Falling Prices

Filling the tank on our Camry yesterday brought a smile to my face since a fill up cost only $20. What satisfaction at pulling into a station with a sign proclaiming the price of gas $1.99 per gallon.

But then this morning crossing the border into Alabama I couldn’t help but feel we’d been ripped off when the first station in the state laughs at Floridians with the large yellow sign singing Sweet Home Alabama’s price for gas at $1.77.

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Really $1.99 is an exceptionally low price, much better than 30¢ gas of my youth which is equivalent to $2.32 in today’s prices or even the 19¢ ($3.26) of 1935. It’s only because the prices are posted so prominently that we obsess over every extra penny added to the cost of travel.

However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t make a left turn across three lanes of traffic to take advantage of the $1.73 gas price available to Sam’s Club members. It felt good to be able to take advantage of such a bargain.

And really, who doesn’t love a bargain?

Don’t forget a map

A  map…the real old-fashioned kind…made of paper and a nightmare to fold, don’t forget to keep one or more in your car when you’re traveling. The past fifteen years, we’ve relied on technology for directions when driving. First, a Garmin GPS device, then the wonderful human voice of an OnStar operator, but mostly using Google Maps on a cell phone. All of these devices have served us well, and in fact, I sometimes wonder how I ever got around without the use of technology and GPS.

Paper maps are not obsolete.
Paper maps are not obsolete.

During this time, maps and atlases have been discarded. Who needs maps or worse yet, books of maps, cluttering the car?

While I don’t advocate using traditional paper maps exclusively, I have found good reason to keep a few in the glove compartment of the car. The most obvious reason: lack of cell service. This seems especially important when traveling in the state of Virginia. Sure, cell service is no problem in Richmond or Alexandria, but near the Shenandoah Parkway, in a town called Damascus or even driving in the outskirts of Charlottesville, service is sketchy at best and if you’re relying exclusively on technology, you may be disappointed. (Of course, this is also a problem in the Ocala National Forest.)

Every state's visitor center gives away free maps.
Every state’s visitor center gives away free maps.

Maps also make it possible for you to see the “big picture”. A screen of less than 5″ is sufficient for most phone uses, but sometimes you need to see more than five inches of the map, and even when using zoom features looking at a route hundreds of miles away is not satisfactory on the phone.

And if you aren’t interested in the shortest route from Point A to Point B, but instead would like to make detours along the way, having a map to guide you in plotting a route including covered bridges, or lighthouses, or springs or tacky tourist traps. This can best be accomplished by finding the destinations on the map and then adding to your device. Sure, I know you can just Google addresses and add to the GPS, but without knowing a little about unfamiliar places, I could have made the route from Maine to Vermont twice as long by adding the locations of covered bridges in an illogical manner or including ones far from the most direct path.

Of course, I won’t even mention something like a dead battery on a cell phone because I know you would never leave without a fully charged phone or at least a charger that could be used in the car to power your techy map.

A pencil pouch like those carried by students make a perfect place to store maps.
A pencil pouch like those carried by students make a perfect place to store maps.

I admit to being totally addicted to Google maps, even for getting to new places close to home, but I’ve got a well organized stash of road maps tucked away in the car for use when traveling. So next time you take to the road, don’t forget a map.

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Remember, maps are FREE with your AAA membership. Take advantage of this benefit.

 

Know Your Foreign Currency

Vacations require planning. Planning the destination. Planning dates, times and transportation.

Reservations need to be made. Tickets purchased. Lists made for packing so nothing is forgotten. And when your trip takes you out of the country, additional steps need to be taken to insure passports and other documents are in order.

I thought we’d done a good job with preparations for a trip to Vancouver, but we forgot to plan for currency exchange.

imageI’m going to blame this oversight on the fact that when we visited Calgary years ago, everyone in Canada was more than happy to accept our U.S. dollars so I really didn’t even think about foreign currency until we were crossing the border.

To be honest, Canadians are still more than happy to accept U.S. money, however, by being “stupid” Anericans, we spent more money than necessary on some purchases since merchants gladly took our $20 and gave our change in Canadian dollars which resulted in the loss of about 15% per purchase. Fortunately, we only spent about $40 in cash so the difference wasn’t significant, but there’s really no excuse for not learning about the currency of the country you’re visiting

It was embarrassing to hand the clerk $3.75 in Canadian currency for a $2.68 drink because I didn’t recognize the difference between a one dollar coin and a two dollar coin. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a two dollar coin.

 

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So if you’ve taken the time to plan a trip to a foreign destination, take the time to learn about what currency you’ll be using as well. It’s not difficult. Everything you need can easily be found with a quick google search.

I’m sure that most of your purchases will be on a credit card (make sure you use one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees), but you’ll need cash to buy from street vendors and local
merchants.

Traveling out of the country? Know your foreign currency.

See the USA in your Chevrolet

This expression may not be familiar to you, but in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s this  jingle was used in television commercials for Chevrolet cars. I remember Dinah Shore, a talk show host, singing this catchy phrase, and more recently it was revived during a Super Bowl ad by the cast of Glee; and while none of you drive Chevrolets, the message is a good one. See the U.S.A.! And the best way to do this is by taking a road trip – even if it’s in a Honda.

I was lucky to have parents who subscribed to this philosophy. We packed our car and drove somewhere every summer for a yearly vacation. When we lived in Indiana these trips were always to Florida. How could you let a summer go by without a trip to the beach? But, we did visit a variety of beaches in Florida – Sarasota, Daytona, Ft. Lauderdale, and Jacksonville are ones that I remember vividly. And while the destination was important, the road trip itself was always memorable – not just the karate chops exchanged in the backseat or the drawing of lines (imaginary lines) down the seat to divide our space, but the songs that were sung, the games played, and most of all the sights along the road.

I learned more about U.S. geography and history from those trips than from classes in school. We looked at maps, planned routes, found destinations to visit, explored cities, marveled at the differences in landscapes, and recognized every state’s license plate and every sign with the letter q or z from a mile away to provide the needed edge in one of the competitive games played along the route. We saw the wildlife, predicted arrival times, and figured gas mileage along the way, but most of all we really did “see the USA”.

Later when we were Florida residents the destination of these yearly vacations changed to North Carolina because of course once you live near the beach you want to relax in the mountains. Here we developed a love of camping and tubing. We visited new places, traveled different roads, and fell in love with another section of the country. In fact, without these vacations to the mountains, I may not have gone to Western Carolina University. In which case I wouldn’t have met your dad and you wouldn’t be reading this now.

Probably the best road trip of my youth was when we took six weeks to follow Ethan Allen’s advice, “Go west young man!” With a motor home loaded down, we went to the Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Mesa Verde. Grandpa, Jeff, and Carol Jean rafted down the Colorado River while Grandma and I rented a jeep and explored the desert near Arches National Park. We played in snow, hiked in the woods, rode horses and donkeys, camped just off the highway one night when we couldn’t find a place to stop, and spent an afternoon with Hell’s Angels (hundreds of motorcycle riders) in the middle of nowhere. We saw wild animals and grandma insists that she encountered a panther outside the camper one night when she took a ham off the grill. But we also really saw the country when we bought crafts from a Navaho woman who came to our camper, when we climbed the rock formations in Monument Valley, when we drove for hours through Kansas and saw nothing but wheat. We marveled that there could possibly be too many people on earth, or at least in the U.S. when we could go days and only see a handful of people.

I hope you have fond memories of our road trips – sometimes by car, other times in a motorhome. Regardless of whether we stayed in the state or flew somewhere and then began our adventure, we tried to see the U.S.A.; and sometimes we were even in a Chevrolet!

Florida trips to the state parks, the Keys, or beaches were ways to get to know our state better whether that was paddling a canoe, searching for tacky tourist traps, hunting for delicious food, biking the trails, or doing the Sanibel stoop looking for shells. We’ve done our share of exploring north Georgia and western North Carolina enjoying nature. And if course National Parks have been popular spots for our family road trips – the Everglades, Gettysburg, the Smoky Mountains, Acadia, Glacier, Yellowstone, Redwoods, and the San Juan Islands are just a few of these adventures. We’ve hunted black bears and grizzlies, moose, sea turtles, eagles, pronghorn, elk, killer whales, and always deer. I hope these experiences have helped you develop an appreciation for the land, people, and resources in the good ole U. S. of A.

You don’t have to have a lot of time or money to have fun on a road trip. Sure it would be great to go to California or Minnesota or Alaska, but there are many places waiting to be explored much closer to home. A long weekend, even a single day can turn in to an amazing adventure. There are numerous scenic drives of less than 100 miles throughout Florida. Maybe you should visit the Bok Tower which Dad’s grandfather helped construct or you may want to go to Amelia Island or Fort DeSoto. Plan a canoe trip, biking trip, or camp – little money and lots of fun.

Head to Savannah, Calloway Gardens, or Charleston. Visit Janice in Hilton Head or Nancy in Nashville. Staying with friends or relatives is a great way to cut expenses. Turn a sporting event into a road trip and don’t forget to find out about local restaurants! Southern Living and The Food Network have terrific websites with great recommendations.

Don’t get discouraged if longer trips aren’t realistic at this time. There were many years that we stayed close to home and still had a wonderful time. There will be plenty of time for longer adventures and that just builds up the anticipation. I know Dad looked forward to visiting the Grand Canyon for nearly 20 years. This is a big, wonderful country. I don’t think you’ll run out of destinations.

So let me know if you need to borrow a tent, sleeping bags, or other camping equipment. Give me a call if you need help using Priceline to find a hotel. Take plenty of pictures and share. We’re always looking for a road trip idea.

Happy trails!

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By the way, cities can be great destinations as well, but they are typically more expensive. However, if you’re looking for a city adventure, try Washington, D.C. While hotels aren’t cheap and you’ll have to buy food, EVERYTHING else is free! You can even save a little by staying outside the city and using the Metro. What a deal!

Remembering General Schwarzkopf

Hearing of the death of Stormin Norman Schwarzkopf reminded me of listening to his autobiography nearly twenty years ago. It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf hooked me on audiobooks. The book not only highlighted his military career during the Desert Storm campaign but also included fascinating tales from his childhood in the U.S., Europe, and Iran as well as stories from his years at West Point and Vietnam.

What made the audiobook especially captivating was the fact that Schwarzkopf read it. His gruff voice and salty language brought the stories to life. I highly recommend the audiobook version. Listening to Schwarzkopf the storyteller passed the time quickly.

Thanks to It Doesn’t Take a Hero, audiobooks frequently accompany us on lengthy car trips. I’ll think of General Schwarzkopf each time I listen to an audiobook. Hope you’ll check this one out so you can get to know this American patriot.

My introduction to audiobooks - Norman Schwarzkopf telling his story.
My introduction to audiobooks – Norman Schwarzkopf telling his story.