How to Avoid Getting Sick on Your Next Vacation

September 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It was certainly a honeymoon to remember, as my new bride and I both got a stomach virus three days into our Disney World trip. As we lay in bed, battling our illness, trying to salvage what was left of our honeymoon, we realized we had been contaminated by someone who attended our wedding. We hugged and kissed so many people that day though, we couldn’t be sure of the guilty party.

(First of all, if you’ve been sick, or you’re fighting an illness, don’t go to a wedding!)

But we could have just as easily gotten sick on that vacation, and as I’ve been traveling more and more, I’m realizing how lucky I’ve been to not get sicker over the years.

So as you start traveling for the fall and winter, here are a few tips for you to remember to avoid getting sick on your next vacation.

First, make sure you get plenty of sleep in the days before you leave. If you’re sleep deprived, your immune system will be a little weaker, and it will be hard to stave off any potential bugs you pick up on your travels. Continue to stay rested on your trip as well. You may be tired anyway with all the sightseeing and walking around, so make sure you get plenty of sleep.

Second, get into the habit of coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow, not your hands. Don’t believe me? The next person you shake hands with, imagine they sneezed into their hands 10 seconds before you saw them. Ick, right? So show everyone else the same courtesy. Teach your family to do the same, so they don’t put their germ-infested hands all over you and your stuff. And while we’re at it, don’t sneeze into a tissue and then tuck it into a sleeve. That’s only spreading your germs further.

Third, wipe down hotel room remotes and even your hotel room doorknobs with disinfectant wipes. Remember that thing I just said about sneezing into your hands? The last person in your room didn’t do that, and you don’t want their germs. While you’re at it, wipe down your mobile phone once a week — mobile phones carry up to 18 times the bacteria as the flush handle on a public toilet. You can even use a UV sanitizer like Phone Soap to sterilize your phone.

Use hand sanitizer after you handle public items like doorknobs, phones, and even soap dispensers and faucets. Do this especially before you eat or handle food. Cruise ships are notorious for having norovirus (a stomach virus), and while they’re generally okay, it doesn’t hurt to take precautions. If you’re on a cruise or in a widely-traveled public place, carry a small bottle of sanitizer with you.

Do laundry regularly and wear clean clothes. You may think that shirt is clean enough for a second day, but pathogens have a way of clinging to clothes that otherwise appear clean. When you’re on vacation, you can easily pick up an illness from your clothes as you do other contaminated surfaces.

Take steps to avoid motion sickness. Avoid reading in the car (that always did me in when I was a kid), avoid spicy and greasy meals, choose seats that suit you, use some preventative products, and learn some coping methods. If you get seasick or motion sick easily, there are a lot of products that are supposed to help prevent that. But if you’re going on a cruise, you may want to test a couple of the products in a shakedown run. Try a lake cruise first with one or two of the products to see if they work.

Finally, keep copies of important health documents saved to your phone or a cloud drive. I like Google Drive and Evernote to keep track of important documents. Both programs work on my iPhone, iPad, and laptop, and they also work on Android and Galaxy devices too. Scan the important information, sync it to the cloud, and you’re all set. If you ever need it, you can retrieve the information and share it with your health care providers.

How do you stay healthy on vacation? Do you have any special tips or tricks? Or horror stories about a vacation-related illness? Share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Gadini (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

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)

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)

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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