Saturday, July 4, 2015

Collection Jars & Map Updated

I (finally) updated my collection jars and license plate map. I'm so excited! While traveling we collect  items and I put them in jars where we relive our travels every day.  Annelies has gathered dirt from the Churchill Downs racetrack (Kentucky Derby), and Scott has (illegally) grabbed ash from Mount St. Helen's Volcano. 

Here are my collection jars. I use IKEA RAJTAN jars. Scott recently hung six (6) RIBBA Picture Ledges since my fireplace mantel was getting too small, and I just love it! I should have enough room to hold items from our two remaining trips.

We also collect license plates while traveling. The girls love stopping at junk yards (here we are in North Dakota). We meet some very nice people along our journeys as well (Chris from Mt. Hood, and Haddy at the Licensing Bureau). I display them in front of my home on a large board (you can see how I created it here). Scott and I just got it updated. Only seven (7) states missing! Yahoo!!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Final Post: Wyoming 2015

Wyoming, 2015 has come to an end. For all my statistics fans, here are the Final Stats of Wyoming 2015:

  • States: Five (5), one new - Wyoming
  • Miles: 2,649
  • Miles per Gallon (average): 24.69
  • Gas Price per Gallon (average): $2.82
  • Total Gas Cost: $270.48
  • National Park Sites: Five (5)
  • Lodging: $627.59
  • Souvenirs: $200.99
  • Tourist Traps: $132.00
  • Redbox Rentals: $14.26
  • Car Rental: $263.18
  • Fights: 0
  • Injuries: 0
  • Views on this blog: 1,676
  • Knitting Projects: Two (2); Infant monster pants and incomplete summer t-shirt
This was, yet another, great trip. Taking one week to see Wyoming seemed perfect. This fall Paradis (16) starts college at the University of Minnesota and Annelies (13) will be entering 7th grade. Yikes. I'm so glad I have this blog to remind me of all the good adventures we have had together. I think this picture is my favorite from the trip because it really does capture how much we laugh. No doubt they were all laughing at me, but none-the-less we were laughing. 

The Drivin' the Dream Team

We have seven (7) states remaining to complete Drivin' the Dream. Next summer (2016) we will visit six states in the northeast, and Alaska in 2017. 

This is the ninth trip I have documented on this blog. As of today (June 23, 2015), there have been 18,314 views (1,700 for this trip alone). As I have said before, I started this blog to document our family adventures, I never expected others to enjoy reading it as well. However, I am so happy you have. I just love all the messages I receive from many of you.

Happy travels everyone! Get out there and enjoy this great country!
 - Rae Ann ( and Spiderwomen on Ravelry)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Day Six: A Good-Bye, Long Drive and Devil's Tower

The morning started early. I apologize to my fellow campground companions whom I'm sure we woke with our roaring engine when we departed at 5:30am. I'm getting back at the family with the screaming kids from the night before. I'm reminded why we don't camp. Although, for the record I slept like a Princess straight through until 4:00am, but Paradis and Scott apparently didn't. Travel tip: Earplugs. Wear them every night. I need my sleep, and earplugs are my salvation.
We drove into Jackson and dropped Paradis off at the Jackson Hole airport. This was our view driving through the Grand Tetons. Looks painted, doesn't it?
Grand Tetons
It was a beautiful drive, and the airport rocks. Free short-term parking I'm sure helped form that opinion. Paradis is headed to the University of Nebraska for a week-long Thespian Festival. I have a feeling the next few years we will experience many more of these send offs for this fine young woman.
Paradis at Jackson Hole Airport
Annelies, now our only-child, slept for four hours while we drove. That is a record. Annelies never sleeps in the vehicle. On our drive through the Grand Tetons, Scott and I saw a black bear along the road (in the middle of the photo, to the left of the tree). By the time we turned around it was too far for a great photo, but I'm including for Paradis (so sorry you missed it).

And we drove. And drove. And drove. Until we reached Devil's Tower, a National Monument, near Sundance Wyoming. Holy toledo! That thing is HUGE! I've seen photos, but didn't realize it was so large. A great little stop just north of highway 90.

Our only child decided she didn't want to experience the National Park stop without her big sister, so Scott and I went in alone. I guess we are empty nesters for the next two days. We hiked around the 'base' of the tower; an easy mile walk. It was nice, because all the sides are so different. The weather, once again, was perfect.

We wrapped up the night at Bear's Lodge Hotel in Sundance, just a half-hour drive from the Tower near I-90. Tomorrow we head home. It was an uneventful, good day.
Day Six: 558 Miles (1,971 total); Gas $33.07 ($200.65 total); Lodging $70.00 ($696.20 total); Souvenirs $14.63 ($200.99 total); Tourist Traps $10 ($132 total); Fights 0 (0 total); Injuries 0 (0 total); Redbox $3.20 ($14.26 total); Transportation $0 ($278 total)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Day Five: Grand Tetons and Camping

We had breakfast at Old Faithful's diner. As we approached the Visitor Center we saw the geyser was just about to erupt (they post it on the front door). We ran and caught it just in time.

Selfie at Old Faithful

 Old Faithful
Yellowstone has within its boundaries two-thirds of all geysers in the world. That is crazy. Old Faithful may be faithful, but there are many more to see within the park. Old Faithful has two 'basins' below it; one holds 3,000 gallons (at 200 degrees) and the lower holds 5,000 gallons (at 700 degrees!). At the top of the two basins is a tight junction which creates the large geyser we see on top. It either erupts every 94 minutes (if the last eruption was less than three minutes) or 64 minutes (if the last eruption was more than three minutes). Faithful.

We continued north and stopped at Midway Geyser Basin and saw a spring that was so colorful it was just beautiful. We learned though that the colors are due to bacteria, so that creeped us out a bit. Okay, it creeped me out. But I still wanted to bend down and touch the water. I didn't.

Midway Geyser Basin
Next we stopped at Fountain Paint Pot. Cool. Very cool.

Fountain Paint Pot

Yellowstone is a cool park. It is very large and the landscape is so diverse. Not to mention all the wildlife. Everything is accessible by driving, and therefore you can see a lot within a short time. We only spent a day-and-a-half, and although we didn't see it all, we saw a lot. I would definitely recommend going in June. The weather was perfect, and traffic was tolerable. Rarely did we get stuck in traffic.

We left Yellowstone through the south entrance, and entered the Grand Tetons. This photo doesn't do the majestic mountains justice. It was beautiful. 
Grand Tetons
We stopped at the Visitor Info station, and the girls earned another Junior Ranger badge. They were anxious to check into our tent cabin so we were there at 3:00. We aren't campers, but this was the only lodging we could get in the park. 

Colter Bay Tent Cabins

The tent cabins have four bunks with two tent walls and two log walls. Scott and Annelies were anxious to cook a meal over the campfire, so off to the store we went for hot dogs and beans. Scott opened the beans with a nail and rock. Real Rambo he is ...

Rambo opening beans with a nail and rock
The girls played Bingo while Scott cooked. Once again, lots of family bonding with no internet. Note: The beer was consumed by Scott and I. 

Bingo campside

We took showers ($4.25 each) and hung out in the tent for awhile reading and knitting. Okay, I knit. Around 8:00 we drove to the beach and stopped at the marina. 

Grand Tetons Beach

Collection jar hunting
We were in bed early, because Paradis has a flight tomorrow morning. She flies to Lincoln Nebraska where she will spend a week at the International Thespian Festival. We will miss her. Annelies is worried about being an only child. 

It was another good day in the National Parks. They never seem to fail us. 

Day Five: 106 Miles (1,413 total); Gas $31.35 ($167.58 total); Lodging $66.96 ($626.99 total); Souvenirs $21.09 ($186.36 total); Tourist Traps $0 ($122 total); Fights 0 (0 total); Injuries 0 (0 total); Redbox $0 ($11.06 total); Transportation $0 ($278 total)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Day Four: Yellowstone!

After a scrumptious breakfast, we drove into Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone National Park
We stopped at the Visitor Center, picked up a Junior Ranger booklet, and planned our day. Today we will drive the North Loop, and end at Grant Village where we are staying the night. Our first stop was along the road for a picnic lunch. I didn't really drink from this container, I'm just so stinkin' funny and continue to amaze my children every day. 

We stopped at our first 'hot spring' (Mud Spring) and I'll tell ya ... this place stinks! Yikes. I don't think enough people share the knowledge of how horrible the sulfur smell is in Yellowstone. The landscape is amazing, the wild life is fabulous, but the sulfur smell is absolutely disgusting. The only good thing about the sulfur smell is you can fart next to a complete stranger, and they will never know. 

Stinky springs!

Mud Spring
But the springs were truly amazing to watch (through our water filled eyes). We spent the next 8 1/2 hours driving the North Loop through Yellowstone, stopping about every 15 minutes. The landscape is so diverse we couldn't help but pull over for more photos. The wild life is amazing as well; we saw tons of bison, but also elk and grizzly bears.

A Ranger Talk, earning the girls a Junior Ranger Patch
I love this photographer!
Mammoth Springs
We spent the evening having dinner at Canyon Village. It was a near perfect day. The complete lack of cellular service helped I'm pretty sure. I'll end with this photo taken by our waitress. Really? How can you get everything in focus, except for the portion we really want to see? Ugh. Oh well ... I think it captures the fact it was a great dinner to a great day.

No stats tonight. I'm working off $11.95 wi-fi service at Grant Village Lodge, and I'm going to bed. Good night!

Stat update ... Day Four: 194 Miles (1,307 total); Gas $16.42 ($136.23 total); Lodging $193.43 ($560.63 total); Souvenirs $93.46 ($165.27 total); Tourist Traps $50 ($122 total); Fights 0 (0 total); Injuries 0 (0 total); Redbox $0 ($11.06 total); Transportation $0 ($278 total)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Day Three: Horses and Cowboys

Day three was spectacular! The weather has been absolutely perfect. We stayed overnight at Yellowstone Valley Inn. It is located about 20 minutes West of Cody along the Shoeshone River. Here is what we woke up to ...
View from our room
After breakfast (an all-you-can-eat scrumptious buffet included with our room) we drove into Cody. We stopped at the dam ... I mean, the Buffalo Bill Dam (sorry, couldn't resist the immature dam joke). When you think about the effort it took to build that thing back in 1910 it is absolutely amazing. The girls stamped their National Park Passport books (thanks again, Grandma Roz). Paradis and I posed for this photo, thinking of my father who had to stop at every dam during my childhood road trips. 
Paradis and I at Buffalo Bill Dam

Next was McCullough Peaks. McCullough Peaks is a place where wild mustangs roam wild in the west and our goal was to see horses. We started off on a very rough road. I'm confident it was not made for a Chrysler Town & Country mini-van. But after losing Annelies to the back seat where she quickly fell asleep because her anxiety was so high thinking we would get stuck living with wild mustangs the rest of our lives, we turned around and found a better path. 
Annelies hanging out the van at McCullough Peaks

McCullough Peaks

The landscape out here reminds me of the Badlands in South Dakota. 
After spending a few hours in McCullough Peaks 'getting back to nature' we drove into Cody where we had to kill an hour. Scott and I took a nap at a park while Paradis read and Annelies dug out the old DS. We had dinner at The Cody Cattle Company, with another all-you-can-eat buffet that included a Western Show. We all stomped our feet a little, and enjoyed the cowboy dinner (the beans are yummy).
Paradis at Chuck Wagon dinner

Our last stop for the day was the famous Cody Rodeo. Paradis was in heaven smelling all the animal shit while the rest of us simply tolerated it (looking at the cowboys seemed to balance things out for me). Rodeo tip: Sit in the Buzzard's Roost seats near the bucking shoots where you are in the middle of the action. Another tip, wear warm clothes. We went to dinner at 85 degrees, and left the rodeo at 50 degrees. We were wrapped in blankets by the end of the night.
It was a great day in Cody. Tomorrow we are off to Yellowstone!

Day Three: 129 Miles (1,113 total); Gas $42.34 ($119.81 total); Lodging $183.60 ($367.20 total); Souvenirs $13.69 ($71.81 total); Tourist Traps $72 ($72 total); Fights 0 (0 total); Injuries 0 (0 total); Redbox $0 ($11.06 total); Transportation $0 ($278 total)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Day Two: Wyoming and a Little Gun Fight

Today we drove into our 43th state. Wyoming.
I'm starting with this photo because the sun was so bright, and it will explain the next ...

Not beautiful, but I used my selfie-stick.
A five hour drive southwest brought us to Cody. We did some shopping in town, had dinner at The Irma Hotel and caught a gun fight. Yep, a good old gun fight. 

It was a good day. Simple, but good. Tomorrow we will spend the day in Cody. Good night ya'all.

Day Two: 352 Miles (984 total); Gas $0 ($77.47 total); Lodging $183.60 ($183.60 total); Souvenirs $58.12 ($58.12 total); Tourist Traps $0 ($0 total); Fights 0 (0 total); Injuries 0 (0 total); Redbox $4.58 ($11.06 total); Transportation $0 ($278 total).

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Day One: Last Road Trip (gulp)

Day one was uneventful. We drove. And drove. And drove. Three potty stops (yes, with two McDonald's "Unsweetened Tea with Light Ice, Please"). We ended the night in Glendive, Montana eating at Mexico Lindo (we agree with the 4.7 stars on Yelp).

Huge thanks to Scott for doing all the driving. Knitting and blogging is tough, but he is a rock star. Here is our map for the trip.

This is what I looked at all day ... (which by the way is lovely to me; knitting and the open road)
Monster Pants and Montana
In the shower this morning (where I do all my thinking) it occurred to me this will be our last 'Road Trip' of Driving the Dream. We only have two trips remaining; Alaska, and six of the most northeastern states (we will fly in and out). It freaked me out a bit, but I'm trying to take slow deep breaths. Annelies and I have been talking about 'travel after Paradis'.

So I'll use this post to share some Driving the Dream Road Trip Tips:
  1. Make a list. I'm a list girl. I love lists. I have lists that refer to lists, which refer to ... yes, lists. Start a list of things you will need and use that for every trip. Bring along a copy, and update it as you learn what you didn't pack, and more importantly what you didn't use.
  2. Have your kids pack. Encouraged your kids to pack their own bags. Even at a young age they can get involved. This helps them learn what is needed for a trip, and removes the "Did you pack xx for me?" Ah ... "No I didn't. Did you?" I print them a packing list every trip (which I store on my computer) and update it based on the location (e.g., something dressy, warm clothes, cool clothes). We are all responsible for our own entertainment, chargers (which can be a battle) and cosmetics. Obviously an infant can't pack their own bag (although I'm pretty sure Paradis' did), adjust as the child grows. Preparing for a trip is half the fun.
  3. Share in the responsibility. Each person should have their own bag (adjusted by age), and carry that into the hotel every day. They should have their own 'vehicle bag' as well, where they store their own items (e.g., entertainment). The words 'sharing' and 'road trip' do not belong in the same sentence. You have the rest of the year to teach them to share, a road trip is not the time. When we are all responsible for our own things, we are more connected. I think Plato said that.
  4. Eat right. Our family visits the Minnesota State Fair every summer, and never eats there (and if you know the Minnesota Great Get Together you know it is all about the food). The reason: When you eat crappy, you feel crappy. Well ... that, and I'm cheap. Don't fill your vehicle with crappy foods that will make you feel crappy. Focus on high fiber foods (I don't need to spell out the reason, we all know traveling wreaks havoc on our colons), plenty of snack items (because we all eat when bored) but at the same time make it enjoyable. We buy Oreos once a year; when we road trip. If you don't have good tasting options you will simply pull over and eat something crappy. Although a road trip is not the time to start eating healthy. A few things on our list: deli meat, cheese slices, hummus (packed in small disposable containers), veggies (packed in individual baggies), pickles, olives, melon (cut up in small bite-size pieces), Oreos, chocolate chip cookies, and chips. Bring lots of water, and remind your kids to drink. You will save time by stopping every couple hours instead of having a miserable kid with an unhappy colon (fluid gets things moving), or worse one that is dehydrated.
  5. Don't panic. The last thing I ask everyone is, "Did you pack everything we can't buy?" In reality, a Walmart or Target isn't more than a couple hundred miles down the road where you can buy anything you forgot. Focus on the things that are difficult to obtain (e.g., prescription glasses, medications, contacts).
  6. Plan Ahead. I love, love, love Google's My Maps to highlight all our stops. It has grown over the years, which I have lived through, but it is good now. If you don't have a Google account, for goodness sakes my friends ... get one today! Map out your trip. Create packing lists. And create a list of thins you want to do (if you don't write it down, you'll forget). I also keep a spreadsheet to track expenses, because spreadsheets make my heart go pitter-patter. But I'm weird like that.
  7. Be flexible. And I'm not talking yoga. Go with the flow while traveling. There isn't anything worse than 'killing a beautiful moment' while in the middle of something everyone loves by saying "We need to move on to the next thing." We pack more into road trips than the average family, because I'm psycho, but we rarely rush. We try our best to enjoy every moment. The trick is balance. 
  8. Don't over-do it. Plan one busy thing a day. If you will be doing a lot of driving, plan stops if your kids need a stretch. Most importantly: Do what you want to do. If something isn't fun, move on (don't stay just because you forked out too much money). If something is freakin' awesome, hang out. When Google Maps tells you it will take you five hours, assume it will be five. Plan for stops.
  9. Understand rules and policies. Do as much research as possible before you head out. Know the hours. Arriving somewhere at 5:04pm, to learn it closed at 5:00, is just depressing. I don't book many hotels in advance, because I use my smart phone to find a hotel while driving, which allows us the flexibility to do as we feel. All major highways have cell phone coverage throughout nearly 100% of the United States. If you book a hotel, know the cancellation policy.
  10. Talk to the locals. I say it a million times, but I just love this country. I love the landscape, but I also love the people. Rarely do we deal with assholes. Don't be afraid to ask for help, or better yet a suggestion on what the locals love. Tourist traps can be fun, but doing things the locals do is often not only cheap but also enjoyable. Going to a water park while at Yellowstone is crazy. Get out and do what you can only do at Yellowstone. Save the water park for a long weekend while at home. 
  11. Communicate. Before we leave on a trip my travel companions rarely know the plan.  But every morning, or the evening before, I walk through our day. I point out what will suck (e.g., long lines) and what will rock (e.g., bonding with their mother). 
  12. Have fun. We are no Norman Rockwell family, but we love traveling together. We learn to give each other the space each requires, but also suck it up for when others want to do something we may not necessarily love.  And we laugh. A lot. Most of the time it is at one another, but sometimes at others as well. :-)
Day One: 632 Miles (632 total); Gas $77.47 ($77.47 total); Lodging FREE - used points ($0 total); Souvenirs $0 ($0 total); Tourist Traps $0 ($0 total); Fights 0 (0 total); Injuries 0 (0 total); Redbox $7.48 ($7.48 total); Transportation $278 ($278 total).

Summer 2015: Missing State

We are back on the road. We have one state remaining to the West, and that is Wyoming. We always hoped to make Yellowstone a separate trip, and that is our plan with a couple additional stops. We will also visit Grand Tetons and Devils Tower.

We picked up our rental mini-van last night. Many people ask why we rent instead of driving our own van, so I thought I would share our strategy. A couple reasons: 

1) Peace of Mind. Our family believes vehicles are money-pits and their only purpose is to get from point A to B. Therefore we drive used vehicles. Vehicle breakdowns, or even a flat tire, can turn a perfectly planned vacation into a complete nightmare, so we like the peace of mind of driving a new vehicle. 

2) Financial. The cost of renting this mini-van for a week is $276. The cost of maintaining our own mini-van costs approximately $0.0569/mile. We will travel approximately 3,000 miles on this trip, which would cost us $171. Therefore the cost of renting this van is only $100, and reasons #1 and #3 are well worth that $100. Many families think driving their own vehicle is cheaper, but the wear-n-tear you put on your vehicle isn't free. Note: This is a fairly short trip. Since we have unlimited miles for our rental, traveling 5,000 miles would have been $285 in maintenance fees thus making our rental free!

3) Comfort. I love our Honda Odyssey, but the Chrysler Town & Country that we rent from National is simply ... the best family road trip vehicle. The flexibility of the stow-n-go seats allows a wide open interior giving us access to our food and all of our items while traveling down the road, and plenty of leg room for everyone. Not to mention all the gadgets that this thing has, we just love it. If you own one, get on the road with it my friends!

Pimpin' out in the Town & Country
Today we will ... drive. 

I have already added a quote to the Quote Wall. After 32 miles in, I requested an ice tea stop (my addiction). Paradis said, "Are we making a McDonald's stop already?" Yes, yes we are my friend. And probably many more today ...

Glad to be back on the road.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Final Stats | Spring Break 2015

For all my statistic fans, here it is ...
  • Total States: Four (4), only one new state - Hawaii
  • National Parks: Two (2)
  • Airline Miles: 9,004
  • Flights: Seven (7)
  • Gas: $73.58
  • Lodging: $3,437.55
  • Souvenirs: $509.24
  • Car Rental: $469.76 (three islands)
  • Tourist Traps: $775.60
  • Fights: 1
  • Injuries: 0 (except some surfing burns and coral reef tattoos)
  • Free flight, using Miles: $7,228.08
  • Free Hotel, using Points: $183.00
  • Knitting Projects: Three (one completed computer cover, one incomplete scarf and one seriously incomplete, yet complicated, sweater)
We take our photo in front of every state sign. It took the entire trip to find a welcome sign in Hawaii. We had to go with the one at the airport, on the way to baggage claim. Yep, Selfie Stick!

This is the eighth trip I have documented on this Drivin' the Dream blog. At this point there have been 16,617 total page views; over 2,000 during this trip alone. Crazy. I have no idea why people read this blog, but I hope you get something from it. If that is learning a travel tip, living vicariously through our travels, or validating you aren't the only crazy family out there, I'm glad I can be here for you.

Every trip we go on, I learn. My kids get older (thankfully Scott and I don't), and I enjoy them more and more as they mature. Yes, we run into challenges along the way but overall I just love traveling with this group. We have eight (8) states remaining. We will visit Yellowstone this summer, six New England states during the summer of 2016, and Alaska in 2017 (we are considering a cruise). At that point our first bird will leave the nest, and I will have to set another goal. Don't worry, I'll set another goal.

I'll be back this summer, when we hit the road to Montana. Until then, happy travels my friends. Get out there and explore this great country.  Rae Ann