So we are about to do a family vacation across the US, Griswald style. Instead of the woody wagon, we have the Honda Odyssey, complete with a dvd player. Thank God for technology. Why talk to your children when you can plug them directly into a movie?

The trip came together rather haphazardly. My husband, a history teacher, announced that he wanted to see Mt. Rushmore, Little Big Horn, and Shiloh, home of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. For those who are geographically-challenged like myself, that equates to South Dakota, Montana, and Tennessee.  I want to see the Grand Canyon, which happens to be conveniently located in Arizona. Needless to say, we are going to be spending a lot of time in the van…like the entire month of July. Fortunately, the timing works perfectly with some friends need for housing. They get free housing, and we get a dog-watcher and hamster-feeder. Can you say ‘Score!’?
We decided to do the trip now instead of in a few years for the following reasons:

  1. Our children still like us. Being 12 and 9, they have not yet figured out that we know nothing and are embarrassing to be seen with in public.
  2. Braces are going on in September and there is no end in sight of orthodontist bills. This very well may be our last hurrah before they graduate from college.
  3. We think it will be fun. We might be wrong, but regardless, we will be making lots of memories. 

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to plan out how to make this trip fun and here are a few things I’m doing for me and the kids.

  1. I’ve started a Starbucks fund. This is all about me. My children fight and I’ll be charging them $1.00 every time they do so. I’ve done this before and, yes, I collect the money. Even amid tears, proclamations of undying love for each other, and promises never to fight again, I make them pay. Now when they start fighting, all I have to do is say “I’m in the mood for coffee, and I’m looking for a $1.00 for my coffee fund.” They get really quiet. I’m confident at some point during this trip, the dollar will be worth getting in the last word.
  2. I’m giving them each $50.00 cash to spend on each other. I realize that doling out $100.00 prior to actually leaving on vacation is not considered wise, but I will say it has really inspired them to notice what the other one likes.  They’ve taken it upon themselves to create ‘gift boxes’ to present upon departure and seem genuinely jazzed about the whole thing. Thus far, the oldest has bought the youngest something quite squishy. I’m not sure exactly what it is or where this exercise is going to end up, but they are having fun and looking forward to receiving the boxes.
  3. I’ve found campgrounds with cool activities. While I’m sure Mt. Rushmore is awe-inspiring, breath taking, and most reasonable people could spend weeks staring up at George Washington’s nose, I don’t hold out this hope for our attention challenged “children.” We will be staying at a nearby campsite with free putt-putt and heated outdoor pool and I, of course, will be happy to drive them to and fro while my husband soaks up all the historical information he can handle.
  4. I’ve created bags of goodies for them to receive every other day. I’m all about saving a dollar, so I hit up Judy Jones, a retiring science teacher, for anything she might be getting rid of as she cleaned out her classroom. I can’t wait to see the excitement on my daughters’ faces when they find decks of cards with snakes and dinosaurs on them, or get a load of the Guess the Scientist game. I’ll be throwing in some hand sanitizer in there for good measure too.
  5. I’ve made them part of the planning. Each place we are visiting includes some activity they will enjoy. We will be zip lining in Lake George, seeing sharks at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, panning for gold in South Dakota, riding bikes in Jackson Hole, and walking on the skywalk over the Grand Canyon. As of right now, I still have no idea what we will be doing in Shiloh, TN (seriously, what family goes to Shiloh, TN?).
  6. We will all be best friends with Rick Riordan. Mr. Riordan writes stories about the Greek Gods, such as ‘Heroes of Olympus.’ He meets my kids’ need for story-telling, my husband’s need for history, and my need for character development. We love him, and his voice is the one that will be heard over the radio, except when the kids are watching one of the hundreds of movies we will be renting at Redbox. When that happens, Hans and I will undoubtedly find something more sophisticated and adult to listen to (as yet to be determined).

So there you have it. The Hiemstra family vacation, Griswald style. I’d love to hear your advice or suggestions on what books on tape are good, so feel free to email me at

And do you have exciting family vacations of your own planned? Let us know in the Comments below.