Category Archives: Vacation Fun

Vacation Planning Tips

Vacation Rental

We just got back from a week away in Northern Wisconsin. This area was a first first for us and we really enjoyed the change from the Black Hills where we had travelled 3 years in a row!

I had a few people ask how we planned this trip so I thought it would be fun to write a short post about some of the tips I have learned doing this sort of thing the past 4 years.

We have always chosen to rent a home from VRBO. Hotels can be really expensive per night and most don’t accommodate a family of 6 without having 2 rooms. Dominic’s parent’s travelled with us so renting a home where we have space for 8 and a place to cook meals was top on my list of priorities.

Having done this several times I will say we haven’t yet had a house we didn’t love. No not everything is perfect, but with a little planning and flexibility we always walked away blessed at the rentals.

When searching for a rental you should consider the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you will want as well as your budget and the area of the country you want to stay. We specifically wanted something on a lake so we could do some fishing each day.

Lake home

We found a amazing cabin with lots of space, a hot tub (or hot pool if you ask Karlena) and a private mini golf course in the back! It was homemade by one of the owners kids and was lots of fun!

Most owners list the types of amenities that each rental will have. Consider the types of meals you normally prepare and ask in advance if they have the necessary “tools” to accommodate you.

For instance I had planned 4 specific meals in advance and 2 of them were soups that my family loves. White chicken chili and taco soup. I typically cook it in a crock pot but often times the homes we rent only have small crocks available. I was going to bring my own, but we ended up buying a new one while we were there.

On two of the days before we left for our adventures I prepared the meals and set them in the crock on low. When we came home we didn’t have to fuss with a bunch of cooking we just set the table and ate!

Another tip would be to make lunches for the road.

I purchased a bunch of snack items and then we also had sandwich meats and breads available. Everyone got to choose what they wanted, and we prepared them in advance and then didn’t have to stop for fast food during the middle of the day. People could eat when they were hungry and we saved tons of money on not eating out.

Bring along sandwich baggies and a sharpie when you are packing for your trip. That way when you make your lunches you can easily label whose sandwich is whose on the front of the baggie.

We live in MN where we don’t pay sales tax on our groceries. We travel to states where they do pay sales tax…so for us I have always purchased a bunch of the food in advance and packed it in Rubbermaid tubs to bring with us.

This allows you to not have to stop the first day for groceries. I also always fry up some hamburger and chicken and freeze it in advance. It adds a nice ice substitute to the cooler and when you are ready just thaw and use.

That brings me to the most awesome cooler ever and a must have on a road trip vacation like this one. We bought a Coleman Refrigerator Cooler  last summer after we borrowed my parent’s the summer before.

Coleman Cooler

It plugs into an outlet in your car and keeps things cool and has an additional plug so you can bring it into the house and plug it into a wall outlet. This was the perfect cooler for our sandwiches and waters. We froze several waters and put them on the bottom that added extra cooling when the car wasn’t running.

It is expensive at $100, but we have used ours for 2 years and it was a worth while investment!!

And finally (or at least for now) packing.

I have a 31 medium tote that I use for each of our kids. They know which bag is theirs and can get themselves a new outfit easily. When they were smaller I would pack full outfits in gallon baggies and they could grab a baggie and go!

I do tend to over pack. Next year I am scaling it back because the reality is I do laundry each day so I don’t need to pack a weeks worth of clothes.

I know for some doing laundry seems crazy, but after this trip I came home with all clean clothes except for 1 small load. I didn’t have to spend our last day before entering the real world again doing loads and loads of laundry. Win for me for sure!  And make sure to pack some detergent and dryer sheets so you don’t have to buy it once you get there!

Well that is probably enough for this post…what are some of your best vacation planning tips? I’d love to hear them!

A South Dakota “Bacation” (goes to Wyoming) – Part Six

Alright, last but not least I have to share about our South Dakota, turned Wyoming, vacation stop! I haven’t ever been to Devil’s Tower, I have seen pictures, but it was another few hours farther West.

We decided that if we got going on our last full day at a reasonable time, it would be worth it to make the drive over the border to Wyoming because we were already so close.

Man was it worth it! What a site!

Devils Tower 1

It is pretty amazing seeing these rolling hills and then this tower of rock dominating the landscape!

Devils Tower 2

Devils Tower 3

Devils Tower 4

Once we parked there was a trail that some of us decided to hike around the base of the tower.

Devils Tower 5

Devils Tower 6

You almost can’t see it, but at the far left of the tower (picture above) a little more than halfway down, there was a climber. There were several actually and they need permission to go up! I am sure Isaac is planning a trip back there some day to do just that!

Devils Tower 7

Devils Tower 8

Apparently there is a wooden ladder on one side of the tower…you could look through these spyglass deals and see it. Karlena didn’t fully understand she needed her eye open though! 🙂

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Birds circling the top.

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This tree was so interesting and unique I had to take a picture!

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Here are the prayer bundles that they warned about touching!

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The hike around the tower was a little over a mile. Karlena led the way most of the time.

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It was a wonderful way to spend our last day of vacation!

Devils Tower 18

Have you ever been to Devil’s Tower?

A South Dakota “Bacation” – Part Five

I don’t know that you can take a trip to South Dakota without stopping through Custer State Park. What a beautiful part of the State!

After our pontoon ride on Thursday we were only an hour or so away from Custer so we headed down that way. Our first stop was the Needles Highway.

Custer State Park 3

HUGE rock formations and narrow driving paths make this a fun adventure. Unless you are a over sized motor home who has come to a narrow, one-way tunnel and you have a line of traffic behind you and you can’t go forward, and you can’t turn around. It was a bad day for that family!! (I wish I had taken a picture – they had to close that section of the Needles Highway for a time!)

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There were several spots to get out and climb (this mama’s worst nightmare as my kids scaled up the sides of the rocks)

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Karlena would have loved to do this on her own!! I on the other hand thought Dominic had to go with her!

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The we decided to head to the Custer Wildlife Loop in hopes to see some Bison.

It was HOT and sunny and I think all of the animals were hiding in caves somewhere….thus no wildlife, and no pictures…

Oh wait we saw a smooshed snake in the middle of the road. I didn’t take a picture 😉

On our way back home we were heading through Custer (the town) and saw Scott’s Rock Shop. It was a find after a disappointing bison search. We were probably there over an hour and we spent WAAAAY too much money on rocks and treasures but the kids loved it and if I am honest the adults did too!!

If you head to South Dakota, Custer State Park is a MUST stop!

A South Dakota “Bacation” – Part Four

In the middle of the week we took a morning and Dominic, Isaac and I went into Rapid City and had a tour of a potential college choice, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. It was a small campus, but we got a nice tour and if Isaac decides to pursue Engineering it will likely be a top contender. So crazy that we are having to makes these kinds of decisions already!

One thing I would say about vacations is to schedule in a down day. For almost every day we were in the Hills we were going, going, going. By Friday Gabriel asked if we could not drive somewhere and just stay home. So next year we are going to try and do that.

On Thursday morning we did something pretty fun, we rented a 22ft pontoon boat at Lake Sheridan. Gabriel really wanted to do some fishing, and my parents had done this with us last year when we were out there and it was a lot of fun, so we thought it would be fun again!

Lake Sheridan

We didn’t think of the idea until Tuesday so finding a place that had boats large enough for our group was difficult. The only boat we could find during a 3-day period was Thursday from 8am-1pm. It seemed early in the morning and I was worried it would be cold, but the day ended up being perfect!

Karlena fishing

Karlena caught the first of 4 fish. It was the cutest thing ever! Once it got in the boat she wanted to look at it but didn’t want to touch it! 🙂

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I even caught a fish, we got 4 rainbow trout. It was awesome. Elijah posed with the one I caught!  I felt bad because Gabriel didn’t catch anything that day but it was still a blast.  The boat had a fish finder on it so the kids would watch that and then yell that a “big one” was coming!

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It was perfect weather, got a little warm even. But we had snacks and juice pouches etc. with us so it was a wonderful time on the water…even wore Karlena out completly!

Lake Sheridan

If we ever go back out there we will definitely do this again. It was only $165 for the 5 hours, the pontoon was plenty big for our group and the lake was beautiful! Fishing in a pontoon is so much easier than a small fishing boat because the kids had plenty of room to walk around and it didn’t sway the boat any.

We even did some swimming, well the bigger kids did. But the water was ice cold so they stuck really close to the boat. Karlena even wanted to go in so Isaac helped her a little, but once her legs got in that cold water she was over it! 🙂

Have you ever rented a boat like this? What was your favorite part?!

A South Dakota “Bacation” – Part Three

For those of you sticking along with all the vacation posts, thanks! 🙂 I know it can get boring to read about someone else’s vacation…but I wanted to post these so that I don’t forget everything we did. I didn’t do this last year, I did 1 big post I think and there were so many things I wished I had written down. So this is all about me! 😉

The only tough thing about vacationing with a large group is deciding what we should do each day! We had a range of ages between adults and kids and so tried to find things that we could do that worked for everyone.

We decided to check out Wonderland Cave on Tuesday.

Wonderland Cave

There are several caves in South Dakota that you can explore. This cave was about 30 minutes from our rental home and had the least amount of steps…so we thought it was the best bet for everyone.

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Gabriel and Elijah waiting for our tour to begin.

Wonderland Cave 3

Karlena loved this covered wagon…it would have been even better with real horses. She wants to ride a horse SO bad!

Wonderland Cave 4

After a short hike down a trail we came to the entrance of the cave. Our tour guide Kyle was quite a character…he made the tour interesting to say the least! 🙂

Wonderland Cave 5

Wonderland Cave 6

Caves are pretty cool. Have you ever been in one? The only downfall was the steps were pretty steep and because of all the rain they had had the week before we came the steps were wet. A little scary at times, especially with the little ones!

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They called those formations bacon! 🙂

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The tour was about 45 minutes long and the kids loved it (well all except our niece Ari…she just turned 2 and wanted to walk on her own, but because of the slippery steps she couldn’t so she was upset about that! 🙁  But I think all in all it was a fun experience for everyone.

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A random picture of Isaac that he actually let me take of him! 🙂 Have to have something for his senior graduation party!

A South Dakota “Bacation” – Part Two

The first full day we spent in South Dakota was a little cold and windy. We decided to take a drive out to Spearfish Canyon. I wasn’t a smart mama and didn’t pack a jacket for anyone…it was sunny and warm when we left the house and after we drove for awhile, the weather got much cooler! Lesson learned – always pack a sweatshirt/jacket even if it seems we won’t need one!

Road Selfie

My only South Dakota Selfie! 🙂

Spearfish Canyon is really beautiful. You drive through and there are so many beautiful things to look at and these little pull-off areas where you can park, hike and explore.  Even though it was colder, because we were down in the canyon it wasn’t windy like it had been in Deadwood when we had driven through there earlier that morning.

Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish Canyon

When we planned to be out for the full day we would pack lunches and bring them with us. Saves money and time, and we could eat whenever we wanted to without having to find a restaurant for 16 people!

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The kids loved being able to explore for “treasures”…searching for cool rocks with different colors kept them busy for a long time!

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Karlena Rock Hunter

Throughout the canyon there are a couple of different waterfalls to stop and take pictures of.

Spearfish Canyon Waterfall

We had lunch by this one!

Spearfish Canyon Waterfall 2

Elijah was REALLY excited about seeing this waterfall!

Elijah Waterfall Celebration

He was running around and celebrating, it was hillarious!

Isaac

Isaac enjoyed the climbing the most. Any place we stopped he looked for places to climb. Once again this mama’s heart skipped many a beat watching him scale the rocks!

We had a fun day in Spearfish Canyon – have you ever been there? Dominic and I were there in late October one year and hoped to see the colors changing, but we were about a week late and  it snowed that weekend so all the leaves were falling! 🙂

A South Dakota “Bacation” – Part One

Our family was blessed to be able to spend over a week away from home, vacationing in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I wanted to post while we were there, but I have read that one needs to be careful about blogging about a vacation during a vacation for security reasons…so I kept it quiet until we got back.

Karlena kept calling it our “bacation”…and the name stuck!

It is a LOT of work getting ready for vacation isn’t it? I was stressed before we left, but when we hit the road on Saturday afternoon we were all excited to go. It is fun to see the changes in scenery and one of the first things we noticed were fields and fields full of this yellow plant.

Fields of "moo-stard"

I asked Dominic what it was and he said it was “moo-stard” plants. Later in the week we were told it was sweet clover (boo)…fields of moo-stard (the Grey Poupon type) is a much more fun thought!

We decided to drive only 1/2 way the first day. Our kids don’t love being in the car for long drives…and staying in a hotel with a pool is a rare treat…so we did that. On Sunday morning we got up early and drove through the Badlands. Karlena wanted to go through the “Goodlands” instead….she was afraid of the Badlands.

Until she got there and we got out so the kids could climb around.

Climbing in the Badlands

Karlena has AMAZING skills when it comes to scaling rocks with no help. I had near heart attacks multiple times that week. She has NO fear! Dominic said it is as though she can look at the rocks and visualize the path she needs to take and she does that. I would have felt better if she were wearing a harness!

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Gabriel climbing as well!

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The only picture Dominic and I took together and I don’t think we got a single family picture…although I took over 100 pictures every day!

We went on to Wall Drug, which was crowded and overpriced…but it was fun to walk through for an hour or so. Riding the horse was the most fun Karlena had! She is obsessed with riding a horse! 🙂

Wall Drug

We rented a home near Nemo, SD. Dominic’s parents, his brothers and their families joined us as well. The house was in a remote, yet great location for us to travel throughout the Hills every day. We saw a deer each night around 7pm and on our final morning there we had a flock of wild turkeys. (Neither of which I was able to get pictures of!)

Black Hills

When I hiked out from the back of our house I came to a clearing and this was my view. It was beautiful. I got some great videos of the wind and the grass and trees…I have a post idea just for that and will hopefully share soon!

God’s majesty was just so evident here. I know that it is all around us, but here, in a place with little cell service and no distractions…I just was more aware than ever of how amazing this planet of ours is!

I have lots more to share with you….but want to break this up for my families sake…so we can remember everything. So be back with more soon! 🙂

Where have you vacationed recently? I am looking for ideas for next summer already! 🙂

 

 

Vacation to Virginia!

Dominic and I rarely take vacations on our own. And when I say rarely I mean like never. We have take vacations with family, and gone on a few work trips – but this was really a first for us where we planned a little getaway just us with really no “plans” but to visit his brother Ben and wife Mary and tour a little bit of Virginia.

We were fortunate that my parents agreed to come and be with the kids while we were gone. It is a lot to take on 4 kids, and our kids are a little wild and crazy – so we knew it would be a challenge but the kids had a wonderful time with their grandparents and it was nice to know they were in good hands!

Quarry

Look a quarry – 😉 Little inside joke from our flight into Dulles!

Ben and Mary live just outside of Washington DC so we had access to several places in and around DC. We had not taken time to do much research into where we wanted to go but we had been to DC over 10 years ago on a work trip and had seen all the monuments so we didn’t HAVE to see those this time.

When Ben and Mary picked us up we went to eat and then they took us to this grocery store called Lottie’s. They had a HUGE amount of different fruits and vegetables, fresh fish etc. Lots to just see and take in. But they brought home several fruits to try – one was this….

Exotic Fruit

Some friends on FB knew what this was right away – if you haven’t seen this picture yet any guesses on what it is??

We decided to take a little trip out to Baltimore on our first full day there and see the Baltimore Aquarium.

It was fantastic and one of my favorite days of the entire week.

Baltimore Aquarium

I took so many pictures – the jellyfish were my favorite though!

Jellyfish

We even got a picture with Ben in the background!

Museum with Ben

I asked friends on FB where they would recommend we eat in Baltimore and a few of my friends actually grew up there. Sarah recommended the Rusty Scupper and we could see it across the bay so because it was so nice outside we took a walk and worked up an appetite!

Rusty Scupper

The food was sooo good. They had this bread they brought to the table first that was the most amazing bread I have ever had. Seriously it was that good. Dominic and I both got one of their fresh fish choices and we weren’t disappointed! And we were seated right next to the windows so had an excellent view.

The next day Ben took us to the Air and Space Museum near their house.

ir and Space Museum

This was cool – not my favorite part of the trip but I can only look at planes for so long. 😉 The Space Shuttle Discovery was pretty cool though.

Space Shuttle Discovery

On Monday we took the bus and then the Metro into DC so that we could go to the Natural History Museum.

Natural History Museum

These museums are HUGE. There is so much to see and to read….we just couldn’t get through it all. I really enjoyed the Rocks and Minerals section. I took a bunch of pictures to share with Gabriel. He loves things like that and I thought we might be able to use them for a science fair project in the future!

Rocks at History Museum

We also saw the Hope Diamond….

Hope Diamond

We very quickly walked through the Bones and Mummy exhibits. But this swordfish was pretty awesome!

Swordfish

We decided  to head to Fogo De Chao for lunch.

Fogo

If you have never been there it is what I called a Meat restaurant. They have a salad bar but you really go there for the meat. And boy could Dominic and Ben eat. We were all so full when we left it was silly. Expensive, but an experience and a lot of fun!!

We decided we needed to walk off some of our lunch so we went over to the Natural Art Museum. When we got there we only had 20 minutes before they closed so we didn’t get to see much. I was less impressed with the artwork and more impressed by the architecture of the actual building. Beautiful!

Art Museum

We knew that Chinatown was supposed to be close so we started walking to try and find it. At this point my feet had reached their limit and I was getting tired so I was a little (ahem) crabby. Turns out Chinatown in DC is nothing like the Chinatown we saw in San Francisco so we walked through quickly and took the Metro home.

Tuesday was out last full day there and we went into DC early again so that I could see DeLonna in person again. I am SO glad that we got to connect again. It was so much fun being roomies at Allume but it was nice to see her in her element!

DeLonna

We had a quick lunch, found out where a good cupcake shop was and then walked to go explore the Botanical Gardens a little before she had to go to work.  Dominic and Ben ended up seeing more of the gardens than I did because DeLonna and I spent more of our time catching up and laughing!! 🙂

Botanical Gardens

But this was pretty cool – apparently they have been growing this since 2010 – lots of time to make it this beautiful!

It was much colder on Tuesday than it had been all week so spending a lot of time outside wasn’t an option. So we headed back to Ben and Mary’s house to relax a little before going to the ballet at the Kennedy Center!!

Ballet

When we first got to Virginia, we were talking about what we could do that was different and we saw that there was a new ballet opening on our last night there.  None of us had ever been to a ballet but we thought it could be fun so we got tickets!

It was really cool! The costumes were amazing and the dancers did a really good job. The only hard thing about a ballet is that there isn’t words…so if you don’t know the story it could be hard to follow. For the most part we knew what was going on but the storyline was modified a bit for dance so there are a few unanswered questions….but it is something I would do again!!

We got home pretty late on Tuesday night and had a mid-morning flight on Wednesday. It was a long day traveling home with layovers and then a 2hr drive from the airport to home. But it was a wonderful time away. We both feel blessed that we had the opportunity to do this together!

Next trip….somewhere warm! 🙂  What has been your favorite vacation away??

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