Throughout our trip we couldn’t help but feel that most of the pictures we took were posed with one or more of us standing in front of a point of interest. Every once in a while we had some fun with these shots and here are the results.
We really enjoyed our trip! Sure there were moments of frustration when someone would be a little grumpy from being over tired or cooped up in such close quarters for too long, but they really weren’t that often.
Here are our pictures before we left and after our return. See, we survived!
With most things in life I like to reflect and analyze things afterwards in an effort to learn for the next time. This trip is no different. So, what would I do differently next time? Well perhaps the biggest thing to note is that I would definitely do something like this again without hesitation. I guess that’s a good sign and a great overall evaluation, but there are a few things I would tweak. Some we ended up doing along the way, but I’ll mention those as well so that we keep them in mind for next time.
What I would definitely do again
- Do research ahead of time to know what we might like to see and do
- Have a rough game plan of what we want to see and do
- Have a summary of all those things with addresses, hours of operation, costs, parking info, etc. so we have the info handy if plans need to change
- Plan to visit friends and family along the way to break things up a bit. These people are also great resources, providing local travel advice.
- Bring along my cell phone and GPS. These were obviously a couple of my most valuable tools on the road, giving me Internet access and directions.
- Utilize Walmart to the max!
- It was a great policy to start looking for a gas station once I hit the half way mark.
- Love, loved, loved the platform at the back of the suburban and window screens. We used them all the time.
- My laundry system of using two XXL zip lock bags and sorting clothing into loads as we went worked really well. Glad I brought detergent packets and dryer sheets with me as it was convenient and more economical.
- Have enough flexibility in the schedule to add things in to the agenda, even if it adds in days.
- Leave no stone unturned! Do everything along the way that you think you might want to do! We have no regrets that way at all!
- Ask EVERYONE for advice on what you should do and see before hand.
- Eat as many meals as possible on a budget, but once and a while have a nice meal out to keep your sanity. We avoided fast food for most of the trip.
- The bag we used for theme related activities on the way was super for collecting the various ephemera we wanted to bring back home with us.
- Packing certain items all together, such as bathing suites & towels, toiletries, coats, and hats really worked. Normally we would pack things by person and not by item, but in doing these things together we could access them more quickly and therefore easily.
- For breakfast it worked well to buy a liter of milk and have cereal. We were able to drink the remainder of the milk, so we didn’t need to store it and it was always cold.
What I would do differently
- Make sure my younger kids have velcro or slip on shoes from the beginning! We spent far too much time tying and re-tying shoes.
- I brought too much food and water from the start. It was good to have some, but it is best to replenish along the way.
- I would take advantage of hotel reward program sooner.
- Our privacy system for the back windows of the suburban worked out alright, but we ran into a better solution along the way, black curtains that are mounted to the window using a 3M stick on rod. We found these at “Wonderful Walmart” and used them along the back window. For next time I would use them along the side windows as well.
- I would also have different kids responsible for different aspects of vehicle organization. For example, one for organizing laundry, another for bedding, one for food, and another for luggage.
- I’d also assign responsibility to go along with stops. For example every time we stop, one is responsible for emptying the garbage, one for cleaning the windshield at gas stations, etc.
- Next time I’ll be sure to have shoe deodorizer close at hand in the car as the kids tended to take off their shoes during the drive 🙂
- I’m not sure how yet, but I think I need to devise a better storage system for those frequently used items in the car, like paper towel, cameras, water bottles, etc. We utilized the suburban’s built in features and had organizers for the back of the seats, but it wasn’t terribly efficient.
- I would pack the suburban much sooner allowing more time to figure out where everything is going to go. I did this to some degree, but as we drove it became apparent that we needed access to certain things more regularly, so they needed to be more accessible. Luckily we got a packing system down pretty quickly.
- From the on-set I would pack travel toothbrushes and toothpaste in my purse.
- I wouldn’t book as many campsites ahead of time. We found our needs changed while on the road due to unbearable bug infestations, poor weather and just our level of tiredness. It’s much better to go with the flow and only book things you are really set on.
- I would bring along a basic map, just to give me a better sense of where we are as it can be hard to tell with the GPS as you really can’t zoom out to see how far across the country you are.
- I’d bring fewer travel games. We really didn’t find a need for too many games, there was so much to see and do, and in between we were tired!
- Develop a better system for garbage. The bag always seemed to have things toppling out.
- Some gas stations offer reward programs, research them and take advantage.
- Research sales tax rates ahead of time to take advantage.
- I would consider a smaller cooler next time and not plan to store anything that requires refrigeration over night.
- I think we could improve on our shoe storage system for next time as well.
Things to remember
- Some hotels have laundry facilities you can use, for example Super 8. This can save time during the day, but remember there are often curfews for these facilities.
- Not all areas have cell phone service, gas stations or places to eat, so plan ahead.
- Remember to account for time zone changes.
- Many areas have a lot of deer or other wild life along the road, so try not to drive after dusk.
- The further north you go the more day light you have in the summer, so you can take advantage of this.
- Ask about special rates for auto clubs, etc. at hotels and attractions. Look for coupons.
- Plan to stop in at visitor centres to get travel advice.
We spent a good portion of the day shopping at an outlet mall just a few hours from home. We figured that being so close to home it wouldn’t be too bad being squished in for the last little bit of the drive. We also stopped for some groceries just before the border. Certain items are quite a bit cheaper for us to purchase south of the border, so we like to take advantage of that whenever possible.
We were anxious to get home and it was great to arrive home and finally see the rest of the family (including our dog who broke the rule and came out to meet us on the drive way, normally she is restricted to the backyard.) This has been our longest separation by far. They had a great bbq dinner all ready for us and we welcomed seeing our own beds after being so long on the road.
Not long now until we are back to our own beds! We didn’t take any pictures today as our stops were just for shopping. We did find some great deals though. Tomorrow we should be home.
If there was a theme for today it would have been Dream Big! This morning we went to “the Field of Dreams”, the farm where the movie was filmed. Although the movie was fictional there was a definite atmosphere around the field that really made you wonder and it felt as if those baseball players were going to step out of that corn field at any moment.
Next on my dream list was a visit to Harpo Studios. I would have liked to have made it their while Oprah was still recording her show, but better late than never. I still can’t believe I drove in Chicago. I never dreamed I could do that. I really don’t like driving and here I am driving not only across the continent, but in huge cities during rush hour!
Last on my list for today was a visit to Gary, Indiana and the childhood home of Micheal Jackson. I was a big fan and perhaps even a little obsessive in high school so it seemed appropriate to stop in when we were in the area.
The kids are starting to get tired, so it is a good thing we are on the home stretch.
We didn’t set out with the objective of seeing so much of the US, but hey, it’s all relative, so when you’re in the area you might as well….right? After realizing we were driving through so many of the states we figured why skip Minnesota? I mean, when will we get back this way? The next logical questions was, what will we do there, to which the obvious answer was visit the Mall of America! I’m not much of a shopper by some people’s standards, but there must be a reason why it is considered the most widely visited mall in the world….let’s go find out.
Once again parking was surprisingly easy for me with the Suburban. It didn’t take long for all of us to see what the attraction was, there is definitely something for everyone at the Mall of America. One of the first things we spied was another American Girl store. Bonus! We were there early enough I was able to book a lunch date for us, which absolutely thrilled A. The two story store was draw dropping for A to see. (Really hope she gets to see the NY store some day and that I have a video camera to capture the expression on her face.)
Lunch was super! No regrets at all on the splurge! Everyone enjoyed the meal, including Bell and the view of the indoor amusement park was novel to say the least.
It wasn’t long until L spotted something he liked too. A huge LEGO store.
I managed to spend a considerable amount of time exploring a scrapbook store, which made me quite happy.
Our only other stop that day was in Burr Oak, Iowa at the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I still had quite a bit of driving ahead of me, which made for yet another long day, but it was peaceful. We ended up camping in a Walmart parking lot again for the night.
We got an early start this morning, leaving Cody, Wyoming, just outside Yellowstone National Park. We’re going to have to do some research on the origins of the name of the town when we get home, but judging from store names, etc. there seems to be a connection with Buffalo Bill Cody.
Internet access is still pretty limited for us as I need to keep my cell phone in airplane mode to avoid roaming charges, but we are making the most of free WiFi at McDonalds and at hotels when we are able to. Until we get home and have full access we will probably just continue to update our blog when we can and will fill in the rest once we return.
Our adventures today lead us through some interesting places, thanks in large part to our dependency on our GPS as we didn’t have an area map. We drove through some “Open Ranges”, where there are no fences and the cattle just roam.
Our first real stop of the day took place in late afternoon. We stopped to see Devils Tower in Wyoming. A fellow tourist me met in our travels in northern Ontario had suggested we stop in on our way by, so we did. For those of you unfamiliar with the landmark and old enough to recall the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” will recognize it from our pictures. (Think I will try to find a copy of the movie once we get home to show the kids.)
Our next stop was Mount Rushmore. We didn’t spend a lot of time at Mount Rushmore, but now that we have an annual pass (that comes with the parking fee) we can return any time we are in the area 🙂 It was a lovely spot and it was nice to see the site in person. I personally was expecting it to look larger, but non the less it is still amazing to see.
Tonight is a hotel night. With limited options we ended up having to go a little beyond our budget for a room as this area is jam packed with tourists and quite commercial. We found a nice hotel though and are adding to our collection of reward points.
In our travels today we stopped in to see the Idaho Potato Museum. It just seemed like the thing to do in Idaho…and I needed a break from driving. It was a curious little museum that gave out free hash-browns with adult admission tickets.
Eventually we reached Yellowstone National Park, where we saw all kinds of interesting things!
It was another super-long day, but one we will always remember. We finally settled in for the night in Cody, Wyoming, Buffalo Will country.
After yesterday we were all pretty tired. E and I headed to an outlet mall across the street from our hotel while K stayed with A and L. Oregon doesn’t have any sales tax, making outlet shopping that much more attractive. After that we hit the trail, quite literally as the highway at points followed what would have been the Oregon Trail.