Archive for the ‘travel’ Category
April 23rd, 2013 at 12:07 pm
Imagine having an app that gives you the shortest route to take on the way to your destination. Of course, we have GPS for that. Now imagine a network of people checking in to let you know what the traffic conditions are on that route, right now, as you head out.
That sounds pretty good to me. And that’s the idea behind the Social GPS app called Waze.
Face it, depending on where you live and travel to, getting there can really test your patience. Construction, accidents and everyday volume can make it more like a nightmare. Waze aims to bring some light into that dark place called the daily commute.
Simply check into the Waze app on your smartphone or tablet and input your destination. It works like any GPS navigation device but takes it to the next level.
With the Waze app open as you drive, your progress, or lack thereof, will be captured (anonymously) along with that of the other Wazers. The result is a crowdsourced traffic feed that lets you know where the pain points are. If there’s a problem, the Waze navigator will suggest an alternate route and tell you how to get to it. How helpful is that?
There are other features to the app that make it even more useful. You can use the Report menu to select preset reasons for the slowdown, be it an accident, police activity, construction or just heavy volume to let the other Wazers know why it’s taking so long. This can help you decide whether to re-route (construction) or wait it out (accident being cleared). You can even submit a picture of the issue. Genius. No more sitting there wondering WHY you’re just sitting there!
Another nifty feature allows you to check the gas stations along the way and compare prices. Love that! And if you use the app with Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare, you can coordinate with your friends on arrival times. For a quick demo video, click here.
If you thought your current GPS was good, Waze brings in the social functions and takes it up a notch or three. Now, if it could only do the driving for you. Don’t laugh, that feature isn’t so far fetched anymore.
April 19th, 2013 at 12:25 pm
By Kim Ross
Any road trip with children can be interesting, to say the least. The endless cries of “Are we there yet?” are almost as fun as a screaming infant or toddler that has just had enough! Here are a few ideas to make the road trip a little easier.
Movies – What did people do before there was access to watch things in the car? Plus, if you don’t have a tv in your car, it is easy enough to watch on your tablet or phone. Too much of this can’t be a good thing, though. Make sure you save this for down time so it doesn’t lose it entertainment value.
Electronic Games – My kids love to play games in the car on their devices. Make sure to load their Leap pad, DS or other game system and favorite games for the road trip. On our last trip I found that headphones are a must!
License Plate - Print out a sheet of paper with all the states on it. As kids see a license plate they can cross off that state. If you are taking a long road trip see who can find the most!
Toy Bribes - Pack a special toy or activity for every hour of the trip. If they behave they get to open the next surprise. This is great with small cars, a new coloring book, or even small doll they can play with.
Doodling Fun - What’s better than some art fun? Make sure to bring some crayons and paper or go paperless with a Magna Doodle, Etch a Sketch, or Dry Erase Board.
Cameras - Pack disposable cameras for your kids to document their journey along the way. My boys like to use an Ipod to take pictures and video and it is great fun to watch what they do after the trip!
Snacks - Never leave home without your kids favorite snacks!
Audio Books- Pick out a story to listen to on the vehicle’s radio or alone. This is a great way to listen to new stories that can take up a good portion of the trip!
Magnetic Travel Activity - If you are crafty this is a great way for little boys o play with their cars and trucks during travel.
These activities just might make you hear a few less “Are we there yet?”
Kim Ross also writes at A Little Bit of This and That ~ The Adventures of a Stay at Home Mom.
January 18th, 2013 at 8:30 am
By Kim Ross
I don’t know about you, but I desperately need a family vacation right about now! Between the craziness of raising kids, the holidays, and the dead of winter in Wisconsin I could go for something warm and relaxing. The task can seem overwhelming though. All the planning, packing, and decision-making sometimes makes a family vacation seem not as much fun as you anticipate. I guarantee it will be fun once you go through with a little organization up front.
First, you want to decide where you are going. Is this a Staycation, or do you want to go on a big trip? This also depends upon budget and how long of a vacation you are taking. If it is just a weekend, you may want to stay closer to home; but for a week, you can definitely travel cross-country. Part of this is deciding the travel arrangements –car, train, airplane, boat? During this time of year, we usually take an extended weekend to a waterpark; a great way to getaway from home.
The next big part of planning the trip is deciding the details. Where will you stay or eat? What exciting activities are in store? I like to narrow these down. I’ve tried to figure it out when we got there, but with kids that doesn’t always work so well. When they are hungry, there isn’t a lot of time to wait; in my family that leads to meltdowns! So, what I do is create a list of options for restaurants with a few extras in case one isn’t what we expected. In this digital age, it is so easy to really delve into what restaurants and activities will work for your family. I usually call myself the “Cruise Director” and have a list of possible activities for each day. This takes the stress off me and lessens decisions that need to be made during the vacation. That means more relaxing for Mom!
Now everything should be pretty much planned! You would think we are onto the fun part, but now comes the packing! Depending upon how big your family is, this could be a hefty task. Gone are the carefree days of throwing a couple of things in a bag and having a weekend away. Now I need to tote teddy bears, sound machines and extra clothes in case of accidents. This step takes as much preparation as the others. I like to start a list a week before I am going to start packing. I write down everything I think I may need. I go over this list every day because I can guarantee as the week goes on I will add a few things (sometimes really important ones) and take a few things away. As that week passes I also think about bags that are needed and have time for shopping for last minute items.
Once the list is done I start to gather. My bed usually becomes suitcase central. Luckily, my husband goes on a lot of business trips so I let him pack himself, but always remember to ask him if he has certain items (like swim trunks) that he would typically forget! I like to involve the boys as much as I can, having them retrieve things or pick out their favorite clothes to wear. Packing can be a big task, but I feel like it starts to get you excited to go.
Then you are set! Well, as long as you thought about your pets, if you need anyone to watch the house or collect the mail too! These are important details that can be forgotten! Trust me! Last fall, when we went for a weekend I almost forgot to make arrangements for the dog, which led to a 2 hour vet appointment to update shots. Don’t ask!
Once you leave your house, make it fun! Vacation starts on that first step out the door!
Are you going on a fun family vacation anywhere?
Kim Ross also writes at A Little Bit of This and That ~ The Adventures of a Stay at Home Mom.
December 19th, 2012 at 5:00 am
Whether you’re driving to the next state or flying across the country, holiday travel is just plain stressful, particularly when you’re traveling with kids. Here are some tips to help make your trip less taxing:
Be sure to arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare – at least two to three hours in advance. Print your boarding passes at home to save even more time. Just go to your airline’s website – and make sure you don’t pack too much as to incur extra luggage fees. It may be cheaper to ship gifts a week ahead of time. Finally, if you have an active toddler, it’s best to wait until the last minute to board – this is a great way to avoid a restless meltdown.
Make sure your car is ready and safe for travel before you leave, and be prepared for any weather conditions with supplies such as shovels, blankets and flashlights. For the younger kids, have them pack their own toys and books to prevent boredom on the trip and be sure to make rest stops if your trip is going to be longer than two hours. If you don’t have a portable DVD player, now is a great time to invest in one to bring on your trip along with the kids’ favorite movies.
No matter what your means of travel…
Make sure you pack plenty of small snacks (pretzels, string cheese, Cheerios) and water for your kids. And some snacks for the adults is not a bad idea either… you will surely need to keep up your strength.
Also, be sure to involve the whole family in the trip-planning process. Have the older kids help find things to do around your destination, it keeps them busy while you are packing and makes them feel part of the planning. You can even have them help pack… if you have the patience and a lot of time. Give them things to do to feel as if they are contributing and also make them feel more secure about uprooting their lives for a short period of time.
Share any of your stress-reducing travel tips in the comments. Happy travels!
September 18th, 2012 at 12:53 pm
These days, there are some great tools on your smartphone that can help make the trip easier and more hassle free than ever.
First, there’s Google Maps (Android). For navigation, it’s amazing. Enter your destination, turn on the navigation and get turn by turn instructions either visually or with audio. Turn on the Traffic layer and you can keep an eye on delays and bottlenecks. On our recent trip, we were able to avoid hours sitting in traffic due to a closed interstate by rerouting on some back roads.
Getting low on gas? Type “gas station” in the search box and GMaps will pinpoint all the stations on your route. GasBuddy can help you find the best prices. This is great for avoiding the dreaded “30 miles till next exit” when you’re low on fuel, bladder control, or wakefulness.
For lodging, type in “hotels” and see what’s around. Each map pin has information about the hotels so you can find the brand you want and get additional information. To get rating information, TripAdvisor is great for finding out the particular pros and cons and getting good insight from past travelers. The Travelocity app is also feature rich for this. If you’re a frequent guest at a particular hotel, make sure you’ve downloaded their app for quick and easy reservations. And if you’re near a large city a newer app called HotelTonight can provide deals on last minute hotel reservations.
Hungry? If you’ve got Siri, simply tell her that you are or what you feel like eating and let her come up with some suggestions. Or you can use Yelp, Good Food Near You, or Foodspotting (see my post from a couple of weeks ago) to see what’s nearby.
And if you want to explore the area you’re in beyond gas stations, hotels and restaurants, try Roadside America (iphone $2.99) for tips on finding the fun, funny and absurd attractions nearby. Or let Woofound match you up with your favorite activities away from home.
When I was 15, I went on a family road trip cross country armed with a box full of AAA TripTiks and hotel catalogs and spent a lot of time stopping and checking hotels and restaurants. Before cell phones (forget smartphones), it was a lot of hit or miss, with enough misses to write a book.
My husband, daughter and I recently spent 11 days on the road covering over 2700 miles. As the designated navigator and mission control, I used all of these apps to ensure the trip went as smooth as possible, with mostly hits. It was a blast.
September 4th, 2012 at 7:10 am
On my family’s recent road trip, we were faced with this decision in every new place we visited. So of course I turned to my smartphone apps for help. I found a really good one called Foodspotting. It’s a simple to use app that provides menu item photos that people have posted from restaurants near your location. Seeing a luscious plate of ribs or a yummy red velvet cupcake can do wonders in helping you pick a restaurant.
Foodspotting allows you to view your options based on Specials, Best Rated, what’s Nearby, and the Latest Additions. You can participate by choosing items you Want, Tried or Loved. You can also add your own photos to help build up the database. While we were traveling I added a BBQ Taco Plate and a Shrimp Burger that I loved.
You can also do a search on a specific item and see if any local restaurants feature them. Got a yen for sliders? Foodspotting can help you find them.
Foodspotting is not as comprehensive as Yelp, which is a great app that I use all the time. But sometimes I don’t want to read a dozen reviews. I just want a quick look at what’s available. A picture can really get the mouth watering.
Sometimes you don’t know what you want until you see it. I have to go now. I’m heading out to try a breakfast trifle at a local restaurant that I’ve been meaning to try for months. The photo looks so good I just have to try it.
August 22nd, 2012 at 5:00 am
Forty miles north of Madison, in Baraboo, Wisconsin, you’ll find the original site of the Ringling Bros. Circus, now home to Circus World—part museum, part circus adventure. Our weekend visit enthralled even my hard-to-impress teens.
In addition to typical museum exhibits, a day at Circus World is sprinkled with interactive things to do and see, including:
- A live magic show in a brand new “Theatre of Illusion” featuring magician Tristan Crist.
- Pony and elephant rides.
- Circus workshop where kids practice tightrope walking and juggling.
- The largest collection of restored circus wagons in the world.
- A play park.
- A working carousel.
We arrived at 1:00 and, when the park closed at 6:00 p.m., we all wished we had more time.
The most exciting part of the day was the big top, an intimate, one-ring circus. The performers pulled volunteers from the audience, and all the kids were invited down to the ring at the end of the show. My kids giggled at the Pekinese puppy show and clowns’ crazy antics. In this age of virtual experiences, seeing live acts with people who have learned their craft over many generations is still a thrill.
A Wisconsin family with three little kids sat right in front of us, on the edge of their seats. Rachael, age four, told me she loved Lady Dancer, the dancing horse, best. “The lady looked like a fairy princess,” she said. Her big brother, Jake (age 5), was much more impressed with the elephants. “I got to ride the old one,” said Jake. “He was really smooth.”
Circus World is open year around and reasonably priced, so next time you’re in the Midwest, add Baraboo to your itinerary. And Jake is right. The elephants are the coolest part.
August 21st, 2012 at 8:46 am
Looking for ideas for something to do today? There’s a nifty new app called Woofound that can offer suggestions for restaurants, fitness, entertainment and other activities based on your user profile and your location.
I’m currently on a road trip with my family we were looking for some daytime activities in a new city. I downloaded this app to my iPad (it’s also available on iPhone, Android is coming soon) to see how it works.
The first step is to create an account and go through the Play function which shows you photos of foods, sports, and other activity types. You simply click on Me or Not Me and the app will then suggest local places to go or things to do that fit your profile. And the more you “Play”, the better it gets at choosing appropriate activities.
This way you can avoid suggestions for jousting, hookah lounges or English cuisine if they’re not your thing.
Once you find an attraction or destination that you like you can then “Plan” it. You can set a day and time, find it on a map, go to the website or call the site. And if you want, you can share it with your friends on Woofound or Facebook.
You can also search by category and price range to narrow your options.
I think this is a very cool app. I found a museum, a bike rental, a designer consignment shop and a restaurant for dinner without having to search various websites or travel guides. Once you’ve established your profile, let Woofound play matchmaker for you. It’s quick and easy.
If you’re the travel agent for your family or the social director for your pals, Woofound is a keeper.
June 20th, 2012 at 5:00 am
Pet Friendly Finds
When traveling with pets, the Internet is definitely your friend. Many service sites, like gopetfriendly.com are now available to help you find pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, campgrounds, beaches, activities and other services while on the road. A simple search and you can find everything you need to know, including related fees and pet policies.
About those fees: be aware that many hotels that allow pets charge an additional fee to have them in your room with you. Fees can range anywhere from $10 per pet per night to $50 or more. That can be hefty increase in the advertised room rate, so be sure you know exactly how much they charge.
Traveling with pets, especially during the hot summer months, requires careful planning. The ASPCA recommends that you do several trial runs on shorter trips with your animal before you attempt a long-distance ride.
Never leave your pet in an unattended car. Even with the windows open, in hot weather the interior of a car can reach dangerously high temperatures in just a matter of minutes. If you plan to stop to eat, think about taking a picnic so your pet can take a break with you, or research pet-friendly restaurants along your route.
Be sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date. Your pet should always wear his collar and tags with contact information when traveling. Consider a microchip for your animal if you plan to travel often, just in case you get separated along the way.
Before You Leave
Have your pet eat a small meal several hours before you depart to help prevent carsickness. Your animal should have a safe way to ride with you in the car. An unrestrained pet can be hurt in an accident, and can be a distraction and danger to the driver. The ASPCA recommends a well-ventilated crate. There are also a wide variety of car restraints and barrier systems that keep animals in a safe part of the vehicle. Never let your pet ride in the front seat, as an airbag could be fatal.
On the Road
Bring water with you, but don’t have it available in the car. Take plenty of breaks to provide a drink, potty stops, and exercise. Bring a favorite toy or chew to keep your pet happy and occupied. Here are few more tips for your next pet road trip. Have fun!
March 14th, 2012 at 5:00 am
In a couple of weeks, I’ll pile the kids in the minivan and drive 1200 miles from Chicago to visit my parents in Florida. Again. Each trip, we try to learn something new, so I did a little research and discovered that March 1 begins the official sea turtle nesting season in Florida.
Sea turtles are ancient creatures, with fossils dating back more than 200 million years to the Triassic period, even before dinosaurs became dominant. About 50,000 turtles from five species live in Florida waters during the March-October nesting season, and Florida is the most important nesting area in the country for loggerheads and leatherbacks.
Sea turtles come ashore to nest. They are awkward on land, and it’s an exhausting process for females to crawl the beach, find a favorable site, dig a nest, lay eggs, and return to the sea. Some sea turtles lay up to 10 nests in a single season.
Scientists believe that only 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 turtle eggs survive to adulthood. Not very good odds. Humans play an important role in protecting the nesting sites, since we often make our way to Florida beaches at about the same time as the turtles.
Know the Rules
After millions of years, sea turtles are now endangered and are protected by a wide variety of local, state, and Federal laws. Here are some things you should know:
- No vehicles are allowed on Florida beaches.
- Artificial lighting can interfere with nesting females and hatchlings; check local ordinances for rules regarding beachfront lighting, and do not take flash pictures or use a flashlight on the beach.
- It is illegal to take, trap, sell, capture, or collect sea turtles.
- It is illegal to disturb a turtle nest or to interfere with nesting turtles in any way. Leave adults, eggs, and baby turtles alone.
Known turtle nests are often roped off on beaches, but be aware that you may stumble across one on your own. If you do, or if you find a dead turtle, report it to the life guard or local beach authority. Turtle conservation agencies also request that you:
- Dismantle all sand castles and fill in any holes that you dig on the beach.
- Clean up after your visit and dispose of any garbage. Plastic bags and broken balloons are especially dangerous, as they look like jellyfish in the water and turtles can eat them and die.
- Remove all beach toys, chairs, and umbrellas at the end of each day.
If you are traveling to Florida over the coming months, have a good safe trip, and watch out for turtles.
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