Monday, June 30, 2014

Westward Ho! {2014}

We went on a family vacation in early June out West.  I just wanted to share what we did, where we stayed and what we liked/disliked.
We were gone for 10 days total.  I think that I'm going to highlight each day in a separate post.  We will see how this whole thing evolves...not sure yet.
Anywho, lets start with planning, packing, leaving and where we traveled on Day 1:

Why out West?  Christian and I studied Yellowstone as part of our Social Studies unit this past year.  Sometime in February Chris approached Dave with his textbook and said "I think we should go here."  Man, I wish every vacation decision could be that easy.  
I got the green light from Dave a few weeks later to book it, cheap.  My budget was $1,000 total for lodging and we counted on $1,000 for gas.  
We had a time constraint on our hands while planning this vacation.  It needed to be done in early June and we needed to be back by Sunday, June 15th.  Cody started summer school on Monday, June 16th.  
I went on line and requested a vacation guide and any other literature I could get from every state we would be traveling through or staying in.  I figured whatever additional information I needed I could get when we stopped at the visitor centers in each state.  
I made up a spreadsheet that had the number of miles we would be traveling (trying not to exceed 8 hours of driving each day), what we would be doing each day, where we would be staying (and the approximate cost), and if there was an admission fee associated with where we were going that day (like a National Park), how much and for how long the permit was good for.  I even checked the Weather Channel as we got closer to our departure date and got the high and low temperatures for each day so that we could pack and dress accordingly. 
I printed up every motel/hotel reservation as back up and made a binder by calendar date and filled each section with the information needed for that day.  
This was the end result

Five people - FIVE, for a cross country road trip in a minivan.  With a 15 month old!  That's a lot of stuff.  Especially when you have a child who packs stuff "just in case" ah-hem, might I add, stuff that never, EVER got pulled out of the bag it was packed in. 
I knew that we would need to designate one day for doing laundry.  It saved space in the van.  I used clear plastic totes to pack snack foods and lunch stuff in as well as our biking gear (helmets, packs, water bottles).  I also got a shoebox sized clear plastic container to put extra sunglasses and rain ponchos in and shoved that under a seat.  
First I cleaned out the entire van and removed the rear passenger seat.  This allowed me to execute my tetris skills and cram as much stuff in what little space we had.  One thing to note, though, we brought our bikes with...if I had known what a pain in the ass it was going to be to take the bikes off and put them back on I would have reconfigured my packing so that we didn't need to access the van through the hatch to get what we needed each night at the motel/hotel.  Note for next time.  
To minimize fighting I put Chris (9) and Will (15 months) in the middle row and stuck Cody (14) in the back by himself.  This, I feel, worked out great.  
I used plastic coat hangers to put plastic grocery bags on and hung one by Cody and the other by Chris to use for garbage disposal.  We threw out the bags every day and I packed extra bags in a storage compartment.         

We were scheduled to leave at 12pm on the first Thursday of June.  It was Cody's last day of school and a reduced schedule due to finals.  That plan didn't happen.  We ended up leaving an hour later.  
We traveled through Northern Illinois into Wisconsin to Minnesota.  We stopped about every 3 hours to stretch our legs, change Will and run him around, to eat and/or use the restroom.  Because we left an hour later we arrived at our motel later than I had planned on.  

Day 1
We traveled along I90 into Minnesota.  The bluffs as you cross from Wisconsin into Minnesota along the Mississippi River are really, really cool.  
We stayed in Jackson, Minnesota at the Earth Inn Motel.  Again, my budget was $1,000 for lodging for 9 days total.  Knowing that we were only staying at each location essentially to shower and sleep, additional amenities were not even a consideration.  One thing I did try to do was book motels/hotels that offered a continental breakfast.  This reduced our food budget.  Some places had a better offering than others, I kind of knew that would happen.  I was just appreciative of the fact that there would be something to eat prior to hitting the road in the morning. 

Jackson, Minnesota was just a stopping point along our journey.  There really isn't much to do there.  There was a restaurant in front of our motel and a gas station across the parking lot.  Everything seemed to shut down around 11pm.  This was something we were not expecting, but seemed to keep it's course along the whole vacation.  

One thing that was weird to see were the road barriers that looked like rail road crossing arms along I90.  It took us a while to figure out that the roads shut down during inclimate weather and they divert drivers off the expressway.       

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