KOA

WeloveKOA

When planning our 6-month journey around the USA by motor home, 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!

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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: KOAJourney,” “Holiday,” and “Resort.” These descriptive words to help define your camping experience and better match your expectations. I equate this to the Marriott brand of hotels.

KOA Resort CampgroundsNotice I started off the lineup with the Ritz Carlton of the chain- the KOA Resort. Anything resort is up my alley! Unfortunately, the four KOA Resort properties were not a part of our plan this time around. They are  Waterloo / Lost Island Waterpark KOA Resort (Iowa), Port Huron KOA Resort (Michigan), Cape Hatteras KOA Resort (North Carolina) and the Shelby / Mansfield KOA Resort (Ohio). Get pampered with true, resort-style facilities and amenities at these locations. You will enjoy endless entertainment and conveniences such as food service that allows you to never have to leave the campground if you don’t want to!

KOA Holiday CampgroundsKOA 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, MTLake Placid, NY; Niagara Falls, NY; Mt. Rushmore, SD; Mystic, CT; and Mount Pleasant, SC.

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The beautiful grounds at West Glacier KOA.

KOA Journey CampgroundsKOA 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.

Some 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.

Sign up for their Value Kard Rewards program which will save you 10% off every stay, while earning points at the same time.

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Our family joined us in Mystic, CT and loved staying in the cabins here.

You also don’t need 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!

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Who doesn’t love roasting smores outside at night surrounded by family and friends? 

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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?

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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.

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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.

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But, first let me take a selfie…… our one night away at The Dean in Providence!

Nothing will make you prouder to be an American than traveling around our beautiful country like we did visiting 44 states by RV in 2014. In no certain order, here are our top 10 spots that we recommend you visit in your American lifetime.

Mount Rushmore

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 here 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. Check out the fabulous Mt. Rushmore KOA here!

NASA

2. Kennedy Space Center- Cape Canaveral, Florida

Kennedy Space Center is an amazing place 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.

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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.

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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 its fountains and the World War I Museum is right by here as well.

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5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Another great tour we took to learn about our American currency was in Philadelphia at the 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 this city was one of my favorite days of our trip.

Lake Placid

6. Lake Placid, New York – Olympic Center

Upstate New York is amazingly gorgeous in the summer. 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.

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7. Utah Olympic Park- Park City, Utah

As the site of the 2002 Olympic games, this place is outstanding! Park City is 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.

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8. Washington, D.C.

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.

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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.

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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!

Where are your favorite spots where you feel proud to be an American?

Writing notes and actually mailing them is something I’m very passionate about. I get that texting and emailing has an absolute place in our lives, but I hope you are also taking time to teach your children the importance of the good old fashioned handwritten note. Here are five easy ways to be sure you are doing so..

1. Send handwritten thank you notes for gifts received

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It seems like a no brainer to me that kids should express their gratitude by popping a thank you note in the mail to anyone that was kind enough to send them a gift. But, honestly how many notes do you receive from kids these days? I would assume if you are like me, not too many. I want my kids to grow up in this digital age with a strong sense of the importance of the handwritten note. Taking the time to send someone a meaningful thank you card easily tells that individual that they are appreciated. I still do my best to remind my kids to write thank you notes to anyone who thoughtfully mailed them a gift. I also try and teach them that a note is personal and should not be something that could be transferable to anybody. Make it unique and special to the person that you are writing to. Make it something that could not be written to anyone else. Thank you notes do not need to be written to those that have given you gifts in person and that you have thanked face to face! According to Emily Post, the etiquette expert, The rule of thumb is that you should send a written note any time you receive a gift and the giver wasn’t there to be thanked in person.

2. Send postcards when you travel

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Writing and sending postcards along our travels was part of my road schooling curriculum. See, I can teach my kids math all day long (which I didn’t) but if I’m not teaching the fundamentals of being a thoughtful individual with gratitude for the loving relationships in their life, than what kind of teacher am I? Our foursome picked out postcards almost everywhere we went and mailed them to their Grandparents and other friends and family along our journey. Postcards are a really inexpensive gesture that can go a long way! Sending a little love from afar never hurt anybody! Not even my 13 year old boys…

3. Lead by example

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I sat right there with the kids and wrote to important people in my life as well. I let our dear orthodontist know that everyone’s teeth were still intact from West Virginia. I wrote our friends at St. Vincent de Paul to keep them updated on our travels and let them know when we would be back to volunteer. I tried to remember anyone that asked for us to write them from the road. I also bought this fun template where I could make envelopes out of maps and sent a few of those off as well.

4. Print your pictures and send them off! Otherwise, what’s the point of even taking them in the first place?

I’m a big picture taker and lover of memories. I refuse to be the person that takes all of the photos and does nothing with them though. If you are spending your time and energy taking them than by all means do something with them! Get them printed! Organize them. Scrapbook them. Send them off. No one else is going to do it but you.

KOA card

I took time to make these cards for the individuals I worked with during our KOA partnership in 2014. I wanted them to visually see how much we loved our time at the various KOAs and what better way to show them than through the pictures I took along the way. Shutterfly makes this so easy and cost effective. I think notecards like these are so much more personal than any store bought card as well. There are always specials and times of free shipping, so plan accordingly!

5. Have a birthday card organizer book

card book

I live by my birthday card organizer book at the beginning of each month. I do my best to remember to mail out birthday cards and this organizer helps me be intentional in that. I can pick out cards in advance and store them in the pocket pages for when it’s time to send them. I then have each family member sign their name and add a personal note if they so desire. Then off it goes to hopefully get to the individual before their special day! There is no way I could do this without this handy book! Do you use one of these? I highly suggest one, if your goal is to be more deliberate in sending out cards this year!

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“Where was the favorite place you visited?”

It’s everyone’s first question when talking about our epic adventure around the USA. It’s almost an impossible question to answer as there are so many wonderful parts of our country.

Here is our family top 10 adventures, listed in no particular order. Be sure you click on the highlighted city name if you want to read the blog post from the actual time we were in that area.

JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING

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