Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Florida Spring Break Tips

This will be a short post for those of you who head to Florida during Spring Break.  There are things that you should be doing now if you plan on visiting the Sunshine State during March or April.
Here's what I've been doing to prepare for this year's trip:
  • I've scheduled a major maintenance appointment for my car.  I want us all to be safe and the car to be reliable while we are on the road.  If you plan on renting a car or flying, make those arrangements as soon as you can. 
  • I've "secured my lodging" by informing my mother of my travel dates (we stay at her house).  If you need to book a hotel or condo, do it as soon as you can.  The demand for decent rooms is high in the spring. 
  • I've ordered my amusement park tickets.  I order them on-line and have them held at will-call.  I could have them mailed to me but I prefer to pick them up at the will-call window.  That way I don't have to worry about my tickets being lost or stolen before we get there.  The line at will-call is practically non-existent if you get there just before the park opens
  • If you're going to Disney, make your special dining reservations now.  Those restaurants are completely booked weeks in advance. 
  • I've made arrangements to have my dog taken care of while we are away.  Don't wait too late in the season to make your arrangements because kennels tend to fill up just as quickly as the Disney restaurants. 
  • I bought string backpacks and have started assembling swag bags for the kids (see my 3/21/12 post on this topic).  I've also ordered a couple of Mark Twain audio books for family friendly entertainment.
  • I've started filling a small cup with quarters for the Florida toll roads.  It's not unusual for us to spend $12.00 to $20.00 on tolls while we're criss-crossing the state. 
  • Just before I go, I'll check my credit card that offers cash back rewards in the form of Disney Dollars and I'll redeem those points for gift cards that can be used at Disney restaurants and stores.
  • Last of all, as soon as the neighborhood Girl Scouts start peddling cookies, I'll buy a few boxes and stick them in the freezer until it's time for our trip.  I can't remember the last time I drove to Florida without a couple of boxes of Girl Scout cookies in the road trip snack stash.
We are ready to roll out of here and have a great time.  I hope that I get to see you at the Happiest Place on Earth this year.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Travel Gadgets

This is the time of year when many of us are inspired to get organized and I am no exception.  As I was re-organizing my closet last week, I peered into my drawer of travel gadgets and found quite a few things that haven’t seen the light of day in years.

Here’s what was in my gadget drawer:
  • A tiny lint roller.  This is a useful tool and it goes on every trip.  It’s a keeper.
  • An ancient travel hair dryer.  Most American hotels provide them these days but you never know what you will find in Europe.  I also need it when I visit some family members.  I’ll keep this, as well.
  • An outdated, very heavy converter/adapter.  This piece went into the donation box.
  • A flat iron.  I haven’t used a flat iron in years and never really liked this one anyway.  I’ll hand it off to my granddaughter.
  • Multiple cosmetic bags, compliments of Estee Lauder.  While these bags come in handy, I really don’t need a two dozen of them.  They’re out.
  • A travel alarm.  Seriously?  My cell phone is my every day alarm.  Out with that relic, as well.
  • A very nice money belt.  Hmm.  I’ve used it only once but can’t help but feel that it will come in handy in the future.  It doesn’t take up much space, so I’ll keep it.
  • Ten tiny umbrellas. How in the world did I amass so many of these?  I opened each one and trashed those that weren’t in good shape and then kept the rest.  They wear out quickly so I’m sure that the collection will diminish over time.
  • Folding hairbrushes.  I bought these because I thought they would be space-savers but I absolutely hate the way they work on my hair, so I don’t use them.  They are now in the granddaughter stack.
  • Six hotel mending kits.  These are handy but I don’t need six of them set aside for travel.  I’ll stick one each in the guest room, the boat, the car and my desk at work.
  • A cheap corkscrew.  I got this on the trip to Chicago because we bought a bottle of wine to take back to the hotel room.  I never take one when I travel and see no reason to.  I’ll stick this one in the picnic basket.
  • Multi-use tool.  Other people always sing it’s praises but I’ve never used it on a trip.  It’s going into the tool box in the garage.
My travel gadget drawer is so much neater now, thanks mostly to modern technology.  It is no longer necessary to carry heavy travel guides, alarm clocks and power converters.  Lightweight electronics really can lighten your luggage.

If you haven’t thought about all of the best uses for your electronics, or if you’ve simply resisted the change, let me entice you with these suggestions.

Your cell phone can serve as:
  • An alarm clock.  Your phone will adjust to the time zone you’re in.  Most models also allow you to set two or three wake-up times in advance.
  • A nightlight for those middle of the night trips to the bathroom in a strange hotel room.  If you’re using the phone as your alarm, it’s already on your nightstand anyway.
  • Your boarding pass.  Simply download the app for the airline you’re using and pull up your boarding pass.  No more paper passes to fuss with.
  • A communications center.  Email, text and voice can be accessed quite easily from one tiny device.  No Wi-Fi hotspots required.
  • Your financial center.  Keep track of your debt and credit card accounts while you travel.  You’ll know instantly if an unscrupulous waiter uses your card to pay for more than your dinner.  Many restaurants and stores also accept mobile phone coupons, so be sure to download all of the money saving apps you can find before you hit the road.
  • A light-use camera.  I still take along a camera if I plan on snapping a lot of pictures but if I think that I’ll only be taking a handful, the phone is good enough.
In addition to being an e-reader, your tablet can:
  • Hold your packing list. 
  • Keep your travel confirmations close at hand in case there are questions at check-in.
  • Keep you on track with GPS/Maps.  It’s better than being seen on the street with a large map that screams, “I’m tourist and, therefore, a potential crime victim”.
  • Organize conference schedules.  Why lug around a lot paper schedules?
  • Host a PDF of your passport.  It’s much easier and faster to get a lost passport replaced if you can provide authorities with a copy of it.
  • Entertain you.  Fill your tablet up with videos, music, magazines and books before you leave and you’ll never be bored.  Don’t forget to pack earphones so that you can enjoy your entertainment without bothering your fellow travelers.
Kindle Fire tablets are very affordable right now.  I bought this model a few months ago and find that I use it every day, not just while I’m traveling.  However, it is a wonderful travel tool, as well.  It weighs next to nothing and works like a dream.

These little electronic wonders will, of course, need to be recharged along the way.  The newest power converters/adapters are considerably lighter than the old ones.  They use USB cords so you don’t have to pack multiple wall chargers.

You might not need to take multiple cords either.  Check your electronics before you leave home.  I use the same cord for my tablet and my phone because they are compatible.  However, my camera requires its own special USB cord.
Anything you can do to lighten your travel load will make travel all the more enjoyable.  Take a good look at your habits and your gadgets, then mull over all of the little improvements you can make to make sure that your next trip is best the one yet.