Passport to Fun - Epic Real-Life Road Trip

Travel is an integral part of our family's life, even with an extremely limited budget.

Each month, we "visit" a different country to explore all that it has to offer, but this past summer, we hit the road and experienced new locales in person, instead!

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One of the benefits of being a Teacher Family is having a giant chunk of time off each summer to travel.

The drawback to being a Teacher Family is that the income it provides means we have only a teeny, tiny budget to do it with.

Over the past years (since Gv's been born), we've managed to actually spend summers away for free through some extremely creative budgeting as well as taking advantage of frugal camping options.

We love our "summer home" in the mountain forest, but now that Gv is getting a bit older (and I'm itching to really travel again), I wanted to begin exposing her to new things, as well.

By combining the cheap camping tricks we've learned over the past years with some major research into the different parts of the country we wanted to visit, we actually managed to take an epic, real-life road trip this summer and finish things up with a week at our "summer home" in the mountains, all within our meager budget!

One of the ways we were able to do this was by integrating visits to family and friends along the way.

We loved visiting our 4-legged friends, too!

We also saved money by camping whenever possible and playing the whole name-your-own-price game the one time we needed a hotel room, which resulted in our paying just a tad more per night than if we had camped!

Do you remember your first time in a hotel?

My mad packing skills really paid off during this trip, too.

This system was one of my best ideas yet!

Since we were doing a little bit of everything, we had to bring a greater variety of clothes than usual, but I didn't want any of it to take up more space than our typical one-bag-per-person limit. By packing Gv's outfits into bags labeled by destination, I could just grab one at each location and throw it in with my stuff. 

I could pretty much fit 4 full outfits and a set of pajamas into a bag without any problem.

Besides taking up less room, it made life easier on the road, since everything she needed for our stay was in one bag (outfit, underwear, socks, pajamas, etc.) The bonus was that when it was time to leave that location, everything went right back into that same bag (I stuck it in her suitcase upside down to make things even more obvious), which meant the dirty clothes were all packed up and taken care of and the accompanying stinkiness sealed in at the same time!
The rubber hit the road as soon as my lessons were finished at the rink and we eased our way towards the edge of the state by first visiting sweet friends in Jacksonville.

Ready for the road -- and luckily you can pack an Outback full of everything you need for the mountains, beach, big city, for camping, or hotels...

Next, we headed up to Charleston. I'd been there with my parents as a child, but G hadn't and he wanted to get a taste of what the city had to offer.

Make sure you walk in the cobblestone streets!

I found a camping spot in a nearby National Forest to use as our base and we not only explored the city, but introduced Gv to the NPS Jr. Ranger Program, as well.

You can recite the pledge so much better in a flamingo pose!

Watch out, fort, because this gal is serious about earning badges!

You can't beat a waterfront view from your campsite!

We moved on from there to the Outer Banks of NC. We pulled our car onto two different ferries (Gv's first) and got a little taste of NC's beaches, along with more Jr. Ranger fun.

She giggled every time she said this pledge!

Showing off not only her two newest badges, but the NPS arrowhead, which we all learned plenty about on this trip!

It's a boat! With cars!

3.5 hours riding ferries, but this gal wasn't bored!
We called this the land of lighthouses.

In typical Healy fashion, we saved our beach time for sunset.

From there, we headed up the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel to stay with Gv's godfather and his family in NJ. We had a wonderful stay and spent time exploring NYC, the Jersey Shore, and Philadelphia (as well as collecting more Jr. Ranger badges!)

Jr. Ranger badges with a patriotic flair!
Two sweet new friends to stay with: one, 6 months younger than Gv and the other, 8 years older. Guess which one Gv decided was her new best friend? Yup, the 12-yr-old!

Here we are again, at the beach at sunset and into the night. And this is how G dressed for it. See? You're always so shocked that he'll dress up for our travels each month, but guys, this is what I live with!

Bronx Zoo Family Fun

You can't just see the Statue of Liberty, you have to copy her stance!

The bell looks fine from this side...

Next up was a stay in Washington D.C. -- which was Gv's first time in a hotel (it was the first time G & I stayed in a hotel together, too -- in the U.S.) 

Not only did Gv earn more Jr. Ranger badges, but we filled our minds and souls with amazing art and information at The Smithsonian (& National Art) Museums, gobbled up a bit of government at the U.S. Capitol, and filled our tummies with delicious fare in our nation's capital.

Fifty bazillion museums didn't tire out this girl!

I know you're hungry, guys, but aren't you being a little dramatic?

I think we actually logged more miles on this day than on any hike!

Gv's favorite work of art: Lick & Lather, carved from chocolate and soap!

Civics, anyone?

From there, we sauntered over to Shenandoah National Park, driving down Skyline Drive before entering the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 00. 

The mountains!

Gv's favorite trail

We drove all 469 miles, camping along the way and then ending at our "summer home" before tacking on one night in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as a quick stay with good friends in Atlanta on the way back home.

This was the sweetest ranger of them all!

Our scaled-back compound this year.

...until next time!

It was our best trip ever as a family and had a little bit of everything: big cities, great museums, varied transportation methods, art, music, history, science, new sites, old sites, and plenty of the outdoorsy experiences we look forward to each year.

And Gv learned so much from it all -- she picked up and enjoyed more than we ever expected she would at such a young age. 

We especially loved all that we discovered with the National Park System's Jr. Ranger Program -- I've even written a whole post about this great resource over at Pam Barnhill's blog today. Head on over and check out National Park Service, or Novel Pre-School? Fantastic experiences for pint-sized travelers to find out more!

Now a new school year is upon us (I don't envy G's days of room prep upon our return!), which means we'll be staying put for a while...although you know it won't be long before we head out to "visit" another country on a Passport to Fun trip soon!

Does your family enjoy major road-trips like this?  I'd love to hear!  Either leave a comment below or email me at lisahealy (at) outlook (dot) com.

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Want more travel fun, without leaving your house?  Check out some of our Passport to Fun trips for ideas:

Italy - India - France - Africa - Ireland - Switzerland - Canada - Greece - England - Germany - Thailand Russia - China - Spain - Jamaica - Egypt - Mexico - Brazil - Cuba Scotland - Australia - Scandinavia


  1. And this looks like an incredible trip! So cool that Gv is getting older and she is enjoying so much more. It looks like a great trip for all of you. I'm a tad bit envious!

  2. A fun looking trip! Y'all really covered a lot of territory! I love GV's face with the "sweet" Ranger.

  3. Sounds like a fun trip, and got to see a lot of things. Looks like Gv enjoyed the trip, and I'm sure mom and dad did as well.
    I've been to SC and NC and up in the smokie mountains once years ago. Would love to go again. Its beautiful!

  4. That sounds so lovely! Thanks for sharing with us at Love to Learn. Pinned.

  5. What fun! I am a camper and backpacker (or was) and favor the National Parks and State Parks along the way. I think the Jr. Park program is just the best. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Looks like a wonderful experience! My kids visited Washington DC with their grandparents when they were young and all they could talk about was how much walking they did! Thanks for sharing at The Blogger’s Pit Stop! Roseann from

  7. This looks like a wonderful vacation with so many things to see and do. It looks like lots of fun and the area is beautiful. Congratulations on a great vacation.

  8. She is getting so big!! It looks like such a fun trip!

  9. What a great road trip. I enjoyed reading about it and looking at your pictures. I am always looking for new road trip ideas and ways not to spend a lot of money on it also!

  10. Aww that must have been the best road trip ever. The look on your little girls face says it all. You really packed in quite a few locations. How long did all of this take?

  11. OMW Lisa, it looks like you had so much fun and Gv's smile shines through every picture. That one with her and the ranger is precious

  12. Wow. Love the zip lock bag idea. With three boys I could really use this.