Category Archives: Travel

Free family fun: Enjoy free entrance to national parks

Did you know that you can visit most of the national parks in the United States for free?

The U.S. has 405 national parks, and only 133 of those usually charge an entrance fee.

Free admission to national parks in the United States -

Glacier National Park – Montana.  Photo credit: tpsdave / Pixabay

Of course, the parks that have an admission fee include some of the most popular places to visit, such as the Grand Canyon National Park, Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Zion National Park, Olympic National Park, and Acadia National Park.

The good news is that the National Parks Service offers free entrance to national parks on certain days during the year.

It’s a great way to have some free family fun!

U.S. National Parks free entrance days in 2015

  • January 19: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 14-16: Presidents Day weekend
  • April 18-19: opening weekend of National Park Week
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 26: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

On these days, the entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees are waived. Separate fees may apply for reservation, camping, tours, and concessions.

Visit the National Park Service website for more information on the free entrance days and a list of participating national parks by state.  It’s important to note that not all of the national parks with an admission fee participate in the free entrance days, so check on the specific park you wish to visit.

Free entrance to national parks for military members and dependents

U.S. active duty military members and dependents have the option to get a free annual pass to enjoy the national parks.  The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series offers annual passes at no cost for Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard members and dependents – as well as Reserve and National Guard members.

Reduced U.S. National Parks entrance fees for seniors

U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over can obtain a $10 Senior Pass for the national parks.  It’s a lifetime pass available through the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series.

Visiting the northeast – our fabulous substitute vacation

Whew!  It’s been a busy couple of weeks – but they’ve been fun ones!  First, there were birthday celebrations for two of our kids who were born 5 years and 4 days apart.  Then a week of vacation.

This wasn’t just a regular vacation, but a last-minute-change-of-destination kind of vacation.

We were planning to go to Florida up until the day before we were supposed to hit the road.  Then we looked at the weather forecast.  Rain chances of 50-60 percent all week.  Two years ago we tried going to Florida despite that type of forecast.  That time, we got caught in a tropical storm that caused flooding all around our hotel and blocked the roads.  We spent some anxious time in our hotel room before escaping for South Carolina.  We were not going to take that chance again!

So it was 6:00 at night before we were scheduled to leave in the morning, and we were scrambling to cancel hotels and come up with a new plan.  The new itinerary revolved around the weather forecasts for any potential locations.  The weather looked clear in the northeast, so that’s where we pointed the car!

Our spur-of-the-moment trip was a lot of fun!  The kids had a bit of lingering disappointment over the canceled plans in Florida at the beginning of the week, but they enjoyed visiting a new area they had never been.  They’re all tracking how many states they’ve visited, and this trip added five new states: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.

We stopped in Pennsylvania for lunch with my hubby’s brother and his wife, then arrived in Providence, Rhode Island as our base for the week.  Hotels in Providence were less expensive than those in Boston, and it was a lovely, convenient location for exploring around New England.

We had a great time visiting the historical sites in Boston along the Freedom Trail walking tour.  It was a lot of history and walking, so it was definitely more appropriate now that we have older kids rather than littles!

Old South Meeting House

Boston’s Old South Meeting House.

Paul Revere gravestone Old Granary Burial Ground Boston -

Paul Revere’s gravestone at the Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston.

Paul Revere statue Old North Church Boston -

Paul Revere statue at the Old North Church in Boston.

Of course, we had to stop in Boston’s North End for cannoli.  Mike’s Pastry on Hanover Street had delicious cannoli that we enjoyed while stopping by the Old North Church.  The delicious cannoli was a highlight while visiting the northeast!

Cannoli Mike's Pastry Boston -

Cannoli from Mike’s Pastry in Boston.  Yum!

I did not enjoy walking across the Charlestown Bridge to get to the USS Constitution and the Bunker Hill monument, since the metal platform allowed me to see through to the river below.  Luckily the bridge was not too long.  And the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill monument were worth the trip across the bridge!

USS Constitution Boston -

USS Constitution.

Bunker Hill Memorial Boston -

Bunker Hill Memorial.

After walking through the city in the day, we tried the Boston Ghosts and Graveyards Tour in the evening.  My hubby, oldest son, and I enjoyed it.  Our two youngest kids were a bit afraid of the ghost stories during the tour.  For their sakes, I’m glad we took the earliest tour at 7:00 when it wasn’t completely dark!

Old Granary Burial Ground Boston -

Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston – seen at night during the Ghosts and Graveyards tour.

Since the trip from Boston to Maine is just a couple of hours, we headed north for part of a day to see the iconic Portland Head Light at Cape Elizabeth.  I had always wanted to do a Maine trip to visit the lighthouses.  We only stopped at the one lighthouse this time, but it was fun to visit!

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Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth Maine.

I didn’t use any filters or editing on these pictures from Maine.  It was really that beautiful when we visited.  Amazing!

Portland Head Light Cape Elizabeth Maine -

Another view of the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth Maine.

In Rhode Island, we spent a lovely day in Newport, which is a short drive from Providence.  It was a beautiful destination with a huge number of Colonial houses and big, beautiful mansions, along with a busy wharf, quaint shops, and even small beaches.

Historic homes Newport Rhode Island -

Historic homes in Newport, Rhode Island.

Mansions Newport Rhode Island cliff walk -

Mansions lining the Newport, Rhode Island cliff walk.

Easton's Beach Newport Rhode Island -

Easton’s Beach in Newport, Rhode Island, as seen from the cliff walk.

Newport Rhode Island wharf -

Boats at the Newport, Rhode Island wharf.

On our way back south, we stopped in Mystic, Connecticut and enjoyed lunch at Mystic Pizza – famous for the movie of the same name, of course.  It was good pizza and the town was lovely.

Mystic Pizza Connecticut -

Mystic Pizza in Connecticut.

The drive through Connecticut and New York on Interstate 95 was very slow on our way back home.  The primary backup was getting across the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey.  My brother-in-law had warned us that it was a very congested route, even though that’s what the GPS selected as the best way.  We learned our lesson and will take an alternate route on any future trips.

Traffic aside, we enjoyed our spontaneous trip to New England.  Apparently the rain in Florida wasn’t too bad on the days we were scheduled to be there, but no regrets on our substitute trip.  We made great family memories visiting the northeast for vacation!

Ten essentials in the car for traveling with kids

We tend to spend a lot of time in the car with the kids.  Whether it’s a family road trip (always an economical choice for vacations) or just an everyday type of outing, we log plenty of drive time.

Traveling with kids can be fun.  I love having the time together to chat.  But it’s not always easy.  From the “are we there yet” chorus to potential problems along the way, it takes some planning to travel well with kids.Car essentials for traveling with kids -

I like to be prepared.  Over the years, I’ve learned to keep 10 essential things in our car for traveling with kids – whether nearby or far from home.

Top 10 car necessities for traveling with kids

1. Travel first aid / road assistance kit.  I consider this the most essential item on this list.  We’ve used the travel first aid kit in our car many times.  Thankfully, we’ve only needed it for minor injuries – a bandage and some antiseptic ointment here and there.  To be safe, I have a AAA road safety kit (affiliate link) with lots of different components in case of various situations.  This kit includes jumper cables, flashlight, gloves, and more.  I have a sense of security with a first aid kit and roadside safety tools my car when I’m out with my kids – but I’m glad when we don’t need to use them!

2. Napkins.  When we stop for fast food on the go and the kids grab a mountain of napkins, I take the extras with me instead of throwing them away.  I stash them in my car glove box so they’re handy when we inevitably need them.  We use them all the time.  As much as I would love to ban all food and drinks from my car, I have to be realistic.  Snacks and drinks can’t always be consumed before or after a drive when you have a busy family.  And spills happen in the car.  Those napkins come in very handy.

3. Wet wipes/sanitizer.  Even after we cleared the diaper stage, I kept wet wipes in the car for the inevitable sticky situations that happen with little kids.  Now that my kids are older, I’m past the wet wipes stage, too.  But I’ll always carry sanitizer.  I consider it a mom’s best friend when the family is out and about!  The sanitizer handles all my germy and sticky situations now.

4. Plastic bags.  These are useful for stashing trash (like the napkins/wet wipes from numbers 2 and 3 above) until the next pit stop.  They’re also necessary for the carsick kid.  One of our kids gets motion sickness sometimes.  We’ve tried both Dramamine and sea bands for road trips and still found ourselves passing a plastic bag to a sick child.  We never know when or if it will strike, and it’s usually in an inconvenient place, where we can’t stop – like driving through the mountains in the rain, miles from the nearest exit.  Yep, plastic bags have been necessary many times in our car.

5. Sunscreen and sunglasses.  Even when you’re heading out on a cloudy day, the weather can change in an instant.  I vowed that I’ve been caught out in the sun with no sunscreen or sunglasses for the last time!  I just keep these things in the car now.  We all have multiple pairs of sunglasses, with one pair designated to stay in the car.  I also keep a small, inexpensive sunscreen in the car glove box.  Since I’ve read that sunscreen can become less effective being left in the extreme temperatures of a car, I don’t keep it more than a season, and it’s not our primary sunscreen.  It’s there just in case we don’t have our regular bottle of sunscreen.

6. Music/audio books.  For everyday driving, I have a family friendly selection of music handy.  For longer road trips, we always try to get some new tunes on deck for our listening pleasure.  Portable DVD players are also great for entertaining kids.  However, traveling with a child who gets motion sickness means DVDs are out – since looking at something stationary in the car can trigger the nausea.  Audio books are a great alternative to DVDs.  Classic audio books are fun for the whole family, while children’s books can cater to individual kids with their own ear buds.

7. Blanket.  I keep a blanket in the car during the winter in case of car trouble that leaves us out in the cold.  But I leave the blanket in the car during the summer, too.  It’s handy when someone’s too cold and others are warm.  It also makes a great pillow, and it’s perfect to use as a cover for things you want to leave in the car discretely while you’re out (like an iPod or a purse), especially if the blanket matches the interior car color.

8. Portable air compressor.  Along with the standard spare tire, jack, etc. that come in a car, I’ve added a small air compressor (affiliate link) that plugs into the car’s accessory power outlet.  We have used it many times on tires that get low on air.  I bought one for every driver in my family since I have found my portable air compressor so handy for dealing with my tires.  It’s also super convenient for pumping up balls for the kids at home or at the park.

9. GPS.  I think this is standard for most women these days.  We don’t have any problem admitting we need directions.  My hubby, on the other hand, does not like the GPS.  The voice drives him crazy telling him where to turn.  He tries to always look up the route in advance to get where he’s going without the aid of a GPS.  But when there’s a road closure, detour, or change in plans, even he will admit that the portable GPS navigator (affiliate link) is helpful.  It stays in the car, even when hubby doesn’t think we’ll need it.  I don’t go anywhere without it – just in case.

10. Cash/change.  Although you can find ATMs almost everywhere these days, I like to be prepared for those unexpected moments you need cash or change.  Sometimes you find yourself at a parking meter or garage, at a toll road you weren’t expecting, in need of a tip, etc.  It’s always good to have some money tucked away in the car for just such an occasion.

What about you?  Are there other things that you keep on hand in your car for traveling with kids?

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