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The Thrifty Traveler: Maximizing Your Smartphone’s Travel Potential

By Myscha Theriault, Tribune News Service (TNS)

Many of today’s smartphones provide more computing power and storage space than those of us nearing the age of 50 ever thought we’d see. Factor in improved photography capabilities and longer battery power, and it becomes easy to see why those who aren’t required to travel with more elaborate equipment are choosing to make them their tech item of choice for shorter getaways. Especially with gate security specialists requiring people to power up all devices on a pretty consistent basis. So how does your average person function with one on the road, capturing as many memories as possible while still keeping their device safe and secure?

Sharing: Posting YouTube videos and after-event images is all well and good, but for aging grandparents and other relatives who want to be part of a younger family member’s milestones, new possibilities for live streaming provide the ability to experience things like out-of-town gymnastics competitions and first-time dolphin encounters in real time. A popular phone application for this is Periscope. Easy to use for both the broadcaster and the viewer, this free app allows travelers to share everything from a trip down a ski slope to the winning of a ribbon at the national science fair. Aunt Marge and Grandma Betty can even contribute commentary online from several states away.

Security: Once you’ve incorporated all of the apps and contact data to turn your smartphone into your own personal command center, it becomes even more critical to keep it safe. For travelers who enjoy experiencing local nightlife from the road, having a hands-free way to make this happen can be problematic. Old-fashioned waist packs can ruin the outline of your favorite dancing dress or add unwelcome bulk to a pair of flat-front casual dress pants.

If you prefer regular clothing rather than the specialty travel pieces that come with hidden compartments, one affordable solution is the strap-on storage slots from PortaPocket. Lightweight and easy to pack, they can be worn on your upper thigh under a skirt or strapped to your calf under your dress pants or jeans. While it isn’t necessarily a solution for those times when you want to be snapping photos all night, it is an easy way to tuck it out of site during a trip to the restroom and avoid having to take a pocketbook or backpack onto the dance floor.

Inclement weather and marine activities can also pose a danger to your cellular phone. Considering the number of times we’ve nearly dropped ours in deep water and the amount of cash we just threw down for our two new ones, we decided it was time to search out protective cases that would work for us. The brand we were previously in love with doesn’t make them for the larger style devices we have now, which meant digging around for something that was a bit more universal.

We finally settled on the ones by Voxkin, which only sunk us about $15 a pop. They keep out water, allow the use of head jacks, can be worn around the neck for a photo walking tour and promise the possibility of broadcasting a live snorkeling session from our exotic destination of choice. Truth be told, they are a little clunkier than the ones with which we previously became enamored. However, they seem to do the trick thus far, so we’re going to hit the road with them and see how it goes. If they end up being a bust, there are others on the market to try.

Shooting: Holding out your phone at shoulder height and strolling the streets for a live vacation broadcast is all well and good. For the first five minutes. At that point, you’ll begin to appreciate the amount of time your hair dresser spends in that position every day in a way you never thought possible. That’s when having something to attach your phone to a tripod the same way you do your larger camera will become an instant priority.

Universal smartphone mounts are a simple and affordable solution for single telescoping poles, tripods and even selfie sticks. We snagged ours at a sidewalk kiosk here in the Tampa Bay area for $5, but I have seen them online for as low as $2.50. As far as camera peripherals go, that’s a price point that’s pretty tough to beat. Ours was pressed into service almost immediately from the top of a bridge in Titusville, Fla., when a cargo supply mission for the International Space Station launched from Cape Canaveral.

( founder Myscha Theriault has sold her home, all her furniture and most of her other belongings to travel the world full time with her husband. You can follow her adventures on Twitter via @MyschaTheriault.)

©2015 Myscha Theriault. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Highways Agency via Flickr


The Thrifty Traveler: Hotel Tips For Winter Holidays

By Myscha Theriault, Tribune News Service (TNS)

Due to a delay in some of our international vaccination protocols, my husband and I are spending the bulk of this winter’s holiday season hotel hopping in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area while we decide upon the first destination for our international adventure. If the number of other couples and families we’re noticing is any indication, this is apparently a popular travel choice. founder Mary White concurs. “Many of our B & Bs have a long history of being sold out between Christmas and New Year’s, indicating that the popularity of traveling during this time is a trend that’s here to stay,” says White. “They provide guests a special experience, which is one reason why they’re in such high demand. The 1785 Inn in New Hampshire, for example, has sold out nearly every year over the holidays in its 31 years of business, and the Inn at Westwynd Farm in Pennsylvania reports a 100 percent occupancy rate for more than 10 consecutive years.” Whether you’re spending your December getaway at a resort or a more intimate boutique establishment, there are a few things that can make the experience more streamlined.

Amenities: While a gym, pool and spa top my personal favorites list, the truth is a hotel stay for the holidays is much less stressful with practical amenities and perks as well. Particularly if you are doing it with the kids in tow. Personally, I think suites with adjoining rooms are the way to go for family hotel stays during winter break. Having even a small living room area with a desk and wet bar allows differently aged family members to be up earlier or later than others, and provides a place to set up a micro-sized Santa experience after the kids go to bed in their own room.

I also don’t recommend going without a fridge in the room, preferably one of the taller models with a separate freezer compartment. Not only does this let you keep your vodka on ice around the clock, but separating fill-in microwave goodies such as meatless nuggets and vegetarian lo mein from perishable produce snacks becomes notably more streamlined. Even if there isn’t a microwave in your room, there’s typically one available near the morning coffee and continental breakfast station.

Snacks: I like going out for a holiday meal or romantic evening cocktails as much as the next girl. That said, I also don’t always like to feel pressured to rush out the door in the morning or have to find the energy to go out and forage for snacks after a long day of sightseeing. That’s why having a snack stash available in the room is one of my favorite travel strategies. It makes it easy to fill in if you oversleep in the morning, and keeps kid-friendly food on tap for the bedtime munchies.

Teens can typically be satisfied with microwave popcorn or a multipack of holiday muffins, but grownups in search of a little extra style might consider a chilled bottle of sparkling wine, some high-end chocolates and a tray of miniature baked goods. During a November anniversary getaway, my husband and I enjoyed a tray of tiny pecan tartlets, cruelty-free Prosecco and hummus with crudites in between our various outings. Funds saved from purchasing these items at the warehouse store were redirected towards a carefree night of frozen drinks at the nearest beach bar and a foot-pampering pedicure.

Activities: To a certain extent, your activities selection will be driven by your choice of destination and accommodation venue. Cooking classes, skiing, snorkeling or even dune buggy rides are possible depending on where you choose to go. Things such as inclement weather, children’s bedtimes, and Santa prep however will require you to spend at least some time in the room, and having a few indoor activities in your hip pocket will help keep family drama to a minimum.

One thing to consider is making sure your holiday gift giving fits both your itinerary and the size of your space. Chances are, if you’re opting for a destination experience, you’ve already decided to forego inundating your family members with excessive gifts. With this in mind, couples can choose to exchange one small, intimate present each. Jewelry, gloves, warm socks or scarves are all classic choices, as are travel-sized fragrances. Children can enjoy streaming movies with a seasonal theme while wearing gifts of snazzy new winter pajamas. Electronic chapter books for older children and printable coloring pages with new crayons for the little ones will also keep your offspring entertained while providing you with a little peace of mind.

Preparation: Preparing for your time at the hotel is only part of the equation for homeowners. Getting your house ready to be empty for a time takes effort and planning as well. According to a recent home hazards poll conducted by Allstate Insurance Company, three in five Americans will be traveling away from home for the holidays, spending an average of five nights out of town. Many of these people will forget or neglect to take certain steps to secure their home against theft and weather damage.

According to this same survey, only 16 percent of holiday travelers will bother to leave a faucet dripping to prevent frozen pipes. A scant 23 percent will set a timer for house lights, and only 30 percent of these same travelers will have a neighbor stop by to bring in their mail. Savings is another motivator when it comes to preparing your house for a trip. Unplugging unnecessary devices, turning off your hot water heater and readjusting your thermostat are all simple ways to save a few bucks while you head over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s.

( founder Myscha Theriault has sold her home, all her furniture and most of her other belongings to travel the world full time with her husband. You can follow her adventures on Twitter via @MyschaTheriault.)

©2015 Myscha Theriault. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Nick Ares via Flickr


The Thrifty Traveler: Skip Vacation Drama With Proper Travel Documentation

By Myscha Theriault, Tribune News Service (TNS)

Finding yourself away from home or out of the country without the necessary paperwork can make you the unwilling star of your own personal docudrama. Such was the case when a recent banking snafu had me chatting with three different departments trying to verify my identity and solve an unexpected problem after finally checking into our hotel room after a long and challenging day on the road.

Fortunately for me, the document they were demanding was only a cross-city drive away in a lock box rather than an international plane ride followed by multiple bus transfers. Also fortunate was the fact they finally agreed to let me answer a few additional security questions rather than forcing me to make a lengthy round-trip drive to access an ATM card I never use due to the purpose of the account to which it’s attached. Still, it was a wrinkle neither my husband nor I saw coming, and an excellent reminder to add scanned copies of all account cards to our list of cloud-stored documents before hitting the road for our international travel adventure.

Your passport and tickets aren’t the only critical documents you need in order to take off for parts unknown. Following are a few types of documentation that can result in undue travel stress if left at home.

Medical: Part of my husband’s travel reality is always having a copy of his current eyeglass prescription. While he always travels with a back-up pair, adventure travel involves a constant risk of something happening to both sets. Since he literally can’t see very far in front of his face without them, having a digital copy of the prescription to print in the event of an emergency is crucial.

Food allergy mom Robyn Nickerson Skvorak finds extra EpiPen documentation to be a critical part of her travel plan. Her son Joey has severe contact reactions to a number of common food allergens, but the boxes EpiPens come packaged in are quite bulky and difficult to pack. Her solution? Have the pharmacy staff print out extra labels. Says Skvorak, “This way, you can wrap them around the pens.” The mother of two also carries her son’s food allergy action plan and a doctor’s note documenting each of his allergies.

Injectable medicines in general are something for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend carrying documentation. According to the CDC website, carrying a note on letterhead stationary from the prescribing physician is advised. This travel tidbit is something Ceci Romero Al Fahad learned the hard way. As a traveler who needs to carry a significant supply of insulin and needles, Al Fahad was taken by surprise at the Houston airport when the security agent checking her bag demanded documentation for her medications. After being held aside for a fairly lengthy time, the security supervisor finally cleared her for the flight. However, the experience made a significant impact. Says Al Fahad, “Needless to say, I now carry my prescriptions with me.”

Banking: Front and back scans of all credit and ATM cards, routing information, copies of identification documents as well as written procedures and access codes are a good idea to have on hand when traveling. Having such items stored securely in the cloud will enable you to solve most problems from anywhere in the world, provided you have reasonable access to reliable Internet and phone communication.

If you’re going to be on the road for some time, you might also want scanned copies of any business EIN forms, articles of incorporation, trust documents and similar paperwork. When coordinating the sale on a piece of out-of-state real estate recently, my husband and I had just sold our home and were in the middle of our first professional house-sit. Having scanned copies of critical papers and access to a printer and scanner enabled our attorney to finalize everything upon our approval. While the morning of the closing was a bit hectic with the last-minute checking of line-item amounts, we were able to give written approval and head out for a day of sightseeing. All without ever having to travel back to New England for the actual transaction.

Professional: If you’re going to be traveling for any length of time, you may find it necessary to pick up some work along the way. This is when having access to professional paperwork is a good idea. Diving and teaching certifications, scans of your college degrees and digital copies of any technical certifications are all helpful to keep in your personal cloud. A master document with access information for all professional sites is also a good idea. For me, that includes things such as sites where I upload digital content to sell, places where I submit freelance assignments and paid subscription sites that feature job feeds relating to my skill set. For you, such a document might look completely different.

Bottom line? If you’re taking off for more than a few weeks and don’t have anyone maintaining a home office while you’re away, your list of recommended travel documents is likely to be quite lengthy. If you are exploring the world indefinitely, chances are you’ll need to update and edit this list fairly frequently as well. The good news? Eventually, having back-up copies of all critical documents becomes second nature for those who embrace this lifestyle. Once you get the hang of looking at every new item in your life as something that will need to be tweaked to suit the life of a nomad, these chores will simply become part of your regular to-do list.

( founder Myscha Theriault has sold her home, all her furniture and most of her other belongings to travel the world full time with her husband. You can follow her adventures on Twitter via @MyschaTheriault.)

©2015 Myscha Theriault. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Liisa via Flickr


The Thrifty Traveler: When Starting New Travel Adventure, Devil’s In The Details

By Myscha Theriault, Tribune News Service (TNS)

It’s all well and good to say you’re hopping on a plane to start your new life, but the universe may have other plans. In our case, Murphy’s Law has come into play, temporarily delaying our departure. Simply stated, our success with unloading the largest remaining items from our inventory of assets made us cocky. We seriously underestimated the amount of time required for some of the last remaining details. The result? Fluid accommodation arrangements and a great deal of problem solving on the fly. Following are a few of the things that went wrong, and details as to how we’re rolling with the punches.

Vaccinations: Be advised, signing up for a full battery of international vaccinations is no joke. Whenever my husband and I have traveled long term in the past, it was with a rough idea of a handful of countries on limited continents. Now that we are hitting the road indefinitely, leaving all destinations and types of travel open, the list of shots necessary to protect us against a wide range of diseases has grown exponentially.

My assumption that we would be able to check them all off our list with one or two office visits was naive at best. The clinic we’re using informed us one particular shot series will take roughly a month, with other injections only possible on an as-available basis with a wait list. Further, it isn’t safe to receive too many at once. Multiple weekly visits to the immunization clinic are now part of our updated departure plan.

Wrinkles: An extended shot schedule hasn’t been the only fly in our travel ointment. The simple plan to have an extra key made for the storage unit in order to have friends ship items to us midtrip turned out to be more complicated as well. Apparently, many key-making kiosks and establishments only create certain types of keys. Who knew? We’ve been having backup keys made for most of our adult lives, and I can honestly say this has never been an issue. Fortunately, we were already delayed with the vaccine situation so this didn’t cause any last-minute meltdowns on departure day. We have plenty of time to research where to accomplish this task. Still, this travel snag served as an excellent reminder to always leave a buffer day or two when heading out for long-haul adventure.

Another unexpected wrinkle has cropped up relating to the prepping of our Jeep for sale. While we have found numerous establishments capable of detailing the vehicle’s exterior and interior, finding a place that will also clean and detail the engine is proving to be quite the quest. While not mandatory, it’s a step I always like to take when selling a vehicle and take note whenever I purchase an automobile where someone has bothered to do the same. In a metropolitan area the size of the one I currently reside in, I’m surprised to be a dozen calls into the process and still searching for someone who will include engine cleaning in their detailing efforts. Will it work out eventually? Sure. Still, I’m grateful for the extra time the vaccination extension has given us to ferret out the proper venue. Since we don’t feel we can put the for sale sign on our Jeep Liberty until this detail is crossed off our list, it’s a blessing to have a little extra time to make it happen.

Electronics: When it comes to modern professional gear, few issues are more time consuming to tackle than incorporating new tech gear into your daily travel and work routine. While our two new mobile phones took only a day or two to become fully integrated into our lives, the new laptops are in their second week and counting. A nearly immediate chain store return across the state from point of purchase resulted in an extra night’s hotel stay at one of our stopovers. Additionally, the newly released operating system and migration of professional software packages has been less than smooth. Shepherding new computers into our lives has rarely gone smoothly, and this time is no exception. Still, two weeks seems a bit excessive and we are reluctant to hit the road until we feel confident the transition is complete.

Solutions: So, what happens when your plan to hop on a plane to South America and test drive your new packing protocols for full-time travel takes a temporary detour? In our case, since we’re now homeless by choice after liquidating all of our real estate, we’re largely rolling with the punches and sucking up the cost of North American prices. However, we are implementing a few cost-control measures. First of all, we’re making sure any and all discounts we’re qualified to receive are credited to our various accommodation bills. Second, we’re using up any remaining grocery items with creative hotel meals. If we splurge on a meal out, it’s usually breakfast or lunch, since those are more affordable times of day.

The third, and perhaps most powerful way we’re reducing the overall cost of our delayed departure is by incorporating short-term house sits. While many sitters only take longer-term gigs, our current situation provides quite a bit of flexibility as we can change where we’re sleeping each night with a day’s notice. Coincidentally, the first two we accepted also easily qualify as extreme house sits, which beefs up our street cred nicely before we hit the international circuit.

The initial condo sit was in the middle of a major renovation between renters while the owners traveled back to their home country. In addition to keeping a general eye on the place, we coordinated communications and project management with the contractor, rental manager, property HOA officials and the owners themselves. Our efforts made them confident with our capabilities, and got us invited to turtle sit at their rural lake house in Sweden next summer. This second house sit is at a 13-animal rescue property where nearly all of the fur children in our care have been saved from some sort of severe abuse. This means keeping a tight routine, alternative behavioral management protocols and making sure those with challenging personalities are kept in their pre-established subgroups. With six dogs, a high-strung horse and six cats — one with twice-daily diabetes injections — there’s certainly never a dull moment. However, it balances out our North American hotel costs nicely and we feel blessed to have the trust of the owners as they enjoy a much-needed getaway.

Bottom line? Delays will inevitably happen, especially when you are carving out an entirely new life from scratch. Dealing with them requires not only some financial flexibility, but some out-of-the-box thinking and patience as well.

( founder Myscha Theriault has sold her home, all her furniture and most of her other belongings to travel the world full time with her husband. You can follow her adventures on Twitter via @MyschaTheriault.)

©2015 Myscha Theriault. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: © / Scott Olson.

The Thrifty Traveler: Free And Frugal File Storage For Digital Nomads

By Myscha Theriault, Tribune News Service (TNS)

Working from the road on a full-time basis brings its fair share of challenges. One of them is digital file storage. Whether you’re a constant content creator producing photos, videos and articles for a variety of clients, an independent publisher, online course developer or simply need to keep your vacation pics and critical documents accessible, figuring out how to ditch the hard copies is a huge piece of the puzzle. Accessibility is another. While the logistical choices will vary with your lifestyle, career choice and travel schedule, there are a few popular options that work for a wide variety of location-independent professionals.

Cloud Storage: In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably fess up that I’ve been paying far too much for cloud storage for far too long. When my husband and I first started looking for a service years ago, there were fewer options across the board. Even fewer of those were free or affordable. At the time, we found the best deal we could, put our systems on automated backup with scheduled monthly credit card payments and moved on to other concerns. A recent shift in some of the data we’ll be needing to store forced me to start looking at fresh alternatives. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results of my research.

First of all, it turns out my Amazon Prime membership now offers me unlimited photo storage at no extra charge, along with a few gigs of storage for other files as well. We take a massive amount of photos when we travel, and digital images represent a large part of our current cloud storage bill, so this was great news for our bottom line. Amazon also offers super affordable unlimited cloud storage of all types of files for roughly $60 per year, albeit without some of the syncing capabilities and point-of-storage functionality offered by some of the other popular cloud storage services. Drop Box and Google Drive each have reasonably generous free allotments, with affordable upgrades and free apps available for true cloud computing junkies.

Portability: In addition to the peace of mind some urban travelers have from carrying around an extra backup of certain files, portable drives and on-device storage allotments can come into play with remote travel as well. Those who never leave the city may have a hard time comprehending it, but Internet access still isn’t available everywhere. This can make content production and entertainment problematic if every version of the files you need are stored with one cloud-based service or another. That’s where file access that doesn’t require constant Internet connectivity comes into play.

Collating notes from online research to use for some weekend writing at your favorite mountain cabin retreat, carrying your favorite playlists or bringing along a digital photo collection in dire need of purging are all things you can accomplish by packing extra photo cards, USB sticks and portable hard drives. Fresh electronic reading material can be downloaded to your tablet prior to departure, and hot spot capabilities available with some month-to-month cellphone plans can help bridge the gap in emergency situations.

For example, we are currently house-sitting in southern Florida at a condo with no Internet service. Our monthly mobile phone plan with T-Mobile provides unlimited data, but only 5 gigs of high-speed hot spot time. While this has virtually eliminated our nightly television program and movie streaming, it has enabled us to maintain our morning routine of email checking and content uploads while drinking coffee in our pajamas. Once we’ve both had a chance to wake up and jump on any early-bird earning opportunities, we pack up to hit our coffee spot of choice to take advantage of their free Wi-Fi.

(Myscha Theriault is a best-selling author and avid traveler. Having just finished a yearlong trip throughout the United States with her husband and Labrador retriever, Theriault is busy planning her next long-term adventure. Readers can keep up with her adventures on Twitter by following @MyschaTheriault.)

©2015 Myscha Theriault. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Steven Zwerink via Flickr

The Thrifty Traveler: How To Search For An Authentic Spiritual Getaway

By Myscha Theriault, Tribune News Service (TNS)

Finding time to feed one’s soul is something many struggle to incorporate when it comes to work-life balance. So it should come as no surprise that religious retreats are often as preferred a travel choice as romantic weekends or girlfriend vacations.From Saudi Arabia to Sedona, spiritual getaway options are as diverse as the people who seek them. Here are some tried-and-true methods for making sure you book an authentic one.

Lifestyle: Traveling to any place where spirituality is the local lifestyle is a sure shortcut to authenticity. Just ask any world traveler who’s ever spent time on the island of Bali, in Indonesia. Whether you’re making your way to the mother temple or attending one of the dance ceremonies in the cultural center that is the town of Ubud, it doesn’t take long to realize that this place is the real deal. Ditto for Peru’s Sacred Valley.

The spiritual practices of your destination don’t have to match your chosen religion in order to provide a powerful sense of understanding. While the faith practiced in Saudi Arabia isn’t my own, I did notice something undeniable when I visited the country on an exploratory business trip some years ago. Putting it into words has proved difficult over the years, but I am confident it was directly related to the system of prayer.

While other Persian Gulf countries have the same call to prayer schedule, with small mosques available in nearly every public building for those who wish to pray at the designated times, the kingdom takes it to an entirely different level. Prayer time in this country means commerce and other activities literally shut down so spirituality can be practiced like the priority it is for the local people. As a visitor who was there for more than a month, what I started to notice and appreciate was how powerful and profound those times of day were for my personal meditation. It’s something I’ve yet to experience again anywhere else, though I’ve tried repeatedly to re-create it.

Location: Remote temples and monastery experiences are certainly the gold standard celebrated in the cinema. However, they do tend to be suited to a different type of travel, where excursionists have the time to disconnect from the grid and commit a significant amount of time from their itineraries to get to and experience the sanctuary in question.

For those trying to carve out a bit of time in the family vacation itinerary for some religious reflection, choosing less remote locations that are still slightly removed from the day-to-day hustle and bustle is an affordable and workable solution. For stark desert beauty that provides solitude along with adventure potential for the rest of the family, Jordan’s Wadi Rum is tough to beat. If you happen to find yourself in northern Italy, the sanctuary of the Madonna Della Corona is also an excellent choice. A stone church built into the side of Mount Baldo, the structure is an engineering marvel unto itself. The view is stunning, and it’s a great stop on a day drive through the area. Picturesque mountain meadows, wineries, castles and other fun stops can be worked into the trip as well, depending on the route you choose.

Heritage: There’s a reason ancient religious sites remain pilgrimage destinations for modern-day travelers. People feel something when they arrive. Whether it’s a palpable energy suitable for deep meditation, a connection to the culture responsible for its creation or simply a chance to reflect upon whatever practice brought awakening to countless people over the ages, a site’s history plays a significant role in the spiritual nature of a traveler’s experience.

England’s Stonehenge and New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon are certainly two of the more famous options, but there are lesser-known options which are equally powerful. For example, the pre-Incan stone towers of Sillustani near Puno, Peru, provide more than enough cause for contemplation, as do the ancient Native American petroglyphs carved into a remote boulder in the middle of Minnesota’s massive Lake of the Woods. The fact this boulder is still used by the local Ojibwe as an offering site as it has been for generations speaks volumes about its authenticity.

(Myscha Theriault is a best-selling author and avid traveler. Having just finished a yearlong trip throughout the United States with her husband and Labrador retriever, Theriault is busy planning her next long-term adventure. Readers can keep up with her adventures on Twitter by following @MyschaTheriault.)

©2015 Myscha Theriault. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Moyan Brenn via Flickr


The Thrifty Traveler: Accessible Travel Offers Adventure, Affordability

By Myscha Theriault, Tribune News Service (TNS)

In a recent study conducted by Mandala Research for Open Doors, an organization which works to create more inclusive travel experiences for people with accessibility needs, one thing was abundantly clear. American travelers with disabilities spend big bucks. More than 34 billion over the past two years, in fact. Something hospitality and restaurant venues may want to sit up and take notice of, especially with so many baby boomers developing mobility concerns as they age.

Of the travelers with adaptive or access needs surveyed in the study, 96 percent book restaurant services while traveling, 76 percent opt for hotel stays and 26 percent access rental cars. Additionally, a whopping 69 percent require someone else to assist them. According to this same study, 68 percent of travelers with disabilities do so for pleasure, and they average at least $500 per trip.

Adventure: Those who have only recently experienced decreased mobility issues might think extreme nature getaways are now out of the question. Think again. Exploring remote wilderness areas with mobility concerns may be a logistical and financial challenge, but it is far from impossible.

It can also be more affordable than you might think. Especially with organizations such as Wilderness Inquiry stepping up to the service plate. They offer adventure getaways to far-off destinations such as Tanzania, along with winter and summer excursions to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Olympic National Park and more. Fully integrated wilderness trips offer things such as adaptive kayaks suited to holding folding wheelchairs, support staff for things such as boat transfers, trail-to-trail transition and more.

Their multi-day Apostle Islands trips, for example, start out in their base camp near Bayfield, Wis. Prices for this particular destination run as low as $435 per adult, with youth prices ringing in at only $195 a pop. The facility features appropriate tent platforms, extended-top picnic tables for wheelchair access and a variety of universal design elements for front-country vacation success. Not only do these trip packages include all food, equipment and guide staff, but the organization also helps coordinate financial assistance for qualifying individuals. has full details on destination selection and package pricing.

Access: Researching usability information for wheelchairs and walkers in advance can help excursionists plan ahead and get the most bang for their buck. Something accessible travel guru Candy Harrington knows something about, having covered this particular content niche for 20 years. As the founding editor of Emerging Horizons and author of seven guide books designed to meet the informational needs of travelers who vacation with wheelers and slow walkers, Harrington knows what questions to ask.

She suggests certain things are essential to ask when you call to research accessibility, particularly for wheelchair users. Her first piece of advice? Find out if the accessible room has a roll-in shower or a tub-shower combination. Says Harrington, “In the U.S. properties with fewer than 50 rooms are not required to provide roll-in showers.” Other tips include researching whether or not wheelchair access is available on both sides of the bed to address specific transfer needs and asking about dining-area accessibility so you’ll know whether or not to request meals be delivered to your room.

The most common problem according to Harrington is that little extra step between surfaces that many people aren’t able to navigate. Other prevalent pitfalls include too-high beds and hotel shower controls placed too far from the seating bench. The veteran travel journalist has seen them placed as far as 5 feet away! Harrington’s latest book, “Resting Easy in the US,” features accurate access descriptions and detailed photographs of over 90 unique properties across the country. Some of her favorite accessible getaways include Las Vegas, San Diego and portions of Yosemite.

Accommodations: Traveler on wheels Deborah Sakach favors more intimate inns as opposed to giant resorts and larger tour operations. According to Sakach, independent inn owners are generally the type of people who are going to “really think about your situation and help you have the very best experience in their area.” For example, when a jeep tour operator in Sedona couldn’t think of any wheelchair-accessible petroglyphs, her innkeeper remembered a new trail that afforded astonishing close-up views.

This was a far cry from some of her other travel experiences around the world, including getting tipped out of her wheelchair in Africa, refused deplaning assistance in Amsterdam and forced up a questionably safe incline in London. “Each disability is so unique that it does take thinking to make things work,” says Sakach, “That’s why a small inn works. It is intimate and they offer the interchange that helps make it happen.” Sakach’s love of how inns support unique travel needs led her to start her own travel business relating specifically to inn getaways., Sakach’s booking website, offers discount information on charming inn venues around the country, including a buy-one-night-get-one-free program for travelers looking to save money.

One of the accommodation broker’s best bits of travel advice however is to keep an open mind. Says the veteran traveler, “The mishaps are not what I think about when I recall my trips. It’s the rich experiences that stay with you for a lifetime.”

(Myscha Theriault is a best-selling author and avid traveler. Having just finished a yearlong trip throughout the United States with her husband and Labrador retriever, Theriault is busy planning her next long-term adventure. Readers can keep up with her adventures on Twitter by following @MyschaTheriault.)

Photo: Even those in wheelchairs can go to the beach. kris krug via Flickr

The Thrifty Traveler: Making The Most Of Cape Breton Highlands National Park

By Myscha Theriault, Tribune News Service (TNS)

While Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island is a noteworthy destination in its own right, those looking for a fun fall getaway will find few locations more inspiring than the area in and around Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Featuring spectacular scenery that borders on the spiritual, abundant wildlife and jaw-dropping geological formations, a trip to this part of the province will make a multitude of memories for adventurous newlyweds in search of a unique honeymoon.

Sights: Before you tackle the park’s dozens of trails and embrace a few nights of camping, consider prefacing your experience with a day or two in the town of Cheticamp, near the western entrance. This charming fishing village is the heart of the French Acadian community on the island, and a great place to relax and unwind. There are also accommodations here if rustic camping doesn’t exactly suit your honeymoon style. The park can easily be explored from the town on a daily basis.

Les Trois Pignons is the town’s cultural center and also houses a museum featuring historical Acadian exhibits and the hooked rugs the local artisans are known for. These works of art include rug portraits commissioned by some of the most famous names in history, and artist demonstrations are done in period costumes, making the venue a charming introduction to the area’s heritage. Another unique heritage experience can be found at the Mi-Careme center, which celebrates the annual masked merriment festival where locals go door to door trying to disguise their true identity from friends and family who do their best to guess.

Cheticamp is one of the few Acadian communities where Mi-Careme is still celebrated, and the center features exhibits of a wide variety of mask designs and special classes for those who wish to create their own. Parking is free, and admission is $5 per adult. Don’t be surprised if one of the decorated mannequins adorning the center’s front yard turns out to be a live actor in a mischievous mood.

Savings: Of the dozens of hiking trails available to visitors of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, none is more spectacular than Skyline Trail. While guided sunset tours are available for a fee, you can hike it at no charge on your own during the day. Crashing waves, wandering moose and a stretch of footpath that will leave you convinced you’re walking on top of the world come built into the experience. If you only have time for one hike on your honeymoon excursion, make sure this is the one. At less than eight miles and only a light-to-moderate level of difficulty, it provides bucket-list beauty for a minimal time commitment.

If you decide to base the bulk of your park exploration out of the town of Cheticamp, make time to stop by historic St. Peter’s Church. Free to visit with a tone-on-tone interior that will make you feel like you walked into a vintage wedding cake, it’s a pleasant place to gather your thoughts and is located across the street from a quiet dock where you can enjoy the fishing boats bobbing in the water.

While the park’s scenery is sensational at any time of the tourist season, scheduling your visit during the autumn foliage provides wondrous wow factor at no additional charge. Driving the perimeter of the park is also an affordable way to score some great photo-ops while still saving your pennies for a stop at the Rusty Anchor near Pleasant Bay for an over-stuffed lobster roll or veggie sandwich. While in the general area, consider swinging by Gampo Abbey, a Buddhist spiritual retreat perched in the middle of nature with monks in residence. Apparently, tourists aren’t the only ones who find these vacation visuals sacred. Visitation information is available on the abbey’s website.

After Pleasant Bay, make your way to the town of Ingonish for some time along the rugged beach that provides access to the highlands and a chance to reflect upon your visit to this phenomenal place.

Splurges: Couples headed to Cape Breton Highlands National Park as part of their honeymoon itinerary may wish to indulge a bit when it comes to where they rest their heads at night. In addition to the abbey, a couple of options stand out. Maison Fiset, located on the Cheticamp side of the park, offers charming rooms, a great breakfast and plenty of romantic atmosphere for newlyweds. At less than $200 per night, it’s an affordable splurge. It’s also a short distance from Harbour Restaurant and Bar, which offers affordable seafood dinners with entree items fresh off the boat.

Starting at roughly $100 more per night, the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish features private rooms or cabins with access to live music in the bar and a full menu. Situated on a narrow prominence of land with the surf smashing against the rocks all around you with a view of the beach just a short distance away, it’s easy to pretend you are indeed across the ocean in the land of the Celts as you grab a spa treatment and recover from the more arduous hiking trails the park has to offer.

(Myscha Theriault is a best-selling author and avid traveler. Having just finished a yearlong trip throughout the United States with her husband and Labrador retriever, Theriault is busy planning her next long-term adventure. Readers can follow her adventures on Twitter by following @MyschaTheriault.)

(c)2015 Myscha Theriault. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Fishing boats bob along the shore in the waterfront village of Cheticamp. (Myscha Theriault/TNS)