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The Best Road Trip Apps

23 Nov

According to AAA, 42.5 million people are expected to travel 50 miles+ for Thanksgiving this week, a 4% increase over last year.

Whether you are driving for one hour or trekking hundreds of miles, there’s no doubt that having a smartphone on hand can be a lifesaver.

Here are some of my favorite road trip apps, some help pass the time and others are more practical. All were tested on a multi-state trip this summer.

Tripit

This app is awesome! We stayed at five different hotels on our summer trip, and I didn’t print out a single travel reservation email. Just forward your confirmations to Tripit, and it will build an itinerary compiling all your information. (Bonus: Tripit has a fun promo video.)

Road Hunt

This is the only “I Spy” type game I could find that worked for well for multiple players, and had things you might actually see on the road. A word of warning–the driver is at a great disadvantage (not that I’m still bitter from losing or anything).

Sit or Squat

While having the familiar I-Didn’t-Have-To-Go-Then argument with your kids (or spouse), use this handy app to find public bathroom locations nearby. And if you have a “crappy” experience, you can even leave a review.


 

Best Road Trip Ever

Using your location, this app will clue you in to the oldest, largest, and weirdest landmarks across the U.S. Without it we wouldn’t have found the “Home of America’s Biggest Burger Challenge” in Pennsylvania or the A Christmas Story house in Cleveland.

Gas Buddy

I’m one of those people who always pays too much for gas. Minutes after I fill up, I’ll see a station with rates five cents less per gallon. This app solves that problem by giving station locations and prices. You can also send updates to the app for a chance to win free gas.

TripAdvisor

This app is easy to use and navigate, just choose Stay, Eat, or See to find top rated hotels, restaurants, and attractions.With time to kill in Ohio, we used it to discover the Cleveland Botanical Garden–a totally unexpected highlight of our trip. I also found TripAdvisor’s reviews more helpful than Yelp.

Wishing everyone safe and happy travels this Thanksgiving!

The Realities of Girlfriend Getaways

22 Sep

As with many great ideas, it started in a bar.

During an impromptu gathering of college friends, the conversation turned to a familiar topic: We should see more of each other.

It had been ten years since we’d graduated from Syracuse University together. Remarkably, we’d stayed in touch and liked each other even more than in the days of dorm food and keggers.

We also were enjoying the self assuredness that comes with being 30 years old, and the bonus of having a little financial security to boot.

There was only one logical thing to do–plan a weekend getaway. Little did we know that our first trip would turn into an annual tradition.

It’s been six years now, and over that time I’ve discovered these realities of girlfriend getaways:

1. Planning is half the fun. 

Our trip always falls on MLK Day weekend, but discussions about locales, flights, hotels, what to pack, and what to see last all year long. E-mails with links to indulgent spas, highly recommended restaurants, and top-rated attractions bounce back and forth. So what if there are days we barely make it past the hotel bar.

2. There will be tears.

At any given moment, it is not uncommon for one or more of the five of us to break down. Whether it is over entrees in Arizona or walking down Sixth Street in Austin, there’s something about being around girlfriends who validate your feelings and love you unconditionally that spurs an emotional release. Bring tissues.

3. You’ll miss home.

Most of the time during our girls’ weekends I’m giddy with the joys of leaving it all behind. Pets, kids, laundry–not today! But then I’ll get a little twinge, wonder what’s going on back home, and need to check in. It’s OK, just try to avoid calling at 4 a.m. from a dance club. Husbands don’t love that.

4. Be flexible.

Plans will be made, and plans will be broken. It will rain. Planes will be delayed. That don’t-miss thing you must see, forget about it. Crankiness is inevitable (and usually caused by hunger, by the way). In the end, it helps to remember that girls’ weekends are about being together, no matter if it is waiting in line for an epic brunch at the Bellagio or dealing with the inevitable delays caused by five girls and one bathroom.

5. It will end too soon.

Before I know it, bloated from too much food and drink, wallet empty and laughing to myself over some silly happening, I’m on a plane heading home and wondering where the time went. Inevitably, I will open the inflight magazine, flip to the map of the U.S., and start thinking about next year.

Five Things Not to Miss in Syracuse, NY

6 Sep

I work at a small university in Rhode Island where students are back to school this week. At this time of year, I can’t help but be reminded of my own first days on campus at Syracuse University.

Central New York is probably not on the bucket lists of many travelers, but over the six years I logged in Syracuse, NY–first as a student, then working at my first job, and later as a new mom–I discovered some gems.

Here are a few of my favorites:

M Street (Marshall Street) 

Introducing the next generation to The Varsity.

This is the college hotspot, where students go to buy something orange, grab some food, and, especially, drink. Order pizza and Labatt’s at The Varsity–an M Street institution for slices and pies. Pop into Faegan’s for a pint or stop by Chuck’s (Hungry Charlie’s) for a pitcher. Tearfully walk by the spot where 44’s once stood. And don’t forget to get yourself a “Go Orange!” foam finger at Manny’s before heading up the hill to campus.

The Carrier Dome 

The “Dome” is one of the largest and coolest college sports stadiums in the country. Try to score a ticket to an Orange football, basketball, or lacrosse game. If you can’t, stop by when the box office is open and you can usually talk your way inside for a look around. You may even be able to sneak onto the field to try out your end-zone dance. On the outside of the dome, jump in between the columns to hear an echo that sounds like it came straight from the Star Wars editing room. (Yes, you’ll look silly, but you won’t be the only one.)

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Oh yeah, that's right.This serious rib joint, with a string of Harleys in front and a line out the door, is what I miss most about Syracuse. Yes, you can buy their hot sauce at many markets around the U.S. And yes, you could visit the Dino outpost in New York City. But there’s something about this downtown Syracuse spot, with its cluttered dining room and dinged up wooden bar, that just feels genuine. The ribs, the brisket, the mac salad, the bbq chicken, and the cornbread–it’s all incomparable, with an atmosphere to match.

Armory Square

After pigging out at Dinosaur, or if the wait time is too patience-testing, walk past the art deco Niagara Mohawk building down to Armory Square. The Museum of Science and Technology (my first paid gig out of college) is housed in an old armory that anchors three blocks of shops, dining, and nightlife. The Blue Tusk has an eclectic beer list and is always packed. Empire Brewing Company and Syracuse Suds Factory are also great places to drink. Lemon Grass and Pastabilities (known to locals as Pasta’s) have maintained a solid foodie following over the years. And Provisions Bakery has huge delectable brownies. The shopping is great too, with Eureka Crafts as my favorite.

A bit of culture at the Everson Museum and Syracuse Stage

The Everson, designed by I.M. Pei.

The Everson museum is a sculptural work of art in itself. You’ll find changing exhibits inside, but the Everson is best known for its vast collection of pottery and ceramic arts. If you are in Syracuse during the holidays, visit the museum for the annual Festival of Trees–a popular event that features uniquely decorated trees donated by local organizations and businesses. If you prefer the theater to art museums, Syracuse Stage, the professional theater-in-residence at SU, produces six shows every year. I saw Angels in America here, among other plays, and was always impressed by the acting and the production.

Whether you are just passing through, or in town for some college hoops, give Syracuse a good look. After you shovel out your car, I promise you’ll find something you like.

Five Ways to Survive the Family Road Trip

23 Jun

In two days, my family will embark on a summer road trip. We will drive across five states and into Canada–a first for the kids, ages 10 and 13. We’ll ride the best roller coasters in the US, Jet Ski on Lake Erie, get wet at Niagara Falls, and visit my alma mater.

We will also log 24 hours together in the car. That’s a lot of family time.

Luckily we’ve had some experience with kids and cars, and the highs and lows that come with the right of passage that is The Family Road Trip. Here are a few tricks to keep everyone sane and (reasonably) happy across the miles:

One of our favorite audio books.

1. The Activity Crate

Fill a milk-crate-style box with every unused activity book that has been sitting around your house for who knows how long. Pack crayons, markers, and blank pads. Stock up on new books from their favorite series. Throw in the iPods and PSPs. It’s a treasure trove of anti-boredom. It can even double as a barrier: nestle that box in between the kiddos to keep the “He’s touching me!”  and “She’s on my side!” complaints at bay.

2. Constant Updates

You might have been planning this trip for months, but the kids haven’t. Communicate the milestones along the way: “Only an hour until we are in New Jersey!” and “We’re half way there!” will help your passengers to feel involved and informed. You can even make a “bet” on the arrival time. Winner picks what’s for dinner.

3. The Snack Stash

Goodies are essential for everyone’s happiness. Guarded by the passenger-seat rider, your stash should include low-sugar, caffeine-free treats. Don’t announce all of the offerings at once. Strategically suggest that it’s time for some watermelon, then maybe an hour later bust out the Teddy Grahams. Be cautious with the drinks, unless you want to spend a lot of time in rest stops. Also, add one out-of-the-norm “special” treat to the mix. If you usually cringe at requests for beef jerky, let it slide just this once.

4. Technology is Your Friend

If you are lucky enough to have a car with a dvd player, this is the time to use it. If not (we don’t), books on CD can be a nice shared experience to pass the time. In our car, Tuck Everlasting, A House Called Awful End, and the Harry Potter series have been well received by both kids and adults. And though I’m not a fan of too much “screen” time, handheld video games can be a lifesaver on the road. It’s not like they could be outside riding their bikes, so charge up the Gameboy and enjoy the peace.

5. Know Your Route

Some say that getting lost is the best part of traveling. Not with two hungry, fidgety children who have found kicking your seat to be highly entertaining. Plan your route well, plot out possible stopping points for gas, food, and bathroom breaks. And be very cautious of going “just one more exit”–on major turnpikes and thruways, that could be upwards of 30 miles.

Also, enjoy it. When you arrive at your destination, the days are likely to be busy, filled with plans.

Embrace the time you have to just sit still and be together.

The Ultimate Summer Playlist

16 Jun

There’s nothing like a song to bring you back to your favorite summer memories and get you excited for the hot days ahead.

Whether roadtripping or just hanging out in the backyard, these are my favorite summer-inspired tunes.

Hard Sun by Eddie Vedder

“When she comes to greet me, she is mercy at my feet. I see her inner charm, she just throws it back at me.”

Tripping Billies by Dave Matthews

“We’re wearing nothing, nothing, but our shadows, shadows falling down on the beach sand.”

Toes by Zac Brown Band

I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand, not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand.Life is good today.”

Centerfield by John Fogerty

Just to hit the ball and touch ’em all – a moment in the sun; it’s gone and you can tell that one goodbye.”

Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince

“As I think back, makes me wonder how the smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia.”

On the Road Again by Willie Nelson

“Seein’ things that I may never see again, and I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

Summer Wind by Frank Sinatra

“Like painted kites, those days and nights, went flying by.”

Mexican Cousin by Phish

“The conversations I forget, you’ll tell me about tomorrow.”

Get Out the Map by Indigo Girls

With every lesson learned a line upon your beautiful face. We’ll amuse ourselves one day with these memories we’ll trace.”

Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen

“Hey what else can we do now? Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair. Well the night’s busting open these two lanes will take us anywhere.”

Fruitcakes by Jimmy Buffett

“Half-baked cookies in the oven, half-baked people on the bus, there’s a little bit of fruitcake left in every one of us.”

Favorite Vacation Spots to Go for a Jog

8 Jun

Vacation is for relaxing, sleeping in, maybe overindulging in good food and fancy drinks.

So why would anyone want to put all that on hold to lace up their sneakers and go for a jog?

I’m not a hardcore runner. I do a few 5Ks a year and I’ll occasionally challenge myself with longer race. But when I’m packing my suitcase, no matter the destination, I always make room for my running clothes and sneakers. I like to explore my new surroundings on foot and get a little endorphin-boosting exercise in while I’m at it. A jog always cheers me up and helps me to appreciate the atmosphere of my location.

Five of my favorite spots to go for a run:    

1. The Las Vegas Strip

If you are up and out early enough, the bleary-eyed all-nighters still stumbling down the strip make for great entertainment. Plus, the many overpasses that criss-cross the boulevard make it a great workout. (Hello, stair climbs.) Add bright lights, the Bellagio fountains, and a (mini) Eiffel Tower, and you barely recognize you’ve worked up a sweat.

2. The Reservoir in Central Park  

There are so many wonderful places to explore in Central Park, and this is one of my favorites. The 1.5 mile loop is one of the best spots in the city to feel like a local. It’s free of pets and strollers, and you can enter and exit the dirt pathway at different points. Obey  the rules, enjoy the sun off the water, and take a minute to remind yourself you are in NYC.

3. The Desert in Arizona

I’m from the East Coast, so the idea that I could go for a 4-mile run and not be dripping in sweat is bizarre, and awesome. Welcome to the desert. I was in AZ in January, so the temps were cool when my friend Beth and I started out. We wove through cacti and other desert plants on our jog, and I think the  signs warning of rattlesnakes helped boost our pace a bit.

4. Port Orleans Resort-French Quarter in Walt Disney World

The Florida climate is not ideal for running, granted, but with 9 days of Disney madness ahead of me, I knew I needed it. Luckily, the French Quarter at the Port Orleans Resort had a great running trail that took me through its sister resort, Riverside. Just me and the birds out by the river, a moment of peace in the happiest place on earth.

5. Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas

The promenade deck of a cruise ship can get pretty crowded with s-l-o-w walkers, so I waited for the morning we were scheduled to disembark to try it out for a run. While others were haggling over their “sea pass” bills, I was happily circling the ship. All the while I was breathing in salty air and thinking, “How cool is this? I’m running laps in the middle of the ocean.”