My brother was married in California in July. This meant that we needed to make a trip to California and stay one night. The drive is about 5 1/2 hours each way.

We decided to make the most of our time by leaving early the day of the wedding (the wedding was set for 4 p.m.). We left really early, and we took food and water with us (we filled water bottles and two Gotts with cold water, and froze more water and ice for the ice chest).

We had homemade muffins and hard boiled eggs for breakfast in Baker, sitting below the world’s tallest thermometer there, where it was 91º at 6 a.m.

We drove all the way to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and up to the Getty Villa. Admission to the Getty Villa is free, but parking is $15. Reservations for tickets need to be made ahead of time.

We have been studying Greek and Roman history, and our three oldest children are huge Percy Jackson fans, so this was like a field trip, too, for which they were all very enthusiastic. The younger children loved the museum and the gardens, too. Our only regret–that we didn’t have an entire day to see everything. The whole family wants to go back.

Renacting Greek stories as shadow puppet vases; that’s Ezrom holding Medusa’s head

We brought lunch with us (I sliced ham and turkey before hand, made French bread, brought homemade pickles, and made chocolate chip cookies) and we enjoyed lunch in the beautiful weather and shade of some redwoods in the picnic area of the museum.

After we visited the museum, we headed to our hotel to change, and then to the wedding.

When we left the reception and returned to our hotel, we headed down to the hotel pool to go swimming.

The next morning, we had a really delicious breakfast at the hotel (complimentary breakfast), and then we headed to the beach, close to where we had been the day before.

Ezrom dug a huge hole, knelt in it, and asked his siblings to bury him, and told me to go get a camera.

The beach was not free (parking was $14.50) but it had outdoor showers and bathrooms, which was rather helpful before our drive home.

The children were able to see and play in the ocean for the first time.

Our picnic lunch was more of the same from the day before.

After the beach, we drove home. We stopped along the way and ate more from the cooler for dinner: hard boiled eggs, muffins, cookies, and sandwiches.

We were very happy to see that our gas expense came in a 60% less than we had budgeted. We knew that gas was over $4 a gallon in Los Angeles, but we were able to get gas for $3.99 in California and $4.06 on our way home, and we still had a half tank left when we got home. We had no experience with lots of freeway driving with our van, but we knew the city mileage we got was not real high (it is a vehicle that fits all 9 of us, and we paid cash for it (only $500 more than we sold our old vehicle for). We never imagined it would get such good mileage on the freeway, which has left us looking at the possibility of future trips, if we can find a lower priced lodging, such as camping! Las Vegas is at least 5 to 7 hours from anywhere, so knowing that we get decent gas mileage on the freeway is really fantastic!

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  1. I was hoping you would post about your trip! I am curious what your kids thought about the breakfast at the hotel. I have gotten my feelings a bit hurt at times over my kids’ enthusiasm, because I think the food doesn’t taste as good as I can make, but finally realized that it’s the variety that they like. It is nice that everyone can choose something different. We have always lived at least several hours away from family, so my kids have been travelling since they were small. One of the things I loved to do when they were little was make a binder with a bunch of printables for them to do as we traveled. I would print things about the locations that we would be going through in addition to just things they were interested in. I initially made these with new (back to school purchases no doubt!), colored pencils/crayons, scissors, etc., in a little binder pouch. It made the trip a little more exciting and gave them something to do as we drove. I always packed plenty of snacks, and we stopped any time anyone needed to ‘go’ without complaint. My kids are older now and are great travelers, I think in part do to the fact that I tried to make it fun even when we were driving long distances. One the way to my parents house when the kids were young, there was a 1.5 hour stretch with no facilities, so I always tried to get them to go when a restroom was available before we entered that stretch. Even now they will tease me about offering them a tick-tack to ‘try’. 🙂

  2. From the looks on the childrens faces a great time was had by all. I hope you got to drink ALOT of MILK at the comp. breakfast!!! Love the almost “family” picture, I guess someone had to take the picture…

  3. Patty, I hope we can one day! If so, I will definitely let you know! I hope my Seattle readers see your comment and can use their library cards to do the same thing, if they weren’t already aware that they could!

  4. Thanks for sharing about your frugal trip! Your daughter’s necklace is lovely. Can you share the make & model of your vehicle? We are in dire need of a van with good gas mileage for our family of 10. For now we’ve been borrowing or renting mini-vans when we go into the city.Blessings, Leslie

  5. We have a Ford F-350. We don’t get great gas mileage around town, so we were quite surprised that our gas was much better on the freeway on a long trip. It is our only vehicle and we fill it up about every two weeks.

  6. It looks like you and your family had a wonderful time! I know lodging can be super expensive when traveling with a large family. Have you ever considered doing a home exchange for your lodging for future trips? Just a thought.

  7. I am so happy your family enjoyed the trip! I love to pack a picnic for our travel days. My husband enjoys that too, but will splurge on a milkshake or coffee when we travel. We have always traveled frugally and looked for free things to do when we’re traveling. For me, it seems we get more of an idea of the areas we’re visiting.

  8. Your children will never forget this visit to the ocean. I still fondly remember the first–and only–time I saw the ocean. It was something I had struggled to comprehend beforehand, and it is still fascinating to think about. My family took our only long trip, from Arkansas to California, when I was 14. It was more traditional style travel, cost conscious, rather than frugal, but my parents were diligent about carrying a Thermos jug of ice water made up with free hotel ice each morning, and grocery store snacks. I don’t think we ever bought high priced drinks and snacks at the gas stations. My father encouraged us to eat a big breakfast, as it was the cheapest meal of the day.The rest of the time we just took day trips, or at most a two day vacation with only one night in a motel. Day trips often involved a picnic brought from home. The two day trips usually involved buying amusement park tickets the afternoon of arrival, and they were good all the next day, too, for the same price. Often the “entertainment” involved visiting relatives. Of course, some pundit once said visiting relatives was NOT a vacation, it was a visit.You SIL’s wedding gown is so pretty, and she looks pretty in it.

  9. Madison has sooo much to see. Did you go in the Capitol? It is very beautiful, as are the grounds. The farmer’s market is IMO the best in the country. I have no children there anymore so we have not been there now since son and DIL moved up here when finished school and got married. One daughter did grad school there and met her veterinarian husband there where he was going to school. They live back here now also. But I have relatives in about 10 smaller towns in the area so plenty of excuses to visit.

  10. We like to save our food money when traveling for a splurge, like a shake etc. We cook breakfast, lunch and dinner with our camping stove and carry lots of food staples with us. We even had our VW bus parked at a meter in Washington DC in the main sights to see area and the children were sitting out in the grass and in lawn chairs and we were making up sandwiches and drinks to hand out. We were staying in Maryland at a friends house (they come here to stay with us every few years) so we did not have hotel charge for the 2 nights.Everything pretty much is free to see there. Our splurge that trip was lunch buffet the next day at an Indian restaurant.

  11. I just reserved a pass for next week and learned a few things. Passed are for two adults and two children. You are only allowed to reserve one pass per week. We have four library card holders in our house, so that shouldn’t be a problem if we want to take more than just our family. The more expensive ones “sell out”. For instance The EMP (Experience Music Project) is completely sold out until mid September. It looks like planning way ahead is a great idea, but there were plenty of fun museums to visit next week. Hope that’s helpful.

  12. Brandy, I am glad your planning helped your vacation be so enjoyable and affordable. Too bad your location doesn’t allow for more day trips. You said Lake Mead was an hour or so away…is that a nice place to spend the day? Swim and picnic?

  13. Not that you care where any of us think you should go on your next vacation, but I vote for Salt Lake City. Practically everything in the downtown area is free and it’s a very family-friendly city. In the summer, almost every weekend there’s a festival, arts show, or free concert. Even the malls in the downtown area are great for families – City Creek has a dinosaur-themed playground and Gateway has a great fountain show. Of course the LDS attractions are wonderful if you’re LDS (or even if you aren’t – the Temple Square gardens are beautiful year-round) but there’s also the Cathedral of the Madeline, which is absolutely gorgeous; the University of Utah art museum and science museum; Thanksgiving Point – you could easily spend a week there and not pay for much other than accommodation.

  14. Actually, we’ve been thinking along those lines. Provo is a 5 hour drive and Salt Lake would add another hour.Thanksgiving Point, which they were building when I was a university student and I’ve wanted to see ever since–has several attractions, but each one has an entrance fee of $12 to $15 per person. For our family, that would be $114 for EACH attraction there, so we’ve ruled out Thanksgiving Point. Perhaps one day.Hiking in Provo canyon and a trip to the Monte L.Bean Life Science museum (admission is free) would be better options for us, along with Temple Square. BYU’s art museum is pretty awesome, too.

  15. I live on the east coast, so I had never heard of Thanksgiving Point, so I looked it up. It appears that they have family memberships, which may reduce your costs if you really want to go there. It might be especially helpful if the membership comes with reciprocal benefits for other museums/attractions. We have a membership to our local science museum and can get free admissions to many other science museums all over the country. We’ve used that benefit many times, since our child LOVES science!

  16. Sorry about the Thanksgiving Point recommendation. I’ve only been there once and don’t remember paying for entrance; but I also didn’t go to any of the museums, just walked around the grounds, so it’s possible that’s free, or it’s possible I’m completely remembering wrong. Even with Thanksgiving Point however there’s plenty to do in the area, without having to resort to something as vile as visiting BYU! 🙂 (You can guess where my loyalties are in that battle . . .)

  17. I only went there for a semester, and then transferred to the University of Oregon, which was a much better fit for me. But I have two sisters who graduated from there, and another who graduated from BYU, but is, weirdly enough, more of a Utes fan. I don’t really have a pony in the race, I was just teasing. Now, if you’d said you were an Oregon State fan, then we might have had words! 🙂 But I like you too much to hold even that against you.

  18. It’s so awesome that your vacation came in under budget! Las Vegas *is* in the middle of nowhere, but there are so many amazing things to see within a day’s drive. One idea for something to do in the valley is the Bird Preserve in Henderson. I know it’s a long drive for you, but it isn’t rocks! You could hit Ethel M while you were over there for free chocolate and a stroll around their cactus garden. There’s the Hoover Dam, too. We never did the tours, just parked on the Arizona side and walked down to the dam.One lodging idea that I discovered recently…ski resorts are sometimes open in the off season. Many have suites that accommodate 8 to 14 people. That might be more affordable than two hotel rooms if there’s a resort near where you want to vacation.

  19. Oh wow Alaska, what awesome photos you should get especially if you have an iPad. Wonderful!Alexa from Sydney, Australia

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