My Year of Travel: 10 Places I’m Taking My Family

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When my family was young, my husband was working full-time and pursuing his master’s degree at the same time. As a result, we didn’t have any time or money for travel. When he finally defended his master’s thesis, we celebrated with a family trip  to San Diego.

That was the moment I caught the traveling bug. Those sunny days in California were wonderful, but, to my surprise, I enjoyed planning the vacation almost as much as taking it. Since then, my husband and I have made traveling a priority.

I’ve already talked about why millennials need travel, especially millennial families. Traveling as a family provides loads of wonderful new experiences for children. They begin to realize the world is much bigger than they ever imagined. The memories your family builds up will be a part of you forever.

This is not to say you are depriving your children if you don’t travel. Life has a time and place for everything. When my husband was still in school, we had different priorities. Whatever your circumstances, I suggest you try to find room for travel in your life. You won’t be disappointed.

I often get asked how I manage to travel so much. Many people view travel as requiring large amounts of money. But I can tell you that just isn’t necessarily true. Take a peek at the 10 places I’m taking my family this year.

 

There are certain places you should take your kids before they grow up, and visiting the Grand Canyon with kids definitely belongs on that list.

Grand Canyon National Park

After a long winter of being cooped up at home, I’m always itching to take a vacation once Spring Break season rolls around. Last year, I drove to San Antonio, a 20-hour drive. It was a fun trip, but a very long drive – especially with a teething 1-year-old.

This year, I am going a bit closer to home – Grand Canyon National Park. I last visited almost four years ago, and a sight like that can’t be seen too many times. I’ve visited both the North Rim and the South Rim, and, in my opinion, I think the South Rim is better with little kids.

I love walking the rim trail with its jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery no matter where I am on the trail. Also, getting even 500 feet away from the marked overlooks is enough to thin out the crowds. Once I’ve gone as far as I like, I can just jump on a free shuttle bus and hitch a ride back to my car.

Update: Read all about my tips for visiting the Grand Canyon with kids, the main destination on my Arizona road trip.

 

John Ford's Point, Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Over the years, I’ve been trying to check off as much of Southern Utah as I can from my bucket list. Our trip to the Grand Canyon will be the perfect opportunity to add in a visit to Monument Valley, which lies along the Utah-Arizona border. That famous vista you often see in movies just looks spectacular.

To prepare for our trip, I think I will need to watch every possible John Ford movie that I can get my hands on. And practice my John Wayne drawl. Though, what I really should do is brush up on my landscape photography skills. Hopefully I can snag some awesome pictures to share with you when I tell you about our trip.

Update: Read all about my visit to Monument Valley and learn what you need to know before you go.

Camping at night

Bryce Canyon National Park

Every few years, I manage to convince one of my closest friends that a camping vacation with my family is a great idea. I’m sure it won’t rain this time, I promise her. I’m surprised she keeps falling for it. Most likely because there is just something so alluring about visiting the national parks … even in the rain. Plus, camping is way cheaper than a hotel.

We wanted to go to Zion National Park, but it will just be too busy on the holiday weekend we have planned. Instead, we are going to hit up Bryce Canyon National Park which can handle the crowds much better. There really is nothing like Bryce Canyon. I can’t wait to hike the Queen’s Garden trail with the kids. The red hoodoos against the green trees and the blue sky are breathtaking.

Update: I was planning to go for Memorial Day, but had to cancel. Crazily enough, we did end up going to Zion National Park.

 

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis, Missouri

My family last visited St. Louis almost four years ago when my oldest two were younger, and we have been dying to go back. I have honestly raved about St. Louis to all my family for the last four years. First off, did you know the St. Louis Zoo always has free admission? How awesome is that!

Of course a trip to St. Louis would not be complete without a visit to the iconic Gateway Arch.  Last time we were there, it was under construction, and we had to walk there in the rain. I can’t wait to see it now that the construction is finished, and hopefully in good weather.

My all-time favorite part of St. Louis is the City Museum, a gigantic indoor playground made of repurposed industrial materials. Ten-story slide. Check. School bus poised to fall off the roof. Check. It’s amazing, and not just for kids. I can’t wait to go again.

A cloudy day at Bodie Island Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina

The Outer Banks, North Carolina

My husband and I try to drive back East to visit family every other year. This year’s destination: North Carolina. Jaclyn has lived in North Carolina for years now, and I’ve never visited her. That must change.

For a truly fantastic experience, we have decided to rent a house in Emerald Isle. Neither of us have ever been to the Outer Banks, but we are looking forward to spending a weekend playing in the sand with our kids.

I think we’ll visit the old Civil War fort at Fort Macon State Park or the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Also, The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores sounds like a perfect place for our little ones. I’ve heard the Outer Banks are beautiful, and I can’t wait to check it out for myself.

 

A man playing the guitar

 Nashville, Tennessee

We have family in Nashville, so we have visited once before several years ago. We had a wonderful time at the Nashville Zoo and the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, our trip was cut short by a family emergency, so we only got a brief taste of downtown Nashville.

This time, I’m hoping to see a bit more of downtown. I would love to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and attend a country music concert. Also at the top of my to-do list is to go hiking or biking at some of the awesome trails in the surrounding areas.

A canoe on a lake in Ohio

Ohio

Oh, Ohio. My home sweet home. It has been over two years since my last visit, so I am more than overdue. My in-laws live near a lake, so I can already envision the summer days spent canoeing with the cousins.

I’m hoping for that perfect recipe of lazy summer days: grilling burgers in the backyard, spitting watermelon seeds as far as you can, and catching fireflies in the palms of your hands. Memories from my childhood I can’t wait to pass on to my kids.

My parents also live in Ohio, and it’s always fun showing my kids the charms of my small hometown. Ice cream and nature hikes are in store for us, with a big helping of Grandma and Grandpa on the side.

 

A view along the lake of Split Rock Lighthouse outside of Duluth, Minnesota

Minnesota

I fell in love with Minnesota when I visited last year. Jaclyn and I had a girls’ trip to celebrate her birthday, and we had a blast. My aunt lives in Minneapolis, so I’m planning to stay with her again.

On top of my must-see list is Mall of America. I think the kids will enjoy seeing all the roller coasters inside, though I’m not sure they will want to ride one. I know they will enjoy visiting Minnehaha Park and splashing in the wading pool below the falls.

While Jaclyn and I were there, we took a trip out to Split Rock Lighthouse outside Duluth. The entire time, I kept thinking, I must bring my family here. It was just so beautiful. If I’m going to be driving back to Utah, why not take a northern detour?

A view of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota

North Dakota

I have a friendly competition going with Jaclyn to see who can visit all 50 states first. Neither of us have ever been to North Dakota, so it will give me a leg up in the race. What is there to do in North Dakota, you may ask? Basically nothing. I mean it. I’ve looked and looked, and my list is impressively short. If you have any suggestions, feel free to pass them on.

As I drive along I-94, my plan is to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park because I am national park admirer. Unlike at the most popular national parks, I won’t have to worry about parking or fighting through the crowds. Plus, I’m hoping to show the kids some fun wildlife – bison, wild mustangs, and maybe even prairie dogs.

 

Old Faithful geyser erupting in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

I took my oldest two children camping here when they were little, and, to sum up our trip, it was raining. Camping in the rain with little ones is not terribly fun. This time I think I’ll pass on the camping. My husband has an aunt who lives near Yellowstone National Park, and I think it might be time for a visit.

Even in the rain, Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone were amazing sights to see. I’m excited to see how spectacular they look in good weather. I’m absolutely looking forward to see Grand Prismatic Spring again. In the rain, all you see is mist rising from its surface. I have a vivid memory of its dazzling colors from when I visited as a youth, and I want to pass that experience on to my children.

The Oregon Coast

Anywhere else?

And those are just my plans through July! I told you millennials need travel, and I am jumping in with two feet. Besides the ten locations listed, I know I will be taking an Arizona road trip as well as visiting Colorado, Kansas City and Maryland. Depending on how well I budget all of these trips, I would love to do a late summer road trip to the Oregon Coast. I’ve planned trips to Oregon on multiple occasions, but each one has gotten cancelled at the last minute. Maybe this year I can swing it.

Since I’m not going camping at Zion National Park this spring, I’m hoping we can fit in a weekend trip in November when the crowds have died down a bit. And reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which is on my list of the 30 books every millennial needs to read, has made me want to go backpacking. In theory, at least. In reality, I think I’ll do a day hike to the top of Mount Timpanogos here in Utah. Though that would be without the kids. Speaking about without the kids …

 

Bonus: Where I’m Going Without the Kids

Those Dam Boat Guys canal tour, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Europe

That picture just says it all. Last year, I spotted round-trip tickets to Europe for as much as a plane ticket to Ohio. At the time I was heavily pregnant with my fourth, and I decided the wise choice would be to pass them up since there is always that possibility of something going wrong. Plus, finding a babysitter for four kids is hard enough without adding a young baby to the mix. Adulting can be a royal pain.

Ever since, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for any more sweet deals on flights to Europe, and I was lucky enough to snag two discount tickets to Amsterdam in spring. My husband and I are going to spend two days enjoying the tulips in Amsterdam before taking the train down to Paris. Neither of us have ever been to Europe, so we are beyond thrilled. So keep tuned for my traveling tips from my first trip to Europe.

Update: Learn all about the best things to do in Amsterdam in Spring and how to spend a Weekend in Paris.

 Do you have any fun vacations planned for this year?  Feel free to comment with your family’s favorite destinations … past, present or future. We’d love to hear where you’ve been and where you’re going. 

Do you want to take your family on vacation this year without spending too much money? Come check out my list of budget-friendly family destinations that my family of six is visiting this year.

Do you want to take your family on vacation this year without spending too much money? Come check out my list of budget-friendly family destinations that my family of six is visiting this year.
Do you want to take your family on vacation this year without spending too much money? Come check out my list of budget-friendly family destinations that my family of six is visiting this year.
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8 Comments

  • Reply Jaclyn March 8, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    Rachael might be crossing off North Dakota, but I lived in Alaska for a summer! So far I’ve been to 41 out of 50 states. All I have left is Michigan, North Dakota, Montana, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

    • Reply Rachael March 8, 2018 at 11:08 pm

      Well, once I hit North Dakota I’ll be at 41 states, too!

  • Reply Sara Groves March 8, 2018 at 7:44 pm

    Jaclyn, you’ve been to all those states! Fantastic! Rachael, your description of those places to visit makes me want to get busy planning fun trips across this great land of ours, even though I’m not a millennial! ? That is something your grandpa and I loved to do! Looking forward to your visit this summer!. You two sisters, keep this blog going! It is great! Grandma Groves

    • Reply Rachael March 8, 2018 at 11:09 pm

      You don’t have to be a millennial to read our blog. Love you!

  • Reply My Sons Father March 8, 2018 at 10:26 pm

    This is a great list. Chris over at Keep Thrifty has a goal of taking his kids to all 50 states before they turn 18. I think I might steal that idea from him. We hit a few of these on our road trip this summer, and while I had a panic attack (not really) at Grand Canyon, I think it is something everyone needs to see. Good luck with your travels.

    • Reply Rachael March 8, 2018 at 11:15 pm

      I also want my kids to hit all 50 states! My oldest is 6 and has visited 34. I have a 50 states scrapbook for each of them, which has made me realize that I’m not a very good scrapbooker. But I want to at least slap in a picture whenever they do something of particular interest in each state – more than just driving through.

  • Reply Diana March 14, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    You always amaze me with your travels! I love it! (and jealous at times too). I LOVE the boundary waters in Minnesota. That is one place we want to go with the kids. Travel plans: Utah (can’t wait to see you!) and Indiana/Ohio. I’m hoping our trips will overlap! Keep up the good traveling with your family. Chad has wonderful memories of travel with his parents. 🙂

    • Reply Rachael March 14, 2018 at 6:02 pm

      Yes, let’s overlap in Ohio. That would be wonderful. I’ll send you my dates.

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