14 Apr
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Summer Travel Planning with Kids

April rolls around and I start summer travel planning. Three months is never enough time for me to see everything I want to. I’m continually adding onto a mental list of summer travel destinations. The USA has such a variety of locations for families to visit that I feel like the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. There are so few days to work with.

Bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We’ve never flown with our children. The price of flying and renting a vehicle has never fit in the budget. We don’t like to stay in one spot for more than a couple days. This goes back to the whole too-much-to-see thing. I enjoy traveling by vehicle and seeing the random goodness America has to offer.

Painted Wall at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Each April we start summer travel planning. Our first step is to mark the calendar with activities the kids will be doing: vacation Bible school, soccer camp, music camp, swim lessons, Boy Scout camp trips, etc. The older the kids get, the harder planning becomes. My husband and I come up with several trip ideas and then ask our kiddos their opinions. We’ll borrow books from the public library and research destinations online.

Square Tower House at Mesa Verde National Park

Last summer, we traveled to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, a 10 1/2-hour drive, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, a 7-hour drive. We also had several 4-hour weekend excursions. We try to plan travel routes so the trip to our destination is slightly different from the route home. We also spend time looking for interesting places to stop along the way, not always a possibility. Our trek to Mesa Verde included a stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and an impromptu picnic lunch at Rifle Falls State Park on our journey home. We stopped in Belle Fourche, S.D. to visit the Geographic Center of the Nation Monument on the way to North Dakota and stopped at the Vore Buffalo Jump in northeastern Wyoming.

Geographic Center of the Nation Monument in Belle Fourche, South Dakota

We plan two hours of stop time into our travel days to account for meals and rest stops. We’ll add extra time for a stop, like Black Canyon, that offers exploring options. We check our driving route for possible rest stops every 2 1/2 to 3 hours. We’ve set up tents in the dark and pulled into hotels at well past a reasonable bedtime, all for the sake of site-seeing and memory-making. I’m frugal to the core, so we attempt to pack snacks and lunch fixings. Ideally we would find a rest area or information center to enjoy lunch, but we’ve been known to fix meals in parking lots.

Rifle Falls State Park near Rifle, Colorado

Obviously, our love of the outdoors and all things run by the National Park Service direct quite a few of our summer travel plans. Word-of-mouth and books are also good places to discover family-friendly destinations. Our oldest boys are fans of Rick Riordan’s book series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. For years after reading the first book, the boys have asked to visit the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. That trip is happening this summer.

One of my favorite planning guides is 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12! by Joanne O’Sullivan. I’m a list-maker, so this fits my personality. The suggestions are, for the most part, adaptable to all parts of the country. Destinations include a waterfall, a big dune, a courthouse, a famous road and a lighthouse. The author offers suggestions for each place as well as space in the back of the book to keep track of where you’ve traveled.  We have 26 places still to go. Our oldest turns 12 in September. It seems I have some planning to do.


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