My oldest is entering into his junior year of high school. The time we have with him as our dependent is quickly coming to an end. Our family will be changing in the upcoming years, and I want to make the most of the time we have.
My one problem was that money was tight this year. It didn't leave much room for luxuries like vacations. However, I talked my husband into a trip by finding a route that provided family we could stay with along the way, and featured natural wonder entertainment rather than pricey activities. The kids also put together a budget and started saving with our family's adventure fund.
It's so hard to sum up 16 days and 3,600 miles of road trip fun, but the bottom line is that God blessed the efforts of our kids, and we ended up having a vacation that everyone will remember for years to come.
First Stop: Lubbock, TX
The trip would span across both my son and my mom's birthday. She's one of seven, and the first stop took us to see her oldest two siblings.
I grew up going to my uncle's house because my grandparents, after they retired from farming, lived in a trailer house in his back yard. It was so good to reminisce with my aunt and uncle, see cousins and their kids, and enjoy the big skies of west Texas.
Since my husband and I met at Texas Tech, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to show our kids around the school and share stories of how we fell in love. I don't know if any of our kids will follow our footsteps, but it's always good for them to know their roots!
On our way out of town, we stopped at South Plains College to see my mom's youngest sister. We just got a few minutes with her, but I'm so glad we stopped!
On to the Grand Canyon
Our goal was to spend my son's 17th birthday at the Grand Canyon. Since my mom was traveling with us, we couldn't just drive all night long to make it there, so we needed to make an extra stop. Thankfully some old friends of my parents live in Albuquerque, NM, and agreed to let the six of us invade their home.
On our way we stumbled upon the Billy the Kid Museum. It was a fun pit stop, filled with a surprising amount of relics from the time period.
Our favorite experience that day was heading up the Sandia Peak Tramway. We were all inspired by the views from 10,000 feet! Definitely a different sight than what we're used to seeing in Texas. [Read more about our Sandia Peak adventures here]
We spent the night with friends in Alburquerque, and it was so fun to hear stories of my mom and dad in their college days. Listening to my dad's best man talk about their adventures really blessed my heart. It's been nearly 14 years since I've heard my dad tell a crazy story, and it was so fun to be reminded of the joy with which my father lived life.
After a wonderful night of fellowship, we headed out to Flagstaff with a stop at the Petrified Forest National Park. My mom remembered loving it as a kid, and she encouraged us to stop this time. We could have stayed there for hours. It was incredible! [Read more about our Petrified Forest adventures here]
We finally made it to the Grand Canyon on August 3rd, and it was just as stunning as everyone says. We weren't quite as prepared for the crowds and the shuttle buses they use to move people around. I'll definitely do things differently if we visit next time! [Read more about our Grand Canyon adventures here]
Heading West to Los Angeles
My true vision for taking this trip was to see my aunt and her family. They've lived in LA most of my life working for the Navigators. When my oldest sister moved out there to work with the Campus Crusade Inner City ministry, we went out to visit them. It has been about twenty years since I've been out that way to see them, and now two of my three cousins are married with kids.
We soaked in the sun at Santa Monica Beach, ate gourmet ice cream at the Grand Central Market downtown, customized ridiculously yummy donuts at Donut Friend, and toured the La Brea tar pits and the LACMA museum.
One of our favorite sights in the LA area was the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. It is an incredible exhibit with so much history.
Spending time with family is such a blessing. We were totally spoiled by my cousin and her family. I love that my kids could meet them and make new friends. There is nothing like hearing the giggles of kids having fun with one another!
South to San Diego
Our next stop was my other cousin's house in San Diego. It is amazing how you can drive two hours south of LA and the temperature drops by at least ten degrees. Since my mother loves the presidential libraries, we had to stop at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library on the way. She has definitely made me a fan.
When we arrived at my cousin's house in San Diego, the kids hit it off right away with her kids. They played soccer in the backyard overlooking the Pacific ocean. That's pretty incredible!
Our first full day in San Diego we spent at the zoo! Wow! It is a stunning botanical wonder. I think I was amazed at being able to be at the zoo in August and bear the temperatures! You can't do that very much in Texas. The weather was beautiful, the animals were out and active, and it was altogether enjoyable. [Read more about our San Diego Zoo adventures here]
Another remarkable weather phenomenon was being at the beach in August and being cold in the shade! My mom and I were covering up with towels because the breeze was so cool and refreshing. It was great to escape the extreme Texas heat. The sand on Coronado Island was so sparkly and beautiful. It really is a gorgeous beach!
Our beach day was also my mom's 71st birthday. Not a bad way to spend a birthday! My cousin and her family made it super special with my mom's very first pinata! Ha! I love how my mom loves life and stays young. It was so precious to have her with us through the whole trip.
It was so hard to leave family. We were so blessed to explore some of the beautiful locations in California with them. The kids made some connections with my cousins' kids that will last for life.
This trip we made the journey just as much of a part of the trip as the destination. Since we were heading back from San Diego, we took the southern route through the Sonoran desert. We had been hoping to see some iconic cactus, and we weren't disappointed! We got out at this one rest stop, and the breeze was so hot it felt like we were standing in front of a giant hand dryer!
We didn't go too far on our first leg home, and we stopped in Tucson to rest. Our hotel was like a succulent garden! One of the best souvenirs my middle daughter brought home was a box of cuttings from my cousin's succulent garden. It was just so fun discovering so many beautiful plants in the desert.
From Tuscon, we headed to Hobbs, NM, but I have been dying to see White Sands National Monument, so we had to stop there...even though it was a longer drive that day. Right before we arrived, a storm blew through and cooled off the area to a comfortable 80 degrees! The sand was cool, and the skies were so intense. It was well worth a pit stop!
Our most surprising scenic drive was through the Lincoln National Forest. It was totally different from what we'd seen so far on our 3,000 miles of driving, and I think it was my husband's favorite driving. The road had just enough curve to it that it made him feel like he was driving something other than a minivan.
After a quick night's rest in Hobbs, we made the short drive home with no problem. One of the things that made our drive so unique was listening to a book series by Chuck Black's Wars of the Realm series. We still have a couple of hours of the last book to finish, but it was such a wonderful way to spend the hours savoring all of the amazing views we saw along the way.
What I Learned On 3,600 Miles of Family Time
This trip was unique for me because I didn't try to over plan it (*insert shocking gasp here*)! We packed simply, found adventure along the way, and enjoyed friends and family above all. Because we didn't have such high expectations for how the trip was supposed to look, we really were able to savor every experience that we encountered.
Before, I used to push through every minute of the drive, limiting drinks and stops. However, with my mom traveling with us (who is still recovering from her knee replacement surgery in May), that just wasn't possible. We stopped frequently, and while it may have taken a little longer to get to each location, it really made the trip more enjoyable. We could stop and soak in scenery in ways that we would have blown by before.
One of the things I was most proud of on this trip was that we had a budget and stuck with it. We used an app called Goodbudget to track our spending along the way. We created categories for our spending, and it was great to keep track of our money along the way.
The family time and the memories we made were priceless. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat!
Betsy Strauss is an unexpected homeschooler, mother of three, who is in a relationship with a sweet man for life. She loves reading books, drinking coffee, and learning anything with her kids.