How to Leave Your Car Behind on Long Vacation

June 21, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

I recently posted a question on Facebook:

You’re going to spend three months living and working in another city on a long vacation. What’s the number of miles you would drive versus fly in order to have your own car? That is, anything over X, you’d fly; anything under X, you would drive.

Of course, because it’s Facebook, and because no one knows how to give a simple answer, there were plenty of longish “it depends” answers.

I mean, I was just looking for answers like “1,500 miles,” but it’s fine. You know, it’s just fine.

The Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida. My residency here was like a long vacation.

The Jack Kerouac House in Orlando. Luckily I had my car with me.

Here in Orlando, I’m on the board of directors at the Jack Kerouac House, which is near downtown, and about 20 miles from the theme parks. Every quarter, we have one writer-in-residence who lives by themselves in the house for three months. Some of them are close enough that they’re able to drive to Orlando, but others live so far away, they need to fly in and live without a car. Of course, they’re working on their writing, so it’s not like they need to get around the city on a daily basis.

When I was a resident two years ago, I had already moved to Orlando, so I was able to drive, but our last few residents have flown in from elsewhere, so they were without easily-accessible transportation during their stay.

That got me to thinking, if you were to go on a long vacation, how would you get around? Having taken long business trips to Europe, as well as longer vacations without readily-accessible transportation, I’ve found a few workarounds for those times I need to be somewhere without my own car. Other times, I’ve been stuck in one place until I could find a way to get where I need.

If you’re going to take a long vacation that’s going to leave you without your car, here are a few ways to get around.

First, check out the public transportation situation. If this is going to be a factor in your vacation decision, then don’t go somewhere where you need public transportation. Los Angeles is a widespread, car-necessary city, San Francisco is compact, walkable, and they have decent public transportation. European cities have great public transportation (many people don’t even own cars), but the countryside does not. If you have to choose between destinations, go to the place where they’ve got buses, trams, and subways, rather than depending on a car.

Second, get a hotel or lodging close to your attractions. For example, if you’re staying at Disney World, it might be cheaper to get a hotel outside the park, but you’re going to spend your savings in transportation just to get into the park, whether you use Uber/Lyft, take a cab, or get a rental car (plus it costs $20 per day to park at Disney World). You’re better off spending the money to get a room on property, and taking the free shuttle or monorail to the parks.

The same goes for staying in the downtown area of the big cities — hotel parking in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to name a few, can cost between $20 and $60 per night. Depending on where you’re going, that’s a couple of Uber rides per day. And if the weather is right, you can walk or even take a bike share bike, if one is available. Finally, get a hotel that has a shuttle. Some hotels only have airport shuttles, while others have a shuttle that serves as a local cab, driving you up to a couple miles away. Just remember to tip your driver.

Third, research the availability of ride sharing programs like Uber and Lyft. I prefer Lyft, and usually take it when I’m in a new city. I used it on a trip to Dallas a few months ago, and have used it in other cities. It was a nice alternative to renting a car and finding my way around. However, it can be pretty pricey to catch a ride everywhere, so try to schedule your itinerary so you’re only taking one ride to and from your locations. Also, some cities don’t allow ride sharing, so you can either take a cab or pick another city.

What’s the bicycle situation? At the Kerouac House, the writers have use of a bicycle to get around. And since most of the cool non-touristy stuff to do is just a few miles from the house, they can just hop on and ride whenever they want. If you’re going to be traveling for a few weeks, look at the price for renting a bicycle.

Or depending on where you’re staying, you may even consider just buying a bicycle. You can get a serviceable cheap bike for less than $200, which if you compare it to everything you could spend on ride sharing or rental cars, could end up being quite a bit less. Then, when you’re finished, donate it to a local organization or give it to your host.

You could always just walk. We all need to work out and stay in shape anyway, right? So why not use this opportunity as a way to get in some steps. If you can, just walk the few blocks to your next destination, save a little money, and spend some time outside.

Whether you’re visiting family and friends for an extended period, or are even moving to a new city for a few months, transportation is going to be a big issue, and can be your most expensive budget item after lodging. Be sure to consider how you’re going to get around when you book your trip.

How do you travel without your car? Or is that not even an option? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Used with permission)

How to Travel Comfortably if You’re, um, Bigger

March 15, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

I’m not a small guy. I’m 6′ 2″ and I weigh “I-buy-XXL-shirts” pounds. That means I’m taller than average and heavier than average, which makes it a bit difficult to travel comfortably. In fact, just last week, I flew from Orlando to Indianapolis and back again in 48 hours, and then drove to Tampa as soon as I landed. I’ll also be flying to Dallas next month and may be on a plane a couple more times this year. And trying to travel comfortably on the plane isn’t always easy.

If I want to be comfortable in my travels, there are a few things I do to ensure it’s not unpleasant.

Fly Economy Plus or better

I’m tall enough that if I ride in regular economy, my knees are always jammed up against the seat in front of me, so I always pay a little extra for the Economy Plus seating. The legroom is a little more,, and that alone is worth the extra costs. Plus, I’ve noticed that the seatbelts are a little longer, which means they fit better and I don’t crush my bladder whenever I fasten my seatbelt.

And as an Economy Plus member, I can always board right after their top priority club members and first class passengers, which means I can always get a spot for my bag in the overhead bin.

If you’re several inches taller than me, you can spring for an exit row seat or a first class seat. And if you’re wider than me, you may either have to buy a second seat (which some airlines require), or upgrade to business or first class. But give Economy Plus a try if you need just a few inches to spare.

Drive 7 hours or less instead of flying

The author at a reading in Pensacola, Florida. I try to travel comfortably whenever I have to go anywhere.

Yours truly reading humor at the Foo Foo Festival in Pensacola, Florida. We drove 8 hours to get there, because it was just easier and more comfortable.

When I lived in Indianapolis, I could get to Chicago in 3 hours, Nashville in 5, and Madison, Wisconsin in 7. Since a regular plane trip from Indianapolis to most places would take 6 hours from my house to my hotel, I always drove my car for any road trip that I could do in six or seven hours.

That’s because a normal flight, from door to door, took six hours. If I left my house at 6:00 am, I could drive 45 minutes to the airport, pay for parking, get there two hours early, fly for an hour, get a rental car, and drive 45 minutes to my hotel. And I would get there around noon.

Or I could drive my car round trip for the price of four tanks of gas. I would leave my house at 6:00 am, and get to the hotel by noon. I saved a lot of money, I took the same amount of time, but I was also more comfortable and had the use of my car to boot. (If I was going to be somewhere for several days, but it was a 7 or 8 hour car trip, I would still drive so I wouldn’t need to rent a car.)

Be confident

This is a tough one. On one of my legs up to Indianapolis last week, my seatbelt was 4 inches too short. Never mind that every other belt on every other flight was just fine. Airlines just seem to put random length seat belts on all their seats, although it’s worse in economy seating. Economy Plus seatbelts seem to be bit longer and I rarely find one that’s too short, which is another reason I pay for the upgrade.

But that wasn’t true in this case; this time, the belt was just a few inches too short, so I had to ask for a lap belt extension.

I didn’t like doing it, and I felt ashamed and embarrassed. But I’ve been able to fit every other flight I’ve been on, plus I’ve lost 20 pounds, so I knew it wasn’t me.

I decided confidence was the key to surviving this with my dignity intact. I held my head up high, looked the flight attendant square in the eye, and very quietly whispered, “Can I have a belt extension please?”

Trust me, it sucked. Like I had to admit I was too big to fly like a normal person. But the alternative was to be completely unsafe and embarrassed if the flight attendant publicly called me out for not fastening my seat belt. Plus I could have easily been hurt if we hit some major turbulence. So I asked for the extension and I was able to fly comfortably.

Traveling is difficult enough already, but it’s even more difficult when you need more room than other people. So you have three choices, be extremely uncomfortable, pay for the extra room, or never go anywhere. I personally like to see the world, but I don’t want to be uncomfortable, so I’ll drive or pay for upgrades whenever I travel.

And I’ll be happy with who I am and how I look, and if other people don’t like it, that’s tough.

Do you do anything special to ensure you travel comfortably? Do you have any tips for us? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (used with permission)

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>

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


Read more

How to Travel with Your Pet

December 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

For many people, pets are a part of the family. They would no sooner be left behind on vacation than one of the children.

But if you want to travel with your pet, whether by car or by plane, there are a few things I recommend you do to make sure your furry companion is comfortable and less stressed.

Use a pet carrier when you travel with your pet by plane, or if they hate car travel.

Make sure your pet carrier is large enough for your cat or dog to turn around.

Traveling By Car

If you’re traveling by car, pack a pet carrier, whether a collapsible soft-sided or hard-sided model. Depending your pet’s size, the right carrier may not fit into your car, so make sure you test this out before purchasing one. You may not want to keep your pet in her carrier the entire trip, but if you do, there are a few things you need to remember.

  • Keep your pet in the back seat. Air bags can cause serious injury in case of an accident.
  • There are special “sky boxes” for small dogs, and I’ve seen seat belt harnesses for larger dogs. Cats should ride in enclosed carriers, however.
  • Make several stops so your pet can have a bathroom break. They may be nervous about riding in a car, and may have to go more often than they do at home. Also, be sure to clean up after your animal. Don’t leave “anything” behind. Read more

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.
Read more

The World’s Most Family-Friendly Airlines

August 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

How important is the family friendliness of an airline to you? For some family travelers, they see the plane as a means of getting from point A to point B. For others, vacation begins the moment they lock the front door, and flying is a part of the experience.

EVA Air is one of a few family-friendly airlines, with its Hello Kitty themed airplanes.Either way, if you’ve only got a limited number of days to travel, there’s no reason to make even a few hours miserable. And as everyone knows, if Mama the kids aren’t happy, then nobody’s happy.

Some airlines have figured this out. They’re working to be as family friendly and fun as possible, as a way to attract more vacationing families.

I saw a recent article on the Huffington Post about some family-friendly airlines around the world. They’re offering reduced child fares, children’s food menus, and even child-oriented entertainment, all geared toward infants, toddlers, and children under 12. Here are a few airlines to consider for your next family vacation.
Read more

How to Fly With a Baby

July 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

I remember the first time I ever flew with any of my kids. We had just adopted our oldest daughter, Madison, at a year old, and were flying home from Bolivia with her. She had been such a good child during our month in Santa Cruz, so we assumed she would be fine on the airplane.

It's tough to fly with a baby, but it's possible.We may have overestimated her patience and goodwill just a little. Not too badly, but enough that we knew we needed to prepare next time.

I dodged that bullet when my wife, Toni, brought our second oldest daughter, Emma, home from Haiti five years later. She took that trip by herself, while I stayed home with Maddie.

But we had learned enough those times, so when Toni brought our son, Ben, back from Haiti two years later, his flight was about what you’d expect: some crying, some drama, but nothing she couldn’t handle. I, of course, stayed home to be with our girls, so I missed out on all the fun.
Read more

Last updated by at .