Saturday, August 3, 2013


We like to travel.

When my children were younger we occasionally took a two-week vacation after Labor Day weekend.  Tourist areas are not crowded since school is back in session and the only other vacationers are usually retirees or families with preschoolers.  This is my favorite time to travel.

How did we do this without breaking the bank?
 I confess, we did mostly camp.  When we first began we had a large tent; later we bought a pop-up camper.  

We did not go to a destination and stay for two weeks.  Oh, no!  We took major road trips!  We loaded up the van and the kids and took off.  On several of these trips, we traveled with my parents - in separate vehicles.  This was nice because sometimes one of the children would ride with them, which was a special treat for the child.

However, we didn't just take off without plans.  You have to understand that I am a planner.  We had a plan.  We knew where we were going and when.  We have gone to the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park; California, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons; Kentucky and Pennsylvania; and south Texas to Mustang Island.  We have camped in some wonderful state and national parks.  

We have had some amazing 'field trips'!  Sad to say, my younger children have not really experienced this.  Once the older children got involved in fall sports and other activities, we didn't take fall vacations anymore (but I wish we had).

What are the logistics of being on the road for two weeks?

1.  Plan: know where you want to go and how far you will travel each day.  This will be determined by the place you want to camp.  Some national parks take reservations up to a year or more in advance.  Be sure to check, you don't want any surprises.  Plan any hotel stays, as well.  We sometimes did stay in a hotel, depending on where we were or how far we were traveling on a particular day.

2.  Pack: as the mom, you usually are packing for everyone except your husband.  Plan (make a list) what everyone will wear every day.  One packing tip that I found helpful when I packed for long trips - put each day’s outfit in a gallon Ziploc bag.  So, for a 14-day trip, you would have 14 bags for each child (unless you do laundry at some point- which I usually did.  Each bag would contain a top/bottom/underwear. When you are ready to go to the camp showers, just grab a bag and go.  Since we like to leave very early in the morning (my husband is a morning person), I would dress the children in their day clothes (not pajamas) to sleep in.  We would put them in the car about 3:30am, and when they woke up they were dressed for the day.  Worked for us!

3.  Meals: this is where you can save a lot of money.  We rarely ate out on our trips.  If we did, it was usually breakfast or lunch, since these meals tend to be cheaper.  I always packed an ice chest.  Since we did leave early, by the time we stopped for breakfast, we were 4-5 hours down the road, but the children were just starting their day.  We preferred to stop at roadside parks or town parks for breakfast.  This not only saved us money, but the children could run around and play instead of sitting in a restaurant.  For breakfast, yogurt and cereal or granola, fruit, hard boiled eggs, or even pbj!  This is a much more kid-friendly way to eat when you travel.  We liked to picnic like this for lunch, too.  Usually by dinner time we were at a campsite and would cook an evening meal.  Starting early had the advantage of stopping early, too.  We could drive for 12 hours and still be camping by 4 o'clock.

4. Car Activities: everyone does get a little tired of driving for 10-12 hours a day, even with meal stops.  I planned car activities as well.  This was before cars with video players (yes, I'm old), but I would encourage you to limit screen time in the car.  If you are glued to a screen you are missing the point of traveling across the country!  

Travel Bingo: you can buy these, but I made some for one of our trips out west.  I wanted the pictures to be specific to things we might see.  It is like a regular bingo card except there are pictures of things you will see.  For example:  since we were traveling west, I might have mountains or cactus on the bingo card.  Also green or blue highway signs.  Different animals - dog, cow, horse, buffalo. I covered the cards with clear contact paper so they could mark of the squares with washable marker and the boards could be reused. The kids enjoyed this.  You could have little prizes for the winner.

License Plate Game: find license plates from different states.

Also, the Alphabet Game or find different colors of vehicles.

We also took our school work and did that in the car.  The children needed something to do anyway, so we kept up with our lessons while on the road.  If they were old enough to write, I had them keep a journal and/or draw pictures.  

And this was all great fun until they got older and more involved and then we didn't go on vacation anymore.  Sad day.  Until one day, my oldest daughter graduated from college and my husband realized we hadn't been on a family vacation in a long time and pretty soon the children would be scattered and maybe we couldn't go on family vacation anymore.  So, we decided to plan a vacation.

But, nobody had two weeks to spare because of work or school. Nobody wanted to drive and camp and drive and camp.  So, what's a mother to do?  Find a way for our family of nine to vacation without breaking the bank.  And so I did.

I discovered vacation rentals by owner (VRBO  We rented a 4 bedroom house two blocks from the beach at Ft. Morgan, Alabama.  This turned out to be a great way to vacation with a large family.  We rented the house for the week, which was way cheaper than a hotel.  (Did you know that the limit in a hotel room is 5 people?)  The house had a washer/dryer and a fully equipped kitchen.  Once again, we were able to do our own cooking and save tons of money.  We spent the time together as a family - going to the beach, playing games, cooking, and just being together.  We discovered our new way to family vacation.  Since staying in Ft. Morgan, we have taken several more trips and used VRBO.  Each house and location has been different, but we have never been disappointed.

This portion of my family hiked up the back of Pike's Peak when we stayed near Colorado Springs. How's that for a field trip!

A camper cabin is a step up from a tent or camper.  This one was air conditioned. This is near St. Louis at the Katy Trail State Park.  We had fun riding the bikes on the trails.  Another great field trip as it was near the Louis and Clark Museum.
Vacation rental near the Buffalo River in Arkansas.  I love to see the family playing games on our vacations.  Notice how large this room is.
This is what was one block from the house. 
The VRBO on the Pacific Coast.  Another great house.

 I have discovered that you can find deals or make deals for vacation rentals.  My husband and I were planning to go to Lake Tahoe to visit my oldest daughter.  I looked at a lot of options for renting a small place in Lake Tahoe.  I chose 2-3 and emailed the owner.  I outlined what I was looking for, how many and what ages (adults) would be staying and asked what kind of deal they could give me.  I knew, according to my research, that there were quite a few vacant places at the top of the mountain (off-season ski resort).  I received a couple replies and offers.  So, if you are going somewhere off-season and it looks like there are a lot of options, make an offer.  You never know what you will get.

This was a huge 5 bedroom house

Lake Tahoe house, 1 block from the lake
 I also found a huge discount through Craigslist the next time we were going to Lake Tahoe.  I happened to be looking at the San Francisco Craigslist since we were staying in that area, too.  I found a huge house deeply discounted that was also listed on VRBO (but the discount wasn't).  Once again, it was off-season by the lake and this smart homeowner would rather have a discounted rental than none at all.

So, check for deals and make offers!

Do make time to vacation with your family and make memories!

What are some of your best vacation memories and/or travel tips?

This post was shared at Cornerstone Confessions 


Courtney said...

Hi Karen,Courtney B. this post. We vacation a lot like this but haven't heard of the VRBO thing (although I knew this kind of a thing existed).I will have to keep this in mind for future uses...we also tend to vacation during the fall or even the winter.

Road tripping (and camping) is definitely the way we prefer to do it and can't wait for the days when we can RV it and have more freedom.

No matter how much I avoid too much technology I love having a smart phone to quickly make online reservations at a discounted price or use the gps to just get us there.

Driving in late at night to New Jersey on our ten year anniversary trip (where we intended to stay and take a bus each day to NYC) we decided on the spur of the moment to navigate our way to Time Square. Once there it was both exhilarating and frightening. We quickly looked at the lights and skedaddled back over the state line. We felt so out of place but it is now a favorite memory of mine.

Got to go do more vacation planning now...where would you not miss were you to take your whole family to NY state?

karentrina said...

Courtney, definitely check out vrbo's sometime. I don't have a smart phone, but definitely take the gps with us. It was a lifesaver when we went to San Francisco this past spring.
Love your Times Square story! We avoid the big cities as much as possible, but will go in for a day trip- my grown kids like the city and there are some interesting museums and stuff there.
We have never been to New York State, but I would probably scope out the Adirondack Mountains. Would have to do some research to see what I would not want to miss. I bet there are some great state parks in New York and on the way there. Can I tag along with you? :-) We did go to Pennsylvania when Nate was a baby. Daniel Boone 'country' (TN) has a fun state park and fort that our kids liked.

karentrina said...

Correction: Kentucky, not Tennessee for Daniel Boone.

Linda said...

September is our favorite time of year for vacations. We've been to many places you mentioned and you've shared some classic travel tips. It really is do-able, and so enjoyable!
Thanks for sharing your experience and memories with us.
Stopping by from Titus 2sday

karentrina said...

Thanks for stopping by, Linda. As hot as it is this year, October or November might make good vacation times!

9peasMom said...

I am loving your blog Karen - We have done these very things, especially when I had a pack of small children and just like you said we don't do it as often now that we are involved in sports and other commitments (you've reminded me to rethink this). I also leave EARLY and pack breakfast and lunch to eat at rest stops along the way, it helps the kids be better travelers when they can get out and run for a while. We always stop some place for dinner though, which is one of the treats of traveling!

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