No. 1 Expedia
This is hands down my favorite place to book hotel rooms. Not only do you get double points when you make your purchase through the mobile app but you can make sure you are getting what you pay for. Once on the way to Disney, Chris pulled up at a cheap hotel. After hearing the price of $150 he left and went to a different one and hotel hopped until a cheap one was found. Back in the 90s this was the way to go. But now with the Internet at our full disposal why would you do that!? This hotel smelled like feet and the kids were so scared all of us slept in a king bed. I gagged. A lot. The shower squirted out over the curtain. It was funny to look back on but not too fun for the first day at Magic Kingdom the following day. The kids and I said that Dad was no longer in charge of getting hotel rooms.
When you book through Expedia you get points. I like companies with points. There’s nothing you have to do because you are going to purchase anyway. You can save the points up to use against a stay. I liked it when you could use Plenti because then you got points for Plenti and points for Expedia. Be sure to read the reviews. Some people get mad over things that do not matter to us and leave awful reviews. I choose hotels that have 3.5+ ratings plus we tend to look for hotels that offer free breakfast (bonus!). I book ahead of time if possible but the closer you wait until time Expedia will offer discounts or lower their prices. I have booked last minute stays before, too. Since we have 5 family members we try to find two queen beds and a pull-out.
No. 2 HomeAway
If you are wanting a HOME this is the place to go. It is also a great idea for groups. I have yet to have a bad experience when booking through HomeAway. Think VRBO! This is their sister site. You have to do your homework. Research each home, the area it’s located, and look at the reviews. If there are no reviews for a home STAY AWAY! It could be a scam or just someone starting out. Either way I stay away. I have stayed at homes in St. Louis, Branson, Paducah, and for our upcoming 2018 trip I have one booked in Yosemite. I book 4 or 5 star homes only and really read the reviews. I tend to stick with homes where many people have stayed instead of just a small number of people.
Some cons about HomeAway are many people charge a cleaning fee and some owners charge a $250 security deposit. You get the $250 deposit back if there is no damage to the home but you are charged up front then get it credited back to your card. Sometimes the fee is charged by homeowners and sometimes it is not. I try to find homes that do not charge the fee but sometimes you just love the rental property too much. The cleaning fee can be a bit much especially when many of the homeowners have you do a majority of the cleaning before you leave (load the dishwasher, load the washing machine, strip the beds, take out the garbage). Be careful when booking. I have paid around $80 for the cleaning fee, but I have seen some of the homes have a cleaning fee of $150 or more. Be sure to read the check out instructions very well. The owner(s) can keep part of your deposit if you do not follow instructions carefully. HomeAway makes homeowners have a rental agreement/manual on the property and online for you to agree to. Expedia bought HomeAway but I like to keep them separate in my head. It works better for me that way.
No. 3 National Park Lodging
It is expensive but it is beautiful! If you want this type of lodging be prepared to spend around $300 a night depending on what you need. You have to book up to a year in advance. These are the places we are staying next summer: Grand Canyon Lodge, Zion Lodge, Glacier Lodge, Crater Lake Lodge and a lodge at Yellowstone. I like the fact that we are paying as we go so these places are booked and ready!
Have you ever seen the inside of these gorgeous places? They are amazing.
Now only if I got some type of discount for referring you to these amenities…
C + J
Have you heard of Plenti? Do you use it? It is a program through American Express. Don’t worry it is not a credit card. It is basically a rewards program. You earn points for every dollar you spend at participating stores. We use it to get free gasoline. Exxon/Mobil redeems Plenti points. A lot of times Exxon/Mobil gives 3x or 5x the reward points so the points rack up fast. There is an app for your phone so you can keep up with points earned. Other participating Plenti partners are: Chili’s, Rite Aid, Enterprise, Winn Dixie, and a few others. In November 2017, AT&T stopped participating as a partner with Plenti. We had earned many points through AT&T. For more bad news, Expedia does not participate anymore either. But if you fill up your car with gas at any point during the week you might as well earn free a tank or two or three a year from it.
Step 1: Apply for a card online or at Exxon/Mobil.
Step 2: Get gas and swipe your Plenti card.
Step 3: Earn points and save, save, save.
Step 4: Redeem for gasoline.
The pump will ask you with each purchase if you want to apply your points toward your current gas or store purchase. We always press no until we go on a long, planned trip. By then, we have saved up a few tanks of gas.
Many travels on free gas,
C + J
Carter got really cold at the Blue Hole. He found a spot where the water overflows into a small creek filled with crawfish. You can’t hear him but he talks to the camera as he looks for creatures.
Beginning: the search begins…
Middle: a crawfish is found and must be reported to dad…
End: He shows the fam exactly where he spotted the crawdad and sets the camera into the water to capture it on film
spoiler alert: you won’t see the crawfish but a lot of adventure
Money plays a big part in whatever you do. After health insurance, car insurance, mortgage, phone, utilities, television services, prescriptions, and groceries there’s not much to go on. Whether you believe the way we do or not, we pay 10% of all earnings to our church. So how does a splicer and teacher travel?
Groceries. We buy bare minimal. If we don’t need it we don’t buy it. It’s easy to say “yes” to kids in line, buying them random items in the store that they won’t play with in four hours. Just say NO. We plan out our meals for two weeks at a time and buy just what we need to fix them. Wal-Mart’s pick-up grocery deal has helped us tremendously. No more random items I don’t need in the shopping cart! I hate shopping so pulling up to the curb and allowing them to have it ready is the best thing ever!
Eating out. Cut back. If you think about Starbucks runs, Sonic runs, drive-thrus, and random gas station stops, we don’t do those things. If you go to Sonic once a week with 3 kids during Happy Hour and spend $6. That $6 x 52 weeks adds up to over $300 a year. Then add in the drive thru and gas station stops and whatever else you buy it really adds up. I drink coffee at home and Starbucks maybe three times a year. If we do eat fast food we go to Wendy’s because it’s the cheapest for our family. All 5 of us can get a drink, fries, and hamburger/chicken for a little over $16. The kids love it when they can order whatever they want but that doesn’t happen much. We order water sometimes when we go to a sit-down restaurant. That saves about $10. We do like to eat out nice once a month because it’s good to get out!
Savings. Chris does our money. It’s a running joke that I did the money for the first 13 years of our marriage and we went on one vacation. Chris took over and now we are always on the move! Really we were in debt for a long time. Chris is OCD about a lot of things (the way you put dishes in the dishwasher is our favorite to nag him about) but when it comes to money I’m glad he is that way. If you need help with your money he is the person to talk to. He has planned retirement, 401K, and uses the following to save money from each of our checks:
Odd jobs. I sub on a school bus which helps out with money, too, and Chris keeps our church’s heating and air system up-to-date. We also build dining tables, coffee tables, sofa tables, and benches.
Second hand. My kids have name brand clothes but they are second hand, on clearance, or on sale. I’m fortunate enough to have friends with lots of boys and girls who like to sell their clothes cheap or give them away! We tend to only have to buy pants for our oldest (as he passes down his clothes to Carter) and buy new swimsuits and shoes. Our new favorite shopping places are T.J.Max and Marshalls. They have name brand clothes & shoes. If you need something and are patient, you can usually find it on sale if you look.
Gotta start somewhere.
We ordered this map from Landmass Goods. I plan to take it to Hobby Lobby this week and get it framed with a 40% off coupon. We decided to put glass on the front because I have mischievous children who may want to scratch off some items on their own.
Can’t wait to hang it!
Chris loves unplanned adventures. The ones where you just hop in the car and go stopping at wherever the billboard advertisement leads you. I like the trip planned out day by day with hotels booked, places researched and reviewed. This time we are doing a little of both. Many national park lodges are booked up to a year in advance so we actually started booking hotels in June 2017. (I’m going to focus on money in a future blog because the first thing I get when people find out what we are doing is “How do you afford that?”) The first thing I did was research all the places we wanted to go. Chris and I went over each destination and decided if the spot would be affordable, kid-friendly, and feasible to reach during our time off.
We had a few places on our list that we had to mark off. One was a grueling hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to visit Havasu Falls (pictured above from Google images). This place is on my bucket list. You have to get permits from the local Indians which can be a hassle. They release only a certain number of permits a year and you have to get them to answer the phone. They offer helicopter rides into and out of the canyon for a few hundred dollars a person. One day Chris promises we can do it, but go through a travel agency instead. These tour guides book everything for you including hiking permits and reservation permits. All you do is show up. This is also expensive, but something I have wanted to do since we found out about the reservation in 2001. The hike would be hot but that was something we looked forward to doing and seeing those blue waterways would be breath-taking. I guess I’ll take one for the team.
So, here’s the list of where we are going.
- Grand Canyon (North Rim)
- Zion National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Northern California beaches and Redwood Forest
- Crater Lake National Park
- Craters of the Moon/Lava Hot Springs
- 4th of July at Jackson Hole
- Glacier National Park
We have a few other things in mind if it fits in:
- Let the kids see Las Vegas at night
- Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial
- Angel Island
- Ft. Bragg glass beach
- Kayak Smith River through the redwoods
- Blackfoot Indian Reservation
- Drive into Canada just to say we have been
In seven months and one week, our family of 5 will head ‘Out West’ on one epic family road trip. I have to say I am dreading the “He’s touching me!” and “She crossed my imaginary line I drew in the seat!” and “He is smacking his gum!” arguing. Yeah, I dread that…but I am looking forward to the experience.
On the front end we have been planning this in the back of our minds for years; slowly waiting for our youngest to get a little older so we, the parents, would enjoy it, too. I have read of others who take the little ones, but I am not one to want to haul diapers, formula, and grouchy littles-who-need-a-nap around. Our youngest is ready, or as ready as he will ever be, and we will only have our oldest around for a few more years. On the final end will be the memories made. It’s the middle part we are gearing up for: planning, buying, saving, and anticipating. Before I jump into that, get to know us.
Chris (Diddy) and Janet (Mama): We met in 1995, married in 1998, and it is almost twenty years later. We have been on some incredible adventures together (more about that later) with the most incredible of the adventures being parenthood. We loved to travel before we had kids but due to living in an area where we had no close relatives our travels were put on hiatus a bit. Before the kids we would go random places a lot and planned trips as well. We slowly started traveling more once the youngest was out of diapers. Diddy (not Daddy) works for the phone company. He cannot do anything about your cell service but he can splice 2400 pair of wires in the hot sun, rain, sleet, snow, and hail like a robot. Plus, he looks really cute dressed in his harness, hard hat, and hooks climbing a telephone pole. Luckily, he has worked there long enough to collect a lot of vacation days. I am a teacher so having summers off is a plus for our travels. Chris cannot sit still. When he is not at work you can find him fishing, hunting, building tables, or listening to books on tape. His words to live by are: 1) Be humble. 2) Listen more than you speak. 3) Never sit still. If I had a code to live by it would be simple: Be lazy. I like to read, watch movies, raise chickens, and I love my job. Chris and I lead the college & career class at our church. We have been several places with the students volunteering. They are like our second family. We have had students come and go due to growing up, moving off, getting married, and having kids, but they will always be our “Big Kids.” Now time to meet our personal kids.
The teenager: Our first born, Ryan, is pretty funny. And cute. And smart. He is 13 and a half and knows everything. That is why his phone gets taken away a lot. He toots the saxophone, watches funny videos on YouTube, and plays lots of video games. Ryan loves little kids that don’t live in his house and will volunteer at church in the nursery, toddler room, and during VBS. His teachers think he is weird and funny. (Example #1: Our IT guy at school said once he was minding his own business hooking up a fellow teacher’s printer and was sniffed by my son. Example #2: The Spanish teacher has a drawer full of items Ryan has given her: fishing line, little sticks, wrappers. Once he did buy her a cupcake at the Wal-Mart. I really thought he was going to eat it and give the teacher the container it came in.) He is pretty excited about the ultimate road trip but says his picture will not be on the internet. Diddy told him just wait until we buy the Go-Pro. He is also a hypochondriac so it will be exciting to see what random western illnesses he contracts and diagnoses via WebMD.
The girl: Fourteen months after Ryan came the girl. Haley is the sweet one. As a baby she was calm and easy-going unlike her dramatic, only-my-way brothers. Now, she still is calm and easy-going. She is not into girly things but loves to fish, hike, and swim. Haley’s very adventurous and wants to one day go sky-diving. She loves her Diddy and they are two peas in a pod. She is organized, cares about her grades, and is pretty quiet. She just finished her first year running cross country. She ranked in the top five for her team during each race. Haley even made top 10 overall in one race! She loves to serve on mission trips and loves animals. She is a hard worker, and loves to listen to music.
The little one: After a long, long wait for another kid, along came Carter. He was named after Sheriff Carter on the SyFy show Eureka. He is very energetic and loves sports. His favorite sport right now is baseball but he starts playing basketball next month and will play flag football next year. He is the baby of our family so he does tend to get his way a lot. The older two often comment, “If I had done that when I was his age….” He loves to fish, make his own trails through the woods, and climb trees. You will find him outside most days getting in to something.
That’s us. All five Barefeet.