Does Your State Have a Tourism Trail?

July 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re ever looking for a short vacation you can do close to home, but don’t know where to start, try a tourism trail. A tourism trail typically focuses on food, alcohol, history, or sports, and is usually created by tourism boards or local businesses.

For example, Indiana has six separate wine trails, all created by the Indiana Wine Grape Trail. Covering different parts of the state, you can spend a day or two each on trails in southeastern Indiana, northeastern Indiana, or Indianapolis.

But if you don’t want Indiana wine, there are wine trails in nearly every state. Check out America’s Wine Trails to pick a wine trail in your favorite part of the country or something close to home.

When I was a travel writer in Indiana, I even devised an Indiana Microbrewery Trail. It’s a fantasy beer trip around the Hoosier state, in three parts, each taking two days.

The Woodford Reserve Distillery is part of the Kentucky Bourbon Tourism Trail

The Woodford Reserve Distillery is part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Kentucky has its own Bourbon Trail, something I wanted to visit with a couple of knowledgeable bourbon expert friends and a limo driver but never had the chance.

Maybe you’re feeling a bit hungry and you prefer the Upper Midwest. You can tour the food trails around Wisconsin and Michigan. If you’re into farm-to-table food, check out California’s California farm trail website and pick a few places to visit on the west coast.

If you’re in the mood for some art, New Mexico has its own art trails, as does Connecticut and North Carolina. Or maybe you’re a fan of fiber arts. The Midwest has its own Midwest Fiber Arts Trail for year round travel.

If you’re interested in small town history, you could drive the National Road (US 40), which rolls 620 miles from Cumberland, Maryland through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and ends in Vandalia, IL. You could drive it in a very long day, or spend a few days exploring some history and smaller towns in the eastern United States along the way.

If you’d rather rough it and do a little camping, check out the National Park Service’s National Trails System website for information on the Iditarod, New England National Scenic Trail, or even the Lewis & Clark national trail, plus dozens and dozens more.

What about taking your family to all the major league ballparks in the country, or even all the minor league ballparks in your own state? Try picking up a book like The Amazing Baseball Adventure: Ballpark Wonders from the Bushes to the Show by Josh Pahigian, and see how many ballparks you can see over the years.

Or maybe you like minor league baseball. There are 8 teams in the California league, 10 teams in the Carolina League, and 12 teams in the Florida League, all Single A-Advanced minor league baseball teams. Try spending a summer or two visiting each of the ball clubs, and watching a game in each ballpark.

There are also 14 teams in the International League in the eastern half of the US, and 16 in the Pacific League in the Western half. These are all Triple A ball clubs, and you could probably hit a few in a week. It may take you a while to reach them all, but if you don’t want to do the more popular Major League Baseball trip, a minor league trip is still filled with history and a celebration of “nearly there.”

Every state has some kind of food, wine, alcohol, cultural, sports, or art trail. It just takes a little digging and exploring, and the area convention and visitors bureaus or travel bureaus can help you. Some trails even have their own websites and managing agencies.

Are you a tourism trail visitor? Do you have any favorite trails that you like to cruise, or any that you’re looking forward to? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Ken Thomas (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

How to Survive the Summer Heat on Vacation

June 29, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Living down in sunny Florida has given me a whole new appreciation for “hot summers.” Growing up in Indiana, we had plenty of hot weather, but the weather people would start to freak out if we had more than two weeks of 90+ degree temperatures.

Here in Central Florida, we started getting 90+ degree weather in May, and it won’t go away until September, which makes me realize Indiana doesn’t know how good they have it.

But life goes on, and people still come down here for summer vacation, as well as go to other hotspots like Texas, Arizona, and South Carolina. Even Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and northern Minnesota can hit 90+ degrees for a few weeks in the summer. And this week, Phoenix is facing a week of 120+ degree days.

So unless you want to travel up to the Canadian Northern Territories this summer, you’re going to have to deal with some heat wherever you go. Some people may be miserable, other people will enjoy it, but you should know how to get through it safely, and with a minimum of discomfort. Here are a few recommendations to surviving a blazing hot summer vacation.

1. Treat the summer like winter

Summer Heat Ayia Napa Sunset Cyprus Sun

Winter in the north is simple: never go outside when you don’t need to. We would dart from the house to the car, the car to the store/office/restaurant. I even found I could live without a giant parka if I did this.

It’s the same in Florida in the summer: limit your time outside whenever possible, and keep the distance between you and air conditioning to a minimum. If you’re going to be outside, then prepare accordingly. Do outdoor activities in the early morning or evening. Spend the middle of the day in museums, at a spa, or at restaurants. If possible, plan an indoor activity right after an outdoor activity. (Trust me, nothing on earth feels better than stepping into an air conditioned room after you’ve spent a couple hours outside.)

2. Wear light protective clothing that wicks sweat

If you’re going to theme parks, the beach, or spending the day outside at a family reunion, you’re going to get hot and sweaty. But you can reduce some of the discomfort if you wear light-colored clothing to reflect some of the heat (or just, you know, don’t wear a black or navy blue t-shirt). Wear t-shirts and undergarments that will wick away sweat — you can find those kinds of clothes at most athletic apparel stores or places like Duluth Trading Company.

Do this for your socks as well. Whenever I’m going to be doing a lot of walking outside, I’ll wear a thin pair of nylon or rayon socks under a regular pair of cotton socks to help prevent blisters.

3. Wear a hat

A hat will protect you from the sun and keep sweat out of your eyes. The idea is to protect yourself from direct sunlight, so the wider the brim, the better (think about why cowboys wore cowboy hats and not, say, tiny porkpie hats or bowlers). Hats can also help prevent sunburn on your face and neck. A baseball cap doesn’t offer much protection, but it’s better than nothing.

Women can wear big floppy hats and look stylish, while I think men in those big floppy safari hats look a bit ridiculous. Still, that doesn’t stop my dad from wearing one, and he’s always talking about how it helps him survive the summer heat, so maybe there’s something to it.

4. Use water/sweat-resistant sunscreen

It’s not enough to just slap on some sunscreen and think you’re protected for the day. In about 30 minutes, you’re going to sweat it all off and not even realize it. So get some sweatproof/waterproof sunscreen and put it on any exposed skin.

Even if you’re wearing a hat, you’ll still be plenty exposed to the sun, so put it on your face and neck as well. Don’t forget, sunlight reflected off water — a pool, lake, or ocean — can burn you just like regular sunlight. I’ve sunburned my face while fishing (and wearing a hat) plenty of times to learn that lesson.

4. Drink plenty of water

Without getting into how much you should drink or whether other beverages are an appropriate substitute, make sure you drink plenty of water on outdoor days. Otherwise, you can get muscle cramps or. . . serious intestinal distress if you go too long without it.

Also, remember that you lose more liquid from your body than you realize, especially if you’re visiting a dry climate, like the desert, where you don’t feel like you sweat very much. I remember the first time I went to Reno, Nevada and was amazed to discover I didn’t sweat very much. Someone told me that was because my sweat was evaporating — I mean, someone responded to something I said. It wasn’t like a complete stranger came up to me and said “Welcome to Reno, where your sweat evaporates in the desert.” But it did mean I was losing more water than I realized, which could have been dangerous.

Soda, fruit juice, and even milk are suitable substitutes, at least when it comes to your immediate survival, but you really should drink water, because it replaces your sweat and electrolytes better than anything else on the market. Iced tea and coffee are diuretics though, which means you’ll lose more than you take in, so avoid those for fluid replacement.

5. Don’t scoff at car sun shades

I never used these in Indiana, and always thought they were a little wimpy. But when I got to Florida and tried them out, I was sold. Depending on where you go (or live) in the summer, you’ll want to have some kind of windshield screen in your car. Use it whenever possible. You’ll remember the first time you ever grab a white hot steering wheel.

Similarly, park in the shade whenever you can. And if that means the difference between paying to park in a garage versus parking on a surface lot for free, you might want to consider paying for the parking.

How do you beat the summer heat? Do you have any special tips or tricks you use to avoid overheating or turning into a whiny fuss, like me? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Megapixel.com (Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

A Complete Guide to US Amusement Parks: East Coast

August 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

This is part 2 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.

Last week, we rushed to cover the Northeast theme parks, because New England starts getting a bit chilly in the fall. Of course, the East Coast isn’t too far behind, weather-wise. For those of you who still want a little summer and warm fall fun, there’s plenty of time to visit the theme parks.

Sky Princess roller coaster and Log Flume at Dutch Wonderland theme park in Lancaster, PA.

Sky Princess roller coaster and Log Flume at Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, PA.

We’re calling this section the East Coast, because it’s not quite the Northeast, and it’s not in the South either. Plus, there are just so many great theme parks in the region that we didn’t want to overlook any.

If you live in one of the East Coast states — NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, and VA — you have dozens of theme park choices available to you. We were originally inspired by the Travel Channel’s Complete Guide to US Amusement Parks, but soon realized they didn’t cover every amusement park in the country.
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Keep Warm and Avoid Sore Feet on Your Mountain Summer Vacation

April 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re headed up to the mountains for some hiking during the spring or summer, you still have to think of it as a winter vacation. That’s because while the days can be warm, it can still drop below freezing at higher elevations, which means you could even get some snow. At the very least, that single sweatshirt you brought “just in case” isn’t going to do the trick.

Don’t just fill your suitcase with shorts and t-shirts; plan accordingly. Those mountaintops are still white in June for a reason. Here are a few things to remember when planning for your mountain summer vacation.

1. Layer Up

The Colorado Rocky Mountains in the summer.

The Rocky Mountains in the summer. See, there’s still snow up there.

You’ll be much warmer if you wear three or four thin layers, instead of one big bulky one. There were many Indiana winter days I would go without a heavy coat just by wearing three layers under a warm sweater or fleece pullover.

Skipping the winter parka is a great way to save space in your suitcase. It’s easier and lighter to pack thin layers — t-shirts, long-sleeve t-shirts, mock turtlenecks — and you can just take one or two sweaters for warmth. Plus, you only need to change your innermost layer(s) every day. The outer layers can be worn a few times before you toss them in the laundry.
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