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Calculate your fuel cost - Road trip tip

An essential ingredient for any road trip is fuel. While you know the cost of your accommodations, you may not always know how much gas will cost for the length of your road trip.

There are websites to help you determine that cost, however. For example, AAA's Fuel Cost Calculator allows you to calculate the fuel cost of your trip. Using drop-down menus, you select your starting city, destination and vehicle. The calculator determines mileage, gallons of fuel used and total fuel cost. Not all cities and destinations are listed, but you can get a general idea.

At GasBuddy.com, you can search for the best gas prices in each city or region you're traveling through. Site visitors report what they paid for fuel at individual gas stations. You'll learn the lowest and highest prices reported in the past 36 hours. Armed with this information, you can budget your fantastic road trip.

[Photo: Flickr | Borderfilms (Doug)]

Santa Claus to seals: 5 California sights worth visiting



You already know the Southern California's top tourist attractions by heart. Disneyland. Hollywood. Hearst Castle. Ever wonder what else is out there? Here are five great lesser-known attractions to check out on your next visit to the Golden State.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Wildlife is often entertaining, and you will get more than your money's worth (it's free) by making a stop at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. Located about seven miles north of San Simeon (site of Hearst Castle) along Highway 1 on the scenic central California coast, the rookery is home to an estimated 15,000 animals, according to Friends of the Elephant Seal.

The seals travel in the open ocean for 8 to 10 months a year, but they head to land at the Rookery to give birth, breed and rest. The site is typically a hive of activity as the animals bark, scratch, crawl, fight, sleep and care for their young. They are funny, sweet and fascinating creatures to watch any time of the year. Parking and entrance to the Rookery are free, and there are plenty of viewpoints from which to enjoy the antics of these strange but wonderful creatures.

Santa Claus Statue
Did you know it's Christmas all year long in Nyeland Acres, California? You might just miss the area's very own jolly old St. Nick, unless you know where to look. While cruising down Highway 101 through this area of Ventura County north of Los Angeles you'll encounter a giant 22-foot-tall statue of Santa Claus resting behind wrought-iron gates off the Rice Avenue exit on South Ventura Boulevard.

For more than 50 years, this SoCal Santa stood atop a candy store in what was then Santa Claus Lane off Highway 101, nearly 30 miles away. After the Christmas-themed attraction closed down, Santa's future was in jeopardy. In 2003, Mike Barber, president of Garden Acres Mutual Water Co. in Nyeland Acres, took possession of him, and the 5-ton Saint Nick moved to his new digs. The custom wrought-iron gate has Santa's initials (an "S" and a "C") in it, and he now has company: a snowman and two soldiers. Although the site is opened by appointment only and on special occasions, you can still come to peer at him behind the gates any day of the year for free.

Make a game of sampling the specialty - Dining out tip

When we travel someplace, we like to try the area's specialty in multiple places and then decide which establishment did it the best.

For example, on a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we tried a regional specialty, the pasty (potatoes, veggies, onion and beef in a pastry), at three restaurants during our stay. On a vacation to Maui, Hawaii, we sampled mai tais each night at a different place. We made sure to visit the site of our self-proclaimed "winner" one more time for a farewell mai tai before our enjoyable vacation came to an end.

Making a game of sampling the specialty is a great way to make sure you see lots of a particular destination and enjoy the various "twists" that destination offers.

Pack for a theme party - Cruise tip

If you really want to get into the spirit of a cruise, you'll want to participate in any theme parties or special events on board.

Before departing, contact the cruise line to find out what will be offered on your cruise. Toga parties require a gown made of bed sheets, of course, while shamrocks and green hats are appropriate for a St. Patrick's celebration. Beads, feathers and masks are in order for a Mardi Gras parade, and pirate garb would be appropriate for any pirate-themed celebration.

You can sometimes buy the items aboard ship to make your costume, but why spend the money? Pack your own outfit and save your cash for a Hurricane cocktail.

Related: Choose a themed cruise - Cruise tip

Blog it or Facebook it or Tweet it or ... - Road trip tip

Let friends and family share in your road trip adventure by posting details along the way via your blog, Facebook, Twitter or other social media site. People at home are curious about your adventures, and seeing your update may trigger a memory or suggestion they have to improve your trip.

With a smartphone such as the Apple iPhone, Motorola Droid or Research in Motion's BlackBerry, it's a snap to post a status update of your trip or take and upload a photo or video of a roadside attraction. Smartphone Facebook apps and apps such as Bloglive make it easy to upload your content.

Of course, don't do any of this while driving. Wait until you're stopped, or have a passenger do the posting.

Buy a calendar - Souvenir tip

A calendar will remind you of a cherished vacation for an entire year. Whether it's Rome or Maui, you can usually find a calendar in a gift shop or general store for the following year.

Pro tip: use the photos you took of your vacation to create your own calendar online and display your calendar proudly! Mark the days off until your next exciting adventure!

Research before you photograph - International travel tip

You're planning a trip to a foreign country. Of course, you're going to pack your camera to capture the people and places that make the country special. But before you go, do a little research.

In some countries, it's illegal to photograph certain places. For example, in Britain a terror law makes it illegal to photograph police. Alternatively, it may be culturally or religiously offensive to photograph certain people or locations.For example, photography in Tibetan monasteries and Muslim mosques is forbidden without permission. Photographing local women in some Muslim countries is taboo.

Do your research, ask permission and, above all, be respectful.

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