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

Bryce Canyon – Land of the Hoodoos

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Hoodoos of Bryce

Traveling to Bryce National Park via the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is a bit of a magical experience.  Leaving behind the vibrantly-colored canyon walls of Zion, you emerge from the tunnel a mere 1.1 miles further, at a higher elevation, to find the landscape transformed.The russet-colored cliffs are replaced by sundrenched mesas and a view that seems to stretch to eternity.




Dixie National Forest












Our journey took us through Dixie National Forest.  My southern-born sons were delighted to find piles of snow in shady parts of the woods.  In fact, the impromptu snowball fights were a highlight to them. My rough and rowdy three-year-old was eager to join in the melee, then horrified to discover that SNOW is COLD! He had never before played in snow.

Snowball fight!

Snow is cold!

The realization




















Shortly before entering Bryce National Park, the road travels through Red Canyon State Park.  I did not anticipate this bonus and felt swept away by the intense beauty.  Flaming red terra cotta rocks were accented with dark green and silver-gray foliage. It was a color scheme that no camera sensor could ever capture. No photogragh satisfies me.

Red Canyon











The unique rock formations at Bryce Canyon are called “Hoodoos”.  They stand shoulder to shoulder like an army of petrified warriors.


Like assembled warriors








The scenic drive leads you to many observation points throughout the park where you can look down upon the Hoodoos and view landscapes beyond.

Bryce Ampitheatre












To really appreciate the grandeur of the monoliths, though, I recommend hiking down into the canyon.

On the Queens/Navajo/Wall Street trail

Hiking in Bryce Canyon









Early morning moonrise

What skies!

Sharing the hike with my big girl.














The town of Panguitch serves the visitors of Bryce National Park.  Unlike other towns we visited, Panguitch was really a dump.  It seemed like every family possessed their own personal junk yard.  It was a marked contrast between the majestic splendor of the Hoodoos and the outright squalor of the townsfolk.  How glad I am that national parks are protected lands!


Bryce Canyon Airport










Comments (0) Jun 05 2011

Zion- Our Journey Begins

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Zion National Park



Perhaps it is because my sons are fascinated  with the Guinness Book of World Records and the Top Ten List of Everything that they feel like every experience must be rated and ranked.  But sometimes I just can not do that.



We have returned from a trip out west where we visited seven parks and saw wondrous and glorious sights.  I can describe them.  I can even compare them.:

At Zion Canyon,  you stand at the bottom and look up.

At the Grand Canyon, you stand at the top and look down.

But I can not rank them.  Each park had features that made it special.  Each park was a treasure to be discovered.

We began our journey in Las Vegas, where we rented a passenger van.  We traveled many miles by van, and I found the landscape to be mesmerizing, like gazing into a fireplace.

Utah landscape

Don't see that in Georgia!

Or that either!













Our first stop was Zion National Park.  The Virgin River flows through the Zion Canyon, and in the spring it appeared lush with countless green cottonwood trees.  The rock formations at Zion are fascinating swirls of color and texture.  I had never  before seen anything like them.

Zion Canyon

Zion Canyon

Feast for the eyes









Because of spring flooding, we were unable to hike “the Narrows”.  It is the most popular hike at Zion, through a slot canyon. For our first hike we chose Observation Point.  It is a strenuous eight mile hike, climbing almost 2200 feet. The view was spectacular!

View from Observation Point Summit

Nine-year-old at summit

Elevation 6508 feet













At the summit we were harrassed  by aggressive chipmunks.  We joked about them possibly jumping on us and wrestling us to the ground.  While that was unlikely, we did find them unnerving.  When my oldest unzipped his backpack to change out a camera lens, a chipmunk jumped in his bag and stole an apple. So while the views were stunning, we always felt distracted by the chipmunks, who seemed to be sneaking up on us, waiting to pounce.













After our morning hike we collected the other children and toured the park.  Zion NP runs a shuttle bus to transport visitors to the various trailheads.  It reduces the traffic while providing an excellent tour of the park.  We suffered intermittent rain, yet on the shuttle my children were able to see the park and have noteworthy peaks identified for them.

Together we enjoyed some short hikes:  Riverside Walk (2.2 miles), Lower Emerald Pool Trail (1.2 miles), and Upper Emerald Pool Trail (1.0 mile)  The splashing water was so refreshing.  The children enjoyed scampering about the rocks.

Sharing the load

Emerald Pool








The second morning, though achy and sore, we set out to hike Angel’s Landing.  Though not as far or as steep an ascent as our previous hike, Angel’s Landing is downright dangerous.  If you stumble, you do not tumble down 20 feet.  Instead you fall 1000 feet to certain death.  At least five people have fallen to their deaths. (My macabre fifteen-year-old enjoyed regaling us with these statistics at every peak we summited.)


The last 1/2 mile to Angel’s Landing is over a narrow sandstone ridge. Each side of the ridge drops off over 1000 feet.  The sides are sheer and the footholds irregular.

Path to Angel's Landing












When I arrived at the beginning of this last stretch, my older children had already ascended the first ridge.  If I had seen how treacherous the conditions were, there is no way I would have allowed them to climb.

Now please note:  I am not afraid of heights.  In fact, I find them exhilarating.  I loved climbing trees as a child, riding roller coasters as a teen, working as a stage electrician up on the cat walks in theatre as a college student.  But when I get my kids near heights, my anxiety meter goes through the roof.  I could not finish the climb.  I felt that I had to stay at the base and hold on to my nine-year-old.

Anchoring my son

No, you may not go.








My husband decided to climb after my teens.  He returned after crossing the first ridge.  The strain of the exertion combined with anxiety  from the height was too much.  My teens were on their own.  We waited and waited.  They were gone for over an hour.  We saw dozens of hikers begin the climb and turn back.   I confess – when a big, burly mountain man came down and said that was the scariest thing he had ever done, I covered my face and wept.

What was it like to see my children return?  Indescribable JOY!

My adventurous teens

If you look over their shoulders in this photograph, you will see tiny people climbing the ridge.

In retrospect I should have climbed after my teens and allowed my husband to stay behind and sit on my eager nine-year-old.  How I wish that we had more photographs to document that awesome climb!


With verdant valleys, sheer cliffs, and  awesome vistas, Zion National Park was a great starting point for a great vacation.  Besides, after that everything else looked easy.

Beautiful Zion


Comments (1) Jun 04 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