Troy, MIAugust 17, 2013 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C
Geo: 41.0782, -80.7997
[PHOTO_ID_L=home-stretch.jpg] On our final drive home, Paul and I had a debriefing to decide what worked, what didn't and what we would and wouldn't do next time. I think that is very important for successful journeys. We pretty much agreed in the same areas.
I had created books for the kids with each state and activities about each state. It worked great. I made multiple activity pages for each state just in case but realized they liked 2 or 3 in particular. Next time I will just make those. When they finished with mapping activities and learning more[PHOTO_ID_R=travel-book.jpg] about the state using their books, I let them watch the movie about that state. Those were great. 20/25 minutes about each state. It is called The States by The History Channel. The kids enjoyed them and they actually related back to the videos when they recognized something they learned. They are quick, individualized per state and current.
[PHOTO_ID_L=postcards-kids-sent-home.jpg] We also had the kids write postcards to themselves from each state and send it from that state. When they arrive at our house, we will bind them into a book of postcards. Matthew, our youngest didn't love writing every time but as long as he wrote something, that was ok. That is who he is today,
The drawers worked great in the back of the car. I actually eliminated one, added a large drawer (for me) and moved them to the side so I could hang my clothes and raincoats in the back, too. Worked great. When we reached hotels, I put their dirty clothes in the dirty bag and put clean clothes in for the next day. They kept all underwear and socks in their backpacks at all times. The kids put their backpacks on and were good to go (even in New York). The drawers worked perfectly for our plans.
We equally decided to find a halfway mark and spent 3 or 4 nights to relax, eat home cooked food and not be in the car. Though it wasn't bad driving, it is nice to not jump in and out of the car for a few days.
Cooler: We had a cooler in the car for lunch foods, drinks and snacks. We had a problem with being able to refreeze ice packs and bags of ice leaking water. Someone suggested freezing water bottles (I know you shouldn't drink frozen water bottles). They last longer in the cooler and then you can DRINK them (God forbid-the crap food we ate will kill us first).
Lunches- At the beginning of the trip,we had lunch meat, pbj and bread for sandwiches which really saves a lot of money and a little more healthy. We had fruit and snacks too. We are going to try harder to make our lunches unless its somewhere special.
Hotels- Marriotts worked out great. We stayed at many different kinds. Renaissance are the nicest ones we stayed and Fairfield was the least. All had small fridges, helpful for keeping things cold from the car. Some had concierge including breakfast and snacks. The cheaper hotels came with breakfast. Our goal is to find hotels that include breakfast or concierge with breakfast to again save money and eat a little better. Also, make sure the hotel has a pool. Nice break for the kids and parents.
Using Points- It helped our budget to use Marriott points for our trip. We used 6 nights out of 16 and recieved a free night. We also called on the road and worked out deals with hotels down to 100 bucks a night. We booked rooms in most locations especially the bigger cities and popular locations because we couldn't count on them having a room when we got there. Most hotels will let you cancel before 6 PM the night you are arriving so if you find somewhere else, you can call and cancel.
Sleeping- Make sure the hotel allows a cot. Some do and some don't. We were ok this year because the kids could sleep sideways on the bed but as they get bigger, they won't be able to anymore.
Attractions: We used roadtripper.com to plan our trip and find attractions. Though we had many attraction ideas along the way, we didn't expect to do them all and we were open to doing something unplanned. It was very helpful using this website to get to know the area you are visiting and planning the time you have. It made things go much smoother. I looked into each attraction we planned on doing, especially the must-see activities, for times, tickets and reservations. We made a mistake with the Statue of Liberty because they book 2 to 4 months in advance to go up in the statue and go in the Ellis Island museum. Bummer. You can still ferry out there but you can't go in. 9-11 Memorial, if you reserve ahead of time for a small fee, you don't have to stand in longs lines for tickets there. I also went to tripadvisor.com to learn from other travelers their tips and suggestions about the location. I learned that we needed to go to the Hershey factory first thing in the morning or it gets wildly busy. Same with Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream factory. They were spot on. We got in and out in a breeze laughing at the long lines of people. Also, I bought tickets for Potted Potter Off-Broadway through Broadwayoffers.com. I was a little nervous because it seemed too good to be true. In my first search, I found back row seats for nearly $100 dollars a piece. Broadwayoffers.com had 3rd row left for $50.00 a piece. They sent reminders and the seats were reserved when we got there. Pretty sweet. My kids were thrilled with the seats.
Driving: You must take in account the numerous toll roads that can cost up to 21.00. Parking is another unwanted and forgotten fee especially in big cities. It was generally 30 to 45 dollars a night to park your car at a hotel. One one toll road we made a wrong turn and had to go back. We told the guy at the toll that we had just come through and paid but we got lost. He gave us a pass to get back through. They will do this if you have a nice toll operator so ask. Saved us $4.00 anyway.
Laundry: We needed to do laundry midway through our trip. One of our hotels had a facility. So we will make sure one of the hotels has a laundry facility halfway through or the ability to do it at our 3/4 day stop. I also brought Tide pods for travel. They are great. I washed undies in the tub and when they got the red plankton sludge in their bathing suits, I was able to wash them and they smelled great too.
We kept track of our expenses so we could see what future trip budgets might be. The nice thing was Paul, my financial advisor, had planned the trip being twice as much so he was pleasantly surprised. We really didn't skimp anywhere. We ate well, we saw lots of things, we stayed in nice hotels and bought lots of goodies. We couldn't even find to many places where we wasted money. This trip cost approximately $6000 including gas, tolls, parking, food, stores, borders, flat tires, attractions, hotels (not including Marriott points), etc. Paul, being the financial advisor, subtracts expenses that would have already been spent at home like $200 for groceries, $200 for gas, $200 for eating/going out, etc. Every penny counts in his world. He's not cheap but conscientious. He likes to know the bottom dollar. The $6,000 is before excluding those things. Of course if you are needing to save more money, there are places to save like the level of hotel, where you eat (we ate well, especially at dinner), which attractions you decide to do and so on. I'll bet you could cut that in half if you needed to.
As we debrief, we have already started planning for next years trip. We are thinking it might be across the MidWest. Sort of the Lewis and Clark trail. Our other option is Route 66 from Chicago to New Mexico and back. Haven't decided but we can't wait.
All in all it was a fabulous trip. Was their arguing and screaming at times? Of course. Learning experiences for al of us. There were moments. At one point, I literally walked away from everyone, miles ahead because I was sick of their bickering. Daddy walked and talked with them. Once I had my moment, I was good. It's life. You can't travel with 5 people in small...big car and stay in small rooms and not get irritated but you can get over it and have fun with the 5 people you love most in the world.Read more