Tips for Vacationing with Elderly Parents

ElderlyParentsTravel_mainOne of the rewards of a long, productive life is being able to do what you love during your golden years.  Many retirees like to spend their free time traveling — creating new memories, visiting places they’ve never seen, even making new friends.  Of course, the one thing that retired parents prefer to do above all else is spend time with their children and grandchildren — and if they can combine that with a bit of travel, so much the better.  However, vacationing with elderly parents, whether over the holidays or year-round, can be challenging, so if you’re planning to do so, consider the following tips.

Travel_TravelListHelp Them Prepare

While people of all ages tend to forget things while packing, it’s more common among the elderly.  At their age, though, many of them can’t do without medications and other daily necessities.  Well before your departure date, work with them to create a comprehensive list of must-have, preferred, and desired travel items.  Consult with their doctor(s) to flesh out the list, stock up on required prescriptions — and create action plans for any medical issues or emergencies that might arise.  (If your parents don’t appreciate all the fuss, simply remind them of what they always told you:  “Better safe than sorry.”)

Before leaving, give your parents additional peace of mind by helping them lock down their home and secure their possessions.  If they have pets, speak with the petsitters to ensure that they’ll be properly tended to, and get their contact information in case your parents want to check in from time to time.

Help Them Relax

Travel_EarlyAirportAs you make your plans, keep your parents’ abilities and health conditions top of mind.  If you’re traveling by air, make sure to request any special services or meals in advance, and get to the airport early to ensure that they won’t have to rush to make the flight.  If they’re likely to get up frequently while on board, give them the aisle seats; if they’re more likely to doze, give them the window seats.  Ensure that the hotels you’re considering all have working elevators, or book rooms on the first or second floor.

If you’re planning day trips in your destination city, look into senior packages, arrange a bus tour, or rent a car to minimize physical strain.  Identify available restrooms, restaurants that serve senior-friendly foods, and other stops along the way to allow your parents to recharge their batteries as needed.  Don’t overdo the activities, particularly early on; give them time to recuperate from the travel and to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings.

Join Travel Plus

With Travel Plus, you can earn 5% cash back on your airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations.  You’ll also enjoy cash-back rebates on a variety of flight, hotel, and rental-car perks that can help make your parents’ trips more comfortable, and you can save 10% on gift cards to popular restaurants (and other travel-related merchants).  When you join Travel Plus, you really can save on all your travel needs.

How to Save on Meals While Traveling

BaggedLunch_mainTransportation and accommodations aren’t the only travel expenses that can bite you in the budget — you also need to feed yourself and your travel companions.  Some people can comfortably get by on one meal a day, but most of us require more substantial nourishment than that on a daily basis.  To make sure your dining charges don’t consume other portions of your road resources, check out our tips on how to save on meals while you’re traveling.

Make Your Own

Eating out is a quick, easy way to blow through your travel reserves.  If you want to save money, prepare your own meals as much as possible.  Pick up ingredients at local farmers’ markets or grocers, which often offer lower prices than supermarket chains.  If your destination is famous for a certain type of produce or food (e.g., apples, tomatoes, cheese), buy that in bulk; foodstuffs that are available in great quantities tend to be less expensive.  It helps if you stay at a hotel that offers in-room microwaves, mini-fridges, and coffee makers.  Ask the front desk to empty the refrigerator beforehand (hotel prices on fridge goodies can be outrageous), then stock it with affordable favorites and easy-to-prepare dishes.

TravelMeals_HappyHourFind a Good Happy Hour

Please note that we do not condone excessive alcohol use; in fact, we applaud those states that have laws prohibiting special prices or other promotions that might encourage irresponsible drinking.  Beyond that, going easy on alcoholic drinks is one of the best things you can do for your travel funds.  However, restaurants and taverns nationwide offer free food during specific hours; just search for “happy hour + free food” in whatever city you’re visiting to find places to sate your hunger very affordably.

Reward Yourself

You shouldn’t be miserly all the time, particularly if you’re on vacation.  Schedule regular treats:  Go light on a series of meals so you can splurge on a delicious dinner.  For instance, you might limit yourself (and your family) to fruit and coffee for two straight breakfasts, followed by sandwiches, a big bag of chips, and soda or water for lunch both days.  For dinner the first night, maybe share a large pizza.  Put the savings toward a big dinner the second night (and be sure to request doggy bags for your leftovers).

TravelMeals_DinnerOutPick the Right Restaurants

If you must dine out, you still have several ways to save:

  • Order an appetizer (or two) instead of a main course.
  • Skip desserts.
  • Split main courses, and/or turn doggy bags into next-day lunches.
  • Research the most affordable restaurants in the area (and get recommendations from residents or local papers).
  • Eat lunch, which is typically lower-priced than dinner.

Join Travel Plus

Travel Plus members enjoy a 10% discount on gift cards to popular restaurants (and other travel-related merchants) — plus 5% cash back on airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations, in addition to cash-back rebates on all sorts of travel perks.  When you join Travel Plus, you can save on all your travel needs.

Save Money When You Travel with Your Pets

TravelPets_topMaking travel plans for your family (or any group) can be difficult and time-consuming, but when your travel party includes one or more pets, the degree of planning difficulty can seem Herculean.  While you consider your pets valued family members, worthy of top-notch treatment, many travel providers, hotels, and even rental-car agencies regard them as nuisances at best and as the animal equivalent of personae non gratae at worst.  As a result, the cost of traveling with your pets might seem so high that you begin to question the very idea of traveling with your pet.  Fear not, though:  Below are a few tips to help you save money when you travel with your pets.

DogCarHit the Road

We mean that (somewhat) literally.  Traveling by car is one of the surest ways to save on long-distance travel with pets.  You and your pet are presumably already familiar with road trip guidelines, and it’s easy to find a place to park and deal with urgent needs, which you can’t do in airports, planes, or trains.

CatPetTravelBeyond that, airlines aren’t required to let pets fly, and those that do sometimes charge such exorbitant fees that you may be tempted to buy Fido his own ticket.  There are also a variety of federal regulations, on top of the individual carrier’s policies, that you must follow when flying with a pet.

Perhaps incredibly, trains are less pet-friendly than airlines.  Unless your pet is a service animal, it can’t enjoy passage on Amtrak, even if it’s a search-and-rescue dog.  Some city-specific train systems (e.g., Metro-North, which offers service to the north of New York City) allow small, controlled pets onboard, but that policy is of little use if pets can’t accompany their owners to those destinations.

Take Your Own Wheels

Most rental-car agencies allow their customers to take pets along as passengers, but some locations can be more restrictive.  However, if your pet has an accident (or simply sheds an excessive amount of fur), you’ll be liable for a cleaning charge.

hoteldogcheckinFind the Right Nest

Thankfully, hotels in recent years have become much more obliging to pet owners (and pets) than transportation providers, and identifying pet-friendly hotels can be done via simple online searches.  Certain hotels charge a pet fee (including a non-refundable deposit), though; to find the most affordable accommodations, be sure to inquire about the full cost of your pet’s stay before booking a room.  Once you arrive, just keep in mind the proper etiquette for visiting pets.

Join Travel Plus

Wherever you and your pet(s) go across the United States, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations when you make them through Travel Plus.  You can also claim rebates on all sorts of travel extras, from in-flight meals and entertainment to hotel perks, rental-car extras, and Wi-Fi service anywhere.  When you vacation with your pets, make sure you know and follow the rules of the road — and travel safely!

Get Ready for the Start of Your 2014 March Madness Pool

marchmadness_coverMarch, it’s said, comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  Most people think that’s a comment on the weather, but anyone who fills out NCAA men’s college basketball tournament brackets knows that it actually refers to their dwindling chances of winning a March Madness pool.  More than 50 million people participate in the annual ritual, trying to claim part of the $3 billion that Americans bet on the tourney.  Instead of just joining a 2014 March Madness pool, why not attend a game and experience the thrill and excitement of unpaid athletes playing for glory, entertainment, and the financial benefit (usually) of their schools?

marchmadness_hoopBelow are the sites, dates, and arenas for every round of the 2014 Division I men’s college basketball tournament.  To purchase tickets, you’ll need to visit the NCAA Tickets & Hospitality page; tickets aren’t available through the individual arenas.

First Four (play-in games)

Dayton, Ohio, March 18 and 19; UD Arena

Preliminary Rounds (second- and third-round games)

Buffalo, New York, March 20 and 22; First Niagara Center

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 20 and 22; BMO Harris Bradley Center

Orlando, Florida, March 20 and 22; Amway Center

Spokane, Washington, March 20 and 22; Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena

Raleigh, North Carolina, March 21 and 23; PNC Arena

San Antonio, Texas, March 21 and 23; AT&T Center

San Diego, California, March 21 and 23; Viejas Arena

St. Louis, Missouri, March 21 and 23; Scottrade Center

Regionals (Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games)

West Regional:  Anaheim California, March 27 and 29; Honda Center

South Regional:  Memphis, Tennessee, March 27 and 29; FedExForum

Midwest Regional:  Indianapolis, Indiana, March 28 and 30; Lucas Oil Stadium

East Regional:  New York, New York, March 28 and 30; Madison Square Garden

Final Four and Championship Game

Arlington, Texas, April 5 and 7; AT&T Stadium

spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

To spice things up for the Final Four in Dallas, the NCAA and various sponsors are staging the 2014 NCAA March Madness Music Festival, a series of free concerts from April 4-6 at Reunion Park.  Featured performers include Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Killers, Tim McGraw, and Jason Aldean.

At this point, those folks are the only guaranteed performers at the Final Four.  No heavy favorites emerged from the regular season.  Kentucky and Michigan State were ranked #1 and #2 in the AP’s preseason poll; by the end of the season, they were barely in the top 25.  Wichita State went undefeated in regular-season play but competes in the Missouri Valley Conference, a mid-major league.  Syracuse, Arizona, and Duke all have weaknesses. Senior-laden Florida might be the best bet, but a lot of March Madness brackets will be banking on surprise Final Four sleepers this year.

Want a sure bet?  Try Travel Plus, which offers 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations and rebates on travel perks that can ease the pain of seeing your March Madness brackets crumble.  Which team are you picking to win it all?

Safety Tips for a Winter Road Trip

From the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to Sal and Dean in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, from Peter and Ellie in Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” to the Delta House frat brothers in “Animal House,” Americans have always been attracted to the idea that our hopes and dreams may be waiting for us down the road, around the next corner, or over the next hill.  The lure of the open road can pop up at any time, even in winter, when Mother Nature isn’t exactly warm and welcoming to voyagers.  If your urge to travel outweighs any concerns about the weather, be sure to heed the safety tips for a winter road trip; we share a few of them below.

Check the weather forecasts, research traffic conditions and highway construction plans, and plot out a route — including reservations at overnight rest stops — that will get you where you want to go with minimal hassle and inconvenience.Plan your itinerary in advance.  The idea of just hopping into your car and going wherever the road takes you can be very appealing, but it’s a recipe for potential disaster.  You may be heading directly into a paralyzing storm or straight into a long series of traffic jams, which are less dangerous than blizzards but just as frustrating.  Check the weather forecasts, research traffic conditions and highway construction plans, and plot out a route — including reservations at overnight rest stops — that will get you where you want to go with minimal hassle and inconvenience.  Then make sure you share your plans with someone who can alert and inform the authorities if you get lost.

Prepare your vehicle for anything.  Hoping for the best isn’t an effective strategy.  Have your car tuned up before you leave home, and stock it with everything you might possibly need along the way, including (but not limited to):

  • Emergency Kit - Prepare your vehicle for anything.  Hoping for the best isn’t an effective strategy.  Have your car tuned up before you leave home, and stock it with everything you might possibly need along the wayA first-aid kit
  • A car emergency kit, complete with any potential repair needs and a fire extinguisher
  • Enough non-perishable food, drinks, water, and sanitary items to last several days (in case you’re stranded)
  • Cold-weather gear
  • Entertainment items (again, in case you’re stranded)
  • Your cellphone (preferably equipped with GPS), chargers, and up-to-date maps (cellphones don’t always work)

Once you’re packed, remember to fill the gas tank, and try to follow a route that offers access to quick, easy refills.

Get your rest.  Drowsy drivers are dangerous drivers — and not just to themselves.  Coffee may be an effective pick-me-up in the morning, but it shouldn’t be used as a remedy for driving fatigue.  If your eyelids are drooping well before your next planned stop, find a place to pull over for a nap; sleeping in your car is far preferable to (and much more affordable than) waking up in a hospital room.

Drive safely.  In inclement weather, safe driving means driving slowly, keeping your headlights on, maintaining more distance between your car and other vehicles, braking early and slowly, forgoing cruise control, and taking every precaution.

Hitting the open road can be quite rewarding — and/or just plain fun.  To enhance your enjoyment, make car and hotel reservations through Travel Plus:  You’ll earn 5% cash back on bookings and rebates on travel perks.  Happy trails!

Great U.S. Destinations for Solo Travelers This Winter

solo_vacaWanderlust tugs at everyone, and as appealing as it often is to travel with your family or close friends, sometimes the urge to hit the road by yourself — to truly get away from it all — is too strong to resist.  The benefits of an independent adventure can be boiled down into a simple statement:  You’re in charge — of everything.  You choose the itinerary, the food, the resting points, the places to stay, the things to do, and the people to see (or avoid).  Far be it from us to intrude on such a personal decision, but if you’re looking for some ideas, we’re happy to offer you a few great places for solo travel across the U.S. this winter.

Tricia Daniel / Shutterstock.com

Tricia Daniel / Shutterstock.com

Austin, Texas.  The capital of the Lone Star State, Austin also bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” with a vibrant music scene that includes over 250 live venues.  One annual highlight is the SXSW (South by Southwest) conference and festival.  Taking place this year from March 7-16, SXSW features top stars and the hottest up-and-comers in the music, film, and interactive industries.  You’ll want to check out the movie premieres and concerts, but be sure to catch the various keynote speakers.

ArizonaArizona.  With average highs of 70 to 76 degrees in February and March, Arizona can provide a much-needed break from cold, inclement weather.  The Grand Canyon is the favored spot for most travelers, but the Cactus League (15 Major League Baseball teams that head to Arizona in late February for “spring” training) is a popular destination for fans who like to get a jump on the coming season.  Preseason ticket prices remain less expensive than regular-season tickets, and the ballparks are cozy enough to offer up-close views of all the players.

Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

New York City.  “The city that never sleeps” has a slew of attractions and activities that appeal to tens of millions of travelers year-round.  From Broadway shows and museums to sporting events, 4,200+ restaurants, 1,700+ parks (including Central Park, of course), and a sprawling transportation system that can ferry you around town while protecting you from winter’s elements, you’ll likely find more ways to spend your time than you’ll find time to spend in New York City.

Kirkwood, California.  Adventurous solo ski buffs can test their skills with a trip to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, which has averaged well over 400 inches of annual snowfall since 2008.  Just 47 minutes south of Lake Tahoe, and within reach of 14 other resorts in the area, Kirkwood is nevertheless uniquely isolated from the outside world, offering “Rare Earth” views and challenging trails that will leave you breathless.

Whether you just want to escape or are trying to find yourself, getting away on your own is a worthy pursuit.  Whatever your reason for solo travel in the United States this winter, Travel Plus can help you save on your journey, with 5% cash back on plane, hotel, and rental-car reservations, rebates on travel perks, and much more.

Tropical Winter Vacation Destinations

miami_flEvery now and then — say, when your part of the country is recovering from a polar vortex or coping with the effects of deadly avalanches — the idea of escaping winter and heading to a warm-weather paradise can be a comforting thought.  However, many of us are paying down our generosity over the holidays, which tends to put a crimp in the travel budget, so a trip to a tropical clime may be more fantasy than reality at the moment.  Still, voyages of the imagination are free, and, as Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  With that in mind, let’s ponder a few ideal (and reachable) tropical vacation destinations this winter.

Miami, Florida.  Miami is a common winter favorite for U.S. travelers — for good reason:  Average temperatures in January range from a high of 74 degrees to a low of 61 degrees.  Whether you want to relax on a beach or explore the vibrant nightlife, Miami offers a variety of events for virtually every vacationer.  Plus, if you’re up for a short road trip, Key West is a scant, scenic 161 miles away by car.

hawaii_2Hawai‘i.  There’s never a bad time to visit Hawai‘i, but it’s a particularly attractive destination in wintertime.  The higher holiday rates tend to drop in mid-January, and there’s a lot to do once you get there:  the Cherry Blossom Festival; the Maui Chinese New Year celebration; the Hawai‘i Chocolate Festival; and much more.  (Of course, you’re more likely to head to Hawai‘i for its beaches, and who could blame you?)

plamspringsPalm Springs, California.  Long known as “Hollywood’s playground,” visitors to Palm Springs can enjoy free activities ranging from the “Walk of Stars” to a wildlife sanctuary, tennis-court time, dog parks, and more.  If you’re willing to pay for your Palm Springs fun, you can test your golf game on four courses, test your luck at several casinos, or simply indulge in the nightlife.  (Unfortunately, it’s too late to catch the celebrities at the 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival, but maybe next year ….)

Turks and Caicos Islands.  Located 230 miles north of the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos Islands comprise eight inhabited islands and an additional 32 islands and cays.  U.S. visitors will be pleased to discover that the official currency is U.S. dollars (you’ll still need a passport, though).  Better yet, the average temperature in the “colder” months is 80 to 84 degrees, with a water temperature of 70 to 74 degrees.  Tourists have a wide range of pastimes to pursue, from whale and bird watching and limestone caves to golf, kayaking, beach fun, and more.

TurksandCaicos

When cold, snowy weather brings you down, a winter vacation to a tropical destination can help warm your spirits.  Travel Plus members can also warm their travel budgets with 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations and rebates on all sorts of travel perks and comforts.  Let us know your ideal winter vacation destination in the Comments section.