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Adventures/Travel, Things I Love

Things I am Loving Right Now: Car Traveling Edition

Many of you have been following along as we travel across the US in our 12 passenger van.  We are having a great time touring places like the Grand Canyon, Zion Nation Park, and Antelope Canyon.

Inspired by our current travel here are things I am loving right now!

Things I am Loving Right Now: Car Traveling Edition

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1.Ebags.

They have changed the way I will pack forever.  I blogged about our plan to use them before our trip and we have had to modify the plan somewhat, but the ebags are the BEST thing we have ever bought for travel.  They will change our camping, family visiting, and trips for the better.

Four of us have the three piece packing cube set.  My younger two boys each have one large eBag and we are making that work.  We have one large eBag for swimsuits, goggles, and sunscreen as well.  In the future, I will purchase another 3 piece packing cube set for my boys as well!

2.  United States Sticker Map.

Although this is advertised as an RV sticker map, we attached it to the back of our van to record our cross country travels.  Each time the van enters a new state, we add the sticker.

Each time we add a sticker, we record the fun:

This sticker could be kept at home, on the car, or on a piece of posterboard. It is pretty versitile and we LOVE it!

3.  National Geographic Guide to Naitonal Parks of the United States. (8th Edition).

I got tired of returning this to the library and requesting it again. I also wanted to write in it. So I finally gave in and purchased it.

It has been handy during our trip.  I might be old fashion, but something about having paper to take notes, underline, and write on works best for me. I can look up the park a day or two before we get there and make some notes about what to do if we have a few hours, a full day, or a few days. This guide has been really helpful.

NOTE:  This was SO helpful when we went into a park after hours when the visitor center and gate were closed and we couldn’t get a map.  This book has updated route maps so you can still get around to overlooks and trails.

4.  Sabrent 10 port family USB charger.

Yes. We are a modern family. This is the charging port we have in our charging station at home, and when we travel we make sure to bring it.

I love that it sits flat and the ports are on the top, not the side. It works well for overnight charging in hotel rooms. Currently we charge 2 phones, 2 iPods, 2 Kindles, and 2 iPads each night. Every morning the devices are charged and ready to go.

We also use it in the car, keeping it plugged in to my next item…

5. Car Power Inverter Strip.

This strip has 2 outlets for standard plugs and 2 USB ports. We keep our USB Charger plugged in to this while driving so our kids can keep their devices charged while we are travelling.

Once plugged in, the kids keep the USB charger toward the rear of the car for their devices so the extra USB ports on this main outlet are handy for the adult phones in the front seat.

Note:  I travel for long trips with my kids frequently.  We visit family in both Maryland and Florida and we love to take trips around the US.  There is NO reward at the end of the trip for keeping your kids off screens, so we don’t limit their use at all.  We still listen to audio books, play games, enjoy scenery, and have pleasant conversation, but this all happens naturally as we travel.  It is rare that I force “no devices” though it does happen sometimes.  Therefore, #4 and #5 are some of my favorite additions to our travel supplies.

6. Rand McNally 2017 Midsize Road Atlas

(spiral bound preferred for me).

We lost our modern day GPS through Waze and Google Maps quite a bit while traveling around Utah.  My daughter had this atlas in the car and it was SO handy to double check our route.

It was also handy to print pages for the kids so they could follow our trip.

7. Next Exit

This amazing guide crossed my path AFTER our big road trip.  In it you will find the most amazing comprehesive directory for interstate highway exits.  The gas, food, camping, shopping, and lodging available is listed next to every single interestate highway exit.

This could totally change the way you plan to stop for lunch or bathrooms because now you know what is around the corner at the NEXT EXIT!

What are your favorite Cross Country Travel Items?

(NotBefore7 is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com)

Adventures/Travel, Out West

Cross Country Journal – Day 6 Antelope Canyon

Breakfast this morning was lacking any hot food, but we made it work and then headed out early to Antelope Canyon.

You can’t tour the canyon on your own, so you have to book a tour.  Our tour was reserved for 10:20 AM, but we walked up at 8:50 AM to see if they could work us in early. They were able to send us off on the 9 AM tour time.

You can hardly see the slot canyon on the landscape until you are upon it.

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Then suddenly you are in it.  And you will go camera happy.

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And if you are lucky, your tour guide (or the one from the group behind you) will set your DSLR to all of the right settings for the canyon!

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The iPhone simply needs the “chrome” filter to pick up the beautiful reds and colors.

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You feel like you are in Wonderland.

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It is very other world-like.

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“I like this better than the Grand Canyon, Mom!”

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Not much more to say. It is a very cool slot canyon. Eerie. Beautiful.

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Kid Warning: There are several steep staircases.

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And before you know it, it is time to exit the Canyon.

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We snuck around the corner for a scenic view of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

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Then we were off on the road again!

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We arrived in Zion National Park that evening.

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We purposefully designed this stop to be our “vacation in the vacation”. We splurged on two nights in a quaint IMG_7209lodge on the Virgin River. We knew we’d be ready for an upgrade from the Super 8 Motel the night before and the Best Westerns of the previous nights.

But we had NO idea how magical our location would be.

The lodge was in a beautiful setting and we immediately felt the magic of Zion National Park.  It captured our entire family.

We spent the evening playing on the Virgin River in tubes we picked up at the local store.

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No one wanted the night to end, but we had VERY early morning adventure ahead of us so we had to get some sleep!

 

Adventures/Travel, Out West

Cross Country Journal Day 5 – Grand Canyon

Upon waking in our caboose at 5:30 AM, I peeked out the window to see frost on the ground! It was COLD out there. I cozied up in my bed again and tried to fall back asleep.

No success. Another early morning for Mommy.

Once everyone was moving around we started getting ready. The kids ran out to play a bit on the playground while Eric and I packed up and gathered some fruit and bagels for breakfast.

The weather was perfect for an IMG_6941-001outdoor breakfast and few moments of free time before our drive to the Grand Canyon.

Goodbye to our little “caboose on the loose” as the kids dubbed him.

The Grand Canyon was about 1.5 hours away, so it was already getting hot when we arrived. We stopped at the visitor’s center to enjoy the view from Mather Point first.

IMG_7030-001I couldn’t wait to hear our kids reactions to seeing the Canyon.

Tricia had commented in the car that, “I’ve seen canyons. They are all basically the same.”

But as she rounded the corner on the path and saw the Grand Canyon, Eric heard her gasp, “My gosh!”

As we walked out on the rocks (behind the gates, of

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Well summed up for him as he was quite nervous about the drop offs. I didn’t have to worry about him falling as he kept a death grip on me that I joked would keep me from falling.

IMG_7028-001I was so worried about kids falling in the Canyon.  I had panicking dreams the entire time I planned this trip.  Thankfully, the reality was that they were worried and cautious enough for me in general. Daniel, almost 7, was the least concerned so my focus stayed on him.

Our plan was to take the tram to a few viewpoints that gave us Colorado River views. We had to modify the plan a bit due to some anxiety/panic that Patricia experienced while riding the park Tram to our first location.

These are the moments that you can’t possibly anticipate and you just have to go with the flow to work a memorable, fun and happy experience for everyone involved.

We all returned to the main junction and Eric took Tricia to some viewpoints in walking distance while I bravely took the other three kids on my own to the viewpoints we wanted to see via tram.

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Tricia and Eric enjoyed the fresh air and some fabulous views near the lodges while the other three kids and I took the Hermit’s Rest shuttle to a few stops to catch a few glimpses of the Colorado River.

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We managed to get a few great glimpses of the Colorado River meandering through the canyon.

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We all regrouped alive and well back at the van and headed out to the Desert View Tower, stopping at two of the scenic viewpoints along the way. It was getting hot, so we were more than happy to skip a few viewpoints on the way to the Tower.

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The Tower was a free attraction and is located at the end of the Canyon Scenic Drive.

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There are great views of the Canyon from the top of the Tower.

Overall, we loved our time here!  You might even say we “jumped for joy”…

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Our evening ended in Page, Arizona with a brief night which included some downtime with wifi, a good night’s sleep, and hot showers.

Adventures/Travel, Out West

Cross Country Journal – Day 4 Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Parks

We woke up in Albuquerque and enjoyed breakfast in our hotel. I woke up before 6 AM. My mind and body are definitely out of whack!

We hit the road and headed toward our destination in Williams, Arizona. On the way, our plan was to visit the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, which are located in the same National Park about one minute off Rt. 40 West.

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By the time we entered the parks, it was close to 11:30 and the heat was beginning to set in. We decided to go ahead with the drive through the parks, but to skip any longer hikes.

The Painted Desert was magnificent. The views were beautiful.  As you know, pictures just can’t accurately capture this sort of beauty, but I’ll share a few.

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Two stops included views of petroglyphs visible on the rock. The Puerco Pueblo .3 mile loop  had examples that were very close to the path and easily visible, though harder to detect in pictures.  These were created by the Ancestral Puebloan People over 600 years ago.

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Remains of the Puebloan peoples’ houses and the plaza area are seen on the path.

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The next section had many more petroglyphs, but they were pretty far away from our vantage point. Free viewfinders were located at the site.  The ones pictured here were taken with my zoom lens:

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We did the driving tour of the Blue Mesa section and took in the views.

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On the way, we passed the “Three Teepees”.  Amazing visible layers!

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As the road continues, you enter the National Petrified Forest. The petrified wood liters the scenery.

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Although the heat was gettign to us, we did walk along one of the paths to see a few of the pieces of wood, now quartz, up close.

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Wild.

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This really helped the kids understand what was so different about the petrified logs.

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I was completely fascinated by the explanation of Pangea and how the spread of the continents meant that these logs were the very ones found in the Crystal Forest in Costa Rica.

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I turned to my husband, “Man, I need a science program that teaches cool stuff like this. I gotta do some research.

He just laughed and commented that I am probably the one person to react to the petrified wood by talking about researching science curriculums.

I guess you can take the mom away from the homeschool day but you can’t take the homeschool day away from the mom. #truth

After our tour of the National Parks, we were ready for some food. It was a bit hot to make lunch on the side of the road, so we found a diner in town and enjoyed some good eats.

Soon we were back on the road.

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It was time to head to our final destination for tonight.  Our motel tonight was located on historic Route 66.

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I choose this one because on the property are two caboose cars that have been converted into motel rooms.

We were going to sleep in caboose #1.

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The kids were THRILLED about this! They loved every moment of being at this motel and RV park.

The indoor pool was freezing, despite the “heated” sign. The kids only enjoyed a very quick swim.

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After a load of laundry, we had a picnic dinner at the picnic area just outside of the pool. The evening felt fantastic and we enjoyed relaxing outdoors for awhile.

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The playground didn’t offer much, but what it did include were things that we don’t have at home that were quite entertaining…

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tires that could be moved around and built with..

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old boats

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and two mini-size vehicles.

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The kids had a great time relaxing out of the heat and the car.

Before we knew it, it was time to crash in bed.   Thank goodness for the room darkening curtains.  It was still early, but our internal clocks had not adjusted to the new time zone.

Adventures/Travel, Out West

Cross Country Trip Journal – Day 3

We woke up in Weatherford, OK after sleeping in (8 AM) a bit. Our first destination was a random “point of interest” that we discovered using the roadtrippers app.

Apparently, around the corner from our hotel was some sort of wind turbine display. We could see wind turbines in the distance, so we were curious about this display. The roadtrippers listing didn’t have a lot of great information.

About a mile up the street, sitting in the grass by City Hall, was a single wind turbine blade.  Very random.  Very cool.

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The kids had a blast climbing around the turbine and exploring its enourmous size. I had no idea that they were so huge.

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Daniel (age 6) declared this his favorite thing so far!

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Kayleigh (age 13) enjoyed her favorite thing to do and had some fun upside down!

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Then we were back on the road for the long drive through Oklahoma and the panhandle of Texas before we settled for the night in Albuquerque, NM.

The amount of windturbines on the horizon was unreal. I had no idea how many were all over this area of Oklahoma and Texas.

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It made me even more glad that we had taken some time to check out the blade this morning. I had a whole new perspective on the enormity of the wind turbines.  Seeing them from a distance just doesn’t do the size justice.

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We had another fun stop planned and we continued rolling toward it.

Cadillac Ranch was another photo opportunity that we found using Road Trippers and it turned out to be well worth the 20 minutes.

Located just off the highway near Amarillo, Texas is a strange piece of “art”. Several cadillacs are “planted” in the ground and visitors are welcome to add their own touch to the art using spray paint.

Not kidding.  In the middle of nowhere on the side of the highway are approximately 10 Cadillacs in the ground.

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How crazy is this?

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I was prepared with two cans of spray paint and disposable latex gloves to keep our fingers clean. Of course, tons of spray paint cans littered the ground so we were able to use a variety of colors as we found them.

Everyone thought this was hysterically fun.

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We left our own personal marks:

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And then we were off again. We still had a few more hours to go before we reached Albuquerque. The kids were dying to spend some time at one of our hotels.

Staying in a hotel is a pretty rare treat for our kids, so they didn’t see it as a quick place to lay their head before moving on. For them, the hotel is part of the excitement and fun!

Even the Holiday Inn and Best Western.

Unfortunately for them, we arrived at 6:30 PM and I was hoping for a lovely dinner out in Albuquerque. But they were dying to swim, so we hopped in the pool while Daddy restocked our food at the local Walmart.

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Dinner was cheese and crackers, fruit and sub sandwiches in our room.

Shortly after, we all crashed for the night.

Adventures/Travel, Out West

Cross Country Trip Journal – Days 1 and 2

Day One: Raleigh, NC to Memphis, TN

I woke up five minutes before the alarm was set to go off.

5:40 AM. Both exhausted because of  the time and exhilarated by our vacation kick off, I slugged into the bathroom. Clothes. Hair. Face. I was feeling a bit more awake and ready to head out.

By 6 AM, the kids were up and everyone was gathering their last minute items. Electronics were packed up, the cooler was filled, and everyone grabbed their pillow.

IMG_6165It was 6:30 AM and we were in the car, ready to go. After a quick stop at Harris Teeter to fill our cooler with ice, we were truly ready to begin our long drive. The GPS informed us that we would arrive in Memphis at 4:29 PM, but that included a 1 hour “fall back” on the clock.

Once on the highway we officially kicked off our morning with our road trip theme song:

After much debate, this soon-to-be summer hit by Justin Timberlake seemed the perfect way to “dance, dance, dance” our way into the long drives looming in front of us each day.

IMG_6178 By 9:15 we were ready for breakfast and pulled into a rest stop. Part of our plan includes avoiding restaurants when we are able in order to splurge on them later in the trip without breaking the bank.

Fruit, yogurt, cottage cheese, and muffins that I baked yesterday in preparation for our trip. No one felt the need to stretch or sit for very long, so we were quickly back on the road.

The day of driving was long, but our candy celebrations helped to pass the time and the kids looked forward to each checkpoint. Four were planned for our first day.

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Both lunch and dinner took place at rest stops today. Chicken salad and lunchables IMG_6210with fruit hit the spot at lunch time. Dinner consisted of a “make-your-own sub sandwich” buffet and a little football throwing.

Chick-fil-a was the only food stop and where I enjoyed iced tea, Eric enjoyed lemonade and the kids had an ice dream.

By the time we reached the hotel in Memphis, we were all ready for bed and crashed shortly after arriving.

Day Two: Memphis, TN to Weatherford, OK.

IMG_6231Our decision to hang out in Memphis for the morning paid off! Our first stop was Graceland. We only took a peek over the wall from the road. This was not going to be our main attraction today, so we passed on an official tour.

NOTE: If you get there between 7:30-8:30 AM, you can walk up and see the memorial garden for free, but we didn’t arrive until 9:30 AM, so we just peeked and Mommy got to check it off her bucket list.

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Next up was a trip to the National Civil Rights Museum.IMG_6314

This museum is located at the Historic Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot.

The exhibits follow a historical timeline of the fight for Freedom during the Civil Rights movement. There is a lot of reading along the way which includes facts, stories, and quotes. Thankfully, the exhibits had just enough interactive displays to keep the kids involved and interested.

The kids could protest on a bus with Rosa Parks.  A bus driver’s voice could be heard on the speaker telling you to move back.  After some stern words, the voice informed you that you would be arrested.

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While learning about sit-ins, the kids sat at the soda counter and were able to view footage from historical sit-ins.  The videos also showed the role playing and training that groups of black people participated in to train themselves to stay calm under nasty words and physical violence.

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Of course, many were put in jail.  The exhibit included letters written from jail cells, full of hope and continued support for the movement.

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The kid enjoyed this display which included interation through technology.  They learned what “take” several key leaders in the civil rights movement had on issues such as women’s rights and the use of non-violence.

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The last museum exhibit is in the very rooms where Dr. King and his companions IMG_6308spent their last days.

The rooms are behind a glass wall and information about his last moments is written on panels below the viewing area as you walk along.

The wall is also partially removed from the back of the area so that you can view the balcony where he was standing from the inside.

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This museum was well worth the visit. It is one of those experiences that we will all continue to remember.

I was particularly impacted by the fact that Dr. King was 39 when he was shot. That hits in a fresh way as I am 39 this year. What a legacy he left in only 39 years of life. What a tragedy of life ended so early.

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Next up was Daddy’s bucket list item: a view of the Mississippi River. Big river. Huge.


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We debated a visited to Mud Island, but due to the heat and time constraints, we just enjoyed our view from the shore.

Next up was lunch! Huey’s was a great choice for our first meal out on this trip. Good food for the price and a fantastic atmosphere in downtown Memphis. the kids in particular enjoyed the ceiling full of toothpicks.  We were invited to add to display by using our straw as a blowdart.

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Once year all of the Huey’s locations host a “Guess the number of toothpicks” fundraiser for the Memphis Zoo. The kids had a blast adding a few of their own “darts” to the ceiling.

A lunch full of laughter and fun. You can’t ask for much more.

IMG_6381Looming ahead of us was a 7.5 hour drive to Weatherford, Oklahoma so we decided that it was time to get started. The rain came down, sometimes in sheets, on and off during the drive through Arkansas.

We did stop at an interesting rest stop for dinner.  We were thankful to find some shade under the concrete teepees.  It was a welcome respite from the hot sun for sure!

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When it wasn’t raining, the Oklahoma sky was a gorgeous site, both day and night.

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We arrived in Oklahoma just in time to crash in bed.  The kids were disappointed because they have been DYING to relax and swim at the hotel pool.

I forget what a treat the hotel is for them.   I’d rather spend more time on the road visiting sites and just use the hotel to crash for the night.  Instead, they see the hotel as a big part of the vacation, so I was reminded to adjust my mindset a bit.

Our aim is for some swimming time at the hotel tomorrow!

Adventures/Travel, North Carolina Adventures, Out West

Using eBags on our Cross Country Trip

In just a few days, we set to drive to the Grand Canyon.  Thirty-one hours in a car if you don’t stop at all.  Clearly it will take this family of six a bit longer.

While in the western United States, we will also visit a host of other destinations including Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Arches National Park.

We will spend a total of 17 days on the road sleeping in different locations almost every night.  It is going to be a grand adventure for sure, but it has created a packing nightmare for this mom.

There are six of us in our family.  The thought of dragging six suitcases up and down every night to the various hotels is not a fun one, so I knew there had to be a better solution.  And I think I may have found it!

Enter: eBags Packing Cubes.

Quite possibly the most brilliant, simple idea when it comes to cross country travel.

Out of curiosity, I ordered the 3 piece set which includes three total packing cubes: one large (17.5 x 12.75 x 3.25), one medium (13.75 x 9.75 x 3), and one small (11 x 6.75 x 3).  I wanted to play around with them before ordering more.

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I began playing around with some thoughts based on the idea that I only want to take ONE small rolling suitcase into the hotel each night. This small suitcase would contain one pair of PJ’s for each person and toiletries.

Each member of our family would grab an outfit and put it in their backpack to bring to the hotel. Their hiking backpack could also transport iPods and such into the hotel.

What I needed was an easy way for each person in the family to grab their outfit for the day without digging through duffle bags in the parking lot of the hotel. This is where the eBags come in handy.

In the largest size eBag, I rolled up my”outfits for each day. Each roll consists of a T-shirt and undies. Every other day the outfit “roll” includes shorts because I plan to wear my shorts for two days in a row.

Beginning on the right, I have a shirt roll and then the next roll includes denim shorts. Then it is a roll without shorts and then one with.

Isn’t it lovely?

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Of course, if you are Type A like myself then this possibly looks heavenly and brilliant.

If you are Type B, then you might be hyperventilating or laughing. Either way. You can stop here if this just isn’t going to be your thing. It is OK. We can still be friends.  But you might want to pausing and consider the idea.  Maybe.

If you are my brother, then you are laughing and thinking, “This is SO Mary.”  You would be right.  It is.  And I do love it.

But if you are drooling over the time we will save when we don’t have to dig for clothing, then by all means stay with me while we continue through the rest of the bags.

The medium size bag will house two pairs of pants (wind pants and sweat pants) a hoodie or jacket, a second set of PJ’s, and any extra clothing (athletic shorts, sports bra, 2 tanks).  I don’t suspect we will need to wear pants whole lot in the west in June as the temperatures are showing in the 90’s.

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We each have a pair of wind pants that fit easily over our shorts so that we can layer.  While they don’t need to be in our daily outfit eBag, I do want them to be easily accessible.

Finally, the small ebag will contain socks for the week because there is no reason to have socks included in our daily outfit rolls.

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For the first few days of driving, we will wear flip flops or crocs everyday.  But even on days we wear our tennis/hiking shoes, I prefer everyone to leave them in the van each night and wear flip flops into the hotel.  Socks can be pulled out in the morning when we change into our shoes for the day.

All three eBags of clothing are ready to go. So neat and tidy.

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The eBags fit easily into my large duffle bag, keeping it organized so don’t spend time digging through clothing and messing up piles.

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Because I ordered the girls different color eBags, one of them can easily share this duffle with me because there is plenty of room!

The big test of the eBags was showing my plan to my husband last night.  I was sure  he would laugh at his crazy wife.

 Instead, he asked me to order him a set and a set for each child.

While I ordered a set for my girls (13 and 11) and my husband, the boys (6 and 9) will make do with a previously ordered set of three large eBags.

I  ordered these earlier this month because the larger size seemed very handy.

I plan to use two of them for the boys daily outfit rolls.  Then I will put their extra clothing on the bottom of their small duffle bags, and their socks will be in gallon size ziploc bag.

The additional large eBag will contain all of our bathing suits, goggles, and sunscreen.  When we are ready to swim in the hotel pool, one of us can simply go grab this bag and know that everything we need is in there.

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The next morning, assuming they dried overnight, the swim suits can be packed up OR hung up to dry in the van.

Of course, now it is time to pack up the kids and attempt to use this system successfully.  I think it is going to be great, but there is only one way to find out…try it.

Which we will do…in exactly THREE DAYS!

In the end, I have a feeling these eBags are going to be quite handy for all of our family travels and camping trips.

(NotBefore7 is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com)