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

Grand Canyon

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Travel, Traveling with children.
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South Rim of the Grand Canyon

A fervent desire to visit the Grand Canyon and to share the experience with all of my children was the impetus for undertaking our family adventure out west.  I wanted to stand beside them and gaze into the mighty gorge, and so seal that into our collective family memories.  My expectations were high, and with good reason.    I know a woman who took her children to all fifty states and to them the Grand Canyon was the favorite destination.  A few years ago a former governor of Maine loaded his family into an RV and they traveled around North America for a year.  He chronicled his experience on NPR, and I still remember him saying the Grand Canyon was the greatest;  nothing else was a close second.  Like I said, my expectations were high.

When our family arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, after a long drive from Moab, Utah, we rushed to the first available observation point to experience the sensation.  We arrived shortly before sunset, an ideal time to capture the moment.  And as we gazed out across the Grand Canyon it was… anticlimactic.

Sunset

Now don’t get me wrong!  The Grand Canyon is sensational!  But it is sort of like pursuing a big name celebrity and overlooking the genuine talent of parks like Bryce, Zion, and Canyonlands.  The Grand Canyon was not the star of the show.  Instead it was just one of the components that made our trip out west a completely satisfying experience.

Dusk

Last glimmer of sun

Traveling with many young children had its limitations.  It would have been impractical for us to hike rim to rim, to ride mules to the canyon floor, or to raft down the Colorado River.  Lord willing, I hope one day to return with those little ones for some big kid fun.   However traveling with a babysitter opened up hiking opportunities we otherwise could not have enjoyed.  Our formula for each day was similar to the other parks.  The older kids, my husband, and I would rise early and hike a strenuous trail.  The little ones would sleep in, watch cartoons, then join us for easy hikes in the afternoon.

Three oldest sons on South Rim

Water break at Skeleton Point

 

Our first morning we hiked the South Kaibob Trail.  We started at Yaki Point, descended three miles, ending at Skeleton Point.  The downhill jolting of our joints was unpleasant.

Unending switchbacks

My oldest son developed blisters and my husband was suspecting stress fractures. The uphill climb, while strenuous, felt like a relief!  That afternoon we took our children on a five mile stroll along the rim.  We were able to push the stroller, which gave the youngest ones a rest.

3-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter

Everyone enjoys the Rim Trail

The next morning was our last and biggest hike of all.  We hiked Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point.  The trail was 12.2 miles, and an elevation change of 3000 feet.  Even though we were at the trailhead at 6:00 in the morning, we had a sense of urgency as we hiked.  We needed to reconnect with the babysitter and leave the park around noon.  So this trail that usually takes 8 hours or more was hiked by us an average of 6 hours.  And it was tough!  It felt like I was climbing up irregular stairs for 4.5 miles.

Looking DOWN to Plateau Point

View from Plateau Point

Plateau Point - rest for the weary

The shadeless plateau

Everywhere you look around the Grand Canyon, there are warnings about the potential for death.  Countless signs warn about the possibility of death if you attempt to hike to the river and back in one day.  There are even photographs of people who have died  attempting that, include a fit, athletic female marathoner.  Of course we didn’t even try that, but I could see how quickly a hiker could be overtaken by the heat and exertion.  As we descended, the temperature increased steadily.  By the time we reached the last 1.5 miles to Plateau Point, it was quite warm and our trail was entirely shadeless.  Furthermore, the dry air made me require more water than I typically consume while hiking.  Bright Angel Trail has rest areas about every 1.5 miles where water supplies can usually be replenished. (Apparently the availability is seasonal, but we had no difficulty getting water.)  I drank 4 liters of water on my ascent to the top.  I can see how quickly someone could be overwhelmed by heat exhaustion if not sufficiently hydrated.

My macabre fifteen-year-old son

My fifteen-year-old son has a fascination with macabre facts.  Throughout our trip out west, he regaled us with statistics about death and injury in national parks.   It is true – wild America can be dangerous.  It would be easy to forget that as you are mesmerized by the dreamy landscapes.  Hence the constant reminders.  In fact the newspaper headlines at the Grand Canyon noted that a body found earlier that month  in one of the canyons had been identified.  When browsing through books in a gift store, we discovered the perfect pleasure read for him-  Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon.  It was a hefty tome.  No one wanted to haul it back in their luggage.  So with a few clicks through Amazon.com, the book was ordered.  It arrived at our home before we did!

Not exactly great literature...

Leaving the Grand Canyon felt bittersweet.  The trip of a lifetime had been realized.   In 9 days we visited 7 parks with our 9 children, drove 1650 miles,  hiked over 70 miles, and took 1700 photographs.  The trip had unfolded without complication. What could we possibly do next?  It was intensely satisfying when my seven-year-old son chimed up from the backseat, “Can we do this again next year?”

Seven-year-old eager traveler

 

 

 

Comments (0) Jun 28 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