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

Monday, April 6, 2015

Day Eleven: A Volcano, Black Sand Beach and Lava Cake

Our final full day in Hawai'i started with a yummy breakfast at our favorite chain hotel, Holiday Inn Express (low price, nice rooms, great free breakfast and usually a pool). After we got on the road I had to use the bathroom. We stopped in a little town where there was a community bathroom. When I say 'community' I think it was being used by ... the whole community. We saw a lot more poverty in Hawaii than I expected. I had to supply my own toilet paper that I bought at the grocery store. It was the best $1.29 I spent on the trip.  

We traveled south along the shore until we reached the Black Sand Beach in Naalehu. The sand is made from lava that flows from the volcano, and it was beautiful. 
We played in the tide pools and visited with the turtles. 

We stopped at the Lava Rock Cafe for a great lunch in Volcano, Hawaii (yep, that is the name of the town) and made our way to the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Super interesting. Mount St. Helens is the only volcano we have visited, but this one is active. We were able to convince Annelies to join us for a family photo overlooking the volcano crater (I promised not to use the selfie-stick). Doesn't she look thrilled?
Below is the volcano's active crater. Eight years ago they had a wooden bridge that jetted out over the crater. Due to the high levels of sulfar that are emitted daily, they had to close the road. Good thing, because two weeks after closing the road the volcano erupted and rocks destroyed the bridge.

Annelies earned her last Junior Ranger badge of the trip. Reminder: Paradis does all the work. Annelies merely stands for the ceremony (the assignments for each badge increase in number as you get older, and Paradis never wants to do the whole book). Great team work.

On our way back to Hilo we drove through a Rain Forest. The ferns were ginormous. The one below is a smaller version. It was a beautiful drive.

We were in Hawaii for nearly two weeks and it never rained. Until today, when it rained on and off throughout the day. The weather was absolutely perfect for this trip.

We stopped at McDonalds for salads, and Dominos for pizza (yes, we got a couple Chocolate Lava Cakes to commemorate our day on the volcano). We checked in to our hotel, did the Luggage Shuffle (all liquids and questionable TSA items into the one bag we will check) and went to bed. It was a great day.

Day Eleven: Gas $34.03 ($73.58 total); Lodging: $132.69 ($3,437.55 total); Souvenirs $177.54 ($509.24 total); Tourist Traps $10 ($775.60 total); Fights 0 (1 total). || Airfare for entire trip: $8,470.08 (of which $7,228.08 was free, using miles). Car Rental for entire trip: $469.76. Note: I'm not tracking driving miles, Redbox rentals or states (2 total) on this trip.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Day Ten: Good-Bye Maui, Hello AT&T, Shopping and Manta Rays

Since experiencing our previous early-morning-flight fiasco, we adjusted our schedule and had a successful morning departing from our condo in Maui. In fact we were 15 minutes ahead of schedule, and everyone was smiling and making fun of me in record time.

We went to fill up with gas and found this guy on the hood of our Jeep. I think he wanted to come back to Minnesota with us! Not. Who would want to do that? Seriously.
Annelies is eating pudding through a straw (and avoiding the camera). See? A well thought out plan can always lead to a happy morning of trying to eat a viscous liquid through a 1 mm straw.
We boarded a puddle-jumper to Hilo (Hawai'i, or the Big Island). It was another quick flight. 
We stopped at the Hilo Farmer's Market. The girls picked up a couple souvenirs. 
I couldn't resist posting this sign. I just want to call Jim myself ...
Following a few days of Paradis' phone battery not holding a charge, we stopped at a Mac store to diagnose the problem. It was quickly determined her battery would need replacing. So we stopped at the AT&T store and bought a new phone. You would think taking your kid to Hawaii for two weeks would make a kid happy, but buying them a functioning phone (to communicate with the boy at home) seems to bring just as much joy. If this applies, you may want to add this to your Hawaii Tips.
The Farmer's Market, and brief stop for the phone took more of our day than I had planned so we drove to Kona along the northeast coast without any stops. The drive was beautiful. The land was very green and plush. We walked around the boardwalk in Kona and did some more shopping. I bought a couple banana leaf baskets from a guy weaving them on the street. I'm confident he was high on something, but very talented and lovely none-the-less.

We ate at Bubba Gumps. You can find a Bubba Gumps resteraunt at any touristy beachside town. When rounding out a nearly two-week trip away from home, sometimes the comfort of a familiar meal (and drink) is simply what you seek.

We drove to the Sheraton, where we spent some time looking for manta rays in the ocean. The hotel shines a bright light in the water, which attracts plankton, which in turn attracts the manta rays. I'm sad to say we didn't see any manta rays before leaving but it was fun hanging out with one another (well, until Annelies starting itching from the tiny raindrops and acting as if her skin was going to fall off if we didn't get her to the hotel for a shower).
We had a great day in Hilo and Kona. Tomorrow will be our last full day in Hawaii and we head back to Minnesota. One of my most important goals of any trip is to end with everyone in a good mood. You can create some awesome memories over two weeks, but the attitutudes of the last couple days is what seems to stick most in one's mind. My traveling companions may call me the Nazi-Vacation-Planner, but I work hard at adjusting our schedule as needed, based on everyone's attitudes. And trust me, adjusting to the diversely different personalities of my traveling team is no easy task at times. But I wouldn't chose any other diversely different personalities that I would rather be with on this journey. 

Day Ten: Gas $0 ($39.55 total); Lodging FREE (points) ($3,304.86 total); Souvenirs $145 ($331.70 total); Tourist Traps $0 ($765.60 total); Fights 0 (1 total). || Airfare for entire trip: $8,470.08 (of which $7,228.08 was free, using miles). Car Rental for entire trip: $469.76. Note: I'm not tracking driving miles, Redbox rentals or states (2 total) on this trip.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Day Nine: Sitting, Craft Fair, and a Sunset

Our last full day in Maui was spent mostly at the pool. Our condo hosted a Craft Fair by the beach. Paradis got another Henna, and we picked up a few souvenirs (I picked up some glass suncatchers I plan to hang in my kitchen window).

Scott finally got the coconut open by bashing it against the concrete. This seems to be a ritual for us; how are we going to open a coconut without proper tools? Scott always seems to succeed.

After dinner we went to the beach to watch yet another sunset. The photos I took of Paradis along the way were more beautiful, so I'm posting them instead. It was a nice relaxing last full day in Maui. We will fly to Hawai'i (Big Island) tomorrow morning and spend two full days on the island before starting our 19 hour journey back to Minnesota Monday morning.

 Day Nine: Gas $0 ($39.55 total); Lodging $428.50 ($3,304.86 total); Souvenirs $55 ($186.70 total); Tourist Traps $0 ($765.60 total); Fights 0 (1 total). || Airfare for entire trip: $8,470.08 (of which $7,228.08 was free, using miles). Car Rental for entire trip: $469.76. Note: I'm not tracking driving miles, Redbox rentals or states (2 total) for this trip.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Day Eight: Massages, Hennas and the Pool

Today was another day of not much. The girls started the day getting massages on the beach. While planning for the trip I asked them what they wanted to do while in Hawaii. All they requested was a massage on the beach. That was the main reason we decided to stay at a condo for a full week. The girls wanted to simply enjoy the pool and beach.
Next was Henna Tattoos (she used a new plant based product called Jaqua that we loved).
And next was sitting. Poolside. I finished knitting a cover for Paradis' computer.

For those keeping up with the Chair Reserving Drama, a new policy was implemented today. We can only reserve two chairs per person effective today. The Andersons have been beat (for the record, I did not complain to management - I'm on vacation, and not in complaint mode). 
Day Eight: Gas $0 ($39.55 total); Lodging $428.50 ($2,876.36 total); Souvenirs $0 ($131.70 total); Tourist Traps $290 ($765.60 total); Fights 0 (1 total). || Airfare for entire trip: $8,470.08 (of which $7,228.08 was free, using miles). Car Rental for entire trip: $469.76. Note: I'm not tracking driving miles, Redbox rentals or states (2 total) for this trip.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Day Seven: Poolside, Lei Making, Nemo and Luau

Another day of simple relaxing. I started the morning at 6:30am staking out my poolside chairs. There are plenty of chairs, just not as many with umbrellas for four with the perfect view. I'm battling the Anderson family in room 4502. He works construction so is used to getting up at 4:30am. Today he blocked off 16 umbrella chairs. I'm ordering lunch and drinks on his room tab in retaliation.

Paradis and I went to a lei making class. We finished in seven minutes. Overachievers.

Afterwards Scott and Paradis went to find Nemo. We also saw whales swimming by our villas (the photos aren't spectacular). Everyone makes a mad dash toward the ocean as word spreads at the pools. I call it old-fashion social media.
After knitting poolside all day the stress was overwhelming so we showered and grabbed some great fish tacos as Ohana Taco. Then we went to a luau. The show was good, but my favorite part was visiting with a woman from Australia. You can only stare at half-naked men in grass skirts for so long (unless you drink a lot). But we did get some beautiful leis! 

Day Seven: Gas $0 ($39.55 total); Lodging $428.50 ($2,447.86 total); Souvenirs $115.80 ($131.70 total); Tourist Traps $106 ($475.60 total); Fights 1 (1 total). || Airfare for entire trip: $8,470.08 (of which $7,228.08 was free, using miles). Car Rental for entire trip: $469.76. Note: I'm not tracking driving miles, Redbox rentals or states (2 total) for this trip.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Day Six: Hangin' Ten and a Fabulous Sunset

We started out early, which is turning out to be 7:00am. We slobbered on the sunscreen and drove to a local beach where we met our new friends Sharkey and Kelly, with Maui Surfer Girls, who taught us how to surf (yes, they put up with boys as well so Scott was welcomed).

I have a new appreciation for surfers. I used to think surfing was a sport for those wanting action and exhilaration. I now realize it is a true athletic activity. I tell you, surfing is one tough sport. We are all very strong swimmers and yet we couldn't handle more than the couple hours the lesson allowed (although I fully admit none of us are athletic, except Scott). I would find myself so excited about riding a wave all the way to shore and my mind would yell "Rae Ann, you better fall or you will have to paddle yourself all the way back out again!"

This is the best photo of me. The ones of me on the water look like I'm taking a crap, on a surf board, in the middle of the ocean.
Overall, this was a really fun experience. I now know why all the other tourists were doing SOP lessons (Stand Up Paddleboard); because it is a lot easier. But I'm glad we gave it a try. It was awesome. Hawaii Tip: If you are going to try surf lessons go with Maui Surfer Girls - they are fabulous.

At the end of our lesson I asked Kelly for tips on getting to the sunrise over Haleakala. She said, "I'm not sure why everyone focuses on the sunrise. I love the sunset." The four of us looked at one another and instantly knew we would love it as well. As I've mentioned before, we are not morning people. So we shifted our plans. On the drive back to the villa we started talking about our plan to get showered, eat lunch, pack up and be on the road within one hour, which would get us to the peak before the National Park Visitor Center closed. We went into planning mode. Paradis calculated out how long it would take us to do everything, Annelies assigned us jobs, I wrote down the plan and Scott quietly drove while nodding his head in agreement. It is times like this that I realize we are probably not normal travelers, but I just love this group.  We were back in the Jeep seven (7) minutes ahead of schedule. 
We drove about an hour-and-a-half to Haleakala National Park. Yes, this was taken with my selfie stick. 
The drive up Haleakala is the steepest climb, within the shortest amount of distance, in the world. The peak is at 10,023 above sea level and it only takes you 33 miles to get there. Haleakala means "House of the Sun". According to legend, the demigod Maui roped the sun and forced it to shine in this place longer than anywhere else on the island (research has confirmed that the mountain does enjoy an average 8 minutes more sunlight than the rest of the island). It was a beautiful drive. We were so high above sea level and yet it was still warm (around 65°).
Annelies always finds these strange looking booths fascinating.
Summit of Haleakala.
Notice Annelies is not in the group summit photo above. Since our goal was to the see the sunrise at 6:47pm, and the Visitor Center closed at 3:00pm, we knew we would have a couple hours to simply enjoy one another and the beautiful views. Annelies was not looking forward to the lack of WiFi. In other words, it isn't us she really enjoys. I'm marking it down as a fight - not sure we fought, but it wasn't pleasant. The girls read (Annelies is almost done with her required book for school, so I'm calling that unpleasant experience a success) and rested. I knit. Scott read through the Jeep Owners Manual. 
Resting in the Jeep
Scott and I Hangin' Ten while Annelies complains about no Wi-Fi.
Around 5:30pm I set up my camera to take a photo of the sunset every 10 minutes. Someone moved it. So Paradis, Scott and I went over and babysat it (notice it to the right of Paradis). These are moments no $500 tourist trap can capture between a teenager and her parents. 
You can view a 30 second video of our sunset photos here. It doesn't even begin to capture the beautiful view. We have seen many, many sunsets. This was by far my favorite. Another great day in Hawaii.

Day Six: Gas $30 ($39.55 total); Lodging $428.50 ($2,019.36 total); Souvenirs $100 ($115.90 total); Tourist Traps $363.60 ($369.60 total); Fights 1 (1 total). || Airfare for entire trip: $8,470.08 (of which $7,228.08 was free, using miles). Car Rental for entire trip: $469.76. Note: I'm not tracking driving miles, Redbox rentals or states (2 total) for this trip.