A Hop, Skip, and a Jump to New Orleans

With the holidays fast approaching, I really wanted to get to a stopping place for the year and avoid traveling during some of the busiest driving days of the year. With that in mind, we decided to speed up our journey to the South by spending just a day at each stop.

First up, was our 41st state – Delaware. With the boys and I all being sick, our day started off late so Damon could get a little sleep before driving. Luckily, it was only a short, one hour drive to our next stop. We thought it was smooth sailing once we got on the road, but once we got on the highway, Damon realized we needed cash for some upcoming tolls. I always keep cash on me, but since I’d been sick, I had no idea where my wallet was. We proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes pulled over, on the side of the highway, looking through the RV and van for my purse. I finally found it in a backpack. Damon had the idea to put a bunch of valuables in it and assumed I’d put it away and find my purse that way. Of course I got sick, and he forgot about the bag. Annoying, but at least we found it and had plenty of cash to continue the drive.

Normally, it isn’t a big deal to just run to a bank and get more cash, but when your driving a 40ft RV, maneuvering small streets and parking lots can be stressful and complicated. Glad we could avoid that.

The rest if the drive was uneventful. After we set up, we all took the chance to rest and recouperate.

Our only day in Delaware gave us some gorgeous weather, so we headed to the playground. When they had some fun, the boys constantly get cold and it limits their ability to play. So we loaded them into the van and headed out to lunch.

This allowed us to drive to some local thrift stores, where I scored this adorable singing snowman and penguins. Damon thought I was nuts but, to me, it embodies the magic of Christmas. However, once the boys saw it, they claimed it as their own. It’s so cute to see them dancing to these cute penguins.

Thanks to daylight savings, we were up pretty early on Sunday, which have us an early start in our drive to West Virginia. It also turned into a blessing in disguise – the one time a year the Maryland bridge is shutdown for a 10k race happened to be that very day. Thanks to the way start, the delay wasn’t too bad.

Once we arrived, it was our one nice day, so we hopped into the van, grabbed some lunch for the boys and headed to Harper’s Ferry National Park.

This park is home to historic Harper’s Ferry, a civil war era town with roads and buildings still intact from 150 years ago. It was also the meeting point of three major trails, including the Appalachian Trail. Technically, we walked along that very trail through the town, which is pretty cool.

It was fun to walk around with the boys. They liked walking around, but they got cold very quick, so we only spent an hour there. But it was enough to get a good overview of the town.

Once we get back, little-dude passed out, so Damon took mini-man to play some mini-man golf. One thing I love about staying at KOAs are the great activities they have for kids.

The next day was true to it’s word – it rained all day. One of the downfalls of RV life is it can get a little claustrophobic when it rains. To help with this, we took the boys out for lunch and shopping. We needed the shopping desperately, but you can never tell how kids are going to react to stores.

Turns out, they had a blast. Exploring Walmart and Costco was a lot of fun for them. Unfortunately, halfway through Costco, both boys started to run out of steam and we had to carry them through the store. One eventually fell asleep while the other was reenergized when we found a box of kinetic sand for him. That, plus a toy train we found, and he was good to go for the evening.

We started early the next morning, to tackel a five hour drive to Mt. Airy, North Carolina. The bonus to early starts is it’s easier to go longer distances with the boys. The downer for this trip was more rain. Rain makes it harder to drive and colder inside the RV. It also didn’t help that the windshield wiper broke and stopped moving early in the drive.

After a quick lunch stop, we made it to our campground – Mayberry. This place has everything named after the Andy Griffith Show. We later learned it’s because the town of Mt. Airy was the inspiration for the town of Mayberry on the show. Pretty cute.

Once we parked, the boys made it known they wanted to play, so we hit the playground. Mini-man had fun swinging while little dude had fun splashing in mud puddles. Gotta love having boys.

They next day was perfect outside – 70 degrees and blue skies all around. The boys and I played outside while Damon ran a few errands. It definitely proves were making the right decision to head south, towards warmer weather. Say what you will about Florida, at least you can enjoy being outside most of the time. And with two, true Florida little boys, it’s really hard to find them entertainment that isn’t outside.

Curious to see Mt. Airy, we headed to the small town. Unfortunately, we didn’t really see anything that resembled Mayberry, but we might have just been looking on the wrong street. We stopped looking when we found an adorable playground and jumped at the chance to let the boys get out some energy. It worked, as they were both out shortly after we got home.

An early night meant that the boys were up bright and early. Not always great in the adult sleep department, but great in the driving department. Especially when rain was expected. One nice thing about this drive, is it was less than three hours. After a 5 hour drive the other day, 3 goes by really quick.

Once we hooked-up, per our new routine, we headed to the playground. However, our fun was cut short, thanks to an afternoon shower. While we hurried back to the RV, mini-man decided to take his time and enjoy the rain.

The next day brought us continual rain. The boys were hyper, so we went out. We had fun at the thrift store, where the boys found some pom poms and I found a $6 mystery box filled with lots of fun toys, including a lot of Legos.

Then we had the bright idea of giving the boys cookies so we could grocery shop…ya that worked out well. We did get to witness an interesting site – women lining up for Thanksgiving table decorations and grabbing them as they were pulled from the box. I don’t think the decorations made it to the shelves. It was pretty funny to see these women go nuts over these things.

After a short sleep, the boys were up early, so we got an early start to Alabama. The drive was smooth, but stressful dealing with two, very energetic and demanding boys. I was exhausted the the end of the drive. Damon tried to take them to the playground to give me a break, but it only lasted a few minutes.

After so many days on the road, I think we’re all getting tired. Thank goodness we’re in New Orleans for a week.

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Updated: Heartswell Adventures: Leg #5

Update: please see our updated itinerary below

Phew! I think this is the longest we’ve ever waited to start planning our next leg. We knew we wanted to head to the east coast, but kept changing how we were going to get there. First, it was through Wisconsin and into Canada. Then, since we didn’t know if I would have a passport in time, we thought about skipping Canada, and go through the US to New York. Now that I have my passport, we seemed to have settled on Michigan to Canada to New Hampshire. It’s an easy route that hits several places we want to visit. So here is our next leg!

Then we hit a little snag, called Labor Day weekend. It seems that everyone with an RV up here goes camping that weekend. We spent days trying to find anything we could get and finally settled on a place near Cleveland , which has altered our route, somewhat.

Updated Map: Decided to do a loop-de-loop
  • Wisconsin Dells:
      • Water Park capital of the United States, this place looks like a cute place to visit
  • St. Paul & Minneapolis, Minnesota
      • Mall of America!
  • Madison, Wisconsin:
      • Found a place with a pool, so we plan to relax and prep for our long journey to Toronto
  • Chicago, Illinois:
      • We had a fun time in Chicago and it’s the perfect place to stop for the holiday weekend before we press on.

UPDATE: After our stop in Chicago, we learned that mini-man needs dental surgery. One of the benefits of our life is our schedule is very flexible. So we’ve altered our trip a bit to get us back to Chicago for the surgery

  • Cleveland, Ohio:
      • This is a six hour drive! We have a place to stop if we need to, but for now, we plan to drive the whole thing. It’s one of the only places we found a campsite for the holiday weekend. Kept this stop as it was still a holiday weekend and the only place we could find
    • New Stop: Cincinnati, Ohio

    New Stop: Cincinnati, Ohio
        • As long as we have to change our route, might as well swing by one of the best aquariums in the country

      New Stop: Louisville, Kentucky

        • A quick stop on our way to…

      New Stop: St. Louis, Missouri!!!

        • We made it back and we have a long list of things we want to do, including: the St. Louis Arch, City Museum, and a boat tour

      New Stop: Chicago #3

        • Back for mini-mans surgery

      New Stop: Kalamazoo, Michigan

        • Who wouldn’t want to stop here!?! Just to say you’ve been to Kalamazoo

      New Stop: Detroit

        • Quick stop before Canada
      • Toronto, Canada:
          • When I was first researching Canada, Toronto kept showing lots of places to visit with kids, so I’m excited to stop here.
      • Ottawa, Canada:
          • Looks like riding the canal is a must do, so we must do it!
      • Montreal, Canada:
          • I was excited to visited the bio dome here, but it’s closed til next year. I guess we’ll find something to do. It’s faster to just go into the states, so we’re skipping Montreal
      • New Stop: Colchester, Vermont
          • A pretty stop and a faster way to get to New Hampshire
      • Twin Mountain, New Hampshire:
          • We enjoyed visiting New Hampshire when we stopped in Vermont last year. Can’t to see what else is there.
      • Portland, Maine:
          • I’ve heard that Maine is beautiful in the fall. Looking forward to seeing this area.
      • Boston, Massachusetts
          • Damon grew up just outside of Boston, so he’s excited to take the boys to the Children’s Museum and Aquarium

      Were really excited for this leg of our journey. Let us know if there are any must do’s along the way.

      Carlsbad Caverns

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      So long Texas!

      After a much needed stop in Ft. Stockton, TX, we finished our drive to Carlsbad, New Mexico. This cute little park was in the middle of the desert, yet it was situated on a lake.

      We pretty much stayed inside the rest of the day as the winds were absolutely insane! We even contemplated pulling in the slide at one point to help ease the rocking. Our camp hosts told us that this was unusual for this area and should ease up by the next day.

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      Great covered playground – if only the kids felt better 

      Thank goodness they were right and we were able to get out for a bit. Sadly, the kids were still sick and didn’t want to play that much.

      Which meant another low-key day for us, playing inside.

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      Aliens were everywhere!

      By Wednesday, we all felt pretty good so we took the opportunity to get out. A short drive away is the city of Roswell and who could pass up the opportunity to see aliens!?!

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      amazing assortment of animals for a free zoo

      While, sadly, we didn’t encounter any being from another world we did get to see some animals from this one at the Roswell Zoo. This cute zoo is free and filled with lots of animals that the kids could get close to.

      Right next door is a cute playground, while had a 1970s rocket slide – which Damon had to try, of course 😄

      It’s been a while since we hit a Goodwill, most of the small towns we’ve visited the past few weeks didn’t have one. So we jumped at the chance to visit the one in Roswell. I scored a pile of books for the kids (I collect old Disney and Golden Books – they’re awesome and these are a steal!).

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      This McDonald’s was outta-this-world!

      At this point, the kids were pretty worn out, so we headed back to the RV. Before we left, we made a quick stop at McDonald’s, which had an extraterrestrial feel to it 👽.

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      Since we were in Carlsbad, we’d hoped to visit the famous Carlsbad Caverns. Unfortunately, the only way to see it with kids is to use their elevator, which was down for maintenance all week. And, while it was supposed to be fixed before we left, the lovely government shutdown delayed things. Which meant no caverns for us this time. I was pretty bummed – I visited the caverns with my Grandma when I was about 6 and wanted to revisit it.

      Instead, we used to day to clean the RV (which really helps with leaving the campsite), and going grocery shopping. Since it’s been cold out, I made my Crock-Pot Chili (and no, I’m not scared to use it. The ‘This Is Us’ guy died from bad wiring and NOT a Crock-Pot!).

      And so ends another RV stop. Next up, Albuquerque.

      RV Stop #1 – Fort De Soto

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      We’ve said goodbye to Winter Garden RV Resort – our holding place while we finished prepping the house to sell – and headed to our first stop on our road trip, Fort De Soto, Florida.

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      This beautiful RV park is inside of the Fort De Soto state park – home to quiet beaches and a historic old fort. If you want a quiet beach weekend, this is the place to go.

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      We learned a lot even before we arrived.

      • The two-hour drive occurred during a big thunder storm, complete with thunder and lightning, which made for a very shaky drive. The kids slept most of the way and didn’t seem to notice that anything was wrong. The cats are a different story – the meowed the whole time (I hope they get used to driving soon).
      • Once we arrived, we had to do our first back-in setup (this is when you have to back the trailer into the site). Since I’m navigationally challenged, Damon took the task upon himself and managed to get us set up without hitting anything!

      Since it was still rainy when we arrived, we decided to stay inside and have a quiet evening with the kids.

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      After sleeping in, we decided that the kids needed to get out, so we took them to the Children’s Exploration Museum. This place is so much fun – the room is divided into different sections, giving kids a lot of options for play. Mini-man loved a lot of the sections and had an amazing time.

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      The next day we spent at the campground exploring. This place is very old Florida, with lots of trees, water, and wildlife. It was very relaxing to walk around. A few minutes from our site was a cute children’s playground that mini-man adored.

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      On our last day, we decided to be brave and take the kids to the beach. I’d heard that North Beach was a great place to take kids, so we headed there.

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      At first, we thought the beach near the playground would be ideal, but the waves were really high. Instead, we let mini-man play on the playground for a bit, then headed further up the beach.
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      This new location was perfect- hardly any waves and nice, warm water. Mini-man went in instantly with Damon. I sat at the edge with little-dude and let him get his feet wet (he liked the water but the waves scared him). All-in-all, a pretty successful trip (minus all the sand we brought back).
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      Today we head to our next stop, Terra Ciea, just 30 minutes from Fort De Soto. Fingers crossed we can get everything ready before check-out. Last time, it took us several hours to get going. This time, we have just four. Wish us luck!

      On the Road at Last

      We did it! The house is listed, the trailer is setup, the car is prepped – time to get this show on the road. Of course. For our first time picking up and leaving, it took a little effort to actually leave:

      1. You have to stow everything! And with a very curious toddler around, you can imagine how hard it was to get everything put away. Damon had to go back at one point after we got into the car to pick up some last minute things
      2. Once things are stowed you can’t get to anything until you reach your destination (unless you want to squeeze your way through). So I had to prepare several snack bags for everyone in the car.
      3. Triple check everything! For an RV to work it needs to be plugged and hooked up to lots of things. Damon got in the car and almost drove off before he saw that the power was still hooked up. Then he forgot that the propane was still on. Lesson learned – do several walk arounds before leaving.
      4. Driving in rain is hard. Of course we leave just as one of our lovely Florida thunderstorms shows up, making it a little harder to steer the car (it’s very bumpy back here)

      Not too bad for beginner, especially with two young children to care for as well. Hopefully we’ll get faster as we progress. For now, we are thrilled to be on the road, heading to Fort de Soto, Florida.

      Beep Beep, Beep Beep

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      Once we got our camper, we needed a way to transport it. This was much harder than I anticipated. I assumed that the trailer would be harder, since there were so many options, layouts, sizes, and colors – but I was wrong. First, Damon and I needed to agree on what type of car:

      • Easy to drive: I didn’t want a car so big that I couldn’t drive it. I am used to full-sized vans and didn’t want to go bigger than that.
      • Comfort: We love our current mini-van. It has leather seats, lots of room and LOTS of cup holders (Damon loves his beverages. Our current mini-van has six cup holders in the front and five of them are usually taken up by Damon’s beverages).
      • Towing Capacity: I wanted something powerful. I didn’t want a car that would barely pull the trailer and could possibly leave us stranded somewhere because it broke down
      • Space: In addition to our human family, we are bringing with us our two cats and we need a space to put them while we are on the road.

      Seems simple, right? Unfortunately, not. The towing capacity became our biggest issue. This instantly eliminated the standard car, mini-van, and SUV – which are the cars I am used to driving. This pretty much left us with full-sized trucks and some suburbans:

      • Trucks
        • Pro
          • Availability: Being in Florida, trucks of all shapes, sizes, and power are easy to find.
          • Towing Capacity: Trucks are made to haul stuff, so most trucks can handle pulling campers.
        • Con
          • Size: We are a family of four, with two young kids. Many cabins support this, but don’t have much leg room or capacity to store extra toys or snacks.
          • Storage: They have large truck beds but your stuff can’t be accessed while your driving. Plus, we would need to get a cover if we wanted to protect our stuff from the elements.
          • Unfamiliar: I haven’t been in a truck since I was eight (despite living in Florida for twenty years). This just isn’t a vehicle we are familiar with.
          • Budget: Trucks don’t lose a lot of value overtime, so to get one powerful enough in our budget required something with high mileage. This made me nervous since most trucks start to have major issues as they get more mileage on them
      • Suburbans
        • Pro
          • Familiar: Suburbans are very similar to vans and mini-van’s, which we are used to driving.
          • Size: Tons of internal room. Plenty of space for the kids, toys, snacks, and whatever else we need. Plus we can fit the cats inside of the car.
          • Storage: The storage is large and flexible – we can move seats around to accommodate whatever we need.
        • Con
          • Availability: There are only a few suburbans on the market that meet our criteria. In our short time researching, we have only found two that we like. People like these cars so much, that they rarely come on the used car market.
          • Towing Capacity: While there are just a few suburbans on the market, there are even fewer that have the towing capacity we need (and we soon learned that most car dealers don’t know that there is a difference).

      So as you can see, the suburban makes more sense for our needs but trucks are much easier to find. I assumed that we would end up with a truck, since it would work and we could find one. Luckily, Damon kept his eyes open for a suburban and we hit the jackpot!

      Damon was searching Craigslist and found a suburban that was 45 minutes away. This car had everything we wanted – good mileage, well cared for (the interiors looks brand new), powerful towing capacity (that was specially made for the original owner), easy to drive, a great size, and a great price. Needless to say, we jumped at this car.

      Of course, being such a great catch, there were other people interested. Fortunately for us, we had two things going in our favor – location and cash! The first person who wanted the car lived in Georgia and was trying to figure out how to get the car. The second person lived nearby, but needed to go to the bank to arrange financing. Sometimes, the stars align and everything just goes in your favor.

      So meet our new car:

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      Next step is introducing our car to our trailer. Fingers crossed that the meeting goes well :p

      Downsizing

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      How do you fit a 1600 sq ft house into a 300 sq ft trailer??? The simple to say, but hard to do, answer is – DOWNSIZE. I’ve tried to put myself in a practical mindset – the more we sell, the more money we have to travel and less stuff to lug around. It also helps to remember that if we get rid of something, and want it later, we can always re-buy it.

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      Now some of our stuff is a no brainer to get rid of, such as the furniture (since it’s included in the trailer), TV’s (we won’t need four in the trailer), my car (my Honda Fit can’t pull an 8,000 lb trailer), and kitchen stuff (I won’t need my fancy dishes any more).

      Then it gets a little more difficult for me. We have cultivated quite the toy collection and play area in our house. I know, realistically, that our kids don’t NEED all these toys, but I do have a joy seeing them play with these toys. I didn’t have a lot growing up, so being able to provide these “things” for my children gives my great satisfaction.

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      But then I’m reminded that what we remember most isn’t the actual toy we played with as children. We remember spending time with our loved ones and experiencing the world with them. And that’s what I want for my children – to experience value and love from those around them; not the things around them.

      So while I know that downsizing my kids toys will be emotional for me, I also know that we are giving them an awesome experience.

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      Now on the flip size, I am used to cooking in a 300 sq ft kitchen (which is the same size as our trailer). How am I supposed to cook in such a small space? Where am I supposed to store everything? I am used to having a lot of cabinet space, not to mention fridge space, to store food. I currently have three different solutions for my dilemma:

      1. Shop every few days, instead of once a week
      2. Stop buying in bulk and only buy what you need for a the meal (portion control)
      3. Grow fresh herbs and lettuce in a window

      I have no idea if any of these will works, but I guess this is only part of what I’ll have to get used to going forward. On the plus side, it’s much easier to keep 300 sq ft clean than 1600 – especially with two kids!

      Taking our Furbabies on the Road

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      These poor cats. We adopted Kizzy and Cloud in 2008 while we were living at our townhouse in Orlando. And over the past ten years, these cats have lived in a lot of different places:

      • 2009 (October): We drove them cross country for three days to move to California.
      • 2010 (April): About six months later, in early we drove them back to Orlando, and into my in-laws house in Celebration, Florida.
      • 2010 (October): After many months of house hunting, we then moved them to our new house in Orlando.
      • 2013 (February): After a few years of downtime, we moved them to an apartment near SeaWorld
      • 2014 (January): We moved them back to our townhouse in Orlando.
      Tired Cloud
      I think this pretty much sums up how he feels about car rides

      Is that it? unfortunately not.

      • 2015 (September): We flew them out to California!
      • 2016 (September): We fly them back to the townhouse in Orlando

      And now we are asking them to live with us on an RV and travel the country to who knows how long. I think I better stock-up on kitty treats.

      Ch…Ch…Changes!

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      As many of you know, we moved back to Orlando last October after a year in Glendale. And let me tell you, A LOT has happened over the past six months. We’re not quite ready to share everything that’s happened, but I will tell you that big decision. We have a lot do to and we can’t wait to share everything with you!

      California Adventures: The Kidspace Museum

      After a few months of braving the LA streets, I decided to get a little braver and take mini-man someplace a little further away – The Kidspace Museum in Pasadena.

      While the drive was trickier – going on small roads up the mountains – it was definitely worth it.

      The Kidspace Museum is a perfect place for kids. There are three distinct zones – outdoor science, indoor creative play, and outdoor exploring.

      We got a three month pass and have loved taking mini-man here. If you have little kids I highly recommend checking this place out.