Planning and Packing Tips for Your Family’s Spring Break Trip

January 17, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Spring break is coming up in a few months, which doesn’t seem possible, since we just finished with [insert preferred winter holiday here]. But Spring Break happens in March and April for most of the country, and many families plan some sort of out-of-town trip for that time period.

If you’re heading somewhere warm, like down here in Florida (or over in Texas, Arizona, and California), there are a few planning and packing tips you should plan on (and a few you should avoid) as you’re preparing for your next vacation.

One of our packing tips is to not overpack your car; ship things ahead if you need to, or buy items when you arrive.

  1. Avoid the college crowds. Some families make a mistake venturing into the college spring break destinations — Panama City Beach, Miami, Daytona Beach, etc. — not realizing how much they’re going to have to explain to their young children. Plus, these places will be so packed that you’ll have a tough time finding a place to stay, and everything will be very expensive. Keep in mind that many of the popular destinations — Disney World, Disneyland, most beaches, etc. — will be super packed too.
  2. Don’t pack your pool toys. If you want to get your kids a bunch of pool toys, bucket and shovels, and so on, wait until you get to your destination. There’s no point in packing something you can easily get at any drugstore or Walmart (we have those here in Florida). Save your luggage space and weight. In fact, consider leaving them behind when you go home. They’re cheap to buy and easy to replace, and unless you have a pool at home, you’re not going to use them for several months anyway.
  3. Don’t pack baby food and diapers. Again, we have baby food and diapers for sale down here. I’ve seen parents of babies pack an entire week’s worth of diapers in their own suitcase, only to discover their hotel is literally two blocks from a grocery store. Since extra bag fees can be as much as $50 per bag, you’d be money ahead if you just shipped the diapers. So avoid the hassle altogether and just buy the diapers once you arrive.
  4. If you fly, leave on a Friday and return on a Sunday. Flights are cheaper if you can leave on a Friday and/or return on a Sunday. So if you’re spending a whole week on vacation, make it a 10-day trip and get the lowest possible price for the time out.
  5. If you drive, leave in the middle of the night. The south-bound highways are packed on Friday and Saturday before Spring Break, and the northbound lanes are packed on Sundays. You can avoid a lot of that traffic if you leave at 3:00 in the morning. We did this for years when we drove from Indianapolis to Florida, and we saved ourselves so many headaches. Also, use the Waze app on your mobile phone to get up-to-the-minute traffic alerts.
  6. Make dinner reservations right now. If you’re staying in a Spring Break hotspot, and there are some great restaurants you want to try, book the reservations now because they’ll be gone by your vacation. If you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for, book a couple restaurants for the same night and then cancel the others a couple days beforehand, once you make up your mind. (But don’t just fail to show up. That’s inconsiderate and rude.)
  7. Avoid the clichéd destinations. Of course, the temptation is to leave the northern states and head south for warmer weather. And since it’s the middle of January, you’re probably looking at us here in Florida, wishing a January blizzard on us. (Don’t worry; we make up for it with furnace-like summers.) But Spring Break in Florida is packed! Head to a less-traditional Spring Break destination — Atlanta, GA; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC — and skip the crowds, but enjoy the warmer weather.
  8. Protect your money. Never carry all your money in one place, and never show it all when you pay for something. Carry only one or two credit cards at all times, so if you lose one, you can still operate with another you hid in your suitcase or the hotel safe.
  9. Don’t tell social media you’re on vacation. Posting photos of your vacation only tells crooks that your house is empty, as well as your whereabouts. Thieves and other criminals browse social media for check-ins, photos, and notices that people are either not at home, or are at places not familiar to them. Save the photos for when you get home.
  10. Get travel insurance. You may only be taking a relaxing vacation at the beach to read books, but that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong. You can get sick or injured and get hit with unexpected medical costs or miss out on tickets and reservations you already paid for. Get insurance that will cover medical costs and replacement costs for reservations.

Where do you go for Spring Break? What kinds of packing tips do you have for those of us who will be heading out for a much-needed respite from winter weather? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Five Tips to Help You Travel With Friends and Family

December 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Working in my wife’s family business saw us frequently traveling together, whether it was for trade shows, sales calls, or going on vacation. Every January, we would drive from northern Indiana to Atlanta for several days for our big industry trade show. After it was over, we would drive home for a week, and then turn around and drive to Orlando for a week’s vacation.

I know other families who will vacation with friends, renting a couple cabins for a week or spending a long weekend in a new city. It can be a lot of fun for everyone involved, but if you don’t plan it right, you can run into a few problems.

If you’re going to travel with friends or family, here are a few tips you need to consider.

1. Make sure you’re compatible.

Travel with friends can be fun, if you can agree on the what, where, and when. This is a group of people around a campfire at the beach.This is tough if you and your friends can’t even make it through a dinner together without someone getting irritated (even if you’re good at hiding it). If you can’t manage that, what makes you think you’re going to last an entire weekend?

Make sure you all enjoy the same things. If someone prefers museums and symphonies, while someone else prefers rock concerts and dive bars, there will always be one unhappy person on the trip. So make sure you know what your friends like before you commit to the trip.

2. Decide your itinerary early.

While I love just rolling into a new city and seeing what I can discover, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people are planners and prefer to know what they’re doing every minute.

Plan an itinerary where everyone gets something they want. Let each person pick a day or pick an activity, even if everyone else is not as enthusiastic about it. One friend may want to spend a day in a museum, even while someone else wants to go to a ballgame. Do both, and let each person introduce their friends to something they love.

Decide when you’re going to start the day. Some people prefer to sleep in until 9 and keep the party going late into the night. Others are up at 4:30 AM and ready to go by 5:00. Do not travel with those people. They’ll do terrible and awful things, like expect you to be ready to go at 5 AM too.

3. You don’t have to do EVERYTHING together

If you’re going to be gone for several days, be sure to give everyone some time to themselves. Take an afternoon and split up. If some people want to go shopping while someone else wants to go for a hike or sit by the pool, that’s fine. Not everything has to be an organized excursion.

If you’re traveling together as couples, then split up into different pairs and groups. For example, husbands and wives can pair off and do their own thing, or you can organize by activity: anyone who wants to go shopping can go shopping, anyone who wants to take a walking tour can do that. Don’t pair off by family or by gender, go by activity preference. If you’re traveling with several people, it can make for an interesting dynamic and let people get to know each other better.

4. Discuss any allergies, dietary restrictions, and medical issues in advance

Don’t pry into someone’s personal issues or health, but you should at least be aware if someone has a food allergy that might cause an issue for them. Whenever I travel with someone, I usually ask if they have a food allergy. If they say yes, I ask if it’s something they need an Epi-Pen for, but beyond that, I don’t pry.

Similarly, if you have a friend who can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t eat certain foods — vegetarians, religious restrictions, dietary preferences, food sensitivities — make sure you know that in advance so you can plan your meals accordingly.

5. Decide how you’re going to split expenses.

Most places are able to split everything out between couples and friends — restaurants, show tickets, hotel rooms and so on are all easily divided among groups. It’s the other stuff, like renting a big house, buying groceries, and paying for group excursions that can be a little tricky.

Work it all out beforehand, try to pay for as much in advance as you can, and collect the money. Use an app like Venmo or PayPal to transfer money immediately, and commit to paying each other right away. Consider putting some money in a pool for the group to pay for things like gratuities or drinks for the last evening.

Finally, make sure everyone can actually afford to go on the vacation you’re planning. Don’t book a luxury vacation and invite people who are on a Motel 6 budget. It will only create resentment and could cause some financial hardship if someone is trying to keep up and spend beyond their means.

Traveling with family and friends can be a lot of fun, if you invite the right people and do something you can all agree on. Start small with a day trip or even a weekend getaway. Figure out your compatibility with low-risk trips before you book that four-week European vacation.

Would you travel with friends or family? Is it something you’ve done, or something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy? Share your memories (and horror stories) with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: PXHere.com (Creative Commons 0)

7 Must-Pack Items for Your Next Vacation

November 29, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When I go on vacation, my goal is to be away from the hotel, Airbnb, or family member’s house as much as possible. I want to be out doing things, seeing things, and experiencing a new place. Maybe it’s a house on the beach, a visit to a new city, a return trip to Indiana, or I’m at a conference, spending a couple of “bleisure” days before or after a trip.

Regardless of what I’m doing, there are a few things I always pack wherever I go. These are things you should pack for your next vacation or holiday trip.

First, make sure you have a portable battery pack to keep your phone charged while you’re out and about. There are several brands available, but I’ve always had good luck with the Anker brand of batteries. The typical battery pack is a little bigger and heavier than a mobile phone, weighing about 12 ounces, and it fits in a purse, backpack, or even a pocket. Get one that’s at least 20,000 mAH, and you’ll be able to charge an iPhone 6 or 7 times, and a Galaxy phone 5 or 6 times. Then, just charge it up each night when you’re back at your hotel or house.

Mobile phone with a battery nearly dead. Be sure to take a battery and charging cable on your next vacation.Next, be sure to carry a charging cable and USB plug with you during the day. If you can ever plug into a wall socket, even if it’s just for 20 minutes while you’re eating lunch, you can extend your phone’s battery reserves and avoid tapping into your portable battery until later. My daughter carries one in her backpack whenever we’re cruising Disney World or Universal Studios. When we stop for lunch, we can take turns getting a 15-minute boost of power.

Speaking of power, consider tossing a PowerCube, a small charging block by Allocacoc, into your suitcase. It comes with three regular plug outlets and two USB charging ports, and is just a couple inches in size. You can get PowerCubes that plug directly into the wall or come with a 5′ or 10′ extension cord. This lets you plug multiple devices into a single plug, or you can even plug another cube in and expand your charging capabilities. Perfect for the family with multiple devices and only a couple available sockets.

Finally, if you go on working vacations like I do, or you absolutely need wifi access for your devices but you’re traveling in a foreign country, consider carrying a mobile wifi hotspot like the Skyroam Solis. One of these units is $150, and costs $9 per day to operate (they have pay-as-you-go day passes for access). If you absolutely have to have wifi access during a trip, and you don’t want to pay for hotel wifi, or you’re going to be away from civilization for a time, a mobile wifi hotspot will connect up to five devices and save the day.

Be sure to take a travel pillow with you for the actual trip. I rarely take one myself, but I know plenty of people who swear by it. You can sleep sitting up without giving yourself serious neck pain, which is not a fun way to start or end a trip. One tip I’ve learned is to turn the pillow so the fattest part is supporting your head while you sleep. It keeps you from getting a painful crick in your neck, and helps you avoid the constant head dropping that happens when you first nod off.

Also, be sure to take along a few Ziploc bags. You’re supposed to use one for your 3-1-1 bag if you fly anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to roll up a few extras and tuck them into your suitcase.

  • Use snack-sized bags to pack your necklaces, one per bag. This prevents tangling.
  • Carry a couple 1-gallon bags to pack wet clothes, muddy shoes, and anything you don’t want contaminating your clean clothes.
  • Tuck an extra quart bag into your toiletries case, in case something happens to your original 3-1-1 bag.

Finally, I always like to take a book. I know, I know, I just got done telling you how to keep your gear charged up, and you could always use a Kindle or even the Kindle app on your phone to read e-books. But there are times that a regular book just feels better. I love the tactile experience, and some books even have that lovely smell that only a book lover can appreciate. Plus, you can read a book on a plane, a book won’t chew up your battery life, and it’s not a devastating loss if you lose a book. Besides, you never want to use your phone to kill a bug you found in your hotel bathroom.

How do you pack for holiday vacations? Where do you go, to visit family or have a family getaway? Share your tips and stories with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Pexels.com (Creative Commons 0)

Twelve Holiday Travel Tips for 2018

November 15, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Thanksgiving is coming up in a week, which is going to kick off the holiday travel season. Three major religious groups have holidays in the month of December, which means there are going to be plenty of people traveling for The Holidays, which means lines and long waits, plenty of traffic and crowded airports. Here are a few tips to make your holiday travel less stressful.

1. Book everything NOW

Airline tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms and Airbnbs are all going fast, and you’re going to have a tough time finding any room at the inn, or a way to get there. And it’s only going to get harder as we get closer. Book your travel arrangements now, and then confirm them by phone a day or two before your travel days. You’d be surprised — or maybe you wouldn’t — at the number of travel plans that go awry because of a glitch.

2. Have gifts delivered to your destination

Many presents loaded into the back of a car. One of our holiday travel tips is to have your gifts delivered to your destination.Unless you’re just loading everyone into the car, don’t try to pack and carry all your gifts. Order them from your favorite online store and have them delivered to your destination. This beats trying to pack everything into your suitcase and checking it. If you have to pay to check your bag, you probably could have shipped your gifts for the same price. (Or for free, if you have Amazon Prime or your online store offers free shipping.)

Also, don’t try to time it so the packages coincide with your arrival. Order them as soon as you can — delivered in your name — so they arrive a few days before you open them. This gives you a little cushion in case something goes wrong.

But if you decide to take your gifts with you on the plane, don’t wrap them, since they may need to be checked at security.

3. Get travel insurance

Airlines are not very forgiving if you ever have to cancel your travel plans because of illness. You won’t be able to get a refund, although they might let you exchange your tickets. The same is true for many other travel providers. Travel insurance can help you recover your costs, even if they can’t help you salvage a vacation.

Travel insurance is also helpful if you get sick or injured while you’re traveling, especially when you’re overseas, and require medical attention. Your own medical insurance will probably not cover you when you’re out of the country, or even out of your network, so double-check what it will cover when you’re traveling, and make sure your travel insurance covers medical costs.

4. Pack only what will fit in a carry-on

Only take carry-ons, and try not to check any bags. If you roll your clothes and pack thinner layers, you can get up to 10 days’ worth of clothes in a standard carry-on, and never need a checked bag. Remember, you’re going for a short holiday vacation, you’re not moving there.

How are you going to do that, you ask? Here are seven additional tips:

  1. Roll your clothes, don’t fold them. Rolling takes up less space and results in fewer wrinkles.
  2. Pack half as many clothes as you think you’ll need and then do laundry one day while you’re there.
  3. Mix and match outfits. Rather than packing individual and unique outfits for each day, wear colors from the same palette so different shirts and pants go together.
  4. Only pack one bulky sweater. Take thinner layers and a pullover fleece to keep warm. You can swap out the t-shirt/undergarments, and re-wear over layers to save space.
  5. Don’t take your own pillow. I’ve seen people check two suitcases and take a carry-on because they packed their winter parka and pillows from home.
  6. Don’t take a lot of books and things you “hope” to do. Put books on a Kindle or tablet, and look for things to do at your destination.
  7. Rather than trying to take big toiletries, like hair spray or big shampoo bottles, just buy what you need when you’re there. Again, if this can save you from checking a bag, you’re saving anywhere from $25 – $50.

5. Be polite and patient

Traveling can be stressful throughout the year, but when everyone’s doing it, things tend to get a little stressful and we’re more likely to let our emotions get the best of us. As Marcie Boyle, a travel agent in Chesterfield, MI recently told USA TODAY:

Expect that everyone believes their trip is more important than yours. Expect the airports and planes to be crowded. Expect security, restroom, and restaurant lines to be extra-long. Expect to encounter less experienced travelers who may not know the tricks for getting through an airport quickly.

In short, just remember that everyone has a place to go, and the professionals are doing their best to get everyone there. If you blow your top at a ticket agent, not only are you going to ruin their day, but you may not get what you were hoping to get.

Remember, gate agents have the power to say “yes” and “no” to whatever you need, and yelling at them won’t get a “yes.” I’ve been in a few situations where the person in front of me yelled and screamed at a gate agent, and couldn’t get a ticket to another flight. But when I showed up, as sweet as honey, not only did I get the ticket I needed, I even got a food voucher.

So be nice, be polite. Remember, this is the season for family and togetherness. If you can be patient, pack light, and plan ahead as much as possible, you’ll be able to arrive at your holiday destination with a minimum fuss and stress, and be able to enjoy your holiday, whichever one you celebrate.

How do you pack for holiday vacations? Where do you go, to visit family or have a family getaway? Share your tips and stories with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Frank Jania (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Use Home Automation to Help With Your Travels

October 12, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Travelers in the 21st century have so much cool gadgetry to play with, I’m always torn between staying home to play with it and going out on the road to test it out.

Thanks to voice assistants like the Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google Assistant, Apple Home, and Cortana, you can automate certain home functions to not only make life easier, but you can function while you’re on the road.

Of course, there’s the direct function — “Alexa, turn on the study light,” “Okay Google, play Arcade Fire.” — that lets you control things around the house. You can turn on appliances by using wifi-enabled smart plugs (like this one from TP-Link, $16.99 on Amazon). Just plug in a lamp or appliance, connect it to the app on your phone, and you can tell your smart speaker to turn it on and off.

(If you jump on the home automation bandwagon, get devices from the same manufacturer so you can control them all with one app. Think long-term about what you would like to do and then make sure one manufacturer makes all of those. Also, if you don’t have a smart speaker yet, pick one that is supported by most manufacturers. I’ve found Amazon Alexa has the most device support with Google Assistant coming in second.)

But you’re not just limited to smart plugs. There are also light switches, light bulbs, and thermostats that can connect to your smart speaker and this is where home automation can really help you travel.

You can trigger a smart device either by your smart speaker, you can do it with the mobile app made for that device.. This means you can control things when you’re anywhere in the world.

For example, we all know we’re supposed to lower our thermostat to 60 degrees when we go on vacation during the winter. That’s warm enough to keep pipes from freezing, but cool enough that you’re not going to have a huge heating bill when you get home. Except you forgot to turn it down before you left and you didn’t realize it until you were six hours away.

Rather than fretting about your utility bill the entire time, just set the thermostat to the right temperature from your phone. You can also use a smart thermostat to schedule temperature changes. For example, if the house is empty during the day, bump the temperature 6 – 8 degrees up (summer) or down (winter), and return it to normal 30 minutes before you get home. But rather than do it by phone every day, you can set this as an automated schedule on your app.

Advanced Home Automation for the Traveler

But this is all basic stuff. I mean, it’s useful and helpful, but if you really want to automate your travels, you need to look at some workflow automation services.

There are two main automated workflow services, IFTTT.com (which stands for If This, Then That) and Zapier. IFTTT has curated a small collection of travel-related applets, but you have to search more on Zapier for any useful zaps.

Screenshot of IFTTT.com. This is a great resource for home automation.

But for what we need, we don’t have to choose. Just pick one service and start using it. Get used to how they work, find the recipes you want to use, and practice using them. Then you’ll know how they work when it’s time to leave.

Here are a few recipes you can use the next time you travel (IFTTT calls them “Applets,” Zapier calls them “Zaps”. I’m just going to keep calling them “recipes” so I don’t have to keep writing “Applet or Zap”).

  1. Save all photos to Dropbox or Google Drive. You can clog up your phone if you take a lot of vacation pictures, so this is a way to back them all up to the cloud so you don’t lose them if you lose your phone.
  2. When you check in at a place (the airport), email or text someone so they know you’re safe. If you’re traveling on your own, or even if you need to let someone know when to pick you up, use a recipe like this to alert people when you check in via Foursquare.
  3. Send vacation pictures to your family. One recipe I found lets you email photos up to five people from your Gmail (others will let you select up to 20). You can also upload them to an RSS feed or a WordPress blog. Sure beats those slide shows we sat through when I was a kid.
  4. Cross-post Instagram photos to Twitter. Normally on Instagram, you can share your photos to Twitter, but the photo itself doesn’t publish, only a link to the Instagram page. You can push the native photo out to Twitter with a recipe so your tweet will look exactly as you want it to. And then set up another recipe to post anything from Instagram to your Tumblr blog.
  5. Get airline ticket price alerts from The Flight Deal. If you’re flexible on your travel dates, you can set an alert to let you know when there’s a flight deal out of a specific city, like your closest airport. When you get the deal, buy the ticket, and plan your vacation!
  6. Automatically adjust your thermostat based on your Google Calendar. When you set a vacation on your calendar, your Google Assistant can adjust your thermostat up or down when it knows no one will be home. This can be on top of your regular daily schedule.
  7. Get travel alerts from the WHO or State Department. Depending on where you’re traveling, you may need to know if there’s anything you need to be worried about, like civil unrest or other travel warnings from the State Department, or a disease outbreak notification from the World Health Organization.
  8. Get weather alerts texted to you. You can have rain and snow alerts texted to you whenever there’s an inclement weather forecast in your area. For example, Zapier has Will It Rain Today and What’s The Weather zaps to tell you if you need to pack an umbrella or sweater.

Home automation has come so far since those days of plug-in lamp timers that would turn lights on and off at exactly the same time every day. Now you can turn smart devices on and off with your voice or via your phone, keeping your home safe, secure, and efficiently run while you’re away.

Have you joined the home automation revolution? How do you use home automation and workflow automation to make your life easier? Do you use it for vacation? Share your tips and ideas on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

How to Avoid Getting Sick Before Your Vacation

September 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

You’ve planned and saved and dreamed. You’ve pored over travel guides and websites. And you made lists, bought supplies, and packed and repacked everything five times. It’s your big vacation and you’ve been looking forward to it for months!

Except now, the night before you leave, there’s a little tickle in the back of your throat and your nose is running.

You’re getting sick. It feels like a cold, and with any luck, you can get over it with a day or two of rest and a few pain relievers. But it could be the flu, and not only will you be miserable for a few days, but traveling will be agony.

If you want to avoid getting sick before your vacation (or at all!), there are a few things you need to do in the days and weeks before you leave in order to stay healthy.

First, pull your kids out of school and don’t let them out of the house until you leave.

Okay, don’t really do that; that would be terrible. But do share these practices with your kids, because it’s usually our kids who bring colds home with them and spread them to the rest of us. And then they’re the ones who are all better by the time vacation starts, while the parents are slowly dying in the front seat.

1. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough

And don’t do it with your hands! When you sneeze or cough, do it into the crook of your elbow or on the upper sleeve of your shirt.

Why? Imagine this scenario: You meet someone and you shake their hand, because that’s what polite people do. What you don’t know is the other person sneezed into their hands 30 seconds earlier, and they’re sporting the beginnings of a cold. And now you’re laid up in bed for two days because Typhoid Barry or Sherry didn’t know the etiquette about coughing and sneezing!

Also, don’t ever blow your nose into a tissue and then stick it up the sleeve of your sweater. Think about what you just put into that tissue. Now think about where you just put it. Why would you even save that? (And don’t get me started about handkerchiefs!)

2. Get plenty of sleep.

The temptation as you spend the next few days getting ready is to stay up late or get up early finishing last minute projects around the house. I know when I go on vacation, I rarely sleep more than a few hours before we leave. I also stay up late most nights, which puts me at risk of getting sick anyway.

When we’re exhausted, our body’s immune system doesn’t work at peak efficiency, and we’re more likely to get knocked down by a bug. So get your eight hours every night. Take a nap during the day, if possible. Don’t stay up later than you normally do. Sleep is essential for our health, so make sure you’re getting plenty of it.

3. Stay hydrated

You can avoid getting sick before your vacation if you take care of yourself.

Make sure you wash your hands after you do this!

One way to keep from getting sick is to drink plenty of water, since it helps flush out your system. And if you get sick, you can speed up your recovery this way too.

You should be drinking plenty of water throughout the day, although I don’t know how much. Some people say eight glasses a day, others say one ounce per pound of body weight (or at least your desired body weight). And still others emphasize liquids and not just water.

Instead of trying to figure out glasses and ounces, the general rule of thumb is to drink enough so that when you go to the bathroom, everything is, uh, “all clear.” As long as it’s clear when you go, you’re getting enough water.

4. Wash your hands for 20 seconds

Do this especially if you ignored item #1. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. That’s as long as it takes to sing the Alphabet song or to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. That will eliminate nearly all of the germs on your hands. You especially need to do this if you’re preparing food or getting ready to eat.

Also, remember there are plenty of dirty surfaces you come in contact with throughout the day. So it’s a good idea to take some anti-bacterial wipes to wipe down tables, airplane and airport armrests, and even the check-in kiosk at the airport (which is the dirtiest place in the entire airport!).

And try to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. You can pick up germs and then transfer them into your system by rubbing your eyes, “scratching inside” your nose, or even putting food in your mouth. Carry some hand sanitizer in your luggage, car, purse, backpack, or briefcase.

5. Take your medicine if you start to feel sick

While I can’t tell you which medicines you should take, I can tell you that trying to tough out a cold or flu is not a good idea. You’ll feel absolutely miserable the entire time, and it’s just not worth it. Let your body heal itself without putting more stress on it by feeling miserable.

This also means drinking plenty of fluids. So if you’re not much of a water drinker when you’re healthy (item #3), you absolutely need to start when you’re sick. You’re more likely to sweat, you may go to the bathroom more often, and you’re more likely to get dehydrated. So drink up while you’re laying in bed or on the couch.

Finally, remember that you’re still contagious for up to 48 hours after you recover from an illness. You can still spread a cold or flu even after you feel better, so make sure you wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow, get plenty of sleep, and encourage the rest of your family to do the same. This way, no one else in the family will get sick.

How do you avoid getting sick, especially before trips? Share your tips and tricks on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: PXhere.com (Creative Commons 0)

How to Get Exercise While You’re on Vacation

August 16, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Many people who exercise regularly are often reluctant to go on vacation because it ruins their exercise routine. They’ll spend a week not working out, and returning to their regular schedule can feel like drudgery.

Other people would welcome the relief, but they worry that if they stop, they won’t return to it. So what can you do to maintain some kind of fitness routine when you’re away from home and your favorite gym or running routes?

To begin with, make sure to pack your workout gear, but here are a few other things you should try.

Count your steps

Hotel Gym at Casa Velas Hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. You can find a fitness room at most vacation hotels.

Hotel Gym at Casa Velas Hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

If you’re already a walker or runner, use your mobile phone to count the number of steps you take while you’re out seeing the sites. You may find that you walk as far or farther than you normally do in a regular workout. You can even schedule walking tours of the places you’re visiting to help.

I prefer the Pedometer++ app for my step-counting, although there are others you can use. It gamifies walking, which means I can earn badges and accomplishments just for walking every day. And since we walk a lot on vacation, I know how much exercise I’m getting, so I can complain about it on Facebook the next day.

Find some workout videos on YouTube

If yoga is more your thing, you can always do your routines in your hotel room. Some of the fancier hotels will provide a yoga mat for their guests, but if you’re driving to your destination, you can always pack your own.

That may be a little tricky on a plane, since most yoga mats are wider than suitcases are long. But you can do it if you only have one other carry-on item; you’re allowed a carry-on bag and a personal item, so just carry your yoga mat.

Also, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of yoga videos online, whether it’s YouTube or one of the many yoga apps available. Pick a few of your favorites and work out to those.

You can also do an online search for local yoga studios and visit one of those as well.

Scout out some safe running routes before you arrive

Look at Google Maps and check out some walking routes between your hotel and a couple of sights or points of interest. Google is fairly reliable in checking out walking routes that keep you off of busy highways and out of construction. Find a sight you’d like to see, plot a walking route from your lodgings, and head out the door.

You can also check out sites like Runkeeper.com, the Map My Run app, or even the USA Track & Field’s running database.

Finally, look for a local running group or run shop in your destination and see if they have any scheduled runs or workouts.

Get a hotel with a workout room

It may cost a little more, but if you’re dedicated to staying fit, it’s worth it. Most hotel gyms have an exercise bike, treadmill, and maybe a few weights. If you need to move some iron, you won’t find the big racks of weights at a Holiday Inn Express, but there will often be a small universal weight machine. But if you’re looking for cardio workout equipment, most hotels have you covered.

If you need to find a hotel with a good workout facility, use Trip Advisor or Yelp, as well as the hotel’s own website, to get the insight on what they have to offer.

See if your local gym has sharing privileges at other affiliates

Places like the YMCA, Planet Fitness, and Anytime Fitness often have sharing privileges from gym to gym, regardless of where you are. So if you already belong to one of those gyms, you can flash your membership card at the gym in your destination city and use their equipment.

And sometimes you just need a break

Finally, remember you’re on vacation. You’re supposed to take a break from work, from stress, and all the things that drive you mad. Splurge on some food, cheat on your diet, and don’t beat yourself up just because you miss a couple workouts. You can get back into the swing of things when you get home. Relax and enjoy your time off.

Besides, an important part of exercise is the recovery process. So consider this a critical step in your health journey. Just remember to start back up again when you get home.

How do you exercise while you’re on vacation? Do you work harder or count on some of your activities to give you that workout? Share your tips and tricks on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

How to Get Tax Deductions for Part of Your Vacation

July 26, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

One thing I’ve learned as a small business owner and a freelance writer is that you can take tax deductions on certain parts of your vacation, but it has to be done very carefully.

Previously, I’ve talked about “bleisure travel,” which is the practice of tacking a small vacation onto the beginning or end of a business trip. Then, if you’re visiting a city you’ve always wanted to explore, you can take a couple days off or stay over the weekend, and pay for your added hotel and food expenses yourself. It’s a great way to get to see a part of the world you might otherwise never visit.

But this is a little bit different. Taking tax deductions on your vacation means tacking a little bit of work onto your leisure time, not the other way around.

Before we go any further, let me issue two warnings:

  1. This is not professional tax advice. Talk with your accountant before you actually do this to make sure you’re deducting the right activities and so forth.
  2. You’re not going to be able to deduct your entire vacation, so don’t get ideas of taking a world cruise on the government’s dime.

1. Part of your vacation has to be work-related, like a conference or business meeting.

A trade show floor. You need to do some work on vacation if you want any tax deductions.To begin with, taking a vacation closely related to your work qualifies. This is sometimes referred to as a busman’s holiday, which is a vacation spent following or practicing one’s usual occupation. In the days of bus conductors and bus drivers, a busman might spend a day off riding on a pal’s bus or even take the bus to get to his holiday, hence the name.

A professional writer could visit a writer’s conference or research a particular location or city for her book; a house builder might spend a holiday week repairing and building houses for his church’s missions trip; a museum director would spend her holiday visiting museums in other cities or countries. Even a theater teacher heading to New York to watch Broadway plays could count that as professional development. In essence, if you are doing an activity that helps you improve your business, your work skills, or expand your knowledge, that can be tax deductible.

2. Schedule any business appointments before you leave.

According to Quickbooks,

. . .you must have at least one business-related appointment set up before you leave. It’s not possible to deduct any expenses if you leave with the idea that once you arrive, you will meet contacts and conduct business on the fly. The IRS expects you to establish a “prior set business purpose,” and keep a copy of your correspondence and books showing the scheduled appointments.

So, schedule your meetings and events before you ever leave. Mark them on your calendar, and save all the emails related to scheduling. This way, you can show you set the meetings before you left, if there’s ever a need to prove your deductions.

3. If you travel on a weekday, that can be deducted as business travel.

If you’re attending a conference or setting business appointments, travel during the week to get there and back. If your trip is being used primarily for business (i.e. you’re not taking a two-week vacation with one day of business meetings), you can deduct your transportation costs, whether it’s airfare or mileage. You can also deduct expenses on business days, like lodging, taxis/ride sharing, and 50% of your food.

4. Keep track of everything.

According to the IRS, you don’t need to keep receipts for anything under $75, but you do need to keep track of when everything happened. Whatever you do that’s work related, keep track of it in a diary or on your electronic calendar. Appointments, travel times, meals, conference sessions, you need to keep track of anything that ties into your business travel. That way, if the IRS wants to check, you can prove that you have legitimate charges and aren’t just counting handing out business cards at the hotel’s happy hour.

You can also get by with electronic copies of your receipt. I use Receipts by Tidal Pool Software to take photos of all my receipts, regardless of the amount. You could also use Evernote or just take photos of everything and upload them to a designated folder. I like Receipts because it keeps track of the amounts and I can export reports for the year’s taxes.

5. Just remember, you can only deduct your portion, not your family’s.

If you fly to get to your vacation, only your ticket is deductible. But if you drive, the mileage is deductible, and you still managed to get everyone there. Just remember, if you take the tax deductions, you can’t claim the expenses too (e.g. gas costs). You can only do one or the other.

It’s the same with food (only 50% of your cost is deductible), the hotel room (if you need two rooms, yours is deductible), and you certainly can’t deduct any entertainment expenses (unless that’s your actual job, and this is a research trip).

Finally, remember, your family wants to take this vacation with you, so don’t spend all your time working in an attempt to make this vacation as cheap as possible. They’ll accept a day or two of you working while they go off and have fun, but the whole reason for the vacation is to get a break for a while. Take advantage of it.

While you won’t pay for your entire vacation, you can at least see some tax benefits from tacking a little work onto your time off. Just remember to talk to your accountant or other tax professional before you book that three-week Hawaiian “business trip.”

Have you ever taken a busman’s holiday or deducted business expenses on a family vacation? How did you do it? Share your tips and tricks on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: ADunwoody07 (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

Should You Purchase Travel Insurance for a Family Vacation?

July 12, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

Short answer, Yes.

Longer answer, Yes because. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Popular Coverage Criteria

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How to Leave Your Car Behind on Long Vacation

    June 21, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

    I recently posted a question on Facebook:

    You’re going to spend three months living and working in another city on a long vacation. What’s the number of miles you would drive versus fly in order to have your own car? That is, anything over X, you’d fly; anything under X, you would drive.

    Of course, because it’s Facebook, and because no one knows how to give a simple answer, there were plenty of longish “it depends” answers.

    I mean, I was just looking for answers like “1,500 miles,” but it’s fine. You know, it’s just fine.

    The Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida. My residency here was like a long vacation.

    The Jack Kerouac House in Orlando. Luckily I had my car with me.

    Here in Orlando, I’m on the board of directors at the Jack Kerouac House, which is near downtown, and about 20 miles from the theme parks. Every quarter, we have one writer-in-residence who lives by themselves in the house for three months. Some of them are close enough that they’re able to drive to Orlando, but others live so far away, they need to fly in and live without a car. Of course, they’re working on their writing, so it’s not like they need to get around the city on a daily basis.

    When I was a resident two years ago, I had already moved to Orlando, so I was able to drive, but our last few residents have flown in from elsewhere, so they were without easily-accessible transportation during their stay.

    That got me to thinking, if you were to go on a long vacation, how would you get around? Having taken long business trips to Europe, as well as longer vacations without readily-accessible transportation, I’ve found a few workarounds for those times I need to be somewhere without my own car. Other times, I’ve been stuck in one place until I could find a way to get where I need.

    If you’re going to take a long vacation that’s going to leave you without your car, here are a few ways to get around.

    First, check out the public transportation situation. If this is going to be a factor in your vacation decision, then don’t go somewhere where you need public transportation. Los Angeles is a widespread, car-necessary city, San Francisco is compact, walkable, and they have decent public transportation. European cities have great public transportation (many people don’t even own cars), but the countryside does not. If you have to choose between destinations, go to the place where they’ve got buses, trams, and subways, rather than depending on a car.

    Second, get a hotel or lodging close to your attractions. For example, if you’re staying at Disney World, it might be cheaper to get a hotel outside the park, but you’re going to spend your savings in transportation just to get into the park, whether you use Uber/Lyft, take a cab, or get a rental car (plus it costs $20 per day to park at Disney World). You’re better off spending the money to get a room on property, and taking the free shuttle or monorail to the parks.

    The same goes for staying in the downtown area of the big cities — hotel parking in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to name a few, can cost between $20 and $60 per night. Depending on where you’re going, that’s a couple of Uber rides per day. And if the weather is right, you can walk or even take a bike share bike, if one is available. Finally, get a hotel that has a shuttle. Some hotels only have airport shuttles, while others have a shuttle that serves as a local cab, driving you up to a couple miles away. Just remember to tip your driver.

    Third, research the availability of ride sharing programs like Uber and Lyft. I prefer Lyft, and usually take it when I’m in a new city. I used it on a trip to Dallas a few months ago, and have used it in other cities. It was a nice alternative to renting a car and finding my way around. However, it can be pretty pricey to catch a ride everywhere, so try to schedule your itinerary so you’re only taking one ride to and from your locations. Also, some cities don’t allow ride sharing, so you can either take a cab or pick another city.

    What’s the bicycle situation? At the Kerouac House, the writers have use of a bicycle to get around. And since most of the cool non-touristy stuff to do is just a few miles from the house, they can just hop on and ride whenever they want. If you’re going to be traveling for a few weeks, look at the price for renting a bicycle.

    Or depending on where you’re staying, you may even consider just buying a bicycle. You can get a serviceable cheap bike for less than $200, which if you compare it to everything you could spend on ride sharing or rental cars, could end up being quite a bit less. Then, when you’re finished, donate it to a local organization or give it to your host.

    You could always just walk. We all need to work out and stay in shape anyway, right? So why not use this opportunity as a way to get in some steps. If you can, just walk the few blocks to your next destination, save a little money, and spend some time outside.

    Whether you’re visiting family and friends for an extended period, or are even moving to a new city for a few months, transportation is going to be a big issue, and can be your most expensive budget item after lodging. Be sure to consider how you’re going to get around when you book your trip.

    How do you travel without your car? Or is that not even an option? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

    Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Used with permission)

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