One Week Out

“Let’s have a family meeting!”  my dear son says to me tonight when we are finally all back under the same roof.  Because here we are again.  Just over a week out from another thirty day road trip.  It’s crunch time.  A week for motivation and determination.  A week for preparation.

How do you leave?  How do you pack up a car, turn off the computer, and just drive away?
For a month.

The short answer is this:  You just do.

It’s not that we don’t have a lot of other things that we have to do.  And it’s not that we don’t have a lot of other things that we want to do.  It’s just that of all those other things, we’ve decided that this thing, this one trip, is the priority.  Everything else, and I mean EVERYTHING else, is planned around this one single block of time.  And then we do it.  I stick with the plan.  I don’t change my mind.  I don’t use all the real and valid and reasonable excuses I have to not go, and then not go.  I just keep moving forward every day, until the day we drive out of town.

The long answer is this:  You make a lot of lists.

We leave in 10 days.  My current TO DO list consists of 27 items.  I know… how do I live with myself?  The number 27 is bothering me just as much as it is you.  Do not be alarmed.  I’m positive I will have a cool 30 items on the list before I’m even done writing this blog post.

Although… this is just my “Home” To Do list.  My “Work” To Do list is down right alarming.  The first item states  “1.  Clear All Emails.”

hahahahahahahaha… ohmygod.. bwahahah.  I can’t stop laughing.  lol.. no really… haha.. Ha.  No… wait.  Whatdidshesay?   No emails?   No little red flags?  No bolded unreads?  No “awaiting responses?”  No color-coded follow-up email categories?

Nada.  Nothing.  Empty.

heh… heh..  uuhhhhh… #arethosetearsoflaughter? lol…  I mean… What?

Yeah.  I’m for real.  A clean slate.   If your work is anything like my work, then you get at least 75 new emails a day.  That’s where the bulk of the time goes this last week.  Get caught up.  Wipe the slate clean.  Delegate some new stuff.  Stop procrastinating.  Deal with the tough issues that seem to NEVER GO AWAY and make them go away.  Set your plan for emergency contacts while you’re gone, and write the outgoing message baby.  Yes, we all know the emails keep coming whether you are backpacking in the wilderness or not, but it will be easier to sit down along the way and plow through the new ones if you don’t have old issues lingering on the mind.

And finally, I have the packing list, which I have been diligently creating while driving back and forth across the Cascade Mountains these last couple weeks carting my children to summer camps.  I won’t bore you with the details now, but it is extensive, and currently consists of three separate columns:

1. Camping/Backpacking Gear
2. Clothing
3. Food/Other.

So, back to the all-important pre-trip family meeting.  There is only one thing on the agenda moms:  get them excited.   Excited children (and husbands) help more.  I guarantee that someone somewhere has proven this a scientific fact.  We talk about seating arrangements (Aubrey asks if she can drive, ha) and shopping lists (btw, which dehydrated all-in-one meal is your favorite?), what books we’re going to bring to read (I don’t remember the last trip where we didn’t cart all 7 Harry Potter’s along), and what music we want on our playlists (oh for the love of all that is holy, stop with the country!).  We talk about all the places we’re going to explore (The Great Lakes!), and the people we are going to see (cousins!), and all the things we’re going to do (Segway tour anyone?).  We all wonder a little anxiously if we are prepared for the more challenging adventures (now, the Greenstone Ridge Trail is a beginner 42-mile backpacking trip, right?) .  But mostly, we just build anticipation for another great family adventure coming our way.   Because they are always, always, worth the effort.

I hope to have time to write a blog or two along the route, but considering the number of posts I’ve made since January (zero), I wouldn’t bet the racehorse on it.  You’re busy.  I’m busy.  There’s no reason to list excuses here.   Instead, I will sign off with a little photo of the next National Park the Clemans’ clan will be visiting:  Voyageurs!

Happy Trails Everyone!

Voyageurs National Park ~ stolen from (I’ll have my own photo in a few weeks!)


Where are you Going Next Summer?

It’s a good day.  Seriously overwhelmed by the responses I’ve received to Thank You, Park Ranger this week.  I can’t express how incredible it feels to have a positive impact on the very people who have inspired so much good in my family over the last few years.  Thank you Thank you Thank you.

So here I am, feeling ever so slightly intimidated by my newfound respectable sized audience, and it’s time for another post.  Actually, I think it’s time to plan!

What???   I know, it seems early, but trust me it’s not.  It’s time.  The busiest National Parks can fill up campground reservations 4-5 months in advance of the popular summer months.  With the holidays at our doorstep, extra time for planning is already in short supply, and trust me, the planning takes time.  Early next year, you’ll want to be able to login to the park websites and reserve your campsites as you can expect an even larger crowd next season.

But, this is the fun part!  The dreaming part!  What have you always wanted to see?  What do you want to see next?  Historical battlegrounds in Virginia or the wildernesses of Yellowstone?  The Mammoth Cave in Kentucky or the Arches of Utah?  Do you want to hike the Dakota Badlands or windsurf the shores of Padre Island?  What about Mt. Rushmore?  The Grand Canyon?  The Grand Tetons?  The Redwoods?  The Olympics?

America is at your fingertips, and at this point in the game, anything is possible.

mt rushmore
2012 – Mt. Rushmore National Memorial

I tend to plan our long summer trips in two different stages.  The first stage is like writing a story’s discovery draft… you’re just dreaming up ideas and possibilities!  Have fun and get the whole family involved!  Your goal over the next two months is to decide on which parks (and other destinations) you want to visit and approximately how many days you want to be gone.  Save all that pesky reservation-making and logistical what-if’s for the much more labor intensive second stage.

Here are some tips and questions to help you start brainstorming:


  • The web-pages are fabulous and so very user friendly.  Spend some extra time looking at the park map and all the headings under the “Plan Your Visit” section as they will give you ideas on things you may want to see and do.  This will help you decide how many days you want to be at each park.
  • The National Park Foundation page is also a great source of information and highlights each of the parks, monuments, memorials, battlefields, and other lands governed by the National Park Service.  I love their User’s Guide – a free download brochure of what not to miss in each region of the country.
  • My Countdown page is a complete list of the 59 National Parks sorted by state.
  • The Amazing Places book illustrates hundreds of wonderful places to take your kids no matter where you are in the country.  Get it.  Read it. Love it.
  • Check out my Itineraries page for trip ideas.  Our 2009 trip to the parks in California and our 2010 trip to the parks in the Northwest are both posted.  I hope to get the 2011 trip up soon.

Questions to ask Yourself

  • Do you want to travel across the United States or stay close to home?  Or maybe find somewhere in between?
  • Do you want to see something you’ve never seen before or show the kids a favorite place from your childhood memories?
  • What are your kids studying in American history or science this year?
  • What activities/events are already on your summer calendar?
  • How much vacation time could you and/or your spouse have by next summer?
  • Start thinking about ALL your options for carving out time for your summer vacation.  My previous post, Thirteen Summers, discusses this topic in depth.
  • How much money can you put away per month for the next 8 months for travel?  Give yourself a monthly goal and start saving today.  Seriously, transfer $10 into your family savings account right now.  Check out this website and the (plethora of others out there) that give ideas on how to shave a few dollars out of your expenses each month.  Stay tuned… new posts on budgeting for an extended trip are coming up soon.

That’s it for today! Happy Planning!

The Trip Binder

I’m gearing up to publish Itinerary #2 soon, but there are just a couple more things I want to get posted before doing so.  Today is about the all-important Trip Binder.  This idea is a consequence of my obsessive need to get these trips as organized as possible before taking off for weeks on end with three kids and a car stuffed full of supplies.  They keep everything in one place… itinerary, maps, reservation confirmations, and all the stuff we collect along the way.   Make sure to have your trip binder organized and ready before you leave on your vacation, and keep it close to you the whole way through!  I keep mine lodged right between the driver and passenger seats throughout the trip.

To get started, purchase one 2-inch 3-ring binder, a set of dividers, and a package of transparent sheet protectors.  First, print out a final copy of your itinerary to put in the book.  You can either place it inside the transparent front cover, or put it in a sheet protector as the first page in the binder.  If you’ve made a calendar (which sometimes helps on long trips), you can also print that out and place it inside the front or back cover.


Next, you are going to label your dividers.  I don’t make a divider for every day, but rather for every major destination.  This way each divider holds all information necessary for a few days at a time.  For example, one section might be Crater Lake National Park and hold all information for Crater Lake and your visit to nearby Bend.  Another section might be Portland, and hold everything related to your plans in the city.  Create your sections in ways that make sense to you, but make sure to line them up in chronological order of your trip!


Next start adding in your pages.  Here is a list (in order) of things I print out, 3-hole punch, and place in the binder under the appropriate divider:

  • A copy of your campground or hotel reservation so you always have proof on-hand that a reservation was made, and so that you have any posted instructions for arrival at your fingertips.
  • Directions for every drive.  I carry a road map in the car and have my phone, so this might seem redundant, but you never know when you might need them.  I still use them to cross-reference where the navigator on my phone is sending me and to drive into remote areas where my phone doesn’t always have service.  Plus your navigation devices might send you to the wrong area in the same park, so you want directions that you’ve looked at and confirmed on hand before you leave on your trip!
  • Safety information for each area you are visiting.  Make sure to look online and see if there are any posted articles about road construction or animal sightings that might influence your activities.   A lot of park websites will have handouts posted for ongoing safety issues at their park.  I often print these out and have them in the binder so I can talk to the kids about them when we are at the campsite.
  • Printed tickets for any activity for which you’ve made reservations.  I’ve pre-purchased and printed tickets out for museums, zoos, rodeos, festivals, ferry crossings, historical tours, and rafting excursions.  It’s easiest to put these in a page protector and insert into the binder.
  • Brochures, day hike lists, and maps of the specific area you will be.  Spend time researching each area online before you leave and print out the important information about things you want to do.  I love having  a list of popular day hikes for each national park we are visiting in my binder.
  • Any interesting historical or scientific information that you definitely want to share with your family while you are out.  If you can’t find a printable handout, just copy info to a word document, print it out, and stick it in your binder!  It all makes for good reading material while you are driving.  Well, not for you, obviously, but for the people in the car who aren’t driving.
  • Make sure to insert at least one extra (empty) page protector into the binder for each divider section.  I use this to store the maps, postcards, receipts, stickers, park literature, brochures, parking tickets, and other small “souvenirs” we collect a long the way.  It’s great to have one place to put all that stuff, or your car becomes cluttered with paper very quickly.


The best part of all?  When you arrive home, exhausted, and have the first day of school staring straight at you, you can rest easy knowing your ‘scrapbooking’ for the trip is basically done.  Everything is already in one place, in the order that you did it, complete with not only your plans, but all the bits and pieces you collected along the way.   If you’re like me and hate to scrapbook, then feel comfortable shelving these little binders away knowing that the job is done and neatly organized.  However, if you love to scrapbook, you can still shelve the binder away knowing that when you find the time to start the project, everything you need is there waiting for you to make something creative and beautiful with it.

DSC_0178 edit

I hope I’ve sold you on the Trip Binder concept.  When you are living out of your car for thirty days, I think it is very important that you have everything you might need at your fingertips.  Not only does it minimize potentially dangerous distractions while you are driving, but it also makes it a lot easier to keep track of all the little things related to your trip, and when you’re dog tired and have a car full of restless kids, making everything as easy as possible is just a part of good planning.

That’s it for today!  I hope everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors this weekend!

Happy Trails.