Over the river and through the woods…

Long time no post. That whole graduate school deal got in the way of my blogging!

A while back I wrote a whiny rant about our lack of travel. We have decided to do something about it. The Dude’s dad got sick last month and it put the need to see him on the front burner. We looked into airline tickets for the Dude to fly out. Over $600. We figure that it wouldn’t cost too much more for us all to drive out and then boys could see their grandfather.

We have some interesting things in our house. For one, our youngest has never seen fireflies. He really wants to and has been angling for a trip east of the Rockies in order to fulfill this desire. For another, my boys want to see Washington DC. My oldest had the opportunity to go with his class this year, but the package was $2500. I really thought we could take him and his brothers to see DC for around the same price. So we began to plan for such a trip. But when? First we thought of this summer, but I want to work on my thesis and the cost seemed like a lot. Next summer? Maybe, but I will have a conference in Denver and so that puts DC out of reach. The following summer I will need to prep for my qualifying exam. It was getting further and further out and became a “someday.” Of course, the oldest is entering 9th grade in the fall and we are running out of somedays. But the conversation got shelved for several months.

The youngest was writing a poem and somehow the Smithsonian came up. He asked if we were ever going to go there. We began talking and realized this is a priority. We thought about going next year and tacking it onto our Denver trip. But then we realized that the Dude would be paying $600 to fly out, so we thought it would make more sense to roll that into our travel fund, add to it, and take off this summer. We have money in the bank and are able to at this time.

We leave tomorrow. This blog will turn into my travel blog for a little while. I thought of starting a new blog for the journey, but decided that this is a good example of living well while broke.

The trip is 3 1/2 weeks long. We wanted to upsize to a Suburban so that we would have more leg and elbow room, but it came down to: we can stay home and buy an SUV or keep our minivan and hit the road. The road beckoned all of us. So we will be spending the next 3 1/2 weeks in a small minivan. We have downscaled our things. Everyone is taking 3 days worth of clothes. We have a small box of books on tape and compact games to keep us entertained. We will be buying food along the way. This smaller scale living should help the gas mileage some as well.

Best way to save money while traveling is to camp. We will be doing this all along the way. We splurged a bit and bought an air mattress. It is more than paid for the first night in a tent instead of a hotel. All the rest of the camping equipment was bought used. We will be camping at state, city, and national parks, with a few private campgrounds thrown in. I did use the reservation services. This is a mixed bag. It is nerve wracking to travel without knowing whether you have a site, especially if you are driving late into the night. But with each reservation, I was greeted with a $5-$9 reservation fee. And if I needed to change a reservation, there would be a double penalty-a cancellation charge and a new reservation fee. For some nights we are going without a reservation. However, even with fees, our lodging for 3 1/2 weeks is running about $500. We have budgeted another $500 for meals out. I don’t think we will use that much, but I wanted to overplan. I am not including camp and road food that we buy at grocery stores because we would be eating anyway.

Gas is our biggest expense and there is no way around it. I used Gas Buddy to try to find our cheapest option.

For attractions, I have scoured guide books and the Internet seeking out the best free and cheap things to do. We have a rich and varied itinerary and are spending less than $200 on activities. All told, our 3 1/2 week vacation for 5 should cost around $3000. I know that this is a lot, but for what it is, I think it is pretty good.

Highlights:
2 days in Chicago, 3 days in DC, 2 days in NYC
Museum of Modern Art
Greenwich Village
Staten Island Ferry as mode of transportation
Maid of the Mist (maybe) Niagara Falls
Cape May
DoWop tour in Wildwood, NJ
Field Museum of Natural History (Sue!)
Museum of Science and Industry (largest science museum on the western hemisphere)
Lake Michigan boat ride
National Zoo
Air and Space
Sand Dunes
Deep River Muster
Badlands
Lego Stores
SPAM Museum
Music Man Square
and the list goes on…

I will be blogging about it when I can, but I intend to keep notes and update and dump pictures here after the trip is over.

25 days, 7000 miles, 18 states, lots of nights under the stars.
Stayed tuned….

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