Preparing for your first family trip!

This is a new generation. I was brought up in the 1980s. I was around cigarettes, and compared to parenting now, I’m honestly not sure how I’m alive, right now. I have stories of me going missing for hours, in my youth, that I, myself, am surprised that I had made it this far. According to my parents, I disappeared for hours because they left me alone while they were moving into a new apartment, so I walked with some kids to play Nintendo, and when I decided I should head back, there were cops there, and my mom was crying. Apparently, I had been “missing for hours” and they were “looking for me” and… I’m not sure why I’m putting the “quotation marks” because this is what really happened. I also walked out the front door at 3 years old, while they were putting groceries in, and they found me in traffic, getting honked at by cars that had stopped, because I was waving a stick at them. (Also, true story.) …like seriously, mom… dad… how was I not kidnapped? …you guys are lucky nobody wanted me…

1980d Me
This is a picture of me, at 2 years old, rocking the SHIT out of these Adidas pants, with a Marlboro Red in my mouth. …I survived 1980s parenting!

So yeah… I survived the 1980s parenting era. And now that I’m a dad myself, and bringing up things to my mom, I’ll tell you this… neither us nor them, really knew what the fuck we were doing. We winged it. When I ask my mom, now, how she allowed things to happen, she just says “there was no hand book on how to raise kids back in those days” which is bullshit, because I’ve found parenting books from the 1980s, on the internet. …I just haven’t told her yet, I’m waiting to get into another 3 hour long debate where we’re pulling up google and quoting bible verses at each other. I’m saving this for our next quarrel as “ammo.” But anyways, our parents really didn’t know what to do, they just worked and did the best they could, leaving us with babysitters that seemed fit, hopefully, nothing bad happening to us. Same thing we are doing now. If the kid gets sick, we deal with it, sometimes we luck out and our kid never gets sick, and maybe that’s not the case. We just go along with the punches that are thrown at us.

So, right now, we are in a state of information that’s never been seen, in this world, before. Thanks to social media, we are able to expose many people to things that you’ve seen, giving complete strangers travel tips on locations you found, or just sharing an experience that’s once in a lifetime. Look at all these locations that are now popular, that we wouldn’t see unless we picked up a National Geographic’s magazine while waiting at a dentist office, or something like that. Seriously, did you know the U.S. has the biggest tree in the world in it? There are so many highway overlooks built specifically to give a majestic viewing point, that one could make a career, just exposing all of them. Follow an interstate long enough, and you’ll see “overlook,” “rest stop,” or “vista point” signs, that give you a little pit stop with local history, posted around the location. Every day, I get tagged by my girlfriend, on some travel website’s video, on some place that she wants to visit. This is information that’s all around us now, that wasn’t the norm, back in the day.

Trip selfie family shot
This is the crew I normally road trip with, 2 girls and 2 adults. We’ve logged in 100+ hours on the road, together.

Okay, so as a dad, I really don’t like to leave my kids behind. I’d rather take them with me, if I can, so they can experience the road, and the stress relief it comes with, bringing excitement of the unknown, and being the first to expose them to the things in life. They are in their peak learning years. The daughters that stay with me, are 5 and 8. I want to be the one to give them an unbiased history lesson, rather than something agenda filled, being political, news media, or religious. If they get exposed to it, fine, I just at least want the chance to be the first one to explain it. So if I can take them with me, I do. And after travelling for 3 years, I’ve come to find that the road trip route, is the cheaper choice of travel.

But not that many people road trip. The people I see on the road are mostly retired or older people, I’m assuming, finally taking their retirement to travel and see the nation that they never got to see before. But our generation doesn’t want to wait, to do this. I have seen many people adapt this lifestyle where they live at a location, work a regular job, work hard, maybe go out a couple of times a month, and then take a vacation. And the better you budget, the more you can do it. Some can do it yearly, some every couple of months, while some of us just seem to be on a non stop vacation. You might be reading this, because you’re looking for any and all tips on what to do when you’re out on the road. Well, this is a “debrief” of what’s going to happen, and what you have to do, as the dad, in charge, financially, and event coordinator, that you’re going to have to deal with. I’m going to use a trip I took, a couple years ago, as example.

Million dollar highway colorado
An overlook from the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado.

So, when I travel by myself, for work, I usually do whatever task I have to do, for the day, grab a quick bite to eat, while I get my camera equipment, and then head out to a nearby location before the sun comes down, and I run out of day light. So I’m used to just doing things fast. Park, walk, stop and take pictures. Record some videos. In and Out. Man, I spent around 30 minutes total, walking the American side of Niagara Falls before I got all the footage I could from the area. I mean, it’s a waterfall, there’s only so much time you can look at one, before you’re like “ok, It’s just water falling over the edge.”

Whenever I travel with my kids though, I pretty much apply “Murphy’s law” to everything. Murphy’s law is a term I learned in the Marines that basically states: “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” In reference to all the times we got screwed over by having to work extra, or something unfortunate happen, due to logistics or something that is usually out of your hands. I had a trip planned, driving to Portland, pit stopping in Colorado for a nap and shower, and then head out. I wanted to make it worth it, so I wanted to drive, hit up a national park on the way for a couple hours, just hitting up the picture spots, like overlooks or just driving and taking pictures from the car, and then get to Oregon. The kids could sleep in the car, they had pillows and blankets, we are going to do so much, make soooo many memories. Sounds all nice and dandy. I am totally going to get my money’s worth on this trip.

Hiking sequioa national park california
Hiking through the Sequioa National Park in California, with the family.

Okay, I’m going to be real with you. To put it bluntly, from your trip budget, I want you to take $200. And grab those $200, raise them in the air, and throw them into the wind. Because that’s about how much to expect to spend, in “emergency/ something happened” money. Someone always gets sick, and it’s always for one day, and they spread it to the next person, and the whole trip, someone’s going to be sick, if you don’t prepare for it. You are all inside a car for a long time. Any sneeze, fart, cough, all that stays in the air, inches away, that can easily be inhaled by others. You’re going to buy bandages, you’re going to buy drinks at gas stations, snacks, food, medicine, whatever. Something’s going to happen, and you’re going to just waste money on something that needs to be spent on. I don’t know what, but it happens. “Murphy’s Law.” So just be prepare for that. It helps if you don’t count your money before and after the trip, and just request a lot of overtime at work. If you don’t do this, you are going to be pissed at the end of your trip.

I wanted to start the trip early, get the car rental, pack up and leave. Grab something on the go and get on the highway, start this trip ASAP. …nope. Get the car just fine, get home, and even though I told everyone to pack the day before, and everyone assured me they were ready, now nobody is ready. I start packing my stuff. Everyone’s still in the restroom, watching TV, on the computer… so I start to load their bags as well. Unpack my electronic road trip set up that I always have, that is hooking up my tablet to the car through Bluetooth, to play my music, while I drive, and my cell phone as a GPS to wherever we’re going. This takes a while. I take my time, and after 20 minutes, everything is set up. I’m ready to leave. But there’s no one in the car. It takes another 20 minutes for people to come out of the house and into the car, the whole time “I feel like we forgot something but I don’t know what.” (P.S. You forgot it, you’re going to have to buy it. You will always forget something. Never fails.)

California drive by shoot
A shot of the California scenery, from out of the car window, while driving out of the Sequoia National Park.

So now I finally get out of the house. But now I need to get some food for the road. Get on the drive thru, order and wait, and now, it’s been almost 1.5 hours later, and I’m barely getting into the car. Not even an hour into the drive. “I have to use the restroom!” Luckily, we’re around the first rest stop out of Houston, so we stop. There’s displays, activity center, a play ground. So guess who wants to go play and take pictures of the “Everything’s bigger in Texas” sign? …so your 5 minute pit stop just took another 20-30 minutes. 3 hours into your trip and you’re barely outside of the city. I was estimating us to be getting to Dallas, by now, and we’re barely outside of Houston. Awesome. Right on track. Expect this. Don’t get mad, just know that these are going to be “good memories” in the future.

So, after repeatedly stopping for gas and taking forever at a gas station snack sections, and then stopping at almost every rest stop on the way, for somebody to use the restroom, we finally make it to Colorado. It’s night time before we get to the hotel. The plan was to drive over night, and get to see the Garden of the Gods, Manitou Springs Cliff Dwelling Museum, and the Manitou springs area waterfalls I had read about. We did “0” of this. None. We were so tired from repeatedly stopping for gas and rest stops, that we were way behind schedule, and missed all the day light, and made it to the hotel late into the night. We get into the hotel and everyone’s happy to be out of the car. We are supposed to just rest and shower. But kids are hungry and want to get something to eat. (You’re kids are going to eat more than usual during these trips, your “eating clock” is off, because you’re in a car all day, instead of doing your usual routines, and thus, knowing when it’s time to eat. Plus, they’re going to get bored, and eating is a good way to pass the time while sitting and watching movies.)

rest stop hike
We stopped at a rest stop in Colorado, and took an extra long time to get back on the road, as the stop had hiking trails on them.

My plans were then to go to sleep at 10pm, and wake up at 6am, get some breakfast, head out, and hit up Arches National park, on the way to Salt Lake City, Utah. But people stayed up watching hotel cable television. And at 6am, no one wanted to wake up. Nobody took a shower last night, either, so now they’re slothing their way out. They barely get up to get the hotel’s free breakfast that ends at 9am. Then they start to get ready. Next thing you know, it’s check out time. I, now, have to call the front desk, and ask for a late check out, because nobody is ready yet. Again, I start to pack up everyone’s stuff. We sloth out of the hotel finally. It’s noon. I was supposed to be at Arches National Park, according to my itinerary. Oh well. Now we have to stop and get food. So it’s another hour before we’re really on our way. By the time we get to the national park’s exit, the sun is coming down. So I just keep driving.

So far, I had 4 things to do. I had done none. But, we were still travelling, we were still technically seeing new things together, as a family, so it was all good. After days of driving, we are finally driving down the Columbia River Gorge, about to hit our destination. We were supposed to hit Portland in the late afternoon, and rest all night. But we are so far behind my schedule now, the sun has come up, and we have not hit Portland, yet. Everyone is tired again. If I go to the hotel, nobody is going to get out of that room again. We will run out of day light, we will do nothing here. So I see the entrance to the Multnomah Falls area, and I go ahead and just stop at the first waterfall. The purpose of this entire trip, was for my kids to see a waterfall, as they had never seen one before, and this area was the only ones I knew of, that were easily accessible to small children. So I stop, and we start a little bit up the trails and come back, taking pictures all over the place, stopping along the Oneonta Gorge area, the Multnomah Falls themselves, and the other waterfalls beside it. We end up getting to the hotel in the late afternoon, and just as expected, everyone doesn’t want to do anything once they lay down and the TV is on. But then again, staying at a hotel is pretty cool to little kids, I’m sure.

Horsetail Falls, Oregon
The road trip destination: The waterfalls of the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.

The next day, the plan was to spend the entire day exploring, and then resting and start the drive back home to Houston. And as soon as I wake up, I am sick as a dog. It’s my turn to be sick on the trip, and even though I try anyways, and go out to explore, I’m just so sick and don’t feel good, that I have to go back to the hotel. I stay with the kids while she explores on her own. Around night time I start to feel better, so we go out to grab a bite to eat and find a cupcake place. My kids are fans of the show Cupcake Wars, and they found a former contestant’s bakery near the hotel.

The next day, we head home. And by this time, we are so tired of driving, we just stop at the hotel, eat, and rest, once we get to Denver. I had things planned but, again, we didn’t get to them. Wake up the next morning, again, late check out, and drive to Houston.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon
The iconic Multnomah Falls outside of Portland, Oregon

The trip was good. But we got to do 1 thing, out of 6 things I had planned out. Which is fine, they liked it, they made memories, we have videos and pictures. I just wanted to save some money, and maybe hit multiple locations on one big road trip, with my girls. But they’re my girls, and for some reason, they have absolutely no sense of urgency, so this was something that happened repeatedly on future trips.

So that’s basically what to expect when you’re the dad of the trip, funding and planning. It’s a hard job, so try to also remember to have your own fun when doing all of this. Don’t get distracted by the stress and lack of urgency with everybody. You’re “on vacation,” everybody wants to sleep in and THEN do things, they don’t understand that it takes some effort to see and do things in nature, but that’s okay, just put it on the list for the next road trip, and maybe you’ll get lucky and be able to see it next time around.

Also, check out this article, for more tips!

Oneonta Gorge tunnel
Make the trip about your kids, don’t just leave them at home while you explore on your own.
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How to save money for travel.

How do so many people have the budget to CONSISTENLY be “on the go?!?”

Million dollar Highway in Colorado

If you were like me, on my first couple of vacations, I did not have a budget. I was alone, I knew around how much I spent on food a day, so besides hotel rooms and airline flights, I didn’t think I had any other expenses.

There is nothing worse than looking at your bank account AFTER you come back from vacation, though. I can admit that I have fallen for the “Parks and Recreations” alluring philosophy of “Treat Yo’self!”

In short, “Treat Yo’self” is the philosophy that you are entitled to something that you don’t normally splurge on, no matter the price or ridiculousness of the purchase, because it’s time to “Treat Yo’ Self.”

The thing is, treating “yo’ self” doesn’t have to necessarily means spending a lot of money. Especially when there are so many stores closing down, including malls all over the United States. When I needed something, I used to go to the electronic stores at the malls, or big retail chains, but then I started noticing something:
1. The sales reps were just there for a paycheck, rarely did they know the market.
2. The items I thought were good, were entry level items to a brand. The “good stuff” was almost always found on their websites.
3. Even for old items, you are still paying top dollar on these items, which can really add up.
4. Items that were “discounted” were still priced too high sometimes, but there was really not a very good option.

And sometimes, you’ll stumble upon a catalog that’s conveniently inserted into your front compartment, when you are flying in an airplane. You start looking at these catalogs and start to think:
1. These items are cool.
2. I wish they had them in stores.
3. Even though they are cool, the price is way too high, this is something someone else can afford to spend their money on, but not me.

And you’re right, who wants to spend $200 on a “secret spy camera.” Yes, you want the secret camera, but not at $200.

In clothing retail, there are shops that collect items from other vendors, and sell them at their stores, at a discounted rate. Still brand new items, never used, never worn, just didn’t have the opportunity to be sold at their original store, so they are showcased somewhere else. And they have some VERY good deals.

But the reality is, they still have to mark up the price, to be able to pay rent, pay their employees, keep the electricity going.

Well, I want to share one of my secrets, in hopes that you’ll share it with your friends and get some blog traffic my way. There are websites that offer a variety of items, for discounted prices. This is, by far, my favorite one, and it’s called “jClub.”

Save big on jclub
Press picture to get access to some exclusive deals!

And just to show you, that I’m being sincere in this, here is a shot of one of the cameras I use to record while travelling, as I am trying to get the hang of taking good footage, for my YouTube channel, as I need to expand on content. (Subscribe please.)

Camera pic
Wide Angle sports camera with underwater case, along with a variety of straps to secure while filming.

Now, I purposely took this very unprofessional picture of these items on my bed, to show you this isn’t somebody else’s item, and I was just trying to pitch you something false. I’ve been using this camera to record footage during some of my hikes. I am just starting out, I am not a professional photographer. I use what’s in my budget, to try to convey the things I see, in hopes to get others out, as well, as I’ve found some sort of peace from doing so. I am a “if you can do it, I can do it too, but show me how” type of guy.

I have a family. I have kids and bills, just like everyone else. I am not doing this full time, this is my part time job. It is okay to start out within your means, the important thing is that you start.

So once I found this site, I immediately looked around for things that I knew I would need, in the future. In the mean time, I start to see items that I want to gift to people, since some people are very hard to shop for. I wanted to record footage while climbing or running, without having to physically hold the camera, which I couldn’t do with my phone. So I start looking for cameras, and run into this very cheap deal. I looked up some reviews, and I decided it was a very good deal.

Jclub camera on site
This camera had all the things I needed, to start out with, and the price was cheaper overall, as this site offers FREE shipping!

I had tried buying this exact camera at other sites, but after shipping charges, the price sky rocketed, and they were coming from overseas. This site not only had FREE SHIPPING, it had FREE 30 day returns. I had purchased items that did not fit the description before, and I could not return it, because the address was in a different language. And it wasn’t going to take months for my stuff to arrive. Not to mention, the variety of items and the ability to navigate and search for items was much more user friendly.

Penny pinching and saving as much money as possible, while travelling, is an excellent habit to form, so that you can continue to afford to do the things you want. Being able to find bargains online is very important, so let me help you save even more money, by telling you about a new promo code for this site!

Jclub promo code
shop at www.jclub.com and enter promo code AMAYA4000 to get an additional 20% off.

1. Go to http://www.jClub.com
2. Shop for items.
3. Enter the promo code “AMAYA4000” to receive an ADDITIONAL 20% discount on your entire purchase.

Jclub promo code applied
FREE SHIPPING, FREE 30 day returns, get an ADDITIONAL 20% off, enter promo code “AMAYA4000”

And, as with all purchases that you make, you can’t wait to show your friends what you did with it, I now present to you, a small short video I used with the camera, and other items purchased on the site.

This is a video of me, hiking through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, Tennesee. I recorded this to purposely see the quality of video I could get out of this camera, and at it’s lowest setting, I’m pretty impressed.

So before you head out and start purchasing items, take a look at this website, use the promo code, you might be surprised by the amount of money you can save.

How hiking outdoors may be helping Veterans

As you may have noticed, by a rising number of groups and accounts on social media, there is a rise in the “outdoor exploration” departments of the internet. One of the fewer known ones, deals with veterans, using the outdoors, to help cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Hike4PTSD.com Insta screenshot
By the way, make sure to follow our Instagram page!

To many, this may just not sound like something that might help them. They were either born in the “country” side of the United States, where they were always in the outdoors, anyways, or (like me) grew up a “city slicker” and has grown up with being spoiled by the lifestyle that comes with living with millions of people around you, in a small area. But to understand how this rising therapeutic ideology may help you, you must first look at what it’s actually doing to an individual. It may not be the actual hiking that is helping people, but everything that comes with the hiking experience as well.
…like.. how does it all help or work, even?

Muuir Woods National Monument entrance sign
The entrance to the Muir Woods National Monument, a giant ancient forest you can hike through easily.

I’m going to pitch this from a veteran’s points of view, but I feel that many people who did not go into the military, but maybe just want another form of help with just stress or depression, can take this and learn from it.

One of the many things NOT talked about, when it comes to Veterans, and dealing with the trying to bring awareness to the number of veterans that commit suicide a day, in the United States, is how most veteran’s feel once they get out of the military. I had the opportunity to have an assignment close to the base I was stationed at, when I was enlisted in the Marines. I flew in, from Houston, Texas, to the airport of Charlotte, North Carolina, and then took that smaller aircraft to the town of New Bern, North Carolina. I immediately tried contacting people whom I thought were still in the area, and was able to locate a buddy who was a Sergeant when I got out, and now, was a Master Sergeant. So, needless to say, I had the V.I.P. military treatment that I never experience from just being a Corporal or Sergeant. I immediately noticed how young EVERYBODY looked. Not just the pilots, themselves, but even the contractors whom were working there, which are almost always made of prior enlisted. I was 34 in 2017 by the time I was able to get back to MCAS Cherry Point, NC. The last time I was here, I was 23 in 2006.
I went to a couple of the squadrons, looking for challenge coins for friends. Everyone looked like they should still be in school.

Cherry Point Harrier Hangar
I got the chance to return back to my old squadron and duty station a decade after getting out.

Obviously, at the age of 18, one feels like they are an “adult” as you are legally allowed to smoke cigarettes, and join the military to “fight for your country” at this age. You have a driver’s license, you can open a bank account, have a job, you are out of high school, you can choose what to do in your life (in most cases) without having to worry about going a building from 8am to 3pm to learn math and science, anymore. You have that paper, whether it’s a G.E.D., High School Diploma or certificates, and you can choose to keep going to school or work and earn some money. Get an apartment, buy a car. I mean, that’s a lot of responsibility for someone, just joining society as an “adult.” (…you can do hard core jail time, if you fuck up, now… no more mommy and daddy.

Our wars are fought by young men. The Marine Corps runs on 18 to 23 year olds. Let’s be honest here, yes, higher ranked people make the decisions, but the ground work, the physical labor of building things and breaking down of equipment, moving stuff, cleaning up, police calling, and all the “working parties” were almost always “volunTOLD” Privates, P.F.C.’s, and Lance Corporals. The lowest ranked guys did all the actual, physical labor. I was an Avionics Technician for the AV8B Harrier jets, while I was in. At 20 years old, I was troubleshooting electrical problems on a military aircraft. Sometimes, by myself, depending on how many jets needed to be fixed. I was an “adult.” “Look at me: I dropped this Internal Navigation Unit, which is really heavy and painted gold, because it is “worth it’s weight in gold.” The handle broke, so it wasn’t my fault, but the Desk Sergeant doesn’t care if it’s your fault or not, he is screaming in your face regardless, because he has to tell Maintenance Control what Lance Corporal Amaya just did.” (True story, they gave me the receipt, it was way over $100k. …so like, $100k of government spending in the summer of 2003 was purely me. You’re welcome. Your tax dollars well at spent. Don’t worry, I redeemed myself later in my career, by fixing a jet in minutes, and launching back out, while we were escorting Air Force One overseas. Also, true story.)

SOI Camp Pendleton 2001, California Hotel Company
Young Marines from Hotel Company, School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, California circa 2001. I’m on the 2nd row far left.

My point being that very young men, most of which looked like they should be in high school still, are the back bone of the military. That is all I saw, while walking around my old squadron’s surrounding hangar bays. Even the contractors, whom are mostly people who just ended their enlistment and make a lateral move, working on the same aircraft, but working for Boeing or somebody similar, they looked young as well. The pilots looked young. (In my current field, I am the “young one” as everyone is in their early 40’s/ late 50’s, “been in this industry for 30 years now” type of people.) The equipment I currently work on, is not nearly as complicated and important as Harrier jets. It was eye opening to see. You don’t think about it while you’re there, but returning back 11 years later, and seeing how things continued to run with new marines. It was nostalgic, to the point where it made me realize that I didn’t like leaving the Marine Corps. I missed it. I know a lot of us have a bitter sweet mentality towards our service, but physically visiting your old stomping grounds, is another experience. While being escorted around, he called another Marine who returned to the base, as well as my old mentor, who was there as a contractor. I found my mind wandering, piecing scenarios together, trying to figure out what I could do, to move my family back to this place, where my old friends were at. I quickly snapped out of it, caught myself, like “what the hell are you thinking? This is JUST a visit. Calm down, brain.”

CDI Chauvin Amaya Harrier Jet Persian Gulf
This is the young Marine, stuck inside this older civilian’s body, still trying to figure out how to be content with life.

But after leaving, having the drive and flights back home to Houston to think about my trip, I tried to make sense of my excitement. I felt energetic, I was so happy to basically reporting back to 3 of my old marine buddy’s, 1 of them, literally my mentor and Staff NCO, as to what I have done with my life since I last left. I felt like a little kid bragging to his dad, about his first day at school. “…and then I got out and sold cars for a year, I was really good at it and made over 6 figures one year, I worked at NASA, I had a radio show, I was a club promoter and teaching at a college at the same time…” It felt good to hear them say “well, it’s good to hear you’re okay, I always wondered if you guys were okay.” I also informed them of the Marines I’ve met up with across the United States in my travels, or have kept up with through social media, after that.

Okay, so the reason I’m telling you about my experience, is because I got lucky and got some sort of “closure” from the way I felt about my enlistment and how it all ultimately went down. I had realized that I didn’t want leave the Marine Corps. The idea of working and retiring 20 years after enlisting at 18 (retiring at 38) was all I needed to hear, to think “that… I want to do that.” But, like many people, the way I was treated, the way the higher ups handled things, and my experiences were what ultimately made me not want to reenlist and just head back home, and try my luck there.

I went to the 1 week class on how to transition into civilian life. I got out, and partied hard for a while, and then got a job selling cars while looking for jobs in the field that I was trained in. I went job after job after job, not finding a good fit. I went from car sales, and making over 6 figures at 24 years old, (ultimately left because it sank in that I went from working on jets to selling motor vehicles) to working at NASA (did you know they’re not part of the government? I did not keep my pay grade or time in service because they are a private company that is just funded by the government. Conspiracy theorists: discuss.) Left because they only paid $15 an hour (fast food employees want my starting wage at NASA) with no overtime, and after jumping from 1 job to another, I finally found one that’s helping me deal with life after the military.

Barracks in MCAS Cherry Point, NC
Being by my old barracks brought back a lot of nostalgia. I missed the Marines. I realized I didn’t want to leave but hated the bullshit.

I found out that I got used to the lifestyle that comes with the Marine Corps. Every month or so, we had something going on. Either we had to do some kind of training that we had to mobilize for, or actual deployments, but we were always moving around, for some reason. And even if you were just a low ranking guy, if you were the most senior person, you were in charge. Sometimes, the most senior person wasn’t fit, so you’d have even lower ranked people in charge, based on experience. There was a sense of accomplishment that you felt from the move. A successful deployment even got some people medals and awards, or letters of appreciation. There was always something to look forward to. The change was constant. As a single Marine, with no kids, it was exciting. I got to travel overseas, spend some time in countries I probably will never see again.

…and then, with the transition to civilian life, I was out of my element. Here’s the thing. I went in, like most people, straight out of high school. I’m talking about I graduated on a Wednesday, and I was on the yellow footsteps that weekend. Before that, I lived in a very strict, Christian household. I was extremely naïve to that ways of the world and society. I didn’t understand how things worked. The Marine Corps literally molded me into the individual I am today. I remember going through a website that showed a circle graph of how much of my life, I had spent in the Marine Corps. At 23, 1/3rd of my life had been spent in the Marine Corps. Before that, it was strictly Jesus and high school and that was it. If it wasn’t for being in the marching band, and the school paying for the instruments, uniforms, and trips to football games, and finding my own rides home, my parents would have had me in my room, for my entire life. Looking back, I think I joined the Marine Corps to escape my parent’s house. I had 3 older siblings, and they all booked it from the house as soon as they turned 18. I knew NOTHING, and the Corps’ lifestyle was a main part in molding my ideas, my likes, since I never was able to openly express myself or ideas, before. I’m going overly into detail, because I’m trying to relay the situations that nature has come to help with.

Million dollar Highway in Colorado
Taking road trips around the states, you run into people just like this, trying to make memories. Do it, as well.

Civilian life is hard because, unlike the Marines, if you fuck up, you don’t get NJP’s and some of your pay taken away, you get fired. There are no more barracks, there’s rent or mortgage. Your free medical benefits are gone. Many of us who transitioned from high school to the military, didn’t experience “freedom” like people who didn’t join the military. The Marines took care of us. In boot camp, they told me where to sit, look here, sign this, here’s your card, you can access money. This is your pin. It didn’t occur to me that I had just opened an actual bank account with a bank, I thought of it like a school “free lunch” card or something, where they put money into. The realization of medical benefits not being mandatory with a job didn’t occur until my first sales job. “After 1 year of employment, you qualify for medical benefits.” And yes, I was told all this, briefly, in that transitioning class I attended, but we’re Marines. Every single thing that we have learned, has been repeated over and over again, it’s beaten into our brains. “Lance Corporal don’t know.” It’s a saying Staff NCO’s use, because Lance Corporals do stupid shit, and they don’t know why they did it.

So we go out into the world, thinking we’re the Marine Corps/ God’s gift to _____ (enter your city’s name here.) I worked on jets in the Marines, so my logic was, if car mechanics make around $50,000 a year, then jets, they must bring in $100,000, EASY. The reality is not even close. I passed up good jobs due to lack of knowledge, and burned bridges due to my ignorance. It wasn’t until a military recruiting firm actually taught me some actual interviewing etiquette and mannerisms during a job fair, where I was able to interview with multiple companies in one day, with possible on-the-spot job offers. (Actually, if you are enlisted or a veteran and need help looking for work, check out and work with the people on this site.)

I ran into a new problem. I realized that after a year or so, the job I was at, though it paid well, started to make me doubt my life choices. The Marine Corps demands an impossible level of excellence that we will never reach, but must strive for, consistently, and a little bit of that stays with us. We are not content. I didn’t want to get out of the Marines, so that made me have a chip on my shoulder. I know a lot of people fall into this category. The routine started to make me go mad. Wake up early, drive to work, eat, drive home, eat, sleep, and that’s it. Go to work and buy stuff. Maybe save up a little and take a vacation to another city. And you go back to the same desk, same routine, same task, same driving route. And you go back to “lance corporal mode” because the civilian side doesn’t really give much opportunities for someone to “step up” and show what they can do, people get hired through their resumes. Just like the “green weenie” there is a “corporate weenie” that screws things up for you. Imagine an endless “working party” doing the same menial tasks, over and over again, with no real end goals, other than to keep your job. That’s basically what it felt like, to me. There was nothing to look forward to, besides the pay checks. I didn’t have time nor the knowledge that it was important to pursue things that make you happy. Working sucks. Obviously, that’s why we get paid to do it, but nonetheless, it’s demeaning to have such responsibility, and go to being managed by civilians, if you chose the employee route.

Horseshoe Bend, PAge, Arizona
The iconic Horseshoe Bend, in Page, Arizona.

Like you, I read an article on the internet, about dealing with depression and PTSD. The atmosphere after the military, that I was exposed to at the time, was not beneficial to me. It did not let me have the time to myself, away from distractions, to deal with things in your head. I can save you some money and let you know that therapists and psychiatrists don’t listen to you nor do they tell you 1 sentence that fixes your entire life, afterwards. You have to be the one to realize how to be happy. And with the bullshit that civilian life brings and exposes you to, for someone who’s been taken care of by the military benefits of guaranteed meals, bed, and medical benefits, it’s hard to prepare people for it.

During deployments, while flying around in a C-130 from Japan back to the United States, yes, I was jammed packed around Marines, but I had time to think to myself. I wasn’t talking the entire trip. Smart phones and internet weren’t as big yet, so we didn’t have that distraction. There’s things that you are exposed to, in the military, that nature also exposes you to, that may be beneficial, because it’s familiar tasks. You’re taking a “hump” (hump is Marine slang for hikes) at your own pace. The difference is, you are now taking hikes through some scenic landscapes. Being only exposed to my home state, and whatever bases we went to, I never ventured out to nature much. I knew of Mount Rushmore, and I knew the biggest tree in the world was called General Sherman, but that was it.

Taking up hiking has exposed me to some of the craziest and beautiful landscapes that our country has to offer. Understanding the culture and history of the different states, the land, seeing the terrain change from state to state, makes you appreciate your service more, because you are seeing the other parts of what you were fighting for, besides your family. The land.

El Malpais National Monument, Grants, New Mexico
Looking over El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico.

Preparing for a hike is like preparing for a mini deployment. Water, snacks, protection, I did that 1 land Navigation course in Camp Pendleton 16 years ago, once… you’re good, trust me.

The thing I found, after hiking a specific location, and taking my fill of pictures and videos, was a sense of accomplishment. “I did it” isn’t something I say to myself, after a long day of work. But in the Marines, we had alot of “I did it” moments.

I got my EGA. I did it.
I got promoted to Sergeant, I did it.
I successfully completed my first deployment as the senior Marine, I did it.
I finished my active duty enlistment, I did it.
These moments come many times a year, because it is the constant movement that come with the military lifestyle. There’s always something to do, besides just your regular job.

Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Hiking through the trails in the Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

You have to understand that you are conditioned to this. Even if you have been out of the military for years, and don’t think it applies to you anymore, I beg to differ. The military is part of people’s lives during some of the most influential years of one’s life. The actions that happen to someone, during their young adulthood, lays out the type of person they will be for life. It’s no different than going to college and become molded into an individual by their criteria.

You were used to getting smaller projects thrown at you, accomplished, and getting commended for it. For years, this was the normal, without you noticing it. And now that we are out, we miss it, without knowing exactly what we miss.

And that’s what I’ve noticed from hiking. On top of being disconnected from the world, I have a sense of accomplishment. I have a list of places I’ve been to and a list of places I want to go.

Grand Canyon- check.

Grand Canyon National PArk South rim Adrina Trinity
The south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

Sequoia National Forest- Check.

Sequoia National Park, California
Hiking the giant forest inside the Sequoia National Park, California

The nation’s capitol- Check.

325
At the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

Mount Rushmore- Check.

357
Mt Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.

 

…it gives you a sense of purpose. The feelings that come with accomplishing something is missing from almost everyone’s everyday life.
Work accomplishments, as a civilian, are not “cool.”
Civilians: “I closed that client’s account today, now on to the next client account that I also must close.”

Military: “I got qualified to shoot a 50 cal out of CH-46 today, by shooting barrels in the ocean from 1 of 3 helicopters, doing figures 8’s around the area, while we got to shoot bullets at the water.”

It’s just no comparison. Working sucks. And accomplishing things that suck isn’t so fulfilling either.

So if you have the urge to feel accomplished, just take a sheet of paper, write down the top 5 locations you want to go to, and pick the cheapest one, and try that. Take as many pictures and videos. Post it on social media, before, during, and after. This isn’t about boasting or bragging to your friends, this is about getting a sense of accomplishment.
…and what better way to feel accomplished than to do it by completed an adventure that you wanted to do.

Remember, happiness comes from within. You can keep looking for it in exterior materialism, but just completing a task, a “cool” task, can make such a difference.

I want to travel, too, dammit!

Thanks to social media, once exclusive photographic shots, reserved for the few who invested the money and time to venture out into nature, are now being captured by a growing online community of nature lovers.

Hike4PTSD.com Insta screenshot
By the way, make sure to follow our Instagram page!

Many people are starting to put their video games down. They’ve watched almost everything interesting on Netflix. You have seen every reality show from episode 1 to the season finale of it, because the internet has allowed us to have those types of luxuries. Even with the internet, people are bored.

The growing fad, for some time, has been social media travelling. You see it on your Facebook news feed: another one of your high school buddies, or your estranged family, enjoying themselves on a vacation, uploading 130+ pictures of them on a boat, on a beach, kissing dolphins, sexy dancers, buffets. What the hell are these people doing for a living, that they can splurge like this?! …sorry, I went a little off track there.

Solar Project highway shot
This is an unedited picture from the passenger side of our vehicle, using an iPhone5, of this solar power plant in California.

I am (I think from my father’s side,) a “player hater,” if you will. I don’t physically talk shit to other people, but it’s hard for me to be happy for other people doing things, that I also want or wanted to do. …this is a common trait within people who are selfish. I am selfish. I can admit that. I like to tell people my stories, if they’ll hear me. Who doesn’t want to be the first one in a group t discover something new for the entire group to experience, you know?

Well, look. I used to work in a steel mill. I had an “okay” job. I had a house. Cars. All that Jazz. …I didn’t get to travel though, because, though my job paid well, but it didn’t really come with much benefits. I didn’t have it in my budget, to just go up and rent a hotel, and screw around, not make money, for a couple of days. It just didn’t seem like the smart thing to do, for someone who had bills to pay.

…so yea, if someone who’s working their ass off, sees someone, like that… man, what do you even do for money, man? This guy is always travelling. …yea, I’m not going to hate on the man, but I’m also not going to be over the top, ecstatic for the young lad. …look, all I’m saying is… my feelings were valid, from my non-vacationing point of view.

But after a while, I was able to figure out some stuff, that, even though I am not “balling out of control”  traveling, I travel enough to post pictures online, enough to make me feel sure that my ex girl friends are jealous, when they see them on their social media feed. “Stunt on these hoes” as the young kids would say.

Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge has an overlook area on both side’s of the bridge.

My dad really didn’t pass on too much of his knowledge to me, as he was way too busy working his butt off to provide money for food and a home. If he was at home, we was sleeping or drinking. He didn’t have time for no little kid asking no dumb ass questions… …the soccer game was on. (My dad is Hispanic, they watch any soccer game that is on, no matter who is playing, and get mad if you talk during the game.) And I have no sons to pass on this knowledge to, so I bestow upon thee, a bunch of random shit about how to travel more:

  1. There are jobs where they need you to travel to different places.

    There is a job field called the “Field Service” job field. …when I say job field, I mean like, Administrative work job field, food preparation job field. Like… what are you willing to do for money. I love my city of Houston, and I remember being young, and any job that said “are you willing to travel for work” I would immediately mentally disregarded that job. I was an electrician. There is a field service electrician job field. Spice up your resume, and search for jobs that specially say “need to travel 50% of the time.” I don’t know why I felt that that was a bad thing. I guess I was trained to think that working 40+ hours a week is the only meaningful way to make a living. There are people who hit the airports every Monday, travel for some company, talking to some customer, about whatever field service needs they are trying to get done at their job. When machines are expensive enough, that company will send a technician to repair it, or inspect it. …you could be this technician.

    Mt Shasta Overlook
    A “vista point” is basically a rest stop/ picnic area type of stop, but has a very scenic point of view, of an area. When you see then, go to them.

 

  1. Sign up to the rewards programs to every single car rental, airline, and hotel you can think of.

    This one works out very nicely, if you are able to land a field service job, and get to use your rewards account number while purchasing items. The points eventually add up to free things. Like car rentals, airline tickets, hotel stays. A lot of different rewards programs work with each other, to interchange points from a hotel, to an airline ticket. If you have the credit to do so, some of the airlines offer you a lot of points to sign up for a rewards credit card. The amount of points given, can sometimes be enough for a round trip, depending on the airports being used and the date/time you want to leave. If you are flexible, plan your trip around when you get the best deal with points, instead of planning a trip with dates like “I want to leave Friday and come back Sunday.” I had a friend get a credit card with different airlines, and bounced around to a couple cities and back home, all just from activation reward points. Never touched the cards after that. Free trip.

Car Rental shot Colorado
See that white SUV? I rented it for free, using reward days saved up. 4 days of free SUV.
  1. Road Trips are way cheaper than flying.

    As a family man, the epic vacation destination stereotype is somewhere like Disneyland. I have asked friends that have taken their family (like, my married friends with wives and kids, not my single friends, there’s a big difference in expenses.) And with a house rental, and a week long park stay, it cost him around $9000, not including food. My mouth dropped. I’m sure it was very rude, I just don’t love my kids $9000 “instant money drops” worth. For life threatening accidents, yes. Vacations?? No. This person did. I was flabbergasted. Well.. that’s not me. I can’t buy tennis shoes if they’re not on sale, and if they’re more than $100, my brain immediately says “fuck no.” I’m not Einstein, but I have this equation, it goes like this: if $100 equals fuck no… $9000 equals hellll to the fuck nah bro, fuck that shit, you’re tripping… no. Absolutely not. I’m not a slave. That’s like 3 months salary. That’s a down payment to a house. That’s a “brand new” used car.

    I discovered that, if you drive somewhere, all you’re really paying for is gas. And cars get pretty good gas mileage on the highway. So you can get pretty far on $40 of gas. I have driven from Houston, Texas, to Colorado Springs, stopping to fill up the gas tank once. $70 of gas. A flight to Denver, from Houston, for me, my kids, and wife? $1000 cost, easy. What sounds better to you? $70 of gas. Or $1000+ flying. You get there on the same day.

    VLA site, New Mexic
    The VLA (Very Large Array) Antennae site, in New Mexico, is accessible by a small donation. Kids are free.
  2. Do not ball out on your trips!

I know you see people eating at fancy places, tuxedos, diamond dresses and caviar, as the perfect vacation. …are you a millionaire? I’m only a thousandaire, okay. I have to do things different. Instead of spending $2300 a day for a home rental in Telluride, Colorado, stay at the small hotel for only $150 a night. You can totally go up to the $2300 place, ask for a brochure, take some pictures on snap chat, record yourself there, and leave immediately before security escorts you out. Instead of risking your life hiking 20+ miles, go to a state or national park. Search for “state parks” or “national parks near me” wherever you are at. Go there. It’s a safe, easy access to some of nature’s most photographic destinations, while downplaying the dangers of all the wild bears and mountain lions that roams the United States. Stop at every vista point or rest stop. Just take a picture.

Wizard Island, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Crater Lake National Park is north of Medford, Oregon. It conveniently has a road that loops this entire volcanic lake. 

 

  1. Visit destinations for only hours, not days.

    I once got told that if I was ever in the north east region, to take off towards Niagara Falls, that it was a must see location. And so I did. I landed in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania for training, but as soon as I landed and got my rental car, I made a mad dash for Niagara Falls. It was 3.5 hours away. I am from Houston. 3.5 hours is like driving to Dallas, Texas, and back. Done. So I go to Niagara Falls. (P.S. when you GPS it, GPS Niagara Falls STATE PARK, or if not, it will take you right into the center of a hood in Niagara Falls, NY. Thanks, Siri, you jerk.) I pay for my parking. Eat something at their food court, which is packed with, only, Chinese and Hindu tourists, enough to have restaurants with menus in their native languages there. This may sound kind of racist. I assure you, I am not a racist. This was just a statement of fact. It was enough for me to be alarmed. “Maybe there was a field trip today?” I walked right up to the closest viewing point to the American side of the falls. I took pictures. Selfies. Video. I stopped and stared at the water fall over the edge. …it got boring after a couple seconds, I mean, yea, it’s a water fall… but it’s just water falling over the top.. So I walked around the park. Went to all the viewing points. Video tapped some squirrel. Got my footage and then got in my car and drove back to Pennsylvania. In and out, I spent around 30 minutes in the park, 45 tops, a lot of it was spent looking for parking. Best site visit ever. I would have totally spent money to spend days here, so glad I didn’t. It was cool to see, but man, am I glad I didn’t spend the money I wanted to, to see it.

    Niagara Falls, New York
    Drove hours, from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to Niagara Falls State Park in the New York/ Canada Border. I stare at this waterfall for around 10 minutes before getting bored.

 

  1. Invite other people to “go in,” on the expense of the trip, to make it cheaper.

    I don’t know why, but I do math for “If we split this between 3 of us… it’d only be $11 each” I’m sure it’s annoying, I’m just trying to get out of paying full price for something I only want to try a little of. But with road trips, it’s different. I get to share the experience of the trip and staying in the same place you are, and instead of multiplying, as it would, if we each paid for our own plane tickets, we can use that money to each pay a fraction of the total trip cost.

    I once took a week long road trip to California. It was around $1500 total, with car rental, hotel stays, and gasoline. If I had flown, it was going to be around $4000 total, for the same trip. I had a similar expensed road trip to Colorado. But I had 3 other passengers with me, who were not kids, so they had jobs, and wanted to pay to come along. It costs us around $375 a person. I was going to take this trip regardless. But instead of doing it by myself, for $1500, I did it with friends, same trip, more fun, for only $375.

    If numbers are too much to think about: my last road trip, I split between 3 people. I paid for everyone’s hotel rooms, and the car rental. Somebody else covered food. Somebody else covered gasoline for the trip. That cut my expense A LOT, and all I did, was ask my facebook friends “who wants to come with me on my family’s road trip, I have 4 seats open? I got the car rental, and hotel rooms.”

    …Would you go on a trip, where you had your own hotel room separate from the kids, and didn’t have to pay for a car rental?

    Hikers in Oregon
    A small group of 5 hikers start the trail at the Multnomah Falls trails, outside of Portland, Oregon, that take you to the top of the waterfalls.

 

  1. Make other people buy things under your rewards program so you can get free stuff.

    My family’s older relatives don’t even bother with technology. They hand us the phone and tell us “dials these numbers for me, I don’t know how to use this thing.” Well, you can profit from that now. I learned that I could log into my airline account, and my dad bought flights, under his name, using his information and card info, and I collected the points from his trip. And because I was a rewards program member, his seat got upgraded to first class, because he was apparently put on the “upgrade stand by” list, (one of the advantages the rewards programs to some airlines offer.) You points don’t expire every year, it takes some time, or not at all, so after I accrued enough points, I was able to book a flight for myself, for free. Just like couponing, you have to find ways to cut corners on travel costs. Get a rewards program and buy all your friends plane tickets for them, like a travel agent, or give them your rewards number and tell them to go nuts.

Hamilton Pool Reserve
The Hamilton Pool Preserve, Texas’s hidden waterfall, between Austin and San Antonio.
  1. If you visit nature, a lot of it is free.

    I had no clue that you had to pay to enter some national parks. No one ever told me. Many of the national parks give you an opportunity to buy a year pass, which give you access to any national park or monument that charges for parking or entry. If you plan on visiting a national park, more than once, in a year, even different ones, it pays for itself in a couple ventures. That being said, there is still a lot of locations and places that you can totally access, explore, and camp at, for free. Depending on the size, maintenance fees, and magnitude of the certain sites, they will all differ whether you have to pay or not. For example, in Texas, we have 2 hidden natural attractions, one called the Hamilton Pool Preserve, which charges around $10 for parking, as opposed to the hidden, yet locally famous Jacob’s Well, which is free. There are highways in the states that are labelled as “scenic highways and byways” that the drive itself, is a very scenic. Some places, the only way to get a good picture is for someone to snap a photo while the car is driving through the highways. Stop at every vista point or scenic overview and explore, you never know what you’re going to miss out.

    Washington DC Lincoln Steps
    The Nation’s Capitol, Washington D.C’s monument area is entirely free, if you can find the parking to get there. My kid stood where MLK gave his “I have a dream” speech for $0.

So next time you feel the inner “player hater” come out in you, while looking at other’s travel through social media, make sure to use some of these tips, and let us know of any other tips we might have missed in the comments!

A Veteran’s Guide: How to road trip with children

When I was single, if you were to come up to me and ask me if I wanted a free trip, but the only catch was I had to be around kids the entire time, I would have said “pass.” Nope. Doesn’t even sound like I’d ever get any peace and quiet. I’d rather pay to get away from that, especially during a vacation.

Plus, you don’t need a “single Marine Lance Corporal” type of mentality, that never truly leaves us, giving their “I’m stuck doing all the working parties because of my rank” grumpy pearls of wisdom to young children.  Alcohol + the Marine Corps metaphoric “green weenie” = not children appropriate language.

(“The Green Weenie” is a saying young Marines use, to describe an invisible giant, flying green weiner, the size of a blimp, just pushing its way through buildings and traffic, like the marshmallow man from the original Ghost Buster’s movie. Only, instead of destroying cars and buildings, it’s taking away liberty and handing out Non-judicial punishments.)

Colorado highway
Some roads take you besides some of the most scenic areas in the United States.

But the more years pass on, whether you’re enlisted or a veteran, some little people that look like you and call you their “parents” will appear. And you have one of 2 choices:

  1. Get someone to take care of your kids while you go on a trip.
  2. Take your kids with you on your trip.

This isn’t an article to judge anybody. We all had to stand “duty” some time or another. I’m going to give you tips on what to do when your kids are coming with you. …Because those little people will make your vacation so stressful and waste so much of your money, it will deter you from wanting to do it, ever again. You HAVE to prepare for battle, people. “BAMCIS” or whatever.

Rule #1… offer people money to take care of your kids… I’m just playing. That’s not a rule. It was a joke.

Garden of the Gods Visitor Center
A shot of the Garden of the Gods, in Colorado Springs, CO, from the overlook of the balcony of the Visitor’s Center.
  1. YOU PICK OUT WHAT THEY ARE GOING TO EAT

    I have daughters, and they have me wrapped around their fingers. I did not have much growing up, so I basically say “yes” whenever they ask for things. So it was my fault, I brought this on myself. I wasn’t “leading my little fire team” correctly. One road trip: they asked for snacks on the way, whenever we’d stop. “I want this hot dog. I want pizza.” And at the end of the drive, you know what I found? An uneaten hot dog. A pizza with 1 bite. Usually, things like that don’t matter, but when you are driving on a week-long road trip, (this was during my “Houston, Texas to Portland, Oregon and back” road trip) that little habit, and being on the road, will cost you a lot of money. I took 2 of my girls, aged 3 and 6 at the time, and I let this habit of “buying things and you not eating them” slide the whole trip, again, “because we were on the trip.” After doing some accounting after the trip, to see the full damage, I had spent a good $300 on snack, which I know for a fact, a lot of them were not eaten. After that, we started going to the grocery store, and buying waters, juices, fruits, chips, whatever we needed, before even heading out on the road. Don’t make my mistake, and be lazy, and just keep getting these gas station priced snacks. $300 is equivalent to a hotel room for 2 days. Compare that, side by side: $300 for 2 hotel room stays VS. $300 of half eaten snacks. Put your foot down, parents. You’re funding this trip. Airlines only let you choose from a couple food items.

Garden of the Gods loop
National monuments and/or monuments give you easy access to America’s protected lands.
  1. EXPECT TO STOP FREQUENTLY, AND DO SO, RIGHTFULLY.

Being seated for a long time can take its toll on the body. I know, myself, after flying for 2 hours, the airplane seat isn’t comfortable for me anymore, like the cushion is all gone or something, and my butt cheeks start to hurt. I don’t like 3 or 4 hour flights. I know my ass is going to hurt when I see that. Most major highways will have rest stops or picnic areas along the highway that provide little pit stops for you and your family, if you’ve never used one. The states or counties usually pay to maintain them, so they tend to show off information of the area that particular rest stop is in. I have learned that when I start to get a little sleepy and yawn-y during my drives, even if they’re only 2 or 3 hours into a drive, I will pull over into the next available rest stop or 24 hour truck stop gas stations, and get off to use the restroom and walk around. I used to pull into these spots, at first, to see if I could take a “power nap.” I’d park, go inside to use the restroom, get something to drink or eat, if possible, and when I’d head back to my car, to recline my seat for a nap, I found myself, wide awake. So awake, that I felt stupid, just laying on a reclined seat in my car, so I’d sit up, and continue driving again for a couple hours, and either the cycle would repeat, or I’d reach my destination. I’m not condoning this behavior, if you’re sleepy, go to sleep. After doing that a couple times though, I decided to just start doing it whenever I get sleepy, and by the time I walk from my car, inside and back, I don’t feel sleepy anymore. Just looking at the road and not focusing on the scenery can get you “in the zone” and sometimes becomes boring. You need to keep your mind awake and active. Plus, your kids are going to pee A LOT during this trip, even though you told everyone to use the rest room 15 minutes ago, at the last rest stop you stopped at. So, don’t get mad at that, expect it, it’s part of the road trip experience. Also, FYI, Fast Food restaurants have nice clean bathrooms, too.

Mesa Verde Treehouse overlook
This overlook of this cliff dwelling, in Mesa Verde National Park, CO, is less than a 1/4 mile from a parking area, a gift shop, rest rooms, trash cans, and food.
  1. PACK SOME KIND OF ENTERTAINMENT.

You have to realize that little kids still like doing little kids things, even if you’re paying all this money to take them to some fancy place on vacation, and show them something. Let them go crazy with this while they’re in the car. I have a 4 year old that likes to go on road trips, solely because she likes hotels. She hates hiking, she didn’t see the big deal in the Grand Canyon, and kept asking to play games on our phones, while we were trying to take pictures of them. I, forever, have her little voice engraved in my head. “Can we go now?” She must have said that like 75 times at each location we were at. We have gotten them a cheap portable DVD player, and each their own cheap tablets with apps we downloaded for them, NetFlix, Wifi hotspots from out phones, pillows, let them bring their dolls and purses, and I still have to tell them to stop fighting or arguing with each other in the back seat. It gets frustrating being in a car for a long time, sometimes. I recommend to get 1 form of entertainment for each individual kid coming on this trip, so that each of them can independently be entertained by what they please. You tell them to share, but they won’t. All composure your child had, will slowly deteriorate. Your job is to slow this process down, with distractions, until you reach a destination. Your kids may be entertained by the scenic drive the entire way, who knows, but Murphy’s law is “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” and if you use this type of attitude towards road tripping with children, you should do just fine. Actually, use this attitude towards children, in general, and you’ll be good.

Independence Monument, Colorado National Monument
This overlook is 25 ft from a road that runs through the Colorado National Monument. You don’t have to hikes miles to see cool things.
  1. STICK TO THE NATIONAL PARKS, STATE PARKS, AND NATIONAL MONUMENTS.

If you have the money to go to amusement parks and pay to stay at resorts, good on you. If you want to cut costs and see some cool stuff for the kids, I highly suggest you stick to the National Parks, State Parks, and National Monuments system across the nation. There’s usually some sort of hiking trail or information/ welcome center, that gives you knowledge and maps of the location you are at. If you have “little ones,” especially on these long road trips where they are having to be good, this is sometimes a good place to let them burn off some of that energy they’ve been building up. If you stay at a hotel, they almost always have pools, check while you are booking. Indoor pools are nice, because they can be accessed no matter what the weather, outside, is. Let the kids run, climb, investigate, read the signs to you, get them involved, let them play their little hearts out, followed by some pool time at the hotel, and a warm bath afterwards and some food, they are going to knock out at the end of the night. I’m not sure if any of you got “Nyquil’d” as a kid, by your parents, to pass out, (I mean I don’t… but maybe that’s a symptom of being Nyquil’d, you don’t remember it,) but this is a healthier alternative to that, if you’re into that. I believe it’s gluten free, as well.

Pikes Peak snowy road
This tollway takes you to the top of Pikes Peak, one of the highest points you can reach in the U.S.
  1. BRING EXTRA CHARGERS AND RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES.

At first, I thought the idea of rechargeable batteries for phones were a bit extreme. But if you’re going to document a lot of your trip with videos, especially if you are taking a hike, there may be a couple of hours before you can actually reach an actual electrical outlet to charge your devices. And there’s nothing worse than multiple devices having to share one cord. It’ll make the trip easier to have extra charging ports, there are even some kits that will let you add an actual electrical outlet to your car. There are now 4 in 1 USB charging car chargers. Just spending a couple extra dollars on being able to keep everyone’s devices charged, will help in trying to keep everyone sane while driving. We’ve lost social media footage because of this before. Don’t let it happen to you. (When you are in a “no service” area, the videos save and can be uploaded when you have reception, again. This is not an option, if your phone dies on you, before you can upload the footage.)

Pikes Peak bigfoot sign
There are signs along the road, telling you about wildlife that is in the area, so always keep your eyes peeled! You never know what you may see.
  1. GET THE PASSENGERS INVOLVED IN NAVIGATING

Kill some time and make your kids get some sense in involvement, by letting them help you navigate, while driving. They don’t have to particularly be in the front, or actually helping, but just taking the extra effort of involving them in the directional driving process, can make the actual drive a little more bearable. I remember growing up and having to look at the map (this is before the internet and GPS systems in cars and phones) and helping my dad not miss the exit to his next connecting highway. I have no clue if I was actually helping or not. (I hope not, I was like 7, I shouldn’t have been make hard life and death decisions like that, at that age.) But it felt like it did, and that’s something I remember doing, that gave me the courage to venture out on my own. “Well, I helped dad do it, I just have to do the driving part now, how hard can it be?” Even if it’s as little as letting the kids follow your G.P.S. route on their own devices, or letting them help you look for the next rest stop, or gas station, on the way.

Colorado Rockies
Some roads let you drive through mountains, rather than around them. Take those roads.
  1. MAKE IT AS COMFORTABLE AS YOU CAN FOR THEM.

Let them bring pillows and small covers, if all you are going to do is be in the car, and don’t plan on pulling over to eat on the way, or between major stops, it’s okay to be in Pajamas. Obviously, dress appropriately for each occasion, but I’m a different type of traveler, I prefer comfort. I’ve seen people in polo shirts tucked in with the company logo, even suits sometimes, just to travel. I’m wearing shorts and a t shirt. Jogging pants if it’s chilly. I do it to also not have to take off my belt while going through the airports scanners, but that’s another blog article. Obviously, make them have their seat belt on, no matter where they are seating in the vehicle, but let them put up a pillow and take off their shoes and all that. Obviously, this isn’t normally done when driving, but this is LONG DISTANCE driving. Even if you DO have to get out in your pajamas, who cares, you’re just passing by, you will never see those people ever again, to be judged for your adult one-sy pajamas you found on the internet. …comfort over judgement, any day.

Telluride Colorado Overlook
There is a 2 lane road called “the Million dollar highway” which drives you through the Rocky mountains. Find it!
  1. LET THEM CHOOSE THE MUSIC YOU LISTEN TO.

I have a play list of particular songs I like to listen to while I am driving for work or just whenever. Apparently, if we’re going to be in a car for a week, that play list does not sit well with others. …who doesn’t want to listen to Pink Floyd albums back to back for hours? …little kids, that’s who. I tried choosing cool songs for them, and though they were cool, and they were somewhat singing along, I once got a dose of reality, all because I didn’t bring enough chargers and my tablets (which was has all my music) died on me. (If this list had only existed back then, I would probably still have 100% control of the radio playlist, on road trips, because I would have not had a tablet that died, because I brought my extra charger. Tip #5.) But then someone else had to be the DJ. And the 4 year old, who knows how to search her favorite music on Youtube, but hasn’t started school and doesn’t know how to read or write yet, takes over. And it turned into Karaoke central for the next 3 hours. I don’t listen to Taylor Swift, or any of these new pop artists. Like Jerry Seinfeld, …I don’t know who Ke$ha is, either. If you played me one of her songs, I’d have no clue. But my kids listen to them. And know the lyrics. And the dance choreography to the music video, too, apparently. And though I had to endure a couple hours of music I was unfamiliar to, it was cool seeing my kids enjoy themselves to some car karaoke, as I’m sure we all sneak in our own session, on our drives. Get an aux cord cable and let other people play their music for a couple hours. Mandatory change every 3 hours or something like that. Also, I never knew how intimate someone’s personal music collection is. Nothing hurts as much and makes you start questioning your taste in music, than hearing “this songs sucks, change it.”

Redwood Forest skyline
This was taken through the sunroof, while driving down the “Redwood Highway” in California. Thousand year old giants, towering over us.
  1. MAKE AN EMERGENCY BACKPACK.

People are going to get sick. Someone is going to start sneezing, someone else a fever, just for one day. There were even reports of certain SUVs causing sicknesses in people because of the interior’s material. So might as well prepare for it. I was fortunate enough to have a sister-in-law, who is a teacher. She gave me an hot orange back pack, full of vacuum sealed water, tablets, bandages, glow sticks, whistle and all, because she had asked the new hired teacher, if he could get a first aid kit for a school field trip from the nurse’s office, and he understood “go get a survival backpack from a hunting store.” …so that’s how I got mine, I added some stuff like a swiss army knife, first aid stuff as well, but you can totally go out  and buy one or just use an old back pack just for things you are going to need. Bring kids fever medicine, cough medicine, it’s going to happen, just go ahead and bring it. My last road trip, I put in every type of medicine I could think of, fever reducer, pain relieve, anti-acid, cold, sinus, etc., and out of the 8 people in our road trip, through out the week, someone used some of the medicine. It saves you the trouble of having to interrupt your travelling, to run an errand.

Stickers on overlook
There are places that are tagged with stickers. Overlooks, state signs, rest stops. Take your company logo sticker to be able to deface things, as well.
  1. LEATHER INTERIOR IS EASIER TO CLEAN THAN CLOTH.

    It doesn’t matter that you told them to be careful, and laid out detailed instructions of what the consequences would be, they are going to drop something inside the car. I tried having a “no food inside the car” rule and I still found a cup holder full of water, somehow. (Not a cup, inside the cup holder. The cup holder had a large amount of water in it. It was Lake Cup Holder). You are not going to be able to see them because your eyes are on the road. They’re not going to listen to you, because they know you’re more worried about driving. Leather interior cleans up a lot easier than cloth. Also, darker colored interiors hide juice stains, as opposed to light colored carpeting, which would have totally cost us, adults, an arm and a leg to pay to get cleaned, I’m sure.

No road trip is going to be perfect. These are just some tips, if no one in your group circle has started venturing out with their kids, so you’re not getting the “low down scoop” on what to do with your offspring. It’s not rocket science, but maybe you just need a reminder about certain things, if you’ve been riding motorcycles all your life, and you find yourself driving a minivan to Colorado in the near future.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
The drive, in itself, is the vacation. Stop at every vista point, overlook, and rest stop. Take pictures. Stay and intake the scenery. Enjoy the road.

Featured Location: Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, California

Living in the city, one gets secluded to the daily problems that come with it. Getting up early, either cooking at home, or grabbing some food on the way to the traffic that will eventually take you to the other side of town, where your job is at. You do this routine for so many years, that you seem to believe that this is the only thing that really, truly matters. After a while, it is all you know. You are in the concrete jungle, and all you see are towering buildings and traffics lights or electricity poles. Trees are invisible to you. You notice the cell phone towers, and wonder why you’re right next to one, but you only have 3 bars on your phone. This becomes the world, to some. And to a lot, it’s the only world they will ever get to see.

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The hiking trails of Muir Woods National Monument exposing you to a hidden, giant forest, outside of a very sub-urbanized area. The roots of the trees stick out and expose themselves along the trail.

So even though someone is “free” to do as they please, it’s the same thing, over and over. Gas station, wal-marts, and restaurants. One starts to get bored with the routines, and maybe take a cruise, something that isn’t really TOO too “out there” but enough to make one think that they are “disconnecting,” when in reality, they are just doing the same routine of partying and consuming alcohol in a floating hotel, in the sea.

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There are many side trails that lead you to other areas outside of the Muir Woods National Monument, as the Mt. Tamalpais State Park is also in the area.

If you seem to be going on those trips, and while on the trip, you still feel a little bored, and catch yourself yawning, let me tell you, you are not the only one. I remember going to different cities, and at first being interested in them, but by the end of the week, I had the driving routine down, to and from work. And that small routine would become all the information I would use to judge if I liked that location or not. It’s not really much different from city to city, especially if you are not able to see the drastic changes in the terrain, while you’re traveling through it.

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A fallen redwood tree is now used as a bridge on one of the hiking trails that lead you out of the Muir Woods National Monument.

If you’re lucky, you happen to live in a city next to natural wonders that you can escape to, if the city is too much, and you want to disconnect into nature for a while. There are many locations available, throughout many cities in the United States. Starting to travel for my new job, I wrote down a list of places I’d eventually want to travel to. I heard about “the tallest tree in the world” and that’s about it. So I decided to look into where the forests were at, and after googling, saw that I was not too far away from some. Look, I’ll tell you now, I have mentally convinced myself that things that are within 4 hours of driving distance, are not too “far away” to visit on the agenda. I was staying about 150 miles north of the Bay Area, in California, an area I had never ventured to, and googled the areas these forests were at, because honestly, why would I know the locations of a forest full of giant trees? So I saw some just north of San Francisco.

Driving to this location, you are probably going to say “man, there’s no forest around here, I can see the Golden Gate Bridge from here, this is obviously, a mistake.” But right off the mountain coast of the Mt. Tamalpais area, is a forest that is a must visit to location. The Muir Woods National Monument is a forest that contains some of the, not only easy, but beautiful hiking pay outs, there is.

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A stairway on the trail that takes you through different parts of the Muir Woods National Monument and surrounding areas. 

As soon as you start to descend down to where the entrance is at, you go down some steep terrain and cutbacks, as well as passing some pricey looking neighborhoods. I’ll warn you right now, the parking area for this location is pretty small. And every time I’ve gone, it’s been packed. But even the few times it’ s been a full parking lot, after waiting for a while, a pretty good parking spot opened up. The traffic in this place is pretty fast. I think the popular thing to do is do the main boardwalk trail, and usually branch off into other trails or turn back at the different bridges, towards the entrance. From what I’ve seen, people walk into this place, and once they get tired, they turn back at the next bridge turnaround, at there is a couple of different bridges along the way, that you can do “U turns” at, and head back towards the entrance and the parking area.

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The trails at the Muir Woods National Monument go from boardwalks, to dirt trails, and concrete, so if you are wearing flip flop sandals, or hiking boots, you can still enjoy many different parts of the park. 

The park has signs with historical facts and artifacts of the park, as well as a very well guided trail. This is not a place that you will get lost at, as the park’s maps are repeated all around the park. But the trees themselves are enough, without any of these things. There is a gift shop and a café on the premises, all the souvenirs are redwood themed items, even baby redwood trees for sale. They’re pricey, but they seem really worth it. Just to be able to say that you LEGALLY took a part of the forest back with you, as everything at this place, is untouchable, as most parks are, to preserve the natural habitat. In fact, there are signs around the park, telling you to be quiet.

Muir Woods National Park fallen Redwood
A fallen redwood tree had to be cut in half, when it fell across one of the hiking trails, it’s one of the park’s features.

I witnessed something in this forest, that I had never witnessed somewhere else, that I will try to relay through text: for one, the sheer size of the redwood trees in this forest is breath taking. The landscape, vegetation, and terrain, along with these monstrous sized giants, make it almost feel like you’re on another planet. “Honey I Shrunk the kids” type of feeling. It almost seems FAKE. …but it’s not. It’s a giant forest. It honestly made me giggle, because I didn’t know how to react. The little kid came out in me. I obviously wanted to climb them, but there was no way I was going to be able to do it. I realized this was the same forest used in the newer Planet of the Apes movie, where the apes take off to, once they’re all smart and decide to separate themselves from humankind while it dies off from a mysterious disease, eventually leaving the planet to the apes. …and I personally liked the movie, and obviously, there was no monkeys or apes there, they were all digital animation, but still. It gives you a feelings like you’re walking through the Star Wars Ewok forest of the planet Endor. (Yes, I totally went super nerd on you, but that’s the best description I can give out, using all my collective knowledge, at this point in my life.)

Muir Woods National Monument redwood size
An older couple stop to look up at the canopy of the forest. I take a shot as they are standing next to a redwood, and it was one of the only ways to get a size reference to the size of these trees.

So, on top of all these very cool feelings I’m feeling, as I’m walking through this forest, I get to witness something I had never seen before, that was just enough, the topping on the cake, to make this location memorable. (Literally, it was emotional for some reason, the sheer magnitude is breathtaking, almost mind blowing, how something so big and old can exist. I’ve seen all my kid’s births, inches away from the action, and the emotions felt that day, were similar to the emotions going through me while walking this forest.) It’s quiet. The trees, vegetation, fallen branches, and dead leaves make very good sound insulation. It’s noticeably quiet. You can hear someone talking from some distance away. Being from the city, there is always noise. You are always talking over the noise of traffic, the freeway, someone doing burnouts, dogs barking, if you’re outside. TV and radios on blast, if you’re on the inside. Not here. Here, I could hear myself breathing hard, after walking for a while. “Do I always breath this hard when I’m tired? …oh my God, can people hear this noise coming from me, while I’m winding and talking to them??” So there I am, standing in this forest, stopping enough to not be embarrassingly gulping for air while walking by people. I try to play it off as stare at the top of the tree, looking straight up, putting my hands over my head. Someone told me it helps to catch your air if you do that, when I was a kid. It’s probably not true, who knows. I physically stopped so that I could stop breathing hard, because I felt it was sort of embarrassing. THAT’S how quiet this forest is.

Muir Woods National Monument cathedral
There are different parts of the Muir Woods National Monument, as you go from one grove to another. This is entering into Cathedral Grove, and at the very far end of the trail, you can see a group of hikers walking on the trail, for size reference.

So, as I’m stopping to not catch my breath, but again, silence my heavy breathing, I heard a rustling in the leaves. I happened to be standing on one side of a creek that runs through the middle of this park, so there was a little open space in the treeline, where you could see the sky. These massive trees’ branches start to move, one by one, in unison. I see, like, the “wave” they do at the Houston Astros games, but it’s the redwood trees doing it. It took a while for my brain to process everything. The noise, The” wave” motion… I was looking at a gust of air coming into the forest. And because the trees are so big, I can see it manipulate some of the trees branches, and not the others. I am seeing the top and bottom outline, in the branches, of air coming in, rustling the leaves, making the very loud noise, in the once silent forest. I can see a gust of air coming into a forest. It reminded me of the movie Predator, when he turns his camo/invisibility thing, on. I had never seen the air, until that day.

Red Wood Creek
Redwood Creek runs down the middle of the Muir Woods National Monument, adding a the calming noise of running water, to the atmosphere.

I try to capture it on camera, but I’m too late. I try to capture the size of these trees, but it just does it no justice. The tree size isn’t converted on the video of pictures. The videos make the trees look normal sized, and they’re not. The footage captured just doesn’t transfer the amount of beauty no the size of these trees. This is definitely a place, you HAVE to visit. You have to see this place for yourself. It was definitely worth driving, halfway cross country, from Houston, Texas, to San Francisco, California, just to take my kids back to this little forest outside of the bay area.

Hillside Trail
The trails go from dirt to boardwalk, giving you easy access to various locations that usually wouldn’t be accessible.
Adrina and Trinity hiking
This is a good place to let your kids run around and tire themselves out, as opposed to always having to be still and not run around, in the home environment.

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Featured Location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

I highly recommend you check out Mesa Verde National Park, in Colorado.

One thing I’ve noticed in the short 2 ½ years since I started travelling, is that mother nature waits for nobody. Things that exist and are taken for granted, today, may not be around for much longer. Do I know some secret of impending doom that no one else knows about? Well, no… but I have been paying attention to the news, when locations that I wanted to revisit with my family, are no longer there.

I have seen 4 major changes that affected my travelling plans. I’m positive there’s more than this, but these are just the few that have affected me, personally.

  1. The destruction of the Great Smoky Mountains area due to wild fire, in the North Carolina/ Tennessee border.
  2. The famous sequoia tree with a tunnel drilled into it, so that cars can drive through it, was brought down due to weather.
  3. The swimming ban at the natural pools at the Hamilton Pool Preserve, outside of Austin, Texas.
  4. The closing of the cliff dwellings at the Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Obviously, there are more areas that were once beautiful destinations to access nature, that are now changed or not accessible, but these are the ones that were on my “take my family to visit someday” list.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
The cliff dwellings known as the Cliff Palace, can be reached through tour, from the Mesa Verde National Park rangers, in Colorado.

One of my first National Parks to ever visit was the Mesa Verde National Park outside of Cortez, Colorado. Being from the city, I didn’t understand why people visited national parks, especially ones that didn’t have things to do, inside of them. I don’t know how, but I had heard that there were places where prehistoric cliff dwellings were still erect. I happened to fly into Montrose, Colorado, by way of Denver, and then drive an extremely scenic drive to the small town of Nucla, where I would spend the week, working in the area. I happened to look for tourist attractions in the area, as I was not into hiking yet, only taking selfies with landmarks, at this point. (My Instagram account will show you a good amount of selfies in the beginning, before posting up scenic photographs.) The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park came up. Wasn’t too far away, but with the mountain terrain, it was about a 3 hour drive to get to them.

Chimney Rock, Ute Indian Mountain Reservation, Cortez, Colorado
The structure known as Chimney Rock, at the entrance of the Ute Indian Reservation, outside of Cortez, Colorado.

I reached the city of Cortez first, and then drove to the entrance of the park. There is a visitor/ information center at the entrance, to get maps, book tours, or use their facilities. Stopping here is recommended, to kind of get an idea of the plan of exploration for the day.  This location can easily take several days to explore everything in it, as you will discover that this park is littered with cliff dwelling remains throughout the canyons. Once you leave the visitor center and pay your entry (entry fee varies on car size and people in vehicle,) there’s around a 30 minute drive from entrance to where the cliff dwellings are at. You are going to drive into the mountains of the region. The time given may vary, but if you’re scared of heights and can’t believe there aren’t barriers at some of the cutbacks on this road, it may take you the 30 minutes to drive to the main area.

Cortez, Colorado Holiday Inn Express Hotel
My kid playing in the snow of the hotel in the town of Cortez, Colorado, with the Rocky Mountains in the back.
Mesa Verde National Park drive overlook Cortez, Colorado
The town of Cortez Colorado from an overlook while driving from the entrance of Mesa Verde National Park, to the main cliff dwelling canyons area.

There are parking stops all over the park, at almost every historic site and picture worthy overlook. My first time, I got to see the specific dwellings called the Cliff Palace and the Spruce Treehouse. One is open by paid tour, the other on was public and though not fully accessible, at least you were able to climb down a ladder to an underground, ceremonial  round room in the center of the dwellings.

Spruce Treehouse Selfie, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
I took a picture at the Spruce Treehouse back when it was still open to the public. You can see tourists behind me, in the dwellings. This location is now closed to the public, due to potential overhead structure failure.

The trails and the cliff dwellings take you back to another era, as you are cut off from civilization by mountains and canyons, sprinkled with historic structures. These dwellings are impressive and the silence of the place will make you wonder how people actually lived here, back in ancient days. Prehistoric condominiums, of a sort, as some were able to hold dozens of families within it’s area. We ran into a small herd of deer while hiking above the Cliff Palace area, so be mindful that this is still a place for wild animals to wander about. I don’t really know much about deer, other than that infamous video of “when animals attack” of a deer beating up a hunter, so seeing how they had babies, we turned back, as to not get my ass beat by no “mommy deer” trying to protect its young.

Soda Canyon Trail hike, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Hiking the trails to the Soda Canyons overlook, where many cliff dwellings are visible through posted binoculars.

My 2nd time around this place, the publically open cliff dwelling is no longer safe to be around. I was expecting to have my kids climb down into the underground room I first explored, but was met by a park ranger, telling us the area was now closed, due to a structural concern. Weathering has effected the rock formation above, and if it is not supported, somehow, it was expected to fall and damage the standing ruins. It was just too dangerous to get close to, so they cut off access to it. Now, you can only take pictures from afar, when before, you were arm’s length away from it all. Whether it will ever be open to the public, will be determined by what is done to prevent the site from collapsing on itself. Though they are other safely accessible dwellings left in the park, this is one of the major (and free) ones, taken out of commission, for the time being.

Soda Canyons in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
The main area of Mesa Verde National Park has cliff dwellings littering the many canyon strips in the area, like this one taken from the Soda Canyons overlook trail.

This is a repeating trend to most locations and destinations. We have to remember that time will wait for nobody. One minute, things and people are here, and the next, they’re gone. So stop putting off the visits to your preferred locations! Things are to be appreciated, for what they are, in the moment you are able to look at them. I’ve gone to so many locations, with major attractions missing or gone, because “we had a bad storm that swept things away, about a month or so ago.” Sadly, there are even structures that are being destroyed by explorers, themselves.

Spruce Treehouse closed, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
This is as close as you can get to the Spruce Treehouse now. I returned a year later with my kids, and I could not show them what I wanted to show them. The overhead formation is cracking and might fall if not supported somehow.

My point is this: If there are locations you want to visit, or have been wanting to see, do what you have to do, to go as quickly as possible. Even if it’s just to visit the location for a couple hours. It does not have to be a week long trip. Many of my photographic shots are taken within a couple hours of being in a location, and then leaving. Just like you can go to the theater and experience a film for a couple hours before heading back to “reality,” the same can be done at any state or national park. So even planning a 1 day road trip, is recommended, as long as you get to explore and see what you were looking for.

Canyons at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
The Soda Canyons overlook trail gives you access to a very scenic point, and it’s a very short 0.75 mile hike to get here from the parking spots.
Hiking trails at Mesa Verde National Park, Colrado
Hiking above the area of the Spruce Treehouse. There are many trails around the park to infuse you with the exploring spirit!

Featured Location: Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

The Columbia River Gorge waterfalls in Oregon.

If you are not familiar with this location, the Columbia River Gorge is basically, an enormous river, separating the states of Washington and Oregon, for miles. It contains some of the most scenic views and drive available in the United States, for free. (Being a dad, and almost always taking my kids on my road trip vacations, “free” is very important to me.)

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon side
The girls throwing rocks at an overlook of the Columbia River Gorge, on the Oregon side. The other side of the water is Washington State.

The word “Gorge” is added to the end, because it means that there are massive hills and mountain cliffs on each side of this monstrous river. If you are trying to go for a scenic drive, with no particular destination or purpose, with a huge scenic payout, this is definitely a location to drive through. Either side is accessible, with independent highways running parallel to the gorge, in their own states. If you do take this drive, try to stop at every single rest stop, overlook, and vista point, to take a picture of the scenery. I have fallen in love with this area, out of all the United States, after only driving this location a handful of times. Don’t get me wrong, there are many scenic drives that outdo this area (I’m vaguely remembering a drive I took from Montrose, Colorado to the Mesa Verde National Park, that had a ridiculously scenic drive through the Rocky Mountains, but I forgot the name of the scenic highway bypass,) this one just happens to be my personal favorite.

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Memaloose Island with Washington state in the background, taken from the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.

Maybe because, unlike Colorado, though the terrain is mountain-y, Oregon and Washington state have a “wetter, thus greener” habitat, that quite honestly, almost makes you forget you are in the United States and not in “stereotypical movie-type, overseas, coastal farmland” Europe. It’s like a cold rainforest that snows, and has pleasant summers. All the trees look like Christmas trees to me. Because I’m from Texas. Those trees do not exist within the greater Houston metropolitan area. But if you’re like me, who gets overly happy over land structures, no matter what they are, because you have been deprived of them all your life…. …then this is the place for you to be.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
The Columbia River Gorge that splits Oregon and Washington state.

There is an area, where the original highway that connected Portland to civilization, in it’s infancy, is now a small by-way to the big Interstate, that’s yards away. I believe it’s called the “Historic Columbia River Highway” and it passes through the Benson State Park and Multnomah Falls Lodge area. At certain points, it is barely enough to fit 2 vehicles next to each other. If you take it, rather than the Multnomah Falls Car parking area, which is accessible from the interstate, you will find that there are little parking areas to stop at, next to a number of the area waterfalls, not just Multnomah Falls, which is the main attraction.

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The kids checking out Horse Tail Falls, near the Columbia River Gorge, near Portland, Oregon.

The first time I came here, Multnomah Falls took a lot of my time. It was raining, it was late, I didn’t know it had a trail, I just searched for tourist attractions in the area, and it popped up on my internet search results. So I went and found the car parking area easily. I was happily surprised that this place was free to visit, as I had been paying to enter the last couple of parks and areas. There’s a lodge that attracts the majority of the crowd, for it’s easy, convenient access to civilization, which seems to cut off as you do a 180 degree turn, from the lodge to the waterfall. It’s a good place to get something to eat/ use clean restrooms. If you don’t know about the area, or short on time, just visiting this area will do you enough. If you have an entire day to waste, take the time to explore the many other natural attractions in the area.

Multnomah Falls trails
A group starting to hike the Multnomah falls trails, which take you to the top of the falls, and start after the famous bridge.

Almost every waterfall has a trail that will lead you to a scenic overlook of the top of the same waterfall, as well as a different perspective of the Columbia River Gorge and Washing state. The trails are not too hard to hike, the majority of the trouble coming from having to walk at an upward incline the entire time. If you’ve gained some weight, since your younger days, like me, the occasional stopping to “take a good picture” or “enjoy the scenery” is enough of a believable excuse to get your rest. I’m only saying this because the first time I decided to actually walk to the top of Multnomah Falls, I had a group of elementary aged kids running circles around me, with their family. It was pretty shameful to have to take breaks, walking up a cliff side that little kids are not taking serious, all while trying to catch your breathe. “It’s the elevation… I’m not used to it.” That’s the most believable excuse my brain makes, while it’s happening. So if I can be witness to old ladies and children making this trip to the top of Multnomah Falls, it should be doable for most, as well.

Multnomah Falls Trails resting man
A man rests at the edge of the Multnomah Falls trail to take a breather and enjoy the scenery.

There are things to see to the left and right of Multnomah falls, not just that one particular waterfall, itself. Your best bet, to get to see everything in the area, in one day, would be to start at the Horsetail Falls, east of Multnomah falls. Horsetail falls is a much accessible waterfall, as it has steps that take you to the base of it. This will take more than a couple hours, so make sure to pack the hiking essentials: something to drink and something to eat or snack on.

After you take a couple pictures of the bottom, or intake the experience enough, make your way to the hiking trail. There’s signs posted. You’re going to walk to an overlook of Horsetail Falls from the top, and keep hiking into the area, towards the Oneonta Gorge and waterfall area. Pit stop to get you pictures. If you do get a change to come back, the Oneonta Gorge itself, is a water trail. There are stairs descending from the bridge that crosses over the creek, that lead you right into the water. If you have a change of clothing or water hiking clothing, this is also definitely recommended, and can be accessed from the Oneonta Gorge parking area. You get to walk the water trail that is Oneonta Gorge until you reach Oneonta Falls. The trail you are currently on will overlook both things.

Oneonta Gorge tunnel, Oregon
The Oneonta Gorge area has this tunnel that runs through the mountain, and the bridge in the rear is the start to the Oneonta Creek trail, to the left of Multnomah Falls.

Keep going and you will reach the top of Multnomah Falls. There is an overlook that shows you a small cascade to the left, with the remaining waterfall going over the peak, to the right. Take the trail away from the platform and continue onto Wahkeena Falls. Once you cross over it, descend down the trail to the bottom, and loop back, using the road, back towards Horsetail Falls. This will give you an opportunity to check out Multnomah Falls from the ground, and any other site you want to stop by and check out, on the way back, do so.

Wahkeena Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
The bottom overlook of Wahkeena Falls, in the Multnomah Falls area, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

It’ll be a long day, many miles under your feet, but it’s one of the few locations in the United States that gives you the opportunity to access such natural wonders, while still keeping you close to city access.

The Multnomah Falls Bridge, Oregon
Most people walk to this bridge and turn back. Keep going and you are entering the Multnomah Falls Trails or Oregons.A 
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A woman poses for a picture with Horsetail Falls

How an overlook eased my stress, by doing nothing.

 

The featured picture was the overlook that did it for me. That gave me an emotion that I’ve never felt before, that I didn’t even know I was looking for. But let me tell you how I got there.

Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Exploring the outskirts of Salt Lake City, Utah, driving down the Big Cottonwood Canyon.

I was born and raised in the Houston area. Pasadena, TX, to be exact. I spent the first 18 years of my life, running up and down the streets of that Houston outskirt town. Pasadena is known for mostly a couple of things: the police, and the smell from the chemical refineries and plants which employ about 70% of the town. (I totally just made up that statistic, but if you’re from Pasadena, it’s being generously low for a guess.) “Stink-a-dena” is the appropriate nickname it’s been giving by the people who don’t live there.

The typical thing to do, in my town, after graduating high school, is to try to make the most money, and get you a very nice car, after getting a manual labor job at one of the refineries. You will most likely be working 7 days a week, 12 hour shifts, and will have a very bad tan line on your face, from the safety glasses you wear all day.

Big Cottonwood Creek, Utah
The Big Cottonwood Creek runs down the canyon, this was taken at one of the hiking trail parking spots in the area.

That was not my life plan, so at the age of 17, I enlisted in the delayed entry program for the United States Marine Corps, and a week after graduating high school, I was in Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, CA, stepping on those famous yellow foot steps. I was then promptly taken on naval cruises, to far off destinations, courtesy of the U.S. Navy via deployments for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. We stopped at a couple places on the way there and back. But as for travelling in the U.S., other than driving to and from my permanent duty station and my hometown, I didn’t linger anywhere else. And if I did, it was to visit family and friends in major cities. I am a “city guy.” I have no clue about anything nature wise, other than the things the Marine Corps taught me during my training phase. I can’t start a fire on my own, I need one of those flicker things to start one. I’m not even sure what they’re called. I am the definition of a city person. I have no business in nature, and I know that. True story: because of an alligator feeding tour in Australia, and this 1 night where I somehow ended up watching multiple animals attack humans in open bodies of water on YouTube, I no longer enter any form of water that isn’t a swimming pool or jacuzzi. Maybe sometime later in my life, I will. But, you know what? As a domestic human being, I have no business out in the wild and terrifying… ocean and rivers. I can swim just fine. That’s not the issue. I’m just saying, I’ve seen all the “anaconda” movies, those things are real. I’m not chancing it. That’s not how I’m going out. Why even give them the opportunity? Nope. Swimming pools for this human please. Free of sharks and crocodiles.

Donut Falls Trailhead area, Utah
The Big Cottonwood Creek outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, Donut Falls trail hiking area.

So, through the coincidences of life, I find myself in Salt Lake City, Utah about a year ago. A friend that I hadn’t talked to, in a couple of years, saw me check into the airports, on social media, while travelling, and sent me an email saying he was also in Utah. Like I do with anybody I meet up with, in a particular region, I asked if he could show me anything scenic to take a picture of. Not touristy, but a nature location that’s photogenic. He said he saw a waterfall somewhere in the area, so we met up late, and raced against the sun and the remainder of daylight left, to find this waterfall. We never found said waterfall. We ended up driving down this canyon called Big Cottonwood Canyon, east of the city. We kept driving around looking for this nonexistent waterfall, and ended up stopping once we realized we had reached the peak of the mountain range and were now on the other side, descending down towards… whatever is away from Salt Lake City. We stopped, because, obviously, this is not where we were supposed to go, and we passed our location up. So we pull into the first turn around spot we could find, which happened to just be an overlook to this area. We stopped and parked along 3 other vehicles already there. As soon as I parked, this was my view. We got out to get a better look and take a picture, and I have never been so overwhelmed, in awe, of a place. And I got this tremendous feeling of, weirdly enough, patriotism. Let me explain.

cropped-245.jpg
Behind the first set of mountains across the valley, you can see the shadow of the clouds on the valley behind it. There is more land visible behind it. This is the most land I’d ever seen, with my own 2 eyes. (Location: Guardsman Pass, Utah.)

While in the Marines, I was stationed in North Carolina. I did not have family there, I didn’t have kids, I never tried to coordinate one of those dramatic reunions that I got to see everyone around me have. (You know, where the wife and kids run and hug their dad who just is getting off the plane, with the entire squadron is waiting cheering and the banners and stuff?) Yea, well, since I didn’t have my family waiting for me, I was the first to be “voluntold” (that’s when you are told that you are volunteering) to clean up everything after everyone left. I never got that feeling. Even when I came back home to Houston, it was just like “oh you’re back in town? Cool.. how’s the Army, again? Oh, you’re in the Marines? …there’s a difference? Hey, I know this guy from school, his names Roger, he joined. Do you know him? He’s in Arkansas, I think.” That was the extension of it. So that preemptive moment of return, where the effort you made was “all worth it” was absent in my life.

Many Marines get the gratification of deployment instantly upon return. Single Marines might get it when they return home. Some people never get it. I didn’t even know there was such a feeling. But here I am, standing before this valley, at the top of a mountain, and I realized that this is the most land I have ever seen, with my own 2 eyes. Yes, on an airplane, you can see a lot, but it’s restricted to the view point of your window seat. This was literally the most land I had ever seen, in front of me. And what I thought were clouds, right above a mountain, it was actually  another valley behind the mountains across the first valley. Once I realized that the clouds were more land, I was left in a state of speechlessness. It was beautiful. And there we were, standing in silence. I even told him, “Man, I don’t even know what to say right now, this is freaking crazy!”

And that’s when I felt the feeling. This overwhelming feeling of justification for my service. As dumb as it sounds, I never got any feelings from my family or returning to working parties in Cherry Point. Man, that does sound pretty bad. But I’m saying it, because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. I got this feeling like “This is why I served” after a couple minutes of  just looking. It wasn’t land that I personally owned, but I hadn’t witnessed anything that made me feel proud of protecting it. And that sounds horrible, because I have a lot of family. But it’s the truth. (Sorry, siblings.) This land, before me, was so beautiful, that I felt a tremendous amount of joy, at the gesture of “protecting it” by serving my country in the military. It was an emotion that validated a bunch of bad feelings I used to hold. It was also an emotion that I had not found, through any other avenue, in my life. No PTSD counseling or talking to VA case workers because the VA psychiatrist is busy, gave me this feeling. Neither did any prescribed drugs for depression. Neither did the alcohol bottles or the drugs I’d taken before, in search of happiness. Nature did it. Nature gave me an emotion that I couldn’t find in religion, drugs, counseling, or medical help. It sounds like a stretch, but this is what did it, for me. And that’s what this website is about. Because I read about a man who did this, and I did it as well, and it helped me. It might not help everyone, but it might help some, and that’s enough to at least highlight.

Big Cottonwood Creek, Utah
The Big Cottonwood Creek in same named canyon, outside of Salt Lake City, Utah

I honestly didn’t know that landscape and places like this existed in the United States. I was excluded to the Texas-North Carolina region for most of my enlistment. And most travel to other regions where by plane and exclusively to the city. I’ve never really just wandered randomly. Houston has areas that are not recommended to wander into. So doing so, is totally against my rules on how to survive in Houston. And that’s basically what we were told repeatedly to NOT do throughout my enlistment. There is literally a list of places around military bases that we are banned from entering. So exploring new regions, just to explore new regions, is something I’ve been avoiding my entire life.
But one of the few times I did, I got to feel an emotion I hadn’t felt before. So much, that for that moment I was witness to it, a lot of the usual daily stresses, didn’t matter. I left this place, feelings happy, excited, and inspired to bring someone back to this place. But I haven’t been able to yet. So I’m here, telling you, that if you’re ever by Salt Lake City, Utah, you have to take this short little drive to Guardsman Pass, and check this overlook out. It made me feel all tingly inside. Go and tell me if you feel anything, too.

Big Cottonwood Creek and Canyon
There is an abundance of hiking trails outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, with many photographic opportunities like these in this article.

Road Trips VS Flying: see more, for less.

Bridge roadtrip
Road trips give you the opportunity to check out America’s infrastructure and landmarks.

How would you like to pay $1500 for a $4000 trip, the catch is, you get to see more on the $1500 trip. “How,” you ask?  Well, let me break down the numbers of taking road trips vs. flying to a destination.

In today’s society, the exchange of valuable information between people, verbally and face to face, is not as common as when I was a kid. I remember having to blow air into video game cartridges, because my friend did it to his games, when they weren’t working. I did the same to mine, and the games that weren’t working before, were now working. So, I took that information, and made it part of my life. Whether we were actually doing anything to the game cartridges when we did it, who cared, at the time? It worked. (By the way, research suggests blowing cartridges didn’t make games work.)

Road Trip New Mexico
Th mountains look much nicer from the ground, as opposed to how they look from an airplane window.

I got my first exposure into accounting trip costs by doing travel reimbursement after changing duty stations, in the Marine Corps. And the one of the very first things I noticed was the trip cost difference, between someone who had to fly, and someone who drove with their personal vehicle. Back then, we all knew that travelling by car, paid more, because they’d pay you something for the amount of miles you traveled. But the major factor to pay so much, for a flight, was “well, I need to get there NOW.”

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Stopping to rest, while driving thru the Sequoia National Park in California.

But sometimes, we sacrifice the entire “comfort” of flying, by trying to book the cheapest flight possible. And if you’re like me, “you found the cheapest flights” meant you flew at night, and stayed overnight at the connecting airport, waiting for the earliest flight to leave. It basically took a day and a half of travel. That’s not accounting weather delays, cancellations, changed gates, missed flights, and having to stand in line while an entire airplane has to reschedule their flights thru 1 attendant, because our flight got in late, and all the connecting flights had left already. You know when the last straw was? I got redirected from a flight from Spokane, Washington to Houston, Texas direct, to a 36 hour trip from Spokane, fly to Seattle, Washington, then St. Paul/ Minneapolis, then the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, where the weather had delayed my 45 minute flight to Houston, 4 more hours on top of that. Rain or shine, Houston is a 3 hour drive from Dallas. This entire time, I was just staring at airport displays and eating overpriced food, then scavenging for a wall outlet to charge my phone at. I saw nothing of importance in this trip. That day, I decided to not even bother with the ticket (I had already been rerouted so many times,) and went to the car rental location and rented a car, 1 way to Houston. 3.5 hours later, I was home, laying down in my bed.

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The bigfoot warning sign going up Pikes Peak, outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

This sounds excessive, but I’ve seen this happen to so many people, all over the U.S., all the time. Someone has something very important to do, and delays and flight cancellations ruined their trip. I ran into a bride and her bridesmaids, who had been trying to fly to Florida for her bachelorette party for 2 days as well, who were in Dallas, with 1 more day left in their planned trip agenda. They had missed everything they had paid to do, and could not get refunded. Since then, all family trips were road trips. I can’t even imagine how much money those people lost.

Switching from flying to road trips brought my travel plans costs WAY DOWN. (I actually do a practice itinerary for a trip, plan it out, estimate costs, even gas, so I know around how much a trip is going to cost me.) I had been wanting to take my kids to Portland, Oregon, so they could see the area. I just think it’s a very cool looking city, and the features around it were worth the trip. This is the trip we’re going to use as an example.

Road Trip Colorado mountains
The landscape changes from one state to another.

A Trip From Houston, Texas to Portland, Oregon.

So, This is the trip I had planned. A 4 person trip to Oregon for a week. So, whatever the ticket prices were, it had to be quadrupled, just to get there, not counting car rental or hotel accommodations. So, a quick google travel search will bring up these prices, when looking for any flights, any airport, from Houston to Portland.

Portland flights

One thing people don’t know, when planning these trips. Yes, I chose round trip prices, but you are going to get charged for going and returning, individually. Travel time for flights are 7 to 13 hours, with stops. No lie, I’m only looking for the cheapest prices when I’m travelling through plane, I have no airline loyalty when it comes to price. So the cheapest flight on this list is $361, but thats one way. Round trip, this is going to be $722 round trip for 1 person. $722 round trip x 4 person family = $2,888.

Let’s compare that to a 7 day round trip, road trip, from Houston to Portland. First, we need a vehicle. (To save money while renting vehicle, join all of their awards programs, they’re usually free to enroll, and after a couple of car rentals, you get a free car rental for a day, which can accumulate and help bring the prices down. Also, there are reward programs with discounts, where you can get a luxury vehicle for the price of a basic vehicle. In case you are going to live a road trip life, and don’t want to use your own personal vehicle for these trips. If you maintain your vehicle and believe it can drive okay from one oil change to another, your own personal car will do, and this cost isn’t an issue to you.) 

Week car rental price national

This is just for reference values. You can shop around, and it’s up to you, how big your vehicle needs to be. With 2 adults and 2 kids, a full size car will do. The car rental also charges you fees, so your total is going to be the higher of the 2 values. Lets say we rent a full size vehicle at $450 for the week (rounded up from $448.98.) Vehicles come with unlimited miles while renting them, so we could drive non stop for a week straight, and it’ll be the same price. This is very important for these road trips, when miles are going to be put into a vehicle.

The road trip we decided to take, would have multiple stops on the way, to rest and sight see, to and from Oregon. We had to account for the hotel stays we would do. The average single night ,at a decent hotel, is usually around $150. To save on price, if you want to stay near a big city, look for some of the hotels in the outskirts. Close enough to be around 15 minutes away from everything, and not right in the downtown or main area. It’ll be the difference between staying at the same chain of hotels for $110 or $350 a night. We planned to drive from Houston and stop in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to rest. and then make a straight shot to Portland, Oregon from there. It’s about a 35 hours of driving. It’s going to take more than 1 day, so we’re stopping half way. The more people take turns driving. This sounds like a lot, but I’ve spent more than this trying to fly home, stuck at airports, the entire time.

Oregon Road Trip
The Oregon landscape takes you through trees galore.

The hotel stays were in Colorado Springs, Portland for 2 days, and Denver. 4 hotel stays, estimated at $150 each, that’s $600 for hotel stays. So far, we’re with car rental, and hotels covered, for a total of $1050. (This would ideally be added to the flight cost, because we would need a vehicle and hotel stays during the trip as well.)  And, again, if you’re taking your own vehicle, it’s only $600 for hotels.

This trip was around 4,700 miles driving in 1 week. The average car will go around 400 miles per tank of gas. Actually more on the highway, but this is just for an estimate. Let’s also estimate and say that every gas tank filled is $40 for a car. At 4,700 miles, stopping every 400 miles, we are expected to make around 12 stops for gas. 12 gas stops x $40 gas tank fill up = $480 for gas, round trip, estimated.

Now lets compare this information:

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The kids checking out Horse Tail Falls, near the Columbia River Gorge, near Portland, Oregon.

Flying to Portland Oregon, 4 people, with hotel, and car rental, and gas we have an estimated $4000 week trip. The only place we saw was Portland, Oregon.

We took a week long road trip. Stopped to rest in Colorado Springs, and Denver, Colorado, to and from. Had a car rental, had hotels in different cities along the way, gas paid for, stopped at multiple sight seeing destinations, and got to see 9 different states. Our total: $1530.

Garden of the Gods shot
My kids resting during a hike at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Co.

$4000 “1 destination trip” VS $1530 “you see the same plus way more” trip.

2 road trips could be funded for the price of one round trip flight vacation. Here’s the best thing about a road trip. This is just the total price of the trip. This really doesn’t have to be the individual’s trip price. I have a family, so I have to pay for everyone. If you can convince 3 friends to go with you, each of you can pay for gas, hotel, car rental and hit the road for an entire week, with only $384 a person.

$384 total for 1 person, car, gas, and housing accommodated. The best thing is, if someone takes their own car, you’re looking at $270 a person.

Next time you want to go on a trip somewhere, no matter how long it is, just research how much it would cost to road trip. You  might be surprised how much you will save. All the pictures in this article are pictures from our road trip.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
The Columbia River Gorge that splits Oregon and Washington state.
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Our roadtrip destination: Multnomah Falls, outside of Portland, Oregon. My kids had never seen a waterfall, so I took them to one.

References: www.NationalCar.com www.google.com/flights , Google Maps ,