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Drive across country (US) with kids

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We're planning a cross-country vacation in summer 2001 with my 2 girls who will be 7 and 10. Has anyone done this? Can't decide whether to rent an RV or stay in hotels. Do they rent RVs one way? I'd love to hear your tips.

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    We did the "semi-cross-country thing" last summer with our 10 and 7 year olds (going from Nebraska to D.C. and down the coast to North Carolina). We drove our Suburban and stayed in hotels--it was the best 2 weeks that I can remember but think that staying in an RV might have been a little too much togetherness. With the wide range of 'suite hotels' available now (our new favorite is Holiday Inn's Staybridge Suites) everyone has a little bit of private space after a long day of being cooped up in the car. One way of saving big time on hotel rooms is to get a hotel VISA or Mastercard. We have one from Holiday Inn and one from Promus (the Embassy Suites company) and rack up points for free rooms fairly quickly just by normal spending. Since your trip isn't for another 15 months or so this might work for you--just a thought.

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    I'm guessing the girls are delightful as their ages. I'd favor hotels/motels over the RV. Here's why: RV's get horrible gas mileage and the price of same is, at the moment, at an all time high. Driving and maneuvering RV's is challenging to say the least, especially in the cities and in parking lots of the "attractions". Do you REALLY want to confine yourselves to an RV? There are SO many really economical lodgings throughout the states (our favorite is Marriott's Fairfield Inns) with continental breakfast and pools, etc. included, which are far more appealing that being cooped up in a tiny RV. On the other hand, often you meet interesting and amusing folks at those RV camps. All in all, though, it's a matter of personal comfort and convenience weighed against the price. You'll just have to study both and determine which you find most appealing.

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    We did the RV thing for 2 weeks in western Canada when our kids were 7, 9 and 12. We had a great time. Pros: - can snack, sleep, watch tv, play board games, etc. You have your own clean bathroom whenever needed. If someone's not feeling well, they can sleep in the rear bedroom and you can keep going. No packing and unpacking, checking in and checking out.

    Cons: Too much togetherness for some - but when you've had enough, take a break once in a while and stay at a hotel. If you're not used to it, and even if you are, it's very difficult to drive and find parking in urban areas. Usually RV parks are away from the city limits, so you'll want to be sure there's tranportation to get into and around the city for sightseeing, restaurants, etc.

    If there is a breakdown of either and automotive or appliance (toilet, etc) nature, it's more difficult to arrange repairs.

    Make sure to travel with a current Woodall's camping guide. They rate campsights and describe amenities at each one.

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    Cindy: We've been on 3 long van vacations with our children--when they were ages 9 & 7, 11 & 9, and 13 & 11. We live in Minnesota and our trips have been to DC, California and Florida, so none has really been a "cross-country" trip, but they involved a lot of travel. On many of the days we spent 12-14 hours in the van. Things that have worked for us: LOTS of books, personal CD or tape players for each child, and on our last trip we borrowed a TV that is powered through the vehicle's cig. lighter. The kids loved that, although it was annoying to be sitting in front and have to listen to a movie I couldn't see. We also give them each a roll of quarters as spending money at the start of each trip. Every time they fight or whine, we take a quarter away. It works well with our kids.

    I vote for staying in hotels with pools. Swimming was a nice break for the kids after being in the van for hours on end. (We are hardcore; we even eat in the van on the days when travel is the primary itinerary. We have a cooler that is also powered by the cig. lighter. It's great--no need to deal with ice.)

    We have also found that an 11-day vacation is just right for us. Any longer than that and our kids are terribly homesick, even though we're with them. Obviously, you know your kids' personalities, but it's something to think about.

    I hope you have a great time!

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    I vote the camper, not hotels and here is why. As a child, may parent's packed up my brother and I TWICE and took 6 week trips around the country, across Canada, etc. Of course, this was the late 60's, early 70's, but I think my belief still applies. I remember everything about those trips fondly and vividly. If you stay in hotels, all there is to do is watch TV and maybe pla in the pool. In campgrounds, which varied from National Parks to parking lots, they generally have playgrounds, pools, etc. where you can run around. As a kid, you can also meet other kids from around the country. I recall campgrounds as being lots of fun. I don't know if it is still available, but back then, the national parks had a GOlden Eagle pass that you could buy before leaving that would give you discount entry into all national parks. There was usually a lake or stream or something for us to explore. Plus, at the national parks, there was often a talk at night by a park ranger where we could learn about animals or whatever.

    Now, the next question was about the RV. When my husband and I think about doing this when our kids get older, we do not plan to take and RV, but a pulled pop-up trailer, for the following reasons. First, an RV is so stuffy and closed in. Second, you can't just park it at the campground and drive your car to whereever, you have to take your camper with you. Third, a pop-up camper has the benefit of feeling a bit like a real "outdoor camping" experience, but has actually beds and a dinette inside. You get the mountain or beach breezes, but don't have to sleep on the ground. I don't know if you can rent pop-ups, but they are not that expensive to buy. Or used ones are real cheap (we have been watching the papers). Someone mentioned that you have too much togetherness in an RV. I can't imagine being stuck, everynight, in a hotel room with my parents. At least at the campground there was plenty of room to run around.

    AS someone else mentioned, every week or so, we would stay at a hotel.

    For meals, we had a coleman stove and Mom made simple meals or we grilled something or made sandwiches. Needless to say , this was before the days of the electric cooler, so we used ice! We also ate meals out, but, considering the budget we were on (my dad was a college professor) we did that rarely.

    Regarding togetherness, I guess it is a matter of what you are looking for. I have pleasant memories of board games, campfires, hikes, etc with my parents having nothing to do but hang out with us. Sharing things with my parents I never would have if there had been a TV in the middle of the room. Because the camper took some setting up, my parent's gave my brother and I certain jobs, so it was always a challenge to see how fast we could run through the motions and get the camper up. To make it easier, we often parked at one nice campground and then stayed for a couple of days and explored by car. The togetherness was the focus of the trip.

    Now, I understand, when saying this, that this may not work for you. If your girls (or you) can not even think of cooking on a camp stove, showering in a bathhouse (take your shower shoes!), or sleeping with night sounds out your window, then forget it and do the hotel thing.

    Oh, and one big piece of advice. If you are going places that are very crowded, like Yellowstone, research the campgrounds first. There are usually a couple in the thick of things and then some outside the main area in a national forest or something. The ones away from the main area are better. They are not as crowded and it is nice to come home from the crowds to your little place in the woods

    There are books that list and describe campgrounds, much like hotels. Understand that some are pretty bad. I recall one outside San Francisco that was no more than a parking lot with power plugs. Hey, who cared, we were in San Francisco. We ate in great restaurants and came home and passed out!

    I am sure this if far more than you wanted to know. Have a great trip and make some great memories for your girls!

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    Dear Cindy,
    I have just started planning our June 2001 driving trip also. Our children will be 10 and 9 at the time. Have you looked into RV rental prices? I did and found that staying in hotels will be much cheaper. I was almost relieved, because our instinct was to go that way anyway. We have a full size van, so we will drive it, although minivan rental is also an option.
    We estimate our trip will be about a month. We plan to go with budget hotels for the 1 night stays, and suite type hotels (even some with a kitchen) for the few night stays in the bigger cities. It averages to $100/night, and that is much cheaper than renting an RV! Good luck with your planning!

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    Cindy, you will be making some of the best memories of your life! We will be taking our 5th cross country trip this summer, with our kids, 13 & 16. Each trip is between 3-4 weeks, and we drive over 6500 miles each summer. No offense to campers intended, but to us, a camping-vacation is an oxymoron. I want to be totally free to enjoy the kids and the experience, and not worry about cooking and cleaning up etc.

    We plan our itineraries for months. We try to stay in the Nat'l Park lodges as much as possible. I also joined every moderate motel chain club (Best Western, Comfort Inn, Hol. Inn Express) and with the AAA and tons of calls, we get fabulous deals! We always make time for a swim. They also offer free Cont. Breakfasts. Then we have deli from our cooler for lunch and often eat in the Nat'l Park Lodges cafeterias for dinner. We've explored almost every National Park, major cities, see Major Leaque Baseball games and see everything we possibly can. Each of the five trips has been different, only duplicaing Yosemite, Yellowstone, and San Francisco, our faves.

    Our kids have grown so close through these trips, and begged for us to go again this year. Even though they're really "cool" kids, they don't mind being seen with mom & dad ~ as long as we're away on vacation! This summer's adventure will only by 17 days due to their camps, football and cheerleading.

    Be sure to stock up on pop, juices and film at home when they're on sale. We took 28 rolls in 1998, our longest trip of 28 days, 7,800 miles. We can't afford NOT to go as they're growing up so quickly. Plan, plan, plan, then go and relax and have a wonderful time!!!!!!

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    Hi Cindy!
    I have traveled with our 10 & 13 year old boys since they were newborns. I don't work outside of home and my husband travels the eastern and midwestern states somewhere different every week! We have tried everything. Luckily our kids are just used to it, but if yours are not I would take some of the previous suggestions as far as what to take with you. Now, as far as RV's go, we've owned one for the past few years because of our lifestyle, but
    honestly, unless you are used to traveling in them, I wouldn't waste my time wondering and worrying about such a new adventure on top of other worries. I would stay at hotels and just focus on keeping the girls busy in the car. If anything, if you were willing to rent an RV, why don't you check into renting a full size van with a tv/vcr in it. You should be able to rent or borrow a car top carrier and bike rack, etc. That will not leave you so cramped and packed in your vehicle. Sorry this was so long, hope it helps!

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    We've done a lot of car trips with our two sons and the thing that has probably made them the most pleasant is listening to books on tape as we drive. I started this practice out of necessity, but later it became something we all looked forward to. It has also improved their reading skills tremendously. Our library has lots of young adult books on tape (and now CD too) that we all enjoy. (Just don't let the tapes melt in a hot car.)

    I've thought a car is better than an RV because the people in the back seat can enjoy the scenery better. But, you know, I don't think the kids really look at the scenery that much. If they're the big ones, RVs can tend to limit where you can drive just because of their size.

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    A frontal lobotomy would be less painful, not too mention less expensive. Just kidding? Have fun, take lots of pictures and I can assure you it will be a trip talked about long after you're gone. I know because my father loaded us in a 1963 Buick Station wagon w/out air & drove us cross country (& back). We still laugh about it today (30 yrs later)!

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    Cindy, It sounds like a wonderful trip you are planning! As a kid my brother and I took month long road trips every summer with my grandparents. I've been to 45 states, all across Canada and down into large portions of Mexico. I don't recommend inner Mexico nowadays though. I'll be taking a 3 week, 11 state trip with my 2 boys (10 & 13) in July, staying some at relatives, and some in hotels. There are some really great websites about almost everything you can think of to check out. Try roomsaver.com for accomodations. I also picked up 2000 Exit Authority for all the interstate exit listings. Very important - get one of those attractive blank page journals at a bookstore and write in it every night! List where you went and ate etc. I wish we had done that as kids, because too many things are vague now. Photos of course of great, especially when teamed with your journal. Have fun!

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    We traveled from NYC to LA in a station wagon with four children, ages 7,5,3,1. The initial phase of trip was testing, however, after all settled down, the trip was most exciting. We camped most nights (3) and others were spent in motels. We found Sedona and spent time sliding down the water rock path. Good food while camping and children slept well. Good luck.

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    How long of a trip are you planning? what's your criteria? Broke or unlimited funds? We're Broke, so when our girls were younger, we took out the center seat section of our van, so we could sleep on the floorboard. (I think a full sized air mattress was what we had), and laid the full-sized back seat down, for another bed. A bit crowded, but it sure beat paying the high prices of Hotel life. KOA Campgrounds and many private ones, are just as comfortable, with the exception on TV (something MY family needed a break from)
    We had such a wonderful time that this year we've bought a tent & air mat (girls are now 10 & 15 and getting taller all the time)and are heading to Glacier NP, Seattle, Oregon, N.Cal & Tahoe. We can't wait.
    Happy Planning!

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