Tiny Salutations

Tiny Salutations


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Travelling with kids on a shoestring budget

Traveling advice for the family just in time for labor day weekend!

Also, since many of my posts are not particularly happy- our health updates often being negative and sometimes intense- I wanted to share some happy posts.

Driving into the sunshine
So if you have read my blog posts from this summer, you know that travelling did not go quite as I had envisioned.  I think that it did not go as smoothly as planned for a few reasons.  First, we were travelling, but not really vacationing.  We still had to make doctors appointments all over the place nearly every weekday, many of them 4 hours away from the one the day before.  If we had no appointments to make, we could have chosen places that were easier to camp at and not change our camp location every day.  Second, we were moving.  This, to me, seemed like something that was good timing and may have been so if it was just my husband and me.  But no.  Layne was so upset about moving and changing everything at once that he shut down and just couldn't handle it.  He has a very difficult time sleeping in a new environment, our truck conversion being no different.  This has worn on us a lot, even in our new home after being here for a month and a half, as he is still not sleeping.  Some days he would simply get only two hours of sleep, so my husband and I too only got two hours of sleep.  All in a matter of days, we stopped going to physical therapy (with a therapist that he was pretty attached to), started several new daily medical routines, left our house and all familiar surroundings and routines.  Too much for a little boy with autism, sensory processing disorder, and somewhat intense medical needs. 

Does that mean everything was a failure?  No!  Did we have some fun?  Yes! 

As a teenager, I used to travel a lot.  I worked full time and went to college full time and played full time.  I have always had wanderlust.  The way I travelled as a teenager has had to be tweaked now that I have become both the mother of a special needs kid and disabled myself.  But it is still doable and I want to give hope to those who feel hopeless about travelling in similar situations.

I often hear that people feel like they cannot travel due to finances, and I would like to offer some advice in this area.  I am pretty good at making money stretch, and it all comes down to thinking ahead and trying new things.  There are many ways that you can minimize your expenses on vacation. 

First, be realistic. Obviously, coming from Washington, a trip to say, France, would not be in our budget, and it is not realistic to expect that with our income.  So here is how we travel....

How to get there?  Our family travels by car and the smaller the budget, the closer to home.  Every trip is a road trip, and we don't really have a destination so much as a journey.  I find that often times, the stops along the way that I didn't expect at all or didn't expect much from end up being some of the most memorable stops.  Some families loathe road trips, because riding in the car is not much fun for the little ones.  I suggest two things, make a lot of stops and find small games that will make it fun.  For example, on one of our road trips this summer, I made a scavenger hunt.  This was a list of things to try to spot while on the trip that Layne could enjoy, like a butterfly or a sea stack, etc.  Another game that is fun for Layne is a funny face photo shoot.  He often is not responsive to a 'look at me' type of photo shoot, but he does love to make funny faces, and if timed right can be a lot of fun.
He is the most expressive kid I have ever seen

How to stay?  We always camp.  Hotels are expensive, usually not worth it, and often one night at a hotel is nearly our entire trip budget.  The only exception to this is if the trip IS the hotel, which in my case, it better be something really special and only for one night.  So anyways, with my limited mobility, I have found that our truck conversion was much superior to camping in a tent.  We will always use the truck conversion from now on.  It was simple and cheap to build (about $50).  We stay totally dry- no waking up soaked as often happens in WA- and I expect it will be much warmer in the cooler seasons.  We don't have to set up a tent, which means no trying to corral a dog and toddler while trying to set up a tent in complete darkness (I often get so busy playing that I forget to get back to camp before dark!), and also means when you are ready to go in the morning, you just drive away, not much needs to be done.  Also, (can you tell I love the truck conversion?), you are pretty safe from whatever gives you the creeps.  My husband and I had an unpleasant cougar encounter at our campsite in the middle of the night in autumn with the nearest help much too far once, so this is a good one if you may be going away from the big campgrounds... which leads me to my next point....

Our truck conversion

Where to stay?  One word: boondocking.  This means different things to different people, but I think most agree it at least means free (or very cheap) camping.  Now my limit before I start to cringe to pay for a camping spot is $12 per night, although I appreciate free.  Now where some people disagree is basically the scenery (i.e., are you camping more in a urban paring lot or in a remote wilderness scenario?).  I tend to stay away from urban areas, because the things I am afraid of that go bump in the night are desperate people (I like to think that people that do bad things are desperate people, not bad people).  Now, I would suggest that you do some research online before heading out.  Free campsites are out there, but they are not overly abundant.  My suggestion would be to pick an area you would like to visit, say the WA coast, then write down all of the boondock sites you can find online.  Some good places to start your search are the DNR, BLM, and National Park websites.  I would also suggest Googling the area in general, for example "boondocking WA".  You will likely find websites that have some lists of out of the way places you wouldn't have found.  Then mark all of your boondock sites on a map and write them on a list.  They are often a bit difficult to find and are not well marked, especially those on logging roads.  Make sure before you set up for the night that you are sure you are in a safe and legal spot to camp.  Also, if you do use logging roads, it is very easy to get lost up there, so keep track of where you came from and use precautions (like GPS, or tell someone when to expect to hear from you next, as many cellphones don't work up there) to not get lost.  That being said, logging roads can also be some pretty amazing camping experiences.  During our two weeks on the road in July, I think we paid only a total of $10 in camping fees.  On another trip in May, we paid NO camping fees.  Also, just to be clear, these places pretty much never have facilities past a basic, often vault, toilet and a water spigot, and many don't even have these.  I would highly doubt you will find one with actual RV hookups.  I mean, it's free, so you can't expect everything.

Camping near an inlet

Right on the beach

Camping on the logging roads- very secluded and pretty

Camping close to the ocean beach

What to do?  Here is one place that you can save a lot, but where sometimes it's okay not to too.  State parks, national parks, and historic sites are usually our big stops on our travels.  Since being in my wheelchair, this one has become difficult.  I used to hike.  A lot.  On average probably 15-20 miles a week.  I was just always in the woods or on the beach, which I suppose is why I was driven to become a biologist.  Now, we have to look for ADA accessible trails, which are just not the same, and there are a shameful number of.  Even then, our son gets tired very easily from his lung disease.  Historic sites are usually a little better for accessibility than parks, but often parks will have one very short trail that is accessible.  We can usually still find some good spots to enjoy ourselves in nature for a bit every day on our road trips.  Another way to have some family fun for free is to take a stroll in the character laden downtown or historic area of nearby towns.  A good one, especially if you are coming from an urban area, is to go to a U-pick farm.  Fresh small farm crops are pretty amazing, a great way to pass a day, and are often surprisingly cheap.  Another sometimes free way to have fun is to catch a fair or festival.  Often times festivals are free, because they expect they will make money off of the vendors, who in turn make money off of the food and wares they sell.  Some festivals do charge an entry fee, so make sure that before you plan your whole trip around a particular festival, you know what you will be charged.  They can be a lot of fun and good memories though.  For example, in WA there are a number of pioneer fairs, county fairs, logging and gold mining fairs, renaissance faires, and kite and sand festivals.  The biggest expenses for vacation entertainment tend to be zoos, aquariums, and museums.  I love these types of places.  I really do.  So I usually pick a few throughout the year that I would like to see, and save aside the money.  There are often smaller versions of these outside of the big cities that are next to free.  Sometimes they take some looking, but they are there.  If you have a family of say, four, and admission to a museum costs $15 per person, that doesn't seem like a lot for one person, but four of you adds up ($60, in case you are reading this at midnight once the kids have finally stopped fighting sleep).  If you really can't live without them, look into packages that allow you to see multiple attractions for a discount (you will probably have to ask!).  Mostly though, get your kids outside!  It's free.  Well, okay, you usually have to buy a pass for the year, but then it's free.
And if you are disabled, or have a child who is, always ask if they have a disability discount.  For people with disabilities, you can get a lifetime Access pass to all National Parks for free.  Yes, you can go to any National Park in the US for free for your whole life.  That's probably due to the fact that often there is not a whole lot of accessible space, but the pass is still very worth it.  Look here (www.nps.gov).  There are other awesome deals for seniors and military families. 

Exploring around a beach grass area

Exploring in the woods

Exploring in the mountains

Exploring at a Lewis and Clark historic site

What to eat?  Now this is the one that I always fall short on.  I always have good intentions, then never stick to my guns.  You will want things that are easy to prepare, everyone will eat, and can be transported easily.  I'm still working those details out.  I will say though.  You will save a ton of money if you can plan ahead and bring your ingredients with or use a grocery store or farmer's market.  Eating out at restaurants or fast food is so very expensive for every meal on the road.  This money will take up a lot of your money without making you feel like it is.  $20 here, $15 there.... suddenly oh man, you spent $250 on food this week, crap.  A way to still get a feeling of being on vacation and immersed in where you are going, pick a special treat that makes you feel, well, special.  Maybe that's handmade ice cream, or coffee, or a scone.  Another good way to get the local flavor is through farmer's markets and U-pick farms.  Often even at U-pick farms, they have some already picked if accessibility is an issue (or you don't like picking, is that a thing?).  Farm experiences are another good way to keep the kids entertained.  Having a family with special needs often means special diets anyways, so you can save the fighting between family members about what's for lunch by having it solved before it's an issue. 

Great Farmer's Market treat- 5 honey sticks for $1 can't be beat

Farmer's Market produce (leeks)

Last, but not least, what to buy?  I never thought of this as really an issue before.  I'm not really into buying stuff, but I do like books.  Often I find myself looking for that perfect thing that only costs $1, or trying to pick between the five good books I will never find anywhere else (flash forward to the fact that the internet exists, and I will find it, but still somehow have this mindset).  Many people do get weighed down by these expenses though.  I find that with disabilities there is always that one things that you didn't bring since you didn't expect___________.  Those add up, and they are a bit tough to nail down.  For example, when you didn't expect to go through that much thickener, then have to search through nearly 150 miles before you find just the right one, because when it is 90F out (or any time, actually), you can't just say 'maybe you can just wait to drink any fluids for the next five days?'.  But when it comes down to it, do you really need a T-shirt from each beach town that you are only going to wear to bed anyways or shove to the back of the closet?  It's good to either set a limit, like $10 during the whole trip, or decide what you might like to look for ahead of time.  Or just enjoy yourself and don't really worry about souvenirs anyways.  I know some kids have a tough time with this, in which case, I suggest the limit.  I think you'll be surprised, if you can stick with it, what they will hold out for.

I hope I have inspired someone to take their family out on an end-of-summer trip down what will be your kids' memory lane someday, even if all you have is a shoestring budget.