The Drive Back: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado

On the road again!

After a glorious farm wedding on July 3rd, we were back in the car on the 4th to start our trip home!

As you can see from that first photo, most of us were unhappy about this …

Actually, Chris and I went back and forth quite a bit about extending our trip. We had booked refundable places to stay on the trip back, exactly for this reason. Ultimately, though, we decided to keep things as they were. We had jobs and summer camp and track practice and a home to get back to, as much as we would have liked to have stayed for longer.

It was Em’s first Fourth of July, and she spent it in the car! She didn’t seem to mind 😉

The Long Road Home

Rather than driving straight through — like we did on the way out — we planned for three stops on the way back home. We stopped at a Comfort Suites in DuBois, PA, an Airbnb in Vandalia, Ohio and a Sleep Inn in Oakley, Kansas. We would also be making some touristy stops throughout, to break the trip up even more.

After saying goodbye to our family (we hope to see you soon!), it was a “short” four-hour trip to our hotel in Pennsylvania. Even though we arrived late, a super-wired Grace caught some fireworks at the end of the night with Chris. The next day we took advantage of the awesome indoor pool and grabbed some breakfast before heading out.

One of my favorite photos from the trip was taken at a gas station on our way to a hotel … go figure.
This random pic at another quick rest stop was another gem <3
We love hotels! (And are also very excited to be out of the car!)
I mean, look at this awesome pool!
So fun!
Naturally, I enjoyed from afar 😉
Fun with luggage trolleys.

After pool time and breakfast in PA, we loaded up the car again and headed to our next stop — a playground/picnic and then a splash pad, both in Ohio.

This playground in Ohio was so cute, and totally empty!
We only stayed here for a quick run-around and to have a picnic, but Emilia approved.
We drove about an hour from the playground to this random splash pad in Ohio. It was on the smaller side, but on a 90+-degree day, it definitely got the job done!
Splash pads and playgrounds really take it out of ya!
And we were off … again!
Thanks Ohio … we’ll see ya later!

World’s Biggest Things — The Stop We Never Knew We Needed

The rest of the trip — about four hours — to our Airbnb in Vandalia — was a bit rough, if I’m being honest. We were all pretty over the car, somehow both tired and wired, at the same time. Luckily, about an hour outside of Vandalia, we saw a sign for some of the Big Things in the Small Town of Casey, Illinois, and made the split-second decision to pull over.

Man, oh man am I glad we did … because how much fun are these?!

Who knew big things could be so much fun?!
It was late, and starting to get dark, so we couldn’t see everything, but what we did see was so. much. fun!
World’s biggest rocking chair! (Allegedly …)
This is the world’s biggest wind chime!
Next was the world’s biggest golf tee!
Then onto the world’s biggest mouse trap?! I don’t know, but we loved it all!
What would it be like to write with the world’s biggest pencil?
I don’t think this was part of the actual attractions, but at this point in our trip I sure didn’t mind seeing my kids contained somewhere I wasn’t 😉
Checking out the world’s biggest mailbox!
There was a fountain behind the mailbox where you could throw in coins and make wishes. Bet you could guess what my wish was! (Hint: Getting to our next destination quietly was involved …)
Such an adorable town, and definitely worth a stop on your way by it!

Coffee, Dragons and Arches

After our pit stop in Casey, we still had a couple hours to our Airbnb in Vandalia, but luckily the stop did what it was meant to do — wear the kids out! They all fell asleep on the ride to Vandalia and, luckily, this Airbnb was glorious. Three bedrooms, two full bathrooms and a fully stocked kitchen with drinks and snacks. It was exactly what we all needed after a full day of travel.

This cutest little drive-through coffee shop — Shimoji Coffee — on the way out of Vandalia was so lovely!
The Kaskaskia Dragon is easy to visit on your way out of Vandalia! You can grab some coins at the store across the street to make him actually breathe fire!
About an hour later, we were at The Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
Chris and I visited the Arch on our drive out to Denver from New York when we moved here, but it has since gotten an upgrade to National Park status. The museum is amazing now, and the grounds have even gotten an upgrade. It’s definitely worth revisiting if you haven’t been back in a while!
The museum is so much fun!
There are a lot of fun things for kids to do and see, too.

After our Arch pit stop, it was back in the car for a few hours, until we stopped for gas and went for a quick detour for treats at the Ozarkland General Store

One of each, please!
After Ozarkland it was on to Topeka, Kansas, where we stopped for dinner at The Pennant. This restaurant was perfect, because it had games and bowling and plenty of run-around space for the girls. Plus, it was right downtown, which was fun to check out!

Downtown Topeka, Kansas fun!

After dinner we had a couple hours to our hotel in Oakley. We picked that particular hotel because it was just a few hours from there to our home in Colorado, and we needed to leave early Wednesday to get back.

Grace, exhibiting perfectly how we all felt waking up early on Wednesday to head home after our whirlwind trip.

And that, as they say, was that, friends! After countless miles, five hotels/Airbnbs and 11 states, we were back where we started! Being home felt lovely and completely odd, all at once. We are so grateful that we were able to have this experience, to see our people and to check out so much of the U.S.

At the end of the day, we wouldn’t have done anything differently … except maybe pay more attention to the rules of Dramamine earlier on in the trip. Sorry, Grace!

The Details

Here’s a quick look at all the places we stayed, visited and ate at during this leg of our trip:

The Finances

Now for the super fun part … the money! We likely would have spent less money on this trip had we flown, even factoring in the cost of the flights. Gas is incredibly expensive right now, which was one factor. We also decided ahead of time that we didn’t want to scrimp on this trip. After not traveling for more than a year, we wanted to stop where we wanted to stop, eat what we wanted to eat, and stay where we wanted to stay.

And it worked out because, like I said, we wouldn’t have changed a thing. Here’s how our finances broke down. We spent:

  • Hotels: $1581
  • Gas/Tolls/Parking: $770
  • Food/Groceries/Entertainment: $1112
  • Miscellaneous: $250

The grand total on this trip was almost $4,000 which, of course, is a lot of cash. Considering everything we did, though — including places stayed, food ate, things visited — for five people, it really wasn’t all that bad.

Plus, as the kids say, YOLO, my friends … YOLO.

And that was our trip! I hope each and every one of you — who has made it this far in this post! — has something equally as adventurous and amazing planned for the summer. Until next time, friends … bis bald!

1,834 Miles & 8 States: From Colorado to Brigantine, New Jersey

It was pure joy for all of us when we finally arrived in Brigantine after our overnight drive!

Happy Friday, friends! The photo above was taken the morning after we arrived in Brigantine, which was around 2 in the morning. Despite that early morning entry, someone (aka Lotte) was up and at ’em on Saturday morning, ready to start her vacay! I was totally here for that, so we hopped in the car and headed to get some Brigantine Bagels for the family while we waited for everyone else to wake up and for Steph & Brian & Rosalie to arrive … but I digress.

First …. we drove across eight states to get there!

We picked the girls up from summer camp around 1 MT and hit the open road!

We really wanted the girls to get one more day of summer camp in, and for Chris to work one more day, before we left for our trip. So we decided to leave right after picking them up on Thursday, around 1 pm MT. They were so excited when we got them, and totally ready (although possibly completely unaware of what it would really entail!) for the ride! We decided to head out via Nebraska, so we could add that state to our list, and to head back the same way we came when we drove out back in 2015 when we first moved here.

Driving overnight was a conscious decision we made to get to our destination more quickly (and to save on hotels), but we knew we’d be exhausted driving home, so we planned to break the trip up into three nights on the way back. Now, having completed the trip, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Driving through the night was hard at times, but the adrenaline really kicked in (for me, at least, the Red Bull kicked in for Chris), and it wasn’t as bad as you might imagine.

The Nebraska/Colorado state line

We were super excited for the girls to tick a bunch of states off their list as well, but unfortunately most of the state line signs were directly on highways, where it wasn’t safe to stop. We did get this doozy of a photo as we entered Nebraska, though ….

Such road trip newbies, just entering Nebraska from Colorado!

We also stopped in Nebraska for an extended period, since we found an amazing park that had multiple playgrounds, wild animals, a train museum, some amusement parks and fountains and so much more. If you ever find yourself on a cross-country trip with kids that includes Nebraska, I can’t recommend Cody Park in North Platte enough!

Fun animals in Cody Park
Cute playground equipment for all ages!
Lots of room to run!
The objective was basically to tire these kids out at all costs!
This felt particularly appropriate, considering our trip was over the July Fourth holiday.
Emilia was seriously a rockstar on this trip! She definitely enjoyed the moments when she was out of her carseat, though 😉
Always exploring.
Success!

Although it was a restless night for the older girls, they did manage to sleep most of the night (thank you, Benadryl, I have no shame in my game!), which I was forever grateful for. Emilia actually slept through the entire night for the first time ever! Maybe I should have her sleep in the car every night?

After Cody Park, it was a straight drive — with stops for gas — throughout the night, until we reached Chicago around 6 in the morning. We weren’t going to stop at first because it was raining, but we thought the girls could use a stretch, and I’m so glad we did! Visiting The Bean (Cloud Gate) in Millennium Park was one of my favorite memories from the trip. Plus, because we were so early, we were one of only a handful of people there.

Heading into Millennium Park which, by the way, doesn’t open until 8 a.m. Good to keep that in mind if you’re planning a visit!
We had to wait a couple minutes before we could get in, but this artwork installation nearby kept the girls occupied!
Such a fun place to visit with kids!
So cool, even in the drizzle!
We are all looking a bit rough after our night in the car! My little travelers, I love them so much <3
All the angles …
Pure delight … mostly at being out of the car!
.Chicago is such a beautiful city to visit, even if only for an hour!
Did I ask them to point to The Bean? Obviously 😉 My girls have gotten very good at following photo directions.
The cutest little Chicago tourist!
Puddle jumping … why not?!
Farewell, Chicago … until we meet again!

The last time I was in Chicago — for Chris to run the marathon — I didn’t get a chance to visit Millennium Park or The Bean, so it felt super special to go back with our kids.

After Chicago we pretty much bolted to Brigantine, with a couple of stops in between for gas and to get some wiggles out. It was an epic trip, and I only would have wanted to make it with these amazing people.

A couple things I learned along the way:

  • Dramamine only works when you administer it correctly … poor Grace!
  • The Office Ladies podcast is amazing to listen to on a forever road trip.
  • Keep an extra trash bag or two around, you will definitely need it!
  • Be up for anything and game for plan changes if you do this kind of trip with kids … it’s the only way to get out alive 😉

And that’s it, friends! I’ll be back next week with the first leg of our actual vacation … Brigantine Beach with family we’ve missed oh-so-much! Bis bald, friends!