How to Survive a Road Trip


Planning for a road trip can be overwhelming. It’s hard to anticipate what you’ll need along the way — and what will slow you down.

When you don’t have to pay fifty bucks to check your luggage, it’s tempting to just throw it all in the car. But, after a few trips, I learned that going this route leaves you with a car full of stuff, none of which is at arm’s length when you need it.

Even though I’m National Geographic’s Curious Traveler, I wouldn’t call myself a road trip expert (yet). But if I had to boil down what’s in my car to the top 10 essentials, here’s what would make the cut:

  1. Beach-ready outfit. Even if I’m miles from the nearest coast, I want to make sure I can take advantage of any body of water that crosses my path. A river, natural hot springs, Jacuzzi, pool, waterfall, you name it — they all require the same three things: a bikini, sarong, and flip flops. The sarong is the most versatile; it dries quickly and can go from beach towel, to dish towel, to skirt, to headscarf all in the same day. A definite must.
  2. Camera. Road trips are visual smorgasbords, and I want to capture it all. The Olympus mini PEN is tailor-made for trips: It’s small, but has interchangeable lenses that give your photos that professional edge.
  3. Little blue notebook. This little guy stays glued to my hand. I constantly use it jot down the juicy insider tips I learn from friendly folks along the way — a curious traveler’s bread and butter!
  4. iPhone. I like getting away from it all on the road, but I like to stay in touch, too — especially if it’s going to be a long haul. With Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest apps, my friends and family can see where I am in real time and vice versa. It’s also handy for planning and tracking my route, or even finding the closest gas station when I’m pushing empty. Heck, what doesn’t an iPhone do these days?
  5. Tent. My Big Agnes tent always comes with me. It’s my turtle shell: in five minutes I have a warm, dry makeshift home anywhere I want. It’s perfect for nights when I want to enjoy the natural world, or when I roll up somewhere and there’s no vacancy. My turtle shell will never turn me away!
  6. Head lamp. When you’re on a road trip, light is your best friend. Get a flat tire at night? Want to read in the tent? Want to deter would-be assailants by shining light in their eyes? Get a head lamp.
  7. Pepper spray. As a woman traveling alone, pepper spray is a necessary evil. I keep it with me as an extra precaution — though I’ve never had to use it, and hope I never will!
  8. Power snacks. Sometimes, I don’t want to stop for a full-blown meal when there are miles to cover, so I bring snacks. While it’s tempting to grab a Snickers bar, I know it will bring me crashing down quicker than I can say “Hungry? Why wait.” Instead I stock up on goodies like Rise bars and raw almonds.
  9. Mini library. I always bring a few books: a couple of old standbys for when I’m longing for something familiar and a few new ones that unfold alongside my own journey (Wildebeest in a Rainstorm is a recent favorite).
  10. Turkish nazar. I’m not superstitious, but it can’t hurt to have a talisman along for the ride. Even if it doesn’t actually ward off the “evil eye,” it makes for a nice companion after hours and hours in the car alone. It’s like having my very own Wilson (but his name is Mert).

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How to Pack for Weekend Trips

If I’m traveling, I’m usually working, so I have to bring my laptop. Once you know what you’ll actually need, you can start thinking about things you want to bring. Bottom line: Pack what makes you feel your best and what won’t hold you back from adventure.

Here are seven things to think about while you’re packing for your next weekend trip:

1. Keep calm and carry-on. If you remember your passport, credit cards, and medications you might need when you’re running around before a flight, you’re halfway to golden. Most everything else can be purchased later if left behind. But don’t you dare check a bag on a weekend getaway! Even if you’re not flying, you don’t want to be weighed down. That said, quality luggage is one of the most important investments a traveler can make. Luxury hotel inspector Tiffany Dowd and Erik Wilkinson, a director of sales for Eton of Sweden, both swear by Tumi. The Quintessential Tote is Dowd’s favorite because it’s “stylish and durable,” while Wilkinson prefers the International Carry-On, a bag he reports holds a surprisingly large amount of clothes. Dowd’s also a fan of the brand’s luggage recovery program which identifies your bag with a unique registration number.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of a plastic bag. I put everything from chargers to jewelry in plastic baggies. I also always keep a plastic bag filled with essential toiletries — like contact solution, lotion, and toothpaste — at the ready en route. Bigger plastic bags double as laundry hampers on short trips, but for those of you who want to class it up a bit, Wilkinson recommends trying Flight 001 Spacepaks. “You fold everything in on one side of the bag on your outbound journey and then your dirty clothes go on the other side on your return,” he said.

3. Accessories are your best friend. On a weekend trip, neutral color palates — tans, blacks, whites, grays — can maximize your options while keeping your carry-on, well, carry-able. Then, all you need is a fabulous selection of accessories to brighten and vary your look. “Great accessories are my secret,” Dowd said. “You can add a pop of color to a simple black dress with some vibrant Prada pumps, then change up your look by adding a long Chanel necklace and some high-heeled boots the next night.” I also love adding to my collection when I’m away: Picking up a scarf from a London shop or a bracelet from a market in Dubai remind me of my travels long after I’ve returned home.

4. Wear the same outfit on both flights. Picking out your “plane uniform” is important business, and can help you conserve valuable carry-on space. For instance, always wear your heaviest items, like winter coats and big boots, on the plane. Travelers often end up in quite a different clime when they disembark at their destination, and planes themselves can be chilly, so layering your clothing is always a good way to go.

5. To thine own self be true. Identify and embrace your must-haves. Confession: I own way too many black dresses — but they’re just so easy when traveling, and I don’t care how often someone sees me in one. So when I know I’ve packed a few of them, I feel at ease. And, since I have yet to come to terms with my Medusa-esque head of curls, I always bring a flat iron along with me. Wilkinson, on the other hand, subscribes to something he calls “the blazer effect.” “If there’s a better table to be had at the restaurant, I get it wearing the blazer,” he said. Same with hotel upgrades. “My wife and I laugh about it now because it happens so often.”

6. Be prepared. Part of my power-packing strategy for weekend trips is invisible to the eye. When you only have a few days, you want to spend them wisely, so I do a lot of research about my destination ahead of time. I save tweets, articles, quotes, friends’ advice, and more in documents and spreadsheets, then use SugarSync to link my laptop to my phone so it’s all at my fingertips. Even if you’re a see-where-the-day-takes-you traveler, it always helps to have some idea of what you want to do, especially when it comes to securing reservations at that fabulous new restaurant or tickets to that gonna-sell-out show.

7. Keep it light. This rule is both literal and figurative. In addition to not weighing myself down with checked luggage, I make a habit of leaving books behind on short getaways. Instead, I bring my iPad and buy magazines at the airport for take-off and landing. Dowd, who gave the best advice of all —  “Leave any stress you may have behind!” – reminded me that weekend getaways are about enjoying life and getting some rest. Amen, sister.

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7 Safety Tips for Traveling Alone

AARP and Frommers: 10 safety tips for traveling aloneTraveling solo is undergoing a resurgence in this hyperconnected world. Witness the success of travel memoirs such as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and the endless blogs recording lone journeys around the world. Anyone who travels alone is aware of its singular rewards, but such rewards can be blunted if you fail to make personal safety a priority. Here are a few safety tips for solo travelers.

1. Stay connected

Those days of being without cellphone, smartphone and Skype seem almost quaint. Before you leave home, find out whether your mobile phone has roaming capabilities at your destination. If not, or if the roaming cost is prohibitive, rent a phone once you arrive (or buy international SIM cards if you have an unlocked GSM phone) so you have a lifeline. Smartphones outfitted with GPS or online maps are good options for drivers.

2. Keep others apprised of your daily itinerary

Regularly let people know where you’re going — including friends and family back home and your innkeeper or hotel concierge. When traveling alone into parkland or wilderness, always let someone know when you expect to return as well as your exact route — and then stick to it.

3. Stash money, credit cards and passport in separate places

Keep some money and credit cards in your wallet or purse, and additional money and cards in a pocket or money pouch. When sightseeing, carry only a copy of your passport’s data page, keeping your passport locked in your hotel safe. (It’s also good to leave a copy of the data page with someone at home.) On travel days, carry your passport separately from your money and credit cards.

4. Study up on your destination

Be aware of safety concerns as well as of local customs and etiquette, especially with regard to dress. When in doubt, opt for conservative. Women travelers should know in advance if harassment is an issue — and both men and women should get the safety lowdown on public transportation. Talk to locals about neighborhoods to avoid, especially after dark. Know the local number to call for emergencies.

5. Ensure that your lodgings are safe

Keep your door locked, with the security chain fastened. Try to snag a room close to where the action is — near the concierge desk, say, or near elevators. Stay away from ground floors where window entry is possible. Don’t answer the door if you’re not expecting anyone.

6. Stay healthy

Is the water safe to drink? Are poisonous snakes or spiders a problem? Are mosquitoes a health issue? Does your dive operator have a stellar safety record? Bring an extra supply of prescription medications and an extra script (with the generic drug name rather than the brand name). And don’t forget hand sanitizer.

7. Keep your wits about you

Traveling alone doesn’t mean cowering in a hotel room. Venturing into unknown territory is one of the thrills of travel. But don’t let yourself get so distracted by sights and sounds (or recording every moment on camera or cellphone) that you let your guard down. Of all the travel-alone safety tips, this is the most important: Don’t leave common sense at home.

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Five amazing places to experience another culture

Learning about the culture and customs of other people is one of the great experiences of travel. Explore the planet’s diversity with one of these locally owned and authentic tribal encounters.

Trekking with the H’mong around Sapa, northern Vietnam

Negotiate generations-old mountain tracks and cascades of rice paddies to the villages of the H’mong people, an ethnic minority in Vietnam. Trek with Sapa O’Chau – the name means ‘Hello Sapa’ in the H’mong language – and you’ll be boosting the education and literacy of young H’mong tour guides. Sapa O’Chau is headed by Shu Tan, an energetic H’mong woman making a real difference for her people, and if you’re keen on a longer stay in Sapa, she’s always looking for volunteer teachers at Sapa O’Chau’s community school.

Contact Sapa O’Chau (

Island life with the Kuna, San Blas Archipelago, Panama

Scattered across the 400-plus islands of Panama‘s San Blas Archipelago is the autonomous Kuna Yala homeland, where you can spend time getting to know the Kuna people. Fly from Panama City to the tiny island of Mamirupu and stay at the rustic and locally owned Dolphin Lodge. The snorkelling and fishing are sublime, and boatmen can take visitors to nearby islands to learn about the Kuna’s proud history of independence and resistance. The Kuna’s iconic local handicrafts include molas, finely crafted and colourful appliqué textiles.

Contact Dolphin Lodge Panama (

Indigenous Aboriginal culture, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

Journey to the ancestral lands of the indigenous Adjahdura and Ngadjuri peoples on South Australia’s rugged Yorke Peninsula. Traditional storytelling includes Adjahdura ‘Dreaming Stories’, recounting the legend of creation and the time when megafauna roamed this ancient landscape (fossil evidence of megafauna, including giant kangaroos, reinforces the facts behind Adjahdura’s shared myths and memories). Tour operator Quenten Agius is widely regarded as one of Australia’s leading indigenous travel personalities.

Contact Aboriginal Cultural Tours South Australia (

Maori Culture & Spirituality, Waitangi, New Zealand

New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people are comprehensively integrated into modern society, but tribal customs and values are still important in the 21st century. Hone Mihaka, of the Ngapuhi tribe of northern New Zealand, welcomes visitors to his ancestral marae (meeting place) after a shared paddling excursion in a Maori waka (canoe). Inside a rustic meeting house trimmed with raupo (rush stems), Hone and his family conduct a spiritually powerful powhiri (welcome) on behalf of their ancestors.

Contact Taiamai Tours (

Il Ngwesi Lodge, Nanyuki, Kenya

Il Ngwesi is Kenya’s only luxury safari lodge to be wholly owned and operated by the local Maasai community; this sustainable and eco-aware project north of Mt Kenya is also one of the country’s best wildlife retreats.  Beyond the sublime animal-viewing opportunities, stays include education in Maasai culture, and your money helps support Il Ngwesi’s rhinoceros sanctuary as well as local schools and land conservation.

Contact Il Ngwesi (

Do it right: useful guidelines for ethical tribal encounters

  • Identify projects where the local community have a significant stake – ideally 100% ownership and control – and a correspondingly low-impact and sustainable environmental footprint.
  • Interact with the people you’re visiting, and share a little about yourself and your home country if you can. Remember, you’re not in a zoo, so just don’t stand back and stare. The community you’re visiting may well be just as curious about you.
  • Don’t wander into a village uninvited; if possible, visit with a local guide known and respected by the community. Follow strictly any cultural guidelines expressed by your guide, and try and learn about the community’s culture and lifestyle before your visit.
  • Consider if you actually need to take photographs: how would you feel if outsiders arrived at your house and grabbed a few snaps on their smartphone? If you do wish to take photos, always ask permission first.
  • If you’d like to donate to the community, purchase provisions like rice, cooking oil or fabric that can be utilised in their daily lives. If you wish to help on an ongoing basis, look into whether any reputable NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) are active in assisting the community.

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Expensive experiences, cheaper alternatives

The world’s most iconic travel experiences don’t usually come cheap – but sometimes there are real alternatives. Here are some ideas for the budget-conscious, and expert advice on whether it’s actually worth paying the price for some of these bucket-list classics.

1. Orient Express vs InterRail pass, Europe

The plush Venice Simplon Orient-Express exudes an irresistible romance – it’s all that wood panelling and polished brass. But it’s not cheap: the classic six-day Paris-Istanbul train jaunt costs GB£11,000 per person. An InterRail Pass to cover the same stretch costs from GB£161 (five days travel in ten); upgrade to a First Class version for £386 for a glimmer of glamour.

Worth the saving? Undoubtedly. But if you win the lottery…

2. Harbour Bridge Climb vs Pylon Lookout, Sydney, Australia

The Old Coathanger offers the best views of Sydney harbour – for all budgets. The more hair-raising choice sees you suited up and strapped to the outer rim of the arch to climb to its 134m zenith. The alternative is to climb the 200 steps of the bridge’s South East Pylon for 87m-high budget views.

Worth the saving? Only want a panorama? Pick the pylon (A$11); the Bridge Climb (A$198-298) provides an adrenalin-boosting (but wallet-wilting) outlook.

3. Galápagos Islands vs Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

Isla de la Plata is known as the ‘Poor Man’s Galápagos’. It’s certainly easier and cheaper to access – just 27km off the Ecuadorian mainland, while the Galápagos is 1000km. Species here include whales, sea lions and birds, including boobies, frigatebirds and waved albatross; Galápagos faves such as giant tortoise and penguins are absent.

Worth the saving? A Plata day-trip (around US$35) is fine, but is no match. An eight-night Galápagos cruise costs from US$1500 plus flights – but find the cash if you can.

4. Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, vs Mt Kenya, Kenya

Africa’s highest mountain, 5895m Kilimanjaro, steals the thunder of runner-up Mount Kenya (5199m). Both are challenging volcano climbs, with rainforest, strange plants and shrinking glaciers. Kenya has more wildlife and fewer people; it’s also cheaper, due to lower fees and the shorter duration needed for a climb (from four days). Kili’s main trails are chocker, and fees soon mount – factor on at least six days of US$70-a-day Conservation Fee, US$50-a-day camp fee, guides, food…but it remains the ultimate challenge.

Worth the saving? Yes: Kenya’s a satisfying ascent – it just lacks the bragging rights.

5. Nile cruiser vs felucca, Egypt

The Nile is busy with boats, from floating five-star hotels that can cost US$200 a night, to traditional lateen-sailed feluccas (more like US$12). Modern ships move faster and offer amenities from air-con to bars and spas – in short, comfort. Feluccas have a deck, no cabins and no bathrooms, and must amble with the wind, but offer a more authentic feel.

Worth the saving? Yes, if you’re not precious about loos.

6. Gorilla tracking vs chimp trekking, Uganda

Tracking mountain gorillas in Bwindi is a bucket list stuff, but comes at a price: US$500 for a sweaty slog and an hour in the great apes’ presence. To encounter chimps costs from US$30 at Toro-Semliki, although better sightings are in Kibale; here, fees are US$150 for a three-hour hike or US$220 for a Habituation Experience – where you spend all day watching the chimps forage, feed and breed.

Worth the saving? Few are disappointed by gorilla trekking, but do consider alternatives: there’s much more to Uganda.

7. Sabi Sand Game Reserve vs Kruger National Park, South Africa

Kruger is the most egalitarian safari spot. Entry costs R204 (US$23) a day, you can drive your own 2WD on its excellent roads and pitch a tent in its well-equipped campsites (R200 a night). You can also see Africa’s Big Five while you’re at it. Adjacent private game reserves, such as Sabi Sand, have the same wildlife, but also intimate, luxurious lodges, expert guides, activities such as night drives and bigger prices – think R3000 per person per night.

Worth the saving? Yes. Game viewing in Kruger is great – but remember that a good guide can transform a safari.

8. Glacier walk vs heli-hike, Fox & Franz Joseph, New Zealand

There are many ways to meet South Island’s mighty glaciers. You can hike up green valleys to the terminal faces of Fox or Franz Joseph (around NZ$50), or spend a bit more to strap on crampons and walk on the lower glacier (NZ$115). However, the most impressive ice-caves and crevasses are higher up; it costs NZ$400 to reach them by helicopter and hike across this shifting world of white.

Worth the saving? No, splurge – for the chopper ride and more extraordinary ice.

9. Sambadrome vs blocos, Rio Carnival, Brazil

The world’s biggest street party can command a hefty price-tag. To watch the main Samba Parade you need a ticket for the Sambadrome. Options range from grandstand space to luxury boxes; for all but the cheapest you’ll pay upwards of US$125. To counter increasing commercialisation, blocos – neighbourhood parties – have risen in popularity; to join in, buy a T-shirt (around US$10) and shake your bootie with the locals.

Worth the saving? Ideally, do both. Book early for best-value Sambadrome seats.

10. Yacht cruise vs Bateau Bus, Monaco

The pricey principality is the ultimate place to loll on a yacht with a cocktail and a celeb. But mooring alone can cost €1200 a day. A teensy taste of the high-life requires just €2 (and some imagination) – buy a ticket for the Bateau Bus ferry across the highfalutin harbour.

Worth the saving? Yes, for the views back to the world you can’t afford…

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Walt Disney World Resort announced the multi-year transformation of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs. Disney Springs will double the number of shops, restaurants and other venues for guests to explore, resulting in more than 150 establishments. Construction is slated to begin next month with new areas opening in phases. Disney Springs is expected to be complete in 2016.

“Disney Springs will be a timeless, vibrant place where Walt Disney World guests and local residents can relax, shop, dine and be entertained in an imaginative setting where they’ll instantly feel at home,” said Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “Featuring distinctive brands, world-class restaurants and unforgettable entertainment, Disney Springs will be brought to life with the same focus on storytelling and attention to detail that goes into our theme parks, resorts and cruise ships, resulting in a welcoming space that only Disney could create.”

Drawing inspiration from Florida’s waterfront towns and natural beauty, Disney Springs will include four outdoor neighborhoods interconnected by a spring and lakefront. In addition to a new gateway with a signature water tower and grand entry, the destination will feature the Town Center, offering a mix of shopping and dining along with a promenade; a commercial district called “The Landing” with dining and waterfront views; a family-friendly Marketplace featuring an over-the-water pedestrian causeway along with an expaded World of Disney store; and a West Side showcasing entertainment set against new elevated spaces providing shade and an overlook to activity below.

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World Economic Forum ranks best and worst countries for travel and tourism

  • best_worst_tourism_countries.jpg

    Switzerland and Spain are two countries doing a good job luring in tourists, according to a recent report by the World Economic Forum, while Russia–not so much. (iStock)

Countries are vying for hard-earned tourist dollars like never before.  But have you ever wondered which country does the best –and worst–job on tourism?

You might not be surprised that the U.S. didn’t take the number one spot (it was ranked 6th).  What is interesting is that Europe, despite its austerity measures, is doing a great job at luring in the tourists, while China and Russia –not so much.

Switzerland, Germany and Austria ranked the best for travel and tourism industry competitiveness, according to the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013, released by the World Economic Forum.  The index, which looked at 140 countries and ranked them by data from international travel and tourism institutions and expert surveys, cited factors such as efficient infrastructure, cultural sites, world-class hotels and availability of trained staff.

But Spain –yes, the country with 26 percent unemployment –climbed to fourth from eighth, due to its abundance of World Heritage sites, cultural resources and sports stadiums. France fell four places from third in 2011 to seventh due to restrictive regulations in the tourism sector.  The U.K. and Sweden were also in the top 10.

On the bottom of the ranking aren’t all strife-riddled countries like Chad and Haiti (139 and 140 respectively). Russia’s corruption and Venezuela’s anti-Western sentiment are all tourist turn-offs.  China fell six spots with an overall ranking of 45th due, in part, to its lack of infrastructure.

In terms of developing nations, some of the rising stars include Panama (moving from 56th to 37th) and the Philippines (rising from to 82th from 94th).  The UAE also continues to draw tourist to its hotspots, fueled by oil money, but also making it more attractive are its “world-class” airports.

So what does this mean for you?  The report doesn’t get into specifics, but knowing which countries are working to make tourists welcome could help you make better choices the next time you travel.

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