Should You Purchase Travel Insurance for a Family Vacation?

July 12, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting old, but I’ve started buying travel insurance for my business flights.

It’s like that scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan — not the new one with Benedict Cumberbatch, but the one from 1982, which is another sign that I’m getting old — when Kirk is dismayed to learn he needs to wear reading glasses, and is embarrassed to be seen using them during the final epic battle.

Maybe things aren’t as dire as that, but I still had that sense of reluctance three years ago when I clicked the button to buy $28 travel insurance for a flight.

It made sense though. I was spending $300+ on a business flight during the stormy season here in Orlando, and there was a good chance my flight could be delayed, which would have seriously hurt the whole purpose of the trip.

Then, the unthinkable happened: I started wondering about whether it was necessary to purchase travel insurance for family trips too.

Short answer, Yes.

Longer answer, Yes because. . .

Yes, because if you’re flying to your destination and have to cancel because of illness, you don’t want to be out the cost of the tickets. Airlines don’t give reimbursements for illness, only mechanical failures and only if you don’t take another flight and file a claim on time.

Yes, because if you spend the entire trip in the hotel and have to cancel all of your reservations, park tickets, helicopter rides, ski lift tickets, or scuba diving lessons, you don’t want to be out that much money. (If you’re sick, however, you have to show proof, like paperwork and forms from a doctor’s visit. They don’t just take your word for it.)

A blizzard in Bilerica, Massachusetts in 2013.Yes, because if you get sick enough that you have to see a doctor or go to the hospital, you don’t want to have to pay out-of-pocket expense or out-of-network non-insured medical costs. (Save those forms!)

Yes, because if you get sick in a foreign country, your medical costs could be much, much higher because you’re a foreigner.

Yes, because if your trip gets canceled due to weather and you missed your vacation window because of a week-long blizzard (it happened to dozens of families this past winter trying to fly to Florida from Boston), you want to be able to reuse that money for another trip.

Yes, because if you or your spouse gets laid off from your job after you’ve already made your reservations and bought your tickets, you can’t expect a full refund. Remember, airlines only give reimbursements when a cancellation is their fault. You might be able to cancel your hotel, but you won’t get a refund on those park tickets or sporting event passes.

Yes, because even if you take a car trip instead of a plane trip, all of those other things — reservation and ticket cancellations, illnesses — can still happen just as easily. You can still spend all week in the hotel, or still be snowed in your garage, or still cancel that trip to the beach because of Hurricane You’re-Never-Going-To-See-The-Beach-Again. Maybe you didn’t buy plane tickets, but you could still have to cancel or cut a trip short because of an unforeseen problem.

The TravelInsuranceReview.net website lists several different kinds of coverage you can get, and it really makes you realize all the things that could go wrong.

Most Popular Coverage Criteria

  • Emergency Medical (at least $50,000)
  • Medical Evacuation (at least $100,000)
  • Pre-existing Medical Conditions
  • Cancel For Any Reason
  • Hazardous Sports
  • Hurricanes & Weather
  • Terrorism
  • Employment Layoffs
  • Missed Connections
  • Rental Car Coverage
  • (There’s a lot more to it, so be sure to read the article.)

    You also want to make sure you buy the right kind of travel insurance. Make sure you’re covered for things like cancellation due to weather, medical costs, and medical evacuation (transportation to the nearest hospital, even if you’re in another country).

    Be sure to read up on selecting travel insurance (I liked this article from REI, the outdoor gear people), and make sure that your travel insurance policy will cover you and the things that could possibly go wrong. Some travel insurance policies may not automatically cover weather-related problems or terrorism, so check that out in advance before you buy your policy.

    Also, some credit cards, like the American Card Platinum, automatically have some travel insurance coverage, such as flight cancellation and even rental car insurance, so make sure you know what they cover before you leave. Don’t assume that it will handle everything for you though; you may need additional coverage for other possible problems.

    Have you ever been on a trip where you needed travel insurance? Did you have it? How did that trip go? Give us your advice or words of warning in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

    Photo credit: Game Freak2600 (Wikimedia Commons, Public GNU Free Documentation License)

    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 Get Work Done on Vacation

    May 24, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

    A couple weeks ago, I talked about how we shouldn’t work on vacation. That we should actually take the days off that are promised to us by our employers and use that time to recharge our batteries, improve our health, and increase our productivity.

    But there will be times that you’re not able to shut yourself completely off while you’re on vacation. It’s not fair and it’s selfish of your employer or your clients to expect you to give up your personal time that is owed to you, but you know what? It’s fine. It’s just. . . fine. It is what it is. This is what you have to work with, so let’s figure out how to make the best of it.

    Here are five ways you can continue to work while you’re on vacation even though it’s a terrible practice and your employer should be ashamed of themselves.

    (Or if you’re like me and you own your own business, then this is your lot in life. But hey, at least it’s what you love to do.)

    A laptop on the beach. Sometimes you may have to work on vacation, so you should at least enjoy yourself.1. Manage expectations early Let people know you’re going on vacation. Set your email auto-responder with a vacation message a week before you leave. This way, people will know you won’t be working 8 – 10 hours a day. Of course, you’ll need to get a lot of work done in advance, but that should free you up enough to only deal with the smaller tasks that pop up.

    2. Get into the habit of only checking emails one or two times a day. This is something I’m still working on myself. I try to only check emails in the morning, after lunch, and before 5:00. If I spend all my time dealing with emails like electronic Whack-a-Mole, I won’t actually get any work done. I’m more productive if I only do email a few times a day than if I deal with it all the time. If people get used to me doing it this way, then I can still take the bulk of the day off and deal with things in the morning or evening.

    Also, set your auto-responder months in advance to tell people that this is how you work so they don’t get frustrated that you take four hours to respond. This way, you can go out and see some sights without needing to check your email every 20 minutes or worry that you’re going to miss something important. Then, just respond to emails in the morning or at at night.

    3. Put all your important documents, reports, spreadsheets in the cloud.
    I use Google Drive for my cloud work because I can still access it with an iPad and Bluetooth keyboard. It may not be as fast as a laptop, but if I need to write an article or retrieve some information, I can leave my laptop at home and still function, albeit quite a bit slower. This way, I can deal with emergencies or get some work done during unexpected free time.

    4. Figure out how to work with the lightest rig possible
    By that, I mean learn how to work with a tablet and a Bluetooth keyboard. I do this anyway
    as a backup method in case my computer dies. (I had to do it at the end of April, in fact.) But I also noticed that when I carried my laptop and keyboard, my Tpro Bold II backpack was significantly lighter than when I had my four-pound laptop in it. If you’re worried about keeping your luggage light on your next vacation, this might be a way to go. Plus it keeps your laptop safe at home where it’s not at risk of getting stolen or hacked on a rogue wifi system.

    5. See if you can take a longer vacation in exchange for working
    Try is to extend your vacation in exchange for being able to work while you’re on it. This could be a compromise with your employer or with your family — I made them a deal that we could take two-week vacations to Florida if I could work a couple days each week, and even a couple hours early in the morning.

    We did that for three years before we finally moved here, and it was a nice little arrangement. I worked a couple hours in the morning, a couple at night, and used our rest day to find a coffee shop and work for the day, all using the steps I described above. I still had a lot to catch up on when I got back, but it helped me deal with critical deadlines and deal with problems that arose, and I still got to enjoy some time away from home and the 8- and 10-hour workdays.

    How do you work when you’re on vacation? Do you use any special tech or apps to get things done? Share your suggestions and ideas in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

    Photo credit: Wojciech Kowalski (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

    Take a Proper Vacation Away From Work

    May 10, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

    If you’re like most Americans, you don’t actually stop working to take a real vacation. According to a 2017 Forbes article, only 23% of us actually take all of our vacation days. The rest of us only take a little more than half of our eligible days.

    And to make matters worse, two-thirds of us actually do work while we’re on vacation.

    Stop doing that!

    Photo of a laptop on a towel at the beach. This would be the ideal bleisure working vacation!Seriously, people. We are the hardest working, least-vacationing country in the developed world. And we’re so scared of being replaced or laid off that we don’t take the days off that are actually owed to us. Many of us are promised two weeks off of work with full pay, and we don’t take it, thus robbing ourselves of a chance to relax and unwind and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

    Some people bank their vacation days so they have a cushion in case they get laid off or fired. Other people are worried that they’re too indispensable. One guy, Jake, said in the Forbes article:

    I feel incredibly lucky to lead excellent and competent groups of people, but I don’t ever want to put those I manage in a position where my prolonged absence hinders their day-to-day or makes their lives more difficult.

    Let me tell you, if your prolonged absence hinders your staff’s day-to-day lives, you’re a bad manager. Your job is to empower your staff and remove any barriers so they can do their best work. And if your absence hinders their day-to-day work, you haven’t actually empowered them, you’re micromanaging them, and thus, holding them back.

    It’s worse for entrepreneurs like me. I’m in a service business that more or less requires me to do stuff nearly every day. I don’t have to go to unnecessary and pointless meetings or any of that corporate nonsense. But I have to send out social media updates and publish articles and do things in real time, or at least on a particular day.

    Even so, I still manage to take days off where I don’t do any work. Or I’ll schedule some things that morning and I’m out the door in an hour, visiting one of the theme parks or heading to the beach. Entrepreneurs are terrible at taking time off, so I fight for every day I can get.

    We need those days off just to decompress, de-stress, and free our minds of all the clutter and nonsense we have to put up with the other 50 weeks out of the year. Vacations are not only beneficial to your health, including reducing heart disease, and they improve your productivity.

    So here are five things you can do to put your mind at ease while you shut your laptop, turn off your phone, and go have fun.

    1. Understand this: No one will die if you take some time off. I mean, if you’re a doctor or paramedic, that might actually happen if you skip a shift. But if you make arrangements first, your colleagues will cover you. As for the rest of you, unless you’re working on a project that’s worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, you can sneak out for a few days. Your colleagues functioned just fine before you entered their lives, and they’ll be fine when you’re gone. So they can handle it if you take five days out of the office and never check in.

    2. Name an emergency backup in your out of office email reply. In your email auto-response, say that you’re completely cut off for a week, and if there’s an actual emergency, they should contact one of your colleagues. Give their email and phone number. I’ll bet that no one calls them. And if they do, empower your colleague to make a decision on your behalf. Then, return the favor the next time he or she goes on vacation.

    3. Take care of all important deadlines before you go. Push the rest off until a week after you get back. Really, how important is your monthly TPS report? Will the company grind to a halt if you don’t turn it in? Probably not. But if you think it will, or if you could get yelled at for being late, send it in a little early. For everything else, just email those people, let them know when you’ll have their deliverables, and put it out of your mind for a week.

    4. Leave your phone in the hotel room. Otherwise, you’ll check your email 18 times a day because you want to get a head start. Or people will call you for help. Or you’ll get roped into a conference call. Or someone will need “just one teeny little thing.” If you have to check your email, only do it once at night after you get back to your room.

    5. Add an extra day for catch-up time. If you’re going to be gone for a week, block out an extra day in your schedule. Tell people you won’t get back until Tuesday. Then, go to the office and use that free day to catch up on all the emails in your inbox — no meetings, no phone calls, nothing that requires you to do anything except plow through all the junk that accumulated while you were away.

    There are very few people who are actually, truly indispensable in their jobs. The rest of the company will run just fine without you. People will understand that you need to take some time off, and hopefully, they’ll leave you alone while you try to relax and spend time with your family. After all, the whole reason we work is so we can care for our families and enjoy our time with them. Your colleagues and clients should respect that and let you have your personal time.

    And if they don’t, pester them mercilessly on their own vacation until they get the hint and promise to leave you alone.

    How do you shut yourself down from work? Do you take your days off, or do you try to sneak in some work while you’re away? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

    Photo credit: Laura Hoffman (Flickr, Creative Commons)

    Bleisure Travel: Turn Your Next Business Trip into a Vacation

    April 12, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

    I’m hearing the term bleisure a lot more these days, and it bugs me.

    Not the concept, the word. While I appreciate a good portmanteau — business + leisure — this is one of the sillier ones, sort of like “Bennifer” or “Brangelina.” Maybe I just hate ‘B’ portmanteaus.

    But my nose-wrinkling aside, I do love the concept of combining business travel and vacation, especially for families. It’s a great way to save some money on vacation, as well as a way for families to spend a little more time together that would otherwise be interrupted by regular business travel.

    If you’re a solo business traveler, it’s a great way to see parts of the country you normally only get to see for work. And since that’s usually only airports, meeting rooms, and conference halls, you’re missing all the cool stuff a city has to offer.

    Photo of a laptop on a towel at the beach. This would be the ideal bleisure working vacation!Bleisure travel at its barest essence is just tacking an extra day (or even weekend) onto your business travel trip. Going to be in New York City or Chicago for business and heading home on Thursday or Friday? Extend your stay by a day or two and spend some time checking out the city — visit a museum, catch a ballgame, eat at some nice restaurants, and take a tour.

    If you’re flying, there won’t be much of a price difference between flying home Sunday versus Friday, and you can just extend your hotel stay by the corresponding number of nights. Just make sure you pay for your own hotel night and cover your off-day meals, and you’ve got a nice little mini-vacation in a place where you might not find yourself again for a long time.

    You can also arrange to spend time on the front end of your travels to do the same thing. Instead of arriving in town the day before your big meeting — always travel the day before a big meeting or presentation — get there two days in advance so you can spend the next day exploring and visiting. If you can get there early enough, you can spend a good portion of your travel day seeing the sights too.

    If you take your family to share your hotel room, the price won’t be any more for the room, even if they’re staying with you during the business portion of your trip. In fact, your family can go out and explore while you’re doing your trade show, conference, meetings, or whatever brings you into town. And if you’re going to fly them to your destination, then think about it as saving your ticket price for the vacation; you’re only paying for the rest of them to get there.

    I’ve used the bleisure concept for years, long before anyone came up with the silly name. I would often spend an extra day or two at a trade show destination, especially if it was in Europe.

    Many years ago, I was heading down to Orlando for a trade show, so I decided to tack a vacation onto that. I made the arrangements with my employer, my family and I flew down, and they stayed in my room while I was at the show. When the show was over, we packed up and drove to Disney World for four days before flying home again.

    While a bleisure trip is most likely not going to turn into a full vacation, it’s at least a way to get a little more benefit out of a business trip. You can explore new cities you normally don’t visit, or you can give yourself time to see things you normally don’t see outside of the typical business travel circuit. And it makes your business trips a little more fun and interesting.

    Have you ever taken a bleisure trip? Where did you go? How did you manage it? Share your tips and suggestions, stories and adventures in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

    How to Make Vacation Costs Less Painful

    March 29, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

    Before we moved to Florida two years ago, my family of five took an annual vacation down to Orlando every year for six years. It wasn’t always a Disney World trip, but it was a chance to get a break from the cold and snow of Indiana and to bask in the warmth of Central Florida.

    And we didn’t always have the money for an expensive trip, but we were certainly able to have a fun time, all without breaking the bank or putting ourselves in terrible debt. It started with a little pre-planning the year before, which lightened the load. Here’s how we did it.

    1. Driving is Cheaper than Flying

    It may be a huge pain, but we would drive from Indianapolis to Orlando in about 20 hours. For a while, we did it in a single day, which was awful. After a while, we switched to two days which was fine, but usually added $250 to the trip, including the hotel nights and extra meals.

    Still, it certainly beats five tickets at $400 apiece (although I certainly envy the two-hour flight time). We could drive 1,000 miles, visit the grocery store for breakfast and lunch, and then hit a decent restaurant for dinner, all for around $150. If we wanted to stop in a hotel, we would stay at the Holiday Inn Express near Macon, Georgia. We weren’t going for comfort and luxury there. We wanted something clean, comfortable, and safe. All told, the 2-day trip cost between $250 –$300 each way, and was still cheaper than flying. Plus we had our car once we were in town.

    2. Buy gift cards throughout the year

    Epcot in Orlando, Florida during the Flower and Garden Festival in May. One of my favorite vacations.

    Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival in May

    One strategy we had to cut travel costs was to buy gift cards during the year and keep them in an envelope. My wife would buy $25 gift cards for Shell gas or Outback restaurant once a month. We had traveled enough times on this route that we knew where to stop to use them.

    While it didn’t save us any money, we didn’t have to come up with a fistful of cash all at once just to cover the drive. By getting the gift cards, we were able to sock away some savings without actually putting the money in a savings account. (We tried that a couple times, but always had some emergency or other that required us to “borrow” from the savings and never put it back.)

    3. Plan your activities, book ahead when possible

    If you’re watching your vacation budget carefully, this is where you have to be hard-nosed. You will be sorely tempted to “just this once” add a new activity to your itinerary. It could be a tour or show, or some other amazing attraction that caught your eye, but it inflates your total costs. It’s worse if you show up without any plans at all, because you won’t really keep track of what you’re spending, and you can easily go overboard.

    Instead, schedule out your activities and book the tickets in advance throughout the year. That way, you don’t have to cough up the cash right at that moment (see #2 above). Then, when temptation rears its ugly head, you have to stick to the schedule, and either refuse to be tempted or be willing to give up another activity (or activities) so you can pay for the new one. And if you’ve already bought the tickets, you’ll be even less tempted than before.

    4. Plan for rest days

    There’s a lot of truth to the old joke of “needing a vacation from our vacation.” When we would return home from Orlando, we would be exhausted, and not just because we drove 20 hours straight. We had spent days and days walking around the theme parks, visiting friends, or popping over to the beach for a day. We were exhausted. Plus, it’s expensive to do something every day.

    We finally got smart and started blocking in rest days into our schedule. Those were the days we stayed around the rental house, spent time in the pool, or visited different parts of the city. We didn’t have anywhere to be, and best of all, we didn’t have to spend any money.

    Even that one day of not doing anything gave us a chance to sleep in, take a nap, or just recover from the drive and last few days of activity. It also helped us reduce our costs, because we were just able to eat at home instead of going out.

    How do you reduce your vacation costs without reducing the enjoyment? Do you have any cost-saving measures you can recommend? If you’ve got any tips, suggestions, or ideas, please share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

    Photo credit: Erik Deckers, used with permission

    Take an Accessible Vacation: How to Travel with a Wheelchair or Scooter

    February 8, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

    Living in the Land of the Mouse and enjoying all the parks, you quickly realize how many people need assistance or have mobility issues when they travel. Whether it’s someone who walks with a cane or walking stick, someone who needs some extra time getting around, or someone who uses a wheelchair or scooter just to get through their day-to-day.

    Sylvia Longmire in Rome, taking her own accessible vacation

    Sylvia in Rome, Italy on her Pride Mobility scooter

    My good friend, Sylvia Longmire, brought this all home for me when she became an accessible travel agent — that is, someone who specializes in arranging travel for people with mobility issues. Sylvia has MS and uses a mobility scooter. And she travels like a maniac, jetting from international locale to international locale. Last year, she was in Ireland, Denmark, Greece, and The Netherlands, all on her scooter (or a rented wheelchair), so if anyone knows about finding and booking accessibility travel, it’s her.

    If you or a family member has mobility and accessibility issues, there are plenty of ways to get around by plane, train, or automobile, and to get into almost any attraction, hotel, or restaurant you’d like. A lot of it depends on what kind of accommodations you need, and whether you do your research and ask the right questions beforehand.

    Another thing to keep in mind, Sylvia says, is that while the United States has the Americans with Disabilities Act to improve wheelchair access in public places, it’s not always perfect. But countries like the UK, Australia, and Germany have similar laws, so there are options if you’d like to travel outside the US.

    So if you have any kind of disability, but still want to travel, you can always do it yourself, but I recommend using a travel agent like Sylvia because she knows what to look for and what kinds of questions to ask the various places you’ll be visiting and hotels you’ll be staying at. Still, if you want to do it yourself, here are the questions you need to answer before you go.

    “Does your hotel have a wheelchair friendly room?” This means a door wide enough to accommodate a chair, space enough to roll around, and in some cases, a roll-in shower with a fold-down seat. I’ve heard plenty of stories from Sylvia where she asked the hotel clerk if they had accessible rooms, only to find out that only meant they had a couple bars in the shower and near the toilet. Ask the hotel manager if you really want to be sure. (And don’t be afraid to ask for a photo of the facilities.)

    “Are there wheelchairs available for rent at my destination?”
    There are plenty of stories about someone’s primary (or only) wheelchair getting damaged on a flight, rendering it unusable. While you don’t need to rent a chair every time you travel, you should at least make sure there’s a backup option at your destination. Keep their number in your phone in case the need comes up.

    “Does your attraction have a wheelchair ramp or other options?”
    Visiting the beach doesn’t have to mean sitting back on the road looking out at the ocean while everyone else is out on the sand. There are special wheelchairs with fat tires that can roll out on the beach (imagine if a wheelchair and a dune buggy had a baby), and wheelchair mats called Mobi-Mats, which are roll-up mats that can be unrolled on the sand and allow wheelchair users to get right out on the beach.

    Make a list of all the places you want to visit and contact each of them to ask if they have a wheelchair ramp and/or elevator to get to other levels. Most museums, concert venues, theaters, restaurants, ballparks, and other attractions have access and special seating (when needed), but you still want to call and make sure. Again, if you’re not sure, ask. Call a couple times if you have to, because you may get contradicting information.

    What are my best options?

    Sylvia on a Celebrity Cruise on Formal Night, part of another accessible vacation

    Sylvia on a Celebrity Cruise on Formal Night

    Cruise ships are usually a good option, because many of them cater to older adults who are already dealing with mobility issues. (Sylvia loves cruises because they’re the easiest ways for wheelchair users to see the world.) The ships are built to be wheelchair friendly, have wider doors, large public spaces, and room between the tables and chairs in the dining room. Still, make sure you ask the cruise ship booking agent about any special arrangements you need to make.

    Theme parks are also usually a great bet, especially the bigger ones. From what I’ve seen, Disney World and Universal Orlando are both very accessible and they have special cars, elevators, and ramps for people with mobility issues. They also rent scooters at each park.

    Bottom line: if you have a disability and you want to travel, there’s a way to do it. If you’re not sure how you’re going to get it done, you can do a ton of research or you can call a travel agent and ask them for some help.

    Do you have accessibility or mobility issues to consider when you travel and take vacations? If you’ve got any tips, suggestions, or ideas, please share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

    Photo credit: Sylvia Longmire (SpinTheGlobe.net, Used with permission)

    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.

    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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