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Our family of six just returned from a six month family sabbatical traveling by motorhome around the United States. Keith’s job as a coach/scout with the Chicago Blackhawks combined with our kids competitive travel sports schedules ruled our lives and we wanted to take a time out together and enjoy our beautiful country! It was an amazing experience!
When planning our 6 month journey around the USA by motorhome, we decided that KOA (Kampgrounds of America) was the best fit for our family and that we would focus most of our stays at their campgrounds. They have almost 500 locations across North America to chose from so the opportunities are endless! As a sponsor of our family sabbatical, we stayed at over 40 different KOAs around the country.
Hands down, the KOA chain has the most family friendly campgrounds around. We loved their activity schedules featuring everything from wine tastings to flashlight candy hunts! We played tons of mini golf, rented fun bikes, took up fishing and just simply enjoyed the great outdoors. The Jumping Pillow was our kids most favorite KOA feature. Our four are begging for us to put one in our Arizona backyard now!
I’m also a big fan of consistency which you can expect behind KOA’s Yellow Signs. If you haven’t camped at KOA in a while or ever, here’s a few things you should know:
KOA has introduced three new ways to help you select the right campground for your needs: KOA “Journey,” “Holiday,” and “Resort.” These descriptive words are being added on to almost 200 KOA locations by the end of 2015 in order to help define your camping experience and better match your expectations. I equate this to the Marriott brand of hotels.
KOA Holiday campgrounds are like your typical Marriott hotel stay- pretty perfect but a little more casual. At the KOA Holiday properties you can expect deluxe cabins and patio RV sites as well as on-site activity schedules and options to keep everyone entertained. A lot of our stays were at KOA Holiday locations. Some of our favorites were West Glacier, MT; Lake Placid, NY; Niagara Falls, NY; Mt. Rushmore, SD; Mystic, CT; and Mount Pleasant, SC.
KOA Journey campgrounds are more like a Courtyard Marriott. Less expensive and less fluff. They are usually conveniently located and great for overnight or short stays. You still get the same free wifi, Kamp K9 Pet Park and a convenience store just as you would at the Holiday and Resort properties.
I’ve heard campers say that KOAs are expensive. Yes and no. You will pay up to $100 a night for a nice RV spot during the busy summer months at a Resort property, but most will run you half of that. Hey, we did spend one “free” night in a Walmart parking lot in the beginning of our travels and I can tell you I will never do that again. Give me the safe, quiet campground any day of the week! KOA strives to give you what you pay for. They also have their Value Kard Rewards program which will save you 10% off every stay, while earning points at the same time.
Here’s the other thing to remember. You don’t have to have an RV or be willing to pitch your own tent to stay at KOA. Many locations have new Deluxe Cabins, complete with bathrooms and kitchens. We stayed in several of them in New England, when our motorhome had to go in to the shop. They are spacious, updated and wonderful for a large family! I think you’d be surprised. Not only are they less expensive than a hotel, they are way more fun. Keep this in mind when you are planning your summer travels! The cabins definitely lend a more unique family vacation experience and your kids will love it I guarantee!
As I reflect on our family sabbatical around the USA, I can’t help but think about how it affected our marriage. As Keith and I celebrate 17 years of matrimony today, I am in awe of how this epic trip strengthened us as husband and wife.
I knew that taking this profound journey would be great for our family. I knew it would be quality bonding time spending six months on the road together and all that was intertwined in that. I knew that we were making precious family memories that would hopefully sustain us all for a lifetime.
But, what I didn’t foresee was how amazing this trip would be for our marriage.
Marriage most certainly can feel stagnant, stale and simply safe after awhile. If you’ve been married for any length of time and have several kids, I’m sure you’re tracking with me. I knew that I was married to my best friend, but somehow on most days that didn’t even seem relevant. Keith’s NHL career obviously kept him on the road and focused on that for the first ten years of our marriage. Then for the past three years, his position with the Chicago Blackhawks had him traveling on most weekends, when I could’ve used his fatherly services the most. Weekends are a busy time around here. Nonetheless, we juggled it all just fine. Dare I say that I’m used to figuring out how to do things on my own and turning to my village of friends for help when necessary.
But, we knew we wanted more out of life than how we were doing things and the TIME WAS NOW. We talked for awhile about doing a crazy trip like this. Just leaving behind everything that was keeping us disconnected from one other. NOW OR NEVER. The kids are growing fast and they won’t want to spend time with us like this much longer. Either we put the brakes on now or have regrets later. NO REGRETS. LET’S DO THIS.
This motorhome trip was Keith’s idea. People are always surprised by that and assume it was me that came up with the grand scheme. Always up for adventure, I am usually the mover and shaker of the family, so I can see how people would make this assumption. I hear a lot of wives say, “oh my husband would love to do that” or “I would love to do that but my husband would never.” Marriage takes teamwork and growth together to succeed. Maybe marriage is just about going along with that one crazy dream that your spouse has. Why not GO FOR IT together?
When we were on the debate of turning the dream into reality, I told Keith, “you buy the motorhome and we’ll do this.” And do you know what? HE DID.
He figured out what needed to be done to buy the RV he wanted. He handled everything with the help of a dear friend and I wasn’t involved. I didn’t want any part of the material purchase. If he wanted this to happen, then he would have to figure out how to bring it to fruition. I honestly didn’t believe that he would.
Remember, that we had never spent one night in a motorhome camping in our lives. Keith had never even driven anything bigger than our Suburban before we headed out on this journey. He never even owned tools before this. Would he really be strong enough to leave a job with the Chicago Blackhawks to fulfill a personal dream for our family? The thought of him in charge of all this was scary to me. He honestly had really never been in charge of our family plan before.
But, he surprised me. Not with flowers or with some other mediocre sentiment. He surprised me by showing up. Day after day for six months. He was a rock star behind that wheel. For the first time, I really felt like I needed this man. I can’t say that much intimidates me, but driving Ally B and her sidekicks, the Buick and six bikes, most certainly did. Keith drove every time with utter confidence and pure enjoyment. I played flight attendant and served him coffee and snacks as we drove along America’s highways chatting and laughing. It’s no wonder I shunned my role as roadschooling Mom. This was way more fun than teaching math. Sure, go ahead and watch a movie kids. I’m busy having a good time shotgun my best friend up here.
I have never been a hockey fan. I never married Keith because he was a hockey player. Sometimes it didn’t even equate with me that that’s what he really did for a living. He doesn’t fit the persona. My friends laugh when I say in all truth that seeing him drive and handle this RV trip was way sexier to me than any hockey game I’ve ever seen him play in. For real people. Because seeing someone try something new, fulfilling a dream that makes them genuinely happy, is extremely attractive.
He turned this grand idea into reality and that is appealing. Yes, he had to give up his good job to do this, but that was the point of it too. To really evaluate what is important in life right now and go the distance to make sure you cease the opportunity that is only HERE AND NOW.
There are many times on the trip that I would’ve pulled over on the side of the road and given up. He, on the other hand, never felt there was a situation he couldn’t handle which totally put me at ease. I felt safe and secure and taken care of. What more can you ask for?
I’m proud of us.
And there’s nothing better than going into your 18th year of marriage feeling like that.
Nothing will make you prouder to be an American than traveling around our beautiful country like we did. In no certain order, here are our top 10 spots that we would recommend you get to in your American lifetime… (Click on the blue links to see the full posts about each place!)
1. Mt. Rushmore National Memorial- Keystone, South Dakota
This is one place you have to see in person. I don’t know if we would’ve ever made a special trip to fly up here just to see this American icon, so this was a huge benefit in traveling around the country by RV. I highly recommend making your way here as there is a lot to do in the surrounding area and it’s just gorgeous! Plus a friend just became the GM of the KOA here, so you need to go say hi!
2. Kennedy Space Center- Cape Canaveral, Florida
Who isn’t in awe when learning about astronauts and space? Kennedy Space Center is an amazing spot to learn about our American history in space as well as view actual NASA rockets and spacecraft while learning about the future. The Astronaut Hall of Fame is just up the street and is included with your KSC admission ticket.
3. Boston, Massachusetts
Boston is just an overall gorgeous city so you will love walking along the Freedom Trail here. We started our day at Faneuil Hall and took a trolley tour of all the historical sites in the area.
4. Kansas City, Missouri- Federal Reserve Bank
The Money Museum here was a unique, free and fun way for us to learn about our country’s cold hard cash. The kids got to each take home a bag of shredded bills for a souvenir too. Kansas City is beautiful with all of it’s fountains and the World War I Museum is right by here as well!
5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Another great tour we took to learn about our American currency was here at the Philadelphia United States Mint. We learned all about the history of our coins and how they are made. This is a close walk from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as well. Philadelphia is such an amazingly walkable city with so much history on every corner! Walking around here was one of my favorite days of the trip!
6. Lake Placid, New York – Olympic Center
Upstate New York is amazingly gorgeous in the summer. I’m thankful to not be there at this time of year, but I can definitely recommend it in August! Lake Placid was the home of the 1980 Olympics and the kids loved skating at the Lake Placid Olympic Center as well as checking out the other venues around.
7. Utah Olympic Park- Park City, Utah
As the site of the 2002 Olympic games, this place is outstanding! Park City is just beautiful in the summer and we loved spending the day at the Olympic Park. Not only did we get to watch several athletes train while we were here, but we got to have fun ourselves zip lining, climbing the ropes course and going down our first alpine slide.
8. Washington, D.C.
Need I say more? Our Capital city is the #1 place to visit if you are looking to learn about the United States of America government. The National Mall is gorgeous and features all of the Monuments and Memorials. The Capital Building, White House, National Archives and the Smithsonian are just a few other favorites. You need lots of time to spend in Washington, D.C. as there is so much to see and do! We came in October and it was the perfect time to visit!
9. New York, New York
One of America’s most popular attractions is the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The short boat ride from Battery Park over is really fun and the views looking back at the city are fantastic. When you get to Liberty Island you can take a self guided audio tour to learn everything about our Lady Liberty.
10. Williamsburg, Virginia
This is a beautiful spot to feel like you are living back in Colonial times in this Revolutionary City. Engage with the costumed locals and experience firsthand the daily struggles of wartime. Colonial Williamsburg is definitely a little slow paced, but the KOA was one of our favorites and the area was gorgeous!