A Family Trip to Washington, D.C., Part 10: Travel Stops

In case you missed the first few posts in this series, we will be chronicling our family trip to Washington D.C. over the course of the next couple months.  The first post in the series is here.  You can find the rest under the travel menu on our main page.  Last week Melissa described the busy bags we used to keep our smallest child entertained inside the car.  This week I explain how we kept all of us entertained outside the car on our travel days.

Have you ever been part of one of “those” car trips? The ones where everything seems to go wrong? We had one a few weeks back. You can read about it here. If you read it before, it is just as funny the second time.

While these types of days happen, we tried hard to prevent them on our two-week trip. We researched and planned stops along the route. We wanted time outside the car on our longer travel days. Too much time in the car makes everyone feel a little cooped up.

DC treasure map
3000+ miles on the road

On our first and last days on the road, we dropped in on family. It was a good reason to see and visit with them again. It was also a great place for the kids to stretch their legs for a while in an unconfined environment. On the return trip, we had an early Easter dinner with all of Melissa’s family during our stop at the relatives’ house. It was a wonderful way to end the vacation.

Day two of our travels was a Sunday. This sometimes causes scheduling issues since many places have altered hours on Sundays. For our family, church is important, so that is always a stop we make on a Sunday morning. We searched for a church that looked like it would suit us and planned our travel around it. We got up early, drove a couple hours, and attended an enjoyable service. Then it was back on the road.

Our next stop was in Burlington, Iowa for some chicken lips. Some friends of ours from the area told us where to find the best tasting ones. Lips-to-Go. They did not disappoint. After a filling meal of chicken and fries it was back on the road. The next, and final, entertainment stop of the day was the Peoria Zoo in Peoria, Il. It Is a fun little zoo with several unique animals to look at. Everyone in the family enjoyed the zoo, and best of all it was free since we are members of our local zoo.

The third day was not really a travel day. We spent a couple hours in the car to get to our destination: the Creation Museum just outside Cincinnati, OH. We will have a full post on the wonderful things we saw and did during that stop next week, so I will not go into detail now. The museum is well worth the typical cost of admission, but we were fortunate enough to have friends who allowed us to use their passes for our visit. So, the museum was a free adventure for us.

columbus zoo arctic fox

Travel day four found us at yet another zoo. This time we went to the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium. While it was too cold for the aquarium, we did enjoy the zoo, at least the areas where the animals were active. The cold weather caused several of the animals to hide indoors. The kids’ favorite animal was an arctic fox who wasn’t at all fazed by the temperature. Or maybe he was. He licked the fence of the enclosure the entire time we watched.

One up side to the cooler weather? No crowds around the animals. We were able to take our time and enjoy the walk. Another positive? The polar bears were extremely active. They even rolled in the mud for a while. Nothing like a brown polar bear. Since it was the off-season, admission was half price. The cost for the entire family to get in was $42.

The next day was a short travel day to D.C., so there was no reason for an adventure stop. On our return trip we only spent four days on the road instead of the five it took to get to D.C.

The first day on our return from D.C. we stopped in Pittsburgh, PA. We had read that it is home to several fun, city-owned parks. One of them is Frick Park. The park is a huge area with a variety of spaces and fields to play on. The draw for us was the “blue slide” and play area around it.

The slide is a smooth channel of concrete on a hillside, painted blue. Or at least it was. A simple piece of cardboard to sit on led to an hour of enjoyment. Our kids had fun on it, and so did all the other kids that were there. The play area nearby gave a variety of options to burn off energy. Best of all, the entire experience was free.

frick park blue slide

The next day, we scheduled our fun stop to coincide with lunch. We brought the kids to the Hard Rock Café at the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, MI. The kids had never been to a Hard Rock before. Nor had they been inside a casino. It was a cultural studies class for sure.

Not only did we have a good meal, but we also walked through the restaurant looking at the artifacts on the walls. Melissa and I had to fill the kids in on who some of the “older” people were on the wall. The kids did likewise for the “younger” artists. I had won a gift certificate to a Hard Rock Café at work, so that helped offset our bill and made the expense of the meal more in line with our typical travel eat-out budget.

The next day’s fun stop was our day at the water park. We wrote about that day two weeks ago on the blog. You can read about it here if you missed it. Our final day in the car we stopped and visited with family while enjoying an early Easter dinner. After dinner it was time for the last few hours on the road.

We worked hard to find free or inexpensive activities to get everyone out of the car for a couple hours on each of our long travel days. As you can see, our efforts paid off. We spent $42 at the Columbus Zoo and combined lunch and fun at the Hard Rock Café. Everything else we did for breaks throughout the trip was free.

Do you have any tips for inexpensive places you like to stop when traveling? Tell us about them. Send an email or leave a comment!