Up the East Coast with "Open Hearts and Minds" and a Baby in a TESLA!

A GoSeeItPeople Interview with Jayson and Grace Caissie

Wherever you go, leave your heart and mind open to new experiences and endless wonder.
— Jayson and Grace's Travel Philosophy
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We were all a bit skeptical when my cousin Jayson and his wife Grace announced they would be heading on an epic east coast road trip from Florida to Montreal, Canada and back with a 9 month old baby, while traveling in a fully electric vehicle!  I wasn't sure that there would be enough infrastructure to charge their Tesla in the rural northern states, and wondered how traveling with such a young child would work.   We had no reason to worry! Armed with excellent planning tools, a car with GPS to direct them to the nearest TESLA Superchargers, a very easy going baby and their own open hearts and minds, Jayson and Grace and their young daughter had an amazing adventure with very few bumps in the road!  I asked them to share their story with us, and they generously agreed to share their photos and experiences! - Editor, Kathy Klofft

ALL PHOTOS BY JAYSON AND GRACE CAISSIE

 

Charging in Vermont

Charging in Vermont

GSIT: How did you decide on this destination? Why did you want to go? 

J & G : We decided on this destination because my husband has family in Maine and his family heritage is part French/Canadian, so we also wanted to travel to Canada and revisit the city of Montreal to explore what feels like a small version of Europe. On the previous trip (summer of 2014) we drove a 2012 Kia Soul with three adults and the remaining space filled to the brim with luggage to be on the road for a month. This time around we decided to purchase a 2012 Tesla Model S 85 with an ideal range of 280 miles per charge. This allowed us to travel without a cost for fuel as we were using the Tesla Supercharging network throughout our path up the East Coast. 

GSIT: How did you plan your trip? Did you use any websites or special apps? 

J & G:  On all of our trips, we outlined the dates and times of stays and travel time in Outlook. We create meetings in Outlook that are labeled as the following: location, travel time and distance. This sort of planning allows us an opportunity to view an outline of our entire trip. It also gives us a chance to look up points of interests along the way. All of this planning we did, we did before knowing we were going to have a Tesla. On previous trips we used a TomTom to navigate from one location to the next. With the Tesla’s built-in GPS, we were able to put in our destination and the GPS located all of the charging stations along our path, and it also provided an estimated time that we needed to charge to help us reach our next charging station or destination. For this trip we wanted to rely on “modern” travel stays vs. hotel stays. For example, we used airbnb to stay in people’s homes or apartments to allow ourselves the experience. We also found that most airbnb’s were cleaner than some hotels. At locations that we could not find a good airbnb, we relied on Hotels.com which is a subsidiary of Expedia.com.  

 

New technology meets old in Vermont

New technology meets old in Vermont

GSIT: What did you do while you were on this trip? 

J & G: When we were planning the trip with a gas car we thought about the cost of gas and hotels to get from Florida to Virginia and compared it to the cost of the nation’s only Auto Train that travels between Sanford, FL and Lorton, VA. We booked it assuming it would save us money and time. While it did save us time it did not save us much money as we ended up getting to charge for free the remainder of the trip. The train required us to have the car loaded on at 2:30 PM and hang out at the station until 4 PM when it departed. They provided Dinner and Breakfast as part of the train ride and we got off the train at 9 AM. We reserved a Roomette that had a bunk bed in it allowing us to lay down and attempt to sleep during that portion of the trip. 

Once we arrived in Lorton we traveled to Maryland to visit some of Jayson’s friends from college and allow Atlantis to meet their children. Then next stop was Burlington, VT where we got to visit Church Street, the Cabot Annex store, Magic Hat Brewery and the Ben & Jerry’s factory. Those were the main stops but we fit in about 5 smaller local breweries in there too. 

An art installation in Montreal, Canada

An art installation in Montreal, Canada

After Burlington we went to Montreal, Canada. Some people may wonder how it was crossing the border with a 10 month old, it was surprisingly very easy. When our daughter was first born we knew some day soon we would take her out of the country, so it only made sense to get her a passport while doing all the other paperwork that comes along with a newborn. When we got to the border they just looked at the passport and looked at her through the car window and sent us on our way. Montreal was a real treat, as it was fun place to visit other people who spoke another language, stay in our first airbnb, and experience all of what attracts people to this glorious country. I’d also like to add, after many visits to Canada, it was my first time eating the local Quebecois dish, Poutine. 

The Montreal Biosphere was a fascinating place to explore the environment for a couple dedicated to preserving it as owners of a two electric vehicles! Designed by Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 Expo, it's a popular museum dedicated to the environment today.

The Montreal Biosphere was a fascinating place to explore the environment for a couple dedicated to preserving it as owners of a two electric vehicles! Designed by Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 Expo, it's a popular museum dedicated to the environment today.

 

 

GSIT: What surprised you about the places you visited ? Is there a "don't miss it" attraction? 

J & G: Out of all of the places we visited, Helen Georgia was the one stop where you’d want to go to visit a place unlike any other in the United States. It’s no Disney...World or Land, BUT it is worth visiting it at least once in your lifetime. The town of Helen, GA is a made to look like a German town that was built and transformed in the 1960’s.

That’s not even the best part! What made this a fun and memorable stop was the cheap ($5) attraction to go tubing for 2 hours down the river that cuts through the town of Helen. Once you’re done with a day of tubing, it’s nice to grab a bite to eat at Paul’s Margarita Deck, overlooking other tubers as they travel down the river. Every place to stay in the town is also walking distance from anything you’d want to do while you are there. Helen even had ONE public charging station for any (EV) electric vehicle.

Helen GA with it's colorful German Town.

Helen GA with it's colorful German Town.

In addition to visiting Helen, GA my husband and I would also recommend to anyone and at any age, to go visit downtown Asheville in North Carolina. Downtown Asheville was one of those places we just wanted to check out and then we both just fell IN LOVE with it! To sum it up in a nutshell it’s an eclectic and artsy town that has over two dozen breweries, fun shops, and great places to eat.

The Sierra Nevada Brewery, in Asheville, NC with front row parking for EV and hybrid vehicles

The Sierra Nevada Brewery, in Asheville, NC with front row parking for EV and hybrid vehicles

GSIT: What tips would you give for someone who wants to visit? Anything special you should pack? 

J & G: A good rule of thumb when it comes to traveling, at least this is what we found helpful is to remain flexible during your trip because you never know when a hiccup might occur. Always plan out what you want to do before you leave, unless you like to travel with spontaneity in mind then by all means, but, when planning a head it really did help us when pre-booking hotel rooms and airbnb’s. Also it’s crucial to check your finances and expenditures, and to check your bank account daily or every other day.

When it came down to packing for a long road trip, we brought with us a few essential items; a collapsible tote bag for dirty laundry, laundry detergent, and coins for doing laundry and paying tolls. It’s also a good idea to pack an emergency card for all passengers traveling. My husband and I didn’t do this, but after thinking back about our trip, it would have been safe thinking to have if the emergency cards on our phones weren’t able to be activated in the event of a dead or lost cell phone. Other items we packed were a first aid kit, a car safety kit, an all purpose car tool that can shatter windows, cut seat belts, and pop airbags in the event of an emergency if necessary, and we also made sure to pack umbrellas, and rain jackets (which did come in handy during the summer rain). Furthermore, besides packing all of the important essentials, we definitely had to pack car snacks for us and the baby, and just for fun, I had to pack the selfie stick for those tricky family shots when nobody was around. 

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GSIT: You took this trip with a baby in an electric car, in what ways was that challenging, rewarding, what would you do differently, what would you do again and suggest to others doing the same trip? 

J & G: Taking a baby in an electric car was really no different than taking a baby in a gas car. Actually, driving in an electric vehicle was somewhat less challenging and more convenient than a gas vehicle as my husband and I were able stop at regular intervals due to charging. Now, some may think this might be more of a nuisance, but when it came to driving long distances, it was quite the relief to get out of the car and stretch and have a break more often. Gas cars may be able to go longer distances without stopping as frequently compared to EV’s, but when having a young baby in the car and you knew it was time to charge soon, it felt great to have those much needed breaks.

At the same time, those frequent breaks sometimes did make it challenging when it came to the baby falling asleep for naps. As most people know, driving is a great way to put a little one to sleep, but with charging times sometimes taking longer than one would want with a baby, it would also wake her up due to the car no longer moving. However, one of the really nice things about having a Tesla is being able to charge at all of the superchargers, because the superchargers were mostly all located in great locations where you could grab a bite to eat, find a Starbucks or even walk around in a few department stores. By having the Tesla it made us experience more of the places we were stopping at than we normally would have on a trip.

If you are wanting to do a similar trip, whether you’re in a gas car or an EV, I would suggest one parent to ride in the back with the baby and have one parent be the navigator, or take turns with the roles of driver and entertainer. Also having a basket of your child’s favorite books and toys is a huge help! We even scored some awesome Fraggle Rock puppets that were super helpful and fun. But most of all, take lots of pictures and video and enjoy the time creating memories with your family. 

The Caissie Family visiting me on the beach in Maine, where they got engaged at a Fourth of July family cookout three years earlier,  with their new baby daughter!

The Caissie Family visiting me on the beach in Maine, where they got engaged at a Fourth of July family cookout three years earlier,  with their new baby daughter!

Jay and Grace did take and post loads of photos!  All of their family and friends enjoyed seeing their adventures and those of us along the route, especially enjoyed visiting with them and meeting their beautiful baby girl!  I thank them for sharing their adventures!- Kathy

Jayson and Grace

Grace Caissie- I’m 28 years old, and I am a Teacher of students with visual impairments and blindness, also known to some as a TVI. A few of my interests are being a mommy, Japanese culture, eating good food, cosplaying, and going to Disney World often. I was born and raised in Florida where I met my husband who has encouraged me to take on more journeys and adventures with my life. 

Jayson Caissie-I’m 30 years old and I was born in Massachusetts. I moved to Florida when I turned 3, and it’s also where I met my wife. I am a High School technology Teacher and I work with kids in getting them certified in CompTIA A+ certifications in computer hardware and software, for example: Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, and SharePoint). Currently I just received my Master’s Degree in Educational Technology, and I plan to further my education by working towards getting my Doctorate. Some of my hobbies and interests include, technology, movies & film, going to breweries, and alternate forms of creating energy, like solar, wind, and electric energy. Right now I’m very passionate about electric vehicles and cutting down on our carbon footprint. For anyone who may read this and is interested in learning more and connecting with other electric vehicle owners, I created a Facebook page called SWFL EV Owners

Europe- don't make my travel mistakes!

I travel a fair bit, and I even write about it on a travel blog! So you'd think I'd be immune to "travel mistakes" - but on my recent trip to Great Britan and Paris, I made a few! I'm not too proud to share them with you, so that if you are planning a trip, you don't make the same mistakes! 

Tour d'Eiffel from Trocadero Fountains

Tour d'Eiffel from Trocadero Fountains

 1- Don't forget to adapt to the culture and customs of the place!

When I travel, I tend to bustle around trying to fit a lot into a day.  London suited me; it moves fast and since we started our trip there that's what we did! But every place in Europe has a different culture from the next place, and when traveling in Europe it's easy to travel an hour or two and be in a whole new country. I forgot how important it is to remember it can also be a whole new culture! After London, we went to Paris on the Eurostar train and we were in Paris in less than 2 hours!  And I was still hustling down the Rue de Rivoli like I had a train to catch. Except I didn't, and the French strooooooll along. I had to slooooooow down! Luckily, for me it was made easier by a few rainy days, because even the French pick up the pace in the rain! 

Our Context Tour guide had a route through the Louvre planned, but we got hopelessly lost at the Musee Arts Decoratifs on our own! 

Our Context Tour guide had a route through the Louvre planned, but we got hopelessly lost at the Musee Arts Decoratifs on our own! 

 2- Don't go it alone at the museum

Travel requires an investment - of time, of money. I like to save both, but don't make the mistake I made of spending money to go somewhere and then not getting the most out of the experience. My daughter is a design major, so we thought we could explore the Musee des Arts Decoratifs on our own. And while she was able to point out the Cameron Macintosh chairs and distinguish between Art Nouveau and Art Deco, neither of us could sort out the layout of this museum! We walked for miles trying to find exhibits! The Musee des Arts Decoratifs is in the same giant palace as the Louvre, but it's set up vertically with a small set of galleries on each of 9 floors. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get from one floor to next. One set of stairs only goes to some floors, another lift to the top floors can only be accessed from the 4 th floor. The museum is well staffed, and we asked the docents, but after the fourth explanation in French, I didn't know my troisième from my deuxième etage!

We decided to take 2 Context Tours in Paris, https://www.contexttravel.com/city/paris?page=1 which were recommended by Wendy Perrin on her WOW list http://www.wendyperrin.com/wow-list/ We picked the Louvre Crash Course and The Pompidou Center. Context provides local guides for walks in many European cities, and they are usually educated people with expertise in the area you are visiting. Our tours were led by artists and art teachers. We had skipped booking a guide for the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, and it took us twice as long to navigate the labyrinth of galleries as it should have and we only understood half of what we saw, with me reading the descriptions in my high school French and my daughter trying to recall her art history class. In contrast our Context guides got us to the front of the line, had a planned route through the museums that hit the highlights and still left time for us to explore things not on the hit parade. The Context guides also provided, well, context (with a small c) to understand how the works were seeing fit into the culture and history of the place. We couldn't afford to hire one for every museum we visited, but our experience show is well worth hiring a good guide for places that require a high level of expertise to navigate and interpret! 

While I relied on an "offline" app to navigate the Metro, it's also good to know how to read the map- technology doesn't always work!  

While I relied on an "offline" app to navigate the Metro, it's also good to know how to read the map- technology doesn't always work!  

 3- Don't rely on tech to bail you out

We brought plenty of tech on this trip, and generally I rely on technology as a travel aid.  I had paid for an international plan with my cell carrier; I could send texts, but inexplicably only received texts once I arrived at a rest area one day on a motorway in England! I never had cellular data in England despite paying for it.  My daughters phone charging cord was fried by the power outlets. At one point nearly every piece of tech we brought was broken, uncharged, or just plain ineffective!  My niece, who we met whee she was studying in Oxford, got a sim card in the country for her phone. That worked better for her than my hoping my carrier will play nicely with the carriers abroad. I'd get the SIM card for a long stay in Europe next time.

I did download 2 good apps that allowed me to route the public transit off line. (YR Creative Offline London Tube and Paris Metro Maps) These were invaluable for finding our way around the Tube and Metro, when we couldn't count on google maps. I also carried a guide book with street view maps which proved very helpful when standing on a corner wondering which way to go! (DK Eyewitness-  Paris, London) 

A young couple locks down their relationship status on Pont Sofferino where people from all over the world leave a lock to commemorate their love. This reminds me to keep things secure while traveling!  

A young couple locks down their relationship status on Pont Sofferino where people from all over the world leave a lock to commemorate their love. This reminds me to keep things secure while traveling!  

4- Don't get pick pocketed IRL or phished or scammed on line on wifi

In big cities anywhere, there will always be an element looking to take advantage of distracted travelers by trying to pick their pockets, or worse! We were lucky, with our cross body bags from PacSafe, we didn't encounter any trouble in real life (IRL) and our bags had RFID blocking pockets to prevent scammers from scanning our electronic info from passports or credit cards remotely. But we also had to guard against getting phished or hacked on wifi and sometimes using wifi in public places can be chancy! Don't enter personal passwords or important info over public wifi, where anyone can be skimming for that data. While we were away my daughter fell for a phishing scam (this was a coincidence and not related to our travel) where she clicked on a link to reset a college account password that was from a hacker, not her university! Luckily, the University shut her account down before any major damage was done! Try to use wifi networks that are password protected, where they change passwords frequently. And don't fall for phishing scams anywhere, never change a password with a "link" sent to you, always log in at the website first to make a change or enter data. My daughter knows this now! 

Also, remind people back home not to fall for travel scams. A popular one is to send emails or social media messages to loved ones in your name, asking for money because of an emergency abroad. While sitting in the airport in London, I had a FB message from a young cousin with a general statement saying she "needed my help". That sounded "phishy", and we hadn't been in touch in months, so I responded asking if her account might have been hacked. She responded with request for help with some general information she needed (not personal info) and used very specific nicknames for her grandparents, so I knew it was really her. Before helping loved ones when you receive a request for money or information, be sure that you are really hearing from the person you think you are. Check multiple sources of contact; text, email, call them in person. If they just instagrammed their breakfast, they probably aren't locked in a Tunisian jail! And remind your loved ones you'll use specifics if you ever needed to reach out to them for help, so they don't fall for a scam at home either! 

Trying to help my adult daughter pack reminds me of the saying "not my circus, not my monkeys" - artistically represented here by this Louis the 15th clock at Petit Palais, by multiple artisits, (ceramics by Kandler, Reinicke) depicting an overmatched ceramic monkey band conductor and his "circus". 

Trying to help my adult daughter pack reminds me of the saying "not my circus, not my monkeys" - artistically represented here by this Louis the 15th clock at Petit Palais, by multiple artisits, (ceramics by Kandler, Reinicke) depicting an overmatched ceramic monkey band conductor and his "circus". 

 5- Don't take the wrong (overpacked) bag

In a classic case of Maternal "I Told You So..." I had warned my daughter not to take a back pack she's had since middle school on our European trip. With no padded lap top section, a zipper that splits open at the worst possible times, it was too small and overstuffed.  Mother knew best; this was not the bag to take! I offered any of a dozen promotional back packs I have sitting in my closet, but these were rejected. So what could go wrong?! First, the bag fell from a hook in the loo at Kings Cross and the display on the lap top was ruined. Second, we made it almost all the way home, when the zipper split (in the bathroom again, this time in our home airport!) and she didn't realize a bag of chargers and a small sentimental gift from her boyfriend had fallen out until she arrived home. I did the good mother thing - empathized, even though you know I wanted to say it!

There are so many great travel bags (I'll be reviewing my pacsafe sling bag soon, which traveled beautifully on this trip!) and you can spend a fortune. But you don't have to! You just have to make sure the bag easily accommodates your things with extra room for souvenirs,  is secure and meets the guidelines for size and weight by your carriers, The most important part is to know you can access important things like your passport, or lap top, in and out of the bag without losing the contents and while keeping them be secure in crowds.

Planning an expensive purchase abroad? Be sure to get your VAT back, get the paperwork and save the packaging too!  A parfum store along Champs Elysses.

Planning an expensive purchase abroad? Be sure to get your VAT back, get the paperwork and save the packaging too!  A parfum store along Champs Elysses.

 6- Don't fail to get your vat back

There I was at the Customs desk at Gatwick trying to get my paper work stamped to get back my VAT (value added taxes added to goods for residents that is generally refundable to tourists at the end of their stay) I was arguing with the agent about what he would do if he bought a sapphire ring. (I wanted to say it might not look so good on his fingers, but I rightly decided snark wouldn't be the best tactic at that moment!) I spotted a ring in exactly the style I had been looking for for years in a shop in Cambridge. It was also my daughters birthstone and would be the perfect souvenir to remember this special mother daughter trip to Paris. I bought the ring, which in itself is shocking because I rarely buy things, I usually just go places! I got all the official paperwork from the shop to get the taxes back and took them to the airport. Because the ring was for myself and we were very overpacked going home, (see # 5 above) I left the "presentation box" with my relatives in Britain and just tucked the new ring in my jewelry pouch.

Well, big mistake. Seems there are people willing to scam, (see # 4 above) and one of those scams is to bring paperwork from someone who is staying in the country with the goods and tries to pass off an old ring and reclaim the VAT money. I would never be clever enough to think of that or brave enough to do anything so stupid!  But the agent couldn't know that about me, and he argued "if I bought a nice ring like that I'd save the box it came in". Well, I resisted the urge to yell, "well, I'm not you and I don't collect superfluous packaging" because I knew that would get me nowhere fast! I prevailed on him that shop keepers in his country sold these things making the promise of VAT returns and it would be disappointing not to get it back. I explained how we were overpacked, the ring was for myself, and as he inspected the new ring for age wear,  I explained I could call my sister in law and have her dig the box out of her bin, pick off the coffee grounds and banana peels and send a photo to my iPhone! Luckily, with enough obsequiousness and apologies on my part, the stamp hovered above the paperwork, then swiftly came down...punch, punch. Satisfied I wasn't a tax scamming tourist, he approved my paperwork, I queued at the money exchange booth to get my VAT back, (less their fee!) Lesson learned, have the paperwork, but also keep the article new and with all of it's packaging before heading to Customs!

 

Overall, we had an amazing trip, just two gals exploring in London and Paris and visiting relatives in England. We had a few stumbles and made a few mistakes, but mostly we learned to be patient and soak up the atmosphere and enjoy time with eachother! And that's what travel is all about! Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting my trip reports for Paris France,  London, St Ives, Ely, Cambridge and Oxford in England, with lots of photos...this time Kathy's own attempts to follow Jeff's photography instructions about how to get great travel shots. I hope you will follow along and enjoy the reports and photos from our special mother/daughter trip! 

Near Palais Royale, even the rain couldn't spoil a special mother daughter trip!  

Near Palais Royale, even the rain couldn't spoil a special mother daughter trip!  

Successfully Hunting Down Flights Part 1

Airline travel in the 21st century- Successfully Hunting Down Flights: finding the right flight at the right price (part 1) and What in the Air Is going on Here?!: surviving the flight  (part 2). 

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Recently, I posted about all the steps I take after I've booked a flight, but before I get on a plane, You Have to Take Steps To Fly  That should be called part 1 and 1/2, because its's actually the middle piece of three.  Today I plan to share Part 1- the process I use to find flights for trips I plan to take, and later Part 2- how to make flying as comfortable, or more comfortable, or just tolerable??

There are lots of ads for "cheap flights" and plenty of travel websites that will sell you airfare, but it's also important for pleasure or vacation travel to make sure that the flights fit in with the rest of your itinerary.  It's no fun to arrive in the morning, sleepless after a red eye if you are only spending a short weekend someplace like Vegas, where you want to enjoy the great nightlife!  It's also of no use to arrive on a cheap flight, if it arrives 2 hours after your cruise has left!

Having all the official paperwork in front of you (or windows open on the computer) when booking ensures you are booking flights on the right dates!

Having all the official paperwork in front of you (or windows open on the computer) when booking ensures you are booking flights on the right dates!

Here is the process I use to find affordable flights that meet my needs. 

  1. I assemble my itinerary of land arrangements or onward travel and decide which airports are closest to those components and when I need to be where.  I like to have the official documents of my arrangements out while I am booking airfare; having the "official" cruise invoice or a copy of the hotel confirmations insures I am actually using the correct dates.  Based on this data, I determine a "window" of travel for my itinerary.  Do I need to arrive in the morning to catch an afternoon train?  Am I flying into one place and out of another?  Rome2Rio is an app I downloaded and have used to see a variety of travel options to get from 2 places.  It will show you not only flights, but also other transportation options. 
  2. I like to use a flight consolidator website to look at all the options at one time (although there are still some airlines that don't use the aggregators- like Southwest, which I have to check on their own website.)  I use the sites to set parameters to match my needs, such as flying out early, or only searching only for direct flights.  I like to use Kayak, because they don't sell the flights, but it aggregates all the options and then directs me to either the airline or one of the many other travel sites that sell airfare.  I can enter the potential combinations of flight days and airports I might like to use, and get daily email alerts of the itineraries I am watching. Then I can see if the price drops on the flights I am interested in.
  3. The next thing I do is use the search engine (Kayak) to explore which airlines are offering what itineraries and the relative costs.  There are filters that allow me to eliminate connections if I want a direct flight.  I can also eliminate certain connecting airports I won't consider.  For instance, selecting flights to the south during the winter, I avoid connecting through other northern airports. This prevents weather from stranding me in a a connecting city.  Lastly, I can filter the times I need to make my flights work.  If I am taking a cruise, I often need to be in the port city early enough to embark the ship.  Once I've set those filters, I am sorry to report that the lowest prices usually disappear!  It just makes sense that the cheapest flights will be those with multiple connections, to places that no one else wants to go, at times that are inconvenient!
  4. When actually searching,  If my party is more than one person, I search for the whole party first and note the per person price and ensure there are enough seats for my whole party. Then I refresh the search for just one or two people.  Airlines often only offer a few seats at the lowest price points.  If I am flying with 4 people and enter 4 during my first search, if there are only 2 "cheap" seats are available, I will be charged the higher price for all 4.  Once when booking flights 4 of us into RSW in Ft Myers, I was able to book two of us at the lowest price, and the other 2 at a higher price.  I saved about $140 dollars by booking separately, versus booking 4 flights together as the same reservation.  There are 2  downsides to this plan; one is that I had 2 different reservations, so there is no guarantee they would keep all 4 of us together if the itinerary changed later. (although when airlines make a change you can call and try to request being put back on the same itinerary) Secondly, sometimes you have to book 2 at a time because you don't want the airlines changing the flight of the adults and stranding a child or frail elder on a flight by themselves.  I do make sure that my minor children are each booked with an adult, (unless she is being particularly onerous that week, and then I might consider it!)    
  5. When to buy?  That's the million dollar question! There are dozens of websites and airline gurus with advice about how to score the cheapest tickets.  But sometimes "cheapest" doesn't meet my needs.  What I usually find is that if I am particular about my itinerary with lots of tricky connections and timing, I prefer to shop early when flights become available and  plenty of choices exist, especially if I am booking during popular vacation periods or in high season.  Booking later can  turn up some deals, but only if the airlines aren't selling that route well.  Unless you are planning a trip during a shoulder season or off season (think Caribbean in summer, or Europe in Winter) chances are good you are looking when everyone else is, and so the airlines can charge higher prices and popular times and routes may go fast.  If you have flexibility in your itinerary, then booking last minute can be a way to save some money.  My own opinion is that I like to look for an airfare and route that meets my needs first and then I buy it when I can find it at a price I can live with!  By watching the prices on Kayak for a while before buying I can be satisfied that I got a  price I can live with.  Unfortunately, it's a lot like the trying to predict the stock market...people have lots of opinions and yet, no one has actually done it! 
  6. Lastly, sometimes it's worth paying an expert to book particularly complicated itineraries.  My own Travel Agent, Travel Beyond  works with an airline specialist which can help me book my itinerary for a fee, most full service travel agencies will have a similar specialist.  It's best to make sure that all that person does is airline reservations, so you get an expert.  Usually that fee is a tiny fraction of the total cost of the trip and worth the expense because they can use professional software that allows them to more easily filter and scan flight segments than the consumer can.  Another place that requires a specialist is when trying to use miles to book complicated trips.  Most travel agents won't assist booking air with miles because its so complicated, but a whole group of other experts have cropped up to do this work now.  There are so many rules, fees and restrictions, and partner airlines. Oftentimes, trips booked on miles are treated differently in the case of cancelled flights, which can strand you at an airport being told by a tense ticket agent "you can't get there from here" without significant additional investment! it's probably not a bad idea to pay an expert to be your advocate, they will know the rules for all the various programs and be able to advise and advocate if something goes wrong.  I use Google and user generated reviews (Such as Trip Advisor, Wendy Perrin's excellent blog) to find the best experts.  It's getting harder to hide if you aren't delivering what you've promised in the wired world! 

Next: What in the Air is Going On Here! Some ideas about how to survive a flight.

 

Disney Last Minute with Late Mornings...How's That Possible!?

Tips for young adults and other people who just don't enjoy getting things done early!

No matter when you arrive, you can have a fun day if you know a few Disney secrets!

No matter when you arrive, you can have a fun day if you know a few Disney secrets!

I recently sent my 20 year old daughter and her 21 year old cousin to Walt Disney World (WDW) for the weekend during their winter break. We had planned to be in Florida recently to visit my parents on the West Coast of Florida. Since our cousin lives in that area year round and has an annual pass for Disney, and my daughter had an extra non expired day on a ticket from 2 years ago, the girls thought it would be fun to cruise over to Orlando and spend the weekend. Our cousin booked 2 nights at the POP Century about a month before the trip and got a Florida resident rate.  Other than that, the girls made no advance plans, and neither is well known for being an early bird! I wondered just exactly how this trip would go. 

For me it would have been an unmitigated disaster...I plan Disney trips like a military campaign complete with spread sheets, multiple planning apps and checking crowd calendars, but I have different priorities and goals than 2 young adults. They enjoyed some later mornings and last minute reservations (and let's face it, they encountered more than a few snafus) but being young and adaptable, and having visited many times before, they happily went with the flow. I wouldn't suggest this kind of trip for people taking a first trip to WDW, or for a trip with little kids who are less adaptable, but if you ever find yourself with an impromptu day or two at WDW (conventions are often held in Orlando and you might find yourself with an extra 1/2 day in WDW sometime! ) or are the type of person who felt you would never like WDW because it's not in your nature to plan so far ahead,  here are some of the tips my daughter and I suggest to make even a last minute trip to WDW fun!

You don't have to stay at a high end hotel in WDW to benefit from the concierge services. (the lobby at the Contemporary Resort)

You don't have to stay at a high end hotel in WDW to benefit from the concierge services. (the lobby at the Contemporary Resort)

Tips for a Last Minute and Late Start Visit in WDW

1) If you can stay in a WDW resort, you can take advantage of the concierge services to plan much of your last minute trip.  These services are available even in the lobbies of Disney hotels that cost as little as $120 per night.  And the Value Hotels at WDW also offer food court style dining which can be much faster for breakfast than getting up late and then sitting down for breakfast at a restaurant. If you've truly not planned anything at all for your WDW visit, go to the concierge to buy your tickets and get a  recommendation about which park is best to visit that day. They will have the best idea about which park is likely to be least crowded and which might have special events that will create bigger crowds.

Special events like Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party can affect crowds, the concierge will know where to send you for the best experience!

Special events like Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party can affect crowds, the concierge will know where to send you for the best experience!

 

2) Also use the concierge to ask them which restaurant is a good choice. They can make those reservations for you. It may not be the hottest ticket in town (places like the Princess character breakfast in the castle book up literally within minutes of "opening" reservations 365 days in advance) but the concierge will be in the "know" about which places are likely to have some openings and save you the time and energy of wandering to restaurants that already have a full slate of reservations and a huge standby waiting line.  If you are already getting to the parks late, you can plan to eat at off times, (think lunch at 3 PM, dinner at 9) which will allow you to avoid normal meal crowds and enjoy a relatively quieter park when everyone else is eating. You'll enjoy more park time knowing you have a late lunch reservation and wont have to wait standby to eat when you are hungry!

Popular dining spots like "Be Our Guest" in Beast's Castle at Magic Kingdom, are a hot ticket, booked well in advance.  There may be no way to score a table without months of planning, but the hotel concierge can check for same day cancellations for you!

Popular dining spots like "Be Our Guest" in Beast's Castle at Magic Kingdom, are a hot ticket, booked well in advance.  There may be no way to score a table without months of planning, but the hotel concierge can check for same day cancellations for you!

 

 

3) As soon as you know you are going to WDW, (or while waiting in the concierge line!) download the Disney World Wait Time App (it's free with ads, or you can upgrade to an ad free version) This app will list the wait times for each attraction at every park and you an use it to plan where you want to go on the fly. You won't need to walk across the park to learn that Space Mountain is a 130 minute wait and then waste more time wandering to the next place!  There are apps for a fee that will actually create the "best itinerary" for you based on what you'd like to see, but these require a little more time to learn and aren't the best option for the last minute, late start trip.  Keeping it simple, you can check the app and choose rides based on the shorter wait times.

Here is an example of wait times in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom on the Disney World Wait Time App

Here is an example of wait times in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom on the Disney World Wait Time App

 

4) Once you've arranged your park choice, advanced dining reservation and ticket options with the concierge, be sure to get the map and entertainment schedule for the park. Do try to make it into the parks before noon time and make your very first stops the headliner rides in that park (Space Mountain, Rock and Roller Coaster) that have Fast Pass (This is a advance reservation system that allows you to use your ticket to get a Fast Pass to return to the ride during a specified later time window and join the much shorter Fast Pass line to ride at that time) The FP attractions are noted right on the park map. These FP's will be generated until there are no more time windows open during the time the park is open.  During busy times, this can happen before noon for top attractions.  

Rides like the Rock'n Roller Coaster in Disney Studios offer fast pass, or you can choose the single rider line.

Rides like the Rock'n Roller Coaster in Disney Studios offer fast pass, or you can choose the single rider line.

 

Once the Fast Passes are out, the only option is to wait in the regular line, or you can make this time shorter by choosing to have everyone in your party go to the "Single Rider" line.  This line moves more quickly since they will use singles to fill in ride vehicles occupied by parties of odd numbers. You might not get to ride with your party, but the line will be shorter!

Another way to beat the long lines is to ride the headliner attractions during major parades or fireworks displays.  Most guests are enjoying those events and lines are often shorter.

Fireworks can still be seen from some exterior lines in WDW, (Big Thunder Mountain, or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) so you can enjoy a shorter line and still have a view of the fireworks!

Fireworks can still be seen from some exterior lines in WDW, (Big Thunder Mountain, or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) so you can enjoy a shorter line and still have a view of the fireworks!

Going to headliner attractions during a parade can thin the crowds waiting in line. Just make sure you get yourself to the part of the park where your attraction is located, sometimes parades cut off cross traffic making it hard to cross the park after they've started.

Going to headliner attractions during a parade can thin the crowds waiting in line. Just make sure you get yourself to the part of the park where your attraction is located, sometimes parades cut off cross traffic making it hard to cross the park after they've started.

 

5) If you do get stuck in a long line use that time to check your app for the shortest line for your next attraction.  You can also pose for selfies,  have a snack, or apply your sunscreen (you forgot that while rushing out in morning, didn't you?) 

 We've received no promotional consideration from WDW, or any app related to WDW.  All photos credited to Jeffrey Klofft.  Let us know if you have any other good tips for Last Minute, Late Start Disney trips!

What camera gear am I bringing?

Jeff here, for the non-photo types this post may be a bit techie.  No offense taken if you bailout now. 

So while I can select and pack my clothes in a few hours, selecting which camera gear to bring on a trip is a much longer process.  A few months before the trip, I’ll go on photo outings to see if I’ll be happy with what I plan to bring.  Now here’s the deal, you need to bring only “exactly” what you’ll need.  Too little and you’ll curse yourself on the trip for not taking what you needed, too much and you’ll curse yourself after the trip for hauling around all that extra weight.  In an effort to reduce the size and weight, I've tried smaller mirrorless systems, but frankly I've never warmed to them and have gone back to taking a DSLR (guess I’m just old-school).

The Kit

The Kit

Here’s what I selected for this trip.  Given the location, I needed a camera body that didn’t look too professional, but at the same time, I also needed one that worked well in low light conditions as I’ll shooting during the evening hours in the cities and inside building.  With that in mind, I’ve selected the Nikon Df.  While the Df is a high-end camera, the retro looks (lots of dials) and two tone silver/black look make it appear older.  Now while the experienced camera thief will know the difference, the grab and run types are more likely to snatch a soccer moms entry level DSLR before mine.  The Df is excellent travel camera.  The images are fantastic, it’s great in low light and the file size is reasonable (which makes processing later much faster).

The Df

The Df

 

For lenses I’ll be taking the Nikon 16-35 f/4 VR and the Nikon 24-120 f/4 VR.  The latter will be the workhorse lens, while the former (wide angle) lens will come in handy for architecture and interior shots.  Both lenses are fairly fast (meaning they have a larger apertures which will let in more light in any given situation) and both have Vibration Reduction (or VR) which stabilizes the lens when handholding the camera (which I’ll be doing all the time as I’m not bringing a tripod) at slower shutter speeds.

Unfortunately I couldn't leave well enough alone, and at the last minute I added two other lenses that will stay behind most days.  First is a Nikon 50 f/1.8.  This is a very small, very fast lens that I’ll use mostly in the evenings.  Next is the Nikon 28-300 VR.  This is a “do-it-all” lens that will mostly be for backup, but I see using it while we cruise during the day, as it’s a much longer telephoto lens.

Now I know what I said above about mirrorless cameras, but I am taking a specialty one along – my Nikon 1 AW1.  The AW1 is a waterproof, crushproof camera.  If something happens to the Df, the AW1 is the understudy.  If there’s ever a day that a total washout, the AW1 will be there for me and if we visit one of the public bathes, the AW1 is all over that too. 

While for some this may seem like a lot, you can trust me when I tell you I took far, far more to Africa and the Galapagos J, and since photography is part of the travel fun for me, I tend to bring more that you really need for documenting your trip.  An iPhone can do that just fine.  I’ll report how things worked out after the trip.