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Family vacation planning

Cue "Holiday Road." This family loves a road trip. It's my kids' only chance to regularly get McDonalds, first of all. And although we're all usually ready to be done with each other after 8 hours of car togetherness, it remains our favorite way to get around the region for convenience and affordability. With our family mostly in the Midwest, we've yet to do a multi-day car trip though it's definitely in the cards in the future. The price tag for a family of 4 to go anywhere by flying is real sticker shock. Though I'm frequently hounded about one day finally going on an airplane. So when it's finally time to go to Disney World, for instance, we may have to weigh the two options carefully.

We're about to head out on an impromptu road trip next week, actually. The Mama has to go to Ohio for work so we'll tag along, stay in a hotel, and visit with my family while she's in business meetings. Less concerned about the littlest missing school, we debated about taking the oldest out of kindergarten--the alternative is me alone for 4 days handling home life. So the trip together makes more sense.

I'm not sure whether the kids can't look far enough ahead or whether it's the unknown/new locations, but we'd actually begun to plan a small vacation over Spring Break that we're now reconsidering. We've discussed a number of urban and rural getaways from St. Louis and Milwaukee to a state park lodge. But the kids basically yawn and express no interest despite being offered science and motorcycle museums, train rides, or even a tour of a working lock and dam. I love to plan trips, but the more we've discussed it the more I'm leaning towards scrapping the plan in favor of something else later. If the kids are going to be dragged to something they're not interested in, it might as well be something I'm more interested in.

Which brings me to my current planning extravaganza. I'd previously been working on our eventual Disney World trip quite a bit. In another life, I helped run a Disney fan site and have been numerous times (even if not lately), so I came into it with quite a bit of existing knowledge. For our purposes, what works for our budget and family personalities is pretty straight-forward. As I've written about before, most of that vacation is "in the can," so to's a matter of simply plugging in the time/money/specifics when we're finally ready. The rough outline of our itinerary/budget is sitting as a file on my desktop waiting for the day we need to book.

It's my new obsession that I've been locked on lately--especially after seeing an Omnimax with my daughter last week--visiting National Parks. Specifically Yellowstone. We'll see if I can convince Mama of this immediate need. I have visions of us piling into the Subaru this summer and heading out for a week. Granted my kids are a little young. They're not quite to the age where they would fully appreciate, say, the monuments and museums of Washington DC. I'm not sure they'd tolerate standing in line to tour the White House or the gravity of seeing the Bill of Rights. But I do think they may get a tiny bit of the awe and wonder of seeing some of America's natural treasures. They're not old enough to go horseback riding or rafting or camping in the wilderness for several days with dad. But old enough to remember. And us driving out West is certainly cheaper than visiting Disney World.

I have  a working theory about families having a "sweet spot" age. There's really only a tiny window of togetherness where your children are old enough to make a road trip adventure possible but not so old that it's the last thing they want to do. By the time they're in middle school, they'd rather listen to their own music, be with their own friends, and not have to hang around a bunch of dusty mountains with mom and dad. Honestly, we're probably more in the Disney sweet spot than National Parks sweet spot. But there's a small amount of selfish "I want to see" going on, too. I think it's a combination of not getting any younger and the knowledge that eventually we'll have a dog or a farm or other activities that will make long road trips impossible. I've been to Disney World and it's Mama's idea of hell. So why not pick something new and exciting for the grownups? The mileage to Orlando or Yellowstone from Chicago works out to be about the same.

My rough itinerary is to drive from Chicago to Minnesota with a stop to visit family. Then from the Twin Cities area to Rapid City, SD is a day's drive...with a quick stop at Badlands National Park. If you leave early enough the next morning, you have time to see Mt. Rushmore and be in the mountains of Wyoming before dark to enjoy the scenes. We'd rent a cabin for a couple days as a home base to explore geysers, canyons, and hot springs then reverse the trip...a day to Rapid City, time to visit the Minuteman Missile site (directly across from Badlands) on the way to MN, then back to Chicago.

Or maybe I should just plan on a solo trip by myself?