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

Canyonlands

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Traveling with children.
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Canyonlands

Canyonlands seemed  otherworldly.  I hiked up onto a sandstone dome  called Whale Rock and I turned around and around, gazing as far as my eyes could see.  Except for the small section of parking lot visible right below, I could see no other signs of human activity.  If the national park system was founded to preserve “wild America”, this was what it was all about.

The park is enormous and is separated into three distinct land districts by the juncture of the Green River and the Colorado River.  If you imagine the shape of a lower case letter “y”, the Green River flows southeast to join the Colorado River.  Each district has its own personality and you can not cross directly from one section of the park into the other.  Our family visited the section called “Island in the Sky”.  What a perfect name!  It is an enormous mesa accessible by a narrow neck of land.  The sides of the mesa are sheer, dropping about 1000 feet to a lower plateau, which then drops about 1000 feet to the river basin.

1000 feet drop separates plateaus

 

 

At one time cattle and sheep were raised upon the mesa.  Containing the livestock would certainly be easy, but feeding them would be a different matter altogether.  A ranger at the visitor’s center gave us a brief overview of edible plants of Canyonlands.  Believe me, it was very brief.  A meal might be made of pine nuts, prickly pear cactus, and juniper berries, then washed down with Mormon tea, which is a stimulant and powerful diuretic. Um, no thanks.

The Canyonlands diet

 

There are two other land districts in the park.  The Needles, which lies to the southeast, has paved roads, a visitor’s center, and established hiking trails.  Its skyline is characterized by jagged sandstone pillars, hence the name.

Monument Basin with the Needles in distant left

The other district, the Maze, is not for the faint-hearted or ill-prepared.  It is accessible only by rugged roads for four-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicles.  There are no facilities whatsoever, and the trails are primitive.  The park literature stresses that the Maze is only for those experienced and self-reliant.  “Be prepared to self rescue.”  Self rescue?! While that notion opens up a huge theological can of worms, I think the rangers have in mind a willingness to hack off your own  boulder-trapped arm with a pocket knife, so that you can rappel to the canyon floor and hike to rescue.  Hey, it’s been done.

The Maze lies beyond the Green River

 

We chose to visit Island in the Sky because it was the most accessible by car, offering many viewing areas to enjoy and short hikes for all the children.  My children were awestruck by Upheaval Dome, an unusual rock formation that may actually be a meteorite impact crater.

View from Upheaval Rock

Awesome view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Upheaval Dome

 

The family favorite, though, was the Mesa Arch Trail.  This trail can be enjoyed on so many levels.  The easy path has abundant desert wildflowers and interesting rock formations.

Mesa Arch viewed from afar

The Mesa Arch is, itself, lovely.

Mesa Arch

If you look through the arch, you see the Washer Woman Arch.  See how there appears to be a woman leaning over her wash bucket?

Washer Woman Arch

And beyond there is a breath-taking view of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains.

La Sal Mountains through Mesa Arch

Hiking companions

What climbs up must climb down...

What is noteworthy about this last picture is what is not in view.  To the left there was a tall, slender woman.  She was barefoot and dressed in yoga clothes.  She and her photographer spent an enormous amount of time composing her picture.  They would adjust the camera, test the settings, adjust the camera.  Finally she stepped in front of the camera and bent over into a back bend.  What took me by surprise was how she groaned, and moaned, and grunted!  She would check the photos, then unsatisfied with the result, she would strike the pose again, complete with grunts and groans.  I think she was trying to replicate the gentle curve  of the arch.  She looked anything but graceful.  In fact, her face was turning purple from the effort.  I dare say she is the only one who wasn’t enjoying the view.

I am ENJOYING the view!

Comments (0) Jun 16 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