Thursday, August 13, 2015

Travel Bug

We leave for Jamaica in 3 days. Actually 3 days from right now we'll have already been in Jamaica for 8 hours. We booked this trip 10 months ago- I have a coworker who got pregnant and has had a baby in the time between my booking and us going on this vacation. We are very excited and very much looking forward to having awesome family time together away from work and the swim school and summer camps and Cora's need to yell her love for me (yes, the last thing might come with us, but I can dream). For once I'm not menu planning and making 16 packing lists and trying to remember which spices I should bring to make which dinners so I don't have to buy new ones when I only need a teaspoon. No, as I just verified with the resort on Monday, we pretty much just have to show up with a swim suit and a change of clothes. They'll do laundry while we're there. They have snacks, they have indoor and outdoor toys, they have all the things. I'm so already zenned out about my nonexistent vacation pre-gaming that I'm not even having stress dreams about forgetting our passports.

So because I don't need to do anything for this trip besides get to the airport early and hope Cora maintains her super relaxed attitude towards travel (she's been on eight 10+ hour car rides, 4 hours in a plane can't be a problem, right? RIGHT? I'm honestly more concerned about James), I'm going google crazy researching our next year of trips.

It all started when a friend posted a picture of Arches National Park in Utah a few months ago. Bam, that was clearly where we needed to go for Spring Break 2016. Super long drive? Inexpensive rentable condos nearby? Hours of hiking and crazy cool rock formations we can climb on/around? That's a Lag Liv family vacation right there. And then I started looking at the map and realized Canyonland was only another 30 minutes away from Arches. And then Capital Reef is only a few hours further west. Then Bryce Canyon is a few hours past that. And in between them is this amazing stretch of highway. And a state park. Next thing I knew I had a 9 day car trip with 2,000 miles and 41 hours of driving, plus lodging picked out for each stop and a list of hikes we need to take and it is going to be AMAZING. And I love how when I randomly turned to James one night last week and said "do you want to hear about Spring Break?!!" he turned away from his computer with his hours and hours of work, gave me his full attention, and said, "yep, where are we going?", and didn't once mention that we are still closer to 2015's spring break than we are to 2016.

So while we may have 7 months before we embark on this odyssey, I would love to hear from anyone who has done the Utah Mighty Five (or Four, in our case) road trip and has thoughts on how long to spend at each park. My current itinerary is below.

Day 1: Fort Worth to Denver (12 hours driving; stay with Tia)
Day 2: Denver to Moab (5.5 hours; visit Arches at sunset)
Day 3: Arches NP
Day 4: Canyonland NP
Day 5: Moab to Bryce (all day driving, with stop at Capitol Reef NP and beautiful highway look outs along the way; expecting to get to Bryce rental in time for late dinner)
Day 6: Bryce Canyon NP
Day 7: Bryce Canyon NP (planning to see nearby National Monuments, like Grand Stairway Escalante)
Day 8: Bryce to Amarillo (all day driving)
Day 9: Amarillo to Fort Worth (5.5 hrs.)

Gorgeous, right? (pic borrowed from here)

I already have a countdown.

Then, in new and very exciting travel news, my parents have offered to watch the kids for a couple of days after Christmas! Our kids, being watched by someone else who is not us, OVERNIGHT, without us. I can't even... James and my last vacation alone without children was before we ever had children. It was Spring Break 2007. I was pregnant and we went to San Francisco. That was a lifetime ago. Specifically, Landon's lifetime.

But, we've thoroughly blown this year's vacation budget on our upcoming beach trip so even with the novelty and excitement of the vacation-without-children situation, it can't be expensive because then I won't enjoy it. But I want it to be somewhere worth whatever money we do spend (i.e., driving into Houston for a night isn't going to cut it). It needs to be somewhere we aren't already planning on taking the kids or that we don't immediately wish they could do when we arrive. We really do love traveling with them- it's always way more fun than hassle and each trip always contains my brightest happiest memories of the year, so I want our December destination to be more adult-oriented. Like Napa. Except James doesn't drink wine. Or Vegas. Except that's the James-centric version of what Napa would be for me. Or Chicago or New York. Except that's really more for me again. Not that we wouldn't both end up having a great time in any of those places, but we've waited a really long time to get away together, I'd like us both to be equally captured in this destination. And flights to major cities between Christmas and New Year's are crazy expensive. And I don't want to blow too much of our 3 day getaway on travel time, particularly when the airport is already 1.5 hours from my parents lake house.

So I'm thinking of heading to New Orleans. James has never been. The last time I went I was in college and James and I were broken up and I made out with some random guy on a balcony on Bourbon and I didn't remember it until I got my disposable camera developed a few weeks later, so it would be great to make some memories I actually remember, and maybe don't take pictures of. It's less than a 5 hour drive, so we wouldn't have to fly (James is immediately on board), and while I don't mind flying, it would be great to go on a car ride where I'm not turned around backwards 65% of the time. We could stay in a fancy hotel in the Quarter, eat awesome food (we didn't eat in a single restaurant on my college trip to NOLA; priorities), drink all the drinks, sight-see and walk around during the day, and still not spend very much. I think it would be super fun.

But, before I start booking things, I would love to hear other suggestions. Destinations that are romantic, great to visit in December, not totally geared towards wine (boo), and perfect for a 2-night getaway. We like eating food and exploring, whether it's the outdoors or a city, and minimizing travel time is a plus. Or suggestions of places to eat and things to do in New Orleans, I've really never been there as an adult.

And in the meantime I will not write packing lists and plan out Spring Break 2017.


  1. So I've never been to New Orleans, but I really recommend Portland and Nashville as options. Portland is a fun, sweet little town with the best food ever (I'm from San Francisco so that says a lot!) and great outdoorsy hikes a short drive away. I also just got back from a quick trip to Nashville with my husband and we had SO much fun. They have lots of live music there, but it's a bit more low key than Austin. The food is amazing and the vibe is just so fun and carefree. If you go, definitely rent a car and do a short half-day trip outside the city too. Have fun!

  2. Ahh! No other suggestions are necessary. New Orleans is perfect! I love it. It will be beautiful at Christmas. I recommend the Royal Sonesta hotel in the french quarter. There's a Harrah's casino if James wants to feel a little Vegas'y and you're only about 90 minutes away from the Biloxi hotels. There's a wonderful place called the Beau Rivage that's the sister hotel to the Bellagio.

    My only warning is that there is a ton of stuff to do that you're going to decide the kids have to see, too, and you'll be back with them within a couple of years. :)
    Audobon Zoo and the Aquarium
    Trolley Ride through the French Quarter

    I recommend Muriel's for dinner!

  3. Before I finished the post I was like I have to comment and suggest NOLA. Charleston is another not-as-fun-for-kids city and if you're not afraid of cold, what about Boston or Providence?

  4. Definitely NOLA, it's perfect! Thanks for the pep-talk, now I need to start planning spring break, ack! I've been wanting to take the kids to see my sis in Seattle. But first, a family budget meeting is in order. ;)

    Have fun in Jamaica!!

  5. Definitely New Orleans! It's lovely in December (at least for this East Coaster) and you can have so much fun without spending much. The upscale restaurants are not cheap, but they are world-class, and there's lots of good cheap food too. And you can see so much great music for free, plus beautiful nature. I would recommend staying in an AirBnB (or hotel) in the Marigny rather than directly in the French Quarter, for a more picturesque and less touristy experience, and you're still very close to the FQ. Or for a more leafy atmosphere you could stay uptown - there are gorgeous houses there, and you'll have a car. I lived in NOLA for two years and I'm going back in August to go house-hunting for a place there, so I'd be happy to give you recommendations for what to see/do/eat if you want!

  6. I was going to suggest New Orleans- at Christmas you can do a Reveillon dinner (or two!) which are out of this world. The National WWII museum is fantastic, as are the Garden District tours and the cemetery tours are fun (hokey but fun). Your list of places you want to eat will be longer than the list of open meals and the decor at Christmas is beyond charming. You can check out Royal Street, Magazine Street, the Tulane campus area, etc. The Royal Sonesta, the Ritz (which is surprisingly priced considering it is a Ritz) and the W French Quarter (not Canal, avoid that location) are all great.

  7. So jealous of your Jamaica trip. Have a great time! I'm a New Orleanian and love giving people restaurant suggestions but I need to know more about what you're looking for. How much seafood do you want to eat? How much do you want to venture beyond the Quarter? Do you want to do brunch? So many options. The Ritz is my favorite downtown hotel but if you want to do airbnb I rent my guest cottage Uptown right by Tulane.

  8. I love love LOVE reading about your vacation plans because they so closely parallel my own! Earlier this year, my husband and I road tripped from SC to Austin by way of NOLA. Amazing!!! I even referenced your blog for places to visit in Austin while he was working!

    I just now (seriously, 2 hours ago) finalized plans for our Fall road trip. We're flying to Denver and driving south to Albuquerque where we'll hit Route 66 to Winslow, AZ (I want to take pictures reenacting the Eagles song). Then we'll drop down to Phoenix and head on to friends in San Diego. After that, we're driving to Vegas for a couple of days, then on to Moab for Arches and Canyonland (timed specifically to hit Arches at sunset!!). Then, back to Denver by way of Grand Mesa because my husband wants to drive the scary switchback fire service road we found at the top of GM on our honeymoon.

    A road trip is my favorite way to vacation. If you're open to flying and then roadtripping, I suggest:
    Key West - fly into Florida then drive the Keys.
    New England - fly into Boston (or NYC) and head to Maine by way of VT and NH
    The Pacific Coast Highway - we haven't done this one yet, but it's on the short bucket list
    As a kid, my parents flew us to Seattle, then we rented a car and drove all over WA, ID, MT, WY, and OR. The pictures of me and my sister straddling the continental divide and throwing snowballs while wearing shorts made it into both of our senior slideshows.

    When the kids are older, I suggest a road trips in Europe. You can't have more fun than trying to drive on the wrong side of a road that looks like it's one lane with a tour bus coming straight at you (Ireland) or getting lost on the Costa del Sol with your girlfriends who speak a combined 7 languages, none of them Spanish.

  9. I, too, was about to suggest NOLA as I was reading. Reveillon dinners are awesome - a prix fixe menu that gives you an affordable fancy dinner out at some of the (normally) most expensive places ever. However you must reserve early!! The Roosevelt hotel is beautifully decorated at Christmas. The Bywater and the Marigny are up-and-coming, super cool neighborhoods - Garden District's always nice, too, but I like the funkier off-the-beaten path stuff. You could wander for days. The Quarter is lovely except for Bourbon - Frankly, unless you're at a bachelor party, Bourbon is a seedy and yucky scene. The Fifth Circuit courthouse is gorgeous, for a law nerd such as yourself. Get a Pimm's cup at the Napoleon. I would also recommend indulging in a long, multi-course boozy lunch rather than dinner - it's cheaper, it'll satisfy you for the day, and at dinnertime you can enjoy fried oysters and a cocktail or two. Definitely head over to the Tulane campus area and take a walk around the bike/walk track at Audubon park - check out the breathtaking uptown houses. Take a streetcar from there to the Quarter area. OMG I could go on. I lived there 3 years and my husband still works there - we live a couple of hours away now, and he drives in. Although the schools make it a place I don't want to move back to right now, I am glad we have a connection there forever - it truly is a one-of-a-kind city in America.

  10. This isn't helpful at all for planning purposes, but my family did the Utah trip when I was a kid and we have such wonderful memories of that trip. Hope y'all love it as much as we did.

  11. Nola sounds lovely! If you're open to colder-than-texas weather, I might also suggest Santa Fe! I have spent many a Christmases there and it is magical

  12. New Orleans! I was actually thinking NOLA before I finished your post - Ritz Carlton or Roosevelt are beautiful hotels and close to French Quarter (New Orleans can get loud and wild directly in the French Quarter, as you know, so I prefer staying just around the corner in a nicer place to make sure I can get sleep when I want it). Spa at the Ritz is wonderful, Arnauds for dinner, Preservation Hall for jazz (do VIP experience if you want a guaranteed seat), Cafe DuMond for breakfast, Commander's Palace for another fab lunch or dinner, do a ghost tour(!), art galleries on Royal street. Have fun!

  13. I did a Nevada/Utah/Arizona trip in June. While I wish I had made it to Moab/Arches, I did spend 4 days in Zion and did a day trip to Bryce. which was a beautiful 2 hour drive away. Bryce is really amazing and definitely worth seeing, however, 3 days may be a long time to spend there. While there are many different hikes in Bryce, most of them kind of have the same view, just from a different angle. There also aren't many restaurant/lodging options. I really don't think you can go wrong with any of the Utah parks though. I wish we had stayed in Bryce overnight to see the stars.

  14. Elisabeth F8/14/15, 4:16 PM

    Long time reader, coming out of the shadows to comment on such a fun post! I'm actually living in Utah right now. The only thing I'd point out, like Laura did, is that Bryce probably doesn't require as long as you've set aside. I would do an overnight, if possible (camping?). As beautiful as it all is, it all starts to look the same after a bit. :) Everything else sounds great!

    And New Orleans is a hoot! That would be such a fun getaway. (Although, we did three days in Vegas just before Christmas last year and didn't gamble - we explored the Strip, shopped like crazy, went to the spa, and ate out at fancy restaurants. But I could see how someone would want to be at the slots all day, ha! They're everywhere.)

    One thing I regret from when I was in NOLA was not taking full advantage of local cuisine, and I would have loved to have gone to hear some live jazz. I only had one night so was limited in that respect.

    A few other suggestions: check out Groupon, as they often have cheap flight deals to certain destinations, even around Christmas time. San Diego, perhaps? Also, like a commenter mentioned above, Charleston is a crazy quaint city, with lots of lovely parks and fun exploring to do. And some AMAZING food.

    But, you really can't go wrong with New Orleans.

  15. Charleston is actually a pretty fun kid destination. Especially as they get older and are into history. December is really hit and miss in SC with weather, though. I would do New Orleans. Quick drive, great food, amazing culture, fancy hotels. DONE AND DONE.

  16. We did the mighty 5 in Utah with our 3 kids last summer. We started at Arches and ended at zion. 3 days is a lot for Bryce, but you should not miss Zion and could easily spend the next 2 days there. You should not go so close to Zion and not visit. It is my favorite of the parks.
    We did a ranger led sunset tour in arches of the fiery furnace in July and one member of our group collapsed with heat stroke and had to be helicoptered to the ER. But I would think spring break would be much more temperate. That was the first day of our trip and it gave us a healthy appreciation for making sure we were prepared and not over extending ourselves and had enough water. We waited until all our kids were old enough to do the hikes we wanted to do - ages 10,12,14 - and we finished our adventure with the Grand Canyon. It was an amazing trip. Beautiful country. We can't wait to go back some day!

  17. Thanks for the feedback guys! I think we're totally set on NOLA now and getting so excited! I'll post again closer to when we go (you know, like in September) to get more specific ideas on restaurants- and give you more specific ideas of what we're looking for.

    As for Utah, thanks for insight there too!! I've clarified our plan a bit above just to make it clear that a few of those days are pretty solid driving days, so it's really just two days around Bryce Canyon. My thought there (which I'm happy to change/correct!) was that we'd want to chill for a little bit- we'll get there late at night on Day 5 and leave very early in the morning on Day 8, and it looked like there were some really beautiful national monuments (like Stairway Escalante) nearby that we could part-day-road-trip it to.

    I had Zion on the list, but it was another hour or so west and I was worried that having 1 day of Bryce Canyon, then a partial travel day, with only 1 day at Zion, with a now 18 hour drive home was just too much and too short shrift for Zion. We are already planning a Grand Canyon trip for 2018 (I know) and plan to head north from the canyon to do Zion then. And while beautiful, it looked slightly more traditional than the hoodoo rock formation craziness of Bryce Canyon and the others, so it felt like it could be okay to do in another trip. That said, I'm still open to shoe-horning it back in our 2016 Utah trip! Would 1 day at Bryce Canyon and 1 day at Zion be enough? Particularly after all the driving and stopping we'll already have been doing? We love road tripping, so it's no problem, I just don't want to be thinking 'ugh," another new place by the end. (We could still sleep near Bryce Canyon right? Not packing up again is key.)

    (And the Fiery Furnace looks AMAZING and I'm so glad you got to do it! Sadly, you can't have any hikers less than 5 years old, so we'll have to sit it out this time, but we'll be back- Arches and Canyonland are a really easy half day drive from my sister's house and we head up there at least 1x a year.)

  18. Zion on the 2018 trip sounds like a great idea!! We had booked 3 nights there and loved it so much we added a 4th. If I had had the time I could've easily stayed a week. I think just one day in Zion would be a tease. Many of the must do hikes are a full day event (especially if you go in the hotter months, hiking in the late afternoon was difficult). The tiny town of Springdale (at the entrance of Zion) is a fun place to walk around. I could go on and on about Zion, but I say go for 3 days minimum.

  19. NOLA: char-grilled oysters. For real. Unbelievable.

  20. One of my best European travel trip tips is to allow yourself a "weekend" in your holiday: all that travelling can get quite tiring and a day in the same place with 'hotel day' is sometimes exactly what you need: goes triple for travelling with children

  21. I was in NOLA a few years ago and now have this (mostly untried and unresearched) list to see/do/do again on our next visit.

    House of blues
    Preservation hall- reservations?
    Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro
    Cemetery In Garden district
    Commander's Palace Restaurant-across from a cemetary.
    Tour Louisiana State museum, Cabildo, and St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square
    Cafe du Monde - early to avoid lines
    Willie Maes
    Mulate's Cajun Restaurant
    Meals From The Heart Cafe in French Market

  22. Music suggestion for you for New Orleans: find Kermit Ruffins and go to one of his shows.

  23. YAY, longtime reader checking in - I live in Australia but my fiance and I are planning an epic US roadtrip in July/August/September next year, and the national parks of Utah are number one on my list (he doesn't understand why I'm so particularly taken with, of all places, Utah, but it looks amazing). I have no suggestions or wisdom, obviously having never set foot there, but I look forward to reading about your adventures when you guys go there!

  24. Hi, I'm a periodic reader from Salt Lake City. I would definitely not miss Zion. It should be #1 on your list in my opinion. If I were you, I'd focus on Zion and Arches. Arches is great for kids because there are lots of shorter hikes. But Zion is so so much fun. The river can typically be waded in and you can throw rocks, etc. The little town outside of Zion (Springdale) is a lot of fun, too.

  25. You're going to be doing a ton of driving already, so I would skip the visit in Denver if you can stand to. I think the most direct driving route that Google maps suggests from Fort Worth to Moab (Arches/Canyonlands), then Bryce Canyon, then Zion, then back to Fort Worth. I would not stay near Bryce but visit Zion at the same time. Stay 3 places - Moab, Bryce, and Zion. I agree with those who say that multiple days at Bryce is less appealing than a couple days at Zion to me. Bryce is really cool and interesting formations, but Zion is so spectacular. One of the most outstanding places I've ever seen in my life.