We did it, we took a road and tent camping trip with children and lived to tell the story. Traveling just over 4,000 miles total we left Houston, Texas to head to Victorville, California and back again. Visiting a total of only four states, we saw a variety of terrain and have memories that will last a lifetime. We weren’t sure it was a good idea, but now that we’ve done it we wouldn’t have changed a thing. Well, there are a few things we would change… for instance, duct tape is forever on our must-have list of camping supplies.
At ages 7, 5, and 22 months our three boys overall handled the trip really well and had tons of fun. If you’re a family who enjoys camping together, then I highly recommend you consider giving this a shot for your next family vacation. If you’re not used to camping as a family, then I highly recommend you find a local place and get your feet wet ASAP!
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Road Tripping For Less
We knew we wanted to make a trip to California to visit family while my husband (Craig) had two weeks off this year. We debated back and forth on affording it, and finally decided we would go. Knowing money was a huge factor, we decided to tent camp along the way both to avoid expensive hotel stays, as well as to be able to bring and cook our own food. Eating out along the way can be very expensive and risk stomach aches and diminished immune systems from food we’re not used to.
We had two choices. We could get there as fast as possible in two days minimum. Or, we could take extra time getting there and see some incredible things we would otherwise drive right past. We want our kids to see God’s beautiful creation, and this was a great opportunity to do just that.
The Necessity of Planning
I did a bit of research, and decided that planning to drive in 2 1/2-3 1/2 hour increments would be doable with our children’s ages. Toddlers to early elementary boys need a lot of stimulation and breaks to make it through a long road trip. Some stops included sight-seeing and others were 20-minute quick potty breaks and a quick stretch of our legs.
I used Google Maps to create my own saved map with stops all planned out. All the way from our home to where we would stay for 5 days in California it was all mapped out. I utilized Roadtrippers to check for major places along the way. Without this planning, I would have missed a lot of opportunities for learning and adventure for our family.
We did not stick 100% to the planned stops I made, but I was very glad to have them for guidelines along the way. It would have been very chaotic day-to-day without these plans. Planning also made it possible to not miss out on visiting places. New restrictions meant having reservations even for a day visit to some places necessary.
Major Stops Between Texas and California
A while back I posted on social media asking for recommended places to camp in Texas. One of the places recommended over and over again was Big Bend National Park. When it occurred to me that we could drive an extra few hours and stop there, I was sold. I didn’t know what to expect, and we questioned that decision a lot in a matter of a couple of hours while we detoured that way. One of the things we definitely learned on this road trip is:
How drastically terrain can change in a matter of ten minutes of driving. One minute you’re in a seemingly endless desert, and the next you’re in awe of new greens to discover and massive canyons just ahead. Nature provides the unexpected beyond our wildest imaginations.Nicole | Cultivating Motherhood
Places we stopped on the way to California from Texas:
- The Alamo in San Antonio, TX
- Chiso Basin Campground at Big Bend National Park, TX
camped 2 nights – with reservations
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Carlsbad, NM
- Silver Campground in Cloudcroft, NM
camped 1 night – without reservations
- White Sands National Park between Alamogordo and Las Cruces, NM
- Goodyear, AZ just outside of Pheonix, AZ
stayed 1 night at a friend’s home
- Joshua Tree National Park in Twentynine Palms, CA
Had I failed to plan, I would have also wasted us a lot of money. I would have failed to realize how worth it the $80/year National Park Annual Pass would be. We saved a lot choosing this because of how many national parks we visited! Definitely worth the time to add up entrance fees if you plan to visit a number of national parks in a year or road trip like ours. I highly suggest purchasing yours at the first park you visit so that your pass begins as late as possible as well as being able to avoid waiting for the mail to deliver yours.
Major Stops Between California and Texas
The trip home was a bit trickier than on the way. We took five entire days to get to California and planned to get back to Texas in only three. We still wanted to sight-see. The most difficult part in planning this was the reality that we could leave from the home we stayed at in California super early in the morning. However, leaving a campsite in the early hours would be impossible. This meant we needed to go as far as possible the first day, leaving the other days a bit shorter. We originally booked a campsite at the Grand Canyon, but had to change that when we realized we’d need to drive much further that first day. Looking back, I really wish we would have just added on an extra day to be able to make that stop work out.
Places we stopped on the way back to Texas from California:
Grand Canyon National Park in Grand Canyon, AZ
- Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams, AZ
this last minute decision to go to Bearizona instead of the Grand Canyon was an expensive but worth it detour, looking back I wish we had done both and extended our trip by one day, MUST DO if you have children!
- Petrified Forest National Park in Petrified Forest, AZ
- Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA in Holbrook, AZ
camped 1 night – with reservations, much prefer camping in national parks
- Hotel el Rancho in Gallup, NM
I actually wish we would have taken a chance and booked a room at this historic hotel instead of camping that night, we drove by from taking Historic Route 66 for a bit and it was stunning
- Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, TX
camped 1 night – with reservations, would love to come back here to spend a week, tons to do
Would We Do It Again?
Without a doubt, it was worth every mishap and change of plans. We ran into holes in our tent, a nail in our tire, freezing overnight temps, and much more. But, it was a grand adventure that made for wonderful memories that we’ll never forget. We can’t wait to plan our next major family road trip, and we hope you feel more equipped to take your next (or first!) one, too.
We have got to be honest though, all the Airstream’s we passed by looked awfully nice along the way! Don’t forget to checkout these must-haves for your next camping trip: