This is going to be a long post! While on our recent trip to Utah and Arizona, I was asked a lot of questions related to the trip. I have compiled most of those questions here and tried to combine ones that were similar. Hopefully, this will help some of you as you plan trips!

How do you manage to go on long trips (with work and expenses)? Chris and I both work from home and my business is entirely online. I can work anywhere that I have wifi access, so we pick campsites that allow me to work when needed. Chris is self-employed, but he has commitments to clients and events that require him to be home. However, he is able to continue to work with phone and wifi access while we travel. That being said, we have a significant amount of flexibility with our schedules.

As far as the expenses go, we travel very inexpensively. In the two weeks we were gone on the last trip, I think we ate out about 4 times. All other meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) were in our trailer, so our food expenses are basically the same as at home. We stay in our trailer at campsites that are $25-50 a night, usually on the lower end. Most of the things we do on trips are free (hiking, exploring). The national parks offer a park pass to 4th graders. It gets the entire family into the parks for free, so we didn’t have that expense. Our biggest expenses is gas. In general, we try to live significantly UNDER our means, so that helps tremendously when we want to spend extra on gas for a trip. All in all, we are primarily paying for gas and the RV campsite, while continuing to work some on the road too. For more information on what life in our trailer looks like, click here for a post I previously wrote.

6.14trailerlife-6Where do you start? How do you research? We have a LONG list of places all over the globe we want to visit. When we begin planning a trip, we start with considering how much time we have for that trip. Our family does not do well with trips that feel very rushed with lots of driving. We need downtime and the ability to move slow. Road trips allow us to go at a slow pace.

For our recent trip to Arizona and Utah, we knew we had two weeks we could spend away. Once we knew the dates of the trip, we began picking a handful of places we wanted to visit.

When it comes to picking places to visit, we use our National Parks guide, TripAdvisor, Pinterest, and I always ask the advice of those that read this blog and follow my instagram account. For this trip our key spots were: Albuquerque (to see friends), Petrified National Forest, the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce National Park, Escalante, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. Once we have our list of stops, we look at our atlas to figure out the route we want to take. For road trips that include several stops, we try to stay at least two nights in each location. This gives us time to explore without feeling rushed.

Our trailer does not have water hook-ups and we don’t use a generator, so we camp in places with electrical and water available (RV parks and campgrounds). Most national parks book campsites 6 months in advance. If you can plan that far ahead, the national parks usually have great camping options. We don’t plan that far in advance, so Chris does internet research and picks our campsites based on our needs. (nps.gov, Trip Advisor, and Good Sam are big helps). Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised. Other times we are thankful it is only two nights! We also try to find campgrounds that have free wifi, so we can continue to work while on the road (when needed).

In summary, before we leave we know the location where we will spend each night and sometimes a certain place we want to visit. We would be happy not even scheduling campsites, but we’ve learned the hard way that places fill up weeks in advance. Once we get to a location (or as we are driving) we begin thinking about what we want to do. Our daily plans are very fluid and change constantly. We just have to make sure we are at the right campsite each night!

What type of vehicle do you use to pull your camper and fit your entire family for a long trip? We have a Suburban. Keep in mind our trailer is from 1966, which means it had to be pulled behind the size of trucks and cars back then…it is relatively light! On the other hand….it is 50 years old. Repairs happen often!

How did you keep your kids from killing each other in the car that much? Since our kids typically spend ALL day being very physical when we are camping – climbing, hiking, swimming, running – we let them veg out in the car. When we drive from one location to the next, they often watch movies or play video games. There is the random, “Everyone turn everything off! You need to be daydreaming and gazing out the window” that I call out. It usually doesn’t last long. We also rearrange seating if two siblings are bothering each other too much. And food. Snacks. Drinks. Snacks. Drinks. I keep a cooler with cold things in the back (since we don’t need storage because we have the trailer) and a bag of dry snacks in the main part of the car.

On the 10 hour drive home from our Utah trip, we had one kiddo that was DONE. I mean done done. Parents, you know what I mean. It was Mother’s Day. There were tornado warnings in Oklahoma. About 2 hours from home, I looked at Chris and said, “Just let me out of the car. I will walk home. In the rain. Through a tornado. Just let me out of this car!”  – our kids are not always singing travel songs and talking about rainbows on the really long drives, but our trailer sure does look cute going down the road!

5.16avion-01Would you mind sharing camping meal ideas and tips?

We have a full size refrigerator in our trailer. We also have an electric skillet, waffle maker and our espresso machine. I can make just about anything with those items. It is not like tent camping. We eat totally differently when camping in our tent. When using our trailer, we eat very similar to what we would at home. There are tons of camping meal ideas on Pinterest.

Any tips/tricks you could offer on efficiently camping with kids, storage and packing?

Keep in mind we are camping in a trailer, not a tent. It is a whole different ball game. We have storage…lots of storage. Every family member has a bin to keep their clothes. If you look at the photo below, I will walk you through how we store things. On the right (behind the curtains, below the bed) we store our clothes. Everyone has a designated spot. On the lower left side (behind the doors) we store a laundry basket for dirty clothes, school books and trailer maintenance stuff. In the top cabinets, we keep sweatshirts, gloves, beanies, towels, and each family member has another little bin that is their own. Keeping things super organized is key for my sanity in the trailer. There is also storage in the other end of the trailer for blankets, sheets, etc.

As far as packing, we have learned to pack for every season! Everyone has t-shirts, shorts, jeans, sweatshirts, swimsuits…a little of everything. We don’t have to pack super light since we are in the trailer.

6.14aviontour-013How did you all fit in that tiny camper? First, we aren’t the tallest people in the crowd. Chris is 5’9″ and I am 5’1″…the kids are all shorter. I don’t think we would do a vintage camper if we were tall. It would not be very comfortable. When we are all in the trailer, there is not much extra space. We jockey positions as we move around. It feels a little like Tetris! We actually do not spend a lot of time in the trailer, so we don’t need much room. We are usually out and about all day and return just to eat and sleep. When it is time to sleep, we pull a board between the two twin beds and add a mattress on top of the board and another below it. This gives us sleeping space for 4 people. The other 3 share the front bed. Tetris.

You can see a full tour of our trailer by clicking here.

6.14aviontour-016So, how often do you and/or Chris end up carrying the girls? This changes depending on the hike. If it is fairly level, the girls can hike several miles without being carried. If the hike involves a significant amount of climbing, our youngest usually wants to be carried a bit. On this last trip, we hiked between 5-8 miles almost every day for 2 weeks. Our 6 year old was only carried once or twice for about 5 minutes. She can completely hold her own. There were times she wanted breaks and a little extra motivation. If she wanted a rest stop, we always stopped. We also picked hikes based on not just on what we thought they could handle, but what would be fun. If hiking is miserable, they won’t want to go. If hiking is a fun adventure, even with a little physical push, they want to keep going.

5.16carry-01What do you bring with you on your hikes? Backpacks. Sunglasses. Water. Hats. Snacks. First Aid. Camera. Depending on the hike and length, we might bring something extra like more sunscreen or flipflops.

A couple years ago, we picked up three kid-size backpacks from REI. They are the perfect size for the boys (and me) for day hikes. We can pack a lot or just a little in them. They have waist straps, a chest strap, emergency whistle and enough padding to provide some support. I cannot recommend them enough. I connected with the company Babiators prior to our trip. They sent each of my kids a pair and the glasses held up to my rough and tumble kids…they can bend, flex and be dropped off large rocks without breaking. The main point though is they protect my kids’ eyes, which is the most important to me.

For snacks we pack trail mix, granola bars, stuff that can get mashed in a backpack and not melt in the heat. For the first aid kit, I just fill a quart size ziploc bag with a few key things out of our bigger first aid pack that stays in the trailer. It fits in the top little pocket of one of the backpacks. And my camera. I always have my camera!

5.16shadebags-015.16backpack-01I find myself constantly wondering if you are afraid of wildlife? What do you do to prepare for an encounter, have you ever had one and are your kids worried at all? Honestly, as parents we aren’t worried, so our kids pick up on that and aren’t worried either. We know our surroundings, potential risks and precautions. For instance, in Yellowstone we hiked with bear spray and did not put ourselves in places that bears were known to frequent. In Utah, we knew what snakes to watch for as we hiked. We never saw any. By nature, Chris and I aren’t not very fearful individuals, so that helps. We do educate ourselves on potential risks (always reading trail head signs and so on). We also take the kids to ranger talks where they learn all about wildlife and how to respond if they encounter a dangerous (or not dangerous) animal.

We also teach the kids to respect wildlife by not feeding animals or trying to scare them. In national parks, most animals have lost a bit of their ‘wild’ due to so many interactions with humans. They either coming running towards people hoping for food or try to stay away from people.

4.16Zion-19How many times did you tell your kids to stay away from the edge of the canyon? Only a handful. My kids are getting older. A few years ago, I said it several times each hike. These days, they make good decisions regarding safety while hiking. I think with so many difficult and challenging hikes over the years, they’ve learned to know when to lean towards thrill and when to lean harder towards caution. This was not always the case.

When hiking around ledges and drop-offs, you have to know your kids. I saw a few teenagers that caused me far more concern my guys. In addition, we take the kids to ranger talks on safety. In fact, one ranger talk in Yellowstone was about death and dying in the park. It sounds gruesome, but the ranger geared it towards kids. My boys have not forgotten that talk and it has caused them to be far safer while hiking.

4.16GrandCanyon-13Do you have any tips on safe hiking with your littlest? We all try to show extra grace and patience. Being the youngest, she wants to keep up and do all that her siblings can do. However, she also gets tired and fussy. We try to make it as fun as possible for her. She likes to talk the whole time we walk, so we engage her in conversation. When she begins dragging, we let her take the lead. Chris or I are always near her, either holding her hand or walking close by her. She has constant supervision and engagement. This is easy to do since the other four are much more independent. On hikes I tend to stay with the boys while Chris stays with the girls. If both girls are getting tired, we each take one girl and the boys lead the way. Our youngest still gets carried when she gets really tired and the rest of us want to keep going.

Here is a post I wrote with more of my hiking with kids tips.

5.16littlest-01How much water did you carry for your hikes? It depends on the length of the hike and the heat. For 1-2 mile hikes, we usually packed one water bottle per person. For longer hikes, we packed 2 water bottles per person. We have our own water bottles that are bigger than the typical plastic water bottle size. The backpacks got pretty heavy with the water. I would like get everyone a hydration pack that we can insert into their backpacks.

I see you wearing sandals – are they hiking sandals? Do you recommend them? On that particular hike, we brought one backpack with everyone’s flip flops because we scoped the trail out the night before. The trail had so much water and sand, my boys preferred to hike in their flip flops (we basically wear them all year, so it is not a shocker). The girls went back and forth between their tennis shoes and flip flops. Water hiking shoes would work best, but my kids don’t have any. I wore my high school Tevas – perfect.

4.16Moab-14How do you hike with your camera? I use a small Tamrac camera backpack. I’ve used this backpack for about 8 years…on so many hikes and adventures. It can hold my camera body and 3 lenses (or 2 lenses and a flash). The boys always wanted to carry the hiking backpacks, so I was able to carry my camera one on every hike. Typically, I just hike with my camera in my hand. I don’t like neck straps. Obviously, this is not a good option for many people. If a trail got difficult, I would just put the camera in my backpack until I was sure footed again. After carrying the hiking backpacks with water and snacks for so many years, my camera bag feels like nothing!

ashhikeWhat lens did you used? I used my 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm for our trip. I carry the three lenses and my camera body in the small camera backpack. I hardly ever use my 28mm at home, but it is my primary lens when traveling in scenic locations. When I wanted portraits of the kids, I pulled out my 85mm. I did not use my 50mm very often.

What is your aperture for scenic shots? Goodness, it just depended on what I wanted. I shot around f/5.6 many times, but often opted back to my favorite f/2.8 to make the foreground pop out. Since I was using my 28mm lens, the f/2.8 setting worked totally differently than with my 50mm or my 85mm. These were both shot at f/2.8. The first one I used my 28mm lens and focused on Chris (far left). The second one I used my 85mm lens and focused on my daughter.

4.16GrandCanyon-044.16GrandCanyon-16Did you use any special filters for your camera? Nope.

Did you take your mirror-less camera? No. I have a hard time using my mirror-less when photographing my kids. They move faster than I can change the settings. If was not capturing them, then my mirror-less would have been really fun to use on this trip.

Were the parks empty or how did you keep all the crowds out of your shots? I was asked this several times and it prompted me to write a SnapShop lesson on the topic. The parks were not empty. Some were full of people and then there were a few hikes we were all alone. SnapShop is my subscription-based photography website. It includes two core courses (basics of DSLR & phone photography). Additional lessons are added each month. You can read my lesson on how to avoid crowds in your personal family photos on the SnapShop site.

Today and tomorrow you can use the code NOCROWD for $10 off your SnapShop registration.

5.16Crowd-075.16Crowd-08Below are links to each of the posts related to our Arizona and Utah trip. You can find more travel related posts on the Travel Page.

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  • Rachel Newswanger - Thank you Ashley! My 4th grader & I just filled out the info & printed our pass. How fun! Summer here we come…

  • Amy B - This is such a great post, Ashley! My husband and I don’t have kids (yet), but this had so much great info for all types of families and travelers. Now, if I could just talk my husband into an RV/trailer so we could hit the road! He used to deliver trucks for his family’s business years ago, so he doesn’t get real excited about long distance road trips, lol :)

    I hope you don’t mind if I suggest something— For those who aren’t comfortable carrying their camera in hand, I highly recommend straps from Black Rapid. I’ve had my cross-body Metro strap for several years and it’s perfect for just about all outdoor activities. It keeps my camera close at my side so I can quickly grab it to shoot, but hands-free and out of the way (and the weight off my neck) while moving. I use it on all our shorter day hikes (while my husband carries the Camelbak or daypack), but now that they have a strap that connects directly to a backpack, I’m planning on getting one of those as well for longer hikes.

  • AshleyAnn - Thanks for that suggestion Amy!!

  • Sarah - Yay! Thank you for answering all of these questions!

  • Diana - I absolutely loved reading this and all your travel posts! My family camped most of my childhood too, because with 6 of us it was the cheapest way to travel and see a lot. Your posts so remind me of those happy trips from my childhood, just with a pop-up camper and one more kid. Really hope we can do the same when our son is a little bigger! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  • Kelly - Thanks for taking the time to share all of this with us! One thing that we have found hiking with our kids is that at least for ours they prefer as much climbing as possible in a hike. So actually the steeper it is the more motivating it is to them. If a hike is flat my son sits down in the middle of the trail and starts digging in the dirt! :) Kelly

  • Carrie - Great post! All of your travels are really inspiring me to go hiking :) It was fun to follow along and now have all of this info – looks like a memorable trip!

  • Becca - Thanks for all the info! This has been so very helpful. Can’t wait to make our trip!

  • Tracy R. - I am embarrassed to say that we have never camped (married 22 years with teenagers in the house) and it has always been a dream of mine that I hope to make come true. So, I really love the meat and details of your post. Thank you for taking the time to do so!

  • Jenny - Wonderful suggestions for travel with kids. I noticed that you brought your dog along. Just wondering if you might share some ideas or experiences with traveling with a dog. Especially like what do you do with them when they can’t go to certain places that people can go to.

  • Jenn - thank you for this post. it was great to read after seeing all your posts through out your trip. great advice. excited to look into those sunglasses

  • Emily - This is such an encouraging post! My kids are 7,5,3 and 6 months and we’re still in the “don’t get so close to the edge”, lots of stops, baby-in-the-ergo adventure mode, even when we do just smaller hikes around town. It’s fun to see what we have to look forward to in a few years:) Thanks for the great info!

  • Byron - Wait! You missed the most important question: how do I pass myself off as a 4th grader so I can get one of those nifty Park Passes?!? 😉

  • Jenny B. - This post has a wealth of information! Makes me want to go on a hike, and I don’t even really like to hike. My husband and oldest son do, though. I don’t like camera straps either, so I’m glad to see you just carrying it in your hand (I’m not the only one!). :) Thanks for all the info!

  • Leticia Carlson - Thank you for sharing all this info. We are driving this summer from Houston to Durango, CO. I have made a few notes here and there and must say that TripAdvisor has been the best. This was an awesome post, thanks for sharing!!!

  • Megan Shannon - This is great! We are currently renovating an Airstream with plans to do big trips to National Parks with our kiddos. Great post with awesome tips. It is definitely keeping me motivated while renovations seem to be u ending!


I’m working on answering all the questions related to our trip. I was hoping to get those done this week, but it will probably be early next week. Today, I wanted to take a few minutes to introduce you to the May blog sponsors and affiliates. Be sure to take note of the discount codes!

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When we plan trips we have a very tentative schedule. We need a bit of a schedule simply because we must book campsites with the trailer (I’ll post more on that later with the Travel FAQ post). We camped in Moab. It is between Canyonlands and Arches national parks. We intended to spend a full day in each park, but quickly realized that plan would not work. The sun was so intense and the 90+ days we knew would be too much for little hikers. When we change or look for new plans we usually ask locals. A sweet instagram friend gave us several pointers and Chris asked one of the employees at the RV park. This particular employee pointed us to a hike (Bill Canyon) only a couple miles away that included shade and water – just perfect for us.

We drove over one evening to check it out for the next day…

4.16Moab-014.16Moab-024.16Moab-044.16Moab-05

After a few miles of early morning hiking in Canyonlands, we returned to do the full hike. It is a 2.5 mile hike through the canyon to the 6th longest natural rock span in the US, Morning Glory Natural Bridge. The hike includes crossing the creek numerous times, my crew made sure those stops were extra long.4.16Moab-07

My youngest wasn’t quite so ready to jump in the unknown water with wild abandon like her siblings. I watched her from behind, captured by the beauty of the unique way she approaches new things. On the shore, in her suit, watching until the moment she decides to take that first step in…her gentle step is just as brave and wildly awesome as the adventurer jumping off the largest cliff into waters below. She actually might have a step up on the awesomeness.4.16Moab-084.16Moab-09So much sand…so much sand4.16Moab-114.16Moab-13My head is blocking it, but behind us is Morning Glory Natural Bridge. You can hike all the way to the rock span, but my kids were good just getting this close. This was our last big hike all together.4.16Moab-14So, Moab. I think we need to go back for a few weeks. Maybe just me and Chris because the restaurants looked awesome and we only eat in the trailer with the kids to keep costs down. Actually, Chris did pick up a late dinner for the two of us from Quesadilla Mobilla…it was SO GOOD. I highly recommend it if you are in the area. I might drive back just for another one.

Okay, back to the hike. The trail is shaded in the morning and late afternoon (also the busiest times), but only spots of shade during the middle of the day. However, all the water access allows for several breaks to cool off. We brought one backpack with everyone’s flip flops. The trail has so much water and sand, my boys preferred to hike in their flip flops (we basically wear them all year, so it is not a shocker). The girls went back and forth between their tennis shoes and flip flops. Water hiking shoes would work best, but my kids don’t have any. I wore my high school Tevas – perfect. Eventually I’m going to get myself some Chacos. The trail was also dog friendly, so that was an extra perk for Arley.

While seeing Morning Glory Natural Bridge was an incredible end to the hike, it would have been a fun hike only going a little bit in with the kids.

I know so many of you have spent time in Moab and several of you live there, please share your favorite parts of Moab in the comment section.

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  • Jen L. - Ashley – Could you do a separate post about traveling with your dog, Arly? (did I spell that correctly?). We love our dog and when we travel to national parks, we are always so bummed he has to stay in the car (if the weather is appropriate and not too hot or too cold). I’m super curious what your dog did during some of those hikes and how you accommodate for A’s needs.

    All the best,
    Jen

  • Jeannette - Favorite hike of Moab! Glad you guys got to experience it. And you are correct about the food too…awesome eats in Moab! Best Hamburger stand around Milt’s Stop & Eat…yummy fries too! It’s so fun to see you posting about my neck of woods! Utah hikes are amazing! Happy trails and Stay safe!! 😉

  • Trilby - You’re in our neck of the woods (though we live in the mountains of northern UT) and I love reading your posts! It’s so fun to get another perspective on some of the greatest areas in our state. Your photos are absolutely beautiful.

  • Becky Zuithoff - I love my Chaco’s- they are one of my favorite parts of summer. When you get a pair, check 6pm.com first- if they have what you want in your size they are much, much cheaper!

  • kimberly oyler - i’ve had chacos for 5 years and i’m so over them. now i want tevas! ha! i think its because of the toe strap on the chacos. too bad my feet are much bigger than yours or we could just switch. 😉

  • Diana - I absolutely love your travel posts. We did many camping trips when I was growing up and yours take me back to that wonderful
    time while also making me really excited to do with our son someday!

  • Melissa Griffiths - You have seen more of Utah than us Utahans have! I’m so excited to put some of your recommendations on your own list and my kids have asked not less than a million times to get a little camper like yours! Thank you for sharing all your pro tips!

  • Haley - Thank you for this series Ashley. We think Utah is heaven on Earth but last time we visited was pre-kids. Our family of 6 is taking basically the same trip this summer! We are traveling from Missouri in our renovated 1971 Vintage Airstream with our four kids. I can’t wait! Thanks for the tips. :)

  • Byron - Side comment: my sister swears by Chacos. Seriously, she gets a dreamy look in her eyes whenever she talks about them. I’m sure they’d do you good.

  • Danielle - Just a head’s up! I have Chaco’s and while they are good sandals for the feet with their support, they do not have nearly as much traction as Teva’s. I took my Chaco hiking sandals on a trip to Hawaii with water and trails this past fall, as I had been coveting them forever for trails and whatnot, and they were very slippery, almost dangerous and did not grip as well as I had imagined. My Teva’s are FAR superior for this. If you get a chance to compare them, you should look at the bottoms of each sandal to see the difference. Rei, if you happen to get to one, has both and Teva’s clearly have better traction for such situations. Teva’s really are the way to go for hiking and water. And, they are certainly cheaper! Now knowing this, I bought the kids Teva’s this year, especially after Hawaii last year AND our trip all over Utah with hiking, where the kids did nothing but slip down trails in their water shoes with flat bottoms.