disney bound2

Over the years we have charted trips from Maryland to Georgia; Iowa to Maryland; Iowa to Georgia; Tennessee to Missouri; and a few other destinations less traveled by our families. We try to keep a journal for each trip we take mainly to know what worked, what didn’t and where are all the good stops we have enjoyed along the way.

The one constant road-trip-tip (say that one 10x fast!) for us has been to make sure we have a good idea of several stops we can make along the way. It helps so us to have an idea of where we might get gas, grab a bite to eat and even gives us something to look forward to as far as a place to stretch our legs and change drivers if not just a fun stop to make some memories.

Last year my husband and I lost our minds and planned a trip to Disney with two toddlers, an infant and my handicap mom.

Yep. We plum lost our minds.

There is a back story to our insanity. We were originally planning a get-away January 2014 but that wasn’t to be as we almost lost my mom to a severe illness. Then we became ill. Once we were all better, Branden and I thought “Let’s go after our nephews go home.” His logic being we would need happy thoughts to get us through missing our nephews on a daily basis as they had been staying with us every day for eight months. Life has fun throwing lemons our way because almost as soon as we thought about planning a trip Branden had a job offer he couldn’t refuse which meant he had to re-earn time off.

The sad news was postponing the trip again. The good news was my mom got better and we were able to use a trip to Disney as an end goal for her recovery. A placement later and we not only wanted to bring our nephews but also our newest addition as well. It all seemed right because it meant my mom could enjoy seeing these grandbabies at Disney, which might never happen again.

So… without further ado we set the date, purchased the tickets, made the hotel reservation and yes we were just that crazy to bring two toddlers, an infant and my mom with us.

While the trip in its entirety is a whole other blog post, the point I wanted to make here was that even this trip was not just about the destination, as lovely and magical as it is. As usual for us the trip was about the journey… to, from and everything in between. Sadly though, even with our best intentions sometimes trips really are about the destinations. That the road trip to the destination is a big push.

The first time we went to Disney, Branden and I were both chaperones for a girls choir that I was the business manager for. So our schedule was planned out for us including the bus ride down. I barely remember that road trip except there were a LOT of Disney movies being played on the bus to put everyone in the mood. The Disney visit was more then memorable and filled with stories I won’t easily forget like a bird landing on the head of one of our singers in the midst of a song. That chorister handled that incident better then most professionals!

The second time we went it was using our 10 year anniversary fund (long story) so my mother could see Disney for the first time. My dad had been really ill the year of our 10th anniversary so we did not get to take a special trip. When my dad passed away and we were faced with the idea of Christmas without him, Branden and I decided to use that fund so we could spend Christmas at Disney. It seemed the right thing to do but it meant that we didn’t really make the stops along the way that we thought we would. I don’t even really remember our trip down and I barely remember the trip back up. I do remember the bits in between which was the most important thing for that trip.

Now for this third trip, we were planning to have one senior and three little ones. From the start we knew there would need to be multiple stops both going and coming home. As most of those stops would be potty breaks and “the kids need to burn energy off” breaks, I knew that meant more unplanned stops but thought it never hurt to check the internet to see if there were any suggestions out there to make our road trip more pleasant. Mainly I wanted to have an idea of how spaced out the rest stops were and if there were any exits along our route that might offer quick food eats with healthier options.

So I looked up our route and what did I find? It was a mixed bag of nothing. There were rest stops and some restaurant locations listed for Georgia and a few Florida rest stops listed on www.i75exitguide.com. Sadly there were no specific gas exits only prices linked to www.gasbuddy.com (a website my in-laws use regularly when they are out of town for work). I then cast a wider net to see if there any other food suggestions listed somewhere for Georgia but there still wasn’t much out there. After a lot of digging I did find an interesting truckers site with some gas station ideas for making stops off of I-75 at www.findfuelstops.com/truck-stop-on-I-75. I was still left a bit sad since I knew we would need to take at least one stop in Florida before getting to Disney.

Overall what I wanted was some reassurances that we wouldn’t be spending all day on the road trip from hell. That we would have an enjoyable drive down where we could easily get gas, grab a bite to eat, let the toddlers burn some energy and of course change diapers all within a few feet of each other… How could the internet not have the answer to what I wanted? After all I knew for a fact that we were not the only people who lived in our area to drive to and from Disney. And that was just our area!

I am a very organized traveler. Even for trips where we have traveled the route often I have a trip binder. It has written (or printed) directions, itinerary, hotel information, etc. On years where I am very stressed about making the trip work well I even create a packing list and a list of things to buy for the trip. One year I even pre-packed our van with our luggage to make sure everything would fit. Then I took a picture and labeled the picture so Branden and my brother could later re-pack our van since I was going to be busy with my day job up to the day we left. So my trip binder is my trip “how to” for dummies because we all get a little dumb sometimes. Don’t believe me? Someday I will share the story of how we lost an entire state on my way to college.

My point here is that when I am armed with information I feel more secure about the road trip, which does kind of set the mood for the first few days of any trip. This trip I even had a goal for taking notes on the places where we took stops so I could do what I couldn’t find: create a basic road stop list that people could add to. Sadly my notes for the return trip ended up as toddler fodder, meaning one of the toddlers got a hold of my note book and most of my notes got torn to shreds. This made me quite sad as the Pizza Hut on our return trip had such a wonderful staff that I looked past their outdated bathrooms with absent of diaper changing stations. Honestly this stop made our whole return trip home much more enjoyable then we had originally thought!

Even with most of my notes gone I was able to make a small list of the exits we took on our way down to Disney. I hope the small list of noted places can help others who like to plan make a more enjoyable car-ride down to Disney and that others will add their favorite stops to this list!

I really wanted to provide more details and lots of useful stop information but like much about life, lemons were tossed and we did the best we could to make lemonade. This time it meant not getting upset with the toddler who unpacked the luggage sitting next to him or tore/shredded pages out of my trip binder when we got home. The good news is that we hope to make a few more trips to Florida in the next couple of years to visit family and friends. Maybe we will even take a side trip for another much needed family vacation! So we hope to add to this list as much as we hope others will help add to this list as well!

 

Georgia

Exit 179 Southbound

Rest-Stop

Note: While the rest stop may seem a bit over crowded when you pull in there is over flow parking in the back. There really wasn’t an area where I could let the kids stretch their legs because of how tight of an area the rest stop was. I ended up being worried that they might get hit by a car. The only leg stretching they did was running around inside the small bathroom and taking trash from the van to the trash can.

 

Exit 146

Pilot Travel Center

Note: Was a good stop for gas. The price of gas was pretty decent and comparable to Tennessee. The gas station had an Arby’s adjoining it. We ended up not grabbing food here because there really wasn’t an area for the kids to let loose some steam. Instead we grabbed snacks and got back on the road. The kids were ok with this since we had started our trip so early. They mainly wanted to nap in the car for most of the morning.

 

Exit 22

Burger King

Note: Wonderful stop! There was a play yard in the Burger King so the kids got to stretch their legs and let off some energy. The bathrooms even had changing tables. Yay! Bonus was that this exit also had a few gas stations to choose from. I believe we used the Shell Station but I don’t know for sure as that was on one of the pages that the toddler shredded.

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In today’s world of social media we see these awesome vacation photos of our friends and acquaintances. What do they all have in common? (Other then looking a little too picture perfect at times) They are all photos of the vacation destination which reminds us that vacation is about the destination. Right? Well not for my family.

Both my husband and I grew up in families that road tripped. So our early vacation memories are just as much about the journey as it was about the journey’s end. For me some of the early trips meant the journeys end was at a relative’s home in another state so I was more excited about the drive then the final destination as my relatives generally still had their day jobs to go to while we were visiting. Now that we are adults who have experienced a variety of vacation styles from “staycations” to road trips to international travel, we have not forgotten our roots.

Neither one of us care for air travel as it exists today, although we have a lot of respect for the journey it has taken to protect travel for those who must fly. Since 9-11 travel on an airplane is not as enjoyable as it once was. All that rushing around, not knowing if you are going to be singled out for a search and then the possibility that you may not make a connecting flight. Then add in that I am claustrophobic. I once told an airplane exec that was curious as to why I didn’t like air travel that airplanes reminded me of coffins with wings. Yeah. Just the thought of starting a vacation with a plane ride for either of us kind of sets us on edge. That kind of feeling can set a bad tone for the entire trip. If we can avoid using a plane it’s a much better trip right from the start.

That means we do a lot of traveling in the USA within a 9 hour drive of where we live. Since we live in Southeast Tennessee we feel like that gives us plenty enough options for adventure and excitement. In recent years we have been to Washington, DC (where I am originally from); Williamsburg, VA; Orlando, Florida; Lake of the Ozarks, MO and plenty of places in between. Each time we plan our trips we try to incorporate special stops along the way. We also try to plan our road trips with extra time as the unexpected can be just as enjoyable as the planned stops.

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             Cahokia Mounds

I will never live down a time in which Branden asked if I wanted to make a stop at Cahokia Mounds right outside of St. Louis, MO. He knew that was on my bucket list as I am a big fan of archaeology and have an art history minor. I thought the historical site was going to be way off the beaten path but when he pointed to a sign that said it was only a mile off the exit I grabbed his arm and excitedly exclaimed “Yes, please! Let’s go now!” In Branden’s memory my eyes turned red and my voice took on a deeper tone. He even has gone so far as to say I ordered him to “Turn now servant!” Shame on him for picking on me! As you can see that has stuck with me for the past 15 years and is a favorite road trip moment of ours.

Sure road trips can be long and boring. But they don’t have to be. You can go low tech and do fun car games. You can use it as a time to have a conversation where phones and FaceBook can take a back seat. Use the trip as a way to re-invest in your relationship. Find out what makes your significant other tick today. You can also bring techie gadgets with you to entertain the little ones (or older parents). My mom has loved watching movies in the back seat on some of our most recent trips.

The point for me is I would never trade any of our side trips along the way for a fast or “easy” way to get from point A (home) to point B (the vacation destination). Those side trips are just as memorable, if not more so, then the actual trip.

This post is dedicated to creating memories and learning about the road less traveled. My maternal grandmother moved from Maryland to Georgia in the early 80s. From about 1985 to her death in 2005, some part of our family either traveled to visit her or her to visit us often enough that we came to have a love and hate relationship with I-81.

When I was a kid there weren’t a lot of exits along this highway. We depended on the road side rest stops as gas stations were few and far between. For a kid with motion sickness the trip could go from boring to excruciating in about 5 minutes.

As I got older and my motion sickness was found out to be vision related (Yay glasses!), I was able to value road trips more. I treasured the time we played games, walked dogs in snow laden grass embankments and had snowball fights, when we were able to explore small town America instead of just sticking to roadside rest-stops, and for me personally- I would sit and draw the mountains we drove past thinking of each one as a dear friend marking my journey. Then as I got older I began to miss and long for those road trips as family members aged, stopped taking trips or started their own families. Later on as I started my own family and also made the move from Maryland, I began to take trips down I-81 with my husband and have been able to add to those memories.

The first time Branden and I went to Williamsburg, VA was about our 7th or 8th trip together driving along I-81 so we knew that there were a few truck stops and exits on I-81 that we liked to stop off at. That said the older I get the more I realize fast food on a road trip can be fun but I pay for it in the end (no-puns-intended). So we are always in search of that quick sit down meal or a fast food place that has healthier options.

Our first road trip to Williamsburg followed a long day at work so we knew we needed an evening stop over before getting to our journey’s end. We weren’t sure where that would be so we grabbed a hotel coupon booklet from as rest stop for some ideas. What first stuck out and caught our attention was Staunton, VA. As we were pulling into the hotel we chose, we saw a sign for Edelweiss restaurant. It seemed like karma. We had always wanted to try that restaurant but never had time. The restaurant also stood out to us because Edelweiss is the name of the theme song for the choir I worked for at that time.

Sadly when we got to the restaurant it was closed. So we did not get to eat there on our way to Williamsburg however we grabbed a menu and on our return trip we made a point to grab brunch there. The restaurant was glorious! I whole heartedly recommend it to everyone who enjoys German food and has to take a trip that involves driving down I-81. Since 2009, Branden and I have been to this restaurant a minimum of six times. It has never failed to impress us. It has everything we love- good food for great prices, a wonderful at home feeling (with a German theme) and great staff.

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Edelweiss even has a website now (http://www.edelweissvirginia.com/). Maybe not the prettiest website but don’t judge a book by its cover or the website that represents it 😉 If you should find yourself planning a road trip along I-81 in Virginia and are able to have a sit down meal, you should look up Edelweiss up so you can add it to your very own journey.

It’s now three weeks past the launch of our blog. Yay! Now what to write…? No I am just joking. I have a whole laundry list of topics I want to write about and events I wish to share. Before I get too deep and retrospective I want to share a series of articles dealing with two obsessions of mine: Travel and Disney.

I know these posts will be coming at an odd time. Summer is prime family vacation time so anyone who hasn’t already taken their vacation is highly likely to already have it planned. That said, this series of articles can appeal to those who are already planning their next great family vacation as well as those that vacation at off-peak times. With so many school systems across the country utilizing fall, winter and spring breaks, there is always a vacation right around the corner.

I come from a family with a love of road trips and traveling. In fact many of us “thank” or even “blame” my great grandfather for our wanderlust. Whenever he got bored with life he would hitch a train and go… he actually worked with the railroad from time to time so this made his wanderlust that much easier to satisfy but that is a story for another day. As a part of this series, I want to share my family’s perspective of travel as it has helped shape who I am today and had an impact on where our family currently lives. I also hope to cover various other travel related topics.

As for my other obsession… Yes, I am a Disney Fanatic. Even though I never went to either Land or World as a child, as an adult I have enjoyed three very different trips and hope to go again. As many fanatics say “I start planning my next trip before the one I am on is over”. In keeping with the theme of our blog, I want to share my current knowledge and love of Disney World with those who have either never been to or who have an interest in returning but have questions and want to make their next trip more magical.

Thanks to Facebook I can easily follow multiple Disney blogs through the Facebook Fan Pages. These blogs are my “go to” not just for trip planning but for when I need a magical boost to my day. Experts say that it is just as important to plan a trip you never take as it is to plan your real trip. I take full advantage of this theory and plan trips often as a way to escape from the daily doldrums.

My all time favorite Disney Blog is the Disney Food Blog. There are not enough good things I can say about this blog as I am also a foodie and have been accused of planning where I am going to eat out of town as soon as I know where my trip destination is. This blog has wonderful tips on where to dine, when to dine, and even recipes for some of the food items we have all grown to love while at Disney. I still need to try the recipe they shared last fall on Facebook for the Ohana Bread Pudding from the Polynesian Resort. (The actual full recipe was from a 2009 blog post from the food blog website.)

I have probably been sucked into “liking” about a dozen Disney related fan pages thinking titles of pages have changed or because a particular post sounded interesting. Of the pages I follow the ones I find most interesting and magical on a daily basis also have official websites as well Inside the Magic; Walt Disney World for Grownups; Disney Fanatic and The Main Street Mouse. I have found that Inside the Magic, WDW for Grownups and TMSM provide Facebook posts that cover events that make you wish that you were at WDW right now (perhaps inspiring ideas of what time of year you would like to plan a trip) while Disney Fanatic covers topics like “10 Closed Disney Rides We Miss the Most”. All of these pages can keep your Disney addiction well fed (don’t forget Disney owns the movie rights to the Marvel Universe and Star Wars- these sites help keep me updated) as well as provide serious tips for planning a great vacation. Although it is not one of my everyday reads there is another site that I find instrumental in answering vacation related questions: the official Disney Parks blog.

In planning trips to Disney and reading tips that these blogs have shared, I have found areas that are a bit gray and thin. Where information given is very generic or overshared in a way that obscures some more serious travel tips and questions. I hope that my series of Travel, and Disney related blog entries will cover topics like:

  • Vacation Tango
  • Magical Trips with Toddlers (from day trips to a WDW Vacation)
  • WDW: Making the most of a Fall Trip
  • WDW: Enjoying the Christmas Magic
  • 10 Tips I wish someone had shared with me about WDW
  • Spinning a Travelers’ list of Pet Peeves
  • Covering things “not to do” while on Vacation

In this series I expect to include links for additional information and to cover ideas and a few stories not listed with the above titles as they are personal experiences either from WDW trips or other vacations. One that comes to mind right now ties into the biggest pet peeves WDW fanatics or vacationers have about any trip and how to make the best of the situation.

On that note: take it from me that we all do things at one point or another that upset those around us. After all we can not please 100% of those around us all the time. Sometimes we are aware of what we do (and could behave differently) and other times we are forced into bad situations without needing others to make it even worse. If we can help be a part of the solution and not the problem then everyone could have a more magical vacation wherever they may be.