November 10, 2019

Family Vacation Ideas That Will Also Hit My Travel Goals

A couple of years ago, I wrote a list of 40 goals to accomplish by the time I turn 40 years old. At the time, I had about four years to get them done, which I felt was plenty of time. And now, almost two years away from turning 40, I'm starting to get a little worried that I might not do it. I really need to start planning out some of the tougher, long term goals. (Just getting through the book of Numbers in the Bible is nearly killing me! hahaha)

Travel is the most difficult goal. It requires time and money, and with only two years and two months to go, I am not going to have much of either. So, I've been trying to come up with some plans that may help me achieve this goal.

My travel goals are 1) To go to all 48 contiguous United States, not counting the ones I'd already been to (flying over them doesn't count); and 2) To travel abroad. A third isn't directly related, but it will require traveling: To see an orca in its natural habitat.

That's a lot of traveling! My current status on my visits to the United States:

bullet journal map of United States travel

The colored ones are obviously the ones I've been to. It's hard to see, but the ONLY state in the east that I haven't been to is Delaware *groan*. I'm not sure if I'll make a special trip out there just for the sake of this goal. (Coincidentally, my mom just got home from a weeks-long trip there to visit a friend! So random.)

I'm thinking I can tackle the rest of the United States with two long road trips. My kids haven't seen much of the country at all, so we can do a family trip this spring break in April and another in spring break of 2021. I spent a long time yesterday working out logistics for this coming spring break--a very long road trip across the south.

Road trip mileage #1

road trip map #1

For this, we would fly into Pensacola, Florida. From there, we'd rent a car and drive the three hours to New Orleans and stay two nights.

Then we'd drive to Texarkana, to hit up Arkansas and Texas in one fell swoop. From there, we'd head to Dallas, just because it's a major city in Texas and we've never been there. Then head up to Oklahoma City.

Then we'd drive due west to Albuquerque (I spell that wrong every time!). We watched Breaking Bad as a family, and the kids thought it'd be fun to go there (they even have a Breaking Bad tour). Usually I avoid tourist attractions (I like to do more local things) but the kids would love it.

From there, we'd drive up to Denver and stay a couple of nights before flying home from Denver. (Actually, now that I look at the map, Cheyenne, Wyoming is only an hour and a half from Denver. So, a short trip up there wouldn't be hard to hit up as well.

It would be a long trip with a lot of driving, but when I showed Jerry and the kids, they all loved the idea. The expense would be pretty big, though--it would use up all of our tax refund (going to Punta Cana--all expenses paid--was cheaper!). But I think it'd made for great memories. National Lampoon's Vacation-style.

Clark Griswold Family Vacation quote

Probably my favorite quote from any movie, ever. 😂

(One of the biggest expenses is actually the car rental, can you believe it?! It's roughly $25-30 per day to rent a car, but then they tack on $700+ to return it to Denver instead of where we rent it from!)

Another option is just slightly shorter, cutting out a couple of cities in order to hit up the states but also spend a little more time in the places we would really like to visit.

Road trip mileage #2

Road trip map #2

This would cut out Dallas and Oklahoma City. Do any of you live there? Are they places that are a must-see? The main places we wanted to go to are New Orleans, Albuquerque (spelled it right on the first try this time!), and Denver. This would still be a long and expensive trip, but... memories. The kids love road trips (as do I) and it'd be fun to see all these places.

Finally, as a last resort, I came up with a much cheaper and shorter option. This would eliminate the huge fee of the car rental, and we would spend most of our time in New Orleans. We would take a couple of days to do a loop before heading home. This however, would cut out New Mexico and Colorado.

Road trip mileage #3

Road trip map #3


If we are able to do one of the longer trips, then during spring break of 2021, we could do a trip to the northern states--the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. I was thinking we could fly into Seattle and do a whale tour on the coast so I can (hopefully) see an orca and cross that off the list. Then we can head east and fly home from one of the Dakotas.

I have no idea what to expect from those northern states! Maybe some of you who live there can enlighten me ;) I looked for trains, but the routes aren't ideal for what I want to do. I really want my kids to see Portland and Seattle at some point, so it would work out to add it into the road trip. And Eli would LOVE to fish in the Pacific.

Finally, that leaves Delaware. Hahaha! I am sure I would do that as a solo trip. I'm not a beach person, and my mom said it's a big beach area. I do think I'd like a boardwalk though, and she mentioned that as well. If any of you live there and want to meet up, I think that'd be fun, too!

My kids haven't seen NYC, and I'd like them to see that as well. So another idea would be to take them on a short summer trip (I can only handle NYC for 2-3 days max) and then drive down to Delaware for a day or two before going home.

Anyway, these are all just initial thoughts. If I don't hit my goal of all the contiguous states by 40 years old, it's really not that huge of a deal. But if I can make it happen, it'd be pretty fun!

As for traveling abroad, well... I'm thinking maybe Becky and I can do a short trip to Europe (I can use a buddy pass). She's been there a trillion times and I think she'd be fun to go with. Then again, her kids are so little, so I'm not sure if she'd want to do that. When my kids are a little older (late teens) we can all go as a family.

So... any input you all have is welcome! Any must-see places or things to do in the areas I mentioned? Would anyone be interested in a short meet-up someplace?

Well, my friend Emily is coming over and will be here soon, so I've got to do a quick clean of my house!


49 comments:

  1. My husband and I recently went to New Orleans. Take the swamp tour with Cajun Encounters. The alligators swim RIGHT UP to the boat, and the boat rides pretty low in the water. Even though we went to Bourbon Street and some of the other tourist hotspots, we both agreed that the swamp tour was the highlight of the trip. They pick you up right in the French Quarter.

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    1. Eli would LOVE that!! Definitely putting it on my to-do list!

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  2. Hi Katie!
    Who were you using for your rental car research? I just took a stab at your longest road trip with Avis as they're my favorite for car rental. Pensacola to Denver for 9 days in April and an intermediate car was $700 total. I know they do gouge you on not returning where you get the car from - but maybe that's not as bad as what you looked at?

    For some of your other states...Wyoming - Grand Tetons....Montana - Glacier National Park. My two favorite trips in the US!

    Your trips sound fun and cool!

    I have a state map like yours but haven't gone out of my way to hit them all yet. Someday - I hope!

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    1. I just looked at Priceline, which gives different car rental companies' prices. I am hoping to get a minivan--I know it's more expensive, but since we'll be doing so much driving, I know the kids would love their own seats. I'm willing to look at all options, though!

      I will definitely keep the Wyoming and Montana stops in mind when planning out that trip. I'm clueless about that area of the country. Thank you!

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  3. Wow, I'm jealous of how inexpensive your gas is if your estimated fuel costs for over 2,000 miles is only $134.

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    1. Definitely not like a road trip through CA (where I live)!!

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    2. For the record, I have NO IDEA how that cost was calculated!! I just put the destinations into Mapquest, and that's the number it gave me for fuel. I call bullshit! Gas here is about $2.70 per gallon right now, so I'm pretty sure they must have forgotten a digit in that quote ;)

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  4. Hi Katie.
    The BREAKING BAD tour is totally worth it! We loved it. If you guys can do a Hot Air Balloon ride while in NM, do it. Great experience. Happy Travels.

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    1. I would be TERRIFIED to do a hot air balloon ride! But that would be such a cool experience. Maybe if I take enough anxiety meds, hahaha. And thanks for the opinion of the Breaking Bad tour--I was thinking it would probably be a little lame, but I knew the kids would want to do it. So it's on our must-do list now! :)

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  5. I've only been living in TX for 3 years and live in Houston, but from what I've heard Dallas is not a necessarily go out of your way to visit kind of place (I've never actually been). Of the main cities in TX, the one that is supposed to be the most interesting to visit is Austin, followed by San Antonio. New Orleans is super fun!

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    1. I've heard that Austin is a blast, so it'd be great to go there! I'll see what I can do about switching up that destination. I HATE hot weather, though, so I'm a little nervous about what to expect in Texas ;) We may need to make it a "hurry up and pass through this tiny corner of the state" state, haha.

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  6. I live outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. A unique, fun, quirky road trip through Oklahoma is traveling historic route 66. There are a ton of unique/cool/fun/free stops on route 66, as well as a little history lesson ;-) I would highly consider making that at least part of your trip. We hit half a dozen spots just on a Sunday afternoon. My sister just did a week long route 66 road trip through 3 states and had a blast! It's a big deal in this part of the country.

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    1. Route 66 would be fun! Of course, I know nothing about it, but I've heard of it since I was a kid. And if there is a lot to do on the way, my kids would be all about it. I'll see what I can do while rearranging my route!

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  7. I'm in Arkansas- there's not much awesome stuff in Texarkana....but the Northwest Corner (Fayetteville/Bentonville/Rogers) has awesome state parks/hiking/mountains and lots of art and culture. If you can, I would hit up that area instead of just popping into the corner of the state!

    For about the same amount of miles, I would do Pensacola to New Orleans, to Rogers, AR, then across to Tulsa, OK, then to Amarillo, TX, Albuquerque and then Denver.

    Dallas has SO MUCH to do, that stopping there just because it's a big city isn't the best reason. It's such a metro area, it might as well be any other big city. And I like Tulsa over OKC. If you need suggestions on Arkansas or Oklahoma, let me know!

    In Rogers, I would visit Crystal Bridges Museum (really in Bentonville), the Walmart Museum (also Bentonville) and then maybe the War Eagle Mill or War Eagle Cavern or Hobbs State Park or Devil's Den State Park.

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    1. Ohmygosh, so many ideas! A few people have said that Texarkana isn't the best stop, so that's good to know--it just sounded cool because of the name/idea of it ;) Since NE Arkansas would probably add too much time, I may have to save it for another trip (I'm sure I'll be visiting Kansas City again to see my friend Andrea, and I can make a side trip to NE Arkansas). However, I will have to map out your suggestion and see how it looks! Rogers/Bentonville sounds amazing.

      I know nothing about Oklahoma City, so the suggestion of Tulsa is appreciated!

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  8. A couple in Oklahoma to Google: the blue whale, Pops on 66 (an old fashioned soda fountain with every flavor of soda you could possibly imagine, this place is incredible), the round barn.

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    1. Pops on 66 sounds like it would be the highlight of my kids' trip! Hahaha! We will definitely add that to the list.

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  9. I am a native Texan and REALLY do not recommend Texarkana...I would do Dallas and then go through Arkansas on the way to OKC...I know what you are trying to do but it isn't a great stop. :-)

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    1. Thank you for the honesty! Texarkana sounds cool because of the name and location, but I don't want to waste time (since our time will be so limited as it is). Thanks for the suggestions!

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  10. I love your road trip idea! I live in central Wyoming and have a large loop planned for the western states that I want to do when my kids are a bit older. That being said, I would skip running up to Cheyenne from Denver. It is only a couple hours away, but that isn't the prettiest part of the state. When you do your road trip across the northern part of the US, you would be able to at least swing through Yellowstone National Park. However, if you do decide to run up to Cheyenne, you could tour the Terry Bison Ranch. Let me know when you come to Wyoming, I would love to meet you!

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    1. Oooh, I love the idea of swinging through Yellowstone National Park. Maybe I'll do Cheyenne as a "just in case", and then make a real plan for a nice stop for the second road trip. In what part of Wyoming do you live? I'd love to meet up when I hit up that state!

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  11. I love reading about road trips! I drove across country for 8 weeks the summer after college - it was the best experience of my life!

    As for your planned trips:
    1) I would skip Colorado for next year's trip and include it as part of your trip for Montana, Wyoming.

    2) Do you not want to drive down south in your own car (ie do you not want to take the time and/or the wear and tear on your own car) - The drop off fees for separate airports are hard to swallow - I've done it twice in the last 2 years.

    3) NYC/Philly/DC - I did a Philly to DC trip with my kids this april vacation (we also included Williamsburg) and drove through Delaware which is a state I had never been to before

    4) As for a western trip to get the rest of the states complete, I would recommend summer versus April vacation. And I would make it as early in the summer as possible (like as soon as the kids get out of school) before everything gets too crowded. While Yellowstone can be expensive to stay in (for what you get in terms of accommodations) it is fun - but you need to plan in advance. Bookings open on May 1 for the next summer (ie May 1 2020 for Summer 2021). A great trip would be Denver to Wyoming (Jackson/Yellowstone area) - You can cross into Idaho to get up to Montana. Then drive across Montana to Mount Rushmore area and fly out of Rapid City. I don't have recommendations for North Dakota because that is one of the few states I haven't hit either and don't see myself doing it.

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    1. That is AMAZING that you drove across the country the summer after college. Since Noah is going to graduate high school AND his registered nursing program at the same time (crazy, right?!) I keep encouraging him to take a year off after that and travel. With my brother's travel benefits, he could backpack Europe or go anywhere his heart desires! I really wish I'd traveled before settling down.

      Anyway, thank you so much for the suggestions! Skipping Colorado is definitely an option, because it really is a FAR drive from Albuquerque. I'm just getting nervous that I won't be able to get all of it in with only two years left!

      I don't want to drive my own car for a couple of reasons: 1) I don't want to put wear/miles on my car and 2) We won't have enough time for the extra travel it would take.

      Delaware is going to be my most random trip. I like the idea of taking the kids to see NYC for a couple of days and then Delaware before heading home. A short trip (I wish I could say cheap, but NYC is $$$).

      THANK YOU for the info about the western states. I had no idea that you had to book so far in advance. I really would prefer to go during spring break (our summers are so busy with cross country and baseball) but would a late summer trip work, do you think? We could probably take a week in August to do that. Of course, if needed, we could make early summer work, too.

      I'm going to have to write all this down--haha! Thank you SO much for the info!

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  12. Have you considered starting in Denver and ending in Florida? Suggesting because sometimes you can get a great deal on a one way rental if you are returning it to an area where rentals are in demand, ie Florida at spring break would be a premium to leave the area but may be a deal to bring them a vehicle...just a thought.

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    1. I haven't checked that out, but I will do that! I guess I figured flights would be cheaper to Florida or Alabama than they would to Denver, but since Denver is a major city, I could be wrong. I will have to see how that works out! Thanks for the suggestion!

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  13. I don't think your Spring 2021 trip idea would work. My mother-in-law lived in Wyoming for many years and visited us in Ohio frequently. She had to watch the weather so closely in the fall and spring, and could never set exact days for car travel. They get incredible snow storms in that part of the country during the fall and spring, and the roads are so dangerous.

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    1. I definitely don't want to have to worry about snow storms! That hadn't occurred to me. We may have to try to make a summer trip work. Summer is so busy for us that it's hard to do vacations in summer, but you're right--the weather will make a big difference!

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  14. My son and I drove across country together - we did the northern states and went to Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc, due south down Cali and across 40. it was the trip of a lifetime and I'm so glad we did it together! The national parks were incredible, but its the quirky random stuff that has stuck with us both - and thats the stuff you can't really plan. You just find it. :-)

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    1. The quirky, random, can't-plan-it stuff is the best, isn't it?! That's what we found when we went to Virginia Beach. Who would've thunk we'd be there for a tropical storm and the beach would be closed? hahaha! But the kids (and Jerry and I) had SO MUCH FUN on that trip!

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  15. This is awesome! I can't wait to see which option you end up choosing. That one way fee for the rental car is always a killer on the budget. My one tip for you is about New York with the family. We spent nine days there a couple of years ago and I don't know if we would have stayed that long if it hadn't been for the fact that we stayed in Brooklyn. We loved it there. It's quiet, seriously! We felt safe walking around, even at night. We would just take the subway into the city everyday, but Brooklyn was the best. HIGHLY recommend it.

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    1. You're right, Brooklyn is definitely a great place to stay when traveling to NYC! I've stayed in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and it was like night and day. I enjoyed my trips to NYC (I've been there several times for blog-related things) but I just don't think I can handle it for more than a couple of days. It's SO different from where I live! Learning the subway system (after having been there for about four times) was SO HELPFUL though. I wish I'd taken the time to learn it the first time I went!

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  16. I live in North Idaho. It is absolutely beautiful here. We have gorgeous mountains, lakes, and rivers. Most people enjoy this area for the abundance of things that you can do outside like boating, kayaking, fishing, hunting, camping, and hiking, to name a few. If you came in the winter, there are many different ski resorts. If you flew into Seattle, you could take I-90 directly across the state of Washington and come to Coeur d' Alene, Idaho. Google it! It is beautiful! OR if you drive 45 minutes further, you would be in the Silver Valley. I would definitely recommend Wallace, Idaho. It is rich in mining history and has neat mining tours and fabulous restaurants. If you stay on I-90, Montana is only around 60 minutes away from Coeur d' Alene or only 20 minutes from Wallace.

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    1. Oooh, the mining history sounds interesting! I think my kids would be into that. I wish Northern Idaho wasn't so far, well, north! ;) However, I go to the PNW about once a year, so maybe I'll make that a side trip from Seattle. I LOVE the northwest!

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  17. I posted here yesterday and it doesn't look it was either approved or ever sent?

    So I was saying that I think it might be better to go to NYC on a spring break and out west in the summer for a road trip. Think about all the snow they still might be receiving! I went out west with my parents it snowed in Zion National Park on June 12. Just something to think about I guess.

    My mom loves to travel and her "claim to fame" is seeing all 50 states without flying (she HATES flying). If you need any advice she would probably love to help you!

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    1. I always approve comments that aren't spam, so it must have been a fluke--I hate Blogger's commenting system! Sorry about that.

      I hadn't thought about all the snow out west--it sounds like we're going to have to plan that for summer. Summer is so busy for us that it's hard to make the time, but I definitely don't want to get caught in snow on our trip! That's why we LEAVE Michigan ;)

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  18. Look in to car rentals through Costco Travel. My husband and I have booked through there a couple of times and it was always the best deal hands down.

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    1. I will do that! I don't have a Costco membership, but it might be worth buying one if I can get a good travel deal :) Thanks for the suggestion!

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  19. I humbly recommend skipping Dallas. It's bland, conservative, and generic. Fort Worth is a more Western-type city (with the stockyards, great museums, great BBQ, etc.). Austin is too far south for your itinerary, I think, but it's an amazing city with a totally un-Texas-like culture. I recommend visiting Marfa on your way to New Mexico. The McDonald Observatory is close to there, and Marfa is a weird and wonderful mixture of small-town Texas, artsy weirdos, and desert landscapes.

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    1. Ohh, Fort Worth sounds like fun! I've heard great things about Austin, but I was thinking it may be too far south, too. It's worth checking on, though. Marfa sounds amazing--definitely something I would enjoy! ;)

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  20. Also, if you stay in Marfa you could sleep in a yurt or a tipi... https://elcosmico.com/

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  21. My recommendation is that if you are in Pensacola you have to take all your boys to the National Naval Aviation Museum. It is absolutely awesome! So much to see and if you go at the right time, you can see the Blue Angels doing their thing, and it is FREE! I cannot recommend this enough. I've been three times. I will go every time I get the chance.

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    1. I'm sure my whole family would love the Aviation Museum! I'm super interested in things like that. We've seen the Blue Angels a couple of times, and it's terrifying and amazing to me. I can't imagine how those pilots train for that--hahaha!

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  22. Proud Delawarean here! I would love to play tour guide if you end up coming. We have more than beaches! The beaches are in the southern part of the state. The northern is only 2 hours from NYC so it's easy to do for a day trip!

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    1. I had no idea that Delaware was only two hours from NYC! I wish I'd have thought to make the day trip the last time I was in NY. But YES, I will definitely get in touch (maybe email me so I can let you know if/when I go?). I'm thinking I'll probably take the kids to the city for a couple of days and then we can head down to Delaware for a couple of days before going home. No idea when we are going to fit this in, however! ;)

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  23. I live in New Mexico and it’s such a beautiful and unique state! I would 100% recommend visiting here and would be happy to give you more ideas!

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    1. From the pictures I've seen, I can't WAIT to see New Mexico! It looks amazing. I think it'd be a really nice state to drive through.

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  24. Hi Katie! I'm in Oklahoma a little north of Tulsa. Someone else suggested the Route 66 in Oklahoma and I highly recommended as well. I'd love to meet up if you make it into the Tulsa area and might have a place you can crash while you're here.

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    1. Route 66 sounds like it's a must-do, so I'm adding that to my list!

      (And I rarely turn down a place to crash, haha!)

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