Packing for Extended Trips

December 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Traveling for a long period of time means planning and packing differently than you would for, say, a weeklong trip. For one thing, unless you are highly wardrobe efficient, headed somewhere incredibly warm or very tiny in stature, it is unlikely you can fit more than about a week’s worth of clothing into a carry-on suitcase

Traveling on extended trips — what I define as two weeks or more — means you need more clothes, which could mean a bigger suitcase, which means you’re probably going to have to check your bag. On the other hand, it’s possible to travel for two weeks or more on a single carry-on. It just takes careful planning, preparation, and some laundry detergent.

When my family and I go on long vacations, always by car, we not only follow these steps, we even pack our clothes into laundry baskets and plastic packing tubs. Since we usually rent a house and not a hotel, we don’t get odd looks when we carry our stuff inside. We manage to fit everything into the back of our SUV, and I can still see over the top of it all when I’m driving.
Car stuffed with luggage
Based on my experience, here are a few ways you can pack for your extended trips without backing a moving van up to your house.

1. Check the weather AND the local standards.
Dressing for a summer in New York or Oregon is different than dressing for summer in Western Europe. In Europe, everyone dresses stylishly, which often means the “American style” of dress will get more than a few annoyed glances. That means packing your nicer clothes, which may take up a little more room than you would for an extended stay in the U.S. Plan accordingly either way. But if you follow the rest of these steps, you should still be able to manage.
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Road Trip Survival Techniques

December 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

The Great American Road Trip - Death Valley

The Great American Road Trip – Death Valley

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

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

1. Get your vehicle checked out

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

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

November 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When you travel with children, you long for the day that they’re old enough to have their own luggage and carry it or pull it behind them. When my kids were 4 or 5, we got them their own suitcase, complete with favorite cartoon character on it. It didn’t hold much, although we could fit a week’s worth of clothes into the tiny bag, and they could pull it behind them.

Now that they’re older, they’re responsible for packing their own suitcases when we travel. The only problem is, my 14-year-old son doesn’t want to be seen with a Thomas the Tank Engine suitcase anymore. Ditto for my daughters and their Hello Kitty bags.

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

When they were old enough, they wanted new suitcases to reflect their individuality and personal style. But as their father the travel writer, I got them bags that were functional and practical instead, without all the screened print designs. Here was my reasoning.

1. Your luggage will last for years. Your personal style will change.

I got my first suitcase when I was 27, and I carried it on flights for about 15 years. Then I got my first Travelpro bag and I was a convert. It was so much lighter and roomier. And because I took good care of it, I’m still carting it around with me.
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Take an Educational Trip Without Your Kids Knowing It

November 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When you homeschool your children, everything can be a learning opportunity. Resourceful parents can turn a trip to the grocery store into a math lesson, and a day of errands into a lesson on time management and stress reduction.

Many parents want to enrich their children with learning and mind expanding activities, even during their free time. The problem is, most kids hate the idea, and so sometimes you have to sneak learning into family events like you’d sneak your dog’s pill into a piece of cheese. Other times you have to struggle with the dog over the pill, and remind her that you’re the parent, and as long as she’s living under your roof, you’re taking family vacations together.

Wait, what? Where was I?

Basically if you’re one of those nerdy parents, like me, who want their kids to learn something while you’re on vacation, you can either sneak in a little learning by making a single stop (or two) as part of a bigger trip. Or you can take a vacation that’s just one long learning adventure, and ignore the groans and protests. Either way, here are several ways to sneak some learning into your family fun.
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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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A Regional Guide to U.S. Amusement Parks: Southwest

November 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

This is part 6 of a 6-part series reviewing some of the different amusement parks throughout the United States. We’ve covered the Northeast, East Coast, Southeast, Midwest, Northwest, and now we’re covering the American Southwest.

Those of you who live in the American Southwest don’t have to worry about frigid and bitter winters, which gives you a little more leeway in your winter fun. And if you’re vacationing in the region to escape the snow and cold, maybe you can visit one of the region’s amusement parks while you’re there.

This time, we’re covering Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, and California. (We’ll throw in Hawaii as a bonus, which has an interesting theme park). According to my count, there are 129 amusement parks in the region, with 56 of them in California alone. This makes California the leader in theme parks, as Florida only has 50. (Which, as a new Floridian, fires up my competitive spirit a bit.)

While California may have one of the largest concentrations of amusement parks, the other states still have plenty to do too. Here are a few of the places I’d like to visit, if I ever get the chance.

First, if you’re a Six Flags fan, you’ve got a few choices. There’s Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA, and Six Flags Hurricane Harbor and Six Flags Magic Mountain, both in Valencia, CA. There’s also Six Flags Fiesta Texas (San Antonio, TX), Six Flags Hurricane Harbor (Arlington, TX), and Six Flags Over Texas (also in Arlington). Six Flags always offers some of the fastest coasters and thrill rides in the country, but they have something for younger kids as well. So if you’re looking for a Six Flags adventure this winter, chances are you’ll be able to find more than one.

They may be closed for the season, but Cliff’s Amusement Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico is open every day from April through October, and they’ve got plenty of thrill rides to make it worth the wait. There’s the Cliff Hanger, a 120 foot vertical drop; the 3,000 feet long New Mexico Rattler (one of the top 25 wooden roller coasters in the country); and, the Fireball, an 80 foot looping roller coaster that will take you upside down 13 times.

Knott's Berry Farm, one of 56 amusement parks in California

Knott’s Berry Farm, one of 56 amusement parks in California

It may have started as an actual berry farm in the 1920s, but Knott’s Berry Farm is now the 12th most visited amusement park in the country. You can see why, when thrill seekers flock to the Supreme Scream, a 252 feet faster-than-gravity vertical drop that reaches speeds of 50 mph on the way down. There’s the Silver Bullet, an inverted coaster that takes you through a spiral, corkscrew, cobra roll, and a 109 foot initial drop. And then the Xcelerator, which goes from 0 to 82 in 2.3 seconds, and then hurtles you 90 degrees straight back down. Seriously. Straight. Down. (Watch the video to see how it looks.)

If you find yourself in Hawaii, be sure to visit the island state’s only theme park, Sea Life Park in Honolulu, on Oahu. While it’s not a traditional theme park, with rides and characters, it’s filled with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like swimming with dolphins, having encounters with sea lions, and even swimming with Hawaiian native reef sharks and rays. If you’ve ever wanted to experience marine life up close and personal, Sea Life Park Hawaii needs to be on your bucket list.

What’s your favorite amusement park in the Southwest? Do you have a favorite from your childhood, or do you have a go-to theme park for you and your family? Share your favorite, or your best memories, in the comments below on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

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

October 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Five Secrets to Avoid Overpacking For Your Next Trip

October 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

“Do you have any articles about overpacking?”

I was chatting with my friend Jackie Bledsoe a few days ago. Jackie, a well-known marriage and family writer and speaker (he recently reviewed a piece of Travelpro luggage), was referring to a recent trip he and his wife Stephana took to speak at a marriage conference when he commented “We really overpacked this time, and I’m a little frustrated.”

We were talking about this blog, and he asked whether we had any articles on how to avoid overpacking.

Overpacking is a common problem among travelers, even veterans. I know some frequent travelers who still take too much when they travel, and it’s all I can do not to shout whenever they tell me how they pack.

So for my friend, Jackie, and other over-packers, here are five steps to take to help you avoid taking too much on your next trip.

If you overpack for your next trip, you'll find yourself waiting in a lot more lines.

1. Remind yourself: Flying with large luggage is like setting a $50 bill on fire

That’s what you’re doing if you check a large-size suitcase on your flight. Unless you’re flying Southwest, or you’re already a Premier member of one of the big four airlines, you’re going to needlessly spend $50, when you didn’t have to.

So get rid of this idea of packing a bag larger than carry-on size. They’re great for long, long trips, or trips where you drive (or if you have lots of $50 bills laying around!). Otherwise, you need to pack a carry-on bag like the Atlantic Compass Unite 2 21″ Spinner. I’ve seen people pack for 10 days in a carry-on, so if you still think you need a large piece of luggage, you’re definitely overpacking.
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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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