Taking our kids on the Great American Road Trip across the country in an RV has been on our bucket list for awhile. We love to travel, explore, and learn about new places and we want to be able to experience this with our kids. We are looking to take multiple, extended trips to different areas of the continental U.S. (and maybe Canada) over the next several years. Don’t pinch me, but we are actually in a position to make this a reality. First, though, we need an RV.
Kevin and I have been educating ourselves on RVs–trying to determine what will be best for us and our four kids for longer-term travel. This is what we have learned about ourselves. We are “glampers”. We do not enjoy roughing it. While we have our boys in scouts and we have participated in events with them, “roughing it” is not really our cup of Starbucks coffee. We like extra space, bells-and-whistles, and nice finishes. We don’t want to pack up the kids’ beds every morning in order to eat breakfast. We want an actual door between our sleeping space and the kids’ area. We may even (eek!) want our own bathroom. A full-sized refrigerator, room to prepare meals, and homeschool space are also amenities that would make life on the road doable for us. We also need to be able to tow a car (big enough for our whole crew–so at least a Ford Flex-sized car) so that we can explore the places we visit.
This is our list. We want a Class A or Class C motorhome. We want a bed-over-cab space for our older boys and a bunk space for our younger two. Everyone should have their own sleeping area that doesn’t need to be transformed from another piece of furniture before sleeping every night. We want a diesel pusher (as opposed to gas). In order to tow a larger car for our family, we need the power of the diesel engine.
All of this totals up to a very large RV. Kevin has very few reservations about this. I, however, have some concerns. I know that this will limit us for entrance into state and national parks. If we end up with an over-40-feet-long rig, we will not be able to fit into most of the parks. I have tried every way around this. We have looked at smaller coaches that would fit our tribe and also fit into the smaller sites at national parks. We just really think that we will be setting ourselves up for failure if we go this route. We want to love the experience and feel like we will be so much happier with a little more elbow room then this situation would allow. Larger water tanks would allow us to wash clothes and take showers. More cabinet space would allow us to bring toys, homeschool materials, and have a space for dirty clothes. Walking space around the bed in the master bedroom would allow us to actually get dressed in the morning without crawling onto the bed to put our clothes on. An extra bathroom (Did I say EEK already?) would give us some much needed privacy. (Where will we hang all the bath towels?)
How do other families/couples do it? This is where my current research is focusing. There are lots of people with large RVs out there. How are they getting around? Where do they stay? How many nights will we camp in one place? Would boon-docking be a good option for us? What does road-schooling look like for our family?
We are not looking to be full-timers. (We love our home and our community too much to pack up and leave indefinitely!) We are, however, trying to plan our future schedules (and those of our children) with caution. I know that this is up the not-so-far-ahead road for us, and I want to limit our commitments to allow for this experience for our family. I want to bring others along with me on this journey. This was one of the greatest motivators for starting this blog! We are extremely excited to be planning all of this. I look forward to sharing our Woodventures with y’all.
FDR, a.k.a. Franklyn D. Resort, is such a blessing for families. This tiny little gem of a resort is tucked into an area called Runaway Bay just outside of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. This is an all-inclusive resort for families that includes VACATION NANNIES.
All of the expected amenities can be found here, as well. The resort offers three meals a day, free drinks, water activities (glass bottom boat rides, snorkeling, fishing), organized activities for both kids and parents, an on-site nurse, and coordination for off-site excursions. FDR is not shiny. It’s not Vegas…or Sandals…or Disney. It’s Jamaican…and it feels like home.
FDR’s strength is in it’s warmth and hospitality. It’s small size promotes relationships with both the staff and other guests. The staff greeted our family with hugs and “Welcome Home’s.” Many of the guests had returned from last year at the same time so there were many familiar faces. This was our second trip to FDR, but asking around, we realized there are many returning families. One eighteen-year-old girl was there who has spent every every summer of her childhood at FDR!
We requested the same nannies. One nanny is included with the reservation, but a second nanny can be added for a very reasonable cost per day. Due to the size of our family and the age spread of our kids (11, 8, 3, and 1), we hired a second nanny to help out. The nannies are available from 8:30 AM-4:40 PM with an hour break for lunch. If you would like them to stay longer, like for an adult-only dinner and karaoke night, arrangements are made directly with the nannies. Extended hourly rates set are set by the resort and are moderate. We love our nannies! The care that they give our family is top notch. They molded seamlessly within our family; we all cried when it was time to leave.
There are a lot of amazing travel experiences for families to share together, but this is truly the only RELAXING way to vacation with children. We went swimming with all of the kids in the pool. When the little ones were ready to get out, the nannies were ready to help with towels, dry clothes, drinks, and more sunscreen. We took our older boys to Dunn’s River Falls, while the younger two stayed at the resort and enjoyed the slower pace of the activities at the kids’ club. We were able to have one-on-one time with each child–which is hard to find when you have a large crew. I took my daughter, Lillian, to the small, on-site beauty shop where she had her hair braided and nails painted. My oldest son, Edwin, went fishing with my husband. My middle son, Montgomery, chose to go snorkeling with Kevin. My baby son, Morgan, didn’t want to leave his nannies. He was totally spoiled!
The food was very adequate. The truly Jamaican foods–coffee, fruit, anything jerked, and the fresh fish were exceptional. In an effort to please the diversity of guests, the chefs prepare a wide array of dishes from all over the world. They are also happy to accommodate dietary requests. I heard one Mom talking to a chef about her daughter’s celiac disease. She had brought gluten-free pancake mix for them to use to prepare her dishes. The mom requested clean pans to prepare her daughters eggs that hadn’t been contaminated with wheat and ice cream that hadn’t been touched by other children’s cones. I really feel like the kitchen staff goes above and beyond for their guests.
Most days there is one main dining option–a themed buffet or a dining room-with-menu option. The menu is limited, but I feel that all but the pickiest eaters could find something they enjoyed. The grill is also available for lunch and dinner with sandwiches, burgers, and kid staples.
The beach that is owned by FDR is a small, kid-friendly wading area. There is a mat a little way out from the shore where guests can float and sun-bathe. The larger, more traditional beach at the resort next door is only a couple of steps away and accessible to registered FDR guests. This was also the site of the photo shoot for our family pictures.
This is Harry, our boat captain. The kids loved his funny sayings. He was fearless, honest, and hard-working. He knew the best fishing holes and the best snorkeling spots. He patiently baited the kids’ fishing hooks over and over again.
Oh, how I cherished having the time with my husband and the other wonderful couples that we met at the resort. We were all from vastly different backgrounds, but we were all parents vacationing with our kids. That was a common bond, but, really, we didn’t talk about our kids that much!
The wonderfully diverse people that we got to know there were the highlight of our trip. I met a lovely woman who is a dentist in the D.C. area. She was born in Suriname, speed reads, speaks many languages, and lives life passionately. Kevin and I also connected with a preacher and his wife from England. We talked about Christianity in the UK versus our small town in Georgia. Both of our oldest boys are 11 and loved talking about culture. Another family from Long Island, NY, lived in a 750 square foot apartment. The dad, an iron worker by trade, builds sky scrapers for a living, but is scared to death of water. There was a group of Single Moms By Choice traveling together–six moms with eleven kids between them, searching for commonality and respite. Another family from Virginia traveling with five children, asked me about homeschooling. The mother is a lawyer; the father is considering quitting his job to teach their kids at home. A family from Queens encouraged their two-year-old son to greet my daughter every morning in French. I find it interesting how people from different areas feel the need to give their children different skills. They were teaching their child French. We were teaching ours how to fish!
I love people. I love to hear their stories. It was fascinating to me to get to know all of these people that have such different experiences from me. My kids got to play with their kids. This is one of the blessings that the small size of FDR promotes that is hard to describe. The staff knows everyone by name. It really feels like a family.
Everyone has a story. I loved my time at FDR and the people I met. I loved the time to connect with my tribe away from the schedules of everyday life. If you are looking for a truly rewarding family vacation, I encourage you to look into Franklyn D. Resort. It’s less expensive (and less hectic) then Disney World!
There are so many amazing parks and natural areas right around us! I am trying to utilize these resources more for my family. One of the ways I am challenging us to explore more places is through the use of geocaching. Geocaching is a fun (free) activity to do with your family. There is an app that you can get for your phone, but it is also available as a website. The app uses GPS tracking to help you find caches (think: Treasure Boxes!) of various sizes and difficulty. There are over a million hid all over the world!
I love the Geocaching site, because it has so much information that is useful for families. For instance, if I am taking my one year old son in a stroller, I need to know if the cache is off of a paved walkway. Reading the many reviews available written by other participants can come in extremely handy for this. If I am by myself with all of my kids, I want something REALLY EASY. I am also a sore loser, so I get frustrated if I pick something too challenging and I can’t find it. For folks who have more leisure time (or more patience) you can choose something more on the challenging end of the scale. That’s the beauty of it, though. Families can pick what best suits their individual needs.
Some of the boxes are larger (like ammo cases) and some are tiny microcaches. (We found one rolled up inside of a bolt one time!) Each cache contains a paper log to write your name and the date of your find. With the larger containers, geocachers are encouraged to leave a small trinket inside and take one of equal or lesser value with them as a token of the find. This is my kids’ favorite part. I really do try to think of interesting things to leave in caches. It’s disappointing to open one and find only crayons, a ketchup packet, and a tube of sunscreen.
There are also Earthcaches. With these challenges, there isn’t actually a box to find. It’s more of a treasure hunt for information. You answer questions as you go along while learning about a place then send the answers to the creator of the cache in order to get credit for the find. I like this kind, too, but my kids prefer the hunt for the treasure!
As we gear up for our second trip to Jamaica, I want to write about some of the things I learned from our first trip there last August. Traveling internationally with kids is challenging. Traveling internationally with an infant and a toddler (plus two more) is REALLY challenging.
Passports. I wish I had taken pictures of us in the passport office. The day that we got our kids’ photos made and filled out their applications was quite entertaining. I think that Kevin and I made errors on nearly every application and had to redo them. This was while we were huddled into a too-small-room with kids crawling around our knees. Be prepared for this process to take about three times as long as you think that it should.
Packing. I knew that my older sons (7 and 10 at the time) would be pulling their own small suitcases through the airport while carrying backpacks. We needed to push a stroller with an infant while carrying a toddler in a body-type carrier. We needed to pull our own luggage while juggling six passports and boarding passes. Sound challenging? It was–especially at 5:30 AM. I had to think through all of these logistics–who was responsible for carrying what items. I felt like a military commander. This, I promise you, was the hardest part of the whole trip.
Resort choice. When I was researching family vacations with kids, I came across Franklyn D. Resort in Jamaica–also known as FDR. This tiny little heavenly spot was such a blessing for my family. They have vacation nannies! I will write more about FDR in a later post. I can hardly contain my love…but I will put this on hold for now!
Flying for families. Get your tickets way in advance. If you have a big family and everyone needs to sit together, you need to plan early. When my husband and I are flying somewhere alone, we tend to put off this step looking for the bargains. I don’t recommend this when flying with small children. You want to have the choice of the best flight times and best seating options for your family. It’s not fun to get stuck with three kids while your husband is twenty rows behind you with the remaining child. You need to be together to juggle potty breaks, diaper changes, and any meltdown that may occur. There are lots of wonderful blog posts about activities for travel with kids. Read them. I say this is a perfect time to haul out those screens (fully charged for this occasion). You don’t have to worry about them rolling around on the floor of the folks two rows behind you. Nursing (or a bottle) on take off helps with infants’ ears–it also helps to position Mama in a way that is most comfortable for this on a tight plane. I prefer to sit by the window, if I am planning on nursing, with a member of my family in the middle seat next to me. (I have breast-fed on a plane next to a stranger, but I was traveling alone with my baby and it was a very unusual circumstance. I don’t recommend this if you can help it! It was quite awkward. Thank goodness, I was next to a woman.)
Driving (or riding) in Jamaica. YIKES! This was a terrifying experience for me. I haven’t actually figured out how to make this easier (or safer) this time around. In Jamaica, the cars drive on the left and the driver sits on the right of the car. They honk for everything. Greetings. Warnings. The shuttle to/from the airport did not have seat belts. My infant was in a carrier, but not strapped into a seat. We found a driver that we liked while we were there, but his personal vehicle that he used for a taxi was not big enough for our whole family so we were not able to hire him to drive us back to the airport.
International checkpoint. I don’t remember any issue with this on the outbound trip. Inbound, however, it was a nightmare. After we got of the plane in Atlanta (exhausted from the 1 1/2 hour bus ride from the resort to the airport and the flight home) it took FOREVER to get to customs. I told Kevin several times that we must have done something wrong. I think we walked for 45 minutes with all the kids and our carry-on items to get to the customs area. When we got there, we were flagged. We couldn’t figure out why, but we were sent through the line for “problem people”. As it turned out, it had something to do with traveling with a lap baby. We had more people then tickets and it raised a red flag. We will be better prepared for this next time. It took us nearly three hours to get off our plane and get back to our car! This part was very stressful. I was thankful that Kevin and I both have very even personalities. It could have been a bad ending to a long day with a bunch of tired kids.
In spite of EVERYTHING, the trip was so very worth it. I can’t wait to return next week. We made friends with the employees at the resort. I have kept up with them on Facebook this year. I am so excited to see them again! By the end of our stay, they truly felt like extended family.
Last weekend we had the opportunity to take our oldest sons on a Wild Cave Tour of the Lost Sea Cave with our Boy Scout Troop. This cave is part of Craighead Caverns in Tennessee and contains the second-largest underground lake in the world. The “Wild Cave” option is available to groups and includes an overnight stay in the cave, access to more adventurous exploring, and entrance (and exit) through the “natural entrance.”
Our group check-in time was 6:00 PM at the gift shop. We bought our boys Wild Cave Tour patches. (Scouts tend to collect a lot of patches for special events.) We opted out of the dinner and breakfast add-ons and had arrived already fed–and ready to get dirty! Day visitors enter through a bright yellow tunnel in the gift shop. Our group received the “wild cave” portion of the trip and had to pack all of our overnight gear down almost 150 “natural stone steps.” (This means they were uneven, wet, and lacked a hand-railing.)
We set our stuff down at the camp site at the bottom of the stairs and headed out to explore the cave with our young guide. For the next few hours, we were given the opportunity to complete various crawls within the cave. All were optional. There were always walk-around paths for each section. This was great for the adults (and some kids) who were not comfortable with tight spaces, didn’t want to get extra dirty, or weren’t physically up to the challenge. I had done a bit of “spelunking” in college, so I was excited to try the crawls. I ended up backing out of the first one because I watched the dad in front of me squeeze through and decided my hips were NOT going to fit. The others I was able to finish, though. My husband, Kevin, is not a huge fan of tight spaces and chose to walk around. Many of the adults (and several kids) in our group picked this option and it was perfectly fine. My favorite part of the tour was the boat ride on the underground lake. Our whole group got in a simple metal boat and floated out on the lake. We could see enormous rainbow trout swimming around us.
When we got back to the camp area it was after 9:00 PM. I took a trip to the port-a-potty and washed my face and arms with baby wipes as best as I could. One dad remembered his trip to the cave from 30 years ago and recalled wanting a chair afterwards…so he had packed a camp chair with him down into the cave. SO SMART! The adults were so ready to sit down by this point, but the only option for most of us was the hard cave floor. We spread out a large tarp for our family and arranged our sleeping bags and gear. The boys, never out of energy, took the opportunity to run up (and slide back down) a mud hill at the sleeping area–because you can never be dirty enough, right?
I was exhausted. I wiggled my dirty body down into my warm sleeping bag. (The cave is in the 50s year-round.) I decided to let the dads handle the clean up and bedtime wrangling. It was a very rough night. I don’t like sleeping on the ground anyway, but this floor was really rough. By 5:00 AM, I was nearly desperate to be off of the ground and into daylight. I awakened two hours before our official wakeup time nearly choking to see daylight. It was a very oppressive feeling for me. Kevin told me later that it was what he imagined Hell would be like–void of God’s light. We did NOT enjoy waking up in that darkness and then feeling trapped until someone else decided it was time for us to leave. It was very unsettling for us.
The guide’s alarm went off at 6:50 AM. By that time, I had been reading a book on my cell phone for nearly two hours cuddled down in my bag on the hard ground in total darkness. I nearly shouted with joy! It took awhile, though, to get all of the gear packed up. The scouts then systematically swept the camping area for trash and we headed back up the the precarious, wet steps. By this time, I knew that there was an easier way out of the cave–up that bright yellow tunnel. I was rather grumbly about the steps. The men told me that the other exit was for Girl Scouts. I decided that the Girl Scouts must have a smarter system, then. Why in the world would anyone choose to walk up 150 wet stone steps in the dark carrying a bunch of stuff if you could just walk up a well lit ramp instead? The answer that I was given is that it was part of the “full experience.”
My conclusion of the “full-experience”: I really enjoyed my tour of the cave–both of the more adventurous and more touristy parts. I could have totally passed on spending the night in the cave, however. I think I would have preferred to walk down the natural entrance at the beginning and prance my little Girl-Scout-self right out that bright yellow tunnel into the daylight when I was finished with the tour–muddy and tired, but with a hot shower, a flushing toilet, and a soft mattress waiting for me at home. Oh, I can’t forget the daylight. I am so thankful for THE SUN!!!!
I’ve always wanted to travel. There are so many places that I want to see. There are so many things I want to experience. I love learning! I also love being right where I am. I live in an incredibly beautiful spot surrounded by the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. We have farmland…and cows…and kids. Four of them actually. They range in age from 11 to 1. Even with all of this loveliness around me, I still want to see more. My mama always says I want to do it all…and I DO.
We homeschool. This gives us the opportunity to have a lot of flexibility with our schedule. Our family takes vacations when other kids are in school and we study indoors when it’s too hot outside to breathe. I’ve opened up room in our schedule for some special travel opportunities. I can’t wait to share them with you through this blog!
I’ll introduce you to my crew as we go along. For now, I will tell you that my husband, Kevin, is my heart. He shares my love of travel and for our kids. We have three sons and one daughter. My mom, aka Nana, just moved in with us as well…like five days ago. I’m sure that she will be in on some of our adventures–unless she decides that the quiet house without all of us is more appealing some days! I want to invite YOU to journey along with us, too. I can’t wait to see where the path leads!