My dad has travelled to several places throughout the world and he’s always said that of all the places he’s been Lake Tahoe is one of the most spectacular, so it’s been on my bucket list for years. Although it meant a significant detour, I really wanted to visit Tahoe. We arrived there in the early afternoon and were blown away by the amazing views. It is truly a magnificent place, but we only had the opportunity to explore a very small portion. The lake is quite large and the water is the most amazing colour. It’s nestled in the mountains, so the atmosphere is serene and relaxing. The plan was to spend a few hours on the beach and then begin our trek back to the coastal highway. We had only been there a short time, when it was unanimously decided that we would all happily abort our original plan to drive the rest of the Pacific Coast Highway, see the Redwood Forest and visit Fort Bragg, in exchange for more time in the beautiful Lake Tahoe. We were lucky enough to find a great campsite and ended up staying the night and most of the following day enjoying the lake. It is the most beautiful, clear, clean lake I’ve ever been to. We will definitely be back to Lake Tahoe. We stayed at D.L. Bliss State Park. The campsites were large and had flush toilets and showers (although not usable because of the drought conditions.) One thing that was different was the “bear locker” in each site. You were required by law to remove all scented items (food, lotions, soaps, chapsticks, sunscreen, etc.) from your tent and vehicle and place them inside your campsite’s bear locker. This was a bit of work, but well worth the effort.
We entered the Lake Tahoe area from the south and then headed up the west side towards Tahoe City. The campground was located just a bit north of the spectacular Emerald Bay. We were close enough to hike to Emerald Bay and did do a portion of it, but didn’t have the time to do the whole 4.5 mile hike each way. Instead, we spent the time relaxing on the campground beach and playing in the water. The water was cold, but nice once you got in and super refreshing. We all loved Lake Tahoe!
Days 20 to 22
The last 3 days were mostly spent on the road. We planned to drive about 8 hours per day and really only stopped for food and gas. We took I84 East to Pocatella, Idaho and then took I90 across to Billings, Montana. Just after Billings, we continued our journey east on I94 to Fargo and then straight up I29 to Winnipeg. We stayed in Twin Falls, Idaho at a really nice Best Western and then camped the following night in Billings at Yellowstone RV Park. It was a little more expensive at $36 (similar to a KOA), but had flush toilets, showers, pool, hot tub, laundry and of course, the crown jewel…..wifi! We had planned to stop for our last night just west of Fargo and then do a bit of shopping before completing the short drive home on the last day. By the time we reached our planned destination, it was still early and we were all feeling excited to get home. We weren’t expecting the shopping to be that great and all agreed it would be worth it to push through and drive the rest of the way home, so we ended up arriving home at 1:30 a.m. on the 22nd day. We had just driven through the “time change” in the last day, so we were still on California time and to us it seemed more like 11:30.
The trip was fabulous, but we were all glad to be home. We were so fortunate to have had such great weather, no sickness or injuries, safe travels and a life time of great memories. We are so blessed!
The 17th day was spent driving up along the breath-taking Pacific Coast. We were on the road most of the day, but the hills, hairpin curves and incredible views captivated our attention, so it went quickly. Of course there were lots of photo opportunities, so we made several “vista stops” along the route.
The highlights of the day included our stop at San Simeon Pier where we spent about half an hour watching the otters play and the humpback whales hunt in the open water close to the shore/pier. I don’t actually have a pictures of the pier. I think Eden edited right out of the photos, but it really is beautiful and there is a beach at the base of the pier. (If you head east, up the hill, you can visit Hearst Castle. Tim and I did this tour years ago and the kids weren’t that interested so we didn’t do it this time.)
I’m not really sure what type of whales these were, but someone said they were humpback whales.
Just a short drive north of the pier, we stopped to see the Elephant Seals basking in the sun along the shore. There are signs that direct you to them, but the area is only a few miles from San Simeon.
Big Sur area is also incredible. There were many spectacular things to see along the road, as we drove through this section of the highway. Our final stop before Carmel/Monterey was at the Bixby Bridge just south of Carmel. It is truly a beautiful bridge, but we didn’t get very many good shots. The drive north was very hazy and this made it really difficult to capture the beauty of the drive.
Besides the haze, I have always been a bit afraid of heights and must say having my kids and Tim explore the views from the unguarded cliff edges had me very uptight and anxious. To be honest, I didn’t expect to be so scared and was taken off guard by the level of anxiety I felt. We snapped a few pictures and a man took a few family photos before I escaped and got back to the comfort of the van. The irrational fear of dying or losing a loved one over the cliff, kind of ruined the moment for me.
We stayed in Monterey for the night, knowing that we would be paying top dollar at a hotel, but that finding a camp spot would be nearly impossible.
We began the day by heading back to Carmel and doing the famous “17 Mile Drive”. Tim and I had done it before, but really wanted to drive it again with the kids. Of course, this is the drive on which you find the famous “Lone Cypress” resting on the cliffs by the sea. They say it is one of the most photographed trees in the world.
The Lone Cypress
The views were spectacular, but none could compare to the site we saw when we pulled into one of the vista points along the highway.
One of the items on Shay’s road trip bucket list was to see some high end cars: a Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bugatti. We had told him there would be many expensive cars on the road, especially in California. He saw two Ferraris and 3 Lamborghinis. (Tim saw more, but Shay often missed them by the time he looked in the right direction.) Although it wasn’t on his list (he’d never heard of it before), he was also lucky enough to see a Maserati on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. We knew the chances of him seeing a Bugatti were slim to none, but he and Tim kept their eyes peeled. (I wouldn’t know a Bugatti if it ran over my toe.) So, we pull into this vista point on the 17 mile drive and what do we see parked in the lot (gaining much more attention than the beautiful scenic views)…..not one, but two Bugattis! Tim and Shay couldn’t believe it! We aren’t sure who the 3 guys were, but they all had Bugatti jackets and hats and what seemed to be British accents. They were really nice allowed Tim and Shay to take several pictures. Shay asked how much the cars cost and was told the new Bugatti is worth $1.5 million and the 1926 model beside it is worth $10,000,000! The guy told Shay, “If you put $5 a day in your piggy bank, you’ll be able to buy a Bugatti when you are about 1000 years old!” I’m not really a car person, but I can appreciate that seeing a Bugatti out and about (not in a show room) is probably a once in a life time thing and seeing a 1926 model is a true privilege. One of the highlights of the trip for the boys! (When we got home we googled it and learned that there was a Bugatti event being held a Pebble Beach when we were in the area. Obviously, these fellows were associated with it.)
As we were passing one of the beaches near Carmel, we noticed many people with their cameras out and they were clearly looking at something along the shore. We got out and once again were lucky enough to witness a “school” of whales hunting/swimming near the shore. It was so neat to watch them. On several occasions, they actually dove up to the surface in unison with their noses together almost like they were performing or playing. At one time, we counted a group of 4 jump out together. It was pretty cool!
We pulled into San Francisco in the late afternoon. It was a cold day and although we had initially planned to do Alcatraz, we hadn’t confirmed our schedule and thus I hadn’t booked a tour. Alcatraz sells out in advance, so we knew we risked not getting tickets if we didn’t pre-buy. In the end, we were thankful we hadn’t bought tickets. I think we were all ready to slow down a bit. Tim and I had done the tour before and the kids were fine with missing it. We did go to Fisherman’s Wharf where we visited the Ghirardelli Chocolate store, took some pictures of Alcatraz Island and the Wharf, and then made the strenuous 4 block hike up the hill to the famous curvy road ~ Lombard Street. We also opted to skip the long line and take pictures of the cable cars instead of riding. This was the one and only cold weather we experienced. It was very windy and cool on the wharf, so our short stay was long enough to show the kids a few of the sights and then we were all happy to get back in the van and carry on. We left the city via the Golden Gate Bridge and managed to snap a few pictures en route.
One of the few disappointments of the trip was the amount of haze there was on many of the days…..especially those days when we were doing the coastal drive. The weather was great, but the haze just meant we couldn’t get really great clear views or photos. Too bad.
We only drove a few more hours before stopping to set-up camp in Placerville, California. We had a nice stay at the KOA there and were up and away in good time the next morning.
We stayed in the Los Angeles area for the following two nights. We had booked a room in Reseda, California which is just north of Hollywood. It was a good location for the attractions we wanted to take in and the prices were significantly less in this area. It was safe, the rooms were clean and the price included a simple continental breakfast.
Day 15: Hollywood Tours
I had pre-booked two Hollywood tours with our “Go Cards” prior to our trip. We wanted to do a third, but they didn’t take advanced reservations. We got up early and headed for the Warner Bros. VIP Studio Tour. It was excellent! All of us enjoyed it. The tour was very informative and although we didn’t have any actual “star” encounters, we thought it was really cool to see some of the props/sets from our favourite shows and movies. There was lots of memorabilia set up for both Batman and Harry Potter, as well as various other shows and movies. We got to see the various Batmobiles used in the movies. The kids got to go on the set of one of the shows they like to watch and we had a family photo taken on the “Friends” set. We sat on the couch in Central Perk in the exact same spot where the cast used to sit and listen to Phoebe sing “Smelly Cat!” So fun!
When we were reminiscing about the trip, Tim and the kids agreed my acting debut in “Gravity” was their favourite memory. At Warner Studios, part of the behind the scenes tour demonstrates how a movie is pulled together from costume design to filming. Near the end, you have an opportunity to get filmed in front of a green screen using props from either Batman, Harry Potter or Gravity. We all went our separate ways and although I wasn’t too keen, I didn’t want to be a party pooper. I chose the “Gravity” scene mostly because I thought it looked easy and there was no line. Once in costume, I quickly realized two things. First, how the space helmet accentuated my overly small head and second how difficulty it is to act when nothing is really happening around you. (It’s all pretend when you are using a green screen.) You can watch yourself on the screen as they are filming the short clip and even though my “director/coach” was talking me through and telling me how to react, by my own confession, it was the sorriest case of acting you’ve ever seen. When everyone finished, we headed to the viewing area where you could purchase the videos/photos of your experience. I told my family how bad mine was, but everyone said the same thing. It wasn’t until my video played that we all almost died in hysterics. I was soooooo bad! In the words of my husband….”Well, let’s just say you’re no Sandra Bullock.” We had lots of fun and my acting expressions/moves became the brunt of many jokes for the remained of the trip. It was super funny! In all honesty, we later regretted not buying my video just because it was so hilariously bad. Fortunately, I think the visual of that awkward “Gravity” scene is forever ingrained in our memories.
The Central Perk set from “Friends”
Shay and the Batmobile.
Ellen’s Office and Studio
After the Warner Bros. tour, we left Burbank and headed to Hollywood Boulevard. I had booked a “Behind the Scenes” walking tour through Red Line tours. It was a one hour walking tour and despite the record high temperature of 103 degrees, it was excellent. Through the tour, we learned about the history of Hollywood with stops at the Egyptian Theatre (where the “Hollywood” phenomenon all began with the first ever movie premiers), the Chinese Theatre (with the hand/foot prints of the stars) and the Dolby Theatre which is home to the Oscars. Did you know the Dolby Theatre is actually located in a shopping mall ~ who would have guessed? Of course, it was also interesting to see our favourite stars on the Walk of Fame and learn some of the history and interesting facts about them. Did you know that anyone can nominate a star, but the nominations are put through a selection process and the stars that are picked are approached to see if they actually want one. Many popular stars have actually declined and do not have stars such as Angelina Jolie, Clint Eastwood, Julia Roberts and George Clooney. They decline for different reasons and although I’m sure money isn’t one of them, it does cost the stars $30,000 to have a star placed on the Walk of Fame.
The courtyard infront of the theatre is filled with the hand and footprints of the stars.
We had planned to take a “Hollywood Homes of the Stars” tour, but it was hot and we decided we’d much rather head to Santa Monica Pier for the evening. We had to have our tickets scanned before the 5:30 cut-off, so we headed over, got our wrist bands for the Pier midway and then headed south to explore Venice Beach. Venice Beach is really something to see. It is a totally different experience than Santa Monica Pier where there is more of an upscale feel. Venice Beach is hard to describe. The beach is beautiful and the boardwalk is lined with little kiosks and it has kind of an artsy vibe. People wander in and out of the t-shirt, skateboard and jewelry shops along the walk. There are also many people set-up along the beach selling their own handmade wares, henna tattoos and various knickknacks. Street performers and buskers are in abundance….some talented, but many not. You never quite know what to expect. We were captivated by one street performer, who despite his foul language, was hilarious and attracted quite a crowd. His “talent” was stepping on and lying down on broken glass. It wasn’t really the act of bravery that captivated his audience, but rather the hilarious delivery leading up to the actual performance. We also were witness to one of Los Angeles “Snapchat” highlights for the day. Police had cordoned off an area around a bicycle on which a swarm of wasps had made themselves at home over the course of the day. So weird! We loved Venice Beach and all the people we encountered.
This is the street performer that captivated us with his humour and ability to step/lay on a pile of broken glass.
One busker created this sand sculpture along the boardwalk.
Too funny….the talents were many!
Eden got a Henna tattoo.
This was very wierd and attracted lots of attention. There were hundreds of bees attached to this bike.
After a few hours at Venice Beach, we headed back the few miles north to Santa Monica and enjoyed a full evening of fun on the Pier. The Pier is always really “rockin”’” with the midway rides and the various street performers lining the pier. The wrist bands are around $28 for adults, so again, it was nice to have this included with our “Go Cards”.
After several days of being on the go, we packed up the van, checked out of the hotel and decided to only do one attraction on our final day. We all felt a bit done. We headed back to Hollywood and did the Tour of the Homes of the Stars (by LA City Tours) that we skipped the day before. I had just done a similar tour in February with another company (Starline Tours) and must say I found this one to be much better. Our tour guide was very knowledgable and we had way better views of the homes. The tour in February had a very fast talking guide who was hard to follow and the tour mostly consisted of driving by and seeing the hedges that hid the homes. Many of the homes are well protected and hidden, as you’d expect, but surprisingly the tour with LA City Tours seemed much better. We got great views of several homes and upscale communities that we didn’t even pass through on the previous tour. We wanted to take the open top van, but with temperatures soaring, we opted for the 3 hour tour in the air conditioned van. It was comfortable and enjoyable.
Following the tour, we began our journey north. Although we still had a week to go, we had not booked any accommodations for the last leg of the trip. We weren’t sure what time we would get away from LA and didn’t want to rush our drive up the coast to San Francisco. Tim and I had done the Pacific Coast drive many years ago and we really wanted the time to enjoy it without being stuck to a schedule. The trouble with this is that you risk the possibility of paying more for lodging than you would if you were pre-booked. We only drove as far north as Camarillo, California and then decided to shop for a few hours at the outlet mall before settling at a hotel for the night. Again, the shopping wasn’t great, sales were marginal at best and with the poor exchange rate, it just didn’t make sense to do much shopping.
San Diego Safari Park ~ the sparring elephants were quite entertaining!
We purchased discounted tickets online for both the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park. They are affiliated and there is a reduced cost when you purchase tickets for both parks. (They are located about 40 minutes apart.) Tim and I had visited both parks back in 1996 when we travelled to California. We enjoyed both, but especially loved the Safari Park. It has changed a lot over the years and actually there has been so much added on that it didn’t even seem familiar. The animals were active and we especially enjoyed watching the elephants “spar”. Although my memory is not the best, I really don’t remember there being so many “á la carte” options. It was a bit annoying to be honest. They have jungle climbing ropes, a caravan safari ride, a zip-line, a hot air balloon type ride, a biking tour (and more), but all at significant additional costs (Eg. zip-line for $35). General admission is $48, but everything other than the African Tram is at an additional cost. We spent a few hours walking around and then took the African Tram around the park. This is a must, as its very informative and you get a great view of the animals in their “natural” habitats. (Of course, they’re not completely natural, but the purpose of the Safari Park is to help prevent extinction and it plays a major role in helping to replenish endangered species, so the animal’s habitats are created to closely replicated their natural surroundings.)
It was hot and we decided to cut our day short and arrived at Oceanside Pier by early afternoon. We still had a few great hours to enjoy the beach. The kids had a blast riding the big waves with their boogie boards. In all honesty I found it hard to get great ocean pictures as we were always facing the intense afternoon sun.
Today was a planned beach day. We really loved Oceanside Pier, but with so many beaches to choose from we thought that we should try something different. We ended up going to Moonlight Beach at Encinitas. It’s a lovely beach that sits in a bit of a cove. Again, the kids had lots of fun playing in the waves and I enjoyed relaxing on the beach. Although I kept a close eye on the kids, I did feel a bit more comfortable with them having boogie boards strapped to their arms. Both our kids swim well, but swimming in the ocean is a very different experience and I felt a bit uneasy. Boogie boards are certainly not life saving devices, but the ocean can be unpredictable and I felt better with them having the boards. Tim is a great sport and spent time lots of time in the water with the kids. I found it a bit cold and was happy to just wade in when I got hot and then head back to the beach to relax.
We were so sad to be leaving the guest house today. We all felt very welcome and comfortable here. The host family was lovely and I know our kids would have loved getting to know their kids better, but our time with them was limited as we were always on the go.
We packed up and began our journey north up the coast. We used our “Go Cards” and spent the day at Knott’s Berry Farm Soak City. Although the day ended well, our visit to Soak City was a disappointment. The park was packed and when I say packed I mean …. busting at the seams. To make matters worse, it was the most inefficiently run water park we’ve visited and we’ve been to several. There was only one lifeguard per post and they were responsible for six slides. They had riders wait behind a chain and then allowed six new riders to enter together, once the previous group had left, completed the slide and safely exited at the bottom. When you entered, they quickly reviewed the rules and even asked each rider if they had read and understood the park safety regulations. Needless to say, the lines moved super slow. We only stayed 3 1/2 hours because of this. In that time, we left the wave pool because there were too many people, avoided the single tube slides because it was virtually impossible to get a tube. (Although they are “included” in the park entry fee, there is an option to rent tubes to use all day for $10. Clearly this is what most people do because the number in circulation to be used with your general admission is minimal at best.) Tim and Shay made it through the lines of four rides while Eden and I only made it to three. The pavement was so hot it actually felt like your feet were burning. The slides and facilities were good, but the management was poor ~ too many people, not enough guards and a poor system for getting slides through the lines. We’ll never go there again. As well, you need to pay $17 to park and the rental of the smallest locker was a whopping $14 for the day. Overall poor value, but because we did it with the “Go Card” we didn’t feel completely ripped off. Despite this, it was hot and still nice to be near the water 🙂
By Day 9, we were ready for a bit of a break. We decided to pick-up some groceries and hang-out at the guest house pool.
On Day 10, we were up and at it early. We had planned to spend the Day at the San Diego Zoo. It was voted the #1 zoo in the world on Trip Advisor and is really quite spectacular. It’s huge and there’s lots to see, so it meant for a long day of walking. It was overcast in the morning, so the heat wasn’t too bad until the afternoon. We had pre-purchased our tickets online. (It is always better to buy ahead as the gate prices are generally escalated.) The zoo parking is free (Bonus!) and it was only a short trek back to the van for lunch. We took our own water bottles with us and were able to fill them up at the water fountains in the park. The animals were quite active and we were able to get lots of great pictures.
The 11th day was spent at Knott’s Berry Farm. Knott’s Berry Farm is an amusement park that is just south of LA. It was about an hours drive from Vista, but we were all ready for a day of fun. We had a bit of a lazy start to the day and didn’t get there until 1, but stayed until well after dark. We had a blast and the lines weren’t too long, so we got to do everything we wanted. We were so proud of the kids, as they rode on all of the roller coasters with us. Tim and I love rides and it was so nice to have the kids overcome their fears and join in the fun.
Los Angeles Go Card Review:
When planning this vacation, I was really trying to figure out how to make it affordable with the Canadian dollar being so bad. After a lot of number crunching and research, I ended up purchasing each of us a Los Angeles Go Card from Costco. We bought “4 day passes” and basically this enabled us to visit as many attractions as we can in 4 days (within a 14 day period). The catch is that you have to use the card for entry before 5:30 p.m. To make the cards worth the money, you really have to take in more than one attraction in a day (at least once). For example, an adult 4 day card is $246.99 Canadian.
The above equals $238.95 US ($309.91 Canadian). We are actually doing all three Hollywood tours on the same day. That means, we have one day at Knott’s Berry Farm, one day at Soak City (we can also walk across the parking lot before the 5:30 cut-off and spend another evening in the Knott’s amusement park if we want) and a third day doing the Hollywood tours. We haven’t decided what we are going to do on the fourth day. Our card includes entry to Six Flags, Universal, Santa Monica Pier as well as about 3o other attractions. You can see this was a great option for us. Just in the three days, we’ve already saved about $63 per person ($251.68 savings between the four of us) and this is not including the attractions we take in on the 4th day. You do have to weigh this out based on what you want to do, regular gate prices (and advanced online) and how many attractions you can fit it. It may not always be economical. I think the biggest savings was reflected in the Costco price in Canadian dollars, as the price was not that much more than the US price on the Smart Destinations Web site (Go Card). They don’t actually sell a 4 day pass on their site, so it would be somewhere between the 3 and 5 day cost, keeping in mind that these are US prices. So you can see that $246.99 Canadian is a pretty good price. With the current conversion rate, the $190 3 day pass converts to $246 Canadian, so essentially you are getting the fourth day for free!
It’s always important to do your own research and determine what works best for your family. For us the “Go Cards” proved to be a huge savings.
After checking out of the hotel, we stopped by an outlet mall to do a little shopping. We picked-up a few things, but with the dollar being so weak, there weren’t many deals good enough to make it worth shopping.
By early afternoon, we were on the road and headed for Vista, California. We rented a pool side guest house from a family through VRBO. The pictures on the website reflected a cute little pool house with all of the basic amenities. It’s always a little nerve racking when you rent through sites like VRBO or airbnb because there is always the fear that the pictures make it look way better than it is or that the property is located in the middle of a very bad area or worse yet, you are renting a place that doesn’t even exist! It “feels” a bit risky, but the pay off can be fabulous. It is suggested that you don’t pay with cash and that you speak directly to the owner, as a safe guard. Also, read the reviews…they speak volumes. (You usually have to pay up front and that can be scary. We paid with Visa as there is some insurance through our card.)
We were so excited when we arrived and found that the quaint little guest house was even better than the pictures revealed. The property is located at the top of a hill and we have great city views. We felt super safe and almost a bit “remote”. They have a gate yard and we were able to park on the property which was a huge bonus. It was very clean and the owners gave attention to even the smallest of details. It was extemely economical and offered great value. The decor was warm and cozy and beautifully decorated with a cottage feel. We loved not only the house, but the host family was very friendly and welcoming.
We actually arrived after dark and it was so cute with little white lights on the front deck.
Sitting area off entry.
During the day, the cottage is super bright as it has lots of natural light.
Fridge and pantry in front “sunroom” area.
The guest house is small, but super quaint and perfect for crashing at the end of a busy day. In the listing it says it accomodates up to 3, but the family was fine with one of the kids sleeping on the floor. We had our camping gear with us, so it was nothing to set Shay up on the floor and he was really comfortable there. His entire set-up slid right under the bed, so we didn’t have to pack it up during the day. Eden slept on the couch. For us, the size was not an issue, but it would be perfect for a couple. We are totally self-contained with a full kitchen and access to the pool. We booked 6 nights here and are really enjoying having a “home base” for the week. Vista sits about 30 miles north of San Diego. It is located close to the coast and is a pretty central location for visiting San Diego and other attractions along the southern coast.
Vacation Planning Tip:
*Finding a place with a full kitchen is really important when you are trying to travel on a budget. For extended vacations it really makes sense. I can’t really say that we have eaten super healthy, as we do end up purchasing some convenience foods that we would not normally purchase at home. (Who wants to slave over a hot stove when they’re on vacation?) However, it allows us to stick to a pretty tight budget of $50 US dollars per day for food. That may not seem like much, but it is actually quite attainable. We brought some food along with us and purchase groceries every few days. Unlike home, you are not purchasing any extras, only what is needed for the next day or two. We always have breakfast at “home”, pack a lunch and then dinner really depends on what we’ve been doing and when we get home. Because it begins to cool off and get dark pretty early in Southern California, we’ve been home in time for dinner almost every night. We’ve really only gone out once so far on this trip and that was in Vegas for Tim’s birthday. Even with that splurge, we’re actually still about $75 under budget right now. This nice thing about being able to cook at “home” is that you have extra money in the budget for those nights you want to eat out. It all balances out in the end.
The seventh day of our trip was action packed and long. We planned to make quick stops at both the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam en route to Las Vegas. We started the day by making the short 10 mile drive to the Grand Canyon Village which is located along the south rim. We all agreed that we just wanted to have a quick look and move on. We parked the van and hiked from the Visitor’s Center to Mather Point. Although we had to pay the park entry fee the night before ($30 per vehicle), you do not have to pay to do the self-guided tour of the rim. There is a walk way around the rim and the 30 minutes we spent on the short hike was more than enough considering the temperatures were over 42 degrees (108). The view was incredible and the size of the canyon literally too big to comprehend.
Hoover Dam is located just outside of Vegas (45 minutes from Planet Hollywood where we were staying.) Again, we had no desire to do the full tour of the dam, but did want to stop and show it to the kids. Tim and I had visited the dam years ago and it really is something to see. This attraction costs nothing if you avoid the paid parking lots and skip the tours. We first entered from the Nevada side and stopped in a free parking lot off to the right just after the check stop. You can then climb the stairs (or ramp) up to the bypass bridge. The bridge has a walkway and offers a perfect vantage point to view the dam. We then got back in our van and drove over the dam. It’s pretty hard to see from a vehicle, so we parked and walked back to get a view looking down from the dam itself. Again, the size is quite incredible. There is paid parking right after you cross the dam, but just beyond are several free lots. The walk from the parking lots wasn’t that far (about 5 minutes) and was down hill/stairs, but in the heat it really seemed like the walk that would never end. By the time we reached the dam, the kids and I were completely done. The heat was unbelievable. Tim overheard someone say the temperature was 118 degrees (48 celsius) on the dam. Tim does much better in that kind of heat and seemed relatively unbothered. He kindly offered to make the hike back up to the van and then drive back down and pick us up from the dam.
By the time we reached our hotel in Vegas, we were all ready for a dip in the pool. The kids were blown away by Vegas, and Tim and I were both amazed by how much it had changed since we were there several years ago. It is like sensory overload. After a swim, we had a much welcomed shower and headed out for dinner. It was Tim’s birthday, so we splurged on a nice dinner even though we were travelling on a limited budget. After a lovely dinner, we walked the strip for a couple of hours and turned in around 11. I was down for the count before my head even hit the pillow. Tim tried his luck at the casino, but failed in his quest to hit the big one on his birthday. After a good nights rest, we all woke up feeling very appreciative of common amenities like beds and water, after spending a week tenting.
After weeks of planning….its finally here, our 2015 road trip! This trip was really difficult to plan and I spent endless hours scouring the web for accommodations and attractions that were within our means. Travelling in the states when the dollar is so bad, really makes it necessary to budget carefully. In the end, I think we have quite a trip planned with lots of spectacular sights to see and adventures to keep it fun!
Days 1 to 3: Winnipeg, MB to High River, Alberta
The first 3 days of our trip were spent at a family reunion in High River, Alberta. We arrived around dinner time on Friday night, just in time for a family wiener roast. The weekend was packed with visiting and everyone had a great time re-connecting. My mom’s side of the family has had several losses in the last few years, so it was great to gather on a more positive note.
Most of the reunion events were held at the George Lane Memorial Campground. The facilities were great and the group camping easily handled the 100+ people in attendance. We wanted to camp with other family members at the reunion and thismeant we needed to bring our gear along on the road trip. The Canadian dollar has gotten so bad over the past few months, that we decided to do a combination of camping along with the other accommodations we’d already booked to help offset the poor exchange rate.
The campground is situated next to the Highwood River and the kids had lots of fun riding the mini-rapids on their boogie boards and skipping rocks in the shallow depths near the campsite. Shay did some fishing, but didn’t get so much as a nibble.
Although we have tented for years, I must say I was a bit apprehensive about tenting on this vacation. It meant we had to pack all our gear and take the chance of encountering poor weather each night we set up.However, we agreed that tenting would certainly help make our 23 day vacation more affordable. We decided to take only our basic gear and leave everything that wasn’t necessary, at home. To make the set-up easier, we left our queen sized air mattress at home and purchased two more of the self-inflating mats. This made a huge impact on the set-up and pack-up times. Without the hassle of blowing up the air mattress and setting up the gazebo and camp kitchen, we had our tent set-up and beds made in 23 minutes. (I think it might actually be shorter than checking into a hotel and unloading the luggage.)
Day 4: High River, Alberta to Rexburg, Idaho
We got up early Monday morning to the sound of light rain…every tenters worst nightmare. We skipped making breakfast and packed-up as quickly as we could . With the tent only slightly damp, we dismantled the camp and were on the road within an hour.
It was a long day of driving, but the scenery was spectacular during much of the journey. We enjoyed the beautiful rocky mountains as well as a variety of other landscapes. There were lots of photo ops which Eden and I both loved! Between the odd bit of construction work, bathroom breaks, stops to fill the gas tank and the scenic bypass we added near the end of our trip, the anticipated 9 1/2 hours became 11 1/2. The kids were great and despite the length our spirits were high. Eden’s road trip playlist kept us going!
The highlight of this drive was definitely Mesa Falls which was located on a scenic bypass just of Highway 20 near Yellowstone National Park. The falls were spectacular and well worth the extra time (about 45 minutes) and $5 entry fee.
I had spent about 80 hours researching this trip. With the dollar being so bad, it took me longer to find affordable lodging and the most economical way to purchase attraction tickets. One of the resources I discovered was www.freecampsites.com Our first stay in Rexburg, Idaho was found through this site. The site allows you to search a location and then find free and low-cost sites that suit your needs. One thing I found was that camping in or near small towns is generally cheaper. If possible, avoid the touristy areas and prices are much better. Beaver Dick Park was located 5 miles west of Rexburg. The park is situated next to a river (forget the name) and is very well maintained. The sites are well-developed, with gravel parking pads, grass tent sites, fire pits and picnic tables. There are several sheltered picnic areas and the park is really quite lovely. Although you can’t make reservations, we came prepared knowing that there were only vault style toilets and no running water. We had a lovely site and Shay was able to do a bit of fishing while we were making breakfast and packing up. Overall this was a fabulous campground for $5 per night ~ clean, well-maintained and scenic. Although there was no water and the toilets were only vaults, there were several bathrooms scattered through the small park for convenience. I would highly recommend this campground, but be aware of the limited amenities.
*We passed through a small town called Ennis, Montana while travelling south on Highway 287. It is just north of the Montana/Idaho border. Although we didn’t have time to stop, I would definitely take some time to explore this little town if we’re back this way again. The town store fronts had an “old west flare”, but not in a tacky way. It seemed really quaint and worthy of checking out. It was nestled near the mountains and really piqued my curiosity. Too bad we were already running behind schedule and had to pass through without stopping.
I’m going to apologize up front. This post is super long and that’s why it has taken me an eternity to get it up. I’ve tried to really give you a sense of all that can happen in such a short time when embarked on a well planned road trip. The map gives you a quick look at where we went, so you don’t have to scroll through the entire post if you’re not interested. If you find a location that interests you, scroll down to see if there is anything we found or learned that can help in your own planning.
In August 2011, our family embarked on a 19 day road trip. We travelled across 22 states in our old 1999 Dodge Caravan.Our round trip took us across prairies, through rolling hills, and vast greenery to the Eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean.We passed through the Appalachians, the swamps of Louisiana, the dry Texas plains and the beautiful Ozark mountains.After 9600 km and almost 100 hours on the road, we arrived home with memories that we’ll cherish for a life time. Of all the vacations we’ve taken as a family, this is the one that stands out for all of us. The endless hours we spent together in the van talking, laughing and listening to music were truly special. Of course, we did many cool things while away, but our time on the road was just as valuable and memorable as the excursions.
We stayed in 9 different locations along our route and spent extra time exploring many of the cities and towns, we stopped in. Below is a list of the places we stayed along our route.
Beckley, West Virginia
New Orleans, Louisiana
San Antonio, Texas
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
We left Winnipeg, Manitoba early on the first morning and drove to Albertville Outlet mall. We stopped and spent a few hours shopping before continuing on to our first destination. We arrived at the Oak Park Inn Bed & Breakfast in Whitehall, Wisconsin.Linda was an awesome host and the inn was very quaint with beautiful gardens surrounding it. The inn is certainly not posh, but it’s super quaint, clean, family friendly and very affordable. We enjoyed our stay and the hosts so much that we stayed with them again in 2013.
We left Wisconsin and enjoyed a beautiful drive through the hills and forests of Wisconsin. I especially loved seeing all of the beautiful old barns that were speckled through the country side. The architecture of many of them was quite different from what you would see in Manitoba. We continued our journey to Worthington, Ohio. This was one of the few places where we stayed in what you would consider your “run of the mill” hotel room for the night. After a long day of driving, we crashed for the night at a Holiday Inn.
The next morning, we got up and ate a good breakfast before making the short trek to Columbus, Ohio where we spent all day on at the Columbus Zoo. This zoo was made famous by former zoo director, Jack Hanna. It was an incredible zoo and an experience that will never be forgotten. Believe me, it was like no other trip to the zoo.
It was a very hot day, but despite the heat, the animals were really active and entertaining. Tim had a “stare down” with a gorilla that had major attitude and it “flipped him the bird” not once, but twice! The polar bears put on quite a show during a mid afternoon down pour and engaged in an impromptu diving contest. It was so amazing and fun to watch. The red masked mandrills were quite entertaining as well. Let’s just say they provided a live display depicting exactly how babies are made!! The Columbus Zoo certainly did not disappoint … it was quite an adventure and a day full of laughter.
We ended the day by clocking up another few hundred km. Adding a few hours of driving at the end of a long day may seem a bit crazy, but it gave us a chance to reminisce about the day and relax after spending hours on our feet in the hot sun. It also alleviated a few hours of drive time from the following day’s journey. This was one of the few nights we didn’t pre-book as we weren’t sure how far we’d make it after a long day at the zoo. We ended up finding a hotel room in Beckley, West Virginia.
We continued our drive through the gorgeous mountains and lush greenery of West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. We were intrigued by the many signs along the road for Lewisburg, WV and decided to make a pit stop and check out the town. Although we didn’t spend much time there, we drove down the main drag and a few of the residential streets. The town exudes character and was voted on of the coolest small towns in America. If we ever travel this route again, we would be sure to make the quaint town of Lewisburg one of our destination stops.
We ended day 4 in Savannah, Georgia. We had pre-booked The Marshall House, an incrediblehotel located in the historic district of Savannah. It was built in 1851 and most of the original structure has been preserved.We were awe-struck by the hardwood floors, original doors, mouldings, staircases, etc.It was our favourite hotel of the trip!!
That evening, we went out for dinner and enjoyed a beautiful dinner on the waterfront. It was my first time eating Fried Green Tomatoes….mmmm good! On our way back to the hotel, we came upon a street party celebrating the 92nd birthday of Leopold’s Ice Cream. Of course, we couldn’t participate in the festivities without actually trying some of their famous ice cream. Delicious.
Days 5 and 6:
We spent the next two days exploring the city. Savannah was established in 1733 and its history is reflected in the incredible architecture.The layout of the city is also very unique, as there are “town squares” every few blocks. The squareswere once business hubs, but now mostly serve as parks. The kids had a blast running through the fountains in Ellis Square. It was really hot, so the cold water was very refreshing! We also took a guided tour of the historic district in a horse-drawn carriage. It was really interesting to learn about the history of Savannah and some of the homes that are around 200 years old. Crazy!! It is a beautiful city and was a definite highlight of our vacation.
A short drive from Savannah is Tybee Island. We set off early so that we could spend a few hours at the beach before taking off for our next adventure. The kids loved playing in the waves from the Atlantic Ocean, but unfortunately Eden’s retainer was swept away in all the fun!
We left Tybee Island and drove about 4 hours to Cape Canaveral, just in time to board the Orlando Princess for four hours of deep-sea fishing. We had signed up for the Florida Groupon and were able to pre-buy the tickets at a great price. The ocean was very calm when we left, but a few hours in, we got caught in a squall. The waves were huge and at times the boat seemed to stand almost vertically before crashing down the other side of a wave. It was a super rocky boat ride, but somehow we all dodged sea sickness and it only seemed to enhanced our adventure! Of course, the most memorable part was when the “boys” made their big catches and solved the dinner problem for the next few nights. Tim caught a delicious mackerel and Shay hooked a shark! We got to keep both, but had to toss back the numerous other fish that were deemed too small to keep.
We drove the last leg of our trip and arrived at our condo in Kissimmee, Florida late in the evening.
Days 7 to 14:
We had rented a condo that would serve as our home base for our week stay in Florida. During our time in Florida, we did a variety of touristy types of activities. We had taken the kids to Disney twice before, so although we did spend one day enjoying the parks, it was not the highlight of our trip. Here is a bit of a summary of what we did.
We spent the day at Aquatica, and on this trip everyone was “big enough” to try all the watersides. Our kids love Aquatica and deem it their favourite water park. What fun!!
The next two days were enjoyed at Universal Studios. Eden was more cautious and opted out of most of the thrill rides, but Shay was more adventurous and joined us on most of the coasters and other attractions. The water rides were a big hit with the whole family, as the days were very hot. Despite the crowds, the lines moved quickly and both days were great fun!
We decided to take a day to enjoy the pool at the condo, shop Downtown Disney and go miniature golfing at Pirate’s Cove. We had a great time golfing, and Tim and I reminisced about the first time we had golfed there, about 20 years prior. I must admit I had the most fun because I waxed Tim and the kids!! (I’m very competitive.)
We could only squeeze in one day at Disney, so we splurged and got park hopper passes. The kids participated in the Jedi training at Hollywood Studios. We hit all of our favourite thrill rides at both Hollywood Studios and Epcot. It was a long day, but great fun!
Our last day in Kissimmee was spent at the Discovery Cove all-inclusive resort. We spent the day snorkelling and swimming with a variety of tropical fish, stingrays and of course, the highlight, dolphins. We got tomeet Kylani. She had great personality and enjoyed our hugs and kisses! Kylani’s aunt (a full grown dolphin) let us hold her fin and took us for a ride. It was a truly awesome experience and a day we’ll never forget.
After a wonderful day at Discovery Cove, we got back on the road to begin our return trip. We stayed at the John Denham House in Monticello, Florida. The home was built in 1872 and oozes with character.We had a peaceful sleep in the infamous “blue room” despite the fact the home was named the “2nd most haunted place to sleep with a ghost” in USA Today. The 12 foot ceilings and massive pocket doors made Tim look like a dwarf in comparison.
We drove along the Gulf coast and saw first hand the lingering devastation of “Katrina” (2005) along the deserted shore.We arrived in New Orleans on the 6th anniversary of the hurricane.
Once in town, you couldn’t help but enjoy the music and excitement of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. We stayed in the beautiful Hotel Monteleone which was built in 1886. Tim and I had Po’boys at Mother’s and of course, we stopped for coffee and beignet at Cafe du Monde.
Days 16 and 17
From New Orleans we headed West to San Antonio, Texas, where we spent two days.We stayed at another lovely bed and breakfast – Bonner Garden.This grand Italian Villa was built in 1910.During our stay, we spent time in the private pool, took a guided boat tour along the famous river walk, and visited The Alamo. Bonner Garden was a great place to stay, but I understand it has been permanently closed.
Days 18 and 19
We began our return trip by driving north through the Ozarks to Eureka Springs, AK (one of our favourite places). I’ve added a link to the Eureka site, but if you Google Eureka Springs images, you’ll soon see why we love it! I first heard of this quaint one of a kind town in the early 1990’s. Tim and I stopped there for the first time over 20 years ago and instantly fell in love with it. I think this was my fifth trip through Eureka Springs. I absolutely love, love, love Eureka Springs. For more on Eureka Springs, check out this article. Of course, we stopped at Bubba’s BBQ for their famous ribs before heading to our hotel. (If the truth be told, this is one of the reasons we stop here.) To be honest, the hotels we stayed in were not really that nice, but we were doing the “historic” theme and decided to try two iconic Eureka hotels: the Basin Park and Crescent Hotel. They were fine, but would probably stay elsewhere next time. There are many lovely choices in Eureka Springs.
Eureka Springs must be one of the quaintest towns in North America.It is nestled in theOzarks and the streets and buildings are built right on the side of the mountain.The town is very old and each and every building tells a story of long ago.It is home to many artisans, and the main street is lined with unique little boutiques.We spent our day getting “old time” family photos taken, visiting the Thorncrown Chapel and “Quigley’s Castle”, shopping, eating at “The Dog house” and having the best dessert ever at “Peace, Love and Cheesecake”. The town is just so cool…lush trees, hilly townscape, incredible architecture, character homes and unique boutiques and eateries…..it really has it all. In fact, Eureka Springs would make a great road trip destination as there is so much to explore in the area.
Basin Park Hotel
A scrumptious hot dog from Star’s Dog House.
From Eureka, we headed to Kansas City, where we spent several hours shopping at the outlet mall. We came back to the van to find a note under our wiper that said, “Go Jets Go! from a fellow Manitoban”.We had an awesome burger at FIVE GUYS and then continued driving to Sioux Falls, SD.It took much longer than expected because sections of the interstate were still closed due to spring flooding.We arrived in Sioux Falls very late and got a room for the night. We tackled the last 7 1/2 hours the following day, and arrived home around 5 o’clock on the 21st day of our trip.
Despite the many hours spent in the van, the memories and experiences have been unparalleled to date. There was so much packed into those 3 weeks. Again, I say to you…..take the plunge and plan a road trip. There truly is nothing like it. For more information on why road trips make the best family vacations and the steps to planning a successful trip check out my previous posts.
In 2011, our family embarked on a fabulous 17 day road trip. I’m pretty organized and must say that the thought of spending endless hours in the vehicle with two young children both excited and terrified me. At times, I thought the whole idea was ludacrist, as we couldn’t seem to make it across the city to piano lessons without a royal battle commencing in the backseat. We had been on many 4 hour drives to my hometown and although the kids did occassionally “fight”, it seemed like scooting around the city was more of an issue than when we were in “vacation” mode. I was cautiously optomistic, but the teacher in me decided that the best way to ensure survival was to plan lots of activiites for the van. I can honestly say I must have spent about 50 hours or more planning this trip. Some of the time was well worth the effort, but some was an absolutet waste of time. Let’s just say I learned a lot from planning that first big trip.
At the time, our kids were 9 and 7. They owned iPod shuffles that had their own music on them, but did not own or have access to any kind of “device” to occupy them with video games, so it was up to me to figure out how to fill the 100 hours we expected to be on the road. Yep, that’s right 100 hours, (10,000 km) in 17 days! Our days on the road averaged at around 7 to 8 hours per day, but we did do a couple of 11 hour days as well as some short trecks as well. The trip was packed with long days of travel, pit stops and lots of adventure.
Planning the travel details like the route, places to stay and major attractions was well worth the time and effort. Likewise, the bit of research I did about the 22 states we travelled through kept us entertained and counting down the miles to the next stateline. The kids were intrigued by the fun facts and trivia we learned along the way. I also think it helped that the places in which we stayed were in some way intriguing in and of themselves. We stayed at several Bed & Breakfasts, many of which were historical homes with lots of history. The kids enjoyed meeting the owners and learning about the homes and towns we visited, just as much as Tim and I did. I really strived to stay away from the hotel strips and find quaint little towns or neighborhoods within the areas we wished to stop.
On the flip side, the crate full of activities I researched, made, purchased and collected was for the most part an absolute waste of my time. I had travel bingo games, card games, sketch books, books to read and numerous other activities. The crate full of “time killers” was big, took up lots of room and was virtually untouched. I totally underestimated my kids. There were exactly two conflicts/meltdowns on the trip….and both were after long days during our week stay in Florida (not on the road). There was not one single dispute or complaint during the entire drive. I did make the kids passports with the intention that we would collect ticket stubs, stickers, etc. along the trip to add to their passports. I thought this was a great idea (and still think it is), but we honestly just kind of forgot about them, as we were too busy having a great time! The sketch books and maps were the two things the kids used.
11 Steps to Planning a Successful Roadtrip:
Mind Set ~ set the stage for a positive road trip. Although we planned to spend one week of our vacation in Florida, we never talked about our trip in terms of a “trip to Florida”. It was never about the destination, but rather the adventure of being on a road trip with many stops and adventures along the route. I think this really helps to eliminate the “how long until were there mentality”.
Map out your route and make copies for the kids. Our kids loved highlighting our route as we travelled and enjoyed filling in points of interest and personal memories on their own maps.
Take a GPS. If you don’t have one, it really is a must. We visited lots of little towns and it was so simple to find the addresses of the Bed & Breakfasts with our GPS. I assume most people have one or access through their phones, but it really is a necessity if you don’t have one.
Take your vehicle in for servicing before you go. Be sure all the fluids are full, tires are in good condition and that your vehicle has been completely checked over (especially if its an older vehicle).
Find interesting facts about the states or areas you plan to travel through. We passed through 22 states in 17 days. As we crossed each state line, I would share some interesting facts about each state. The kids’ favourites were learning what famous people live in or came from a particular state, town or city. They also loved the crazy list of 3 or 4 state laws I managed to did up. These took the form of “Did you know it is illegal to _____ in _____?” (For example, “Did you know it’s illegal to cross the state line with a duck atop your head in Minnesota?”) Of course, there is a website completely dedicated to sharing dumb laws, so its pretty easy research and lots of fun for the whole family. Another favourite was learning about popular foods or “dishes” in certain states. Whenever possible, we tried to sample some foods that were either grown in or unique to certain areas. (Like the Fried Green Tomatoes and Peach Pie in Georgia or a Po-Boy Sandwich in New Orleans. Mmmm.)
Try to plan your stops ahead of time. This gives you a goal for each day and by pre-planning, you don’t have to worry about finding a decent place to stay. We wanted to maximize our time at our stops, so we planned a few long driving days. This allowed us spend more time in the places we really wanted to explore. My husband loves to drive and he was more than happy to do all of the driving. Pre-booking your accomodations can also help the budget, as there is nothing worse than breaking the bank on an unplanned expensive hotel stay because you’re in a “pickle” and can’t find anything else.
Entertainment: We did have a DVD player in the van, but our kids only watched one movie, twice. We were going to visit Universal Studios and neither of them really knew the Harry Potter series, so we bought the first movie for the trip. We took a whack of others, but they were too engrossed in the trip to watch movies. Go figure? There was no “shut-eye” either. With so much to see everyone was wide awake. Eden did not fall asleep once and Shay slept for about an hour on the last leg of our 100 hour road trip. Now that’s a road trip!! I loved that they did not have video games. We spent the entire trip listening to great music (from a pre-made iPod playlist with great tunes both old and new) and talking. To this day, the kids will often have a road trip memory when they hear a song from our playlist. It was facinating just to watch the change in topography as we travelled from state to state . We literally saw mountains, hills, plains, ocean, beaches, dessert, and forests – it was amazing! The architecture was also intriguing. One of my favourite memories was of all the incredible barns we saw when we exited the interstate to make our way to our first Bed & Breakfast in the little town of Whitehall, WI.
Try to break-up the trip with some longer stops along the way. We really found that having a “fun” destination after a long day or two of travel kept everyone excited. After your stop, try to rattle off another couple of hours driving before stopping for the night. This helps to cut the driving time on some of the other days. Everyone is tired from the day’s activities and more than happy to sit and relax in the van for a few hours before calling it a day.
Of course, you need to budget. Although you aren’t paying for flights, you will be paying for gas, lodging, food and entertainment. Depending on the nature of your holiday, we found that if you spend wisely on some days, you can afford to be more extravegant on others. For example, amusement park tickets are expensive, but the beach is free (other than parking). Planning ahead really pays off. Many park passes and attraction tickets are cheaper to buy online. Try to avoid paying escalated gate prices.
Take a cooler. Plan snacks and food for along the way. Make sure you bring condiments like salt & pepper, mustard, ketchup and butter with you. We had a variety of fruits and healthy snacks to munch on, but also made wraps or sandwiches for lunch. On long travel days, we would sometimes breakdown and hit a fast food drive through for dinner, but this only happened a few times. Packing healthy snacks and food is super important. No one feels good if they’ve spent days on end in the car eating Cheetos and McDonald’s. This will save you money, prevent sugar lows (moody kids) and keep everyone feeling well. It also makes those occassional ice cream pit stops a highlight for the whole family.
Plan some activities for the kids. Again, speaking from experience, don’t over do it. Of course, this totally depends on the age and interests of your kids. Our kids were 7 and 9 at the time of this trip. If I were doing it again, I would take prepared maps, sketch books, writing and colouring tools and a chapter book each. I might also bring a couple of trivia type games or car bingo that we can all play. Movies are a good idea, although my kids weren’t interested in watching them. One thing I would suggest is some kind of a small tub and pouch to keep their things in one place. Here is an example of what ours looked like. The pouch was picked up at the dollar store and rigged it up to attach to the front seats. It kept all of their pens and markers. (This little tub sat between them and worked well. You can’t see the huge red crate with all the other activities that they didn’t even touch.) It’s Always Autumn has a great post with 20 awesome road trip ideas and there are also some great ideas on Frugal Family Times. There are many great resources on the internet, so don’t bother reinventing the wheel – it will save you lots of time and energy.
Balance is Key:
When you are planning a long vacation, you really need to create a balance between high and low cost choices. The sacrafices you make some days will allow you to go all out on other days.
Have each family member create a list of what they would like to do on the trip. Compare the lists and try to come up with a plan that balances out the inexpensive and more pricey activities.
The same can be true for meals and lodging. When we reached Florida, we rented a condo for the week. Often renting for 7 days is less expensive than paying a nightly fee. The condo also allowed us to save on food. We ate breakfast at the condo and usually packed a lunch in a cooler before leaving for the day. (Some parks will not allow coolers, so research this first.) For dinner, we did a combo of eating in and out. Little things make a big difference. For example, you could order pizza for $30 or more, or pick-up frozen pizza for under $10 to throw in the oven after a long day. You may not feel like preparing big meals, so consider simple short cuts and convenience foods like “salad kits” or canned spaghetti sauce. This may not be the way you would shop at home, but it can save you both time and money. Try to think about buying groceries to create meals that are both easy to prepare and at least somewhat nutritious. Those store roasted chickens are another great meal. For $10, you can have dinner and possibly enough leftovers for lunch the next day. It really is worth thinking through the possiblities for easy meals before you go (or while you’re on the road), as it really beats the expense of eating out everyday.
Again, renting a place with a kitchen is a great way to extend your money when you’re on a long vacation. The other thing to consider is booking your single or two night stays at places that include breakfast. We did try to stay away from hotel chains, as we were really looking for unique experiences. Whenever possible, we stayed at either Bed & Breakfasts or historic hotels that were built in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. Bed & Breakfasts can be very elegant and expensive, but many are very affordable. The nice thing is that there are nearly always plenty of reviews to help you figure out what is the best fit for your family. When travelling as a family, we are basically looking for B & B’s that are safe and clean with great hosts. You can often get a feel for the hosts through the reviews. When we were booking in 2011, I was using a site that had a “family friendly” filter. Many Bed & Breakfasts are designed for adults only. If you go to www.bedandbreakfast.com, you will first want to put in your destination, dates and number of guests. Once you press search, a button for + Advanced Search will come up. You’ll want to click this and under the ammenities, select “children welcome“. This will save you lots of time as it will only give you properties that welcome families. Bed & Breakfasts are a really great way to learn about the places you travel and connect with people. We love sitting around the breakfast table and chatting with the hosts and other travellers from around the world. So interesting! The best tips and information generally come from the locals and B & B owners will often offer coupons or discounts for local attractions. I just love picking their brains ~ “If there was one thing we must see what would it be?” You often get insider tips that aren’t even in the travel brochures!
If you want to know more details about our 2011 road trip from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Florida via “the scenic route” check-out part two of this post. The post will include the route, stops, lodging and attractions we took in. Stay tuned.
If you have never taken your family on a road trip, do it. The bonding time and memories from that one trip far out weigh those from our trips to the Dells or Disney. It is truly a chance to unplug and intimately connect with your family. Conversations go deeper and life gets a whole lot richer within the confines of a car!