I just returned home from a family vacation last night. We don’t go on big trips often, maybe once every 3-4 years, but we decided that this year was a vacation year. We started planning this trip around Thanksgiving, so it’s been in the works for a while (I’m a planner. I can’t help it). I thought it would be nice to 1) recap a little of my trip for you without boring you to death, and 2) give you some hints/tips/tricks that worked for us this time. As always, any and all suggestions are welcome in the comments! Vacations are NOT always easy.
I know, I know, Captain Obvious over here. My family was not completely set on the travel dates, which made it a bit easier when looking for a house to rent for the week. We were traveling from Texas to Colorado and knew we wanted to go sometime in the summer. We didn’t have too many schedule conflicts (luckily!), just a few swimming lessons/camps/blackout dates at work to work around. When trying to organize a trip for an entire family, you HAVE to plan ahead!
As much as I love staying in (nice) hotels, when traveling with a group it isn’t always the smartest thing to do. For our past 4 vacations, we have rented a house for the duration using VRBO. We had 6 adults, 2 kids, and 1 infant with us for this trip so it was imperative that we find a house large enough for everyone to have their space. I spent hours (okay, maybe I just really like looking at other people’s houses too much) looking for the “perfect” house and narrowed it down for my dad. My siblings and I asked him to pay for the house in lieu of Christmas gifts last year, because none of us needed a thing. It worked out great – he chose one that was in his budget yet still large enough for all of us. We even had an extra bedroom after all was said and done! Any of us could easily “get away” for a little while as needed – and sometimes, it was needed. We didn’t have to wait for the showers (there were 4 bathrooms), there was plenty of room to sit (two living areas and two decks/patios), and it came with a fully stocked kitchen. It was pretty perfect. (If you ever need a vacation home rental near Durango, Colorado – let me know! The house was great!). I believe it cost around $250/night, which is a steal, when you think about how much 4 hotel rooms would have cost.
We aren’t rich. We can’t afford to eat out for every meal on vacation, and I don’t know many people that can. Another reason we rent a house (vs. staying in a hotel) is because they come with kitchens. Kitchens = meals. Now, we don’t do anything fancy for our vacation meals, but we don’t have hot dogs over the campfire every night either. My sister and I generally make a list of some easy meals, then make a grocery list and some kind of schedule, depending on what the plans are for the day. We always buy breakfast food because we eat breakfast at the house every day. We buy lunch/sandwich stuff because on most days, we stop and have a picnic. We buy lots of snack stuff because we do a lot of driving on most days, and it is easier (and healthier) to not have to stop at random gas stations for snacks. We kept a cooler in each car and refilled it with water, snacks, and ice every day. We also ate dinner at the house every night. I emailed the owner of the house and asked if there was a crock pot in the kitchen, and there was – so we made use of that for 2 of the nights. The house also had a grill, so we used that as well.
We decided to make this vacation a road trip instead of flying to save some money. Road tripping has its advantages AND its disadvantages. We rented a large SUV and took my dad’s mid-size SUV. Yes, they are gas guzzlers, and no, it wasn’t cheap to keep gas in the cars – but it was less expensive than paying for plane tickets AND rental cars AND gas. It worked out great for our family. Since we had two 7 year olds and one 1 year old going, I decided to make each of them a road trip goodie bag. That will have to be a separate post, because I admit I got a little out of control with it and bought a TON of stuff for them. It was so worth it, though, and the older kids loved them. I’m sure my 1 year old nephew loved his too, but he couldn’t TELL me he loved it! Yes, we could have rented a 15 passenger van, but I don’t think I would feel safe in one of those on mountain roads – so we stuck with the 2 SUV decision and it was perfect.
The drive from D/FW to Durango is about 13 hours (833 miles) if you drive straight through, don’t hit traffic, and don’t make any bathroom stops. Realistically, we knew we were looking at about a 15 hour drive each way. Now, if the only people on this trip were me and my husband, we would have driven straight through just to get there – but we had kids to contend with, so that was not going to happen. We drove about 500 miles the first day, and stopped in Santa Rosa, NM for the night. (The above picture is the Blue Hole, in Santa Rosa) The next day, we drove the remainder of the miles and got to the vacation house around 6:00 pm or so – we stopped in Taos, NM for an extended lunch/explore the town, so that took about 3 hours (which we factored in when deciding where to stop for the night). We had 3 hotel rooms, thanks to using loyalty points and Priceline! 4 hotel rooms would have been optimal, but it was fine since all we really did was sleep. On the way there, we ate dinner at a local restaurant. On the way home, we detoured through Santa Fe and ordered pizza once we got to the hotel in Santa Rosa. Since we took 2 vehicles, we were able to stop in Amarillo on the way home and see my husband’s mom and grandmother – they were thrilled. The car with the kids kept on going while we got to have a sit down lunch with his family.
My family made SO much fun of me for “overplanning” this vacation – but by the end of it, they were all so thankful that I took the time to write out what we were doing every day. I probably spent way too much time on it, because I LOVE planning vacations, but it paid off in a big way. I knew we would basically be driving for 2 days each way, so I planned stops for lunch breaks in cities we would be passing through on each day of driving. The kids loved getting to check out a new playground in a new city! It took some thinking and lots of maps, but it was so worth it. I also knew that after driving for 2 days, it wouldn’t be good to do something that required a long car ride on our first full day in Colorado – so I didn’t plan anything too far away. The next 3 days were pretty full, and then our last full day we just took it easy and explored Durango on foot. I had my reasons for planning things the way I did, and it worked out very well for all of us!
As much I stress the planning part of vacations, just know going into it that everything is not going to go according to plan. For instance, I got a migraine 2 days before we left, and was basically unable to get out of bed until about 10:00 pm the night before we left thanks to my migraine medication. I didn’t plan on spending the day before vacation in bed, but it couldn’t be helped. We had to miss an outdoor movie one night because the kids were exhausted. Yes, it would have been fun, but they needed some time to cool down – so we picked up some BBQ for dinner and played UNO together. One of the nights we were there, we were unable to have a fire in the fire pit for S’mores due to the wind. We made them in the microwave instead, and the kids were just as happy with that. Everyone will survive if plans change a little bit!
At my former job, I had 6 weeks of paid time off every year. I never had to really “budget” my days off – in fact, I generally gave about 2-3 weeks BACK every year because I couldn’t take it all (I know, I know). However, at my new job, I have 2 weeks of vacation. As you can imagine, it hurt to use 5 days for this vacation! It really did. That’s why I cringed when I thought about what I had always done in the past – taking the day before we left off AND the day after we got back off. 7 days? More than half of my yearly vacation allowance? Am I crazy? It may mean having to really budget my other days off for the rest of the year, but I can tell you that FOR ME, it’s the smartest thing I could have done for myself. The day before I was down for the count with the migraine from hell and wouldn’t have been able to work anyway. The day after – I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “I need a vacation from my vacation!” – yes, yes, YES. I needed that extra day to relax, enjoy some peace and quiet, unpack (ha), watch
a little a lot of TV, and cuddle with my dogs that I missed like crazy. If you can swing taking those 2 extra days off, do it.
We decided to invite one of our lifelong family friends and her little boy to come with us on our vacation. She has always been like my dad’s third daughter, and her son is my nephew’s age. She wouldn’t have been able to do this on her own, so she came with us and made so many new memories with her son AND with us. I know that my nephew just loved having someone to play with and they really did keep each other entertained. Sure, there were times when we had to separate them (because really, two 7 year old boys aren’t going to get along all the time) but 95% of the time it was just great. I loved hearing the giggles and the talking about what we had done that day. I know that it was nice for our friend to “escape” for a while as well! Food/housing/gas for 2 more people was not even an issue because we already had everything figured out before we even invited her. I’m just glad she was able to go and bring her son!
As much as I love going on vacation with my family, it’s not necessary FOR US to do this every year. Like I said before, we try to do this every 3-4 years and that’s enough for us. Next year, I plan to use my vacation days for a trip alone with my husband and a conference or two. I feel like by NOT going every year with the whole family, everyone appreciates it more and looks forward to it! For your family, you might want to do this every year – every family is different – but it isn’t a huge thing for us. Now, that’s not to say we don’t do ANYTHING in between – we go on lots of little weekend trips that are closer to home and have a blast – but we don’t do full on vacations every year.
Since I’m a planning freak, you know good and well I went to blogs and Pinterest for help. Here are a few of the best posts I found throughout my planning! Maybe they will help you as much as they helped me.