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5 Tips for Preparing for an Epic Vacation

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A vacation is supposed to be a getaway, but getting out of your comfort zone can be stressful, too. Missed flights, lost luggage, busted budgets—there’s a lot that can go wrong when you travel. In fact, it’s more or less inevitable, says Lee Huffman, a travel blogger at BaldThoughts.com.

“You're not alone. It happens to even the most seasoned travelers. Something unexpected will inevitably happen,” Huffman tells Mental Floss. “A missed or delayed flight; not getting the exact rental car or room that you reserved. Murphy's Law at its finest.”

There are, however, a few ways to hedge against Murphy’s Law and minimize the stress of preparing for a big trip. We asked Huffman how he manages travel with his family and how the rest of us can plan for an epic, stress-lite vacation.

1. ANTICIPATE MISHAPS.

Cars driving on the Furka Pass in Switzerland

When it comes to safeguarding against setbacks, research is everything. You don’t want to be caught off guard when, for example, you try to rent a car overseas and discover you need an International Driving Permit. Here are a few other common scenarios you might want to look into before you head out:

- If you plan on using the car rental insurance that comes with your credit card, research what’s actually covered. Most have limitations.

- Don’t assume English is spoken everywhere you go. Research local customs before you leave and download a translation app just to be on the safe side.

- Make sure you know your airline’s rules for traveling with children or pets. Many airlines charge extra for everything from picking a seat to printing your ticket at the airport.

Of course, no matter how much you prepare in advance, something can still go awry. That’s just part of the travel experience, says Huffman. “Trust me, I've been puked on by my baby during a redeye flight without a change of clothes, stranded in the airport overnight with my young son, and so many other wild stories," he says. "They were horrible experiences at the time, but now I can laugh at myself and the situation.”

If nothing else, you’ll have a story to tell when you get back from your trip.

2. GET YOUR MONEY IN ORDER.

People jumping off a boat into the ocean on vacation

There’s often stress over whether you can (or should) afford the vacation in the first place. Maybe I should wait until prices drop, you think, or maybe I should just skip traveling altogether.

“People question whether or not to buy tickets to that once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Huffman says. “As long as your other bills are being paid, you're saving for your future, and making a little dent in your debt, then yes, you should spend a little money to ensure you create memories that will last a lifetime.”

Of course, having your money in order is easier said than done—but once again, it all goes back to proper planning. Start saving for your trip early so you’ll have a vacation fund to draw from when the time comes. “Even if the savings is just a fraction of your overall vacation expense, that money will help reduce the sting of paying for airfare, hotel, and everything else you've planned,” Huffman advises.

There are ways to “travel hack” your vacation, too, which essentially involves using credit card sign-up bonuses to earn frequent flier points with partnering airlines. In fact, this is how Huffman says he affords to travel with his family so often. (If you have issues with credit card debt and paying your balance off on time every month, this method is not for you.)

“Sign up for every loyalty program you come across,” Huffman suggests. “Yes, your email inbox may become a little fuller. But it is worth it because airlines and hotels often send deals to subscribers that are never seen by everyone else. These savings may help you go on your next vacation a little quicker.”

3. LIMIT YOUR ITINERARY.

Man in woman with bicycles read a map in an Asian city

It’s tempting to squeeze in as much as possible when you travel, but don’t set yourself up for a headache. Make a list of “musts” and “maybes”: things you just have to do and things you’d like to do if you have time. When you prioritize your sightseeing this way, you can relieve yourself of the pressure to see everything. You’ll actually have time to enjoy yourself.

It can be helpful to plan your lodging accordingly, too. The closer your proximity to the activities on your list, the more you can fit in (and still easily bop back to the hotel for an afternoon nap). At the very least, you can book a hotel or Airbnb that’s close to public transportation so you can get where you need to go with ease.

4. GIVE YOURSELF SOME BUFFER TIME.

Exhausted couple lying on a bed with luggage by their feet

The worst thing about a vacation is coming back from it. Especially if you have to jump right back into work, the return can be jarring. If possible, you can ease back into work mode by giving yourself some extra time to relax when you get home.

“If you're going on a vacation of a week or more, try to arrive home two days before you go back to work,” Huffman suggests. “Having a day to decompress, sleep in, unpack the suitcase, and do a little grocery shopping before returning to the office does wonders for your mental health.”

As an added bonus, he says, it’s typically cheaper and less crowded to fly on Saturdays than Sundays, anyway. And if your return flight is delayed, you don’t have to worry about making an awkward phone call to your employer explaining why you need to extend your vacation.

5. PREP FOR YOUR RETURN.

Young man holding a folded pile of clean laundry

There’s nothing worse than walking in the door after a long journey and being greeted by a filthy, smelly home. Set yourself up for a nice homecoming by doing some pre-trip cleaning and go grocery shopping for snacks that won’t go bad while you’re away.

“I try to wash and fold all of my laundry before going on vacation as well,” Huffman says. “This provides an abundant supply of clothes to choose from to have the perfect outfit while traveling and it ensures that I have enough clean underwear for my first day back. I mean, really, who wants to do laundry first thing after returning from an epic journey around the world?”

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8 Tricks to Help Your Cat and Dog to Get Along
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When people aren’t debating whether cats or dogs are more intelligent, they’re equating them as mortal foes. That’s a stereotype that both cat expert Jackson Galaxy, host of the Animal Planet show My Cat From Hell, and certified dog trainer Zoe Sandor want to break.

Typically, cats are aloof and easily startled, while dogs are gregarious and territorial. This doesn't mean, however, that they can't share the same space—they're just going to need your help. “If cats and dogs are brought up together in a positive, loving, encouraging environment, they’re going to be friends,” Galaxy tells Mental Floss. “Or at the very least, they’ll tolerate each other.”

The duo has teamed up to host a new Animal Planet series, Cat vs. Dog, which airs on Saturdays at 10 p.m. The show chronicles their efforts to help pet owners establish long-lasting peace—if not perfect harmony—among cats and dogs. (Yes, it’s possible.) Gleaned from both TV and off-camera experiences, here are eight tips Galaxy and Sandor say will help improve household relations between Fido and Fluffy.

1. TAKE PERSONALITY—NOT BREED—INTO ACCOUNT.

Contrary to popular belief, certain breeds of cats and dogs don't typically get along better than others. According to Galaxy and Sandor, it’s more important to take their personalities and energy levels into account. If a dog is aggressive and territorial, it won’t be a good fit in a household with a skittish cat. In contrast, an aging dog would hate sharing his space with a rambunctious kitten.

If two animals don’t end up being a personality match, have a backup plan, or consider setting up a household arrangement that keeps them separated for the long term. And if you’re adopting a pet, do your homework and ask its previous owners or shelter if it’s lived with other animals before, or gets along with them.

2. TRAIN YOUR DOG.

To set your dog up for success with cats, teach it to control its impulses, Sandor says. Does it leap across the kitchen when someone drops a cookie, or go on high alert when it sees a squeaky toy? If so, it probably won’t be great with cats right off the bat, since it will likely jump up whenever it spots a feline.

Hold off Fido's face time with Fluffy until the former is trained to stay put. And even then, keep a leash handy during the first several cat-dog meetings.

3. GIVE A CAT ITS OWN TERRITORY BEFORE IT MEETS A DOG.

Cats need a protected space—a “base camp” of sorts—that’s just theirs, Galaxy says. Make this refuge off-limits to the dog, but create safe spaces around the house, too. This way, the cat can confidently navigate shared territory without trouble from its canine sibling.

Since cats are natural climbers, Galaxy recommends taking advantage of your home’s vertical space. Buy tall cat trees, install shelves, or place a cat bed atop a bookcase. This allows your cat to observe the dog from a safe distance, or cross a room without touching the floor.

And while you’re at it, keep dogs away from the litter box. Cats should feel safe while doing their business, plus dogs sometimes (ew) like to snack on cat feces, a bad habit that can cause your pooch to contract intestinal parasites. These worms can cause a slew of health problems, including vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia.

Baby gates work in a pinch, but since some dogs are escape artists, prepare for worst-case scenarios by keeping the litter box uncovered and in an open space. That way, the cat won’t be cornered and trapped mid-squat.

4. EXERCISE YOUR DOG'S BODY AND MIND.

“People exercise their dogs probably 20 percent of what they should really be doing,” Sandor says. “It’s really important that their energy is released somewhere else so that they have the ability to slow down their brains and really control themselves when they’re around kitties.”

Dogs also need lots of stimulation. Receiving it in a controlled manner makes them less likely to satisfy it by, say, chasing a cat. For this, Sandor recommends toys, herding-type activities, lure coursing, and high-intensity trick training.

“Instead of just taking a walk, stop and do a sit five times on every block,” she says. “And do direction changes three times on every block, or speed changes two times. It’s about unleashing their herding instincts and prey drive in an appropriate way.”

If you don’t have time for any of these activities, Zoe recommends hiring a dog walker, or enrolling in doggy daycare.

5. LET CATS AND DOGS FOLLOW THEIR NOSES.

In Galaxy's new book, Total Cat Mojo, he says it’s a smart idea to let cats and dogs sniff each other’s bedding and toys before a face-to-face introduction. This way, they can satisfy their curiosity and avoid potential turf battles.

6. PLAN THE FIRST CAT/DOG MEETING CAREFULLY.

Just like humans, cats and dogs have just one good chance to make a great first impression. Luckily, they both love food, which might ultimately help them love each other.

Schedule the first cat-dog meeting during mealtime, but keep the dog on a leash and both animals on opposite sides of a closed door. They won’t see each other, but they will smell each other while chowing down on their respective foods. They’ll begin to associate this smell with food, thus “making it a good thing,” Galaxy says.

Do this every mealtime for several weeks, before slowly introducing visual simulation. Continue feeding the cat and dog separately, but on either side of a dog gate or screen, before finally removing it all together. By this point, “they’re eating side-by-side, pretty much ignoring each other,” Galaxy says. For safety’s sake, continue keeping the dog on a leash until you’re confident it’s safe to take it off (and even then, exercise caution).

7. KEEP THEIR FOOD AND TOYS SEPARATE.

After you've successfully ingratiated the cat and dog using feeding exercises, keep their food bowls separate. “A cat will walk up to the dog bowl—either while the dog’s eating, or in the vicinity—and try to eat out of it,” Galaxy says. “The dog just goes to town on them. You can’t assume that your dog isn’t food-protective or resource-protective.”

To prevent these disastrous mealtime encounters, schedule regular mealtimes for your pets (no free feeding!) and place the bowls in separate areas of the house, or the cat’s dish up on a table or another high spot.

Also, keep a close eye on the cat’s toys—competition over toys can also prompt fighting. “Dogs tend to get really into catnip,” Galaxy says. “My dog loves catnip a whole lot more than my cats do.”

8. CONSIDER RAISING A DOG AND CAT TOGETHER (IF YOU CAN).

Socializing these animals at a young age can be easier than introducing them as adults—pups are easily trainable “sponges” that soak up new information and situations, Sandor says. Plus, dogs are less confident and smaller at this stage in life, allowing the cat to “assume its rightful position at the top of the hierarchy,” she adds.

Remain watchful, though, to ensure everything goes smoothly—especially when the dog hits its rambunctious “teenage” stage before becoming a full-grown dog.

Cat vs. Dog Airs on Saturdays at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet

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Getting Calls From Your Own Phone Number? Don't Answer!
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There’s a new phone scam that could affect you, according to Washington’s KIRO 7 News. In addition to keeping your eyes open for calls that come from area codes like 473 or involve people claiming to be Equifax representatives, you now have to watch out for your own phone number.

Scammers are manipulating your phone’s caller ID to make it look like you’re getting a call from your own phone number, then posing as someone from a wireless carrier like AT&T or Verizon. They tell whoever answers the phone that their account has been flagged for security reasons, then ask for the last four digits of that person’s Social Security number. The FCC has been aware of these scams for at least two years, but they seem to be ramping up once again.

In general, you shouldn’t give out any part of your Social Security number over the phone on an incoming call. If you’re suspicious, you can always call your carrier back using the official customer service phone number on their website or on your bill. But it’s best not to pick up at all. If you receive a call from your own number, don’t answer or press any buttons. Instead, file a complaint with the FCC.

[h/t KIRO 7 News]

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