room?

I’ve had a chance to stay in both Airbnbs and hotels over the years, and I’m actually having a hard time deciding which I prefer. Not my wife though. She’s insistent: no staying in other people’s houses. She’s only done it once, and then only because it was way cheaper than a hotel room. Otherwise, she doesn’t like it.

She just doesn’t like the idea of sleeping in a stranger’s bed, using their sheets, occupying their space. I’m less worried about it. For one thing, they always put clean sheets on the bed. For another, they’re never around (I always get the “whole house” rentals, never an “own room”).

Airbnb is a great way to find an inexpensive place to stay during family vacations
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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.
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How to Pack for Emergency or Unexpected Travel

September 28, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Hurricane Irma recently passed through Florida, and many people in southern Florida were forced to evacuate and head up north. I live in Central Florida and we debated whether we should actually go. We ended up staying, and all was well. But it was good practice for future travel.

It reminded me of other times I had some urgen travel plans pop up at the drop of a hat, either because I had a surprise conference or sales call to go to, or had to visit family for an unexpected issue at home.

In all those times, it’s hard to know what to pack. You can either overpack or underpack if you’re not careful, because you’re in a rush to nail down all these last minute details. Here are a few things I’ve done to make sure I’m always prepared for emergency travel.
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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.
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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.
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Travel Tech to Make Your Trips A Little Easier in 2017

August 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Every year, there are new gadgets and apps to that promise to make our traveling life a little easier. Whether it’s a cell phone attachment that works as a digital scale and a battery charger, or a coffee shop guide app that shows you all the coffee houses in the world’s major cities, there are lots of new things that can help you make your next trip much easier and enjoyable.

These are a few of the different gadgets, gizmos, and gewgaws to consider getting before your next family vacation.

Waze is one of my favorite travel tech options when I'm on the road

Waze is one of my favorite travel tech options when I’m on the road


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