We just came back from the annual Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) conference in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Each year TBEX brings together travel bloggers, travel industry executives and travel influencers from throughout the world to discuss the specifics of promoting travel by using blogs and social media. There are a variety of educational seminars focused on promoting travel and keynote addresses from the likes of the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern who discussed the way he combines travel with food to better understand cultures around the world. At TBEX there’s a large exhibit hall with booths staffed by tourist boards, hotels, airlines and a variety of online travel vendors. There are also booths from companies with unique travel-related products. Given our focus on family travel, we found three of these great travel products particularly interesting this year.
Anyone who travels a lot knows how annoying it can be when your ears plug while flying. It can be especially annoying when it’s your child’s ears that are plugged. Eustachi is a new product that uses a small puff of air directed up your nostril to help open up your eustachian tubes so the air behind your eardrums can be equalized. Eustachi works with your body as you swallow. You simply hold a small sip of water in your mouth and swallow as Eustachi blows a small amount of air up your nose. Your ears clear up instantly.
The thing we liked about the Eustachi is that it’s drug-free and very easy to use, even on kids. Click here for more information on Eustachi.
Crispy Fruit from Crispy Green
Healthy eating when traveling with your kids can be a challenge. Crispy Green are freeze-dried fruit snacks that come in a variety of flavors and they’re another great travel product. They say their product is “100% pure fruit, nothing else.” We tried several of the flavors at TBEX and they are delicious.
Crispy Fruit comes packaged in small, easy to pack pouches that are TSA friendly. Your kids will love Crispy Fruit snacks and you’ll know that you’re giving them something much healthier than a bag of chips or a cookie.
For more information on Crispy Fruit from Crispy Green click here.
ReboundTAG is designed to help quickly track your luggage should it become lost. It incorporates all of the main airline-approved bag tracking technologies into one tag; an RFID (radio frequency identification) microchip, an NFC (near field communication) microchip, a QR code, an ID number printed on the tag, and integration with global baggage handling systems. When your bag is found you are updated by email and text message anywhere in the world.
The RFID microchip contains both a unique ID and also another memory bank on which flight details can be encoded whenever you travel. Most microchip-enabled airports will automatically encode the flight details onto the chip when you travel, you do not need to do anything. The NFC chip can be scanned using most modern smartphones, their system can then use the GPS within the finder’s smartphone so that the owner is sent a map of exactly where the bag was found along with the finder’s details! The QR code can also be scanned using any smartphone, and at the most basic level of technology, or if the bag is found outside an airport, there is a unique ID number printed on the tag which can be entered manually into either the ReboundTAG system or most baggage handling systems around the world. So…ReboundTAG protects your bag worldwide by using all of the airline-approved bag tracking technologies in one tag!
As an extra service, ReboundTAG has also partnered with a major baggage handling company who employ people to look through the global lost luggage databases for your bag. This means they can also update you if your bag is found using the airlines’ own paper tags. They can often even update you regarding when your bag will be delivered to you! ReboundTAG offers you piece of mind when you travel.
For more information and to buy a Rebound Tag, click here.
Planning summer travel brings back a lot of memories from my childhood……a couple of weeks in the car with my parents and siblings either camping or visiting a variety of different tourist spots in the northeastern U.S. We’d hit spots like Howe Caverns and the Catskill Game Farm in upstate New York ( now closed), Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts and once we spent a couple of weeks in the Washington, D.C. area (see above picture!). If we did stay in a motel (yes, with doors facing outside towards the parking lot), the only requirement we had was that it have a pool!
While most of my memories are positive I do recall getting car sick from time to time or the time we were camping outside Washington, D.C. when a flash flood hit the campground. While we don’t usually take the same kind of driving vacations we took when we were kids, some of the basic questions you need to answer are the same now as they were then, how much time do you have and how much do you want to spend? Your answer to these two questions will help you determine the answers to other questions like where do you want to go, how do you want to get there and what do you want to do when you’re at your destination.
How Much Time Do You Have?
When we were kids, my father took a two week vacation every summer. Usually it was the last week of July and the first week of August. Our summer activities were done by that time and school was a month away. It was very simple and my parents were able to plan well in advance. Today, that planning can be much more complicated.
Kids seem to have more summer activities these days and they tend to run longer in the summer. In our area, summer club sports like softball or soccer go through late July and Fall high school sports start their practices in the first week of August. There hardly seems to be any time at all for a family vacation never mind two solid weeks.
As a result, family summer vacations are different now than they used to be. Maybe you’re able to get away for three or four days or a week at most. That will limit where you can go. It’s best to have that conversation with your family to see what works best. We’ve decided as a family that family vacations are more important that another soccer game or two during the summer so our daughter misses a couple of games. That way we’re able to squeeze in a few more days of vacation. Look at the calendar and see what works best for your family.
Next to the time you have available, budget is the next most important matter. How much are you willing to spend on your trip. A family weekend camping trip can cost as little as a couple of hundred dollars or you can spend that same weekend at a high-end resort costing thousands.
Be sure to do your research. We once went to a rustic (emphasis on the word “rustic”) lake resort in northern Minnesota. We were surprised to find out that renting a cabin at the resort for a few days cost us almost as much as a trip to Europe might have. It was shocking. By using the internet you can get a good idea of how much your trip might cost and you can build your budget accordingly.
One of your biggest costs when planning summer travel is likely to be transportation. If you’re pressed for time, consider flying but plan ahead. Summer is the busiest time of year for the airlines and prices can be high. We use a mobile app named Hopper to help us keep track of airfares. You enter your origin, destination and dates of travel into Hopper and it will track airfares for you. It tells you the best time to buy your tickets and will notify you if airfares change. It’s an incredibly helpful app.
If you have longer, you might consider driving. Gasoline is at the lowest price we’ve seen in years making driving much more affordable than it has been. In addition, by driving you don’t need a rental car or taxi once you get to your destination. Also, driving lets you stop and see the sights along the way. AAA offers great summer driving tips to help get you where you’re going safely.
Next to transportation, lodging is likely to be your next biggest expense when planning summer travel although with the wide range of places to stay, you can really spend as much, or as little, as you like.
The least expense lodging alternative is camping. Our kids love to camp and it really is an experience unlike any other. Assuming you have the proper equipment (tent, sleeping bags etc.) your only expense is the cost of the campsite, your food and any side trips you might take. There are options ranging from national and state parks to privately owned campgrounds. Of special note, 2016 is the 100th birthday of our National parks and they have a wide range of activities to celebrate the occasion. Click here for more details.
Airbnb is growing in popularity. Through the site you can rent a home, an apartment or just a room in most locations across the globe. It’s typically much less expensive than an equivalent hotel and you may get some very unique lodging. Check out the web site fully to be sure you understand the type of lodging you’ll be getting.
A lodging option we’ve been using more of lately is renting an apartment or condo through VRBO.com. The places you rent are typically very nice and give you much more room than you’d find in a standard hotel and it’s usually less expensive. We usually look for places with two bedrooms so the kids have their own space. In addition, having a kitchen is nice so you don’t always have to go out to eat.
If budget isn’t a consideration then a luxury hotel or resort might be what you’re looking for. You typically won’t get the same degree of local flavor as a smaller hotel but you will get all the niceties that come with resort accommodations. They typically have all the amenities you could want including the ever popular pool. We book our hotels through Hotels.com which has access to rooms across most of the major hotel chains.
Wherever you go and however you get there the most important thing to remember is to keep a positive attitude. Your kids will watch you for cues. If you’re stressed and upset, they will be too. If you’re calm and excited about your travels they will be as well. Remember, it’s all about creating lifetime memories for your family. Watch our blog over the next few weeks as we share some of our best summer travels.
Traveling with your family is supposed to be fun. And traveling with your family isn’t fun when a member of the family is sick. A sick parent or child can cause the trip of a lifetime to quickly deteriorate into a bad memory. Sure we’ve seen our share of Urgent Cares from Cape Cod to Maui but it was never anything too serious. Fortunately there are some easy things you can do to keep your family healthy while traveling.
On the Plane
Studies show that one of the most germ infested parts on a plane is the tray table. A simple solution to ensure your trip gets off to a healthy start is to bring along a package Clorox wipes. Before you pull down that tray table, give it a good going over with the wipes. That will ensure that your kids won’t be picking up any nasty germs at the start of your trip. You can also wipe down the seat belt buckle and arm rest while you are at it. They aren’t the cleanest surfaces either.
If You’re Going on a Cruise
Several cruise lines have had issues with norovirus over that past few years. The virus causes severe gastrointestinal distress that can last for days. To combat this, most cruise lines make religious use of hand sanitizer, particularly before meal times. Our advice is to be sure both you and your kids use the hand sanitizer when it is offered. You may even want to bring your own bottle along. This will help to keep your family healthy while traveling by cruise ship.
Get Enough Sleep
By its nature, travel takes you out of your normal routines and activities including sleep. Toss in travel across time zones and it is easy to see how anyone’s sleep patterns can be disrupted. We’ve always found that we, and our kids, are in a much better mood when we get sufficient sleep. Our advice is to not schedule too much activity early in your trip. Allow everyone to catch up on their sleep and schedule naps for your kids if necessary. Everyone will be much happier and you’ll all stay healthier.
Watch What You Eat
One of the keys to keep your family healthy while traveling is to watch what you eat and drink. Travel to some destinations can involve new and different food and drink. This can affect different people in different ways. Research your destination before you go and visit your doctor if necessary to get their advice on preventative measures you may want to take before leaving home. Most parts of North America (except Mexico), Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand are fine but there are parts of Central America, South America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia where there can be issues with food and water safety. Check it out before you go. If you have food allergies or sensitivities make up a card in advance with your condition translated into the native language to ensure you won’t eat or be served something that won’t agree with you.
Be sure to refill any prescriptions that you and your family may need during your trip. That will save you from having any issues at your destination. Also be sure to restock any over the counter medications that you use regularly. While you may be able to find the same medication in a foreign pharmacy, it’s possible you may not, even in an English-speaking country. Drug laws vary from country to country and the things you may be used to getting in the U.S. may simply not be available where you’re going. To avoid any issues with Customs keep all medications in their original containers.
While you want to keep your family healthy while traveling, nobody wants to think about a health emergency. I’m not talking about a scrape on the knee or a minor cold but I’m talking about a real, life-threatening health emergency that involves one of your kids.
This situation was made real for our family several years ago when friends of ours were on vacation. Their four year old daughter became ill while on the trip. At first, they thought it was just a bad cold or the flu. They took her to an Urgent Care center and the doctor there gave her some medicine and sent them on their way.
Their daughter’s condition did not improve so they took her to the local hospital emergency room. Unfortunately, the doctor misdiagnosed her condition and she continued to deteriorate. They finally rushed her to the closest children’s hospital but by the time they got there it was too late. Our friends’ daughter died at the hospital.
This incredibly tragic situation taught us a very serious lesson. Never take anything for granted. From that point forward, whenever we travel, we always do research before we leave on the names and addresses of the nearest children’s hospital. If a health emergency arises all we need to do is turn on our phone, click on the address and we know exactly how to get help fast. The Children’s Hospital Association has an easy to use directory on their web site and you can search by state. The web address is https://www.childrenshospitals.org/Directories/Hospital-Directory . You’ll probably never need to use it but at least you’ll have the peace of mind of being prepared should a true health emergency arise.
When we are traveling internationally one thing we always do is to load the address and telephone number of the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate of the area we’re traveling to in our cell phones. We put in both the international and the local number (as if using a landline in country). The Ambassador’s name and embassy hours are added in the notes section. Thankfully, we’ve never needed this but it is nice to know in a pinch all that information is at our fingertips saving valuable time. A complete directory of U.S. Embassies worldwide can be found at https://www.usembassy.gov/.
By doing some basic research before you leave home and by taking some simple precautions on the road you can ensure that you keep your family healthy while traveling. You’ll all have a much better time and you’ll ensure that your travel memories are happy ones.
Living in Minnesota you have to learn to love the winter. Here the winter is long and it’s cold. We embrace the winter and do our best to get outside and enjoy it. But everything has its limits. That’s why planning for Spring Break is something we look forward to.
One thing that many Minnesotans look forward to every year is Spring Break. That time when the kids have a week off from school and you can get away from the snow and cold. Some people head to Florida, some to Arizona and others go to Mexico to get some beach time and warm sunshine. Those who haven’t had enough of the snow head to Colorado or Montana for some great mountain skiing. Some people take advantage of our proximity to Chicago for some time in the Windy City. And others choose to stay close to home visiting places like the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the United States.
Wherever you go, you need to plan your trip to make sure you’re taking advantage of everything your destination has to offer. Total Family Travel would like to give you some help in planning your Spring Break trip with the following tips.
Deciding on a Destination
When planning for Spring Break perhaps the biggest decision you’ll make is where you’ll go for Spring Break. You’ll need to consider your family and what they enjoy doing. Do they like the beach or the desert? Do they dream of skiing down long mountain runs with the snow in their face? Are there relatives in other parts of the country you haven’t seen in awhile who might enjoy your company? If time or budget is a consideration, are there great things to see near your home that you’ve been missing. There are great museums and attractions all over the country that your kids will just love.
After choosing your destination you have to consider your budget. Is flying an option? If not, can you drive or take a train? We took the train to Chicago one Spring Break and our kids absolutely loved it. Amtrak has a great web site that makes it easy to plan a trip.
Even when flying you have some less expensive options. Airlines like Spirit or Frontier specialize in low fares. Be careful however because they will charge you for other things like bringing certain carry-on bags on board or early boarding. You may be able to get a lower fare on major airlines like Delta, American or United by taking connecting flights or flying at off-peak times.
The best advice to get the lowest fare is to plan early. In colder climates flights to popular warm destinations at peak times can sell out months in advance.
When planning for Spring break decide in advance if you think you’ll need a rental car. At some destinations, cars can sell out so be sure to book early. Check the major chains on airport but also check their locations nearby. We’ve saved more than $100 on a weekly rental last year by using a major car rental company’s office in town as opposed to at the airport. In some locations you won’t even need a rental car particularly if you’re staying at a large resort.
If there are things you absolutely want to do at your destination, be sure to book it early. Some destinations like Orlando get extremely crowded at Spring Break which can make it nearly impossible to schedule that breakfast with the Disney princesses that your daughter has been counting on.
Most importantly, don’t stress about your trip. Everything will turn out fine. The trip, no matter the destination, will create memories that your kids will remember for the rest of their lives. The important thing is to be together and have fun!
Over the next few weeks we will be highlighting some great Spring Break trips for all budgets. Stay tuned and happy travels.