8 Tips for Planning Your Family’s Next Road Trip

June 30th, 2015 by Guest Blogger 4 comments »

As you may have already read, my family is about to embark on the trip of a lifetime — the classic American family road trip from sea to shining sea. My wife and I, and our two daughters, ages 11 and 8, will be spending most of July in a minivan together, not only surviving, but thriving, thanks to these handy tips for planning and enjoying a family road trip vacation!

Family looking at a map on a road trip

1. Avoid over packing!
While you may not envision yourself in a hotel laundry room (or at a nearby Laundromat) during vacation, those solitary spin cycles with nothing but earbuds and your favorite podcasts can be extremely therapeutic! Pack less and make time to do a load of laundry or two. For help, check out the Family Packing List.

2. Stay in-town as much as possible!
You’ll pay a bit more for downtown accommodations, but the benefits are worth it. For one thing, you won’t have to struggle to find parking every day or deal with local weekday traffic, and you’ll often have everything the destination city has to offer right outside your door.

3. Book hotels with onsite pools and free breakfast.
The former is a must for the kiddos and the latter can really help you spread your vacation budget further.

4. Pack a few surprises for the kids.
Small new toys and sticker books from Melissa & Doug and/or Usborne will make car time more pleasant for everyone!

5. Empower your kids.
We adults usually do all the planning, but every once in a while, let your kids pick where to stop, where to eat and what to do while on your road trip. Armed with a map and some hotel lobby tourist brochures they will feel all grown up picking where to go next!

6. Be locals!
Find neighborhood restaurants, bakeries and open-air markets, and assimilate into the place you are visiting. Avoiding tourist traps will not only save you money, it’ll make your trip more unique and memorable!

7. Use public transportation.
You’ll be driving so much, why not get out of your car and learn how the subway, trolley car, ferry and/or bus systems work. Then make use of those services, just as the locals do! This can save you and your family money and help you assimilate into the culture.

8. Get off the highway.
Sure, it’ll take longer, but the real America cannot be experienced from the highway at 75 mph. Build time into your days for some off-the-beaten-path exploration. Find a few kitschy roadside attractions; share some flapjacks at the 100-year-old diner; drive through a covered bridge; or find a waterfall/lake/river and take a detour for an hour of impromptu water play.

Remember: road trips are about the journey, not just the destination(s).

— Jeff Bogle

Jeff Bogle is an at-home dad of two pre-tween daughters. He writes about parenthood, family travel and all things childhood on his site OutWithTheKids.com. He considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world, although he needs to be reminded of this fact from time to time. Jeff also writes for PBS.

6 Places to See Fireworks in the Poconos

June 29th, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

With less than a week until Fourth of July, families most likely have their celebratory plans set. A BBQ with the family during the day and a fireworks spectacular at dusk. However, if you don’t have plans to view the brightly colored explosions in the sky yet, no worries. If you live in or around the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, you can easily see one (or more!) of six different displays taking place this coming weekend.

Family watching fireworks

Honesdale Fireworks Celebration
The party starts at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 3, in Central Park, with food, music and fun for all ages. Children can enjoy games and activities just for them, too. At dusk, the town sets off fireworks over Irving Cliff. Admission is free. Rain date is Monday, July 6.

Shawnee Fireworks Display
Visit the Shawnee Mountain Ski Area on Friday, July 3, for outdoor fun before the fireworks display at night. Enjoy a DJ, stilt walkers, a magic show, food and craft vendors and more. Fireworks will shoot off around 9 p.m. Admission is $10 per car. Rain date is Sunday, July 5.

Fireworks Over Lake Wallenpaupack
Enjoy lakeside fireworks in Hawley, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, July 4. Parking and seating is available at Wallenpaupak High School and fireworks will begin around 9 p.m. Admission is free. Rain date is Sunday, July 5.

Fireworks in Jim Thorpe
Memorial Park will host an old-fashioned Independence Day Celebration on Saturday, July 4, and families are invited to attend. Festivities kick off at 3 p.m. and kids will enjoy rides and games, as well as food and live entertainment. Fireworks begin at 10 p.m. Admission is free. Rain date is Sunday, July 5.

Fireworks at Mount Airy Casino
Mount Airy Casino in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania, is hosting a Pat Benatar concert on Saturday, July 4. If you don’t have tickets, don’t worry – you can still have fun watching the fireworks display after the show! Fireworks begin around 9:45 p.m.

Camelbeach Fireworks
Families can slip and slide all day, and then enjoy a concert and fireworks at night on Saturday, July 4, when they purchase tickets to Camelbeach Waterpark or the new Camelback Lodge & Indoor Waterpark. The Maybabies will perform at 7 p.m. and fireworks will begin around 10 p.m. Full-day admission is $39.99 for adults and $29.99 for kids. Twilight admission is $24.99 for adults and $19.99 for kids.

For more Fourth of July celebrations and displays, read about the 7 Best Fireworks for the 4th!

— Hilarey Wojtowicz

Adventure Activities at the Omni Homestead Resort

June 28th, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Hot Springs, Virginia, is pretty, well, hot this summer, especially at the Omni Homestead Resort. The expansive, mountainside retreat is offering an array of outdoor activities for families this year, many of which are included in the seasonal Adventure Package.

The resort’s Adventure Package includes one activity per person, per day, plus parking for one vehicle, a 50-percent discount for children at the KidsClub and 15 percent off additional outdoor activities.

Waterslides at The Omni Homestead Resort

Alleghany Springs
It may be difficult to drag children away from Alleghany Springs, the resort’s 2-acre water park, complete with two, 100-foot waterslides, a 400-foot lazy river, sandy beach and kids’ water play zone. There is also a large family pool, hot tubs and cabanas for rent, which can hold up to six people and come with mini-fridges, flat-screen TVs and sofas.

With eight stationary targets of varying distances, both kids and adults can try their hand at archery at the resort. If you’re already a pro, try a more challenging experience at the 10-station, 3D archery range onsite. One-hour sessions are available with equipment for both adults and kids.

Fly Casting Clinic
Have you always wanted to learn how to fly fish? Now you can in the Cascades Stream at the resort with trained guides. One-hour lessons are available with equipment included. Reservations must be made in advance.

Homestead Shooting Club
The Omni is known for its sporting clay courses, which extend nearly a mile into the woods. Families can enjoy two sporting clay courses, four skeet fields and trap and five-stand courses along the way. Group and private lessons are available and equipment is provided. Reservations must be made in advance.

Horseback Riding
Take in the scenery during a 30-minute horseback trail ride through the resort’s wooded areas. Riders must be at least 54 inches tall to ride alone. Kids under 54 inches can enjoy a hand-led ride.

Additional activities offered at the resort during the summer include falconry, golfing, Segway tours, tennis and a KidsClub.

The Adventure Package starts from $295 per night and is available seven days a week. For an additional cost, families can add on a breakfast plan to the package.

— Hilarey Wojtowicz

Prepping for a Cross Country Road Trip With Kids

June 27th, 2015 by Guest Blogger 2 comments »

One does not accidentally find themselves on the precipice of a cross-country road trip with (or without) kids. No, our upcoming 3,200-plus-mile journey is not a spontaneous family vacation, but rather something that’s been a glimmer in my wife’s eyes for many years. This has been her “someday’” journey. Someday when our two daughters would be old enough to better appreciate urban exploration on foot; someday when they’d gasp deeper at the splendor of majestic national parks; someday when they could properly enjoy quirky roadside America attractions like the world’s largest picnic basket.

Well, someday has arrived.

Outline of Jeff's family's road trip via Google Maps

This cross-country road trip started on Google Maps, connecting dots between here and there and “oh, we have to stop there!” As you can see, we’re taking a fairly straight route. The only debate was Utah — north for Salt Lake City or south for Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.

A few curiosities in Columbus, Ohio, will start us off before a weekend in Indianapolis, where we’ll play in the world’s biggest children’s museum. From there we’ll go west through St. Louis’s arch, catch a baseball game in Kansas City, climb the Rocky Mountains in Denver, stand in awe of the National Parks of southern Utah, live it up in Vegas, and take a big tour of California before wrapping it all up at Disneyland.

Phew. I’m a bit sleepy just typing all of that, and I think I’m going to need a vacation not only from the actual vacation, but also from the vacation prep!

We’ve allowed time every day for spontaneous, off-the-beaten path exploration should a sign or sight catch our eye, and there’ll be only one day with a total scheduled drive time of more than six hours. Additionally, there will be no back-to-back, one-night stays, meaning we can take root in a place more often than not because we like to experience destinations more than simply see them.

We invite you back to the Family Vacation Critic Blog throughout the month of July for more stories live from our trip, to discover the best cities, sights and eats along the way with us! But first, let’s look at how we’re planning to spend three weeks together in a car!

The Vehicle
Last summer, we sat comfortably in a rugged Highlander as we explored the soccer culture of Portland, Oregon, and the rest of the Pacific Northwest. It was the perfect ride for that part of the country — tough and majestic. For this Philadelphia to Disneyland, and everywhere in between, expedition, we’ll saddle up a Toyota Sienna; the most elegant and spacious minivan we’ve ever driven. It is spacious enough for two girls to stretch out in the back and spacious enough for the volume of stuff they’ll need to keep them busy (and more to accumulate) going coast to coast!

The Lodging
We’re using a mix of downtown hotels and KOA Campground cabins close to the National Parks we’ll visit, all places with every kid’s No. 1 amenity: a swimming pool!

Cooler and snacks for the road trip

The Food
To properly live out of one’s vehicle, especially in the heat of summer, you’ll need refrigeration and because we need to save money by not dining out constantly for three weeks, we bought a snazzy Igloo Car Cooler that’ll plug into the minivan. We plan to buy groceries, pack sandwiches, and have chilled water and juices in reusable bottles. We’ll also have plenty of nuts, KIND bars, hummus, pita and pretzels on board, and will look for in-season, regional fruit from roadside stands.

Inside the Car
National Geographic Kids Road Atlas
The kids will be tracking our progress across the country and learning about state birds, mottos and historic sights (many of which we’ll be seeing!) with this youthful, fun atlas.

Boogie Board Digital Writing Pad
There’s simply no way I’ll stay sane with two children and sheets upon sheets of paper in the backseat. Boogie Boards are a mess free alternative, allowing kids to be creative without driving dad crazy, and the new Bluetooth enabled model will save their doodles to mobile devices. Now to figure out a solution for my youngest daughter’s newest hobby: paper airplane making! But speaking of mobile devices…

AT&T Mobile Hot Spot
If you’re going to be reading about our trip from the road, I’m going to need Internet access from the road! The AT&T hot spot will transform our Sienna into a mobile wireless technology hub in between free Wi-Fi during hotel stays.

I’ll be shooting with the new Samsung NX500 while my oldest daughter will be documenting the trip with the NX300. She shares my excitement for photography, meaning I get to capture the whole of America alongside her — making this adventure even more special! My girls will also be trying out the Fuji Instamix (think: a very modern Polaroid) during the trip.

Scrapbooking/Photo Albums
My wife and both our daughters will be spending some of their downtime on the road assembling their own real-time, keepsake albums — because the scrapbooks and photo books never seem to get finished (or started) if we wait until real life begins again after vacation!

We traditionally build a playlist for each road trip featuring some favorite kindie (kids’ and indie) music that always starts with Johnny Bregar’s “Two Thumbs Up.” This year, we’ll also include a little Brady Rymer, some Recess Monkey, more than a few Okee Dokee Brothers outdoor adventure songs, and with some adult music too: Dawes, Pokey LaFarge, Good Old War, Lucius, and Brandi Carlile.

Check back throughout the next several weeks to see where we are and what we are doing as a family during our cross-country road trip! We hope you are just as excited as we are! And for more road trip ideas with kids, check out the Car Travel section.

— Jeff Bogle

Jeff Bogle is an at-home dad of two pre-tween daughters. He writes about parenthood, family travel and all things childhood on his site OutWithTheKids.com. He considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world, although he needs to be reminded of this fact from time to time. Jeff also writes for PBS.