A Smart Car Window Displays View to Blind Passengers

gateway-arch-426492__340I live in a city filled with reminders of epic travelers from the historic journeys of Lewis and Clark to the cross country treks in automobiles along Route 66. There are still many icons around Saint Louis and across Missouri modern travelers can visit today.

From Missouri’s rolling hills and natural wonders explored by Lewis and Clark to the kitschy man-made attractions that helped make Route 66 a favorite for family road trips, the unique views make a Missouri road trip memorable.

For blind travelers, this is a part of the trip they miss. A new prototype smart car window aims to change the experience by enabling blind or partially-sighted people to visualize passing scenery through touch.

The smart car window named Feel the View takes pictures that are turned into high-contrast monochrome images. These images are then reproduced on the glass using special LEDs.

By touching the image, different shades of grey vibrate with a range of 255 intensities, allowing passengers to touch the scene and rebuild in their mind the landscape in front of them.

Feel the View was conceived and developed by Ford in Italy in collaboration with Aedo, a start-up that specializes in devices for the visually impaired.

“We seek to make people’s lives better and this was a fantastic opportunity to help blind passengers experience a great aspect of driving. The technology is advanced, but the concept is simple – and could turn mundane journeys into truly memorable ones,” explained Ford representative Mac Alù Saffi in a written statement.

See how Feel the View may give visually impaired travelers epic journeys in the future in this video:

Include Pets in Your Safety Plans

Prepare for the Unexpected and Take Easy Steps Now

Summer storms, fires, floods, or man-made disasters can strike at any time impacting your treasured pets. Don’t forget to include your pets’ unique needs in your emergency plans.
“Every home should have an emergency supply kit and plans for how to stay safe when disaster strikes,” advises Illinois Emergency Management Director James K. Joseph. “Make sure your kit and emergency plans address the needs of every family member, including your pets.”

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Summer storms and extreme heat are frequent occurrences that can put pets at risk. Not only can severe storms make evacuation of your home a necessity; they can make pets so nervous they run away.

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Heat stroke is a common problem for pets in warm weather. Dogs with short noses or snouts, like the Boxer or Bulldog, are prone to heat stroke. This is also true for any obese pet, a pet with an extremely thick fur coat or any pet with upper respiratory problems such as laryngeal paralysis or collapsing trachea.

Dcm9mQsUwAE096WNever leave your pet alone in the car, even for a few minutes, and even with the windows cracked open. During warm weather, the inside temperature of the car can quickly reach 120 degrees.

Pet owners also need to be aware animals may try to get out a home or apartment  window or door, which are more likely to be open as weather warms.

Knowing CPR for pets is also a good way to be prepared. The Red Cross offers classes in pet CPR. The Red Cross also offers a first aid app for everyday emergencies. The app has videos and simple step-by-step advice on pet first aid. To find it text “GETPET” to 90999 or search “Red Cross Pets” in the Apple App Store, Google Play or Amazon Marketplace.m34240123_763x260-pet-first-aid
Are you ready to create an emergency kit for your pet? Check out this top 10 list for pet preparedness:

Food (your pet’s regular food)
Water
Leash and collar
Bowl(s)
Photo of your pet/ID and a photo of you with your pet
Medications your pet needs
Immunization/vet records (keep both updated)
Pet carrier
First Aid Kit
Contact list of pet-friendly hotels, veterinarians, American Red Cross, and out-of-town friends/family

Pet Friendly Vacation Destinations and Attractions

ImageMore than thirty million Americans travel with their pets according to the U.S. Travel Association. Most pet owners load up Fluffy or Fido in the family car. Pet parents, especially dog owners, are finding hotels and attractions eager to cater to this growing travel trend.

There are many great driving vacations for Midwest pet families who want to take along their furry friend on a trip. There are great dog beaches, dog tours and dog parks in popular vacation spots within a day’s drive of Saint Louis. I will start with a big city with a big heart for canine travelers: Chicago.

ImageChicago, Illinois
Many of the Windy City’s top hotels are pet friendly. For example, the room service options at Chicago’s James Hotel offers doggie entrees including a filet mignon and cow hooves! More than fifty Chicago hotels are listed with BringFido.com. Traveling pet families will also find pet friendly vacation rentals along with pet accommodating bed and breakfast options in Chicago.
Have a water loving pooch? There are two dog friendly beaches in Chicago. There is an off-leash dog beach at the NW Corner of Chicago’s Montrose Beach. There is free parking and a five dollar tag fee for entrance. Belmont Harbor has a small fenced in beach for dogs too.

Dogs can also go on a boat ride. If the boat isn’t full, dogs are welcome at no charge on Seadog Cruises that depart from Chicago’s Navy Pier and cruise up the river and along the lakeshore. Be ready to get wet when the speedboat hits the lake! Before or after your cruise, enjoy walking around Navy Pier–leashed dogs are allowed throughout the outdoor areas of this entertainment complex that extends into Lake Michigan, just east of the Loop.

There is also a Canine Cruise especially for dogs! This 90-minute tour highlights Chicago’s dog-friendly hotels, restaurants, dog parks and fire hydrants. Enjoy the cool breeze in your face and fur, the Skyline Queen offers plenty of safe outdoor-seating. Dogs may choose to sit on your lap, in a seat, or on the deck for less than ten dollars per pooch. There are on board water bowls and restroom options for pets. The Skyline Queen’s Canine Cruises depart from the Southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.
There are three dog friendly hiking trails in Chicago. The Valley Line Trail, Chicago Lakefront Bike Path, and Burnham Greenway are part of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy network.

If shopping with your furry friend is your idea of fun, many of Navy Piers shops and restaurants are pet friendly. The merchants at Chicago’s Village of Long Grove also welcome pets. Most of the Village area’s shops are dog friendly, and many of the restaurants offer dog friendly outdoor patios in warm months. Chicago’s Nordstrom welcomes well-behaved and leashed dogs at any time. Pooches shopping with their parents in Chicago’s newly designated ‘Design District’ between Damen and Ashland on Grand Avenue will find many different stores offer a free treat and water.

Columbia, Missouri
Columbia, Missouri boasts two great options for water loving pooches. Pets go wild for the Twin Lakes Recreation Area and it’s huge off-leash dog park, which includes lake access for doggie swimming as well as benches to relax on and waste bags. Stephens Lake offers dogs and their owners on-leash options at this beautiful beachside park with swimming areas and lots of beautiful hiking trails. I found eight dog friendly hiking trails in and around Columbia.

Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City is known for barbeque and fountains. The city is home to more barbecue restaurants per capita than any other city in the nation! There are more than two hundred fountains and water works of art in the city that began with animals in mind. Kansas City’s love affair with fountains began with a rather practical purpose. The city’s first fountains were built by the Humane Society as water troughs for horses in the late 1800s, and they have since grown into cherished works of public art. So it’s no surprise why this Midwestern metropolis has earned its bubbly nickname, the City of Fountains. Take time during your visit to tour some of the city’s most unique water features, including the Fountain of Neptune on the Country Club Plaza, the Waterworks Spectacular at Kauffman Stadium and the Civic Courtyard Fountain inside The Legends at Village West.

There are 5 off-leash dog parks in Kansas City, Missouri and a great dog friendly trail. Trolley Track Trail is one of 1600 rail-trails supported by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The previously unused railroad corridor, is now a “rail-trail” to walk your pet in Kansas City!

Three Dog Bakery’s flagship store in Kansas City is the perfect place to bring your pet for a special treat. Warm welcomes and free samples are just a couple reasons dogs love to visit Three Dog Bakery.

Grafton, Illinois

About an hour from Saint Louis, you will find four dog friendly hiking trails in Alton and 5 dog friendly activities in nearby Grafton, Illinois. All these trails are a part of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy network. Pere Marquette Park, part of the Illinois State Park system is nearby, but the lodge does not allow any pets. The eight thousand acre park has many great trails and facilities, but the park’s website says pets must be kept on leashes at all times within the park.

Nashville, Tennessee

Music City USA may be Nashville’s claim to fame, but it offers pet travelers fun options too. More than fifty hotels, several campgrounds and vacation rental properties offer pet friendly lodging. There are three dog friendly hiking trails in Nashville. Leash up your pup and head down The Trails at Fontanel for a delightful stroll along a well-maintained path. Benches line the trail, and along the walk you can enjoy the peaceful beauty of Whites Creek and views of the gorgeous Fontanel Mansion. Shelby Bottoms Greenway is a multi-use trail that’s a great place to walk Fido in Nashville! Stones River Greenway is a pet friendly ten-mile paved trail system connecting Shelby Bottoms to Percy Priest Lake. There are several great Tennessee State Parks near Nashville and pets are allowed in all Tennessee State Parks, but they must be leashed while visiting. Cabins, restaurants and other properties located on State Park land may have different policies so check before you go.

Taking in a show or exploring Nashville’s vibrant night life without your precious pet? A variety of Nashville businesses cater to pet parents traveling. You have many options if you don’t want to leave Fido unattended in the hotel room. Several firms offer responsible dog sitters in Nashville who can visit your dog in the hotel room, take him for a walk, or even watch him overnight in their own home, if needed.

Nashville’s See Spot Eat is a doggie bakery inviting canines and their vacationing people to stop in. See Spot Eat has all-natural, freshly-made dog treats made on premises using human quality ingredients.

Memphis, Tennessee

There are three off-leash dog parks in Memphis, including Shelby Farms. Shelby Farms is a huge park with numerous walkways and jogging paths through the beautiful forested areas, and contains picnic areas and playgrounds as well. There are several lakes and ponds. One whole section of the park is dedicated specifically to dogs. They can run unleashed and go swimming in either of the two Lakes provided for them.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to over 800 miles of hiking trails, but dogs are NOT allowed on most of them. Dogs are welcome on the Gatlinburg Trail (a 1.9 mile hike from the Sugarland Visitor Center to the outskirts of Gatlinburg, TN) and the Oconaluftee River Trail (a 1.5 mile hike from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to the outskirts of Cherokee, NC). Dogs are also allowed in the campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads, but must be kept on a leash at all times.
You can get your pet to the top of the mountains without walking. The Gatlinburg Sky Lift allows dogs on leashes to ride with their owners to the top of the mountain.

Merchants at Gatlinburg’s Village welcome pets. The Village is a collection of 27 unique specialty stores in the heart of Gatlinburg. The wooded outdoor areas around the shops are great for taking Fido for a stroll. Dogs should remain leashed and under your control at all times while roaming through The Village.

Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga offers canines and their owners a lot of options with many pet friendly hotels. Are you ready to stretch your legs after the drive? The best activity in this area is hiking the expansive gorges. North Chickamauga Creek Pocket Wilderness is a perfect all day hike for you and your dog if you are willing to take on the whole ten miles. And when the heat becomes overwhelming, don’t be afraid to go for a quick dip in the creek that runs throughout the gorge.

There are two off-leash dog parks in Chattanooga worth a visit. A great one has a familiar name: Chattanooga Chew Chew Canine Park! This park has lots of greenery, benches, fire hydrants, water fountains, waste removal, and agility equipment. One area is fenced in so dogs can be off leash. Separate entrance and section for small dogs.

Greenway Farms is a huge park in Chattanooga. They have a very large fenced in dog area, which they divided into large and small dog sections. This area also includes dog water fountains, benches and a few trees for shade. Outside of the fenced area, there are several trails, lots of water for the dogs to swim in, and a rock quarry area with a swimming hole.
Consider a walk on the Walnut Street Bridge for a relaxing view of the Tennessee River. The peaceful walk offers gorgeous views of Coolidge Park and downtown.

Louisville, Kentucky

Heading to Kentucky with your pooch? There are 7 off-leash dog parks in Louisville, Kentucky and one family attraction welcoming dogs on leashes. Mega Cavern is a massive man-made cavern beneath the city of Louisville and your dog can come aboard for the tour on an SUV-pulled tram. Fido can join you on the 60-70 minute tour as you learn about the history of the cavern and mining operations, see cavern formations and a historic replica of a fallout bunker, and enjoy the many other offerings of the Mega Cavern. Your pup must be on a six-foot leash at all times. If you and your pup are ready to stretch your legs after the tram tour, there are two dog friendly hiking trails in Louisville open to dogs on leashes.

Branson, Missouri

Branson, Missouri may best be known for stage shows and music. But this city is pet friendly with several options for vacationers traveling with a pet. More than thirty Branson area hotels and inns welcome pets. Several Branson pet services and sitters will visit your pet in the hotel room if you want to step out for dinner or a show in the evening. Branson offers pet lovers great outdoor experiences too. Table Rock State Park offers visitors to Branson and their pets an opportunity to explore the many nature trails that the park has to offer. In addition to hiking, guests can go boating, camping, fishing, swimming, biking, and picnicking. Dogs are permitted on most trails in the park, as well as in the campgrounds. Guests staying at the campgrounds are limited to having two dogs per campsite, unless an exemption is obtained in advance from the park service. Dogs should be kept on a leash and well-behaved at all times while in the campsites.

One Branson business can help put your pet in a memorable vacation souvenir. Busters Old Time Photos at the Branson Landing offers old fashion fun as you take a nostalgic trip through costume and photography. Professional photos with a Wild West, Southern Belle, or Victorian era theme are available in minutes and pets are welcome in the photos! See the cute pooch in a Buster’s photo below.

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Biloxi Beach, Mississippi

Are you and your pet ready for the beach? The closest Gulf of Mexico beach for driving pet families from Saint Louis is Biloxi, Mississippi. For people, this Gulf Coast destination offers with sandy beaches and calm waters, but no dog beaches in the entire county. Four Biloxi hotels are pet friendly, along with three campgrounds with pet friendly policies and numerous vacation rentals for pet families.

There is one off-leash dog park in Biloxi and another ten miles away in historic Gulfport at Seabee Dog Park. Dogs are not allowed on the beaches. One Biloxi beach front shop, Sharkheads, welcomes dogs into their store as long as the pet can be carried by the owner.

Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi

One Mississippi beach city welcomes pooches. There is a dog beach in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. This historic Gulf Coast city is part of the Biloxi-Gulfport-Pascagoula metro area. There are several pet friendly vacation rentals for families traveling with their furry family members. Nearby Buccaneer State Park offers miles of beautiful white-sand beaches. Dogs are allowed on the beaches and in the campgrounds! Buccaneer State Park also features a 4.5 acre waterpark called Buccaneer Bay, but pets are not allowed in the waterpark or in cabins, restaurants or any other park building.

Have a favorite vacation spot for your pet? Please share recommendations and ideas!
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Volunteer Trips Make a Difference Abroad and at Home

Your next getaway could change more than your view.  More travelers are finding a way to help others while exploring new communities and cultures through volunteer vacations.

 

Growing in popularity, volunteer vacations can strengthen family bonds while you volunteer to help others. On family volunteer vacations parents and grandparents have an opportunity to spend meaningful time with youngsters, with the opportunity to pass along values. Younger family members develop compassion for others and also master new hands-on skills.

Volunteer vacations can strengthen family bonds.

Volunteer vacations can strengthen family bonds.

 

Travel adventures for a cause can involve some tropical paradises or breath taking scenery, but require more planning than your typical vacation advises travel expert and author of Voluntourist, Ken Budd: “Taking a volunteer trip isn’t like spontaneously going to the beach. It requires a lot of homework and research. You want to find organizations that are meeting a legitimate need, and projects that need volunteer labor; not projects created to give volunteers something to do.”

 

Finding a great volunteer vacation opportunity starts with being realistic about your desire and abilities for the adventure. Taking a good look at what you’d like to get out of the trip will decrease your chances of disappointment. Think about what areas and subjects are important to you: Do you want to study climate change in Alaska or preserve the campground where you vacationed as a child?  Budd suggests you ask questions about a volunteer vacation adventure before packing your bags. 

 

·        What is the volunteer work?

 

·        Who will benefit?

 

·        Who runs the volunteer programs?

 

·        Where does the money from program fees go?

 

·        May I contact previous volunteers about their experiences?

 

Many volunteer vacation organizations will ask you to submit to a background check, particularly if you’re working with children. Others will want you to provide references or to write an essay on why you want to volunteer. When organizations don’t take those steps that should be a warning sign.

 Not all volunteer opportunities abroad are legitimate explains Budd:  Over the last year or so, the media has reported on a terrible situation in Cambodia, where orphanages basically trap kids in squalor to attract donors and volunteers.  So seriously scrutinize the organizations,” he advises.

There are many volunteer vacation opportunities close to home.  For example, volunteer conservation trips. These popular vacations combine camping in national or state parks with service projects to help beautify the land and make the parks more safe and accessible.

 This year, there are more volunteer vacation offerings than ever before, from building trails in the Grand Canyon to clearing debris washed up on remote Alaskan beaches following the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Volunteer conservation trips may include activities like trail work, clearing fallen trees and branches, picking up litter and debris, removing invasive plants, maintaining gardens, and sprucing up fences and buildings.

 Volunteer vacationers often get access to parts of parks and forests not open to the public. And they always have free time to enjoy the beautiful parks they’re helping.

A lot of organizations offer multi-generational volunteer opportunities perfect for families who or large groups who want to get away and contribute together.  Budd says many volunteer vacation organizations find experienced, older volunteers to be a great asset:

“I’ve found that most volunteer organizations value people who have a lot of life experience. Older volunteers tend to be patient and they won’t get rattled when something goes wrong.”

The author has trekked and volunteered around the world and recalls many great experiences with older volunteer vacationers: “I encountered a lot of people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s when I was volunteering. In China, we had about 11 volunteers and only three were under the age of 50. The majority were in their 60s: they taught English to university students, which was really quite helpful. The students knew English, but they needed practice speaking it.”

Budd recalls another senior volunteer who became a world traveler while helping others: “I was in Costa Rica, I met an 80-year-old woman who volunteered there for three months. She was a widower, and it was only the second time in her life that she’d been outside of the United States. She enjoyed it so much that she wound up volunteering for three months in Thailand!”

There are many volunteer vacation options near home and abroad.

There are many volunteer vacation options near home and abroad.