Large Family Traveling Logistics – Stretching the Dollar

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Trip of a lifetime!

On the final day of my family’s vacation out west we drove from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to our hotel in Las Vegas.  It was bittersweet, because it was essentially the beginning of our journey home. The long, monotonous drive lent itself well to a time of reflection.  What worked well?  What would we do differently?   Traveling with nine children (plus a babysitter) from our home in Savannah, Georgia, to Las Vegas, then traveling 1650 miles through unfamiliar territory was a logistical challenge. My husband said many times that all the family vacations that went before this felt like practice for “the big one”.  But in the end we felt that this vacation was a resounding success!

I want to share with you some of the factors that we took into account as we planned our journey, and the decisions that we made.  Few families look like my family, but I hope that you will be able to glean some advice that you can apply to your own family’s adventure. In today’s post, I am considering matters of economics.

Stretching the Dollar

1.  To fly or to drive?

For our family to drive from Savannah to Utah, tour nine days, then return, would require approximately three weeks.   During those three weeks my husband would not be earning any money, yet would be paying out large sums for gas, food, and accommodations for twelve people.  We would also have to rent a van, because our plans included using a babysitter for five young children while older children went hiking, and our passenger van only holds eleven.  For our family, it was cheaper to fly.

Eight of the eleven

2.  Airlines and their specials.

Commercial airlines are suffering financially, and seem to be making every effort to squeeze out the last dollar from paying customers.  Because of competition between carriers, specials pop up all the time; you can not predict them or rely on them.  A great buy today may be eliminated tomorrow.

My husband purchased eleven economy tickets from  Delta Airlines.  With a little research he discovered that by getting a Delta credit card, we could check up to nine pieces of luggage.  Nine pieces!  Delta currently charges $25 per ticket per bag to check luggage one-way!  So this little special saved our family $450, and made our lives much easier.  I do not know if Delta is still running that deal.  My point is that a little sleuthing can uncover savings opportunities.

Oh, and ALWAYS print off a paper copy of whatever special you are participating in.  These things pop up and disappear so quickly, and few things can be as frustrating as getting that “deer in the headlights” look from the clerk at the airline check-in counter.

3.  Hotels with complimentary  breakfasts.

It costs time and money to take twelve people to a restaurant for breakfast every morning.  As often as possible we reserved rooms in hotels that provided breakfast.  Because of the level of activity that we were undertaking each day, it was so valuable to make sure the children were well provisioned each morning.

4.  Pack a lunch.

One of our first stops after arriving in Las Vegas was to go to a grocery store and purchase staples for lunch.  Our typical mid-day meal consisted of peanut butter and nutella sandwiches, apples, pretzels, and water.  Between meals we supplemented with crackers and granola bars.  While it was a dull diet, it was filling and nutrious and allowed us to travel through remote areas, not worrying about meal times and restaurant availability.

Shopping at chain grocery stores was always more economical than small markets near the parks.  I observed that the price of items like granola bars actually tripled near park entrances.  Backpacking staples, like trail mix or tuna, were outrageous!

Remote but beautiful

5.  Sit down to satisfying supper.

At the end of the day we usually ate at a restaurant where we could sit down, enjoy a satisfying meal, recount the day’s adventures, and talk about plans for the next.  I do not feed my children fast food, which is neither satisfying nor inexpensive.  Even though the areas we traveled through were quite remote, we typically found family restaurants near our hotels.  The closest we came to fast food was eating sandwiches and salads at Subway one night.

6.  Purchase the Interagency Family Pass.

For $80 you can purchase an annual family pass for entrance into the national parks and monuments.  I would not have known about this had the man who rented the van not told me.  It is not well advertised. It is also called the “America the Beautiful” pass.

Priceless views at Zion

7.  Join a natural history association!

Each national park gift shop we visited partnered with a natural history association.  If you purchase a membership to that association, you get discounts at other gift shops that cooperate with the association.  For $35 we purchased a membership to Bryce Canyon National History Association.  We were given four posters, two mugs, some pins, and 15% off our purchases.  It did not take many t-shirts later for that membership to have paid for itself.  Furthermore, we were able to use it at Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Arches, and the Grand Canyon.  (Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park, and not part of that network.)

With my oldest son at Canyonlands

 

Our trip out west to the Grand Canyon and other national parks was not inexpensive.  It was, in so many ways, the trip of a lifetime.  My husband and I got to revel in the natural beauty with all of our children before our oldest children leave home.  And we got to see our youngest children delight in the creation.  I do not know how much they will remember, but I hope that I will never forget!

Baby girl loved sliding down rocks

Comments (1) Jul 14 2011

Arches

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Traveling with children.
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North Window

 

Arches National Park is like a glamorous diva:  drop dead beautiful, photogenic, and oh so moody.  One moment she would grace us  with a bright blue sky, then moments later her mood would darken, and we would hiding from rain, or worse – hail.  Then her  mood would change and we would be treated to a glorioius rainbow.

 

 

 

Pea-sized hailstones

Soothing rainbow

Another rainbow

Threatening storm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We never knew there could be so many varieties of rock formations and erosion, and Arches presented us with yet another variation.  In so many other parks we visited the layers of rock  were stacked vertically, like layers of birthday cake.  The rocks of Arches were stacked horizontally, like slices of sandwich bread. Gaps eroded between the slices of rock and  formed slot canyons.  Then the softer insides of the slices eroded away to form an arch.  Just like so many rejected sandwich crusts!

Rocks arranged like bread slices

Slot canyon on Sand Dune Arch trail

Sand Dune Arch

Delicate Arch is the most famous and recognizable arch in the park.  It graces the Utah license plates and countless t-shirts and mugs.  Delicate Arch can be viewed from a distance from a moderate, yet short, trail.

Delicate Arch viewed from Upper Viewpoint Trail

Boy on rock - happy combination

To actually hike to the arch is a different path altogether.  Although only a three mile hike, it is considered strenuous because of the slickrock and elevation gain.  I am glad we got an early start so that we had a moment “alone” with the arch before the crush of hikers!

My big girl in the Framing Arch with Delicate Arch in the distance

Slickrock hiking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delicate Arch

Landscape Arch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A man told me that he was staying in a bed and breakfast inn owned by fifth-generation Moabites (Moab is the charming town that services Arches).  He was told that Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch were accidentally misnamed when their labels were switched many years ago.  But I also heard from another source that the “mislabeling” story was just legend.    But when I compare the arches, I am inclined to believe they were misnamed.  Add to that the fact that twenty years ago Landscape Arch dropped about 180 tons of rock from its lower edge while a handful of hikers looked on in terror.  That seems rather “delicate” to me.

In addition to the arches, there other interesting features.

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock is enormous, unusual, and unsettling.

Petrified dunes

There are breathtaking vistas of petrified dunes, with the snow-capped La Sal Mountains in the distance.

Park Avenue trail

Park Avenue, a moderately easy two-mile hike was enjoyed even by the littlest child.

Ancient petriglyphs

And also we saw petriglyphs.  But honestly, as a mother who has cleaned way too much Sharpie marker off of way too many walls, petriglyphs never impress me much.

Making his own sand dune arch.

For my three-year-old son, Arches National Park left an impression.  Making his own arches is now a hobby for him.  With one simple bite his bagel becomes an arch.  His banana is an arch.  Rip a danish in two, bite out the cheesy center and there you have it!  Another arch.  I hope that as we share our experiences together, looking at photos and recounting our memories, that we will be able to make this experience a lasting impression.

 

Even my baby girl enjoys the view from the North Window.

Comments (0) Jun 11 2011

Return from the West

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Travel, Traveling with children.
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Utah landscape

 

The lush green trees of Savannah were a welcome, familiar sight to our family as our plane landed at the Savannah airport.  We had returned from our grand tour of the west, and it had been a great success.

 

 

In nine days our family of eleven visited seven parks, most of us hiked more than seventy miles, and we traveled in our rented passenger van 1650 miles through breath-taking and awe-inspiring landscapes.  It was a trip we had dreamed about for years and years.  It was a trip we had procrastinated for years, too.  There was always a good reason for delaying it, but we felt like this was the year to tackle it.  Even though our youngest children may remember little of the trip, our oldest son is almost twenty.  Already he is making plans and interviewing for internships that will prevent him from returning to our home next year during his summer break. We needed to make this trip a priority before any of our baby birds left the nest.

My "big boy"

My "baby girl"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My husband took care of the logistics.  He made the itinerary, planned the route,  and made reservations.  He felt like every other family vacation was just practice for “the big one”.  He executed his plans flawlessly.

We flew to Las Vegas, rented a fifteen-passenger van, and visited the following parks:

Zion National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bryce National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capital Reef National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arches National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canyonlands National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grand Canyon National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to facilitate hiking with the older children, we brought with us a homeschool graduate to babysit the youngest children a few hours each day.  While it may seem unfair that the little ones missed the morning hikes, they really did not mind.  Remember, my children have been raised without television, so the opportunity to stay in a hotel room and watch cartoons is a BIG DEAL to them.

 

Hiking with the big kids

Outings with the little ones

Easy hikes together

Enjoying the view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With some variation, our daily schedule followed this routine:

1. Older children, husband, and I rise early for a strenuous hike.  We might be at the trailhead as early as 6 a.m. and hike as far as 12 miles.  The little ones sleep in, eat breakfast at the hotel, and watch cartoons with the babysitter.

2.  We return from our hike around lunch time and eat peanut butter and nutella sandwiches with everyone together.

3.  We load everyone into the car and do a “driving tour” of the park we are currently visiting, or drive on to the next park.  Our driving tours involve getting out at points of interest in each park and taking short hikes with all of the children. Most of these hikes were easy to moderate, with distances between 1 – 3 miles.

4.  We eat supper at a restaurant.  We never eat fast food.  Our supper time is an important time as we review our memories of the day and discuss our plans for the next.

5.  We return to our rooms, just in time to put tired little bodies to bed.

My husband’s plans were well-organized, but not rigid.  We had the flexibility to add to his plan a trip through Monument Valley and a tour of the Hoover Dam.  He referred to numerous guidebooks as he planned our route, but they could not substitute for a trip to the visitor’s center to speak with a park ranger about trail conditions and recommendations.  (Park Rangers are a resource that must not be overlooked! And besides, I think they are among the nicest people on earth.)

The Three Gossips - Arches NP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To say that the rugged landscape is “vast” is an understatement.  It is really hard to describe what we encountered without overusing words such as “awesome”, “amazing”, and “splendid”.  We did take more than 1200 photographs and I hope share some of these with you, that you, too, may marvel at the mighty workings of the Lord.

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.  Psalm 65:8 ESV

Sand Dune Arch



Comments (1) May 31 2011