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

1. Get Waze on your mobile phone. It’s a few years old, but it’s by far the best GPS app out there. You may love your Garmin, and you may use Google Maps on your phone, but honestly, I’ve learned to use and appreciate Waze far and above the others. I became a believer when Waze diverted me around a 3-hour traffic jam in Atlanta by changing my route 30 seconds before I reached the 10 mile line of cars.

That’s because Waze, which is owned by Google, gathers its traffic data by aggregating anonymous data from all the Android phones, iPhones using Google Maps, and even Waze users traveling on the road. Then it converts that data into up-to-the-second traffic patterns, alerting you to traffic slowdowns, accidents, construction zones, police cars, and even road hazards. (My next post will discuss how exactly all this works.)

You can download TV shows and movies on Netflix now. If you or your kids have some favorite shows you want to watch, Netflix will let you download them on your home wifi so you’re not at the mercy of crappy hotel wifi or racking up big data charges on your cell phone bill.

Or if you’re like me and have an old wifi-only iPad, you can’t download anything in the car. So download a couple shows, and let your kids watch in the back seat. (Or you can watch when you reach your hotel.) You can also buy movies and TV episodes on iTunes, and save those to your hard drive or phone, which also makes them available even if you don’t have wifi.

Wear a SCOTTeVEST to carry your tech.. SCOTTeVEST is like one of those fly fisherman vests I used to wear on my yearly fishing trips, but they look much classier. For one thing, all the pockets are on the inside, giving you a smooth exterior. For another, they’re designed specifically to carry your electronics gear. I’ve seen SCOTTeVESTs that will hold an iPad in a back interior pocket, phone, charging cords, battery backup, notebook and pen, sunglasses, passport, and so on.

I’ve also read a few travel articles by extreme “no luggage” travelers who will pack everything they own — which amounts to one extra pair of underwear and t-shirt — into the back vest pocket, as well as their tech, and travel the world wearing their luggage.

Use a Bluetooth shutter button to take better selfies. Prop your camera up on a flat surface or use a miniature tripod. Then, when you’re all posed and ready to go, press your Satechi Bluetooth remote (or other brands; there are dozens to choose from) and it will snap a picture. No selfie stick, no asking strangers to take your photo, and nothing that shows half your arm; just a nice, normal photograph. I’m not a big fan of selfies, but I’ve used one of these remotes before and it’s changed the way I take photos when I travel.

Carry a couple short charging cords like the myCharge PowerCord or an Anker 1 ft. charging cable. I like these smaller cables because they fit into my work backpack or even my pocket with ease. As long as I’ve got my laptop, or even a converter cube and a hotel desk lamp, I don’t need to whip out one of those 6-foot boa constrictors every time I need a power boost.

You might also want to consider the Ventev portable chargestand. This is both a charger and a phone stand. It will charge your phone for up to 12 hours of talk time, and you can use it in either horizontal or vertical orientation to watch your favorite videos on the plane or before you go to sleep. It has a built-in cable, so you can use it horizontally, and is available for both Apple and Android devices. It’s ideal for a hotel or home nightstand charging station but can double as a battery pack on a flight or car trip.

What’s some of your favorite travel tech? Do you have anything you like to carry to make your vacations easier? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (used with permission)

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)

How to Travel Light On a Family Vacation

February 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been a long-time proponent of traveling light because I hate carrying a lot of stuff. I’ve gotten to the point in my work life that I never carry paper, and it bothers me when someone hands me a piece of paper. (I even scan business cards with my phone and hand the card back to the owner.)

Minimalism is the key to travel, and I’d rather do without something not-so-important than lug it along “just in case.” That’s how I keep my business backpack so light.

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

My family has been bitten by the minimalist bug as well, and we’ve spent the last several years shedding unwanted stuff in our lives. So it’s only natural that we adopt this approach to our travel, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Here are a few things we’ve learned over the years.

1. Skip the Suitcases Sometimes

Whenever we’re staying in a house or an Airbnb home, we’ll skip suitcases entirely, and pack all our clothes in a Rubbermaid tub. Then, we just carry the tub into the house and unpack. There’s more room in the back of the car, and I can even see over our stuff when I look at the rearview mirror.

But if we ever stay at a hotel, we take the smallest suitcases we can (like an Atlantic Ultra Lite 3 21″ spinner). When my family travels with suitcases, we can pack for a 7 – 10 day trip in carry-ons and a backpack or two.

The other option is to pack everyone’s clothes into one large suitcase, and take turns lugging it around. I don’t recommend this if you’re flying though, because if that suitcase gets lost, you’ve got some big problems. I also don’t recommend it, because I’m the one who ends up lugging it.
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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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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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The Pros and Cons of Books and Mobile Games On Vacation

May 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader, and carried a book with me everywhere, including car trips. I was also prone to car sickness if I read too much, guaranteed if I read for more than 45 minutes while we drove.

General passenger car on Amtrak train in 1970

Amtrak General Car in 1970. No, I’m not one of the people on the car. I was just a little kid then!

Problem was, we lived an hour from Indianapolis, and I hated staring out the window. My solution was to read, then rest. Read, rest. Read, rest. By the time I could read for an hour without any. . . “problems,” I started driving. Then, my reading-and-riding days were over.

When you’re on a trip for any length of time, the question of what to take along for entertainment is an important one. Whether it’s something for you or for your kids, you don’t want to needlessly haul a bunch of toys, games, etc. that no one is going to use, but you also don’t want to find you’ve got several empty-handed hours with nothing to do.

So do you get them some books to keep them (and you) entertained? Or do you get them handheld games or games for their mobile phone or tablet? Do you go for the tricked-you-into-learning books, or the easy-way-out electronic games?

There are pros and cons for each, and it’s important to weigh them carefully.
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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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How the Unite2 Collection Can Solve Cell Phone Battery Woes (and Other Travel Problems)

March 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

As someone who often travels for work, or is at least away from the office for an entire day, having a fully charged iPhone is important. Unfortunately, I don’t always manage my phone use properly, and am usually near the end of the battery life before I get back home.

Atlantic Unite2's USB Port

Atlantic Unite2’s USB Port

I read a recent article on ABC News about preserving battery life, and was surprised to learn that closing multitasking apps may actually use more battery than letting them run.

Apple says that leaving apps running doesn’t actually consume any more battery, because “Apps that are in a suspended state aren’t actively in use, open, or taking up system resources.” In other words, closing apps doesn’t help battery life.

But, Dave Burke, a vice president of engineering at Android, says that closing them may actually use more battery power. According to ABC and Burke, “closing all those apps actually activates them momentarily and may consume more battery than leaving them open in the background.”
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Best Family Travel Electronic Gadgets

February 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Twenty years ago, if you wanted to be entertained, listen to music, and read, you had to pack your handheld video game, Walkman, and a book. Now, you can take just a smartphone or tablet. But if you’re traveling with family, they may get annoyed that they can’t share in the fun.

9 inch digital screen portable headrest dvd playerOr sometimes you need something to do in the hotel room at night, rather than watch reruns on TV for hours. Here are six family travel gadgets to consider getting for your next trip.

  1. Portable DVD player. Better yet, an in-dash DVD player. When my kids were young, my wife and I loved to go for long drives, but we didn’t want the kids to be bored. Luckily we had a DVD player installed in our car. We would stick the headphones on the kids, pop in a movie, and have a nice conversation while the kids watched TV in the back. We also took annual 1,000 mile drives from Indiana to Florida, and the DVD player was a life saver. If you can’t get a DVD player installed in your car, you can get a portable DVD player with headphone jacks to do the same thing.
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