As far as I'm concerned, no-plans, back-road, road trip vacations are fantastic. The opportunities to see odd and rare and fun and beautiful sites are plentiful. And you can do it all without getting stuck in a traffic jam. If something on the side of the road catches your eye, you can stop, because you don't have anywhere you have to be.
If you are thinking of taking a trip like this, keep these things in mind:
1. First and foremost, travel in the off-season in off-areas.
For the most part, people from the north (east of the Mississippi) make a beeline to Florida for spring break. Do not do a no-plans type of vacation in Florida over spring break. Go to places that are almost into their busy season. You can still get nice weather, but you will avoid the crowds if you end up going to touristy-type places. Most importantly, you will be able to find a hotel when you decide to stop.
2. Let everyone have a say in which activities you do and not do, but adults get final say.
Most of my children are not fans of history tours through old mansions, so we have agreed to skip these on our spring break trips. Most of my kids wanted to try stand-up paddle boarding, but I made the executive decision that the water was way too cold.
3. Make sure everyone knows the most important rule of the road trip: Even if an activity isn't one of your choosing, you will not pout. You will find a way to have fun doing the activity.
'Cause this is vacation, and you are going to have fun whether you like it or not!
It works best if you say this with a smile on your face and sarcasm in your voice. :)
4. Bring a lot of (healthy) food.
Yes, it saves some money you would normally spend on all those lunches, but it also really, really helps when you are on some teeny, tiny little road with no restaurant and your 6 kids are about to eat each others' arms off. And make it healthy, because it's a lot harder to find healthy in restaurants. We pack applesauce, fruit cups of mandarin oranges, pineapple, or peaches, raisins, peanuts, sunflower seeds, cheese sticks, apple slices, clementines, grapes, carrots, and hard boiled eggs. We also have pseudo-healthy granola bars (of various brands and flavors), fruit leather, pretzels with peanut butter to dip, and cracker snack packs.
5. Pack properly.
When taking this sort of trip, you will sleep someplace different almost every single night. Dragging the entire contents of the van into a motel each night, especially after a long day of fun, is just plain miserable. Help yourself out. Pack smart.
I packed 10 bags for this trip.
Inside one gigantic bag were 7 smaller bags, each containing all of one person's socks, underwear, pajamas, and bathing suit. A second bag held toiletries, shampoo, Band-aids, and meds. These two bags came in every night.
Bag 3: one pair of shorts and one t-shirt for each person
Bag 4: one pair of long pants and one long-sleeved shirt for each person
Bag 5: one pair of long pants and one short-sleeved shirt for each person
Bag 6: one pair of shorts and one t-shirt for each person
This system has two benefits. First, only one of these bags needs to be brought in, and you choose it depending on the next days' weather. Secondly, once everyone is dressed in the morning, the dirty clothes from the day before can be put it the now-empty bag. There is absolutely no mixing of the stinky and the fresh.
OK, now that you know how to travel, I'll let you in on some of the places we found last week.
Blanche Manor in Copper Hill, Tennessee
This place is wonderful. The staff at the horse barn was kind, fun, helpful, and patient. The trails were interesting (We were able to trot and go through a stream, as well as up and down some serious inclines.) and the view was pretty.
This is also where we managed to stay in a yurt. (Well, with 8 of us, we needed both of their yurts.) The rooms and bathrooms were clean, the heaters kept us warm when the temps dipped down overnight, there is a hot tub on the deck, where you can see the sun rise, and there are no TVs or WiFi to distract the kids.
We loved it. However, we did make the observation that if other people were renting the bunk house nearby, or if we only had one yurt and another family had the other, it wouldn't have been quite as nice. Having the whole mountaintop to ourselves made the experience that much better.
|The boys' horses started nipping at each other while we stopped for a photo. Ages 7 and up can ride the horses. There are ponies (that are taken in more than just a circle) for the younger kids.|
|The view from the yurt.|
|Wits and Wagers, one of the best games for parties or big families.|
Fields of the Wood, middle of nowhere Tennessee, (30 minutes from Ducktown, which is a small town with a fascinating history and a sandwich/pizza place called Copper Station that has delicious food)
This is a park run by the church across the street.
|That would be the 10 Commandments on that there far hill.|
|from above the 10 Commandments, from left to right are the prayer walk, the gift shop/bathrooms, baptismal pool, replica of Jesus's tomb, and Golgotha (where the kids were standing in the other photo)|
Route 64, which runs across the bottom of Tennessee
It is one of the most beautiful drives I've ever taken. I was actually perturbed that I was the one driving, because I couldn't look around much. (The road is really, really curvy.) I just kept hearing people say, "Oh, look at that!"
We just happened across this park while driving along Rte. 64. We spent over an hour in the river hopping from rock to rock. That's my mom on the bridge, which leads to some hiking trails. The kids were a bit bummed that the alarms didn't go off to alert people in the river to get the heck out, as the dam was being opened and would be flowing through this area shortly.
Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, Tennessee
When driving into Chattanooga, signs advertising for Ruby Falls and Lookout Mountain are everywhere. The admission for these two places was ridiculously high, and the reviews had lots of people saying it wasn't worth it. One lone reviewer said to keep driving past Ruby Falls and head to Point Park. It is only $3 and you get the same, if not better, view. We would have to agree with that guy.
Plus, besides the view, there weren't gobs of workers there to herd us from place to place. We were free to roam. Within reason.
To top it off, there was a hiking trail. The kids decided they wanted to take Craven's Trail and hike halfway down the mountain.
The village that time forgot, middle of nowhere, Tennessee
We stopped at this little village's gas station, (Another tip for back roads vacations: Fill up the tank whenever you get the chance!) and it took me a minute to open the door to get out of the van. When I finally did, I saw that a guy was there, and he was taking my gas cap off. I was baffled. I asked, "Are you going to pump my gas?" "Yes," he replied.
I closed the door and looked at my mom. "There's a guy out there who said he would pump it for me. Do you think he works here?"
Another car pulled up and the elderly gentleman sauntered over and started pumping that guy's gas, too.
After we paid and were pulling out of the lot, we saw the sign:
|That's the guy!|
Stone Mountain, Atlanta, Georgia
We were originally in Atlanta to go to Six Flags, which is a giant amusement park with lots of big roller coasters. Unfortunately, it is only open on weekends, and that weekend was rainy and cold. We found something else to do.
There is a place called Stars and Strikes, which is one of those bowling alley/arcade games/laser tag places. On the day we were there, the specials were 99 cent bowling in the morning, and $1.99 laser tag in the evening. So, we bowled in the morning...
went to Stone Mountain in the afternoon...
(where I discovered that Stone Mountain Park has a whole lot more than the touristy mountain and little "village". There's a whole, beautiful park!)
|I'm sure it's beautiful when it isn't 55 degrees and raining.|
I would have taken a photo for you, but I was way too busy trying not to be shot by lots and lots of kids, some of whom weren't even mine.
All for WAY less than Six Flags would have cost. :)
Escape Experience in Chattanooga, Tennessee
This was one of the best things we did last week. Phoenix would say it was THE best. Basically, up to 10 people (it was us and a couple we had never met) are handcuffed together and locked in a "cell" (that had no bars but a steel door). The team is given 60 minutes to use the clues in the room to get themselves out. 58% of teams do NOT make it out.
IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!
It was pricey, but I would do it again if given the choice.
|As you can see by the sign and our smiling faces, we made it out with almost 17 minutes to spare.|
Have a lovely day!
A Fly on our (Chicken Coop) Wall, Amycake and the Dude, Considerings, Finding Ninee, Getting Literal, I Want Backsies, The Meaning of Me, Thankful Me, Uncharted, The Wakefield Doctrine
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