Home For Travelers Travel Tips

Stay Healthy on VacationVacation gives you the time you need to relax and stimulate your mind and body. It can also be the perfect time to indulge. But unless you’re traveling to a raucous bachelor party, you should return home feeling refreshed – not feeling like you gained weight, got too much sun, and generally overstressed your system. Here are some fun, easy, and affordable ways to make your next trip a healthy one.

  1. Walk, bike, paddle, swim, dance. Pursue active ways to explore your new surroundings, and your body will thank you. Besides burning calories, you could learn a new skill and uncover delightful details that you couldn’t see from a car or from your beach chair. Whatever your travel style, you can find an activity that involves exercise: picking blueberries from a canoe in Maine, snorkeling to ogle at colorful fish in Hawaii, biking across the historic Brooklyn Bridge in New York, or taking salsa dance classes from professionals before hitting the clubs in Miami.
  2. Learn to enjoy the shade. In addition to the well-known dangers of sunburns, skin cancer, and premature wrinkles, spending too much time in the sun just makes you dehydrated, which affects your body’s overall health. Some ways to limit your sun exposure without limiting your fun include investing in a sturdy beach umbrella under which you can read your juicy paperback; treating yourself to a fabulous wide-brimmed hat or celebrity sunglasses; covering up family members by burying them in the sand; playing a board game inside after lunch.
  3. Bring your own food for your journey. With just a little extra preparation, you can start your vacation off right by bringing your own meals and snacks for the drive, flight, train or bus ride. If you’re scrambling to get ready and really don’t have time to pack food for the road, at least look up a few healthy places to stop when the kids get hungry. The Eat Well Everywhere map can help you find better alternatives to fast food meals and gas station snacks.
  4. Don’t eat every meal out. When you arrive at your vacation rental, one of your first activities can be a trip to the local grocery store for perishable items: stock up on ingredients for easy meals that will prevent you from spending a fortune at restaurants. To make things even easier for yourself, consider bringing frozen homemade meals that you can just heat up for dinner during your vacation. That way, you won’t have to spend so much time cooking and doing dishes, and your digestive system won’t protest either.
  5. Limit drinks and desserts to the most special spots. If you do your research to track down the best locally brewed beer in Vermont or the best key lime pie in Florida, you won’t be as tempted to over-order every place you go. Not only will you save money; you’ll also be able to truly appreciate the treats you do indulge in. No matter how hot it is or how much of a sweet tooth you have, it is actually possible to eat too much ice cream.
  6. Factor in some down time. For those of you who like to plan a million and one things to do and see, remember: you’re on vacation to relax. So bring a book or some playing cards, and don’t be afraid to stay in for the night or leave an entire day unplanned. Without this down time, you may get burnt out from the constant sightseeing – and return from your trip almost as frazzled as before. Besides, the best travel moments often come when you least expect them.

Joanna Eng is a New York-based writer and editor who covers travel, green living, food, careers, entrepreneurship, and more. Her travel experiences have ranged from hostel hopping in Mexico to staying with distant relatives in China to renting a beach apartment in New Jersey.

As airlines continue to increase their checked baggage fees, travelers are getting around the extra cost by carrying on luggage. For families traveling together, this strategy can be challenging. Deciding what to bring and what to leave home is a difficult choice for everyone. Here’s some advice on how to pack everything you need for a family vacation in carry-on bags.

1. Share the Stuff

Sit down as a family to make a master packing list. You can use the list to make sure nothing is duplicated, such as toothpaste or other toiletries. In addition, consider packing items that can be shared, such as a paperback book that everyone’s been anxious to read. Also be sure to check with the rental property to see what is included so that you don’t pack anything you don’t need, such as towels or toilet paper.

Travelers should also remember that, at most destinations, a pharmacy or grocery store is nearby. Sometimes buying that toilet paper or toothpaste once you reach your destination is a good way to save on luggage fees. Also, if anything essential was forgotten, it can be purchased again.

2. Whittle Down the “Wants”

Carefully choose which clothing, accessories, toys, and other items each person packs. For clothes, put together an outfit for each person for each day – remember to mix and match items such as sweaters and pants that can be worn more than once! Then, roll each item up individually to pack into a suitcase. Also keep in mind that laundry facilities may be available; if this is the case, just plan to do a load or two of laundry at the destination instead of over packing.

Now is also a good time to pack those garments or other items that only have one more use out of them (such as almost-empty toothpaste tubes or shirts with a yet-unnoticeable hole) – pack them, use or wear them, and toss them. You’ll make more room for souvenirs on the way home.

Shoes take up a lot of space, so only take the pairs you need. Pack them around the outer perimeter of the suitcase and tuck socks and other small items into them.

Ask kids to pick no more than one or two favorite toys to bring with them, and remind them that the rest will be safe at home when they get back.

3. Suitcase Smarts

Each family member should be responsible for at least one bag. For young kids, this can be a small roller bag or a backpack that isn’t too heavy for them. Help them pack their essentials (read: toys) in these bags, along with a change of clothes and any other important items. Then, on the plane, they can keep the bags stored under the seat in front of them, saving space in the overhead bins for the larger suitcases.

Packing for a family vacation in carry-on bags means bringing no more than you need. Pack smartly by deciding as a family what everyone will bring on the trip and making sure to keep it simple.

Teresa J. Shaw is a Michigan-based writer specializing in travel and family content. Read more of her work at www.teresajshaw.com and follow her on Twitter @TeresaShaw.

“Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all” – Helen Keller

Was there ever a braver traveler in the world than Helen Keller, for whom every day was a daring adventure? I think of her words often when I travel, as a reminder to get out of my comfort zone.

Akumal

But before I make myself sound like some kind of frontier-shattering, hard-core explorer, here’s the truth: when my travels involve adventure – taking risks, sweating, and pushing the envelope – rest assured the adventures are well-balanced with relaxation, pampering, and a comfy place to rest my head at night. The key to a great vacation, for me, is finding a destination that offers both challenge and comfort.

The Mayan Riviera is such a place, stretching along the Yucatan Peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico. The sleepy town of Akumal, Mexico, just an hour or so down the coast from Cancun, is a favorite spot to find the perfect balance of adventure and comfort.

How to be a daring adventurer in Akumal:

  • Snorkel Half Moon Bay, where the needle fish shimmer close to the surface and the parrot fish nibble at the coral.
  • Dive the cenotes, where it seems like you’re entering a whole new dimension on Earth.
  • Vow to use your high school Spanish and speak as little English as possible in the markets and the cafes.
  • Rise early and beat the crowds to Coba and Tulum, to explore the Mayan ruins and imagine life in that beautiful and sometimes cruel society.
  • Go for the culinary adventure and try a new local specialty every day—especially the seafood dishes.

How to balance your adventures with comfort:

  • Find lodging with the space to not only sleep your whole group comfortably, but also to gather in the evenings to play cards, relax, and re-hash the day.
  • Do your research before leaving and arrive armed with current maps and a GPS.
  • Adventure is fun, getting lost is not. Pack a good first-aid kit for the inevitable scrape or sunburn (look for more tips on the first aid kit and building your own traveling pharmacy in my next post!).
  • Stock your vacation rental kitchen with breakfast staples and easy-to-carry snacks because not every meal needs to be an adventure.

And yes, stock up on plenty of bottled water!

Suzanne Johnson lives, writes and plays in the Cascade mountains of Oregon with her family of adventure-prone boys. More of her writing can be found a SuzanneMyhreJohnson.com.

2 5971

Questions about your rental home?There are many benefits to choosing a rental home over a hotel for your vacation: You get your own space, including a kitchen; rentals are cheaper and cozier for larger families than several rooms at a hotel; and you get to live in an area where real people (not tourists or business travelers) live. Unlike a hotel, however, vacation rental amenities and prices are not always consistent from place to place, and pricing sometimes feels like it’s subject to the whims of the owner. It’s important to know what you’re getting into when you book your vacation rental…

So, if you think you’ve found your dream home, here are some questions to ask before you sign the rental agreement.

1. Can the rental accommodate your special needs?

Vacation rental owners try to be accommodating, but sometimes the unique charms of a home may interfere with your ability to enjoy your vacation. If you have allergies, make sure the home is pet free. On the other hand, if your dog is a member of the family, then make sure the home is pet-friendly. If you have a bum knee, then make sure there’s good parking and not too many stairs. If you’ve already made reservations before you discover that the accommodations won’t work for you, then you may lose your deposit. Determine your needs before you book.

2. What appliances do they provide?

You can almost always count on there being an oven, a fridge, and a TV, but other appliances are not always standard. If it’s a long trip like a summer rental, then will you need laundry, a dishwasher, or a grill? Every home is different, and even places that advertise laundry may only have a clothes washer, not a dryer. Get the specifics so you’re not surprised when you arrive.

3. Get specific on location

Ask for distances to nearby things you need or want access to (the beach, the grocery store, etc.). You’ll be amazed to discover that “beach front” can also mean “a ten minute walk to the beach”. If the home advertises a destination as “close to” or “walkable”, then you need to find out just how far the owners are willing to walk. A ten minute walk to the store may be easy for a fit proprietor, but out of the question for a guest who walks with a cane.

4. Linens, towels, toiletries, kitchenware – are these included?

In some destinations, it’s standard for guests to supply their own linens. Many rentals may request that you bring your own beach towels. Others, like hotels, will provide you with shampoo and soap, and some owners even stock the kitchen not only with normal supplies, but herbs and food staples as well. Ask the owner what’s included so that you don’t have to make a midnight supply-shopping trip when you arrive.

5. What do I do if something goes wrong?

This question is important and frequently overlooked. You need to know who you can contact and how fast they will respond in the event of an emergency. If the power goes out, if the AC stops working, or if any of the thousand things that can go wrong in a house do go wrong, you’ll want to be prepared.

No Need to Clip CouponsWith numerous low-fare finder sites like Expedia.com, finding a cheap flight to your vacation destination has never been easier. Yet while many travelers take the time to research the best deals for getting to their vacation destination, few take the time to bargain hunt for local discounts on everything from entertainment to transportation. Before you leave for your next big trip, check out these popular sites offering huge savings in cities across America:

Entertainment

Discounts on everything from travel services to local activities and attractions to can be found in The Entertainment Book. City specific Entertainment Books can be bought for as little as $30 and contain over $10,000 worth of coupons. For those looking to do some skiing or snowboarding, visit Skicoupons.com or Liftopia.com to save big on your downhill adventures. If you would rather hit the shops than the slopes, make sure to browse through Retailmenot.com which provides coupon codes accepted at over 65,000 stores.

In the mood for something a little more relaxing? Catch a matinee or purchase movie tickets in bulk at Bulktix.com. Or, if you would rather watch a live performance, search for discounted admission on everything from Disney Princesses on Ice to the Blue Man Group on location-specific sites like Bostix.org (Boston) or Tdf.org (New York City). Don’t forget to also check local newspapers for any free events, such as concerts or festivals taking place during your stay.

Lodging

Rather than stay in a cramped hotel room, book a vacation rental through FlipKey.com. Search our site’s comprehensive inventory to find the vacation rental that meets your needs. Vacation rentals provide incredible value, with more space, privacy, and amenities than most hotels.  Spend a day lounging by the pool of your personal retreat, or save some extra money by cooking dinner with your family in your vacation rental’s fully equipped kitchen.

Food

Take a break from preparing meals at home: treat yourself to a night out on the town and discover the culinary treasures of your vacation destination. An unforgettable meal doesn’t have to break the bank. Consider purchasing gift certificates from Restaurant.com which provides discounts of up to 60% off at over 15,000 restaurants nationwide. In the weeks leading up to your trip, you may also want to create accounts on sites like Groupon.com and Buywithme.com to receive daily emails with deals in every major U.S. city.

Transportation

Depending on the length of your stay, buying a weekly subway or bus pass could save you tons, especially those of you with jam-packed itineraries. If you are staying in a big city but want to spend the day exploring the country, then look into booking a rental car through Zipcar.com. With convenient hourly rentals, a card for free fuel at any gas station, and 180 free miles per day, Zipcar vehicles are the ideal mode of transportation for sightseeing.

Whether you are traveling alone or with a large family there are savings to be had—use just one of these sites and you’ll have some extra cash to put towards planning your next big trip!

If you’re in the United States right now, then there’s a good chance you’re thinking about stocking up on food, closing all the windows, and building a fire. There’s a storm on the loose. It already provided Atlanta with its first white Christmas since 1882, and many Floridians will remember this holiday season for years to come. As the one storm moves up the East coast, another has been giving skiers out west the gift of powder, with double-digit snowfalls (we’re talking feet!) in California, Colorado and Utah.

Good thing it’s a school vacation! There’s no better place to ride out a snowstorm than a vacation rental. Make some hot cocoa (or pour yourself a glass of wine), find a comfy couch with a view, and let it snow. While you wait it out, here are some tips to avoid cabin fever…

1. Board Games

Remember that family game night you never had time for at home? You have time now, and the whole family is already together. Many vacation rental owners keep a few games around, and a round of Monopoly or Sorry can occupy an entire family for several hours. No games in the house? Try charades or password, which you can play without any special equipment.

2. Play Outside

Just because the roads are blocked doesn’t mean you can’t leave the house. Go outside and build a snowman or instigate a family snowball fight. You can make a snow angel anywhere there’s a dusting. Just remember to dress warmly and stay dry while you’re outside!

3. Take Advantage of the Kitchen

A day spent inside is a great opportunity to undertake a kitchen project. Introduce the kids to cooking by baking something fun like these simple sugar cookies. If you’re a little bit crafty, you can even make your own cookie cutters for added fun.

4. Tell Stories

I don’t need  to tell you how to do this one, but to get you started: remember the blizzard of ‘78? Everyone has an epic storm story. Check out these stories of great storms of the past for inspiration: Top Ten Storms.

5. Spread Out!

One of the best things about a vacation rental is that you have an entire house to spread out in. While the kids are watching a movie, you can read a book by the fire and uncle Doug can make his famous coffee cake. Family vacations go more smoothly when you don’t try to do everything together, so take over the whole house and relax, you’re on vacation.

The blaze of the Olympic flame and the glint of gold medals may have ignited your interest in a Vancouver vacation this February, but now that the torch relay is nearing the finish line, it’s time to double check your baggage and make sure you have what it takes to live the Olympic Dream. Here’s a list of the items that no winter sports fan should be without:

1. More Cowbell

A must-have at ski races, cowbells were first used in Switzerland to help spectators cheer on their favorite athletes without taking off mittens or losing voices.

2. Your Country’s Flag

Win or lose, the Olympics is a celebration of nations. Support your compatriot athletes by sporting a flag, and don’t be afraid to go the extra mile by decking out in national colors from head to toe.

Whether you’re hosting a holiday feast for twenty or enjoying a candle-lit dinner for two, eating well is always a key concern on vacation. Wouldn’t it be nice to go away for a week and not have to spend any time planning, shopping, or cooking? You could always eat out, but why not put your rental home’s amenities to good use by enjoying chef-prepared in-home dining without having to chop a vegetable or wash a pot yourself?

Once the exclusive luxury of the wealthy elite, personal chefs and home-catering services are now more accessible than ever. For the same cost as a restaurant meal, a professional chef will work with you to tailor a menu to your taste, do all of the shopping, and come to your kitchen to prepare a five-star meal for you to enjoy in your own dining room. Sound impossible? With companies like Simplicity Chef in Boston, it couldn’t be easier. Simplicity Chef’s Joe Letteri will create a four-course meal in your home starting at only $85 per person. Most in-home chefs cater their menus and ingredients to your preferences and budget, so don’t be afraid to set limits and hire a cook on your own terms.

If you love eating at home on vacation, but don’t want to have a cook in your house everyday, then you can also explore the option of hiring a chef to prepare multiple meals in advance. Services such as In-Home Dining by Marie design menus, do the shopping, and create a week’s worth of meals that you can store in your kitchen. To keep things free and easy, they even provide detailed instructions for heating everything on your own.

There is no denying that the world is flattening. No matter where you are, people from different parts of the earth are interacting more than ever. When people from different countries intermingle, so do their cultures, and even their languages. Whether it is for one’s career or personal life, it is almost disadvantageous to stay within one’s culture and not be exposed to those who are different. One of the best ways to get out there and immerse yourself in “difference” is to take language courses when you’re abroad.

There are hundreds of language centers around the world that offer a wide variety of programs. These programs present many ways to learn a new language while having fun. You can take a French course in Paris while taking a wine class, sign up for an English course in London while visiting London’s world-class museums, or take a Spanish course in Barcelona while learning the history of Gaudi and Dali. These are just a few examples of types of courses available. There are classes that focus on business, that prepare students for exams such as the CAE, TOEFL, or IELTS. In addition, classes which prepare students for higher education are also popular. With so many options in so many countries, it is unfathomable to think that a student cannot find a program that fits his or her needs. Not only are the classes a chance to be taught, but choosing the right accommodation is very helpful in supplementing the learning experience.

As an American student studying in abroad without any previous experience in Spanish, I traveled to Barcelona to take Spanish and International Business classes. I took an intensive Spanish class, and lived in an apartment in the middle of the city. For me to get by it was necessary to communicate in Spanish. Living in an apartment in the middle of the city was a superb way to force myself to use the language. This rapidly increased my Spanish speaking skills and a couple months into the program, I felt confident getting around the city. Many of these language centers offer similar accommodations and others that engross the students into the culture of choice. Staying with a family in a homestay is an excellent way for students to comprehend the idiosyncrasies of the daily life of a certain country. Going to class and following the curriculum is only half the experience, but submerging yourself into the everyday lives of those around enhances the experience greatly.

With so many options around the world, finding the right language program and accommodation can be overwhelming. At LanguageInternational.com, over 150 schools are consolidated in one user friendly site that allows users to easily compare program prices. And at FlipKey.com, you can easily find accommodations and also read their reviews. When it comes to learning a new language abroad, it is no exaggeration to say the world is at your fingertips.

This guest post was penned by the mommy traveler aficionado, Carrie Simmons, visit her website at www.TravelWithKids.tv

Traveling to the grocery store with kids can seem overwhelming to many parents, so they can’t imagine traveling internationally.  But it is an experience that brings families closer together and gives them memories to last a lifetime.  The key to making it a great trip is lots of forethought and careful planning.   As producer of the television series Travel With Kids, I have had plenty of opportunities to create excellent family vacations to exotic locales.  So, I have put together a list to help you avoid the pitfalls of family vacations gone wrong.

1.  Where to go? Decide where to go as a family.  You may have ideas on your dream vacation, but giving the kids some input, even if it’s just deciding between two places you’d be happy to visit, makes them feel invested in the trip.  Take into consideration what the kids are interested in or what they are learning about in school.  If you have an animal lover, a snorkel adventure or a trip that involves hiking and animal spotting may be in order.  If your child is learning about the ancient civilizations, a trip to Mexico’s Mayan pyramids helps history come alive.  Don’t rule some place out just because other people say, “I would never bring my kids there.”  Everybody is different.  We (and our kids) have enjoyed many destinations that were typically “adult vacations”…like Paris and Peru.

2. Go Now! They are never too young to travel and you will be amazed at what they retain! Our kids still talk about places we visited years ago.  If you keep putting off going some place, it may be a pitiful remnant of what is once was.  A wise man once said, “There’s no time like the present.” In family travel this is truer than ever, as the kids get older and have more on their plates, you’ll find it harder and harder to get away. Plus, younger kids still have the active imaginations to make castles and pyramids come to life affording parents a fresh perspective and enthusiasm.

3. A Family that Learns Together. Don’t be frightened by the unknown.  There’s no greater gift you can give your child than letting them see you learn.  Showing them by example the steps it takes to learn about a new culture or language, try something new, maybe fail a little, but continue to persevere and find a passion for it, is one of the best lessons you can give your child.

And speaking of lessons, think about taking your trip during the school year.  Going outside of summer often means it’s slow season, which means lower rates and more local flavor.  If your child will be missing school, ask the teachers about getting class work to take on the road and sending in roving reports.  With digital technology and the Internet, it’s like the whole class gets to go along for the journey.  Plus, many teachers will give your child credit for their extra work.

4.  Trip Before the Trip. Once you’ve decided where to go research the destination together by watching films on the destination or ones just filmed there.  Nothing beats watching Jack Sparrow teeter along the ruins of Port Royal to get your kids excited for a trip to Jamaica.  Or watch a travel documentary on the place or read a book about it together.  Combining all this into a family night is a great way to get everyone excited. Our Travel With Kids DVDs always include movie and book recommendations as well as recipes and crafts related to the destination to make a great family night!

5. Where to stay? First let me say…it’s as true in hotels as it is in real estate…location, location, location.  You don’t want to stay in a place where you have to hop a half-hour bus every time you want to go to the beach or into town.  So, think about how you will be spending the bulk of your vacation time and choose a location that will flow with that.  Staying in the “old quarter” of town or in real neighborhoods (versus at a large chain resort) provides a more authentic journey into a country, which is one reason I like to check out vacation rentals.

Vacation rentals can make vacation a home away from home.  There’s plenty of room for the whole family to spread out.  There’s a kitchen for either snacks or full-blown meals making traveling with a picky eater a breeze. Vacation rentals are also often in resident neighborhoods making it easy to befriend locals and get the insider scoop on the destination.

6.  Pack it up! Packing is the next big worry for any traveling parent.  My first advice…don’t stress.  Remember, they have kids in foreign countries too.  So, if you forget some essential, chances are you can buy it on the road.  Of course there are certain exceptions to this rule like prescriptions, video tapes and DVDs… But as for the necessities, we’ve found diapers and baby food in even the most remote markets.  And toys, well if worse comes to worst take a hint from the locals….we never knew how great a handful of stones could be until we watched a group of kids playing with them out the window in Asia.  Next, remember to pack light.  You can always do laundry along the way.  So pack half of what you think you’ll need.  Third, involve your kids in packing. By letting them choose what goes in the bag and what stays home, I eliminate the “This bag is too heavy!” or “I can’t believe you didn’t bring that!” comments.

7. Foreign Languages. There are some special things to take into consideration when visiting a foreign country.  Remember, not everyone speaks English.  Although we’ve seldom had a problem finding someone who speaks English, it’s amazing how far learning a few words in the local language will get you.  When we were in France filming Travel With Kids Paris, the whole family learned basic greetings and pleasantries in French before we left and had a much different experience than friends of ours who tried to get by on English only.

8.  Money, Money, Money.  Keeping track of your money while you are traveling is very important.  You don’t want to get half way through the trip and realize you’ve already spent your budget.  Decide before you go how much money you’d like to spend then convert it (in your head not at the bank) into local currency.  This will enable you to think in local currency before you arrive at a destination.  But don’t withdrawl all that cash just yet, carrying all your spending money is just asking for trouble.  We bring a few hundred dollars in cash dispersed to several places (two wallets, tucked inside passport carrier, in side pocket of carry-on, some in suitcase). The rest of your spending cash can be easily withdrawn from ATMs along the way but be sure to check with your bank about fees and accessiblity.

My other bit of advice…to keep your sanity and teach the kids a bit of math…give the kids a spending budget.  Decide on an amount before you leave and give it to them at the start of the trip in local currency (this is especially fun for them if the currency trades in our favor…a 1000 bill in a foreign currency may only be worth $10 here, but it gets them really excited!)  They then have to budget their money, negotiate purchases and convert to dollars to figure out if it’s a good deal. What a math lesson!

 

Now you’ve got the tools to plan the trip of a lifetime with your family.  Decide on a destination and peruse the vacation rentals on this site.  For a little extra guidance check out our travel documentaries. But whatever you do don’t wait.  Before you know it, life will become more hectic, the kids more scheduled and you’ll think, why didn’t I go then?