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Tubing for dummies

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As much as we all love living by the Mississippi River, swimming in it is certainly not encouraged. This leaves us confronting the fact that summer in New Orleans is hot and we have no accessible natural water source. Feel like you’ve outworn your welcome at all the hotel pools in the French Quarter? A tubing day trip might just be what you need. To help novice tubers avoid costly pitfalls that could put a damper on the day trip, I present a crash course in tubing:

1. Head to the Bogue Chitto River. I should say that I have only been tubing on the Bogue Chitto River in Louisiana, and, all the same, I've never had a bad adventure. Most tubing centers charge $15-20 per tube, with free life vests available. There are a few different North Shore tubing centers. My personal favorite is Bogue Chitto Tubing Center, possibly because they sell koozies to folks who've left theirs behind.

2. Don’t plan anything else for your day. Tubing is a day-long event. Although tubing itself is only a two- to four-hour event, the whole shebang will end up occupying most of your day. Aim to leave early since, as group planning goes, a 10 AM ETD often yields an 11 o'clock departure, with Suzy Q wanting to stop on the way for a Subway sandwich and John Doe asking to run in Winn Dixie to buy the beers he forgot to pack. It takes about one hour to reach Bogue Chitto, and once you arrive, you must stand in line, sign wavers, undress and wait for a bus to drop you off at the tubing departure point -- easily another hour of time. And, when deciding whether you want to do a two- or four-hour trip, do keep in mind that you must return to the tubing center by 7 PM.

3. Bring a cooler and beverages. There’s nothing more sacrilegious than floating down the river without a drink in hand (or your in-tube cup holder). You'll be able to store your arsenal of beverages in its own separate cooler tube ($5). Remember that there are no Styrofoam coolers or glass allowed on the river.

4. Snacks. There's something about being in water -- even if you aren't actually swimming -- that whets the appetite, so to speak. Prepackaged foods (or foods that can withstand water) are ideal since splishing and a-splashing abound. For snacks that you can enjoy in your tube: Think string cheese, fruit, and granola bars. For more involved eating that you can do on the banks along the river, think pre-made sandwiches (in Ziplocs, of course) or, for the children in all of us, Lunchables.

5. Don't forget a waterproof camera. As much as you want that enviable Instagram pic for all those suckers sweating it out in New Orleans, do not bring your camera. However, if you absolutely insist on bringing your phone (FYI you won't be getting service out in the middle of the river), please do yourself a favor and store it it in a plastic bag or container.

6. Bring your shower radio. Music makes everything better, and it's about time you got your $99.99 worth out of that Sharper Image gift.

7. Prepare (and be glad) for an afternoon rain shower. It always makes sense when people dash out of the river to avoid the rain -- I mean, it's not like they're already wet or anything. Enjoy the reprieve from the sun and continue floating on down the river. No need to panic as long as there isn’t thunder and lightening.

8. Leave your keys behind. If they fall in the river, you're never getting those babies back. Most tubing companies hold your keys for free, so there’s really no excuse if you find yourself locked out of your car and home at the end of the day. (Keep your wallet in the car; the river is equally unforgiving to submerged money, IDs and credit cards.)

9. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Apply early and apply often. I can’t tell you how many severe sunburns I’ve seen as a result of being out all day on the river. I also recommend bringing a hat and cover-up shirt if you are someone who burns easily.

10. Pack a towel and dry clothes. Because no one ever said, "I can't wait to sit in a soppy mess for an hour-plus car ride."

Get to planning, as most tubing centers close for the season after Labor Day.