Travel Plans are afoot in the D’Elia Household

Later this month, Susie and I will be hitting the road again. Well, that’s not totally honest, what we will be doing is hitting the road, the air, and the seas, as we journey from Ocean City to the Philadelphia International Airport (the road portion), and from there fly via American Airlines to Houston, Texas (the air portion), then take an Uber or Lyft from George Bush International Airport to Galveston, Texas (another road portion), where we will meet up with Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas (obviously, the sea portion). Sorry you asked?

As you will recall, youngest son Kenny and his husband Chris are Entertainers on the Liberty of the Seas, and we sign on towards the end of this month for another 2 week back-to-back visit with Our Boys. By the time we leave the ship, they will have less than a month left on their contract, and not knowing if they will do another contract on a ship, this may be our last time to sail with them. We are, of course, looking forward to seeing the boys, watching them perform, and experiencing the various ports they’ve been traveling to since they signed on early this year, but this trip will be different than any other of the many cruises we’ve been on with them. That’s because this time, we won’t be alone!

While we will spend 2 weeks on the ship, for week one we will be joined by my cousin Jeanne Pratt and her husband Walt! Jeanne is the daughter of my Mom’s 2 year younger brother Bill, and grew up in Chicago. We didn’t spend a lot of time together as kids, but she has to be the person in the world that has known me longer than anyone else in my life. There were trips to Chicago for me, and visits from her family to New York, and a couple of memorable Family Vacations in Florida. As often happens, as we all got older, and life picked up pace, we drifted apart. 40 years ago, Jeanne and Walt were at our wedding, but after that, our connections were very sporadic. The sad part was that Walt spent 25 years in the Navy, and they lived for most of that time in Connecticut as Walt was in the Submarine Service. After he retired from the Navy, that’s where their home stayed, so for the better part of our married lives, the 4 of us were less than 100 miles apart!

After years of not being in each other’s lives, about 5 or 6 years ago, we met mid way between Long Island and their Connecticut home for lunch. We had a great lunch but mostly we talked…so much so that the restaurant folks looked like they were going to throw us out so they could begin setting up for dinner! Since that rekindling, we have visited them in their Florida home in Barefoot Bay, they’ve stayed with us in Ocean City, we’ve had dinner with them while in Disney World with the boys, they’ve visited us in Indian Rocks Beach, and every time the result is the same..we talk, and talk, and talk and talk!

Last year, Jeanne wondered if there might be some place we could vacation together. Shortly after we booked our back-to-back cruise for this month (a back-to-back is taking the same room for two different cruise itineraries, making the two one week cruises in essence a two week cruise), she called and wondered if we’d like some company for the first week. Sounded like a great idea to us, so we are now adding cruising as yet another way we are spending time together. We’re not going to be tied at the hip, but we will be eating and drinking together a lot (food and drink packages ordered), seeing the boys in the shows (by the way, they will get to meet each other for the first time), and just hanging out and talking! Imagine that!

Stay tuned as we continue with more pre-travel arrangements!

The Number One Question We Get Asked

We honestly thought that the next time you heard from us, we’d probably be on the road, or just about to start our Big Adventure, but because we keep getting asked the same question over and over again, we thought it might be worth exploring the question, our answer, and our reasoning. For as long as we have been contemplating and talking about this trip, almost every time it comes up in conversation, we get asked this question. In fact, just yesterday, at a lunch with some former workmates Sue was asked it, while at almost exactly the same time, Frank was asked it by our Dentist. Invariably, as we are talking about our route and some of the stops we’re making, someone pipes up and says, “So are you renting a Motorhome for the trip?” Our answer is always the same, “Nope…we’re going in our 2013 Hyundai Sonata Limited and staying in hotels.” Sometimes you see a little disappointment at our answer, because I guess this is the kind of trip many see doing in a Motorhome, but for us, it’s just not what we’re looking to do, and here’s why.

PRICE

Here’s the first downer for using a Motorhome, unless you already own one, the cost of rental. They are not cheap vehicles to rent! From research we’ve done, it looks like a smaller Motorhome, that would be perfect for 2 people rents for around $100 a day. Then, there is a fee of 35 cents per mile driven, plus it gets about 9 miles to a gallon of gas. On the other hand, our 2013 Sonata with 47,000 miles on it is fully paid for. Any service costs that we’d have to pay in preparation or during the course of our trip would be normal wear and tear items that we’d already have to pay for, and it will get close to 35 MPG on the highway all day. “But you’ll save the cost of hotels in the Motorhome”, you might say. Well, lets take a day out of our trip and compare the costs of the two styles of travel, and you decide.

For argument sake, lets take a day when we travel 300 miles and as a stop, let’s talk about our visit to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

imageMotorhome

Daily Rental………………………………$100
Mileage Fee………………………………$105 (35 cents X 300 miles)
Cost of Gas……………………………….$ 75 (300 miles @ 9 MPG X $2.25 a gallon)
Campground………………………………$ 63 (KOA Hill City, SD)

Motorhome Total……………………………..$343

 

imageSonata

Daily Rental……………………….$000
Mileage Fee……………………….$000
Cost of Gas………………………..$ 22.50 (300 miles @ 30 MPG X $2.25 a gallon)
Hotel……………………………………$ 86.51 (Econolodge, Keystone, SD)

 

Sonata Total…………………………….$109.01

Some might try and throw in the expense of food, but as we already travel with our cooler and supplies for breakfast and lunch, the only meal you might be able to argue about would be dinner, and we’d bet the difference there would not be enough to tip the balance towards renting a Motorhome. Add in the fact that our current plan is to be on the road at the very least 2 months, and to cover upwards of 6,000 miles, and you can see just how much the Motorhome would cost us in terms of daily rental, mileage charge, and gas! Score one for the car!

CONVENIENCE

Ever notice that when you see a Motorhome driving down the highway, if it’s an owned Motorhome and not a rental, it’s almost always towing a car or some motor bikes on a trailer? That’s because if they didn’t have this other form of transportation along for the ride, every time you’d go anywhere, you’d have to take your home with you! Think about it. You stop for the night at that KOA Camp Ground near Mt. Rushmore we used in the price example. We’re staying two nights in the area because there’s a lot to see, so let’s assume we’re doing the same renting a Motorhome. That first night you pull in, get the unit level, hook up the electric service, the water, the cable TV, and you settle in for the night. The next morning you’re off to Mt. Rushmore and what do you have to do? Yep, unhook the water, electric, cable TV, put away anything and everything you took out of it’s storage the night before, and like the turtle, head off to Mt. Rushmore with your house on your back. Then you get to Mt. Rushmore, and you’re not looking to park a car, but a Motorhome. Everything we’ve read, parking for a Motorhome at a lot of these sites is limited, and in many instances far away. We’ve also read that in places like Yellowstone National Park, it’s even a bigger pain to try touring in a Motorhome. But say you do have a successful day touring around the Mt. Rushmore area with your rented Motorhome. When you are done for the day, do you get to open the door of your hotel room and flop on the bed? Nope, you have to start the hookup procedure all over! And what about any cities that may be on your itinerary? How convenient do you think it’s going to be going around Denver or Salt Lake, or even Las Vegas in a Motorhome? All reasons that we think the car wins again.

LOCATION

You know the old Real Estate adage, Location, Location, Location. Well, when you are talking about campgrounds where you can spend the night in a rented Motorhome, it also comes into play. Campgrounds need lots of space, and because of that, are often farther afield from tourist destinations than hotels. In the Mt. Rushmore example we used earlier, the hotel we have reservations for is a mere 8 minutes from Mt. Rushmore, while that KOA we used as an example is 30 minutes away. The more populated the area, the bigger that time difference. You can stay in a hotel in Denver or Salt Lake, but a campground will probably be well outside the area that you wish to see, which will mean added travel time, and then the nightmare of trying to park the Motorhome! Some may disagree, but for us, another win for the car!

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

Back when the kids were young, we owned a succession of pop-up campers. For about 6 or 7 years, we towed the pop-up behind our van. Many times, it was to return to a known campground where we went every summer, but there were also sightseeing trips that we went on. One year, it was up to Mystic, Connecticut, another year a 10 day journey through New York State and into Canada. On those sightseeing trips, most days we stayed one night in a location, so each afternoon it was set up the camper, and the next morning it was pack it up. Different campgrounds every day, setting up and knocking down daily, dealing with dirt and campground bathrooms, finding parking at tourist sights for our van/camper combo, driving down the road with a vehicle that was more affected by wind and the force of passing tractor trailers than a car….we’ve been there, and done that. It was great back when we did it, and it may be great for many people today too, but it’s just not what we want on this trip. Once again, for us, and based on past experience, the car wins out!

So, no, we’re not renting a Motorhome for our Big Adventure. We will be driving our Sonata, staying in a succession of national chain hotels, and National Park hotels, and enjoying clean sheets and good air-conditioning (or heat) every night! Nothing against Motorhomes and if your own one, we’re sure that they are a great way to travel, but it’s not just for us! The trip itself is going to be a Big Adventure enough for us, without adding the cost and inconvenience of a rented Motorhome. We’re just not prepared for that Big an Adventure!

Hope that answered your question.

Knowing and Using Your Resources

As the calendar pages turn from July to August, our days in Ocean City get down to a handful, and the start of our “Big Adventure” is just weeks away! Once we get back to Long Island next weekend, we’ll have a couple of weeks to get clothes together, schedule the car to be checked out, take care of visits to the Doctor and Dentist, take care of nail and hair appointments, and see our kids before we leave. Then on Sunday, August 21st, with the car loaded, off we will go. A combination of sadness (that we are leaving the life we love in Ocean City), excitement (that this trip we have so long dreamed about and planned is really here), and trepidation (are we nuts to embark on 2-3 months of driving around the United States????) is our current state of mind, but we know that once we get on the road, we’ll have a great time!

Recently, a friend who has been following along with this blog asked a question about where to get information. He too wants to embark on a retirement trip, but he just didn’t really know where to start. It started us thinking about what our process has been, and thought some might find it interesting to take a look at some of the tools we have used along the way. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but just some ideas we have used to get a handle on some of the places we want to visit and how to get there.

image1 – The AAA. As long time members of the American Automobile Club, we have always used AAA Maps and Tour Books as our road trip bibles. If you are of a certain age, you will understand what we mean when we say there is just something about watching your progress on a paper map that seems to define a road trip. Luckily, some of the best paper maps you can get, are published by the AAA, and are a perk of your membership. In addition to the maps, the tour books have a wealth of knowledge about tourist destinations as well as hotel and restaurants listings in the area. If you are an AAA member, you can order maps, tour books and even triptiks (route directions) online. You can also just stop into a local AAA office (doesn’t have to be the state AAA you are affiliated with) and pick up maps, tour books, and even triptiks. Having a paper map in front of you so that you can check the location and relationships between places you want to visit is a must when planning a trip, and the tour books will give you valuable information about the places on your trip and be very helpful in deciding what you want to visit. If you are a member, stop in and pick up a couple of maps and tour books and start planning. If you are not a member, consider joining, as the price of your membership will be well worth it for the information you can get. (aaa.com….yearly membership $52)

image2 – Atlas – Because many people would not consider a road trip without a comprehensive road atlas, we purchased a Rand McNally Road Atlas. This one volume contains maps of all 50 states and lower Canada and assures us that we will always have a map showing our location, wherever we are in the US. The scale is smaller than the AAA maps which sometimes makes it hard to figure out exactly what you’re looking at, but sometimes makes it easier to see the relationship between two destinations. While we’ve used this volume a lot in our planning, for our actual trip we think it will take a back up roll to the bigger scale AAA maps.

image3 – Books – One of the things that you need to do when you are planning a road trip, is to decide what you want to see. If you have a “bucket list” of places that you want to include (like Frank wants to see Mt. Rushmore and Sue Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon), it will make your planning easier, as you already will have destinations in mind. If your “bucket list” is empty, or if you need more information about places, there are thousands of travel books you can purchase via Amazon or at a book store like Barnes and Noble that will help you flesh out an itinerary. Two that we have used are, “1,000 Places to See in the US and Canada Before You Die” (Workman Publishing, NY) and The New Roadside America (a Fireside Book published by Simon and Schuster, NY). The first covers everything from National Parks, historic sites, scenic byways, and the like, while the second will lead you to the odd things…like the biggest thermometer, ball of twine and those kind of offbeat attractions.

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4 – Google and the Internet – We live in the age of information at our fingertips, and much of the info you’ll want to plan your trip is available via your computer, tablet, or even smart phone. Google will lead you to just about anything you have a question about, and virtually everything has a website these days. Want more info on the Grand Canyon? Type it into Google and go right to the Grand Canyon National Park’s website. While it’s nice to have books in hand, the reality is that you can find everything you need on the internet.
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5 – Trip Advisor – While we are talking about web sites, we’d like to single out one that has provided us with lots of information and advice. Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) is virtually a one stop destination for travel information. From hotel, restaurant, and attraction reviews, to information about the area, even to listings of hotel and apartment rentals, Trip Advisor is a great source for travel information. Just put in the area you are interested in visiting, and Trip Advisor will provide you a complete overview. In addition, hit the MORE button on the top of the page, highlight TRAVEL FORUM and it will open up the Travel Board where you can ask questions and get real advice from fellow travelers! From Cities and States, to National Parks and Historic Sites, to every kind of trip (like Road Trips), you can find a forum that covers exactly what you are looking for, populated with knowledgeable travelers looking to help their fellow travelers. A great resource.

image6 – Google Maps – Looking at places on a map gives you an idea of where they are and the relationship of places to each other, but how do you know how long it will take you to get from say Chicago to the Black Hills? This was the position we were in when planning some sections of our trip, and we found an easy way to get a ball park estimate was to use Google Maps. Enter your starting point and your destination, ask for directions, and it will tell you not only the mileage but give you an idea of the driving time. Now, we know that it’s not fool proof, but we think it’s a good way to get an estimate so that you can make some decisions based on facts.

7 – Hotel Apps – If you have a smart phone or a tablet you can travel with, hotel apps are a great way to see what’s available and even to make reservations. At the present time, I have apps from Best Western, Hilton Honors, and Choice Hotels on my phone, but there are many others. If you’re going to be traveling a lot, not only do these apps help you find lodging, but by joining their programs, you may even get free stays!

image6- GPS – While we like printed maps, we always travel with a Garmin GPS on our dash. It’s very handy when you are trying to find a hotel or site that you have an address for, and good to give you an idea exactly where you are. In addition, ours tells us what the local speed limit is, how fast we’re going, and also keeps us updated on traffic. We don’t depend on it totally, as we always try to have maps as a reference, and I’ve read on the internet that using a GPS in the American Southwest is iffy at best, as they are notoriously inaccurate there for some reason, but it’s a good tool to have in your tool box.

So there it is…some ideas from us, and how to go about planning and executing your trip of a lifetime…or perhaps just a trip down to Florida in the winter to avoid the January and February freeze! Probably the next time you hear from us, we will be on the road, but now we have to continue packing up the Ocean City house, and get ready for 2 weeks of trip preparation!

Our Big Trip Update

imageSo, the last time we talked about our “Big Trip”, we told you that because of a need to make certain reservations now or not be able to stay where we want to, our trip had taken on some real details. We will be leaving Long Island on August 21st…two months from tomorrow… and heading west, so this is becoming more and more real! Since our last update, some of our reservations have changed and more of the early part of our trek has been further fleshed out.

imageOriginally, the only place we could originally get in the Grand Canyon was a room at the Yavapai Lodge, this was definitely not our first choice. While it is indeed located at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it is not ON the South Rim, but is back about a 1/2 mile. As everything else at the Grand Canyon was already booked for our dates, we felt fortunate that we were at least in the Grand Canyon and not miles outside of the Park. Frank had read online advice from many folks that said to grab something, and just keep on checking back and see if something better opens up, and that’s exactly what we did. After checking back on almost a daily basis, we were rewarded with exactly what we wanted. We now have reserved a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge, which is literally feet away from the rim of the canyon! Sunrises and Sunsets will be much easier to enjoy from that location!

We’ve also fleshed out our stay at Yellowstone a bit and have booked one dinner at the Lake Yellowstone Lodge, a boat tour of Yellowstone Lake, and a Lake Butte Sunset Tour, the vehicles for which are classic Yellowstone “Yellow Buses” from the 20s and 30s. This along with exploring things like Old Faithful on our own, and seeing the varied wildlife in the park, should make for two unforgettable days in America’s First National Park!

We have also looked closer at the days leading up to our two night stay in Yellowstone. The amount of reading you have to do, the number of maps you need to consult, the websites you have to check, and the mileage and time calculations you have to do to have a successful trip can be mind boggling! But, when it’s a trip you have been dreaming and talking about for years, it all becomes worth it! One of the things that will be included on those days leading up to our Yellowstone visit will be one of Frank’s main Bucket List items on this trip, Mount Rushmore!

imageHis desire to see Mt. Rushmore in the flesh, probably stems from seeing Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climb across the faces of the presidents in the Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest. Frank found an interesting article recently dealing with what was actually filmed on site, and what was shot back at the studio. Of course, it would seem fairly obvious that someone like Cary Grant was not actually dangling from Lincoln’s nose on the real Mt. Rushmore, but apparently the head of the National Park Services was fearful that back in 1959, some folks might think he was! It seems that the permit that Hitchcock and the crew were given for the scenes they filmed at Mt. Rushmore contained specific language detailing what the film makers could do in scenes shot on site, or in the studio using mock-ups. The reason for this language lay in one simple fact: master film director Alfred Hitchcock had long wanted to film a movie involving the “Shrine of Democracy,” but the Park Service had concerns about the memorials potential “desecration.” After seeing a preview of the movie before it’s public release, the head of the service wrote, “The phony studio shots leave the average customer with the idea that the scenes of violence were staged on the memorial itself.” Kind of hard to understand that logic when 60 years later we have seen everything from the Empire State Building to the White House destroyed in movies, but the Park Service actually tried to have the release of the movie stopped…obviously that didn’t happen. You have to wonder how many of the tourists who have journeyed to Mt. Rushmore over the almost 60 years since the release of the movie, have done so for the same reason we are… because they saw North by Northwest. In hindsight, perhaps the movie they feared so much, was the best publicity a monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota could have gotten! As Cary Grant playing Roger Thornhill, the advertising executive protagonist in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest says, “Ah, Maggie, in the world of advertising, there’s no such thing as a lie, there’s only the expedient exaggeration!”.

So, anyway, Mt. Rushmore is the first major stop of our adventure, and as we said, we have fleshed out some of the days leading up to our visit. Leaving NY on August 21st, we will journey out Interstate 80 to Chicago, then head slightly north until we join up with Interstate 90. Depending on weather, the road conditions, how we feel, and what we may want to stop and see along the way, we figure it will take us the better part of 4 days to reach South Dakota. We are planning our first stop in South Dakota to be in Murdo, and then the next morning, we expect to hit our first National Park of the trip, Badlands National Park, on our way to Mt. Rushmore. Next we reserved two nights in Keystone, South Dakota which is right in the heart of the area with easy access to Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the Black Hills National Forest. After our two nights in the area, we will head out, hopefully hitting Devils Tower National Monument and detouring north to pay a visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. We hope our stop that night will be in Sheridan, Wyoming and then the next day we will head into Yellowstone for our two days there.

imageTo be honest, this kind of planning is definitely not our style. We are more the type of folks that get into the car, have a rough idea of where we’re going, a general idea of our time frame, and then take off, stopping each night in hotels we find along the way in the AAA Tour Books. What we have discovered though, is that when your trips include National Parks and Monuments, unless you want to drive around half the night looking for a place to stay, you really have to plan ahead. So at least on this first leg, we have been forced to make hotel reservations, figure out how much mileage we’ll cover each day, and what we’re going to see. Hopefully the next leg of the trip, will leave us a little more leeway to wander, but we will see when we soon take a closer look at the two weeks between Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. We’ve already looked at the maps and are thinking about the next leg taking us to the Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City, Denver (perhaps a baseball game there), Pikes Peak, and maybe even Vegas. We don’t want to give away too much of the “adventure” of this trip, but just thought you might be interested in a bit of the planning we’ve put in. Only time will tell if our trek between leaving Yellowstone on August 30th, and checking into the Bright Angel Lodge in the Grand Canyon on September 14th will be as planned, or more free form. Only time will also tell if our plans will all work out, or if we will be doing some “flying by the seat of our pants”. Stay tuned!

Our “Big Trip”

Our recent sojourn down to Florida was, if you will, just an appetizer to our retirement road trip; what we call “Our Big Trip.” We’ve been talking about this for years, and actually figuring dates out once the decision was made that I was going to retire at the end of this past January. The time line in our minds was to leave sometime mid August, and to return, at the very latest, in time for Thanksgiving. Our plan was to drive west, seeing some of the great sights this country has, and to check them off our bucket list. This would be a Bucket List trip for us.

imageWe started by collecting AAA Tour Books for most of the states. We also have added a couple of books with listing of things you absolutely must see across the United States. Some are wacky, like the World’s Largest Ball of String, but many are just not to be missed attractions. Susie has been going through the books taking notes, and the last two days we have both been working diligently on the tour books, and putting together a list of MUSTS for the trip. We also figured that places like Chicago or Detroit were close enough to the East Coast to be other shorter trips, and our intention is to concentrate on more of the Western United States. We figured to head west on a northern route, and return east on a more southern route, hopefully keeping summer weather with us for most of the journey. The first “must” we planned on hitting was Mount Rushmore, to satisfy Frank’s long desire to see it in person (too many viewings of North by Northwest).

imageWhile our plan is to basically wander in the general direction of the west coast, we understand that to stay in some places that are on the “Must List” of ours, we were going to need reservations. Three of those places are Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Monument Valley. We’ve read online that reservations at these 3 places need to be made months in advance, but figured that as we were 5-6 months out from our dates, we were still within the window of opportunity. Yesterday afternoon, we discovered that we didn’t have all the time in the world, and that our window of opportunity was about to slam shut! So our trip, that before yesterday was still kind of in the imaginary stage, just moved into the realm of reality! We discovered that there were very few availabilities left, and that if we wanted to stay on-site in these three places, we needed to act ASAP. Needing to make those reservations meant that we had to really look at the trip in earnest, decide what we really wanted to see, and forced us to actually come up with a timeline, while still leaving lots of open time to just check out neat looking things and places along the way.

Our “real” trip will commence with us leaving Long Island on Saturday August 21st. Our first reservations are for the nights of August 28th and 29th when we are booked at the Lake Hotel Sandpiper Lodge in Yellowstone Park. From there we have 2 open weeks, as our next booking is the nights of September 14th and 15th at the Yavapai Lodge in the Grand Canyon. Then, on Friday the 16th, we have one night booked at the View Hotel in Monument Valley. The only other defined part of our trip is the October 2nd to 16th two week period when we will be cruising on the Liberty of the Seas out of Galveston, Texas, and visiting with Kenny and Chris and their shipboard family. We still have lots of open space on our calendar to do the wandering part of this trip, and even if we have had enough, and just return home after the cruise, we will be gone 2 months! We always had a plan, but now we really have a plan and the trip is much more of a reality than it was just 24 hours ago!

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