About Erik Deckers

Erik Deckers is a travel writer, as well as a content marketer and book author. He is the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years

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Three Ways Listen to Music While You Travel

February 13, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

Just like there are countless TV streaming services to choose from, there are several different ways to listen to music on your mobile device or laptop. It’s hard to know how to choose where you find your music, and how you’re going to listen whether you’re in the car, on the plane, at the beach, or even just working out.

Depending on your musical tastes and preferences, here are three ways you can listen to music while you’re on the road without scanning fuzzy radio stations between cities.

1. You can use a streaming service

A mobile streaming service like Spotify lets you listen to music while you travel.Most of us are familiar with radio streaming services like Pandora and Spotify. These are streaming services that cost around $9.99 per month for ad-free listening of your favorite music.

Spotify lets you build playlists of your favorite songs, subscribe to other people’s playlists, listen to an artist’s entire body of works, or even discover what your friends are listening to. Plus, Spotify recently purchased three podcast creation startups, so it now offers its own original podcasts, as well as the ones you normally access.

Pandora, on the other hand, looks at the kind of music you like based on some of your song selections, and tries to find other songs and artists you might also like. For example, I like Tom Waits. When I listen to a Tom Waits station, Pandora looks for similar sounding music — male singer-songwriter. With Pandora, I can find songs and artists I’ve never heard of before and then create a completely personalized playlist based on what I like.

If you have Amazon Prime, you can listen to Prime Music, which has a 2 million song library, or you can get Amazon Music Unlimited for $7.99 per month and access “tens of millions of songs.” You can also listen to Amazon Music Unlimited offline, which means downloading songs to your device. You can download all your favorite songs, but you’ll lose them as soon as you stop paying for the service.

Finally, you can always find music on YouTube or even YouTube Radio, a premium music streaming service that also gives you the options for audio-only or video-and-audio. Also, if you listen to regular YouTube on your phone, the music stops as soon as you shut off your phone or switch away from the app, which means it’s not suitable for car use. YouTube Premium and YouTube Radio both let you switch away from the app, so you can listen while you drive or multi-task.

2. You can listen to Internet radio

As regular terrestrial radio stations consolidated, so did the music around the country. It’s always the same Top 40 songs or same classic rock tracks wherever I go. It’s so hard to find stations that play alternative music or deep album cuts, local bands, or esoteric styles of music.

However, there are a few out there, if you know where to look. (Check out this list of “The 40 Best Little Radio Stations in the US.” The article may be 10 years old, but most of the stations are still out there. And here’s a list of 2020’s best Internet radio stations.)

What you’re getting are those terrestrial local radio stations that also broadcast on the Internet, and they end up getting fans from all over the world. That’s because you can listen to Internet radio stations from all over the world.

There are a few ways you can listen to Internet radio. You can use apps like TuneIn, iHeart Radio, or Radio Garden (a visual station locator that uses Google Earth to let you search for radio stations in a particular city or small town).

Some stations even have their own apps that let you access their live feed and listen to any podcasts they produce. My two favorite Internet radio stations, KCRW in Santa Monica, CA, and WFPK in Louisville, KY, both have their own apps as well as appearing on TuneIn, Radio Garden, and any other Internet radio apps. You can also access them on the iTunes music player for Apple and Windows.

3. You can download it.

This seems a little stone-knives-and-bearskins these days, what with 5G and unlimited data plans, but there are still plenty of times you want to download music: 1) You aren’t going to be on wifi, like when you’re driving or flying, or 2) You don’t want to do constant streaming because you don’t want to pay for an app subscription, or you have a limited data plan.

Downloaded music can come from two sources:

  1. You already paid for it, which means you’ll never have to pay for it again. You can buy singles that you want to hear without buying the whole album, and spend $.99 or $1.29 for one song from iTunes.
  2. You can burn music from your old CDs and records, which means you don’t have to buy it in the first place. I had a CD collection in the hundreds, including a couple hundred independent and local artists you don’t find online, and I’ve burned at least half of them to my iTunes library, then loaded the best ones onto my phone.

I like the economics of downloading your own music too. If I wanted access to, say, The Police’s Synchronicity album, I could pay for Spotify for $9.99 per month — $120 per year — for the rest of my life, or I could buy the album online for $11.99 on iTunes.

The downside is that I only have the one album, as compared to having the tens of millions of songs that Spotify and Amazon Prime offer. But on the upside, I can build a music collection from a variety of sources that I can access any time without worrying whether I’m on wifi or am chewing up my data.

Of course, the best time to start figuring out your traveling music is now, weeks and months before you leave. Figure out what you like to listen to and the way you like to get it, build your favorite playlists, and learn your way around your system. That way, you’re not trying to navigate your way through a new music provider as you try to navigate the airport or highway.

How do you get your music online? What are your favorite apps, stations, and artists? Tell us all about it on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

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

Five Expert Tips For a Smooth Road Trip

January 30, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve taken enough road trips with my family, with friends, or just by myself, to have figured out most of the good and bad things about them. I actually enjoy a good road trip, including the driving. There have been many times when I will drive six or seven hours, rather than fly, because I enjoy the drive.

There's nothing like a beautiful ribbon of highway stretched out before you on the start of a road trip.Of course, I’ll always drive instead of fly if the distance is six hours or less. That’s how long it would take me to fly, including driving to the airport, getting through security, the flight, getting my rental car, and driving to the hotel. I could just drive straight to the hotel from my house in the same amount of time.

And I figure, what’s a couple extra hours here or there, so I’ll even drive for an 8-hour road trip. It’s certainly a lot cheaper than flying, especially if there’s five of us, and I don’t have to pay for a rental car.

But a road trip can be annoying and stressful if you don’t prepare accordingly. It’s not just a question of packing and getting everything to fit in your car. It’s also a question of being fully prepared so you’re not trying to fix problems on the road.

Here are five tips to make your next road trip go smoothly.

1. Clean out your car

I always try to keep my car neat and free of clutter, but even then, there are all kinds of crumbs and dirt in the footwells, the cup holders, and the little storage bay under the radio. So I vacuum out the car and wash it before I leave, so it feels like a fresh start on a grand adventure. You wouldn’t pack dirty clothes in your suitcase, so why would you leave in a dirty car?

Run your car through a car wash or wash it in the driveway, empty out all the trash, and vacuum it thoroughly. You may even want to dust the dashboard. Make it as clean as you can get it. There’s nothing like heading out on a road trip with a clean car and a full tank of gas.

2. Keep your car clean

It’s one thing to clean out your car, but it’s a whole other thing to actually keep it clean while you’re traveling, especially if you’re traveling with others. I know when you’re traveling with kids, your clean car is pretty much destroyed before you even back out of the driveway.

Still, make it a habit to clean up everything, throw away all trash, and put away toys, books, and electronic devices every time you stop for gas and meals. A cluttered space leads to a lot of stress and anxiety, and tempers start to flare when that happens. You can reduce stress if you try to keep your car as clean as when you started.

3. Pre-plan your route with both Waze and Google Maps

Google actually owns Waze, so this may be a little redundant as they both use the same data and information, but I have found this to be a useful practice. Both apps know historic travel patterns, so they can tell you where and when all the rush hour traffic jams are going to happen. (Try to get through a major city at least 30 minutes before rush hour really starts.) They also know about construction zones, and Waze will warn you about speed traps and red camera lights.

However, my one gripe with Waze is that it doesn’t show on the map where the construction zones are actually located. It will show the approximate location on a progress bar before it actually shows you the map, so you get a vague sense of whether it’s in the first third or second half of the trip. But you can tell Waze when you want to arrive, and it will tell you the best time to leave based on historic traffic data. It will even adjust your route based on historic traffic patterns so you can avoid busy highways during rush hour.

Google Maps can also do this, but it will show you the exact locations of those construction zones on the map. Plus you can plan a multi-stop route and save it as a clickable link. Put that link in a calendar event or a text or email to yourself, so you can always get back to the original route even if you have to reboot your phone.

4. Pack in a laundry basket

(I’m probably going to get in trouble for this one on a luggage blog!)

I know, this tip sounds weird, but trust me on this. We did this whenever we would travel to Florida and stay in a rental home for a week or two. It helped our packing space immensely, and we had a lot more room in the back of our car.

Several suitcases take up a lot of space when you’ve got a limited trunk space. In years past, ever family member would have their own rollaboard suitcase, but no matter how hard we tried, we always had items packed so high, it was hard to see out the back.

So one year, my wife packed everything into two laundry baskets, including shoes. It saved so much space in the back, our total luggage space barely cleared the top of the seats, and it felt like we were in a much bigger vehicle.

Of course, this tip isn’t necessary if you’re traveling on your own. In those situations, I just pack in my regular rollaboard suitcase and stow everything in the trunk, including my briefcase. I find if I can keep the car as empty as possible, including luggage, it feels so much less cluttered. (See point #2.)

5. Pack a “trip bag” for multi-day travel

It may be a “dads are so weird” cliché, but I’m telling you, packing a stopover bag for multi-day travel is almost essential. If you’re going to stop for the night on your trip, put everything into a single small case, including toiletries, sleepwear, medication, and even favorite stuffed animals. And that’s the bag you take into the hotel for the night.

The whole point is to avoid unpacking the entire car just because someone stuck their toothbrush at the bottom of their suitcase, which is in the most buried corner of the car.

So be insistent, be a nag. Do an inventory check. Pack your kids’ bags, if need be. But don’t let anyone put their essentials into their big suitcase (or in the laundry basket, if you liked tip #4) if you’re going to stop for the night. There is nothing worse than unpacking the entire car for that one small item, because you know you’re never going to get it as neatly or tightly packed as you did before you left.

(Of course, you want to be sure your car is parked in a safe, well-lit area if you’re going to do this. Otherwise, just take all your luggage into your room, but resist the urge to open it.)

How do you keep your road trips (relatively) stress-free? What do you do to get ready for a road trip? Share your suggestions with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Arfan Uddin (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

NOW is the Time to Take That Off-season Vacation!

January 16, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

We just finished the winter holidays, and most of us are staring down the barrel of three or four more long months of winter, depending on where you live. Nothing but snow, ice, cold, and cabin fever until April, when you start wondering if 42 degrees is warm enough to have lunch outside.

What started out as a winter wonderland is going to turn into a slushy slopfest and you’re not sure you’re going to make it to the spring thaw.

The entrance at Universal Studios. This place is wonderfully empty during an off-season vacation

The ticket entrance at Universal Studios in Orlando, FL.

This is the time to take an off-season vacation! The end of January and all of February, maybe even into the very early part of March. If you can swing even a couple days before a weekend and head somewhere warm, just for a few days, it’s probably the best time you’re going to have.

Or maybe you’re traveling for business, and you’re going to be in another city, so you can add a couple extra days onto your itinerary for a little bleisure travel.

Here are a few reasons why you should take a quick off-season vacation now.

Universal Citywalk Orlando during an off-season vacation

Universal Citywalk Orlando,

  1. School is back in session, so families with kids are staying home. If you want to spend a few days, say, in the Orlando-based theme parks, the crowds are way down this time of year. The same is true for late October and up through November, before Thanksgiving. Anywhere you can go that’s normally packed with families will be delightfully empty during an off-season vacation.
  2. Prices are cheaper. This is considered the off-season for a lot of vacation destinations, so everything is going to be priced a lot lower than the peak travel seasons. You can save quite a bit by vacationing now.
  3. There’s a lot more availability. It’s hard to find a room sometimes during peak holiday travel. And the ones you do find are usually priced higher than the rest of the year. But hotels often have special pricing for the off-season.
  4. Lines and wait times are shorter. We love going to the theme parks during the off-season. What would normally be a 3- or 4-hour wait for the best rides in December or in the summer can be a 30-minute wait, or even no wait during the off-season.
  5. Fewer people, smaller crowds. I’ve never been a fan of big crowds. People bumping into me, walking four and five abreast on a sidewalk, stopping to look at a map right in the middle of the main thoroughfare. You still get that, but it happens less, and there are fewer people to try to maneuver around in the low season.
  6. It’s easier to get reservations. If there’s a special restaurant you want to try, you may be able to get in a lot more easily. Make your reservations in advance, of course, but you might be able to get in without too much of a fuss.
  7. It’s easier to get upgrades. From your flight to your hotel room, it never hurts to ask for an upgrade to a bigger room or seat. If you’re lucky, and the person you’re asking likes you, you’ve got a decent shot at getting it. Of course, you won’t get it if all the upgraded rooms and seats are full, but if there’s no one there, maybe they’ll let you slide in.

How do you feel about an off-season vacation? Have you ever tried them? What has been your experience, good or bad? Tell us all about it on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Five Tips for Packing for the Heat When You Live Where It’s Cold

December 26, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

When you live in the cold winter weather and head to a warm destination for the holidays, packing can be a little difficult. Since you’re so used to wearing sweaters and multiple layers, you might be tempted to pack similarly, “just in case” it gets cold.

Or, you might be tempted to take nothing but shorts and short-sleeve shirts because it will be warm.

I’ve done both of these things when I traveled from Indiana to Florida for a winter vacation.

Many first time snowbirds have trouble packing properly and end up taking too much or being chilly and miserable for the entire trip.

I lived in Indiana for 45 years before I moved to Florida, and I can tell you that if you’re used to Midwest winters, you’ll just laugh and shake your head at what passes for “winter” in the south. I’ve seen people who put on coats when it’s still in the 60s, while that’s still “let’s eat outside today” weather in the Upper Midwest.

Still, it helps to know how to pack for a week or two in a warm-winter climate. Here are five tips to help you plan for your next southern vacation.

An old suitcase packed with sand and a blue sky on the lid. Packing for heat when you live for the cold can be a bit tricky.

  1. Don’t pack heavy coats. For one thing, it’s doubtful you’ll need your northern winter gear unless there’s a freak cold wave heading through, so be sure to check the weather forecast right before you leave. But if a cold front is heading toward your destination, I stand by the original statement: Don’t pack a heavy coat. Instead, save your luggage space and wear/carry your big coat onto the plane. It may be a hassle, but you don’t want to run out of space or pay overweight luggage fees. (Better yet, just take a couple extra layers with you.)
  2. Take along a light sweater when you’re inside. Even in the middle of summer in Florida, I see people wearing light sweaters. Not because this is the land of fire people and anything below triple digits is freezing. Rather, it’s because we keep the AC cranked up pretty high down here. There have been many days I’ll be working in a coffee shop or my office, and I actually get cold after a few hours. Getting into my car is a relief and I warm up quickly (and then I burst into flames because I forgot to put up the sun shield). So keep your sweater handy, in case you’re in a place that keeps the inside temperature pretty low.
  3. Take a sweatshirt in case the temperature dips. It can still get pretty cold in the middle of winter down here. Some nights will hit in the 40s, and legend has it, we once had frost here in Central Florida. (I’m exaggerating, but only a bit.) Even if you have visions of palm trees dancing in your head, you’ll still want something for a chilly evening.
  4. Take a taxi or ride share to the airport. If you’re trying to travel light, the one issue you have is getting to and from the airport. Since it’s still cold, you’ll be tempted to wear a coat and heavy shoes as you travel from long-term parking to the gate. You can skip all that if you can get a ride directly to the airport, like a taxi, ride share, or easily-bribed friend. They can drop you off right in front, so you can sprint inside without getting too cold.
  5. Don’t forget the rain gear. It still gets rainy here during the winter, and that can put a real damper — pardon the pun — on your plans. Consider packing a rain jacket and an umbrella, in case the skies open up. As an added tip: If you’re visiting a theme park, just know that the rain probably won’t last that long, and it usually drives people back out. So tough out the rain and you’ll be rewarded with shorter lines and waits.

What is your packing stragegy to make sure you stay comfortable on vacation, especially if you’re heading from the Midwest to Florida or Arizona? Share your suggestions with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Dorothe (PXHere.com, Creative Commons 0)

Six Tips for Packing for the Cold When You Live Where It’s Hot

December 12, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve lived your whole life in a place with all four seasons, you learned at a very early age how to dress for the weather. You’ve nailed what’s the bare minimum and comfortable maximum for keeping warm in sub-zero temperatures. But if you’ve spent your entire life in warm or tropical areas, it’s hard to imagine what real cold is like.

If you’re heading to a cold destination for winter vacation, you probably don’t know what to expect or what you should be packing. Your temptation might be to shove a giant parka and a Snuggie into its own suitcase and live in that for your entire trip.

That’s the wrong way to pack for the cold, because you’ll end up being too hot or too cold, and won’t be able to find that happy medium. So here are six tips on how to pack for cold weather when you live where it’s warm.

A woman walking in a snowstorm. Packing for the cold means anticipating but not overpreparing.

  1. Skip the parkas and puffy coats. People who aren’t used to cold weather often dress for extreme weather, and burrow into a heavy winter parka. The problem is those things will heat up eventually, and you’ll be too uncomfortable to stay in it. Except it’s too cold outside so you can’t take it off. As warm as they may be, you don’t want them overfilling your suitcase, so skip them entirely. If you insist on taking one, carry it and wear it on the plane; don’t pack it at all.
  2. Everything is about layers. To truly dress for warmth, you need to dress in layers. I could survive an Indiana winter to about 15 degrees with just a long sleeve t-shirt, a short sleeve t-shirt, and a fleece pull-over. With that, I could walk a few blocks before I started to feel the chill. If I really wanted to warm up, or if it got below 15 degrees, I wore a second long-sleeve t-shirt. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time outside, put on an additional under layer, rather than a thicker coat or sweater, or replace the fleece with a lined windbreaker.
  3. Pack only one or two bulky items. The temptation might be to take one sweater or sweatshirt for every day of your trip. Avoid this! You shouldn’t take any more than one or two bulky sweaters, pullovers, or sweatshirts. That’s because you’re going to layer up, and so your undershirt is the only thing you need to change every day. Do you change coats every day when you get cold? Of course not! The clothes underneath keep you from getting your coat stinky and dirty. If you pack in layers, you’re pretty much keeping your outer clothes safe with the inner-most layer of your layered look, so you really only need enough undershirts to get you through the vacation. Pack a few outer shirts for different looks, but only one or two bulky items. It also helps if you wear one of those on the plane. In fact, just. . .
  4. Wear your heaviest items. If you’re going to take heavy boots with you, wear them on the plane. For one thing, they’ll add a lot of unnecessary weight to your luggage, which could mean getting hit with overage charges. For another, they’ll take up a lot of extra room in your luggage. This is true for big sweaters or jackets. If you wear your heavier items, you’ll save yourself all kinds of space and money. And if the thought of carrying these for several hours sounds unappealing, then just leave them behind and pack a couple extra light layers.
  5. Wear your summer sweater indoors. It was a little disconcerting when I first got to Florida and saw people wearing sweaters in 90 degree weather. I could never figure out why, then I spent a few days in places where the air conditioner was set to Arctic Blast, and I understood. It really does get cold inside in July and August, and so it’s easier to just wear a light sweater indoors. Winter indoors in the north is like an air conditioned movie theater in the South: You will get cold, so wear something light to keep warm.
  6. Layer your socks too.Two pairs of thin socks are definitely better than one thick pair of socks. But layering socks can be a bit difficult if you’re not sure what you’re going to be doing during the day. Even in the winter, your feet can get sweaty, and if you’re doing a lot of walking around, you can still get blisters. So layer your socks with a thin nylon sock first, to help wick away any sweat. Then a thicker cotton layer on the outside for warmth. You could also wear wool socks, but they get super warm if you’re doing a lot of walking, so you may want to save them for when you’re inside. And wear a thin sock under those too, because wool is itchy!

How do you keep warm when you’re in a northern winter climate? Do you have any special tips for people packing for the cold? Share them with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Statschew (Flickr, Public Domain)

Five Ways to Use Google Maps That Aren’t GPS

November 14, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Google Maps was a major disruption to not only the printed maps and atlas industry, but it turned the standalone GPS market on its head too. As soon as I could mount my mobile phone in my car, I started using Google Maps as my GPS to find my way around town.

(This was unfortunate, as I had just bought a GPS unit a month earlier for $200. . .)

Of course, once I discovered Waze and its real-time traffic updates and speed trap notifications, I switched from Google Maps. But there are still a lot of things I use Google Maps for, on my phone or my laptop, in town or when I travel.

I wanted to share five ways you can use Google Maps beyond just being a GPS. You can start practicing on it now before your next road trip, so everything is easy to understand and use.

1. Plan routes before you leave

Whenever I’m driving to a new location, especially out of town, I use Google Maps on my laptop to plot out my route. There are usually a few routes to choose from, and I’m always looking for problems like construction and potential traffic jams found when traveling through a big city during rush hour.

I can select the time I’ll leave or want to arrive, and Google Maps will show me the expected issues I might encounter. A lot of this data is taken from Waze, which Google owns, so it can show you historic traffic patterns based on years of data. So it can tell you where certain traffic jams can be found and at what particular time, and help you plan accordingly.

2. Find a new restaurant

When I’m in a new city, I always want to try new dishes and restaurants, rather than relying on the same old stuff I can get at home. I’ll do a quick search in the Maps search bar, just like a regular Google search, for a particular cuisine. I can click on the different results, and read the reviews and ratings to make my choice.

I can also use Maps to plan out my hotel and dining. If I’m trying to choose a hotel location, I’ll look at a few different options on Maps and then click Nearby, and do a search for restaurants. If there’s nothing close to the hotel I’m considering, I try another one.

Or when you open Maps on your phone, there are four buttons you can tap for quick searches: Restaurants, Coffee, Bars, and Hotels. Maps will search for different nearby options, and will even show you star ratings, hours of business, and customer testimonials. Some restaurants even have their menus plugged into Maps, so you can scope out a restaurant’s offerings before you go.

3. Find a business address or phone number

Back in the ’90s, I knew people who would always keep a copy of the Yellow Pages in their car. That way, if they ever had to find a business, they could pull to the side of the road, find it, locate it on their paper map, and then drive to that location.

Now, you can use Google Maps like the Yellow Pages, and find a particular business just by voice search. Tap the Navigate button, and you can drive right there, using Google Maps as your guide. (I wish it would switch over to Waze for me, but that’s just me being picky.)

You can even call the business right from their listing. Tap the Call button, and you can be connected right to the place through your own cell phone.

4. Bookmark & share your favorite locations

Screenshot of Erik Deckers' Orlando indie coffee shops on Google MapsI’m a big fan of independent coffee shops and am always looking for new shops to visit. To help keep track of the different coffee shops around Central Florida, I created the Orlando Indie Coffee Shops map on Google Maps.

This is all part of the Save feature on Google Maps, where you can save different businesses and locations on a private, public, or shared map. You can create a private map to plot out your next trip, you can create a public map of favorite restaurants, and you can create a shared map, which is a semi-private map that only people with the link can see. (So you can share your itinerary with family and friends.)

If you want to get more involved in your community’s food scene, make special maps of your favorite cuisine and share the map with your friends on social media to help spread the love. This can also help you if you want to be a Google Local Guide.

5. Become a Google Local Guide

Those reviews, ratings, and photos aren’t just gathered from other online sources. People leave those reviews, ratings, and photos themselves when they visit a new place. Google Local Guides lets you contribute to the crowdsourcing of your community’s different businesses.

You can earn points based on the number of reviews and even photos you upload. The more points you accumulate, the higher your Local Guide level. As you progress, Google will provide little gifts and perks along the way. Once I got a six-month subscription to the Washington Post, and another time, it was a pair of quirky dress socks. The last two offers just came in yesterday: six month’s free use of the Google One membership program, and an $8 coupon on Slice, the pizza finding-and-ordering app.

Google Maps has a lot more features than just being a mobile map service. It’s Yelp, the Yellow Pages, and even a crowdsourcing service all in one. Start using it in your own hometown, get used to using it, and then try to use these different features on your next trip.

How do you use Google Maps when you travel? What are some hidden features I might have missed? Share your tips and stories on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Used with permission)

How to “Travel Cashless” On Your Next Trip

October 31, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

As payment technology continues to transform the way we buy and sell things, it’s easy to see how we could one day become a cashless society. Not anytime soon, of course, but it’s already happening in other parts of the world. And maybe you’ll be traveling cashless there.

Recently, SmarterTravel.com wrote that some banking experts believe Sweden will eliminate cash as a payment method by the year 2023. Instead, all of their consumer transactions will use a digital payment method, such as credit and debit cards, RFID-embedded devices, or mobile phones and digital wallets.

There are other cities around the world that are also going cashless, says Smarter Travel, including Reykjavik, Seoul, Singapore, Stockholm, and several cities in China.

A debit card or credit card is one way you can travel cashless.While that won’t happen any time in the U.S. or Canada, it’s still a good idea to learn to go cashless when you travel. For one thing, it makes traveling in different foreign countries much easier. You don’t have to find a money exchange place, which I often had to do when I would travel overseas. If only we’d had the technology back then that we do now.

It’s also more secure. If you lose your phone or your wallet, you can shut off your cards and replace them. You can’t replace cash.

Here are a few ways you can go cashless before your next trip. It’s a good idea to start using these now so you get used to using them, rather than trying to figure it out on your first day in a new country.

Debit/Credit Cards:

The old reliable in cashless transactions. If you don’t do anything else with cashless payments, make sure you’ve got a credit card or two when you travel. You’ll use this to book your plane tickets, rent a car, and reserve a hotel room. If you can manage it in the months before your trip, pay for everything you can with your credit card and then pay off the balance each month. Get a card that gives you airline points and you could get yourself a free ticket.

Don’t ever use a debit card for these transactions though, at least for renting a car or hotel room. Those providers will put a hold on some cash on your card, taking it from your account. If you weren’t expecting it, you could find yourself in a sticky situation.

You can also get prepaid credit and debit cards to use when you travel. They function like regular credit cards. You can save up for your trip by putting some money on the card each month.

Apple Pay/Google Wallet

These are two easy-to-use apps that come with your smartphone. If you’ve got an iPhone or Samsung (or other Google-brand phone), you’ve got access to these digital wallets. You’ll connect one or more credit and debit card to them, and then tap your phone to the sensor to initiate payment.

Money Transfer Apps

Apps like PayPal, Venmo, and Cash tie directly into your bank account or debit card and let you transfer money to a friend, family member, or merchant. Some apps will charge the recipient a 2.75% service fee, although PayPal gives you a “family and friends” option which doesn’t charge anything.

There are also the apps WeChat Pay and AliPay, which are wildly popular in China. So much so, that AliPay became the biggest mobile payment service in the world in 2014, surpassing PayPal. It’s also changing the way China does business, as more Chinese people are paying with AliPay and WeChat Pay instead of cash.

If you’re traveling to China, you definitely want WeChat or AliPay. And because Chinese tourists are visiting other parts of the world, and they’re not using cash as much, more businesses are accepting these apps as forms of payment. So you could be in a different part of the world and find WeChat Pay and AliPay are also options for you.

Finally, if you’re trying to travel cashless, please skip the traveler’s checks. No one really uses them anymore, even though they’re still around. If you’re trying to pay with traveler’s checks, you may run into some problems as many merchants may not even know how to process them.

How do you handle your money when you travel? Do you do anything special to travel cashless or just part of your normal day? Share some strategies on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Flyerwerk (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

How to Save Money and Time Attending a Festival in Another City

October 17, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

I recently returned from Lowell, Massachusetts and the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival where I was invited to speak and be a special guest at several of the events.

Jack Kerouac, author of the definitive road trip novel On The Road, was born and raised in Lowell. They were commemorating the 50th anniversary of his death on October 21, 1969.

I was fortunate enough to attend and participate in several of the events, which were scattered around the downtown Lowell area. I’ve attended a great number of festivals and conferences, both alone and with my family, and there are a few things I’ve learned over the years.

Whether you’re attending an arts or music festival held in a park, a large film or theater festival scattered around a city, or even a comic book convention in a huge convention center, there are a few things to keep in mind to save plenty of time and money while you’re there

1. Parking will be terrible

Downtown Lowell, Massachusetts, home of the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival

Downtown Lowell, Massachusetts. Jack Kerouac grew up and went to high school a few blocks from here.

Unless you’re an organizer with special parking, or you get to the location super early, you’re not going to find a great place to park. And it’s going to be somewhat expensive. When you’re figuring out your budget for the event, take your parking costs into account. I’ve seen parking go for as much as $40 per day for event parking in big cities. Meanwhile, people will stay in a hotel 10 miles from the event just to save $30 on lodging prices.

If you’re getting a place based on price, look at the price difference between the closer hotel and the cheaper hotel + ride-sharing/parking. You may find that it’s actually cheaper to get the closer, more expensive hotel because you’ll save money on parking or ride-sharing. Plus, you can come and go as you need to, rather than wasting time driving to and from the event.

2. Book your lodging EARLY

Depending on your schedule, you may be on site all day long, so you only need the hotel as a place to keep your stuff and to sleep. If that’s the case, you probably don’t care where you’re located or what kind of room you have. But if you have to show up at the festival really early or are going to stay late, you’ll probably want to be as close as possible to avoid driving time.

The closest hotels always go the fastest, which means you need to book early. In some cases, you may not even want to wait until this year’s festival is over; book now for the next year’s festival and be sure to confirm the reservation a couple of times between now and then.

Also, some events will make arrangements for special event pricing, so be sure to check in with the organizer to see if they’ve set that up.

3. Plan your schedule

Since I was in Lowell as a special speaker, nearly all of my events were already planned for me. I knew where I had to be and when, so I just spent my downtime at some of the other events or working at one of the local coffee shops.

If you’re already a regular calendar user and access it from your mobile phone, book all your events and appointments in your calendar, along with the address and any other necessary information. That way, you don’t need to access the event guide or even use their app.

Scheduling also helps you avoid conflicts and double-booking. Some festivals have multiple events and breakout sessions, others have events in different locations. Check Google Maps to see the distance between all the event venues to make sure you can make it from one to the other in plenty of time. Be sure to include the addresses in your calendar listing, because you can click the address and open up to your favorite GPS app to navigate your way there.

4. Compare the cost of Uber/Lyft versus driving and rental cars.

I think I made a big mistake in Lowell this time: I rented a car and drove everywhere. My rental car costs were $240, plus gas. I rented a car, because the airport is about 30 miles from where I needed to be. However, I think I could have saved about $40 – $50 if I had just used Lyft to go everywhere, even to and from the airport.

You can look up on Lyft and Uber’s website to get trip estimates and compare that with the cost of renting a car and gassing it up before you return it. And if you’re going to be staying in a hotel close to the event, you almost certainly won’t need a rental car, so consider ride-sharing and taxis for any surprise transportation.

5. Carry your own lunch and snacks

Event food is super expensive, although some of it can be pretty fun. I go to the Central Florida Scottish Highland Festival and Games every year, and always love the food trucks they have there. Otherwise, I try to take granola bars and a few sandwiches for a cheap lunch, rather than pay $12 for a burned-yet-still-frozen hamburger and small Coke.

However, don’t cheap out on dinners. Those times should be spent with friends, especially if you only see them at the festivals. Find someplace that’s not too close, but not several miles away either. Walking distance is usually packed with festival-goers and the ones that are far away require a lot of logistical headaches.

How do you travel for festivals and special events? What strategies do you employ to save money? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: John Phelan (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

5 Secrets to Traveling in a Big City

September 26, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

I lived for so long in a smallish city, and later in a small town, that when I moved to Indianapolis — a city of roughly 1 million people — it was very stressful to try to find my way around. Even before then, visiting was a real country-mouse-in-the-big-city adventure. But after working and driving around downtown, I got used to the chaos and constant motion going on around me, and I could navigate like a pro.

When I moved to Orlando — 2 million people — I was able to quickly adapt and find my way around, even when the city was at its busiest. Central Florida gets roughly 60 million visitors per year, which can make getting around rather nerve wracking, but the residents learn to take it all in stride.

But when I was recently in Washington DC, a city with some of the worst traffic in the entire country, I knew better than to try to navigate my way around by myself. I typically won’t do it unless I’m going to be there for a few days and I have time to figure it out, or if I’m going to be in a lot of different places all over the city.

If you’re traveling to a big city and you’re not used to it, here are a few ways you can function and get around without pulling your hair out.

1. Know that parking will be expensive.

Free parking in the big cities is about as rare as a singing unicorn. And when you do find public parking, you can bet that the parking prices will be sky high. When I was in Chicago 10 years ago, daytime parking was $50 for 8 AM – 5 PM.

There’s a very good chance you’re going to have to pay for parking at your hotel too. My Washington DC hotel charged $50 per night for parking, but it was worth it because I didn’t want to park in a public garage. They also let me leave my car there until 3 pm, which meant I didn’t have to take it with me and fight for parking at my last appointment.

If you’re staying in the city, research parking options before you even get there. Make sure your hotel has it, and consider long-term parking in a different location, like an airport, and then taking public transportation to your hotel.

2. Pick a hotel based on location, not price.

Traffic is always a big problem when traveling to a big city.When you stay in a new city, there’s going to be a lot of temptation to pick the cheapest hotel, especially if you’re trying to stay brand loyal. The problem is the cheap hotels are nowhere near the good locations; you’re going to pay a little more for easy access.

Several years ago, my father-in-law traveled to a trade show in Atlanta and stayed in a hotel his company picked for him and the company executives because it was $20 per night cheaper than the hotel right next to the convention center. The executives swore they would never stay that far from downtown again after they spent $40 per day in taxis and had to sit in rush hour traffic for an hour each way.

You may save money by getting a cheaper hotel, but you’ll end up being so far away, you’ll spend all those savings in ride sharing, taxis, or parking. Not to mention, you’ll be up to 60 minutes away from your destination, which is going to put a serious crimp in your travel plans.

3. Study maps and GPS apps before you go.

Whenever I go to a new city, I plan out for the places I want to go: the restaurants, coffee shops, meeting sites, and other attractions. I’ll even start planning before I’ve booked my hotel so I can make the best choice. However, I’ve learned I don’t really understand the city and the traffic patterns until I get there and can actually see what the city is like.

For example, I once traveled to Boston and got a hotel that I thought was easy walking distance to a conference center. And it was, as long as I didn’t mind walking along a five-lane parkway with no sidewalks. That didn’t show up on Google Maps, and I didn’t realize it until I got there.

4. Leave plenty of time to get where you’re going.

One thing you can count on in big cities is that there will always be traffic jams. You could have a traffic jam on I-4 in Orlando at 2:00 AM. (Trust me, I know.) And you could get stuck in major traffic, even traveling around the downtown area in the middle of the ay.

So check out the traffic conditions on Waze before you head out to your events to see if you need to add a little more travel time. Do the same if you’re using a ride sharing service, because they’ll be stuck in the same traffic. However, they also know the city better than you, so they’ll know the side streets to duck down to avoid the worst of it.

5. Use ride sharing or taxis

I’ve been to Washington DC twice in the last six months, and I can tell you that the smartest thing I did was to leave my car in the parking lot and take a Lyft everywhere. I was already paying for my parking but the cost of traveling everywhere on Lyft — $9 – $12 per trip — was less than I would have spent to park somewhere else.

And even if the ride sharing would have cost a little more, it was worth it to not have to drive around and around and around trying to find a parking space even remotely close to the place I needed to be. That would have added time to the actual commute time, not to mention the extra minutes spent walking from my car to the destination. And if it had been raining or beastly hot, that would have just been worse. At least with Lyft, I was able to go from door to door to wherever I needed to be.

What are your travel strategies when you’re in a big city, especially a new one? How do you find your way around? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: FrTed (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Five Reasons to Take a Fall Vacation

September 12, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Now that summer is over and the kids are back in school, this is the best time to start thinking about a fall vacation. But it doesn’t have to be a two-week trek to a whole different part of the world: Micro-cations are the new trend, so you could spend 3 – 4 days (a long weekend, really) and lay back and relax.

Maybe you can take a few days this October or November and spend it in a new city, enjoying the fall colors and cooler temperatures. Or if you live in Florida, you can head to the theme parks or the beach and enjoy the fact that the crowds have all gone back home.

Here are five reasons you should take a fall vacation (or micro-cation) for a few days.

1. The prices are lower for hotels and airfare.

Now that the peak travel season is over, the prices are lower for most vacation costs. You can get an airplane ticket for less than the summer prices, and your hotel costs are lower as well. This means you can stay an extra day, stay in a normally-more expensive hotel, or even fly at a more convenient time for the same amount you would have spent in the summer.

2. Fall vacation crowds are smaller.

Mackinac Island is a great place for a fall vacation.One of the best time to hit the Florida theme parks are right after school has started: all the kids are back in school, which means most corporate vacation seasons are also over. That means a smaller crowd inside the kid-friendly places. I can tell you that Wednesdays in October are thoroughly enjoyable in the Orlando theme parks.

It’s the same in all the other vacation attractions around the country: Museums tend to be a little less crowded, as are restaurants, sightseeing tours, and other tourist attractions. Lines and wait times are shorter and you can often get reservations at that hotel or restaurant you’ve been dying to try.

3. The temperature is more enjoyable.

Summers are plenty hot, which makes going outside a bit of a challenge. You have to stay plenty hydrated, and sometimes your day is just spent walking from shady spot to shady spot or spending the entire day inside for the air conditioning.

In the fall, the temperatures have cooled to a more manageable level, and you only have to put on a light sweater or even a sweatshirt to deal with the cooler days. It’s not so cold you have to wear a parka and mittens, so you can still enjoy your time outside.

4. There’s a bigger emphasis on relaxing.

When I was a kid, summer vacations were always about going somewhere and doing something. Even when we vacationed in Florida, we were always on the go. A day at the beach was hardly relaxing, because we had to drive there, fight for a spot in the sand, complain about the heat, wait in line for snacks, wait for a table at restaurants, and then whine about the sunburns and sand in our swimsuits. It wasn’t that fun, frankly.

With a fall vacation, I always feel more relaxed. Maybe it’s something about the lower temperatures, but it always makes me slow down. I’m more interested in going for a walk, especially in the woods. I can hang out, meander around a new city, or drive around and look at the leaves. Fall is more about seeing and enjoying, not rushing and doing.

5. It’s the last chance for a breather before the holidays.

Most of us have hectic, chaotic holiday seasons coming up: there are the different office parties, friends’ parties, and various different parties, shopping, and kids’ events you’ve got to attend. You can easily get overwhelmed with everything you have to do.

A fall vacation is the last chance to relax before the busy holidays begin, starting a week or two before Thanksgiving, and not ending until after the new year. Take a break at the end of October or early November, and spend a few days relaxing and taking it easy while you still can. That way, you won’t feel so wound up from summer vacation just as you start the silly season.

Are you going to take a fall vacation? Have you taken any, or would you take one? If you’re taking one this year, what are your plans? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Michael Sprague (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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