12 Tips and Things to Take when Traveling (On a Road Trip)

We always look forward at least once a month to see the beauty of America.  Who needs to get out the country when the United States itself is a cross cultural & cross historical on it's own.  I am so glad that I did not take that overseas duty when Sam is growing up because in this way we get to see the "world" by visiting each states at least in my every 4 years of rotation while I am in the Navy.  Living in 12 years in California as single from 1993-2005 (after almost 3 years in Japan) cannot equal the number of places we visited when we moved back to California from Connecticut and live there from 2008-2012.  We probably have visited at least 75 different places around California alone in 4 years vs probably 25 when I moved there as single.  It is because we appreciate what God gave us:  a playground.

Here are 12 things I learned I should take with me when traveling:

1.  Save time:  Don't take your vacation leave just to see another state, 2 days in a weekend should be enough time to explore one of the National Parks or cities near you and if there is a 3 day weekend go even further.  Plan.

2.  Use the technology:  We have come along away and some of the most useful applications I have used are:
- Kayak:  To search for the best price in hotels and plane tickets. (Phone apps available)
- AAA Trip Tik:  Gets you routed smartly on your destination and checks the nearest attractions, lodging and military installation.
- AAA Membership:  $85/year is really worth it even if you have this car services in your insurance.  We canceled the services offered by AAA on our USAA Car Policy such as towing and rental.  We get free unlimited guidebook, travel services, discount card using our AAA Discount card.
- Grocery Membership: Some membership on SAM's Club or BJs to get your discounted gas (slightly cheaper), we get ours in COSTCO.
- Trip Advisor:  Get this application on your phone to download the top 5 attractions in the area.
- Yelp:  Find the best place to eat.
- Weather.com: Get the right outfit and transportation.
- Oh Ranger - the National park phone applications gives you direction.

You can search all them on Google.com to go the the website.

3.  Investigate the Place:  Don't just visit a place because one person told you it's a must see.  I use the book 1,000 Places to Visit Before you Die (World and USA edition) to see if the place is worth the visit.  I also frequently use Trip Advisor to get the unbiased reviews on the places we are planning on visiting.

4. Get the camera:  It is not just to document the place you have been and remember the finest moments you have together as a family but to share the beauty of the places around the world and realized that those places you never appreciate comes to life and you become appreciative of everything around you by looking on it at a different perspective:  in a photograph.

5.  Laptop & Other Gadgets:  You would say, what is the use of vacation when you bring your house with you.  I bring at least the following to save my memories (pun intended) and explore the place around me:
- Extension Cord:  to plug and recharge all your gadget.
- Laptop with WiFi - to get the latest information.
- Camera with extra battery & SD Card.
- Cooler box:  to store your leftovers and cool your drinks.
- Emergency and medicine kit.

6.  Lodging (Military):  if you are in the military, take advantage of staying on Air Force Inn or Gateway Inn.  They are not the typical barracks anymore.  You can get an apartment hotel for a low as $45 and only $10/day additional if you have a pet.    Plus the convenience of near the Exchange, commissary, galley, cheap gas and other services.

7.  Lodging (Off Base):  We have used Hotel.com and if we have a definite plan use Hotwire (cheapest but non-refundable).  This time we have used La Quinta Inn and get us a pet friendly room and free hot breakfast.  Get those hotel rewards membership to accumulate points - thats how we got some free stay and other goodies.

8.  Share the Experience:  What is the point of traveling if you just keep it to yourself.  Show them and encourage them to travel.  It is not bragging or some would think as flaunting.  Thanks to social media Facebook, we can update the family and tell everyone to get out of the couch and see the world.

9.  Budget:  Save up enough money and use them as soon as you find a good deal.  Use applications like Groupon to find deals and Mint.com to place a budget.  You don't need to stay on a 5 star or resort hotel - most of them don't have the real convenience of WiFi or Microwave or even refrigerator.  Plus you don't go to a place to stay in your room all day anyway.  A $65 La Quinta in Shreveport Louisiana was a steal versus a Ramada for $100.  Do your homework, Bed & Breakfast motels sometimes are the best deal but not all cheap hotels are worth it either.  Check out the regular price and if the 5 star hotel is 75% off then take it.  It won't hurt to splurge once in a while.

10.  Talk to Locals:  Don't ask the concierge of the hotel, visit the local community like church (we love attending church services of locals), grocery attendant and other locals to give you the unbiased ideas on what to see at the moment.

11.  GPS:  use it smartly.  We constantly use the "current route" mode to see the attractions in the area (never use near are because it may take you back to where you already passed)  then verify them on Trip Advisor or Yelp if it's worth the trip.

12.  Use your discount card:  We have both AAA and our military card to get the best deals on museum, restaurants and parks. 

Of course there are more than 12 tips but for now, we just want to share to you how we are doing in our current road trip we started in November 1 (now 9) and so far we explore the best of Las Vegas, New Mexico, Tucson, Dallas and now Shreveport (we thought New Orleans was the #1 city to visit, it was Shreveport) and have not even used any of my vacation time because we were authorized to travel 12 days to my final duty station:  Virginia.

 Read the BONUS tips below on "What you DON'T Need"

 Bonus tips:  What you don't need when to have a great vacation:

1.  RV:  I think would be the worst investment.  You are stuck maintaining this oversize vehicle and having to worry about the storage, parking and monthly expense.

2.  Time Share: Another waste of money and worst investment.  Have you realized why those time share Realtors are so aggressive in selling this kind of properties - get a clue.  I know some just got sucked into this because of the free 4 day stay in Marriott or ticket to a concert just to attend a Time Share presentation - be wary - we got out of it but got a free Lion's King Broadway show.

3.  A Vacation Leave:  You don't need to postpone a vacation because of time constraint, if you have 2 days that should be enough to explore the world outside your house or computer.

4.  A Large Sum:  You should save money for a rainy day but you don't need more than $100 to see Yosemite National or Sea World (both free to military).  Go to local grocery, buy a meat and grill them in the park.

5.  A Plane Ticket:  of course you need them out of continental US but there is also MAC Flight or Space "A" that we took advantage when we went to Hawaii almost 2 years ago.  You and your family just need the motivation and love for travel to get you started.

6. Overrated Adventure or Team Park:  We have visited both Disneyworld and Disneyland but those annual pass is really not worth it even if you plan on visiting them twice again or they say you get free upgrades because if you do, then you are focus on just revisiting them and spend at least 2 hours just lining up for a 30 second roller coaster ride.  Visit once, then visit something else.

7.  Tourist Guide Book:  Don't use them or those coupons - they are lure to tourist traps.  Use them just to guide you on what is going on in the area.  Always go to real people's review like Yelp or Trip Advisor and sometimes AAA Guide or Fodors Travel book.