Garanimals Blog

Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

September 18th, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Road Trip Apps – Don’t Leave Home Without Them

Hitting the road for a long drive? Used to be you brought along an atlas, some snacks, some music and prayers for a smooth trip.

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.


You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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September 4th, 2012 at 7:10 am

See Food and Eat It With Foodspotting

Where should we eat? If you’ve asked that question and gotten a lot of “I don’t knows”, you know how hard it is to come up with restaurant ideas sometimes.

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.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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August 22nd, 2012 at 5:00 am

Big Time Fun at Circus World

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.

Related Picture Books
Circus by Lois Ehlert
If I Ran the Circus by Dr. Seuss

Susan Bearman also writes at Two Kinds of PeopleMike&Ollie: 24-weekers Who Beat the Odds and The Animal Store Blogas well as being a regular contributor to The Chicago Moms and Technorati.

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August 21st, 2012 at 8:46 am

Woofound – A Good Times Concierge on Your Phone

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.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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June 20th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Traveling with Pets by Car

It’s summer time and many families are ready to hit the road. If you plan to travel with your pet, new products and services are popping up all the time to make things easier.

Pet Friendly Finds

When traveling with pets, the Internet is definitely your friend. Many service sites, like  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.

Plan Ahead

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!

Susan Bearman also writes at Two Kinds of PeopleMike&Ollie: 24-weekers Who Beat the Odds and The Animal Store Blogas well as being a regular contributor to The Chicago Moms and Technorati.

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March 14th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Sea Turtles and Spring Break

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.

Related Picture Books

Into the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson
One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies

Photo credits: baby leatherback turtle by Jolene Bertoldi (ZA Photos); Anna Maria ’06 018 by spakattacks; both via Flickr Creative Commons License

Susan Bearman also writes at Two Kinds of PeopleMike&Ollie: 24-weekers Who Beat the Odds and The Animal Store Blogas well as being a regular contributor to The Chicago Moms and Technorati.

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February 9th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Single Vision, Inc. Saves Tigers

Most pet owners love their animals, but Carl Bovard is passionate about his, and has turned that passion into a mission he calls Single Vision. A terrible accident left Bovard with sight in only one eye. As he recovered, he came to see he had a vision that he should work to save the animals of the world. Since that time, Bovard has spent every waking moment learning about, working with, and caring for animals.

In 2005, he adopted two baby tigers born with vision problems that needed extra care, and he built a facility in Melrose, Florida, to house them. Bovard said he built Single Vision in memory of his grandfather, who owned a farm and who taught him to love and respect all animals.

As owner and founder of Single Vision, Inc., Carl does it all, with the help of some volunteers. In addition to the two original tigers, Single Vision is now home to nine other big cats and about 30 animals in all. Some of the other animals include: a bobcat, mountain lion, coatimundi, tarantulas and snakes. Many of the animals have come to Single Vision through Florida Fish and Wildlife confiscations.

In addition to providing sanctuary for the big cats and other animals that need a home, education is Carl’s true goal.

“We conduct private tours by appointment,” he said, “and sometimes visit school and library programs. We teach about habitat, range, physical characteristics, and status in the wild.” Big cats, especially tigers, are highly endangered, with only about 3,200 animals left in the wild.

“Three of the eight subspecies of tigers have gone completely extinct,” said Dilyn Jackson, who has been a volunteer with Single Vision for about five years. “Education is the key to their survival, and parents of young children will play a huge role in how the next generation cares for these animals and their environment. It’s the children of today who will decide the fate of our world tomorrow.”

Well-maintained facilities, such as Single Vision and reputable zoos, are important for preserving dwindling big cat populations. “Science has shown that you need a captive population of at least 250 animals within a subspecies to provide adequate breeding stock to bring a population back to the wild,” said Dilyn. It’s no easy feat to house and feed large tigers, which eat up to 30 pounds of raw meat a day.

The state of Florida has strict regulations for keeping exotic animals, and it’s a big part of Bovard’s job to keep up with the changing rules. “Our facility is unique in that we provide huge enclosures for our big cats to run and play, far exceeding the 10’ x 24’ enclosure required by law (for two big cats),” said Carl. “We provide daily exercise sessions to keep them healthy. More importantly, we build relationships with each of our animals.”

The next time you and your family are in Florida, contact Single Vision to make an appointment for a guided tour. Carl conducts the tours personally every day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (except the one day a week when he leaves to get food for the animals). Find out more about the facility and how you can help the Single Vision mission by visiting their website or Facebook page.

“I love being with the animals,” said Bovard. “I’m in it for life.”

Related Picture Books

Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins
A Tiger Grows Up by Anastasia Suen

Susan Bearman also writes at Two Kinds of PeopleMike&Ollie: 24-weekers Who Beat the Odds and The Animal Store Blogas well as being a regular contributor to The Chicago Moms and Technorati.


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November 15th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Three Ways to Send a Digital Card Through the (Real) Mail

Back in July, I wrote a post on a very cool app, Postcardly, that enabled you to turn a digital photo into a postcard that you could send through the mail.

Since then I’ve had the pleasure of trying out two other apps that also use the postal service for mailing postcards or cards.

The first, Postcards on the Run, has the same idea as Postcardly but it’s smartphone based. Take a photo with your phone, run the POTR, app, and send to the recipient. This is really handy, because you can do it all right from the phone, on the spot. It’s quick and really easy. It also has a fun feature that lets you use your finger to sign your name. A nice personalized touch. You can even add a map of the location of your photo if you want.

I also hear that the next release of POTR will include a scented feature. You’ll be able to add a smell to your card, such as bubble gum, ocean breeze, chocolate, holiday spice, and more. So your postcards from the beach can not only look beachy but smell that way too. How cool is that?

The third app I tried is Cards. Since I don’t have an iPhone I downloaded it to my iPad instead. This app is a little different because it is for creating actual cards with envelopes as opposed to postcards. There is a nice, but so far somewhat limited, selection of cards (thank you, birthday, wish you were here) that you can personalize with a photo from your device. Cards prints it on high quality letterpress paper and sends it to your recipient via U.S. mail. Each card is $2.99 (U.S) or $4.99 (international).

I’ve tried all three and while they are all similar, here’s a rundown of the finer distinctions of each.

Postcardly is for sending your pc based photos. Once you’ve downloaded from your camera you can pick and choose your best shots and send via an email. After the initial free 3 cards, you can buy 20 cards for $19.99. The quality is great. They’re printed with a matte finish on heavy card stock. No international option yet, but it’s coming soon.

Postcard on the Run is great for sending your photos right from your phone. Snap the shot, run the app, and send. Prices range from $.99 to a $1.49. (add .20 cents for international). The photo quality is also great. It’s a glossier finish, also on good quality card stock. I like the signature feature. I also like being able to send internationally.

Cards is a nice app for sending an actual card rather than a postcard. The selection is not extensive yet so you might not find just the right card for the occasion, but the card quality is really nice. They even include a piece of tissue paper inside the card. An elegant touch. The photo quality is not as good, since it’s printing the image on the card paper rather than photo paper, but the card itself was beautiful.

All three of these are really great apps. I find it interesting how often I now think of sending a postcard or card through the mail now that these apps have made it so easy. I can’t really remember the last time I bought and sent a traditional postcard. But I can tell you, I’ll be sending a digital postcard from my weekend visit with a friend right after I’m done with this post.

And if this catches on, I think the U.S. Postal service might be thanking the creators of these apps too.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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July 13th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Don’t Forget the Dog

So last  year at this time, my family was planning a trip to my stepson’s wedding in Seattle. Despite dire warnings from friends and family, we packed up Bessie (our “mature” minivan), shoe horned all six of us into the car in Chicago and hit the road, taking in a half dozen National Parks along the way. It was a great trip, with minimal bloodshed.

Planning for such a momentous trip took some real family engineering. My husband had the brilliant idea of shipping our dress clothes out to Seattle so we wouldn’t have to squeeze them into the car. Since we would be traveling every day, instead of packing individual suitcases per family member, I packed one suitcase per night with everyone’s stuff. When we went through all six suitcases, it was time to do laundry. I tell you, it was a stoke of genius.

As my son toted the last suitcase down so my husband could pack the car-top carrier, I turned around to see Hazel, our Wheaton Terrier, staring at me with her big brown eyes.

We had packed, bought our snacks, plotted our route, charged our electronics, and changed the oil in the car. We had not, however, made arrangements for the dog. We toyed briefly with the idea of taking her with us, but soon nixed it. Too much driving in the heat of summer.

Despite being in the pet business (our store actually boards other animals, but not dogs), we have yet to find a satisfactory solution for own dog-boarding needs. Now we were scrambling at the last minute. I do not recommend this strategy, as many reputable boarders are booked months in advance. In the end, we boarded Hazel with our groomer — a wonderful woman who is very good with dogs. Hazel was not too happy, though, and it took weeks for her to get back to normal.

Recently, our neighbors hired two of my boys as pet sitters. Their dogs were able to stay at home, and my boys shared the responsibility of feeding and watering them, walking them twice a day and playing with them in the afternoon. I think we will try to make similar arrangements next time. If you do decide to board your dog, here are some tips from the American Kennel Club for making it a good experience.

Susan Bearman also writes at Two Kinds of PeopleMike&Ollie: 24-weekers Who Beat the Odds and The Animal Store Blogas well as being a regular contributor to The Chicago Moms and Technorati.


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July 12th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Packing for a trip? There’s help for that.

There’s nothing worse than getting to a destination and realizing you forgot something. Sometimes it’s toothpaste. Other times it’s Bubby, the favorite toy. If you’re lucky and realize it’s absence early in the journey, you turn around and go fetch him. If not, bedtime with a bereft child awaits.

Admit it. You would (or have) turn(ed) around to fetch the beloved companion.

As our family prepares for our annual camping trip, it’s time to consult “the lists”. Unlike vacations where you stay at a house or hotel, camping brings packing to another level. The lists are absolutely necessary, and you MUST check repeatedly, lest you be stuck in the woods without a necessity.

Now paper lists have served us quite well over the years. Our friend Joe supplied us with a great list years ago, so we usually always have the important tools, supplies, and necessities. But what about an app that does this and possibly more? So I went looking for an app that might make this task a little easier.

I rounded up some candidates from both iTunes and the Android App Market and did a little research. Here’s a sampling.

Pack the Bag and uPackingList (both free versions) start you out with a fairly good list of items categorized by type (clothes, accessories, hygiene, gadgets, etc). They also include the Before you Go category which reminds you of things like turning off appliances, informing neighbors, and things you always seem to second guess yourself about just as you pass the point of no return.

The best part is the ability to customize the lists and add new categories and items so you can get specific about your particular packing tasks. Or add things for the next time. As you start packing, you check off each item and can then filter the list for packed/unpacked status. Very helpful.

I also came across an app called Pack & Go ($0.99 and $2.99 versions) which I didn’t get a chance to try out. They also have a Baby Pack & Go version ($0.99) that, if you have an infant, I’m sure will come in very handy very often.

I then tried Packing Pro ($2.99) which has the features of the others but also includes import/export, sharing, and advanced customization features.

uPackingList is out on the Android, but not the others yet. Two free Android apps include Packing List Lite, which provides an expandable list of categories to create and edit your list. Easy enough to use and customize. Travel Checklist seemed a little more basic but very straightforward. It gives you a list and as you select each item it moves it to the packed items list. It is also customizable. Both offer paid versions that provide more features.

Any one of these apps can be a huge help in keeping organized and sane when preparing for a trip. And hopefully help you avoid one of those stomach churning omissions that you know is going to be painful.

I’m a fan.

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