Find Your Park

What is your favorite National Park?

It is the most common question I get asked when talking about our summer trips to the National Parks.   And it’s not an easy one to answer.   We’ve now explored 38 of the 59 U.S. National Parks.  Take a glance at my 13 Summers page to see a list of all U.S. National Parks and the ones we’ve visited to date.

The National Parks really do offer something for everyone.  We’ve all seen the vivid colors of calendars and screensavers, and the sprawling vistas advertised on TV.  Do you dream of exploring the rocky heat of the desert or climbing great mountains or of getting lost in the deep woods?  Do you want to fish in pristine rivers?  Photograph rare wildlife?  Explore a dark cave?  Or just stare up at the worlds tallest trees?

The thing is, having a relationship with nature, and with America’s Parks, takes more than just looking at someone else’s pictures, or watching a carefully filmed advertisement on TV.   Knowing nature is experiencing nature.  When people ask me to pick my favorite park, I don’t necessarily think of the ones that were the most beautiful.  I think of the ones where my experiences there were the most memorable.

I love the Grand Tetons because of the time we went kayaking in Jackson Lake, and the weather was so perfect and the mood so right that we pulled up to a rocky beach, stripped down to our under-roos and went swimming underneath the shadow of the great mountains, and the afternoon is a memory full of the shimmering laughter of the kids.

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I love Glacier because of the amazing 12 mile round-trip hike to Grinnel Glacier.    It was their longest hike yet, and they completed it in spectacular fashion.  We ate blackberries on the way up, we soaked our aching soles in a glacier lake, we rested our eyes on a disappearing glacier, we even saw the tail end of a grizzly on our way back down.  And at the end of that long day we feasted at Many Glacier Lodge and watched the sunset behind the mountains.  It was a most perfect day.

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I love the North Cascades because I remember the many fun hours the kids spent on the rope swing at the floating Ross Lake Lodge.

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I love Olympic because I watched my young children form streams and build rock dams on the river edge and play make believe with their stuffed animals in the middle of the Hoh Rainforest.

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I love Guadalupe Mountains because of the great adventure we had camped on a desert hillside in the middle of the frightening thunderstorm.  We had nowhere to go unless we drove out of the park, and we hid out and played cards all night to take our minds of the cracking thunder, the soaking wet tent falling down around us, and the lightning flashes we saw flash in the night.

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I love Big Bend because of the memory of my kids rolling in the mud on the banks of the Rio Grande and playing mud monsters to everyone that walked by them.

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I love Padre Island because we watched the sea turtles get released at sunrise and make their way to the great wide ocean.

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I love Bandelier because of adventure of climbing all those ladders over mountains of rock, and then later the memory of our tent finally collapsing and we had to throw it out in the middle of our trip.

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I love Haleakala because of the moment we all watched the sunrise above the clouds, hand in hand.

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I love Isle Royale because of the memory of the last three miles of our 44 mile backpacking trek across the island – we are all so sore and beyond exhausted, and then my entertaining son played his Gollum character and laughed us all the way to the end.

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I love Zion because of the moment we had on the top of Angels Landing, looking down into the great valley and around at each other, and I remember thinking about how strong and determined my children are, to achieve something like this at their age.

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I Love Joshua Tree because it was the very first park of our very first trip, and nothing warms my heart as much as looking back on those photos of the kids all those years ago, laughing and playing together in nature.

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Yes, it’s hard to pick a favorite park.  Maybe impossible.  But that’s a GOOD thing.  There are so many beautiful places waiting for you to see, and there are so many adventures out there, waiting to be had.  Remember, the National Parks are Your Parks.  Don’t forget about them.  Don’t make excuses not to go.  Don’t watch them through screens and photographs.  Just pick one and get there, and you’ll find that it’ll become your favorite too.

There are many more stories to share, and many more parks to show you.  I have some posted around this website, others are waiting to be published, and I’ll continue to share them here as I have time.   You can check here for some sample road trip itineraries.  Also, follow the links in the categories list on the right side of the page to find articles about parks in different U.S. regions.

If you’ve been to any NPS lands in the past year you’ve probably seen some sign of the Find Your Park campaign, launched in celebration of this year’s 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service on August 25, 2016.  The NPS was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and today manages over 400 land sites.  Yellowstone was America’s first national park, established when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill to establish it in 1872.  Visit the www.findyourpark.com website to find hundreds of stories from park visitors as well as other information for visiting the parks.

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Maybe find your park tomorrow.  In honor of Martin Luther King, entrance into all National Parks is free on January 18th.  Take a hike, create a memory, laugh with your family, and maybe you’ll find your favorite park too.

Happy Trails,

~Cassie

 

Categories: Family Life, Planning and Packing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing Our Newsletter!

As this beautiful summer draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on another epic (and exhausting) family road trip!  I feel like I’ve slept more hours in the last two days than I had in the previous 17.  It’s been glorious… but I’m recovered and now looking forward to the start of another school year.  Don’t you just love the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, scotch tape, and fresh notebook paper?  Their excitement bubbles as the kids pick out school supplies and try on new jeans.  All their hopes and anticipations for the next year are etched on their smudge-free faces as they label supplies and pack their new backpacks over and over.  It’s lovely… and fleeting.  By the time the days have cooled and the leaves have changed, the old apathy sneaks back in, and this momentary window of indefatigable purpose  is over.  So in the meantime, I embrace the optimism of September,  set a few new goals, make a new schedule, and recommit myself to the energy I had at the New Year.

In this spirit of new, I’ve made a few updates to my webpage by upgrading to a new self-hosted site, which has given me more flexibility with features, -not to mention a crash-course education on website maintenance.  In addition to a new cover photo and the social networking links,  I’ve update the 13 Summers page with the parks we visited this summer (we’ve now visited 35 National Parks!), and I’ve added a new Optin form for our new Newsletter!  The Mountains and Valleys Newsletter will be published semi-annually (once in the Fall and once in the Spring),  and each publication will include a free copy of one of my Family Road Trip Itineraries!  If you would like to receive copies of these itineraries to help you plan future family road trips, all you have to do is enter your email address in the ‘Join Our Newsletter’ message at the top of your screen.  The first Newsletter will be published this Fall.

My September goals consist of more writing, being more efficient with the time I spend on work, and realizing that goal weight I set in January.  In the spirit of setting and achieving new challenges, I’ve posted a pic of one of our greatest challenges of this summer’s trip:  hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park!  We made it to the top, and if I can hike that on a hot August afternoon, I can pretty much do anything.

I hope you’ve all had a lovely summer, have had the opportunity of making some great memories with your kids, and are looking forward to the Fall.  Good Luck with all your remaining goals of the year!

Cassie

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2015 – Zion National Park, Angels Landing

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Muddying it Up in Big Bend National Park

I’ve been organizing some old photos from our 2011 trip to the National Parks in the Southwest.  One of the great surprises of this trip was Big Bend National Park.  It may be a one of the lessor-known parks, but we loved everything about it… the smells, the silence, the window views, the wide-open spaces, the hot springs, and of course, the one and only, Ranger Dan.

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But what we loved most?  Playing in the mud!!

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Our hike along the Santa Elena Canyon trail on the banks of the Rio Grande started off ordinary enough.  But then the magic happened.  The magic of what kids do when they have the freedom to just… be kids.  They discovered a particularly muddy bank next to the rock face and the antics began:  the chasing,  the swimming, the slipping, the climbing, the laughing, the playing.  Even my 13 year old daughter had a blast with her younger siblings.

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And when we climbed out of that particular section of the trail, into the wide-open mud-flats along the river, they were actually crawling their way across the bank on their hands and knees, playing mud monsters.   I thought at first the well-dressed Japanese tourists were shunning me and my parenting methods as they watched my children crawl their way back to the car caked in mud from head to toe, but soon enough one of them pulled out his video camera and started recording their hilarious progress.  We were all, adults and children, Japanese and American, sharing the laugh together.

I will never, ever, ever forget that day.  What is one of your favorite National Park moments?

~Cassie

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Categories: Southwest, U.S. Regions | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All the Things I Did Not Know

I’ve now had a week to process the overwhelming amount of information I received at the San Francisco Writing Conference and I’ve realized that I knew nothing about the business of writing.

I didn’t know the importance of having a solid platform, or understand the concept of an author brand, and I didn’t know how to build either of them.

I didn’t know how much time I should be spending on social media.  To this point I have virtually ignored Pinterest and Google + and Linked In.   This is not ok.  I didn’t know how awesome Goodreads is.  I didn’t how important it is that I blog often and consistently. I didn’t know that there are on-line tools to help us manage our social media quickly and efficiently.

I didn’t even really know about blogging, not as I should.  I didn’t know about the 3-Part content strategy, or about conducting inertviews, and setting up giveaways, or the importance of newsjacking.

I don’t know that twitter was such an important tool for business.  Although I have an account, I rarely use it, and most certainly had no idea to post multiple times a day.  I didn’t realize that this platform is quite frequently the pulse of an industry, and that I should be participating in the cocktail party.

I didn’t know anything about MailChimp, much less that I was supposed to be using it on my websites.

I didn’t know about the relationships between writers and agents and editors and publishers.  I didn’t realize that they are looking for you, just as much as you are looking for them.  I didn’t know that they are approachable, that is, if you follow the rules.  Intimidating yes, but approachable.

I didn’t know how to pitch an idea to an agent (or anyone else).  I didn’t even really know what a pitch was!  I didn’t know anything about Queries and Proposals and how they are different from each other.  And I didn’t know when it is appropriate to use each of these things.

I didn’t know that self-publishing could be a very good thing, or a very bad thing, depending on your genre and book sales.

I didn’t know that I could pitch an agent and be successful.

I didn’t know the errors to watch out for in narration and I didn’t know the best ways to use dialogue to reveal characters.  I didn’t know the simple genius of The Plot Whisperer.

I didn’t know to search for my voice.  I don’t have it quite yet, but I’m getting there.

I didn’t know how underprepared I was for this conference – I didn’t bring cards, I didn’t research the agents, I didn’t write a pitch, I didn’t bring “interview” clothes, and I didn’t have any clue about the questions I should be asking.

But more than anything, I didn’t know that I, me, the mother of three/business owner/inconsistent blogger/former science teacher/US traveler/closet writer/obsessive reader/non-techy eighties child could fit into this industry somehow, and feel comfortable finding a place for myself here.  But to quote one of the greatest stories ever written, I think I can.

I now know how much I have to do.  I’ve started a website revision, I’m making an effort to better my understanding of the social media platforms, I have a book proposal to work on, and yes, I’m writing more.  Thank you SFWC and the Marc Hopkins for a fabulous weekend.  I look forward to seeing you next year – with cards.

~Cassie

PS. I also didn’t know how wonderful room service and a glass of wine would taste alone in my quiet room after a few long days of learning all of these things.

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Categories: Family Life, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our Backpacking Debut: Part 1

“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”  ~A.A. Milne

Can we do it?

The question rolled through my head for months.  My family of five on a four day backpacking adventure in an unknown park, two thousand miles away, without experience, and without a guide was a somewhat overwhelming adventure to plan.

But my kids were undaunted.  As soon as I said “backpack” they were assured of their success before I even had the opportunity to convince them.  The challenge exhilarated them, and inspired visions of Alaska wilderness survivors naked and fishing in streams as they built brush fires by rubbing two sticks together.   Thank you reality TV.  However, the adults in the household were teetering on the far side of fear.  My husband had nightmares of kids falling down cliffs and I did the mom thing where every potential danger is magnified to a situation of certain doom.

I mean, we were planning to hike 45 miles!  Someone was bound to twist an ankle, strain a muscle, tear a ligament, or simply collapse under the weight in a fit of tears and irrevocable stubbornness.  Or what if one of them became dehydrated, or suffered heat exhaustion, or got sick from water contamination?  What if we had a bad reaction to the insect bites we were sure to get?  What if we ran out of food, or couldn’t find water when we needed it?  What if we were eaten by wolves in our sleep?  I mean, anything could happen.

And there’s no doubt about it, anything could happen.  But is that reason enough to not do it?  I guess we all need a challenge at some point.  I mean, we’re American, it’s practically part of our moral code.   Eventually, I stopped worrying, started planning, and set my wild fears aside.  We talked safety, we read, and we prepared for the trip of a lifetime.   For in the end, a complete four-day immersion into the incredibly wild and remote wilderness of Isle Royale National Park is worth every bit of effort, and bravery, it takes to get there.

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2014 – Isle Royale National Park, Greenstone Ridge Trail

Getting Prepared

One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.”  ~A.A. Milne

Surprising discoveries are always nice, but not with your kids, in the middle of an unknown wilderness, with no cell service, two days hike from any help.  Be prepared for this trip.

Logistically, you have to think of this almost as planning for a trip within a trip.  Our entire 2014 road trip consisted of 33 days, 8 states, and seeing everything from parks to skyscrapers.   However, more people visit Yellowstone in a day then do Isle Royale all year, for good reason.  It is remote, difficult and expensive to get to, and fairly short on comfortable resources.  Do not expect ice cream shops and clean restrooms evenly distributed across the backcountry.  There are no motor powered vehicles allowed on the island, and in fact, if you can’t walk or paddle to it, you aren’t going to see much beyond the visitor centers.  Everything you need has to be carried in, and out.  However, there are other things infinitely more valuable to be found here:  untouched wilderness, astounding beauty, and solitude.

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2014 – Getting ready to cross Lake Superior!

Here are a 5 tips for getting prepared for Isle Royale:

1. Decide how long you will be on the island.  Spend some time studying trail maps and websites in order to determine which route you want hike and how long you think it will take.  Tally the number of miles you plan to hike each day and where you expect to camp each night.  I chose the Greenstone Ridge Trail, divided among four days.

2. Purchase your ferry tickets as soon as you’ve decided the dates that  you will be travelling to and from the island, as space fills quickly.   Unfortunately, this will not be a cheap park to visit.   Round trip ferry tickets for the five of us cost $700.  Then, you will have to pay a per person, per day, park fee in cash to the captain when you board the ferry.   Our fees came to about $60.

3. Acquire your backpacking gear:  a backpack with water bladder (for each hiker), a backpacking stove and fuel (nobody is gong to carry that huge Coleman double burner across an island), and the water filter are the absolute necessities, each ringing in at about $100.   Also, if you haven’t purchased durable hiking boots yet, now is the time.  Taking care of your feet is the most important thing.

4. Decide everything else you are going to carry in your packs.  I used the Isle Royale backpacking list that is on their webpage, as it is concise and tailored to the conditions on this Island, but you can find packing lists anywhere.  Aside from food, sleeping bags, and proper clothing, these are the things I would definitely not leave without:

  • Bug Repellant – and maybe even a face net.  Be prepared to do battle with an army of insects.
  • A small first aid kit – We used a lot of Cortaid and Ibuprofen.
  • Sandals – being able to remove your boots and wear a pair of sandals around the campsite is your new definition of bliss.
  • Cook pot, cup, and spoon – for boiling water, eating, and hot drinks
  • A plastic bag – for your dirty clothes.  They stink.  A lot.

5. Finally, before you leave home, make sure that everything you need, you’ve acquired, that everything you’ve acquired actually fits in your packs, and that once the packs are filled, every hiker can lift and walk in their pack.  Cheryl Strayed taught us all that this is no joke.  If you wait until you are on the island to pack and lift your backpacks for the first time, you might just turn around and take the very next ferry back to the mainland.

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2014 – Andy’s head net kept the bugs off and made him really happy while hiking!

You will have to make a decision about a tent.  All the really helpful and lovely people at REI will rightfully suggest for you to purchase a backpacking tent because they are very lightweight and take up much less space in your pack.  However, we had already spent a small fortune on this hike and decided to use our perfectly good, extra-large, pop-up, six-person car camping tent instead of buying two new backpacking tents.  We split the poles, the rain cover, and the tent body among our five packs.  Yes, we sacrificed weight and bulk in favor of frugality.  This may be the cardinal sin of backpacking.

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Many of our camp neighbors were laughing at our “huge” tent! ~2014 Isle Royale N.P.

Plan your meals for each day to determine how much food to pack.  We ate our last handfuls of dried fruit at our very last rest on our very last day.  I would advise carrying a little extra.  Instant oatmeal packets were great for breakfast.  For dinner, we split three dehydrated meals between the five of us and found it to be plenty.  For lunch and snacks we carried granola bars, beef jerky, dried fruits, and trail mix.  Make sure to add some M&M’s into your trail mix!  It was very motivating to have that little bit of chocolate during an afternoon rest.  Finally, make sure to carry hot chocolate or tea packets.  Whether it’s the end of the day and the total and complete exhaustion has set in, or a cool morning where you’re trying to get your sore muscles moving, the hot drinks are incredibly warming and comforting.

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2014 – Packed and Loaded:  Four days of gear, food, and clothing for five people.

Should We Practice?

When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure than an Adventure is going to happen.” ~A.A. Milne

Uhhh.. Yes.

Physically getting ready for backpacking takes time, and nothing prepares your muscles and joints for carrying the extra weight through day after day of hiking, unless you do it.

I planned on getting our backpacks and gear by April, and then doing progressively longer hikes together on the weekends with the weighted packs.  Great plan.  Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to great plans.  Extenuating circumstances like travel ball schedules, homework, real work, summer camps, and every other thing that pops up when you have three kids got in the way.  I think we bought our last backpack and pair of boots two weeks before the trip.  In an act of final desperation, the weekend before we left I forced everyone to drop what they were doing so we could go for a hike and at least try everything on.  Predictably, it rained and we couldn’t find the trailhead.   Thank you procrastination gods for that one last lesson in planning ahead.  We were “suddenly” out of time.

Within a few days, the house-sitter arrived, the truck was packed, we drove for 48 hours into the Eastern horizon,  saw a Twins game in Minneapolis, fished in Voyageurs, canoed Boundary Waters, relaxed at the Grand Marais Fisherman’s Picnic, packed our gear, and then boarded the ferry.  We had arrived.

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2014 – Arriving at Windigo!  The before picture.  So very excited for the unknown!

I’ll be back soon with the story of our adventure!

Happy Planning!
~Cassie

 

Categories: Great Lakes, Planning and Packing, U.S. Regions | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

One Week Out

“Let’s have a family meeting!”  my dear son says to me tonight when we are finally all back under the same roof.  Because here we are again.  Just over a week out from another thirty day road trip.  It’s crunch time.  A week for motivation and determination.  A week for preparation.

How do you leave?  How do you pack up a car, turn off the computer, and just drive away?
For a month.

The short answer is this:  You just do.

It’s not that we don’t have a lot of other things that we have to do.  And it’s not that we don’t have a lot of other things that we want to do.  It’s just that of all those other things, we’ve decided that this thing, this one trip, is the priority.  Everything else, and I mean EVERYTHING else, is planned around this one single block of time.  And then we do it.  I stick with the plan.  I don’t change my mind.  I don’t use all the real and valid and reasonable excuses I have to not go, and then not go.  I just keep moving forward every day, until the day we drive out of town.

The long answer is this:  You make a lot of lists.

We leave in 10 days.  My current TO DO list consists of 27 items.  I know… how do I live with myself?  The number 27 is bothering me just as much as it is you.  Do not be alarmed.  I’m positive I will have a cool 30 items on the list before I’m even done writing this blog post.

Although… this is just my “Home” To Do list.  My “Work” To Do list is down right alarming.  The first item states  “1.  Clear All Emails.”

hahahahahahahaha… ohmygod.. bwahahah.  I can’t stop laughing.  lol.. no really… haha.. Ha.  No… wait.  Whatdidshesay?   No emails?   No little red flags?  No bolded unreads?  No “awaiting responses?”  No color-coded follow-up email categories?

Nada.  Nothing.  Empty.

heh… heh..  uuhhhhh… #arethosetearsoflaughter? lol…  I mean… What?

Yeah.  I’m for real.  A clean slate.   If your work is anything like my work, then you get at least 75 new emails a day.  That’s where the bulk of the time goes this last week.  Get caught up.  Wipe the slate clean.  Delegate some new stuff.  Stop procrastinating.  Deal with the tough issues that seem to NEVER GO AWAY and make them go away.  Set your plan for emergency contacts while you’re gone, and write the outgoing message baby.  Yes, we all know the emails keep coming whether you are backpacking in the wilderness or not, but it will be easier to sit down along the way and plow through the new ones if you don’t have old issues lingering on the mind.

And finally, I have the packing list, which I have been diligently creating while driving back and forth across the Cascade Mountains these last couple weeks carting my children to summer camps.  I won’t bore you with the details now, but it is extensive, and currently consists of three separate columns:

1. Camping/Backpacking Gear
2. Clothing
3. Food/Other.

So, back to the all-important pre-trip family meeting.  There is only one thing on the agenda moms:  get them excited.   Excited children (and husbands) help more.  I guarantee that someone somewhere has proven this a scientific fact.  We talk about seating arrangements (Aubrey asks if she can drive, ha) and shopping lists (btw, which dehydrated all-in-one meal is your favorite?), what books we’re going to bring to read (I don’t remember the last trip where we didn’t cart all 7 Harry Potter’s along), and what music we want on our playlists (oh for the love of all that is holy, stop with the country!).  We talk about all the places we’re going to explore (The Great Lakes!), and the people we are going to see (cousins!), and all the things we’re going to do (Segway tour anyone?).  We all wonder a little anxiously if we are prepared for the more challenging adventures (now, the Greenstone Ridge Trail is a beginner 42-mile backpacking trip, right?) .  But mostly, we just build anticipation for another great family adventure coming our way.   Because they are always, always, worth the effort.

I hope to have time to write a blog or two along the route, but considering the number of posts I’ve made since January (zero), I wouldn’t bet the racehorse on it.  You’re busy.  I’m busy.  There’s no reason to list excuses here.   Instead, I will sign off with a little photo of the next National Park the Clemans’ clan will be visiting:  Voyageurs!

Happy Trails Everyone!
~Cassie

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Voyageurs National Park ~ stolen from www.nationalparks.org (I’ll have my own photo in a few weeks!)

 

Categories: Planning and Packing | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Travel the US for $18 a Day

I would like to spend the next few posts focusing on the travel budget.  When we take off for thirty days at a time, we get a lot of questions about how it is affordable.   To be honest, the hardest part is simply carving out the time, which I talked about at length in Thirteen Summers.  Finding the money to take a trip like this is surprisingly achievable, and considering all the usual kids activities and family outings, we often travel for not much more than what our family would normally spend at home over the course of a month.   For today’s post, I want to outline the basic travel budget.

A budget can be the crux or the creator of freedom, entirely depending on attitude.  I tend to look at it from the latter perspective as I believe that the experience of travel is one of the most important things we can give our children.  It teaches them to take an interest beyond their own walls, to look at the world they live in from a new perspective, to gain a better appreciation for the country they live in,  to wander in the wild places,  and to feel the Earth in their soul.  However, there is also no enjoyment in a vacation if you are breaking the bank.  Among all the rising costs of living, rising taxes, and stagnant wages, a budget-friendly vacation is necessary for everyone.  Let’s look at two very different types of vacations.

If I were to take my family of five cross-country on a six night, seven day, what I would call hotel vacation, I would estimate the essential costs for this travel using the simple budget below.

The Hotel Budget…
 ACTIVITY      ESTIMATED PRICE    TOTAL COST
Airfare             $300/person                 $1,500
Car Rental      $30/day                         $210
Hotel               $120/night                     $720
Lunch              $10/each/day                $350
Dinner             $15/each/day                $525

Expected cost for 7 days of necessities is $3,305.
Average cost per day is $472.00.  Average cost per person per day is $94.00

Now let’s look at a basic budget I might create when preparing for one of our road trips.  I’ve replaced airfare with the cost of fuel and dining out with buying groceries.  Also, camping prices vary greatly depending on how many amenities you would like at your site.  A typical forest service or park service campground is only $5-$20 per night, but a KOA tent site can run you anywhere from $30 – $50 per night.  I tend not to use KOA’s often for this reason, but their pools, clean showers, and laundry facilities are enticing, and I will add a few of them into our trips in place of the more expensive hotel option.

The Camping budget…
ACTIVITY      ESTIMATED COST              TOTAL COST
Camping        25 nights (~$20 each)           $500.00
Hotels             3 nights (~$120 each)           $360.00
Groceries       $150/every 5 days                 $870.00
Fuel                ~4,000 mi/18 mpg/$4.00       $889.00

Expected cost for 29 days of necessities is $2,619
Average cost per day is $90. Average cost per person per day is $18.

Yes, you really can take the kids on a month long trip that costs LESS than a typical seven day vacation.   In fact, if we were to travel by air, stay in hotels, and dine out for our meals, it would cost my family five times as much as our camping trips. I look at it as we can spend five times as long travelling for the same price.  If you only have the time to take your family on a 7-Day trip, the camping budget will start you at $630 per week instead of $3,305 per week.  And if you have the time to take your family on a  fourteen day vacation, the camping plan gives you a starting budget of only $1,260, which is pretty reasonable for a family of five for two weeks!

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2012 Trip – Our trusty tent and minivan in the dusky shadow of Devils Tower National Monument, WY

Next, you will want to estimate the costs of your extra activities, or the things you actually want to do while you are travelling.  Hiking, playing at a beach, going to a ranger talk, fishing, playing games in the woods, or having a picnic in the park are all wonderful activities that don’t cost anything extra.  This is just one reason we do a LOT of hiking on our travels.

However, travelling is also about participating in the cultural activities of the area you are visiting.  You may want to eat some authentic traditional cuisine, or go to a famous theme park nearby, take lessons to learn a new skill, or see a museum that showcases an important piece of history.  I’m not saying don’t do these things just because they cost extra cash.  In fact, by saving money on our essential travelling expenses, we have more to spend on the special activities that make our trips unique and memorable!  In the table below I’ve compared average pricing (again for my family of 5) on some of the typical types of activities that we do on vacations.

ACTIVITY                     ESTIMATED COST         TOTAL COST
Kayak/Canoe Rental    $20/2 Hours                    $40
Gardens/Museums       $15/Person/day              $75
Motorboat Rental          $100/Day                       $100
White Water Rafting     $60/Person/Day             $300
Six Flags Entrance       $60/Person/day              $300
Disneyland Entrance    $100/Person/day            $500

I’ve provided a complete budget, including the extra activities, in the itineraries I publish.  Although our trips are focused on getting to the National Parks, I think its important to explore other cultural and recreational opportunities in the area.  When else would you have the time to see the infamous Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, raft the Rio Grande in New Mexico, walk the pathways of the Japanese Garden in Portland, take the kids to the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, eat TexMex in San Antonio, learn to windsurf in Corpus Christi, or ride the waves at Schlitterbahn?  As expected, these day trips do add a considerable expense to the total budget of your trip, but by saving money on travel and lodging we are able to fit them in.

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2011 Trip – Rafting the Rio Grande in New Mexico

No matter what your budget is, the most important thing to do is to plan it ahead of time, and then stick to it while you travel.  Fit in the extras  when they are possible, but remember that it costs us virtually nothing to explore by foot our countries greatest of treasures, our National Parks.

Happy Planning!
~ Cassie

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A Southwest Road Trip Itinerary

I am excited to be publishing my 3rd itinerary!  It’s difficult to think of just one word that sums up the places we saw in the Southwest…  perhaps Vast.  Timeless.  Humbling.  Beautiful.

I will never forget the rock formations of the Chiricahuas which seem forgotten by time and society, but are waiting to amaze you, strewn out in the middle of a lonely desert; or when we ran wild across the endless stretches of dunes at White Sands -a breathtaking, other-worldly experience; and swimming in the hot springs at Big Bend, watching the vast night sky with more stars than we thought possible rotating around us.  It was a simultaneously humbling and exhilarating experience.  Watching the hatchling sea turtles released on the shores of Padre Island at dawn was such an inspiring statement of hope, and somehow you walk away from it with more faith in life.  The Johnson Space Center of Houston reminds you of how far we have travelled, and walking the ruins of Pecos and Bandelier in northern New Mexico reminds you of how very long we have been travelling.  And the Grand Canyon, a place where you can watch millions of years pass by in a single moment of time.  It almost takes your breath away.

You can find and download this itinerary here by clicking on the Itinerary #3 Heading.  I hope you find as much enjoyment and inspiration from this trip as we did.  And no matter where you are planning to go this summer, I hope you are indeed making plans to travel.

Happy Trails
~Cassie

gcanyon edited
Grand Canyon National Park, 2011

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A Cold Night in January

My most favorite time to walk is in the dark of a snowy night.  It’s lovely to step outside my door, shut it to the noise of phones and televisions and music and appliances and instruments and kids, and just be in the quiet that only a snowfall can give.  The icicle needles of the trees gently brush the top of my head, and the crunch of my footsteps is muffled under the soft white piles.  The flakes tumble down, brushing aside even the sound of my breath, and I am alone in a neighborhood full of people, walking the paths under the trees, amazed that such dazzling nature is right here, in my own backyard.

Suddenly a cloud moves, and a single beam of moonlight unmasks the shimmering white beneath and above me, and the world is a blank slate again.  I turn towards home, my mind free of the jumble of daily thoughts, thinking only of the keys at my fingertips, ready to create.  Tonight I write.

~C

January Night

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A Resolution

“Your success and happiness lies in you.  Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”  ~Helen Keller

I really love New Years.  I love the promise of a clean slate and the hope that is foreshadowed in resolutions.  Last year I had 27 of them and  I’m not sure if that means I’m overly-zealous in my resolutioning, or just that I have a lot of room for improvement.  I only accomplished 16 so I’m coming off a meager 60% success rate, but I suppose 16 resolutions met is 16 more than none.  Maybe having 27 New Years Resolutions is a little crazy, but I’m the person with the list-making obsession so it seems perfectly natural to me.

This year I’ve decided on 28 resolutions.  It includes things like writing new stories, posting more blogs (obviously), finally organizing that filing cabinet, making time for more community service, completing the Scrapbook projects (that I didn’t get to last year), practicing the piano more, running a half-marathon, bumping up the college savings, finally setting up a Family Trust, reading Moby Dick,  and of course, planning another National Park Road Trip.

Yes, it’s a long list, but ultimately it all boils down to just one thing…

Be Better.

Somehow, our judgmental natures tend to  label the very optimism inherent in a New Years Resolution with doubt and folly and pessimism, and I’m not sure why.  No matter how many resolutions we fail to achieve, it shouldn’t cast a shadow on the hope of a new year, or on our desire to make change happen, or on our efforts to be better.  It’s ok that we all feel a little more motivated than usual on January 1, and if our lists help us accomplish those goals, what does it matter?  The new year is a great opportunity to shed a little of the cynicism of adulthood and uncover some of the optimism we felt in our youth, walking across that stage with diploma in hand, ready to take on the world.

We all have projects we want to accomplish, places we want to see, books we want to read, career moves we want to make, and health goals we want to achieve.  Maybe this is the year you put it on a list (make sure it’s measurable) and see what you can make happen in a year.

What are some of your new years resolutions?

Here’s to a fabulous New Year!
~Cassie

workspace edited
My lovely new workspace for making it all happen this year!

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