Tips for the Trip
DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT GOOD MAPS
I recommend an atlas for the big picture and more detailed state maps. County road maps will get you off the beaten path and may help in the event of a detour, when the suggested route may take you in the total wrong direction. I hate it when that happens! Get out your map and check if there’s a county road you can take to bypass the construction and still let you travel the direction you are actually wanting to go. GPS devices are great most of the time, but don’t count on them when you are in the middle of nowhere! Always have a map with you and know how to use it. At the welcome center when you enter most states, you can usually get good maps for free, as well as coupon books good for discounts on hotels and restaurants.
HAVE A GOOD GAS CARD?
Especially when traveling in the western states, gas stations may be few and far between. Always keep an eye on your gauge and fill up often, preferably with a card that will earn you cash back. Nothing is more stressful that wondering if you’re going to make it to the next gas station.
BRING A COOLER ALONG
A cooler will save lots of money and may help you make healthier choices. Stops along the route at a rest stop, park or picnic table by a river are more enjoyable than slamming something from a fast food restaurant or gas station. Be sure to take a picture if there’s a beautiful backdrop (or a nasty one for future laughs). I remember once being at a dead stop for about an hour in road construction in Kentucky close to lunch time. Luckily we had our cooler in the back, so our daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law made us all sandwiches. We shut off the car and enjoyed our lunch. I’m sure the passengers in the car next to us wished they had their coolers as they watched us munching away. We probably could have made some money had we stocked up before the trip. Unfortunately we didn’t have a solution for the potty break we were also late for. Pretty hard for the guys to “check the tires” with so many eyes around!
ALWAYS HAVE WATER WITH YOU
Always have plenty of water on hand to drink, to add to your radiator if overheated (don’t open it while steaming!) or to wash your windshield if necessary. You never know what kind of weather you may encounter and you know the old saying — it’s better to be safe than sorry.
DON’T FORGET THE CAMERA
These days, with digital and cheap memory chips, shoot as many pictures as you can. You can always delete the bad ones and the ones that get vetoed. Photo books or scrap books are a great way to have something you can actually look at when you return, so the pictures don’t remain in cyberspace and get lost when your computer gets recycled. You never know when you’ll get back to that place again and also you’ll want to remember how great dad looked when he had hair.
PLANNING IS THE KEY
The perfect balance of planning and spontaneity makes for the perfect vacation. But this may take some practice. Always build in pool time, a few sleep-in days and some cushion between stops just in case the driving gets to be too much, or because of traffic jams or construction, it takes longer than expected to get to a certain point. Some people can handle a 12-hour drive day and others can’t or just don’t want to. Decide which you are, and allot the appropriate amount of vacation time to your trip. Remember, it’s a vacation – not a marathon!
WHERE TO STAY
We are happy timeshare owners and love ours because of the homey feeling they offer. The kitchens can really save money – since they are stocked with the pans, utensils and dinnerware you need to prepare and serve meals at “home” and a full-size fridge to store leftovers from a meal out or ingredients for your favorite beverages. Some also have blenders for said beverages and community grills. Having a kitchen may also help you make healthier choices (if you are a good shopper). Actual bedrooms, instead of hotel rooms are wonderful if one likes to sleep in (me) and the other is an early riser (Jim) and likes to read, sit on the deck or even catch up on the weather without disturbing my beauty sleep. Between our timeshare – Bluegreen Vacations and the other benefits is offers, such as RCI®, the Direct Exchange benefit and discounts on Choice Hotels, we can usually find a place to stay where we can use our points or earn points towards free stays. If you aren’t a timeshare owner, there are several hotel chains that offer rewards programs, where you earn points towards free stays. I am a big planner and I don’t want to have to search for a vacancy when we’re ready to stop, so I usually make reservations ahead of time, so we know we’ll have a bed that night. Most places have pretty good cancellation policies and if you don’t think you’re going to make it that far, you can call and cancel and then find another opening using google maps. Google maps will even give you step by step directions to get you there.
LOCAL ART, FOOD AND BEVERAGES
Vacation is a time to avoid the chain restaurants and try out the local fare and breweries. Nothing beats a chat with the bartender, who actually brewed the beer you’re sampling. Some breweries may even offer tours of their facility. We usually buy locally made art, and sometimes glasses or shirts with logos of places we’ve visited. Thoughts of that trip will spring to mind every time you use it (or dust it), once you return home to the grind.
THE LITTLE EXTRAS
To some this may be a first aid kit, a wine opener or sunscreen. We have a ziplock-full of large and small ziplocks, bag clips, twisty ties and small shakers of salt and pepper. If you have a washer and dryer in your unit (or onsite at your hotel) small boxes of detergent may come in handy because rarely are there enough in your unit if you really need to catch up on laundry and sometimes they fetch a hefty price if you’re at the mercy of the sundries shop.
NATIONAL PARKS PASSPORT
Available at any US National Park, the Passport® To Your National Parks is a handy way to keep track of where you’ve been, and where you’d like to go. Every National Park gift shop has a stamp for your passport and hunting them down may add to the enjoyment of your park stay.
NATIONAL PARKS SENIOR PASS
If you’re 62 or over, you can buy a card at the entrance to any National Park that will get you and your spouse (and the rest of your carload) in free for your lifetime. I got in free as my husband’s guest, even on the day we bought the pass, so it saved us money right away. Great deal all around — if we remember to take it with us when we go!
EXPECT SOME DISAPPOINTMENTS
More than 20 years ago, while trapped by a parade at a very popular theme park, we wandered into one of the last original animatronics exhibits of the park. I felt sorry for the little birds perched high, who were clearly past their prime, as they clammered and clanked their dusty metal beaks and sang their silly tunes. We still laugh about that to this day. Now we expect at least one “Tiki Bird” on all of our trips, because hardly any trip goes perfectly. Don’t ruin your vacation by complaining. Remember a bad day on vacation is still better than a good day at work!
Be a glass-half-full person, even if it’s only while on vacation. Remember your kids (and your spouse) will learn from (and judge you by) the way you react to adversity. Have a great time!