The urge to travel comes from random places – an overhead comment, a news article, “divine messages” when some part of a story or a destination just keeps popping up, or I hear about someone I want to meet personally. You can read more about what sets off my urge to roam here.
- Wikipedia – I go here first to get a broad overview of the area and find out any other interesting history that might be lurking there. It is such a great resource, I send them a monthly donation.
- Road Atlas by Rand McNally – GPS is fine and I use it all the time, but an Atlas locates you and where you want to go. I keep an Atlas by my work area and another one under my car seat. There’s nothing like starting to plan a trip and opening the Atlas to the page and finding out what other treasures you could see along the way. Loving maps must be in my genes because my son started reading my old Key map when he was about 4.
- TripAdvisor – I start with the overview, then look at “things to do”. If it still sounds like a place I want to visit, I go to TA’s hotel and vacation rental category. I like the way the TripAdvisor hotel pages all look the same so I don’t have to waste time looking for its location, amenities, layout etc. It’s like shopping in a grocery store that you are familiar with. You get in and you get it done. TripAdvisor is that hotel store for me. I also like that same page has a review search feature for things like “noisy at night”, “safe location” and other hot buttons. I can suffer from analysis paralysis but with TripAdvisor, I’ve discovered that it spend less time getting a fair deal. When you go through TripAdvisor to book, just make sure and check the cancellation policy and confirm it works for you.
- Hotwire – Probably 60%-80% of my lodging is planned via TripAdvisor. On the way to my destination, I sometimes wing it and use Hotwire when I figure out where I want to layover for the night. I check the same things as TripAdvisor – safe, clean, good location. Most of my experiences with hotels I’ve booked through Hotwire have been very good. It is a great tool to use on the road.
- Subaru Outback – I love road trips so when I started making a blogging business out of them, I got my dream car. I traded in my BMW X3 for a Subaru Outback. I wanted a Subaru from an early trip to Seattle but they were just too utilitarian for me. When I worked in media, I wanted to keep up with my colleagues and always drove a luxury car like a BMW or Lexus. Both are good cars, but I always felt a little like a poseur in them. While I was cheating on my true love, Subaru got more luxurious. My Outback is perfect. Leather, navigation, great sound, moon roof, leather. More importantly, there is lots of comfortable room in the back seat for 6’+ passengers. Drop the passengers and fold down the back seats and you have a cargo area big enough for a blowup bed. I even bought a canopy that connects to my Subaru. I love it!
- Southwest Airlines – When I worked in corporate America, I would shock the travel organizers by asking to fly Southwest Airlines. I’ve never flown with them that I haven’t met someone on the plane or had a great experience with a SWA employee or heard something funny over the PA. Forbes magazine said employees of Southwest Airlines have (1) warrior spirit (2)a servant’s heart, (3) a fun-loving attitude. As a brand strategist, I enjoyed studying the unique Southwest boarding policy that helped it become profitable. I even wrote a blog about a game we played with our kids around the ABC loading procedure. Read it here.
- Amtrak – I’ve ridden Amtrak twice, from El Paso to Alpine and days later from Alpine to Houston. Both times it ran late due to higher priority traffic on the track. But I’ll ride it again. The coach seats from El Paso to Alpine were incredibly comfortable, the sleepers were small but just right for me and my son and I was mesmerized traveling in the observation lounge. If time is a consideration, then I take the Subaru or Southwest Airlines. If the getting there is more important, take the train. Time stands still. You feel removed from everyday life and you get an appreciation of our wonderful, wild, varied homeland.
Travel – Food and Eating on the Road.
Take out strategies.
- Chick-fil-A is a go-to. Their sandwiches, chicken strips and salads are delicious. I love shakes and CFA’s are the best but my years as a Weight Watcher trainer make that a special treat. Instead, get a small Ice Dream cone. CFA’s Ice Dream taste like the home-made ice cream my sister-in-law made with sweetened condensed milk – yum! Calories for cone are 200-260, less than half of a shake’s tally at 500-700 calories.
- Latin American chicken drive-thrus like Pollo Campero, Pollo Tropical, Pollo Loco. Good roasted chicken and delicious sides that are healthy.
- Wendy’s Kid Meals (hold the toy) can satisfy the total fast food pyramid for 800 calories – cheeseburger, fries and kid’s frosty. Not quite Weight Watchers but if you can’t fight the craving, it doesn’t destroy the whole day.
- Use Yelp to find the closest Vietnamese restaurant. Huffington Post gave seven healthy reasons to start eating Vietnamese food. Read it here. Most Texans now have a favorite Vietnamese restaurant in addition to a favorite Tex Mex. Vietnamese food can be spicy, tangy, or sweet while being good for you. If Yelp can’t find you a Vietnamese place, go for Thai. If the cafe is authentic enough to ask you “how spicy”, always answer mild. The Thai idea of spicy and ours is vastly different.
- Coffee shops or cafes on college and university campuses, book stores and grocery stores. Usually a good safe place to eat and people watch.
- Favorite foods to snack and eat in the car – Jicama sticks with lime and chili powder, Jazz apple slices, nuts, Jalapeno Cheetos (smallest bag possible), Teddy Grahams, LaCroix cans of flavored sparkling water.
Offloading – Best places to go to the bathroom
Here you are looking for safe and clean in that order, especially if you are a woman traveling alone. Also hit the potty in every gallery, museum or restaurant you go to.
- Buc-ees has the best bathrooms,hands down. The owner’s wife made sure of that and they have built their mega-cstores from that essential offering. Safe, huge, clean. Your biggest danger is buying a embellished buc-ees t-shirt on your way out.
- Chick-fil-A – always safe and clean
- Target stores -sometimes more accessible in a big city and great place to cool stuff.
- Whole Foods – great place for coffee too
- State Welcome Centers – Great volunteers, free coffee sometimes, clean and safe facilities. I don’t stop at unmanned rest area bathrooms when I am by myself unless it is a crowded weekend and there are lots of people milling around.
- Doctor’s and dentists offices that share an office building.