10 Tips for a Successful Road Trip

My 15 soon to be 16 year old son recently got his drivers permit.  Now that he’s behind the wheel, there’s a lot of interest on his part to get behind the wheel.

Here are a few tips to planning a road trip:

1. Getting from Point A to Point B: GPS Device, Maps, Smart Phone with GPS, USB on Mappoint, iPAD with GPS, Road Signs, etc… – I have used any number of ways to get across state lines.  I like having the turn by turn directions, and if you do, you will either want a GPS like Magellan.  The times have sure changed but many still prefer the maps for planning and executing their routes.

2. Plan a Route with some Fun destinations, It’s not about speed between A and B – Today I planned our road trip using RoadTrippers.com it worked great.  I put in Salt Lake City, UT as the source and the destination.  Then I added the places where I wanted to go.  I really want to see Devils Tower from the Close Encounters of the Third Kind movie, then Crazy horse and Mount Rushmore, and then Teddy Roosevelt Park.  The plan was to get me into North Dakota, the last state in the lower 48.  I’ll be visiting my last state in the Union, Alaska next month.  You can use Bing Maps, Google Maps, or various tools to see what the roads are between you and your destination, but how do you plan your route?  I like to have things I want to see.  Seeing something cool every day with a little hike or some fresh air is nice to plan out when doing 10 or 12 hour drives.  You really shouldn’t plan to drive more than 12 hours in a day.  Longest I ever did was somewhere around 15 hours back when I was in college, but usually it’s not about getting as fast as possible to the destination, but rather enjoying the road trip and seeing sites along the way.  The RoadTrippers app allows you to display attractions, historical, and photo areas.  As a result I added a couple of additional stops, Independence rock, Sturgis (home to the biker gathering), a Mesa falls, and 1800’s Smith mansion.  Normally I’d go through Yellowstone National Park, but I have visited the park nearly every year for the past few years.  So while I am a fan, I need a break.

If you’re traveling during the winter, watch the roads as is be sure to keep track of the pass weather, just in case it’s closed!

Mount Rushmore Road Trip

3. Be willing to stop along the route, Mix it up! – You do need to think about stops along the way that will break up the day and make it enjoyable.  Maybe it’s the world’s largest ball of twine, or Wall Drug, or even just getting slurpees for the kids, but when doing big family trips, the kids memories aren’t just about the destination.  They will remember the 6 legged cow, and the albino skunk more than they may remember the St. Louis Arch.  Same with Disneyland. If they drove 14 hours the day before they get to Disney, they will be exhausted.

4. Use the Pool – You may feel like you need to get on the road as early as possible, but an early dip in the pool will serve to wake you up, and will give you energy you didn’t know you had.  The kids will thank you for it.

5. Break it up – Rush day, chill day, Busy Day, Relax day.  When I plan a family trip, I am use to doing it my way, which is cram the days full… Packed days.  I thrive off of the destinations and adventures.  I’ve found the family prefers to spend more time on the beach and less time at the pyramids.  Less time in the caves, and more time in the pools.  Less time on the Hike and more time chilling at the cabin.  To keep everyone happy I try to mix it up so we can both be happy.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

6. Get fresh air – Seems there are less and less rest stops.  I push myself when I do long road trips, and often stop only when I need more gas.  That’s not a great practice.  You need to get the blood flowing.  There are conditions that can happen.  You’ll notice a lot of the attractions on this trip will involve some decent hikes.  I’m looking forward to doing some father and son bonding.  Hikes are a great way to get to know the others on the trip.  Often up in the hills there’s no 3G, no Wifi, and the power on the devices in the car are likely drained or having been used for the last 6 hours are now a bore.  Walking, hiking, or simply exploring around national parks, or around the downtown… there are ways of keeping the blood flowing and supporting your goals.  Think about all the junk you’re eating along the way minus your normal exercise routine.  Feels good to find balance between the long drives with a good walk or hike.

7. Plan for snacks – Gas stations ultimately are limited on the quality of food you can get.  Granola, nuts, fruit, aren’t popular in gas stations.  Pop, candy bars, and circus peanuts, and peach rings… now you know what we end up with.  Much better to plan for snacks so you can mix in some healthy stuff.  It shouldn’t be hard to find a grocery store.  They really are all over the world.  The convenience of the gas station is just too easy.  Learn to enjoy water.  May make sense to bring a water bottle and just fill up with ice.  Takes serious discipline.  I’m not all there yet, but I know I should be doing that.  Think about how you want to carry water and keep it cool.  You do need to drink plenty of water.

8. Plan your hotel, B&B or camping strategy, get a good night’s rest, if you’re feeling pain get an adjustment or massage – You may be pushing through to arrive at your destination.  Just because you arrived late doesn’t mean you need to be up at the crack of dawn.  If you do need to be up at sunrise keep your drapes open.  Natural light will help restore you and help you make up more naturally.  Careful on doing anything dangerous.  8 hours of downtime is good.  Remember it’s about regeneration.  After I’ve done some horrible thing to my body… those other side of the world 40 hour flights, I reward myself with a massage.  Easy to get in Asia, it’s becoming more and more common in many countries around the world to get a massage.  I love space tanks as well for their restorative qualities.  I bet that’s another post.

Plan your Hotels and know what you’re getting into.  Consider Bringing Your Own Pillow and a Spare Blanket.  If you’ve got the room in the car, you may want to toss in a pillow and blanket.  Great for naps, and your neck is use to your pillow.  Consistency.  There’s a lot of stress on your neck during the drive, so taking off that stress at night may really help.

Hotels – Quality *

  • Motel 6 – 1-2 stars
  • Super 8 – 2-2.5 stars
  • Holiday Inn Express, Marriott Fairfield, Hilton Garden 3+ stars
  • Holiday Inn, Residence Inn, Hilton 3-4 stars
  • Hyatt, Ritz, Intercontinental 5 stars

International folks may enjoy the http://VRBO.com and couch surfers the http://airbnb.com which both have a huge variety.  The B&B’s can be a way to combine the destination as part of the tour.  A lot of them are online these days, and it takes some research.  Top travel sites for planning include http://kayak.com http://expedia.com http://orbitz.com http://hotels.com http://priceline.com http://Travelocity.com http://tripadvisor.com they all have their pros and cons and expose most of the major chains.  Trip Advisor has attractions in it’s database.  If you can figure out which hotel you want and then call them directly, you may be able to simply make the reservation without having to pay.  They may be able to hold it with a card.  As well, lot of opportunities to collection hotel points for free nights or double dip on frequent flier miles like at Hilton depending on your loyalty.

9. Packing & Keep the Car Clean – I always pack light as a world traveler, but when I’m in my own car it’s easy to get sloppy.  I count out the days and pack minimalist, but since I’m in the car I will pack the snacks and water separate.  Putting the snacks in a small box will keep things from rolling around.  If you can think modularly of those things that are for the car can stay in the car and then only what you need for the night has to go into the hotel.  You may be driving an RV or Staying at Camp grounds.  This use to be so much easier back in the 70’s and 80’s.  Now the camp grounds are really spread out and they definitely don’t have the marketing budget of the hotels.  For cheap hotels there are those little magazines that mention the walk in rate discounts.  There are a lot of strategies to employ here.  I’ve used a dozen different strategies and I do a lot of hotels.  A lot of it is tolerance around cost, and tolerance around conditions.  In the US there really is a hierarchy on national and world wide brands.

10. Tune up the car or consider a Rental – You may end up being focused on the agenda and packing, but ultimately what can make or break a trip is the condition of the car.  Remember the vehicle you may be driving has often not been driven long distances, and may need fluids antifreeze an oil change and more.  Get that tune up that you’ve been putting off, not on the day you’re trying to get out of town, but instead a few days prior.  In road trips in the past I’ve encountered flat tire, overheating car (ended up dying), and transmission issues that cost me thousands.  Even cleaning it out and having it vacuumed can help to start off on the right foot.  Some may want to consider renting a vehicle.  In some cities the daily and weekly rate may be worth the wear and tear on your own car.  Big road trips can add a lot of miles all at once.  These road trips can be fun with the top down, and in a sports car.  For some, that is the dream.  For others, it’s about a camper or RV to get on the road… Make sure you’ve got plenty of accessing to funds.


10 Simple Tips for Travel Around the World

Planning for global travel can make a big difference in how smooth your trip goes when something goes awry.

Jet over water

1. Pack light – Avoid Check in bags, they are getting increasingly costly and can prevent you from getting on early flights, and can slow you down.  Even if you pay $0 for your check in, now you’re wasting time when you arrive and for potential connections and stops along the way.  You’ll also find that compact cars in most places around the world don’t have much room for a big check in bag.

2. Pack for ultimate flexibility in weather and comfort – I like to bring my hiking pants that zip off into shorts.  They also wear really well.  I can often go for a week in these and did so on a trip to East Africa. If I need to dress up, I can do that in a wrinkle free button up collared shirt, or for work trips I’ll wear a sports jacket that doubles as a coat.  Look at the materials and avoid cotton.  There are some amazing clothes that roll up very tight and don’t wrinkle. I rarely bring more than 1 pair of shoes, because I look for shoes that work in a wide variety of situations.

3. Money and Cards – There are a lot of strategies around this.  Some of the most important are having a good backup plan.  You don’t plan to get mugged, but you should plan to get pickpocketed. I consider myself very aware and I’ve been pickpocketed four times… once on the Train in London, once on train in Rome, once on train in Barcelona, and once in a religious parade in Guatemala.  All this and across 100 countries from the best to the worst across the extremes of economic conditions.  In all of those instances I never felt anyone pulling something out of my pocket.  Of all of those times…. three times it was phones, once my wallet.  Thank goodness I had a strategy.  On that trip I took a dual strategy of storing cards in two places.  One on my person (in my wallet) and the other in my bags.  I had travelers checks and my passport.  Traveling with friends I was able to get some cash and use paypal to quickly reimburse my friends.  Amex was incredibly fast. I had an AMEX replacement card in 36 hours in Barcelona.  As I suggested there are lots of strategies…

Having a fake second wallet with convincing but old cards to provide in case of mugging with minimal but enough to satisfy cash desperation. The primary one could be a money belt or alternative safe location.

  • Money belt or storing it in your sock or shoe – I find the inconvenience of having a place that’s hard to get to… well… inconvenient.
  • Travelers checks – These are great for 1st world countries especially Europe and North America.  Cash them as often as you need to just stop by most banks or money changers.  Only sign them when ready to use them and keep the stub in another location such as home or in your bags.  This will allow you to get the cash back if stolen.
  • Hard Cash Money Euros and Dollars spread out – I don’t want to admit it, but in Africa and places with fewer banks often the easiest thing is to have cash distributed across multiple bags in strategic places.  Never too much in one place, but allows you to dip into your reserves and saves you on ATM fees. Bags do get lost, that’s why I’m referring to carry on in this case.  Don’t ever put large amounts of money in outside pockets of large suitcase even with a tiny little lock.  As well, just because your bag is wrapped in plastic doesn’t mean it won’t be messed with.  It’s a nice deterrent, but basically you should never fly with anyone you can’t live without in a check in bag.  Must haves should be in carry on bag, especially in overseas trips with stopovers.
  • ATM Card – There are way more ATMs than McDonalds around the world.  I have used and abused the ATM machines.  I’m sure I’ve paid a few thousand dollars in ATM fees alone.  On top of that I’m sure I’ve paid hundreds if not thousands in conversion fees as well, but don’t let anyone convince you that you get a better deal dollar for dollar.  If you convert $100 cash vs. pull out $100 from the ATM you will get a better rate with the ATM machine 80% of the time.  The trick is to visit the ATM machine as infrequently as possible without having a bunch of foreign currency at the end of your trip, especially Argentinian Pesos.  In 95% of the cases, you can fly back and transfer your money in the US (at the airport NOT your bank) and get better rates than local.  Your local branch bank most of the time will not take your foreign currency… EVEN EUROS!!  That is unless they are an international bank and unless they are big head quarters.

6. Online backups of your Identity – You should have a scanned copy of your passport as well as copies of both sides of your credit cards online in a safe place that you trust. That’s step one.  It will be handy for all of your future travels as well.  I also carry extra copies of my picture which is great for border crossings and border visas, you never know.  You’d be surprised as well how much a business card can buy you in your story even if you are on vacation.  SkyDrive, Corporate email keep folder, or Digital lockers with high encryption… you get the idea.  It’s not hard to add a password to the file if you’re going to send it to yourself in email and then store it.  Remember you’re going to need to be able to get at it to print it out so you can call the 800 numbers on the cards to report them as missing… oh yeah, 800 number doesn’t work foreign right?  That’s why you want the card, so you can look it up and see if they have a foreign number for contact and for the country you’re in.  800 numbers are a pain in Europe, but I’ve found often my personal at&t cell phone finds a way to get around it.  Any in country phone will give an error.

Don’t be afraid to contact your country Embassy  if there’s not one.  If you are ever concerned about a trip.  Register ahead of time with the Embassy or Consulate.  Many contain really good travel details.  You can get

7. Don’t pack too many just in case items – It’s amazing how huge some people’s toiletry bags are.  Beyond toothpaste, toothbrush and a minimal brush or comb, some tiny travel sized deodorant… girls I understand… but minimize remember where you’re going and work to reduce and reduce again.  Those three extra pairs of pants and 2 extra pairs of shoes or boots make a huge difference in weight and size of your bags.  Minimize… think… Hey I’m going to pick up a shirt in Vietnam or South Africa or where ever you’re going.  I find it fun to collect football/soccer shirts in the countries I’m visiting.  At least that’s the plan, if I start to feel low on clothes.  The other thing is those type of shirts pack well and don’t wrinkle.

8. International Data plans, Global Cell Plans, Unlocked Phones and Sim Cards – Depending on how much time you plan to stay in one place.  Getting a sim once you arrive may do the trick to get you both data and voice for your unlocked phone.  Yes UNLOCKED is the key if you’re going to be swapping sim cards.  Talk to your cell provider to find out what type of international calling plans they have.  There is a HUGE difference between providers.  When I travel, I often hop from country to country either by plane, boat, car or ferry.  So I don’t want to lock myself down with a sim and it’s a pain to track them down if others are traveling with me and don’t want to wait while I check the various telecoms when I arrive.  The easiest I’ve found is having a good cell provider that provides good global plans that provide some data and some text and a little voice. 

If you don’t prepare you will feel extremely disconnected or end up with a HUGE bill.  There are some important strategies of being aware of what you’re using along the way and then making sure you turned it off when you get back so you can get a pro-rated rate.   Think about Voice, Data, and Text as well as sending and receiving.  Make sure you reset your usage meter on your phone just prior to leaving as well as applying the service right as you leave.  There’s an app for that in many cases.

  • $10 – Global Messaging 50 – send 50 text messages. $.40 for ea message beyond that
  • $30 – 120MB Data Global Add-on – 120MB of data in 140 countries (I laugh at the list of countries since I’m not even that liberal in counting countries.  Many of the countries they list are simply islands of other countries.)  Even countries like South Africa are not on the At&t list so be sure to check.
  • $30 – 30 minutes of Europe Travel Minutes / $60 – 40 Rest of World minutes
  • Total $70-100

So for less than $100 USD you can stay connected while on the go.  Those are the cheap packages, and another reason I say… if you’re going to stay in one place like Germany or South Africa for 3 weeks… get the SIM card.  Way cheaper.  Go to 4 Countries at $29.99 a pop and you’re better off with the data plan, and oh yeah… is our phone unlocked?

9. Travel Mobile Apps – There are some great language apps that you’re going to want to pack ahead of time… meaning don’t use your precious bandwidth to download the apps that you could have done at home on your high speed connection. 

  • Free Currency converter app (sync it before you leave so it works offline)
  • Language / Translation apps – I use to collect them all and have top 10 language apps.  Now I simply add them to my phone prior to leaving and keep them on my home screen, but it is handy to have Spanish, French, Russian and German one click away.  The English to other language partial sentences around common scenarios can be handy for getting my order right.  Pointing at menus works fine most of the time.  I am in the process of testing “verbalize it” a new app that gives you access to human translator.  Simply start the app (requires data) then connect to a translator and they can be your interpreter.  They are just getting started, but they already do Chinese, so it’s already becoming interesting.  I also favorite/bookmark google translate, but again requires data.  Unfortunately
  • Good alarm clock app – good for your iPad you might bring for entertainment. Always good to have a backup incase your wake up call fails or that converter that was charging your phone disconnected from the wall and your phone is dead when you wake up.
  • Maps and CIA Factbook – CIA Factbook can go offline, and google maps caches fairly well if I know what I’m doing to optimize my data strategy.  Even Waze has been useful when bing and google maps chokes for directions.  Often with directions you can go online put in the directions and then go offline.  Even works somewhat with turn by turn directions on Mapquest, until it looses you.  Wish I could say bring your GPS, but the lame GPS companies still don’t understand global travel.  $100 per country does not scale.  Often you can get GPS for your rental car.  I’ve stopped doing the $7 per day GPS and using that money toward my data plan.  It’s an interface I’m familiar with and most of the time, you can get a basic map from the rental car company for free.  This is a comfort level thing.  I may not be like most people where I feel fine relying on the Internet and apps in most places around the world.  Where I don’t I make friends and contacts.  I’ve never hired a guide company that would meet me at the airport.  Instead I prefer to make friends with Taxi’s and tuk tuk drivers or leverage my global social network.
  • Travel books as Apps and PDF – The lonely planet and various travel guides and books are available as apps and as PDFs these days… Much smaller, but sometimes it’s cool to carry the book on the way to your destination so people ask you about where you’re going.  I understand.
  • Skype or Facetime for voice & video calls home – I use Skype a lot.  Whenever I’m on wifi I’m connecting with home.  Well maybe not that much, but at least I try to on a daily basis.  The skype to phone is something you want to hook up ahead of time.  This allows me to simply dial from skype and call home at $.02 per minute.  That’s my preferred way of using voice minutes.  It’s way cheaper than the $1-$2 it will cost you otherwise.  A global calling card is an alternative, but I haven’t even thought about one of those in 10 years.  You’ll have to see if they still make sense.  Trying to find a telephone booth will be another challenge and another reason I elect to avoid that scenario.

10. Travel Power Converter/Adapter – I’m still waiting for the uber dense universal converter.  It’s amazing to me how many of these there are out there on the market and none of them are perfect.  My friend Michael Noel carries the converters that he knows he’s going to use… I carry two of the universal converters (different shapes and sizes) with a power converter on it plus a small travel three outlet extension cord with 2 USB ports.  Power is something that is very important.  Power can mean the difference between getting to my destination on time and safely.  The extension cord also means if all the plugs are taken, I can courteously ask if I can plug my extension cord in and unplug and replug them in.  Never once been denied! (Assumes the power works!)

10 Tips to Preparing for Traveling Epic

Chichen Itza - Traveling with my baby Dean
Chichen Itza – Traveling with my baby Dean

It’s important to listen to your readers as a blogger.  I was asked a direct question over Facebook and felt it was worth explaining and would make a good blog.  Here’s the question…

I was wondering if you could do a post where you share tips on how you prepare before you travel to a location. For example, I’ll be travelling to Toronto in a few weeks. Do you have a method you use before each trip to find out the “must see” locations and events going on at each location? Any details you could share in a post would be awesome. I really like your “immersion” approach to travelling.

1. Minimalist packing – I think think this is a key strategy.  Some people spend weeks to planning what’s in their bags, and end up worrying about all the junk they brought with them.  I literally don’t bring anything that I couldn’t spare to lose.  My phone is the likely exception to that, cause the cheap netbook I often carry with me for presentations is cheaper than my phone… by a long shot.  It’s also very light.  My goal is to fit everything in a Ogio backpack with a laptop slot.  I’ve done 2 weeks in a backpack.  I often bring another bag on the way home with stuff I bring home, but even that has gotten smaller and smaller.  I collect masks, and often bring so unless it’s a really good mask.  One of the tricks that not everyone could use… I’ve used that works for nearly all airlines is to bring a bag that looks like a bag that was stuff you purchased at the airport.  So every checkpoint it doesn’t really count as a bag.  Worst case I attach it to my backpack by tying it on, or rolling it up and stuffing it in. There’s always more room.

2. Twitter & Facebook – Research comes from friends on social networks, not just people I’ve met. I do enjoy posting where I’m planning on going on twitter.  It’s amazing the responses I’ll get from people who are passionate about the area.  My trip to Cappadocia Turkey to the underground city of Derinkuyu would have been very different had I not had a few conversations on twitter that encouraged me to go it alone.  I felt very comfortable understanding what I was getting into.  Knowing a local also made me feel comfortable bouncing ideas that I was planning. Thanks @captcappadocia

3. Lonely Planet – Some of the best destinations on the planet are featured and covered in the Lonely Planet guides.  I’ve personally bought a couple of them when I’m crazy committed to a place.  When I visited India, I really wanted to research the culture, the cities, the palaces, and I really didn’t want to miss anything!  One of the worst things ever is knowing I went to a place and I missed the most important thing.  There are iphone/ipad apps for lonely planet that you can download and take offline.  You can also buy books for your kindle and read them along the way.  Research on the culture. the festivals, and local research about a place is helpful, but you don’t need a book for every place you’re going.  I didn’t tell you this, but copying the pages of the city or region you’re going to is a lot more light weight.  Those books have a lot of research for places you won’t see.  I learned this from a traveller who was carrying the lonely planet guide pages for Cappadocia region of turkey.  Nice!  The online site has great research, communities and helpful forums.  I personally will copy paste things I like, and put them on a word or notepad page, I include pictures as I mention in more detail in #7 below.

4. VirtualTourist.com – Speaking of most important – I use the virtual tourist top “Things to Do” as a checklist.  I read through the descriptions on 10-20 of them and find what people are saying about a place and then decide what are the things I would like most.  Often I’ll add 5 or so of the top 10.  Many of them are the things you MUST do at a place, but I’ll also include the day trip type content, and often use the map to see what cities or towns are nearby and plug those into Virtualtourist.com.  What it does not do well is tell you what is nearby.  Those day trips some times reveal what’s good nearby, but often it will only tell you boring things if you pick a boring town.  Research does not conclude from virtual tourist, it is early research to help me know where to start.  Virtual Tourist in Albania taught me that Tirana is an under the radar tourist destination, and a lot of people didn’t like it, but I also found Durres, an ancient roman port town was only 45 minutes away.  Looking up that town, I found all sorts of things I wanted to see, but I also found key historical things I shouldn’t miss in Tirana.

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