June 24, 2017

iPad for Drivers

I’m in love. About three weeks ago I received my long-awaited Apple iPad — the tablet computer you’ve heard so much about (unless you’ve been hiding under a rock). And it has already changed my life. It is an amazing tool, truly a “magical” experience, as Apple CEO Steve Jobs puts it.

Those who know me know I’m a gadget lover. So it’s no surprise that I was one of the first on the block with an iPad. Actually, my 90-year-old dad beat me to the iPad experience — he bought one a couple weeks after they were introduced to use as a book reader. I helped him set it up, and knew I had to have one, too.

So what’s so great about it? What does it do that my laptop or any other computer doesn’t do? Nothing. That’s the short answer. But the real answer is not WHAT it does, but HOW it does it. That’s what makes the iPad revolutionary and a life changing experience. I warn you — you touch one and play with it for 15 minutes — and you’ll have to have one.

The iPad has made my job more fun than anything, ever. Here are a few of the ways I use it on a daily basis.

Maps

The most valuable app for a driver comes built into the iPad — Maps. It’s based on Google Maps, which I’ve used for several years already on my laptop to plan my trip routes. Having a portable version that’s so readily available, literally at your fingertips, anytime, anywhere, is amazing. The iPad’s built-in GPS chip automatically locates you on the map, so within literally an instant of turning it on, you’re looking at a detailed map of exactly where you are right now. Switch to satellite view with another finger click, and you can see destination entrances, exits, bus parking, etc. Invaluable. Your laptop can do this, too, of course, but not this easily or quickly.

Traffic Reports

One of the apps I’ve begun to rely on on a daily basis is Inrix Traffic, a cool little app that displays traffic flows, construction areas, accidents, and more on top of a Google map. The map, using the iPad’s built-in GPS chip, scrolls as you drive, so you can see upcoming traffic situations ahead. Or you can zoom out before you start the trip and see where problem areas might lie long before you get there. When you do need to take a detour, Inrix Traffic or the Maps app (mentioned above) makes it extremely easy to see what your options are for a safe detour. Inrix Traffic is a free app but also offers a pro version for $10 annually that includes additional features such as traffic cameras. I’m still experimenting with that.

Web Browser, Email

You can do all your homework for your trip right on the iPad. Look up destinations’ websites for more information, parking links on eightwheels.com, and more. Virtually anything you’d look up on the Web with your laptop or desktop computer, you now have in your hands with the iPad. Check and respond to email, too, anytime you have a free minute. No more coming home from a trip and finding yourself dozens or hundreds of messages behind.

Entertainment

The iPad really shines here. It’s a great ebook reader, and if you like to read, this is the way to go. It supports iBooks, Apple’s new electronic bookstore, of course, with the most amazing interface ever on an electronic reader. It also supports Amazon’s Kindle app with over half a million books available, and Borders’ new ebooks app. You will never in your life be without something to read — and probably less expensively than ever before.

Games, oh my, the games … I’m not really a game player, it’s just not my thing. But once in a while I do enjoy it as an interesting diversion. There are already thousands of games available to play on the iPad (and it plays virtually all the games written for the iPhone, too). Most are amazingly cool, taking advantage of the hardware features of the iPad, such as knowing what orientation the iPad is in at all times. For instance, steer your car around a race track by holding and moving the iPad like a steering wheel. Lots of classic games, too — checkers, chess, and a great game of Scrabble.

Movies. I used to try and remember some of the better movies that my groups were watching while I drove, so I could check them out next time I wanted to rent or buy a movie. No more. For about $9/month, I have Netflix on my iPad, and can watch as many movies as I want, anytime I want (not while driving, of course LOL). What a relaxing way to spend some time while you’re waiting for the group.

Music. Can’t forget the music. The iPad is also an iPod (speak carefully when saying that out loud LOL). I have over 20 GB of music on my iPad, which is my complete music library. I can play it through the bus stereo system or listen privately on headphones, or in a pinch use the monaural speaker built into the iPad itself, which doesn’t sound bad for its diminutive size.

Productivity

The iPad is basically a very, very portable computer you operate with your fingertips. No mouse, no keyboard, no wires of any kind (except to charge it after 10 or 11 hours of use). That opens it up to all kinds of other productive uses. Like writing. This article was written and edited on my iPad, while sitting in a restaurant (Strokos, my favorite deli) in Manhattan, New York City. When I have a lot of text to enter, such as with this post, I use a bluetooth wireless keyboard for the text entry. But you can also use the on-screen keyboard built into the iPad. I’m still struggling to be able to type as efficiently with that as I can a real keyboard, so I carry the ultra thin Apple Bluetooth keyboard in my bag for times like this. Switch it on, it connects automatically, wirelessly, with the iPad, and I’m typing away.

And there is so much more. This post was going to be a quick, short post extolling the virtues of the iPad for a driver, but it lost the “short” part because when I get so excited about an outstanding product, I want to tell you everything about it. I’ll save the rest for future posts. I know this is full of superlatives, but I can’t leave them out — the iPad is truly a revolutionary product, as if it was designed just for a tour bus driver. Is it perfect? No, there’s always room for improvement. But for a first generation product, this is more than just a home run — it’s a grand slam, maybe even a 9th inning walk-off-the-field grand slam for Apple. And we’re the beneficiaries. Enjoy.

Eight Tips for Using Your Cell Phone on the Bus

Summary:

  1. Turn phone off or put it on vibrate.
  2. Make/receive essential calls only.
  3. Keep it short and speak softly.

A survey back in 2004 revealed the cell phone was both the most loved and most hated technological device of our time. I don’t think much has changed in the last five years, except many feel even more strongly now, one way or the other. It’s a love-hate relationship.

Cell phones on the bus can be a real advantage — students calling parents, for example, to notify them of a pick-up time on the way back from a trip, have made life easier for teachers and chaperones. On the other hand, ringing cell phones and loud conversations have become a thorn in the side to other passengers and even the motorcoach driver on bus trips.

Here are eight guidelines, expanded from the summary above, for using your cell phone on your next bus trip.

  1. Turn the ringer off when you board the motorcoach.

    No one wants to hear your phone ring. So if you can’t turn your phone off altogether, at least put it on vibrate. And if you’ve forgotten to do that and your phone starts ringing, be sure you know how to silence it instantly without answering it — usually pressing one of the side buttons will silence a ringing cell phone without hanging up on the caller.

  2. Answer the phone only if you recognize the caller and it’s an essential call.

    Let the call go to voicemail and check your messages later when you won’t disturb other passengers.

  3. Wait to make calls until you get to the next rest stop or arrive at your destination.

    Then you can walk away from the group and talk in privacy.

  4. If you must talk on the phone while you’re on the motorcoach, keep it short, speak softly, and avoid personal conversations.

    Cell phones have very sensitive microphones, so there’s no need to shout into your phone. Loud conversations, especially about personal issues, are probably the single most annoying use of cell phones on the bus — or just about anywhere else!

  5. Make sure the speakerphone is turned off.

    Worse than hearing your side of the conversation is hearing both sides! Be sure you know how your cell phone operates and do not use it as a speakerphone on the bus.

  6. Sending/receiving text messages is fine, as long as notification sounds are turned off or on vibrate.

    And as long as your seat mate isn’t offended that you’re ignoring them.

  7. When the driver announces an ETA (estimated time of arrival) on your return home, it’s okay to notify those waiting or expecting you by cell phone of your ETA.

    Just keep the above guidelines in mind — short, quiet conversations are still in order.

  8. Last, but not least, keep this basic rule of cell phone etiquette in mind, so when you “break the rules,” you do it respectfully of those around you: Keep a 10-foot (3 meter) distance between you and anyone else whenever you talk on your phone. And never talk in enclosed spaces.

    That basic guideline would rule out talking on the bus altogether, but using the previous guidelines I’ve suggested above allows respectful use of your phone when you’re on a bus trip. Respect for your fellow passengers is the key.

I’ve seen signs posted inside some motorcoaches that forbid ALL cell phone use for any reason from the first three rows of seats in the coach, to avoid disturbing the driver. I don’t ask for that on my bus, but keep in mind, drivers aren’t interested in your phone conversations, and they can indeed be a distraction to the driver. If the bus isn’t full, sometimes you can move to the rear of the bus to make or take an urgent phone call. But always wait until a stop if at all possible.

For more on cell phone etiquette, including other tips for cell phone usage when traveling, check out http://www.nophones.com/.

Eight Ways to Annoy a Motorcoach Driver

I’m smiling as I write this, but these are annoying issues bus drivers face nearly every day. Have you ever been guilty of one of these? Here are eight ways to annoy a motorcoach driver:

As a motorcoach passenger ….

  • Have the ringer turned up on your cell phone, and take a call while the driver is making announcements to passengers. Be sure to speak loudly so your caller can hear you over the bus driver.
  • Be late returning to the bus, holding up the entire group. This is especially effective in places like New York City, where the driver can’t sit and wait for you but must drive around several blocks, hoping you’ll be there when he/she returns.
  • At the first stop on an overnight trip, tell the driver you forgot something in your suitcase, now buried in the luggage bays, that you must have right away.
  • Tell the driver at the end of the trip what a great job he/she did, and you can’t wait to ride with him/her again … but don’t give him/her a gratuity. (He/she does this just for fun.)

As an automobile driver on the road ….

  • Be a “lane camper”; drive slowly in the center lane of a three lane highway, ignorant of the fact that, on many highways throughout the US (northeastern US especially), buses and trucks are prohibited from using the far left lane, and you’re blocking them by not moving out of the center lane.
  • At a red traffic light, completely ignore that thick, heavy, white “stop” line — stop anywhere you like beyond the line, don’t worry about larger trucks and buses trying to make the turn from the cross street.
  • On the Interstate, vary your speed as much as you feel like. Pass the bus and then slow up, making the bus pass you again. Using cruise control is “dangerous,” anyway.
  • Park your car in bus parking areas (nice, roomy spaces!), or park illegally on a city street corner, making it nearly impossible for large vehicles (trucks and buses) to make the turn.

The Perfect Hotel Room

Four Points by Sheraton, Charlesbourg, Quebec -- a very bus-friendly hotel. 

Four Points by Sheraton, Charlesbourg, Quebec -- a very bus-friendly hotel.

I’ve been on the road a lot this summer, as far south as Mississippi, and north to Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. And lots of places in between. As I sometimes tell my passengers, I call home every day, so my wife at least recognizes my voice when I come home!

When you’re on the road that much, the right hotel room can mean the difference between a great trip and a terrible trip. It’s often the little things that make the difference. But it never ceases to amaze me how many hotels screw up the little things!

The basics: a clean, quiet room is a given. But many hotels fall down right there — the room isn’t clean, or not as clean as it should be. Good help is hard to find, I know; but in most cases I’ve seen, management is the issue. People do what’s expected of them and only so far as they’re held accountable. Often a dirty room means someone at a higher level isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. (Does that apply to dirty buses, too?!)

A comfortable bed is also a given, you would think. I’m a tall guy — 6’5″ — and used to a king size bed at home, which is my ideal on the road, too. A queen size bed is still comfortable; but some hotels, mostly older ones, still have full size beds in their standard room. In those, my feet stick out the end, and I definitely don’t sleep as well. Some hotels have newer style “pillow-top” mattresses — wow, some are so comfortable I’m in no hurry to go home! Others have hard, “spring-loaded” mattresses; when you sit down you bounce right back up again — not good.

Other important factors include working temperature control in the room, preferably without having to hear a very noisy air conditioner or heater. A bathroom big enough to turn around in, with plenty of fluffy white towels. A wall mirror in the room in addition to the bathroom. A TV with a working remote. An elevator if you’re not on the first floor. A portico high enough to get the bus underneath for loading/unloading luggage on a rainy day. And, of course, bus parking — if you can’t safely park your motorcoach at or very near the hotel, all of this is a moot point.

Some hotel chains have introduced amenities over the years that have now become must-haves for the regular traveler. In the bathroom, a curved shower rod (thanks, Hampton Inn), and a great shower head (thanks, Holiday Inn). A “free” continental breakfast with at least one or two hot items (saves a lot of time and money when you’re on the road). Free Internet access. All of these used to be niceties, but I don’t want to stay in a room without them anymore.

If you’re away more than one night, especially on a trip where you end up killing a lot of time in a hotel room, a microwave and refrigerator is really important, too — partly for convenience, but especially for cost savings. On a multiple day trip I’ll often make a stop at a supermarket the first day and pick up a few things I can lunch on in the room.

Ironically, the more expensive hotels don’t include many of these things, or charge extra for them. Breakfast and Internet access, for instance, are often extra charges. Those hotels are more for vacationers and corporate travelers. Fortunately, for working travelers like motorcoach drivers, there are several chains who do a great job at meeting our needs. But the list is pretty short for those who do it well and do it consistently. There are exceptions, but overall, here are my favorites; the first three are way, way ahead of the pack:

  1. Drury Inn
    Too bad this chain is only in the midwest. “The extras aren’t extra” and they have no equal in my limited experience with them. It’s probably not a coincidence that they aren’t franchises — all are family owned.
  2. Hampton Inn
    Long my number one choice until my experience with Drury Inns this summer. They just get it right, over and over, across the chain. Must be someone following up somewhere!
  3. Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn Select
    These are the newer of the Holiday Inns, and, like Hampton Inn, get it right over and over again.
  4. The rest of the list is a distant fourth place or worse. They tend to be inconsistent — I’ve stayed in some excellent ones, and had to leave an occasional one, it was so bad. But because of the cost and/or location, they’re often in the running:

  5. Comfort Inn
    Many (most?) of these are two floors, no elevator. Many are older and run down. But a few are also very nice. I’ve had both good and bad experiences with these.
  6. Red Roof Inn
    Low price, pet friendly (which means if there’s a local dog show, you’re going to have lots of animals around!). Inconsistent quality.
  7. Days Inn
    Many of these are older and not in good shape, but there are some good ones, too.
  8. Ramada Inn
    I’ve only ever stayed in one Ramada I was comfortable in (Ligonier, PA). But I’m sure there must be a few other good ones somewhere.

Sheraton isn’t on my list above, because they’re often among the more expensive hotels that charge extra for things like breakfast and Internet access. But I recently had a good experience with a Sheraton near Quebec City in Canada, which is where the above photo was taken. Note the bus parking — right by the front door! I was the only bus there, so no competition for that spot; but other buses wouldn’t have had too far to go, since this was a fairly new hotel with very large parking lots.

A driver friend of mine has a real simple hotel rule: if there’s no front door giving access to all the rooms, it’s the wrong hotel. An oversimplification, perhaps, but you know what — he’s often right!

That’s my list, based on my personal experience. How does it compare to your experience? Feel free to add your comments below.

Five Things to Take With You on Your Next Motorcoach Trip

It’s easy to make your next motorcoach tour just a little more pleasant by remembering a few of these things to take with you. You may or may not want to take all of these, but consider the following.

1) Bottle of water

Even though most tours stop regularly for rest stops and meals, having a bottle of water along quenches your thirst, especially if you’re talking a lot with a seat mate or other fellow passengers. If you’re hungry, it can also hold off hunger pains until the next food stop. A snack bar or energy bar might also be a good idea if you think you might get hungry on the road.

2) Neck pillow

Seats on modern motorcoaches usually recline and are quite comfortable, but it’s always nice to have a small pillow of some kind with you. Places like Brookstone or gift shops in service plazas sell small pillows especially suitable for traveling, but [Read more…]

Eight Tips for Group Leaders on Motorcoach Trips

Have you chartered a motorcoach for your group’s trip? Great — smart move! Here are eight tips for you, the group leader, from my perspective as your driver for your charter trip.

1. Introduce yourself, as the person in charge, to your driver.

You’d be amazed how often we have to guess or ask around the group to find out who is in charge of things like letting us know when you’re ready to depart, confirm destinations and time schedules, letting us know that all passengers have boarded, etc. Sometimes our paperwork tells us who’s in charge and we can find you, but just as often the person listed on our paperwork is the person who booked the coach for the trip, not the person who’s actually in charge on trip day.

2. Ride Bus #1, and sit in the front of the coach.

If you’ve booked multiple coaches for your group, the overall group leader should ride on the first coach in the group. Sometimes last minute “executive decisions” need to be made en route, and it’s difficult [Read more…]

Five Rules for Safe Driving

These five rules for safe driving are adapted from the Smith System, trainers for safe driving.

  1. Aim high in steering.
    Look 15 seconds into your future. Don’t just watch the vehicle in front of you.
  2. Get the big picture.
    Use the four second rule to avoid following too closely.
  3. Keep your eyes moving.
    Avoid fixed stares.
  4. Leave yourself an out.
    There’s no substitute for space.
  5. Make sure they see you.
    Use eye contact, turn signals, lights, etc. to help ensure other drivers see you.