Welcome to Part 1 … or we’ll call it Exit 1 of the recap of our Great American Road Trip with Kids (and on a budget)! Exit 1 takes us on Route 66!
For the next few weeks I’ll be recapping our 2019 vacation that took us to nine national parks, and two old West towns, in 11 days.
But it won’t just be a recap of our vacation, so don’t tune out yet!
No, it’ll be an informational guide for anyone – especially families – that are interested in visiting these places.
Want to follow along with us on this journey? Awesome! See those buttons on the right? Below “Follow Us … Totally Worth It”? Not those … yah, those. You can follow us through RSS feed, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
We’re giving you our recommendations and non-recommendations (or highlights and lowlight) for a Great American Road Trip with kids (and on a budget). This will include tips and tricks, what there is to do, how kid-friendly each place is, how you can do it on a family-friendly budget, and what you’ll need for that portion of the trip.
We did the entire trip on about $1,000 (gas, campgrounds, food, hotels included). Yes, we’re thrifty so that helps, but the real reason we were able to do the entire trip for that low was …
Take a 4th Grader!
The U.S. Government has a program called “Every Kid Outdoors“.
About Every Kid Outdoors
Every Kid Outdoors is a program where every fourth grader gets a free pass into any and all national parks.
Why fourth graders? According to the Every Kid Outdoors site, “We chose fourth graders because research shows that kids ages nine to 11 are beginning to learn about the world around them…and they are likely to connect to nature and our history.”
But it’s not just the fourth grader that is admitted free, the pass also allows all children accompanying the fourth grader, and up to three adults, to enter the parks for free.
Vehicle entrance fees are also waived for the vehicle your fourth grader is riding in.
We saved over $150 in fees, thanks to our daughter. Not only does your fourth grader save you money, but the U.S. National Park Service has a wonderful Junior Ranger program that the kids will love to take part in.
The kids complete activities, return their packet to the Park Ranger, recite the Junior Rangers motto, and earn a badge.
Plan your trip today by clicking here!
We’ll talk more about traveling on a budget, including our Frugal Five Tips, written by the wife, and other tips for traveling with kids as we progress.
Please join us on this journey, and if you have questions, as always please drop them in the comments below, follow our Facebook page here, or email us at email@example.com.
Great American Road Trip with Kids (and on a budget): Exit 1 – Route 66
A trip of a lifetime.
That’s the only way to describe the road-trip vacation we took in June 2019. Nine national parks, five states, two Old West towns, three kids, one minivan, eleven days.
I know, you just read “road-trip…three kids…one minivan…eleven days” and thought, “Trip of a lifetime?! More like you trippin’!”
I had been planning what I called the “Rock and Canyon” vacation for years. In fact, it was 2012 that it ranked No. 3 on my “Ten Vacations I Want to Take!” post. I had taken a smaller, yet similar, vacation when I was a kid and I still had fond memories of this. I wanted my kids to experience it, and at 14, 10 and 8, it felt like the right time to stuff them in the car for two weeks.
Like anything I’m passionate about, I put in a lot of research and self-study on creating the perfect itinerary. Did we want to leave North Dallas and head south, or do we want to head north? What gets us to where we’re going at the best time of the day? How much time can we spend at each place? Spreadsheets were involved. I created a PowerPoint to show to my family, a la Clark in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Be prepared for a lot of Griswold references, I definitely channeled my inner Clark on this vacation.
We decided to head north towards Albuquerque, New Mexico.
To make the 10-hour trek to Albuquerque more enjoyable for all involved, I threw in pit-stops on historic Route 66. It would take us off the main path, but unlike the lost minivans in Cars, we wanted to see the historic road that inspired the film.
Cars has long been a hit with our family. Our teen was two when the film was released and this was his first real movie he latched onto. Cars birthdays, Matchbox Cars, Cars race track, they filled our up life in 2006. Visiting some of the places that inspired the creators was fun, and brought back fond memories of his childhood.
Route 66 Rating (out of 5):
Age: All ages!
Cost: $0 … or whatever you’re hungry for at The Big Texan.
Mom’s Frugal Five Tip of the Day: Plan your meals. We brought a variety of items to make sure we still had tasty and nutritious meals every day. From sandwiches to burritos to tacos; you actually can get very creative with it. We also made trips to the grocery store to refill on food and snacks. We kept our cooler full with water bottles and other drinks we like so we didn’t have to stop at a fast food restaurant or gas station’s convenient store every time we got thirsty. Keeping stocked up on snacks prevents you from not only having to stop your trip to grab a quick snack, but from spending more money than expected. It also allows you to control the quality of the food you’re eating.
We agreed on two “big” meals the entire trip. Meaning two of the days we’ll stop at a restaurant and spend what a family of five spends on a meal. A national park trip is going to save you money on food no matter what since you’re likely camping and all you have to survive on are hot dogs and a fire pit.
Word of the Day: Route (noun) – a way or course taken in getting from a starting point to a destination.
Places Visited on Route 66: Shamrock, Groom, Amarillo, Adrian and Glenrio, Texas. Tucumcari, New Mexico.
- Shamrock’s Tower Conoco Gas Station inspired Ramone’s House of Body Art.
- Groom features a remarkable 19-story cross. Once there you’ll see a statue tribute to Jesus’ last day, including a recreation of the tomb he arose from.
- Amarillo is home to Cadillac Ranch and the World Famous The Big Texan Steak Ranch, where if you have the stomach for it you can attempt the 72-ounce Steak Challenge. It’s a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad with roll and … a 72-ounce steak. You have an hour to down all that to get your meal free. We watched a 15-year-old try and fail hard. But he tried!
- Adrian is the midpoint between Los Angeles and Chicago.
- Glenrio is a desolate town filled with old abandoned buildings, but it’s named inspired a hotel in Cars and the Little Juarez Cafe inspired an abandoned building in the film.
- Tucumcari has the historic Blue Swallow Motel.
The Johnson Five Recommends: We couldn’t pass up on not eating at The Big Texan. Our teen is a carnivore and it would be unjust if we smiled, waved and drove by without letting him get at a steak lunch.
Cadillac Ranch is free, but do bring your own spray cans, and pray that there hasn’t been rain the last week. We weren’t so lucky. Still, the kids loved it.
Drive thru downtown Tucumcari for the historical aspect, and do visit the cross at Groom.
The Johnson Five Doesn’t Recommend: Every time the wife was in the driver’s seat we were in some sort of weather watch. I’m not a great passenger, and her speeding down the Interstate during a torrential thunderstorm, and a “duck-and-cover” tornado warning, boosted my anxiety and left me praying like Jenny in the cornfields. We were in the middle of east New Mexico, what tumbleweed were we supposed to hide under?!
What You’ll Need – Get Them Here!: