The Benefits of a Bleisure Vacation

July 11, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Bleisure — a portmanteau of “business” and “leisure” — is an excellent way for families to take small vacations, or for overworked business travelers to relax for a day before jumping back into the swing of work. And if you’re a frequent traveler who visits all kinds of cities but never actually gets to see anything, like I was for several years, it’s a great way to see a new city without the added travel costs.

Essentially, a bleisure trip just means tacking an extra day or two onto the beginning or end of a business trip. For example, if you’re traveling to Orlando for a conference, you can pad your schedule by a couple extra days, book your plane ticket according to the new schedule, and then play to your heart’s content for those two extra days.

You’ll need to pay for those extra hotel nights yourself, as well as any expenses — meals, events, car rental, admission tickets — but otherwise, you’re already there, so treat yourself to a day or two in a new city.

Photo of a laptop on a beach. This would be a great way to spend a bleisure trip.The nice thing about a bleisure trip is you’re already paying for a plane ticket or driving to that city. There’s no need to pay for transportation to return to the city a different time.

Plus, your schedule may afford you some of that extra time already. It’s very rare for a business conference or trade show to run over the weekend, and most of them end on a Friday, if not a Thursday afternoon. Nearly all the conferences I have ever attended tried to get you home on a Friday, so it should be easy to extend your stay to Sunday; no one is expecting you at the office on Saturday morning.

Also, extending your stay can sometimes lower your airfare significantly. The two cheapest days to fly on are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the next two are Thursday and Saturday. And the most expensive are Sundays and Fridays.

The reason for this is because most business travelers prefer to fly on Mondays and Fridays, and most vacationers prefer to return home on Sundays.

So if you had a conference that ran on a Thursday, and Friday, you could book a Tuesday – Saturday flight, and get a much cheaper ticket. (I would even try to get a very early flight on Tuesday and a very late flight on Saturday.)

In some cases, this could even save enough money to get the company to pay for an extra hotel night. I remember once that a plane ticket cost $300 less if I flew home one day later. My hotel was only $120 for the night, so I stayed the extra day.

Being on a bleisure trip can also give you some extra time with your family, especially if you’re a frequent traveler, like I was. Fifteen years ago, I was going to attend a conference in Orlando, and I decided to tack on a 5-day vacation.

The company paid for my own plane ticket, and I paid for my family’s. We all stayed in the same hotel room, and after the conference was over, we spent a few days at Disney World and flew home the following week.

My wife and kids would hang out at the pool or go shopping while I was at the conference, and they got to enjoy a few extra days in Florida at (almost) no cost. We were responsible for our own meals — I would pay for mine separately on the company card — and we got to spend a few extra days together, avoiding the cold Indiana winter for a few days.

Bleisure travel is becoming popular and important enough that many businesses are encouraging their people to take an extra day or two while they’re traveling. (If you do it right, it won’t even count against your vacation days.) So if you ever have the chance to visit a new city or country while you’re on business, take the chance.

What kinds of bleisure trips have you taken? Do you go by yourself or take your family? What do you like to do when you’re traveling? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Laura Hoffmann (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Vacation Like Anthony Bourdain

December 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been on an Anthony Bourdain kick lately. I’ve always been a fan, back to his Kitchen Confidential days, and like most everyone else, I was shaken when I heard he died. So I’ve been reading and rereading articles about how he liked to travel and experience new places.

A March 2018 article in Time Magazine — 3 Things to Never Do While Traveling, According to Anthony Bourdain — explained how Bourdain liked to encounter new cities and countries, places to go, and places to avoid when you’re looking for some place to spend your vacation.

I’ve always tried to follow some of his travel dictums — like avoiding pre-packaged holiday tours and straying off the beaten path — but this article was a good reminder about what’s good and fun about travel.

So whether you’re taking family out of town for a week, or you’re just looking to tag a day or two to the end of a business trip (also called bleisure travel), here are a few of Anthony Bourdain’s secrets.

The Eiffel Tower - Anthony Bourdain says to skip trying to take a picture from the top. He says it's lethal to your soul.First of all, skip the tourist traps. Travel expert after travel expert will all tell you to skip the most popular sights just to save time and avoid lines. Besides, said Bourdain, traveling to Paris just to stand on the Eiffel Tower is “lethal to your soul” and a selfie in front of the Great Pyramids is “completely overrated.”

Imagine standing in line for four hours just to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower or to see the statue of David. And will you be able to see David all by yourself? No, you’ll be crammed in with a whole crowd of other people all raising their phones, trying to get a photo of the statue that doesn’t have a dozen other phones in front of it. Why? Just to say you saw it? In that six hours, you could visit another museum, go on a walking tour of Rome, or see a symphony or a play. You won’t be able to see it up close, and all you’ll have is a cell phone photo of your memories.

Instead, he would rather walk into a city and see what he can find. There’s something special about the serendipity of new discoveries that makes travel exciting. I like to visit a new city and find the arts neighborhoods, the places where the artists live and do their work, where the local restaurants outnumber the chains, and where the cool stores have avoided the crush of the malls.

Bourdain would land in a city and then just strike out in a direction to see what he could find, and the payoffs were almost always worth the risk.

Second, don’t try to create a schedule of all the places you have to see. Instead, explore and let the city happen to you. Serendipity, remember?

As Bourdain told Time just a few months before he died, “The sort of frenzied compression of time needed to take the tour, to see the sights, keeps you in a bubble that prevents you from having magic happen to you. Nothing unexpected or wonderful is likely to happen if you have an itinerary in Paris filled with the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.”

Third, stray off the beaten path. Look for the real moments of the city. Just catch a cab to somewhere away from the tourist traps, but still within the regular part of the city. For example, in Indianapolis, if you head just half a mile northeast from the convention center, you’ll find where all the locals like to eat and go to the theater. In Orlando, that area is Mills 50, which is about 15 – 18 miles away from Disney World. In New York City, that means going to Brooklyn, and not Times Square. Or it means instead of going to Paris, going to Brittany and Normandy instead, or even Brussels, Belgium.

For one thing, going to the less-touristy destination means you can stretch your travel dollars. Believe me, visiting Minneapolis costs a lot less than visiting Chicago, and Portland, Oregon has plenty to do and it costs a lot less than San Francisco.

Oh sure, if you’re going for that traditional, city-defining experience — music in Nashville, amusement parks in Orlando, movie stars in Hollywood — then there’s no substitute. Portland will never beat San Francisco.

But if you just want to get away, see some sites, eat some great food, and avoid doing what everyone else does, travel like Anthony Bourdain. Go where other tourists fear to tread, walk into the city and see what you can find, and never, ever fall into the same traps that waste half your day by standing in line.

What kinds of vacations do you like to take? Do you find your own adventure, or do you prefer something that other people have done so you can share the experience? Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Moonik (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Six Ways to Entertain Yourself on Your Next Road Trip

October 26, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Ah, the glory of the road trip. I’m one of those weird people who like driving, especially at night. I can’t think of a better way to start a road trip than five hours alone in the car while it’s dark. I enjoy the solitude, the lack of traffic, and the chance to be alone with my thoughts and my music.

And there’s nothing cooler than driving on the highway on a summer night with Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” blasting on the stereo. (Click the video below and listen while you read this. Tell me I’m not right about that.)

But if you’re taking a many-mile drive, listening to the car radio is going to be frustrating — too many commercials, poor range, and cookie-cutter playlists that are identical from town to town. Plus, not many of us listen to an actual radio anymore; we get our music from other sources.

Still, if you’re still punching buttons and twisting knobs, give some streaming audio a try the next time you find yourself in the car. There are many dozens of choices and channels, but here are a few ways for you to get started with mobile audio.

1. Podcasts

If you’re not listening to podcasts yet, you’re missing out. We’re in the Golden Age of Podcasting right now, and there are shows about nearly any subject you want to know about. These aren’t just amateur productions made by someone shouting into their computer’s microphone. There are plenty of radio stations and professional podcasters with studio-level equipment producing some exciting content.

Just do a basic iTunes search for your favorite hobby or subject you’d like to learn more about, and pick a few of the ones that interest you. I listen to several writing and language podcasts (Grammar Girl, A Way With Words), business podcasts (Business Of Story, Marketing Over Coffee), special interests and collectors (I Hear Of Sherlock Everywhere, The Eephus Baseball History podcast), interviews (Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, How to be Amazing), and audio theater (Decoder Ring Theatre, Girl In Space).

There are also several different podcast listening apps available. I’m not a big fan of the Apple Podcast app, because it’s too clunky and hard to use. But I like Overcast, and I keep hearing great things about Stitcher. Plus, if you’re a Stitcher paid user, several podcasts like Grammar Girl have special bonus content available only to Stitcher subscribers.

2. Spotify

An old car radio. If you had to rely on this for your road trip, it would be very boring indeed.A lot of people use Spotify, but they don’t pay for the service. That’s understandable. Why pay $9.95 to stream music when you’ve got other free options like Pandora or the radio in your car?

The one benefit of Stitcher is that you can search for your favorite music, test out new music, and create different playlists to suit your mood. Plus you can find the music your friends are listening to, because Spotify has a social aspect to it. You can see what they’re listening to, and make some interesting discoveries. And best of all, the paid option is ad free. You just don’t get that on the appropriately-named “commercial radio.”

I also like Spotify because you can find individual artists and do deep dives into their discographies without cluttering up your musical mood with other artists like Pandora does. Listen to Tom Waits’ early work, find Arcade Fire’s latest album, or re-discover that one-hit wonder band you liked in the 90s, only to discover they’ve been making music for the last 25 years.

3. Pandora

On the other hand, there’s something cool about discovering new music at random, based on your musical preferences. Are you a big Prince fan? Just enter his name on the Pandora app (or their website at Pandora.com) and see what comes up. You’ll hear other pop-rock artists he played with, artists he produced, or similar artists who were around at roughly the same time.

It’s also a way to find new genres you might never have considered. One of my favorites is Balkan Beat Box, which is actually an Israel-based band that plays a combination of Jewish, Southeastern European (mainly Balkan), Gypsy punk, and electronica. And while BBB may be a band, I’ve come to think of their style as a little genre unto itself. (Pop that onto your Pandora app as you’re headed down the road, and you won’t need caffeine for a couple hours.) Just find an esoteric band whose music you might like, enter it, and see what Pandora finds for you.

4. TuneIn

Do you have any favorite radio stations around the country or even around the world that you just can’t listen to anymore? Are there any Internet-only radio stations you enjoy while you’re on your computer, but can’t get on your phone?

Enter TuneIn, the Internet radio broadcaster. Years ago, my only option for Internet radio was iTunes on my laptop, and I had my three favorite radio stations: WFPK (Louisville), KCRW’s Eclectic 24 (Santa Monica, CA), and CelticRadio’net’s Highlander Radio (online only). Imagine my joy when I discovered I could get all of these on TuneIn in my car. I can stream all of these stations on TuneIn, as well as pick up other radio stations from around the world, as well as different podcasts and on-demand radio shows.

TuneIn also offers sports broadcasts for the different sports and leagues you may like. Some of these require a TuneIn subscription, like listening to the NFL. But if you left your favorite college or pro team behind when you moved across the country, TuneIn is a great way to keep up with your favorite teams.

5. Sports Radio

When I was a kid, I loved listening to the Cincinnati Reds on AM radio, especially at night. And I can recreate the feeling with the MLB TV app which gives me access to (nearly) all MLB games on TV (nothing in-market, so it doesn’t help if you live in or near your team’s favorite city), as well as their radio broadcasts. I can drive in my car, listening to the home broadcast of a Reds night game. And when the game is over around 10 pm, I can pull up a broadcast of a West Coast game and listen until 1:00 in the morning. (Just don’t try to watch the games while you’re driving!)

As an added bonus, I can watch MLB games on my laptop or Apple TV (as well as other streaming TV devices). I can even listen to the radio broadcast while watching the TV broadcast (laptop only). I can do the same with the NFL app, and the NBA and NHL have similar options for their fans. You can even get a Minor League Baseball subscription if you love small-town baseball. Of course, some minor league teams even broadcast their games on their local radio stations, which you can pick up on TuneIn.

And if you’re a sports talk fan, the ESPN radio app lets you listen to radio streams from 15 of the largest markets, as well as all their big sports talk shows.

6. Old-Time Radio

I’ve been a fan of old-time radio (OTR) ever since I was a kid. (And yes, it was called “old-time radio” back then. I’m not that old!) The detectives, superheroes, space fighters. The comedies and “scary” stories. You could imagine what was happening because they told you but never showed you. They were movies for your mind.

Thanks to U.S. copyright laws, many of these OTR shows are available for download, or you can get an old-time radio streaming app for iPhone and Android. You can download the stories for offline usage, so you can use your wifi instead of chewing up your data. (Keep in mind, apps like Spotify, TuneIn, Pandora, and sports radio apps all use data; podcasts and downloaded OTR do not).

You can also find episodes of your favorite show on different websites and download them to your regular MP3 player. I made a whole Ellery Queen playlist this way and burned through it on a recent road trip to South Florida. You can find your favorite genres, shows, and characters through a simple Internet search and then use the apps to pinpoint the shows you want to hear.

Best of all, OTR shows are all family friendly so you can let young kids listen to it without worrying about anything inappropriate. Even the scary stories aren’t that scary, although you may want to preview a few of them before you let little kids listen.

Thanks to today’s broadband technology, there’s no reason you have to suffer through today’s commercial radio on the road — constant commercials, short broadcast ranges, and suffering through songs you don’t actually like. Try one or two of these apps, explore them while you’re still at home, and then get ready for your next road trip or plane trip with hours of entertainment to accompany you while you travel.

How do you listen and keep yourself entertained on a road trip? Where do you get your favorite music or talk radio? What are some apps, programs, and genres you would recommend? Share your tips and ideas on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Bru-nO (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Go Device-Free On Your Next Vacation

September 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Living down in Orlando, Florida means we see a lot of tourists. A LOT of tourists. And I’ve noticed that, wherever we go, especially to Disney World, people still spend a lot of time staring at their phone and missing out on the fun and joy of the most magical place on Earth!

Parents and kids alike, when they stop for lunch, will spend several minutes swiping, swiping, swiping at their phones, looking at whatever they think is more important than the trip that’s no doubt costing them a few thousand dollars, and they traveled hundreds of miles to get to.

(Of course, you need something to do while waiting in line, so I can’t blame anyone for being bored for a 90-minute wait for Tower Of Terror.)

I’m sure many people are just documenting their times, sharing photos to Instagram and Facebook, telling all their friends what a wonderful time they’re having.

But I want to issue a challenge: The next time you go on vacation, avoid using your phone for as long as you can.

A giant cell phone at the Disney World Pop Century Resort - A great place to try to go device-free for vacation

A giant cell phone at the Disney World Pop Century Resort

Set a No Phones rule for a day or two, and see how it goes. No social media, no texting friends, no checking email, and no pictures (kind of; more on that in a minute). No one can look at their phone for the entire day. And if you really want to commit to it, leave your phones in the hotel.

That doesn’t mean the entire family should be without a phone. At least one adult should carry a phone for emergencies. (And if you really wanted to avoid temptation, get a pay-as-you-go phone only for that purpose.)

Of course, you may want your kids to carry their phones in case they get separated and you need to get in touch with them. Instead, ask them to delete their social media apps (they can easily be downloaded later), and tell them no texting. Have them put their phone in airplane mode, and they won’t be able to receive texts or phone calls from friends.

Make it a challenge. See who can go without checking their phone the longest. I’ve heard of some people who, when they go to lunch together, will stack their phones on the table. The first one to break down and check theirs has to buy lunch for everyone. That includes answering phone calls or responding to the sweet siren song of the text notification.

Sweeten the pot a little bit. Everyone can carry their phone, but the first person to check theirs for any reason (other than checking reservations) has to do a family chore at the end of the day. Or anyone who checks their phone has to put some money into the family kitty, and that’s used to help pay for dinner on the last night out. (And no checking phones during bathroom breaks!)

If you need to take photos, you can carry an inexpensive digital camera (you can get them for less than $100), and just upload the photos when you get back to your hotel that night (assuming you brought a laptop) or when you get back home. Or, if phones are in airplane mode, they can still take pictures.

Finally, there is a question of personal security you should consider. It’s not a good idea to share vacation photos on social media while you’re actually on vacation. You’re essentially telling everyone that you’re not at home, which means your stuff could be stolen while you’re away. So even if you don’t take the no-phone challenge, at least consider refraining from posting vacation photos until you get home.

What are your family rules about mobile phones on vacation? How do you encourage face-to-face communication on vacation? Share your ideas and stories on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Jared (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

How to Survive Your Summer Vacation

June 28, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When I was growing up, my family’s idea of summer vacation was to pile into our 1971 Plymouth Duster, which did not have air conditioning, and take a 4-day camping trip out to visit my parents’ families in Portland, Oregon.

At the end of each day, my dad would wrestle up a heavy canvas tent that made him sweat and swear more than he did the entire rest of the year. The tent was apparently designed to hold heat in, which was great if you were camping in, say, November in the North Pole. But this was the Southwest (or the Plains, depending on our route) in July and August, which meant the tent was usually 200 degrees hotter than it was outside.

To cook dinner, my mom would set a pot of stew in the tent for 20 minutes. Immediately afterward, we would go to sleep in our little canvas oven so we could have another day-long drive with the windows down.

After spending a couple weeks in Oregon, visiting people I barely knew, we would turn around and drive back to Muncie, Indiana, in a little over two days, mostly because my dad was tired of all of us and just wanted the trip to be over.

Analog thermometer like a clock, temperature hand is on 123 degrees. Terrible way to spend summer vacation.It was not my idea of a good time, and I never understood why we did it. I mean, why couldn’t these people ever fly or drive out to visit us? Why were we always the ones making the drive through America’s Oven to see them?

Now that I live in Orlando, and just finished a short weekend trip to Atlanta, I realize how much better I have things now than I did back in the early 70s. People may pine for the days when they were young and carefree, but at least air conditioning is standard in most cars these days.

If you’re going to take a summer driving trip, here are a few things you need to know (and do) before you actually pile into the car.

    1. Get your car fully serviced. Tell them where you’re going and what you’re planning on doing. Your mechanic may suggest a different viscosity of oil if you’re going to be driving in a super-hot climate like, say, Death Valley, on the surface of the sun, or Florida. Make sure your AC is fully functioning too.
    2. Join the AAA Auto Club. The first time your car breaks down, you’ll be glad you’re covered. Plus they’ve got all kinds of discounts at various hotels and restaurants.
    3. Take a few pictures of the family before you leave. This is the happiest you will be for a while. You’ll want to remember this time.
    4. Don’t pack for every day of the trip. We’ve talked about packing lightly before. Take enough clothes to get you halfway through the trip, and do some laundry on your rest day.
    5. Never pack for “just in case.” Don’t take a nice outfit “just in case” you go to a nice restaurant. Either make the reservations so you know in advance, or plan on not going. “Just in case” wastes space.
    6. Don’t take more than one book. I don’t know how many trips I’ve taken where I took three or four books along to read, only to never touch them. Take one book you’ve been dying to read, or buy one on the trip. Better yet, just read on your Kindle. I took two books with me on my trip to Atlanta and ended up buying two others, which I started reading instead.
    7. Stick to the highways. If something happens, you’ll be easier to find (and you can find assistance more easily) if you’re on the highway than if you decide to take the scenic route along some state highways.
    8. Make hotel reservations if you can stick to a schedule, take your chances if you can’t. Depending on how fast you drive and how disciplined you are in sticking to a schedule, you’ll either want to make reservations to make sure you’ve got a place to stay, or just stop when you feel like it and hope you can find a room. If you do the latter, use Google Maps, TripAdvisor, or the iExit app to see which hotels are ahead. Call them directly (not the HQ’s 800 number), and book your room. It also helps to be a member of their frequent traveler club.
    9. Pack a hotel bag. As a dad, there’s nothing worse than unpacking your entire car each night and repacking it each morning. Either pack one travel bag with everyone’s toiletries and nightwear, or make them pack their own, and only allow them to take that bag into the hotel each night. Run a chain and padlock through all of the big suitcases and charge a $10 unloading fee for anyone who needs to get something out of their big suitcase. Otherwise things get lost, left behind, or your stuff expands so it’s bigger than the trunk.
    10. Synchronize your bladders. Another dad rule, and this one may be more important than the hotel bag (if such a thing is possible). But I promise you that this one is critical. I was always frustrated that my family and I could turn a 16-hour drive down to Orlando into a 20-hour odyssey worthy of the Greek poets. I realized it was because we stopped every time the gas tank was half-full, and then again when someone “forgot” to pee. Each break took at least 20 minutes, and we stopped every 2 hours. That added roughly 2.5 hours per trip for non-meal stops. When we stopped when we were down to a quarter tank, we stopped every 2.5 hours and cut almost an hour off the total drive. If you want to get to your destination faster, insist that everyone use the bathroom at every stop, even if they “don’t have to.” (Because they do. They absolutely do. They’re lying if they say otherwise.)

How do you survive summer vacations? Is it a joy and pleasure, or something that fills you with a sick dread? Share your tips, suggestions, and war stories in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: digitalphotolinds (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Take a Proper Vacation Away From Work

May 10, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

Stop doing that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Laura Hoffman (Flickr, Creative Commons)

How to Easily Manage Your Vacation Photos

April 26, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

You want to capture all the great memories from your vacation: the sights you saw, the people you met, the places you ate at. The problem is, thanks to today’s digital cameras and smartphones, you can take literally hundreds of photos over a single week and not know what to do with them all when you’re done.

I had the same problem a few years ago. I used to take a lot of photos and then dump them on my laptop and forget about them for a year until I needed a particular one. Then I would have to wade through them all to find the one I wanted.

Finally, I got smart and developed a quick photo management process that helps me store and find my photos so I can easily find them later. Here are five ways you can easily manage your own vacation photos (or any photos you take).

1. Delete unwanted photos right away

Vacation photo of Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival in May. One of my favorite times to visit.

Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival in May 2017

One of the traps I’ve fallen into with a digital camera and a camera phone is that I’m less discerning about what I take and what I keep. I’m old enough to have used a film camera, and when it cost several dollars to get a roll of 24 exposures developed, you had to be more selective of the photos you took.

Compare that to when I was watching the Electric Light Parade at Magic Kingdom a few years ago and I snapped over 200 photos in 30 minutes, or more than 300 photos at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when I would cover the Indianapolis 500 for my blog. I would take 3, 4, and even 5 photos of the same float/car/person, in case one of them didn’t turn out, and I ended up keeping them all.

So instead, I got into the habit of deleting photos after I took them, when we sat down after a break, or even at the end of the day when I was waiting for my turn in the shower.

Rather than save up a couple thousand digital photos of your trip to Europe, take a few minutes once or twice a day and delete the photos you didn’t like or where someone blinked or the thing you wanted is too small. Then, when you’re sorting through your photos later, you don’t have so many to deal with, and the remaining four tasks are less daunting.

2. Save your photos to the cloud.

I am a big fan of Dropbox and use it for photo storage, although any cloud storage service will work. You can use Google Drive, Apple iCloud, or even Google Photos (formerly Picasa).

I pay for Dropbox’s 1TB storage plan (1 terabyte = 1,024 GB), so I set up my laptop to upload my photos whenever I plug in my phone or digital camera. And every few months, I’ll go through those photos, examine them again more closely, delete any that I don’t want, and rename them and date them — Electric Light Parade 037, 2-12-15 — so I know what they are at a glance. It sure beats trying to figure out what IMG_1482 was supposed to be.

3. Upload photos only on wifi

Try to upload your photos at night when you’re back into the hotel and on the wifi, rather than using your cellular data to do it during the day. While you can certainly have all your photos automatically upload as you take them, you have two issues: 1) you’re uploading every photo you take, including the bad ones, which will chew up your cellular data, and 2) this will run down your battery much faster.

And deleting the photos you don’t want first will also save your storage space, especially if you’re not paying for additional storage space on Dropbox or Google Drive.

4. Centralize your family photos

Depending on how many smartphone users you have, it might be a nice idea to combine your family photos and save them to an album that everyone can access. Whether it’s Google Photos, Instagram, or even Facebook, store the photos and share the link with everyone you’d like to see them.

You can start this by sharing your cloud storage drive (i.e. sharing the Dropbox photo with everyone. Ask everyone to upload their own photos to the drive, and make sure everyone has access.

If you grew up in a family where your folks would invite friends over to see slides of their vacation, you can relive those painful fun experiences again by broadcasting your photos through your TV, especially if you have Apple TV and use Apple’s iCloud, or Google Chromecast and Google Photos. Just make sure you have a comfy couch.

5. Never EVER post vacation photos while you’re on vacation!

I know you want all your friends to see pictures of your feet at the beach or your feet at the swimming pool, but that’s not very safe. For one thing, it tells anyone who sees your photos that you’re not at home. You don’t want to give potential thieves any indication that you’re away, so don’t share vacation photos while you’re on vacation.

Instead, wait until you get home and post them then. You can say things like “Here’s where we were last week” and people will still get the same enjoyment out of them that they would have a week earlier.

I never used to be a big photo taker when I was growing up. But thanks to digital cameras and smartphones, it’s not a problem to snap a quick pic to capture a memory. In fact, I seem to be making up for lost time, taking several hundred pictures every year. After spending many hours trying to sort through an entire year’s worth of photos, I started dealing with them in batches, especially on vacation and Disney visits, as a way to reduce my total workload, and came up with this process. Give it a try the next time you go on vacation and see if you can better manage your on vacation photos.

How do you deal with your vacation photos? Do you have any suggestions or favorite techniques? Share them with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers, used with permission

How to Make Vacation Costs Less Painful

March 29, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

1. Driving is Cheaper than Flying

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

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

2. Buy gift cards throughout the year

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

Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival in May

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

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

3. Plan your activities, book ahead when possible

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

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

4. Plan for rest days

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Erik Deckers, used with permission

Chain Hotels versus B&Bs versus Airbnb

February 22, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

I have mixed feelings about bed and breakfasts (B&Bs). The best B&B experience I ever had was at the Kintner House Hotel in Corydon, Indiana. Corydon is notable for being the site of one of only two Civil War battles north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Also, it was Indiana’s first state capital. So the place was pretty special to me as an Indiana history buff.

I stayed there a few times over the years, while traveling on business, and had my favorite room, the Trunk Room. The staff even got to know me a bit and remembered me each time I visited.

Kintner House Inn, a normal B&B. Not available on Airbnb (I checked).

The Kintner House Inn in Corydon, IN

I also had a terrible B&B experience once when my wife and I traveled to Indianapolis for a wedding one August and realized the B&B in question was someone’s spare guest room in a 1940s ranch-style bungalow. The hostess kept the house too warm, and we had a secret back-and-forth fight over the AC setting. I would bump it down to 74, and she would bump it back up to 78. We did this at least two times during the night, but we never spoke of it over breakfast the next morning.

Compare that to the good luck I’ve had with chain hotels. When I stay at one of my favorite hotel chains — usually Holiday Inn, sometimes a Hampton Inn — I can always count on an identical experience free of any surprises or unexpected quirks.

On the other hand, that’s the downside of staying at chain hotels. It’s an identical experience free of any surprises or unexpected quirks.

And my limited Airbnb experience has been primarily positive. I’ve always rented an entire house so I can avoid my negative B&B experience, and the houses have always been clean, safe, and in decent neighborhoods. It’s a nice compromise, although my wife isn’t a fan.

If you’re trying to decide which option you want on your next family vacation, here are a few things to consider before you book your rooms for your vacation.

Chain Hotels

If you’re looking for a way to save money, a chain hotel may be your best bet. Depending on where you’re going, nights can be anywhere from $95 to $300 or more (especially in big cities near major event venues, e.g. Manhattan, downtown Chicago). The more they cost, the nicer the rooms. And there’s something great about feeling like a VIP when you step into a decked-out high-rise room.

You can also earn loyalty points, which can reduce the costs of future stays, or give you other rewards. You can earn these points by flying specific airlines or even dining at certain restaurants.

And like I said earlier, barring an unusual situation, you can rely on the kind of experience you’re going to get at a chain hotel. No surprises, no unusual sleeping arrangements, no weird room layouts. Many of them serve breakfast — my son loves the breakfast buffets at the Hampton Inn — so it’s a way to save a little money on food if you’re on a road trip.

At the same time, there’s something special about specialty boutique hotels, like The Galt House in Louisville, Colcord Hotel in Oklahoma City, or 21C hotels. They may not have loyalty programs, but they’re quite fancy and still affordable. I can’t recommend 21C enough if you want an interesting, but artistic hotel stay.

Bed & Breakfasts

I’ve stayed at more than a few B&Bs, and my one terrible experience notwithstanding, I’ve always enjoyed them. These are usually old historic houses in small towns or quiet neighborhoods, and they serve a nice little breakfast in the morning.

The one downside is that they’re not always ideal for families, especially if you have small kids. And they’re usually destinations, not stop off points like a hotel. They’re geared more toward the quiet weekend away from the mad rush of the city and constant nagging of social media and television.

The times my wife and I stayed at a bed and breakfast, it was strictly to relax, sleep in, and enjoy the town we were visiting. But we never took our kids because they weren’t made for little children, they didn’t have rollaway beds or cribs, and a lot of them didn’t have televisions or ways of entertaining little ones. At least the ones we visited were made this way, and we chose them intentionally for that reason. If you want a place to take your younger kids, check with the owner before you book your room so you’re not disappointed. Some B&Bs (and Airbnbs) even have “no children” rules, so be sure to check.

Airbnb

I appreciate Airbnb when I travel to a city where I’ll be staying for several days, but want something cheaper than a good hotel. You can get an entire house to yourself, or you can get a single guest room inside someone’s house, and I’ve always managed to get something for less than $120 per night. My wife took my oldest daughter to New York City for her 18th birthday, and they stayed in someone’s room in their apartment, and said it was a great experience.

I took the same daughter to Nashville, Tennessee for a conference and got the upper floor of a house (the owners lived in the lower level) in an east side neighborhood, just a few miles from where I needed to be. What was really great was all the hotels were sold out because it was the Country Music Awards, and no one had scooped up this house. It cost less than most of the hotels ($90/night versus $300) and quite a bit closer to where I needed to be.

An Airbnb is an ideal setup if you have a carload of kids and want to be able to spread out, but don’t want to be crammed into a single hotel room. You usually get cable television and wifi, there are plenty of beds and bedrooms (assuming you planned properly), and best of all, you get to control the house’s AC and heat.

Ultimately your sleeping arrangement comes down to your own personal preferences, but for the most part, I like the hotel option first, Airbnb second, and a regular bed and breakfast third. But part of that is because I’m a bit competitive, and like accumulating points at the hotels. However, if you want to stay at an Airbnb, they do have a point-sharing loyalty arrangement with Delta Airlines now. Just visit DeltaAirbnb.com and book your room through that site, and you can earn Delta SkyMiles.

Where would you stay? Which do you prefer? Do you have a go-to lodging choice, or do you pick it based on your own travel plans? Share your recommendations in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

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

February 8, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

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

Sylvia Longmire in Rome, taking her own accessible vacation

Sylvia in Rome, Italy on her Pride Mobility scooter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are my best options?

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

Sylvia on a Celebrity Cruise on Formal Night

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

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

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

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

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

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