Consider Visiting Quirky Places on Your Next Family Vacation

July 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve got a weird sense of humor and always appreciate the unusual and quirky. I collect typewriters, I listen to radio theater, and I love stories about little-known historical events. My tastes in travel and family vacation run a bit unusual as well. I’m fascinated by cities that have unusual histories or have odd attractions that no one else in the world has.

When I visited Washington D.C. years ago, I made sure to visit my friend who ran the Bead Museum (now closed), a museum dedicated to artistic beads throughout the world. I was intrigued by the way different civilizations had all discovered putting holes in pretty objects to wear around their necks and wrists, but I was more intrigued that there was a whole museum about it.

When I lived in northern Indiana, I lived about 40 minutes from Mentone, Indiana, home of the world’s largest egg. It’s a 10 foot high concrete egg that weighs 3,000 pounds in the middle of town, and I occasionally drove to see it just to say I did.

I saw a documentary about hot dogs called A Hot Dog Program back in the 90s, so I’ve made it a point to try to visit some of the hot dog restaurants mentioned in the program, like The Varsity in Atlanta and The Dirty O in Pittsburgh. I’ve been to three of the 12 or so that were featured.

And if you like old-time baseball (1920s era), check out the House of David and Mary’s City of David baseball teams. They play nearly every summer weekend at Eden Prairie Park in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Take Short Trips to See Odd Attractions

The Gil Hodges mural in Petersburg, Indiana is one of the nice little out-of-the-way travel attractions.

The Gil Hodges mural in Petersburg, Indiana is one of the nice little out-of-the-way travel oddities.

Vacations and trips don’t always have to be about museums and theme parks and spending thousands of dollars. Occasionally, when my family and I wanted a one-day trip, or I wanted to take a couple of the kids and do something weird-but-funny, we would visit one of these roadside oddities. Even if it was just to say that we saw the largest egg in the world (and then get lunch somewhere), or wanted to see a historical marker of minor significance, we would do it.

It was the kitsch and the goofiness of the trip, but it was also spending time together, doing something we would always remember.

Even before we moved to Florida, we had been to Disney World so many times, the trips were all running together. But my oldest daughter can still tell you about the time we went to Johnny Appleseed’s supposed burial place in Fort Wayne, Indiana during the Johnny Appleseed Festival.

My family remembers the time we went to the Triple XXX hamburger stand in West Lafayette, Indiana, the state’s first drive-in restaurant.

And my son and I have seen the mural in Petersburg, Indiana (Population: 2,351) dedicated to Gil Hodges, the greatest pro baseball player to never be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s there, because that’s where Hodges, who played for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets in the 1950s, was from. We even met Petersburg’s mayor, R.C. Klipsch, that day.

My point is, we remember those little trips just as much as we remember the big ones, because they were marked by something unusual and out-of-the-ordinary, and it gave us something to enjoy about our state, or just to laugh about on the way home. (Any good dad worth his salt knows a few good egg yolks jokes.)

The next time you’re trying to think of something to do one weekend, or even just for one day during your family vacation, don’t splurge on a big trip to your nearest theme park. Just go out and visit a couple roadside attractions within 50 miles of home, and make a day of it. Grab some lunch at a restaurant that’s famous for something (like pork tenderloins in Indiana, the best burgoo in Kentucky, or one of the many barbecue joints in Georgia). That’s real traveling, and it’s the best way to see the real America.

A quick visit to Wikipedia will turn up the Largest Roadside Attractions, where you can find information on the World’s Largest Golf Tee (Alberta, Canada or Casey, Illinois; they’re fighting about it), World’s Largest Clam (Long Beach, Washington), and the World’s Largest Loaf of Bread (Urbana, Ohio). You can also check out RoadsideAmerica.com for a complete list of all sorts of roadside oddities and attractions in the U.S.

Nearly every city and town in the United States is known for something. Someone famous is from there, or some historic battle was fought there, or they have the largest kitchen implement known to mankind. Even tiny Mentone, Indiana (population: 989) is known for having the world’s largest egg, and that makes it pretty special in its own right.

What are some of the oddities and attractions in your part of the world? Do you have any favorites that you like to visit on a family vacation, or hope to one day? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Used with permission)

Solving the “Where To Go For The Holidays” Problem

June 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Research firm DK Shifflet recently released their Monthly Top 5 list of traveler trends. This month’s topic is What types of activities do families with children 12 and under participate in most often when traveling in the U.S.?

Surprisingly, “threatening to ‘turn this car around and go back home!'” was not on the list, even though it would have been what my dad participated in the most when my sister and I were kids.

Instead, the researchers contacted over 50,000 U.S. households and said that the number one travel activity is “visit friends and relatives.” As many as 30% of the families surveyed said they do this the most often.

(Notice they didn’t say “enjoy the most.”)

In fact, the list goes like this:
5. National/State Parks, Theme/Amusement/Water Parks, Touring/Sightseeing – 12% of families
4. Beach/Waterfront – 16% of families
3. Culinary or Dining Experience – 19% of families
2. Shopping – 24% of families
1. Visit Friends/Relatives – 30% of families

Of course, this makes the most sense. There are family birthdays, holidays, and special gatherings to attend a few times a year, and since most people have a day off here or there, and the kids are out of school for an extra day on Memorial Day and Labor Day, it’s not surprising to spend a 3-day weekend at a family member’s.
How does your family figure out where to go for the holidays?
Of course, if you’re like most families, figuring out where to go for the holidays is always a problem. The big debate usually goes “how about Thanksgiving at your parents, Christmas at mine this year?”

“But we went to Christmas at your parents last year!”

“Because they live five hours away. Your folks live 30 minutes from here, and we see them all the time!”

One thing that ultimately solved this dilemma for us —and I consider this the defining moment in our lives when we finally became adults — is when we declared we were no longer traveling to any family homes for Christmas.

“Our kids need to have a feeling of home and tradition at Christmas,” we said, “and we’re not going to get that bouncing between one house and the other trying to include everyone on one day. If you want to see the kids open presents on Christmas Day, you can come and stay with us.”

I have to say, I hadn’t felt like that much of a grown-up since I got my driver’s license or ordered my first drink as a 21-year-old.

Our parents agreed that this was for the best, and then we only had to figure out what to do about Thanksgiving. Then, it was just a matter of figuring out who would have the best spread that year, and then wrangle an invite for the other set of parents.

That was often a decent solution until my wife decided she wanted to do Thanksgiving at our house a few years in a row. Luckily, her parents only lived a few miles away, so her mom was able to come over and help out.

Still, regardless of what you choose to do, the most important thing is that you spend family time together and create some memories. It may not seem like as much fun, and you may wish you were at the beach or a theme park instead, but that time together will be some of the things you’re talking about years later.

How do you figure out where to go for the holidays? Do you have an innovative solution? Tell us about them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Satya Murthy (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Should You Drive or Should You Fly? A Vacation Formula

January 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

When heading out on vacation, the biggest decision you’ll make is how to get there. Do you drive or fly? If you fly, you can get there sooner and spend more time at your destination. Driving is more budget friendly, but it takes a couple of extra days out of your vacation time.

In my travels, I’ve driven and flown to dozens of destinations. On some airplane trips, I would have been satisfied with driving, and on some car trips, I wish I’d been born with wings. But for the most part, we made the best decision we could with the information and resources we had. If you’re trying to decide, here’s a handy 3-step formula you can use to help make your decision.

How far is your destination?

Kids on a planeI typically won’t fly anywhere if I can make the drive in less than six hours. If I fly, I get to the airport two hours early, and it takes me at least 45 minutes to drive, park, and get inside. My flight will take at least one hour. Then I have to disembark, walk to the rental car counter, get my car, and drive to the hotel, all about two hours after the plane touches down. And if I take the hotel shuttle, then I’m without ground transportation.

This all takes at least 5.5 hours.

But if I drive, I can take the same amount of time, and have my car with me in a new city, which lets me explore on my own. I’m in control of my progress and circumstances.
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Avoid These Budget-Busting Traps on Your Next Vacation, Part 1

January 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It doesn’t matter how much we budget and plan our vacation, we almost always go over the amount we planned on spending.

I don’t just mean me and my family, I mean all of us. If you’ve planned and taken a vacation, I’m willing to bet your rainy day fund, that ultimately you spent more than you planned. It hardly ever fails.

To help you avoid overspending on your next vacation, here are two budget traps to watch out for. We’ll have two more next week for you.

A hotel with breakfast included is a great way to avoid eating out too many times on vacation

Hotel Niwa Tokyo breakfast buffet – If you can eat like this, you can skip lunch completely!

1. Eating Three Restaurant Meals Every Day

Eating in a restaurant three times a day can be a real drain on your wallet, especially since most restaurant portions are oversized to begin with. But most Americans have been taught that we “need” to eat three meals a day. And if you’re staying in a hotel without a kitchen, chances are you’ll eat three restaurant meals.

But do you really need to?

Space out your meals so you eat two larger meals in a day — say, a late breakfast and a normal dinner. If you get hungry in the middle of the day, have a snack, not a full-blown lunch. I’ve started carrying peanut bars when we visit the amusement parks to get me through the day. It’s certainly cheaper than a $10 mediocre burger, and we save a little money so we can instead spend the GDP of a small country on dinner!
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How to Travel With Teenagers

January 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Going on a road trip with your teenagers seems like a lot of fun, until you realize, you’re going on a road trip with teenagers. Whether it’s a three-week summer road trip to trace Route 66, or a quick three-day weekend to visit family, travel with teenagers can be a little stressful. They don’t always want to do what we’d like them to do, their idea of fun may not match up with the rest of the family’s, and their interests seem, well, unusual.

(Not like when we were teenagers! We were a delight and never gave our parents a single problem.)

The Family Truckster from National Lampoon's Vacation. The "perfect" car for travel with teenagers.

The Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation. This is on display at the Auto Attractions Museum in Roscoe, IL.

I’m the father of three teenagers, and I know the struggle of trying to get your teenagers to be excited about family vacations. If you can get your teenager in the car, here are a few things you can do to help them enjoy their time with the family, and maybe even look up from their phones and video games for a little while.

Teach them how to read a map. This is one thing my dad did for me when we would go for long trips. He would hand me the map and ask me to navigate for him: Find the route, determine our current location, and calculate our arrival time based on our distance from the final destination. Turns out, he already knew all that information, but he would explain how to determine all of that based on the map and then let me figure it out. Not only did it teach me to read a map properly, but it made me feel invested in the actual journey. We may have GPS to do all of that for us now, but I think people who know how to read a map have a better understanding — and appreciation — for how their GPS works.
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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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Road Trip Survival Techniques

December 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

The Great American Road Trip - Death Valley

The Great American Road Trip – Death Valley

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

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

1. Get your vehicle checked out

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

That means get the oil changed, get the fluids topped off, check the tires, check your battery life, and make sure your spare is properly inflated. Also, make sure your AAA card is somewhere handy.
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Take an Educational Trip Without Your Kids Knowing It

November 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

Wait, what? Where was I?

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

November 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

One vacation on my wish list is one of the all-inclusive resorts I keep hearing about. To stay at a place where everything is managed for you, from the food to the activities to the entertainment. The only thing missing from my dream vacation would be my own little golf cart that I could drive everywhere, including through the buffet line at breakfast.

All-inclusive resorts cover everything while you’re there. And there’s plenty to do at most, depending on which resort you choose. They’re also more budget friendly than you might imagine: you can save as much as 25 percent on an all-inclusive resort, compared to a pay-as-you-go vacation, which may often have a few surprise charges, like an expensive meal or impulsively chosen extra activity.

The Balsams Grand Resort at Dixville Notch, NH, one of many all-inclusive resorts in the US.

The Balsams Grand Resort at Dixville Notch, NH.

All-inclusive resorts also eliminate the need for a rental car. Generally, everything is on property, so you can always get a resort shuttle, or hire a cab. Plus, they usually have airport shuttles to pick you up and take you there.

If you are interested in an all-inclusive resorts vacation, you don’t have to leave the country to do so. There are several located within the United States that are also exceptionally family friendly.

If you like Vermont, you may like the Tyler Place Family Resort on Lake Champlain, featuring 165 acres and a mile of private shore on the lake. There are craft classes you can take, sail boarding, paddle boarding, bicycling, swimming, canoeing, and plenty of places to sit on Adirondack chairs and hammocks and just relax. They have activities for the kids throughout the day, and you can even turn them loose for a kids’ dinner, while you and your spouse relax in a quiet dining room.
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A Regional Guide to U.S. Amusement Parks: Southwest

November 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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