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Camping Out West Part 4: Spontaneity Time

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You’ve arrived safely, the groceries are bought, and you are set up at your first campsite. Now, it’s playtime. First, stop at the visitor center. A few minutes through their exhibits and talking with a ranger will help you zero in on what makes that park special and what activities are realistic for your family.

They have maps, program guides, and Junior Ranger books. Some JR books are free; some cost a few bucks each. They are great summaries from a kids’ perspective of what you should be looking for and doing in each park. And at the end, your kid earns a cool badge to keep. Our friends picked up one in Muir Woods made of reclaimed redwood. The ones in Zion and Yosemite are laser printed wood; some are plastic, but they’re good reminders of previous trips to pin on camelbacks for years to come.

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As for family suitable hikes, I recommend:

Grand Canyon (north rim): The Rim Trail from the campgrounds to the lodge and back

Zion: The Narrows (full day’s hike through a river canyon—so cool!) and Lower Emerald Pool Trail (one hour)

Bryce Canyon: The Navajo Loop trail: from Wall Street to Queens Garden Trail, Sunset to Sunrise Points

Sequoia: Moro Rock, Crescent Meadow Trail to Thorp’s Log, General Sherman Tree (the largest tree in the world)

Kings Canyon: General Grant Grove, Zumwalt Meadow, horseback riding near Cedar Grove

Yosemite: Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, rafting along the Merced, the top of Vernal Falls via Mist Trail, Half Dome for those seeking a challenge (must get a permit– competitive).

Death Valley: Drive to Badwater (the lowest point in the US and a giant salt flat) and Artist’s Drive (beautiful). The visitor center at Furnace Creek has a temperature gage outside. Our high was 133, yes 133!!!!!

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The unpredictable surprises that come from just being present in a national park are what make your trip memorable: a herd of bison as you’re driving into Grand Canyon, the refreshing river rushing by your ankles as you maneuver through breath-taking canyons in Zion, a mother and her fawns traipsing by any given campsite at dusk, the falling stars you witness from the meadows in Yosemite. Getting in touch with the earth enlivens you and your kids. Use all five senses. Look out the window. Take time to play. You’re making memories worth every penny.

If you missed Part 1- The Budget you can read it here or Part 2- Planning you can read it here, and Camping Out West Part 3- Buying Food here.

Margaret is a freelance writer in Knoxville, TN. She writes and produces for HGTV and has been couponing since 2009.

Camping Out West Part 3- Buying Food

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The big planning is out of the way, you arrive in Las Vegas, and now you’re ready to relax. Not so fast. Camping still requires you get the right amount of food: not too much, not too little, just right, Goldilocks. As I often buy in volume to save $, this was a tough one for me initially. But you have to keep telling yourself: only buy what you need. The rest is wasted. Find the smallest containers for ketchup, mayo, mustard, maple syrup, etc. Check your recipes. If you only need 5 potatoes, don’t buy 3 pounds. I say this to save you money AND space in your already cramped rental car. Only buy what you need for one week and then restock.

When you arrive at the store, find the produce guy and pick up three banana boxes with the lids. They’re good sizes, are sturdy, and stack well. They also enable you to separate food into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For breakfast you’ll want cereal and oatmeal for the days you pack up, coffee and hot cocoa, and pancakes for the more relaxed mornings. The lunch box is often filled with breads, peanut butter, chips,
apples & oranges, and trail mix. The dinner box has pasta, potatoes, corn, canned goods, etc. Then the cooler is your fridge: milk, butter, meats, chocolate, cheese, etc.

Here are our favorite dinners:

Night 1: fresh rotisserie chicken, wild rice, steamed broccoli

Night 2: fresh tortellini in alfredo sauce, frozen peas, French bread

Night 3: leftover chicken in quesadillas, canned corn and black beans

Night 4: foil packets of already cooked sausage, fresh corn, potatoes, onions, and bell peppers. Add a little butter and olive oil to help steam. Splurge for “heavy duty foil” to prevent disaster.

Night 5: hotdogs, baked beans, corn chips

Bring coupons if you want, but you’ll save more by buying less. Stick with stores that don’t require cards for savings or ask them to give you a card. Yes, that saved me $15. In Nevada and California, be prepared for higher prices than in Knoxville; I estimated 30-40% higher across the board except for alcohol. Avoid glass while camping; good wine can come in boxes these days and is sold in grocery stores. Your biggest savings will be sticking to your meal plans: eating breakfast at the campsite or for free in your hotel, packing lunches for hikes, and keeping snacks handy in the car for long drives. It adds up quickly.

And since some campsites don’t have showers, pick up a pack of baby wipes. They’ll get you through a few days. Also buy small Kleenex packs and a small bottle of hand sanitizer that you keep with you at all times. Hey, you never know!

If you missed Part 1- The Budget you can read it here or Part 2- Planning you can read it here.

Margaret is a freelance writer in Knoxville, TN. She writes and produces for HGTV and has been couponing since 2009.

Camping Out West Part 2 : The Planning

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The key to a successful national park adventure is proper planning. With the centennial celebration of the National Park Service this year, they are more popular than ever. Every campsite we visited was full, and some filled up within seconds of booking windows being open; not exaggerating!

We started with mapping out what we wanted to see and how long we needed at each location. Our favorites made a nice loop starting and ending in Las Vegas. Since Allegiant only flies from Knoxville to Vegas on select days, we picked ideal flights and worked from there. Sign up for their emails so that you can be first to know when they run specials like we got.

Allegiant is super cheap, but the add-ons can add up quickly. I suggest you pay for your checked bags when you book because it’s cheaper. We checked five, but we could have used one more. Allegiant limits the weight to 40 pounds a bag vs the 50 pounds on most airlines. Weigh your bags ahead of time to avoid more fees! And make one of them a cooler. We all carried small backpacks that fit under the seat to avoid the “carry-on baggage” fees. Pack your own snacks and water bottles to avoid pricey in-flight snack charges. Unfortunately, even on a direct flight, Allegiant lost one of our bags—the cooler. Make a list of everything in each bag. We were able to replace its contents at Wal-mart and REI, but it did cost us time.

For rental cars, it pays to book well in advance. We reserved a car right after booking airfares in January. SUVs are almost always cheaper than mini-vans, but get what you need for your family. Just make sure you read the fine print to get “unlimited miles within the states you plan to visit.”

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Since setting up campsites can be time and energy consuming, I suggest staying at least two nights at every location. You’ll thank me later. We stayed two nights at Grand Canyon, three in Zion (with a day trip to Bryce), two in Kings Canyon (with a day trip through Sequoia), and four nights in Yosemite. Note: each site is limited to six people, but if you book with friends who have five in their family, you can space out a family of seven. Hint, hint: Coupon Katie.

Most national park campsites book six months in advance; Yosemite is four months. Check Recreation.gov for details of parks that interest you. All reservations are done online, often at 10am EST on the 15 th of the month. And when I say 10am, you better be Johnny on the spot, ready to hit that button at 10am. As three families planning a reunion in Yosemite, we had six adults with individual accounts trying to nab 12 specific sites (one each on computers and one on mobile). Out of 12 attempts, only three were successful in the first two seconds. Thankfully that’s all we needed, but if you want Yosemite during peak summer times, you have to be a shark! Check here for more tips

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Your last step before you go is packing clothes. Lay out what you think you need and then put half away. Not kidding. You’re camping without showers for possibly days. What difference does it make if you wear clothes more than once?! We packed one weeks’ worth and then washed them at a hotel before week two. We fit almost all our clothes in one suitcase and then separated them into mesh bags so that everyone could find their clothes easily in the tent.

I suggest two sets of pants that can zip off as shorts, leggings for girls, 5 t-shirts, 1 extra layer for cooler mornings, 1 bathing suit, 3 good hiking socks you can wash at the campsite, clean undies every day, a hat and sunglasses, and only 3 pairs of shoes per person: hiking boots, close toed water shoes, and flip flops / Chacos / Tevas.

If you’ve managed to get your flights, rental car, and campsites, the rest is cake. Relax and look forward to spontaneity when you arrive.

If you missed Part 1- The Budget you can read it here.

Margaret is a freelance writer in Knoxville, TN. She writes and produces for HGTV and has been couponing since 2009.

Kroger New Spin to Win Game

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Go to Kroger and select 4 P&G coupons to download to your Kroger card. You will then be able to play the “Spin to Win” game.
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More Holiday Tips from the Knoxville Mommy Bloggers Series

A group of Local Knoxville Mommy Bloggers are tackling Holiday topics to save you time and money these holidays:
Blue Frog Creations, Coupon Katie, Coupon Mommie, Couponing in Critical Times, Coupons Are Money, Frugally Farming Family, Frugalissa Finds, Knoxmoms.com, Knoxville Mamabelle, Knoxville on a Dime, and Sharing Savings with You.

Today’s edition comes from Knoxville Mamabelle. Isha gives us some great ideas for frugal and fun activities for your Christmas Day celebration. Wait until you see the paper snowflakes she made!

More Holiday Tips from the Knoxville Mommy Bloggers Series

A group of Local Knoxville Mommy Bloggers are tackling Holiday topics to save you time and money these holidays:
Blue Frog Creations, Coupon Katie, Coupon Mommie, Couponing in Critical Times, Coupons Are Money, Frugally Farming Family, Frugalissa Finds, Knoxmoms.com, Knoxville Mamabelle, Knoxville on a Dime, and Sharing Savings with You.

Today’s edition comes from Gabrielle over at Couponing in Critical Times. Gabrielle shares some ideas on how to entertain and decorate for less this Holiday season. I You may want to put some of her ideas into action while planning your get togetherthis month.

Plan A Local and Organic Christmas Feast

A group of Local Knoxville Mommy Bloggers are tackling Holiday topics to save you time and money these holidays:
Blue Frog Creations, Coupon Katie, Coupon Mommie, Couponing in Critical Times, Coupons Are Money, Frugally Farming Family, Frugalissa Finds, Knoxmoms.com, Knoxville Mamabelle, Knoxville on a Dime, and Sharing Savings with You.

Today’s edition comes from Hannah at Frugally Farming Family she shares some tips and ideas on how to have a local and organic holiday feast.
It is great information about where to find local farms or farmers to buy produce. She give some local stores to hit up and some recipes.

If you are at all interested in shopping/cooking local or organic for you holiday celebrations you should definitely check out Hannah’s post.