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When my second daughter was a newborn, I did not enjoy leaving the house with her at all. She would cry the instant you put her in the car seat, and the screaming would rarely let up until you got where you were going. We had regular appointments 30 – 40 minutes away from home when she was little, and she would routinely wail the entire way, both ways. Her first international trip at a couple months old was to Mexico, and while the hotel stay in Punta Mita was out-of-this-world amazing, the several hour traffic jam and painfully slow drive from the Puerto Vallarta airport to the resort while she screamed and screamed had to be some of the most excruciating moments ever – probably especially for our poor driver.
Clearly, a family road trip was not going to happen in that phase of life. Heck, I would even fly the short distance from Houston to Austin instead of driving just so we would both be happy and no one would be screaming in the backseat.
I don’t know why she hated her car seat so much, but thankfully she (eventually) outgrew that stage, and is now a 2.5-year-old toddler who is perfectly happy in the car…aside from a few bouts of motion sickness here and there. In fact, last year we researched a bunch of vehicles and settled on three-row ‘soccer mom’ SUV complete with entertainment system and captain’s chairs so we could comfortably fit more people and things into one of our vehicles in preparation for eventual road trips.
Two trips to Kansas, 160,000 miles
Fast forward to this past Christmas, and we decided to ask Josh’s mom what she would like as a present instead of just giving our usual gift of airline tickets to fly and come see the girls at our house in Texas. She asked if her Christmas gift this time around could be for us to come and visit them at their house in Kansas. We already had a summer trip to Kansas penciled in when all the cousins will be in town, so this meant adding a second 2018 trip to Kansas.
While we certainly have miles we can use, we aren’t made of miles, so spending another 80,000 of them to add a second Kansas family trip to the year’s calendar didn’t seem like the best option on the table. As I’m sure you know, even very unglamorous domestic saver award travel can get pricey in a hurry when an entire family is involved.
So, whereas a road trip to Kansas would have never been on the table even a year ago, now it was looking like a pretty attractive way to give Grandma the gift she asked for, but in a budget-friendly way for our wallets and airline accounts. Since we will already be up there this summer, we targeted the long Easter weekend for this trip as the girls had Friday off. We could leave Thursday after school, stop in Dallas for the night, and then arrive in Kansas on Good Friday.
A hybrid road trip is born
The only real problem with this plan is that school started back up on Monday, so our one full day on the ground would be Saturday, and most of Easter would then be spent in the car driving back to East Texas. That’s obviously not ideal. To make the most of our time with grandparents, and give the girls a good Easter, we decided to make this a hybrid road trip with everyone driving up together, but Josh would drive home solo on Sunday. The girls and I would spend Easter Sunday with their grandparents and fly home on a nonstop flight home that night. That meant spending just 30,000 United miles instead of 80,000, and it also meant we could make the most of our time with grandparents on Easter while making it home just in time for a slightly delayed Sunday night bedtime.
The plan looked pretty solid on paper, but how did it play out in reality? Honestly, when it came time for departure, the plan felt daunting. It felt like a lot for a long weekend with a two and eight-year-old along for the ride, and I started remembering all the reasons why I like flying more than driving. I might have even looked at award availability after the car was loaded. But, we were dedicated to making this happen, so I took a deep breath, backed out of the driveway, and headed north on the highway with some rewards for good road behavior at the ready.
Pit stopping at our favorite airport hotel
I think the first 3 or 4 hours from our house to the Grand Hyatt DFW were the toughest. I mean, the first few steps are always the toughest, right? We left at the end of a week of school and work, we were already tired before we left home, and we knew we were just starting the journey. Once we arrived at the Grand Hyatt DFW Thursday night, things improved. Our stay at my very favorite airport hotel was ‘free’ thanks to using a Category 1 – 4 Hyatt award night, which made picking that property easy. Josh was to fly in very late that night from work to join us, so the girls and I enjoyed dinner together in the lobby, snacked on the amenities that were waiting for us in the room, and then passed out to the sounds of arrivals and departures right outside the windows.
Josh arrived from his flight into DFW while we were sleeping, and we all enjoyed the heck out of room service breakfast the following morning thanks to Hyatt Globalist status.
On the road again
After lingering over our breakfast and perfect airplane spotting vantage point, we loaded up to drive the 350+ additional miles to Grandma’s House.
Aside from one Chick Fil A stop in Oklahoma to refuel our bellies, the car, and let our kids climb off some steam in the restaurant’s play area, the drive flew by uneventfully and we arrived to Grandma’s House not too much worse for wear.
In fact, at some point, my oldest daughter said she was so glad we were driving instead of flying since you didn’t have to go through security, can stop when you want, and didn’t have to haul your bags all around. That said, she was equally happy to have a 90-minute flight home instead of another full day of driving, but it was nice to hear she appreciated some of the perks of a road trip.
She was not quite as sure why we had to stop on the side of the road for this picture, but she’ll catch on to the time-honored tradition of taking photos with state welcome signs one day.
In the end, the grandparents were very excited to spend the Easter weekend with their grandkids on their own turf, the Easter Bunny got to hide eggs at their house, and the littlest one even behaved through the church service. Easter miracle indeed.
Taking the time, money, and miles to travel to visit family is not always easy. In fact, sometimes it is darn tough to decide to make it happen, but saying yes to keeping family connected is almost always the right thing to do.
The hybrid plan of driving up and flying back worked so well that we are thinking about using that method of travel for our summer Kansas visit. It was a great way to save some miles, have our car and car seats available while we are there, and yet not overwhelm the girls with too much time in the car in a short period of time.
How has your family’s relationship with road trips evolved over time? Do you ever use a hybrid road trip model like we did?
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