Travel – Family Road Trip Tips

As most readers of this blog know – our family loves to take road trips!  When I was a young girl I remember taking two different road trips with my parents and sisters.  One trip was driving from our home in California across the country to Chicago, Illinois.  We made stops in Salt Lake City, Utah to see the Mormon Temple and Yellowstone National Park where we saw numerous black bears walking down the road and stopping traffic.  The second road trip that we took was a few years later when we drove from California up the West Coast stopping in Oregon and Washington before reaching our destination in British Columbia and taking the ferry to Victoria Island.  Both those trips created such vivid memories for me and I still remember being together as a family traveling across the country staying in small hotel rooms or camping, singing songs in the car and playing games, stopping to eat meals in small restaurants in cities along the way.  But what I remember most was seeing the wonderful sites in the various states, such as historic places or National Parks.

Many years later, I wanted to build those kinds of memories for my children and I started planning regular road trips every summer.  I would plan our annual trip several months in advance selecting our destination and then researching what interesting sites there would be to see along the way.  I would book a variety of accommodations for these various trips which ranged from tent camping in National Parks to more luxurious hotels depending on our destination.  Our family has seen the country from coast to coast visiting historical sites, natural history museums, a number of presidential libraries, various aquariums and zoos but I think the places we like to visit most are the National Parks.  (For more information about National Park Travel Tips, please click on the link)

Our family enjoyed these trips very much and in this post I would like to share some of the travel tips I learned throughout the years and offer suggestions for planning a Family Road Trip!!

Tips And Suggestions For A Family Road Trip

Planning Ahead

  • The first rule of planning a family road trip is to get start as soon as possible prior to the anticipated departure date.  The longer time you have in planning the more options can be explored whether it is hotel or activity reservations which can be booked several months in advance.  It would be in your best interest to get started as soon as possible since popular destination reservations can fill up quickly and unavailable especially during the summer months.
  • Important Travel Advisory:  With the internet, visitor information can be easily found, but my recommendation is to always check your sources to confirm that the information is correct.  Also when making reservations, especially when using a credit card, always use a secured and verified website.
  • Take advantage of current maps, these can be obtained from the internet or the local bookstore or local travel agency (such as AAA).  Viewing maps that show the route to and from your anticipated destination can be an excellent way to find sites, attractions or other points of interest for possible stops along the journey.
  • Take advantage of guidebooks, these can be obtained through a local travel agency, purchased at a local bookstore or online (such as, or on loan from a local library (this last idea can save money – guidebooks can be expensive for an item that is possibly used only once or twice)

Before leaving

  • Have vehicle thoroughly checked prior to leaving on a road trip; be sure that the vehicle is properly maintained and operating correctly.  Check fluid levels such as oil and windshield wiper liquid.  Check tires for proper inflation and replace if necessary due to tire wear, carry a tire gauge for checking air pressure while on the road.  Be sure that spare tire and jack are present in the car and in good operating condition.  Check that headlights, rear lights, turn signal lights are operating properly.
  • Be sure to have a flashlight (check batteries before leaving and replace if necessary) and pack a few basic car tools (include road flares, reflective light for emergency stops, booster cables) and make sure these are easily accessible if needed.
  • Take the time to wash the exterior of the car and clean out the interior; nobody wants to travel in a dirty car. Be sure to clean windows inside and out, vacuum the car floor and between the seats, dust interior dashboard and empty trash containers.
  • Prepare and pack special travel items for use during the trip.  Items to include: paper towels for spills, moist towelettes for quick wipes, small package of facial tissues, small bottle of hand sanitizer, paper or plastic bags for trash, a basic first-aid kit and blankets or pillows.
  • Prepare and pack some food and drinks for use during travel.  Items to include: small cooler for water and other beverages (make sure it fits conveniently in the interior of the car and is easily accessible without obstructing driver or passengers), pack snacks (try to select items that are non-messy and relatively healthy) and extra plastic forks, spoons, straws and napkins just in case.

(Please look for a future post with tips and suggestions on handling children on a long road trip and what to pack to keep them entertained in the car and hotel rooms)

The point of a family road trip is to have fun and seeing the wonderful, exciting and educational places that the United States has to offer.   Advance planning and preparation will take some of the worry out of the trip.  The point of a road trip is to spend time with family, so relax and enjoy!!

Travel – National Parks Travel Tips (Part Two)

A trip to one of our national parks can be a wonderful vacation filled with amazing adventures for you and your family.  The United States National Park Service administrates the 59 National Parks, 108 National Monuments, 78 Historical Sites and hundreds of other sites throughout the United States.  Pull out a United States map and take a look, there are probably several national park sites within an easy drive from your home.

In this post, I am going to discuss one of my favorite topics in regards to the national parks … taking photographs.

National Parks have many scenic views of picturesque lakes, majestic mountains, magical forests and arid deserts, the photo opportunities are endless.  One of our family traditions is the classic photo at the national park sign.  (I can hear my children now complaining, “Not another picture by a sign, why do we have to do this?)  These are some of my favorite photos taken at the national parks and I am so glad we have them.  One wall in our home is filled with all of these photos displayed in white mats and simple black frames.  Below each photo, on the mat, I’ve written the date of each visit.  Looking at these photos I can see my children growing from year to year and the wonderful memories we’ve shared at those national parks.

Bryce NP 1992    Arches NP 2004

When I am taking photos of the park’s beautiful landscape I usually take several photos of just the scenery but then I’ll take more with the family.  For example, everybody takes a classic photo the family standing with Mount Rushmore in the background.  It is a great photo but not a very original idea.  Now, look at the some photos taken during a visit to the Petrified Forest National Park in 2011.  The photo is of the petrified agate log bridge but look to the right and you will notice my husband standing there taking his own photo of the log.  I love taking photos like this because when I put them into the scrapbook I place them side by side and caption the photos as “my view and his view”.

Petrified Forest NP 2011 2    Petrified Forest NP 2011 5

When visiting the national parks one of our favorite activities, when available, is taking a cave tour.  Caves can be a difficult environment in which to take photos, generally caves can be dark with very limited lighting.  Using a flash would be helpful but you don’t want to distract the other visitors with a bright flash going off in a darken cave.  When we visited Mammoth Cave NP in 2010, we stopped to take a photo of my son and daughter in one of the larger caverns with the lights on.  When taking photos sometimes it is a good idea to tell the story of the experience.  Shown below is a photo showing one of the stairways used by the visitors to descend into the caves.  Another example of photos telling the story of a trip was taken in Rocky Mountain NP in 2012.  Driving through the park, visitors can climb to very high elevations and I took a photo of my daughter with an elevation sign that read two miles above sea level to explain how high we actually were.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   Mammoth Caves 2010 3   Rocky Mountain NP 2012 1

When we visit NPS sites we usually like to take tours and try to experience special activities.  One example of this type of photo was taken at Wind Cave NP in 2004 and shows my husband and daughter standing under a sign that reads “tour starts here”.  Another example is a photo taken in 2011 at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St Louis, MO.  There is a ride there that will take visitors to the top of the Gateway Arch and I took a photo of my daughter holding the tickets.  Another fun photo was taken at the Badlands NP in 2004, we had pulled into an area where we could watch the prairie dogs and I got out of the car and took the photo of my husband and daughter looking out into the prairie with their binoculars, a very cute photo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    St Louis Arch 2011 1

Sometimes the scenery with inspire a creative photo.  Usually when we are on vacation at the beach we write our names, location and date of the visit in the sand with a stick.  When we visited the White Sands National Monument in 2012 I took the classic writing in the sand photo.  Along with this photo I took some great action shots of my daughter running down the sand dunes, she was having a great time.

White Sands 2012 2



Occasionally we take silly photos, like the one my husband took when we were visiting Saguaro NP.  It’s a funny photo of my daughter and I touching the prickly saguaro and we are making silly faces.  Sometimes shopping in the park gift shop will inspire a funny photo, like the one of my daughter wearing a stovetop hat at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace Historic Site in Kentucky or the silly moose hat she is wearing at Rocky Mountain NP.

Lincoln birthpalce 2010 2    Rocky Mountain NP 2012 2

Have fun taking photos and send me some of your favorites – I would love to see them!

For additional ideas and tips when visiting a National Park please check out National Park Travel Tips (Part One).

Travel – National Park Travel Tips (Part One)

Within the National Park Service there are 59 National Parks, 108 National Monuments, 78 Historic Sites and hundreds of other sites which they administrate and maintain.  The national parks in particular are popular travel destinations which offer beautiful scenery as well as offering hiking, camping, boating and other recreational activities.  Across the United States there are numerous opportunities to enjoy these magnificent parks.  So, get out a map and look for the national parks in your area or plan a longer road trip and visit several along the way.

The first thing to do when planning a trip to a national park is to book lodge or campsite reservations.  Sometimes accommodations within a national park can be very limited and popular destinations book far in advance, so researching the information regarding accommodations is very important.  Facilities can range from luxurious lodges to very rustic campsites and these decisions are determined by your personal preference.  Our family had stayed at all different types of accommodations and we have enjoyed every one of them.  Honestly, unless you are very particular about your sleeping arrangements, in the evening when bedtime comes around you can be so exhausted from the day’s activities that you are asleep before your head hits the pillow!  When we have been on past road trips and visiting several national parks in a period of time longer then a week, we have found that a combination of campsites and lodges accommodations can be a great balance because sometimes you want the luxury of a comfortable bed and a private shower or bath.  If the national park you are visiting is close to a city, sometimes the hotel accommodations are more plentiful and rooms are available in all price ranges.

Visiting a national park can be an exciting adventure for you and your family.  To make the trip a successful one a little advance research is a good idea.  Once you decide on a destination and have accommodation reservations made, try to gather as much information as you can regarding the area in which you are planning to visit.  The local library is a good resource for tour and guide books on a particular national park or check out online book sources like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  I always like to read a book about the history of the area before visiting.  Then, when we are on the trip, sometimes it is a good idea to have something to read in the evening when you are back at the campsite or lodge.

When I first visited Yosemite National Park I purchased a book by John Muir.  Muir was a naturalist and author who wrote about his adventures in Yosemite and the importance of protecting and preserving areas like Yosemite throughout the United States.  His activism efforts lead to founding the Sierra Club which is one of the most important conservation organizations in the United States.  I really enjoyed reading about his adventures in Yosemite and then visiting the places he was talking about in his books.  I think I appreciated my time in Yosemite more when looking at the beauty of the scenery through the eyes of John Muir.

The next major decision when planning a national park trip is determining a schedule of activities and things to do.  Gathering information about the activities of the national park is a very helpful way to setting the trip budget because it allows for additional expenses such as: guided tours, rock climbing, horseback riding, raft trips, etc.  Once the trip dates are confirmed, I would advise booking any type of popular activities in advance.  Sometimes these activities fill up quickly especially during the peak summer vacation months.  Nothing can ruin a trip more than arriving at a destination and finding out that activity you were looking forward to experiencing has been sold out.  When we visited the Grand Canyon we wanted to take the mule ride on the Bright Angel Trail, so we booked the ride in advance and were able to pick the day and time that fit into our trip schedule.  On this same trip we also reserved a popular river raft tour on the Colorado River in advance so as not to miss out on this exciting adventure.  As early as possible, take the time to get these important reservations made and it will eliminate the stress so you can enjoy the trip knowing that your activities are confirmed!

Listed below are several additional tips and suggestions to help when planning a national park trip.

Tips and suggestions when planning a trip

  • When starting to plan a trip to a national park, a great resource is the National Park Service website at  This website will have information regarding specific national parks such as: hours, fees, reservation, history, geology, animal, plant info as well as a special section for kids.
  • Be sure to involve the kids in the planning process, talk to them about what sites they would be interested in visiting.  Plan a balance of adult and children activities to keep everyone happy.  Be flexible in planning the activities and don’t over schedule, smaller child need time to simply play and run or maybe even take a nap.
  • When traveling, be sure to break up the trip with frequent stops at rest areas or for meal times.  Sometimes national parks are located far away from cities and facilities may be limited.  Be sure to check in advance for this type of information.  Plan ahead with extra snacks and drinks or perhaps pack a picnic lunch.  When on the hiking trails or outside the car, be sure to carry enough water for everybody and especially in the southwestern national parks in the summer it can get very hot and you will want to avoid dehydration.
  • Before leaving, consider purchasing a special map for the kids so they can enjoy following along during the trip.  This will answer that inevitable question of, “are we there yet”!  Also, when you know the specific national park you are visiting, check out the children’s section in your local bookstore or online at, sometimes you can find a fun book for them to read about that particular park.
  • If you are traveling to several national parks, consider purchasing the National Park Annual Pass.  The pass is $80 and valid for a full year from the month of purchase.  Do the math and see if this would be economical purchase for you.  If you are traveling with a senior citizen, consider the Senior National Park Pass which costs $10 and is valid for a lifetime.  The purchaser must be 62 years or older and the Senior Pass admits the pass holder and up to three additional adults traveling together in the same vehicle.  (Children under 16 are always admitted free in a national park)  We found out about this from a park ranger when we were traveling with my husband’s mother and we joked that from now on when we visit a national park we are taking her with us because basically we could get in for free!
  • When at the national park visitor center, consider purchasing the Passport to Your National Parks Stamp Book.  This is a great way for the kids to collect stamps from the parks they visit and a fun way to remember the places.  One of our first stops in any national park we visit is the visitor center for maps and current park info, while there our daughter always heads to the passport stamp section to get the park’s stamps for her passport book.
  • Another great idea for the kids is the educational Junior Ranger Program and it is totally free.  When you are at the park’s visitor center pick up a copy for your child.  Usually the booklet has activities and questions for them to answer while they are exploring the park.  When the book is completed return to the visitor center for them to participate in a quick ceremony administrated by the park ranger, the child will raise their right hand and repeat the Junior Ranger oath before receiving the park’s Junior Ranger patch.  We always try to do this with our daughter and it is a great photo opportunity!
  • Taking a pet, particularly dogs, on a trip may sound like a good idea but most national parks have rules and regulations.  Always check in advance for information regarding pet limitations as this will be helpful in determining whether to leave them at home and making alternative arrangements.
  • When visiting the national parks, be sure to observe all the rules and regulations such as speed limits.  Be sure to take into consideration any special safety signs such as bear warnings.  Respect the park’s wildlife and be sure to observe bear safety rules when on hiking trails and other areas of the park.  It is always a good idea to make a quick check of the weather report at the park’s visitor center and while there also check for road or trail closures.  Heat or high altitude conditions can effect visitor’s health, so take precautions and be prepared.  When we go on hikes in the national parks, we always carry a small backpack with a small first aid kit, flashlight and enough water for everyone.  Consider purchasing a couple of reusable water bottles prior to your visit for use while hiking, this is an excellent way to be green (earth) smart.
  • Since one of the goals of the National Park Service is protecting and preserving our national parks, be aware of your impact on the environment.  Consider parking your vehicle and walk, bike or take the park’s public transportation when available because these simple choices will reduce the carbon emissions into the environment.  Be sure to observe the recycling cans while at the visitor center, lodges, campsites, etc. while in the park.  Conserve water whenever possible while in the parks, such as washing dishes at campsites.  When at the campgrounds be sure to minimize your campfire impact, when leaving extinguish the fire fully and be sure to dispose of waste properly.
  • When camping in the park, before to check all camping equipment before leaving.  If the tent is new, consider setting up and taking down the tent.  Solve any possible problems and check that all equipment is functioning properly, such as the camp stove or lantern.  Be sure to have extra batteries for flashlights, etc.
  • Please stop and take a moment with your family to enjoy the national park with all the beauty and activities that are available.  If you have limited time when visiting the parks, be sure to stop at the visitor center. These facilities offer information and other services, excellent natural and historical displays and orientation movies as well as shopping and sometimes dining opportunities.  Be sure to take a drive on any of the scenic roads because it is a great way to explore the park.  Take the time to get out of your vehicle and walk even a short distance on one of the park’s hiking trails.  This is a great idea especially when a park can be crowded during the busy summer months.

Finally, I hope that you and your family consider a trip to one of our national parks.  There are so many diverse natural and historical sites to see and I’m sure any one of those chosen will provide you and your family with experiences and moments that will be remembered for a lifetime.

For additional ideas and tips when visiting a National Park please check out National Park Travel Tips (Part Two).