After months of planning and preparing, we completed our trip out west.
The trip was overall very successful with only one major issue which I did not allow to negatively affect the trip. 2.5 weeks went by quick and still so much to see. We all gained greater appreciation for the vastest of the American landscape.
My original budget was $3K. I went over slightly. Final numbers are still being calculated. Airfare and the rental car would have been the most expensive if it was not for miles.
I estimated about $350 for gas for about 1,000 miles based on our original trip route. It was closer to $450 and over 2,300 miles. Gas was especially expensive in some of the remote locations such as Death Valley, Sequoia National Park, where gas cost over $5 a gallon.
Parking was expected but not given a specific budget line, though I knew we would have some expenses but not as much as we did. The majority of the trip, parking was free expect in the major cities. Overall we paid over $50 for parking, not including the $40 parking ticket in San Jose for an expired parking meter (missed it by 10 minutes).
We tried to reduce eating out every meal by purchasing groceries and a foam cooler. I told the kids upfront, water only for meals unless it is a special place. Most drinks were going for about $2.50 per person x 6 = $15 a meal. After I explained if we spent that at each meal for the length of the vacation, we would blow through our budget. It was easier to have drinks in the car / hotel and save a ton of money. Most meals were average in cost, considering the locations.
We skipped some of the sites I originally planned due to time and budget. While the Neon Museum in Vegas would have been great to see, the day got away from us and did not make it to the museum. I find that being flexible and not rigid about an itinerary made the trip more relaxing.
Travel / Transportation Summary
We took Amtrak from Tampa to fly out of Orlando to save on airfare. Amtrak was a great experience for all of us. The train was a little slow, not nearly as fast as the Korean Rail system. We all had plenty of space and we had more room then any of the airplanes we rode. Next time, I would bring a pizza or Publix subs to eat. The snack options were very limited and very expensive.
Driving through Death Valley in July was well worth it, even though I was scared we were going to break down or the tires were going to melt. We took State Route 190 from Las Vegas to the Sequioas and so glad we did, as it was one of the most scenic routes we took.
Highway 1 along the California cost was another highlight of the trip, even though it took us almost all day to go from San Fran to LA. The elephant seals beaching were my favorite part of the route.
Never again will I fly Spirit!
Travel Insurance! I have gone on many vacations and never purchased travel insurance, expect maybe the airline protection. Not having travel insurance cost us some unexpected expenses.
It all started on our drive from the Sequoias to Yosemite. I contacted our property manager from Yosemite Enchanted Forest rentals to see if we could check in early(http://www.enchantedyosemite.com/). Her response was we could check in a few hours early, no problem. We waited over 1.5 hours in near standstill traffic to gain entrance to Yosemite. As we followed the GPS to our condo rental, we continues to go up hills, twists and turns enjoying the fresh air and amazing scenery, until it wasn't.
As we made it around a bend, the sky looked grey. At first I thought it was fog or clouds considering how high we were located. Then, I started to smell "camp fire" all around us. I questioned if what we were seeing was smoke, and not clouds. As we got closer to our location, the clouds turned orange and the sun was red. It was becoming more obvious that there was a forest fire near by. We continued to the entrance to the vacation rental area and there was a park ranger stopped with his lights on. He warned us the location was under an advisory evacuation which would change at any minute depending on the fire. Along the road firetrucks were lined up, waiting for instruction.
We had no cell phone service and was not sure what to do about our condo. We arrived at the condo to find other travelers in the same situation. The other property manager for other properties were not allowing customers to enter the property due to safety concerns. At this time, ash was falling from the sky like snow and it was like nothing I have ever seen before. I was able to connect to the condo wifi to make a call to the property manager. I told her we had a serious problem, there was a forest fire. Her response floored me, she said "Yes, I know, it's California, these things happen all the time." As a mother, my instincts were not to stay in the area and to find the closest place that was safe, even if it meant we didn't get to see Yosemite. She continued to tell me she would not offer a refund of our +$500 condo rental because it is stated in the contract that refunds are not offered due to acts of God. Despite pleading with her and trying to work out a deal, she stood her ground. We ended up driving to San Jose (closest city on our next stop to San Fran) and staying two nights, incurring additional hotel expenses that were not budgeted for. Our credit card offered insurance, but we did not elect to get it.
Next time, I will get travel insurance to cover for an unexpected situations.