Camping, Travel and Learning

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photo by @_zphotoz_

Growing up my family moved a lot. I lived in several places in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Nebraska and now in Tennessee. However it wasn’t until I was with Ian in my twenties that I really got the chance to travel and really see places. Places that were out of my comfort zone like Mexico, Italy, England, Portugal, and Spain. Now Ian is gone but he passed a love of travel, learning and exploring along to me and our children. As a single parent, I enjoyed finding new adventures with my children and made it a goal to travel with them out of the country to get out of my box. Now with our new blended family, I’m so happy to have found someone else that shares my desire to camp, travel and learn. We’ve only been a new family for about a year but at the end of this month we’ll have camped in 10 different states together. It’s been a real blessing.

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Photo by @_zphotoz_ on Instagram

My favorite part about camping is the opportunity to be out in nature and away from the hustle and bustle. I try to lead a simple life at home, however with 4 kids it still ends up to be busy and hectic at times. I welcome the change of scenery and pace of life that camping brings. I love the chance to connect with nature. Being in the trees and near the water makes a world of difference for my mental well being. The kids tend to put down their electronic devices, get on their bikes and seem to be open to more conversation. We are able to work as a family/team to set up the camper and do the cooking. There are less distractions and more focus and quiet time which we all enjoy. There is something about being away that gives you a new perspective on your everyday anxieties.

Traveling opens our eyes to the world around us. I have found by visiting different areas we become more tolerant and accepting of differences, as well as each other. Traveling teaches patience, you can’t just snap your fingers and be at your new destination, it takes time. Our kids enjoy their electronic devices on the way, don’t get me wrong. When we first started taking trips together there would often be frustrated huffing, and complaining along the way. I’m pleased to say they seemed to have found a way to enjoy the process and give up the negativity (most of the time). We’ve also found ways to use the car ride as a bonding time. We sometimes play games together, or listen to songs or books on tape. Just a little bit of effort and planning can make a world of difference for a long road trip.

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Taken at Croft State Park by @z_photoz_

As I’ve stated a bzillion times before, learning happens all of the time. It’s not contained by the walls of a classroom. Learning happens everyday, you just can’t stop it. I find traveling and camping to be an exercise in teamwork, cooperation, patience, and simplicity. There are valuable skills that will last a lifetime. When life slows down I’ve noticed that often new books are pulled off the shelves and read in an afternoon, and new projects are started and new skills learned. This is done by their choosing, at their will. This kind of learning stays with you and changes who you are, makes you a better person.

 

We have some big changes and exciting things planned for our family over the next year. It makes me nervous and excited to see things coming together. We hope to keep expanding in our travels and spend more time with our kids learning and exploring every step of the way. I have enjoyed this past week participating in the Write Tribe challenge. It has given me the chance to catch up in sharing our camping adventures over the last year. I hope you will keep joining us for our journeys.

What are you favorite places to travel with your family? What have you learned? Suggestions where we should camp next?

 

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Breaks Interstate Park

 

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Love this family picture taken on The Ridge Trail at Breaks Interstate Park 

We were off for another adventure, but where would we go?  It wasn’t a typical time of year for camping. It was November and most people would be out of school and work for the Thanksgiving holiday.  But we wanted to get away to the great outdoors for a few days. I saw on Pinterest some spectacular views, and some called it the Grand Canyon of the South. So we decided on Breaks Interstate Park. It’s a bi-state park sharing it’s home in Virginia and Kentucky.

 

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Spectacular views even in November 

The roads were windy to get there once we were off the interstate. It made  us a little weary steering our camper through the windy roads up and down the mountain. However, we quickly realized it was worth the drive when we arrived. We were initially greeted by some friendly deer standing by the Park sign as we pulled in, we took that as a sign of good things to come. We were surprised when we pulled into the camp ground that we were the only ones in the entire park. Really? It was true. We had expected the park to be full for the holiday, but perhaps they were frightened by the thought of camping in the cold? It surprised us, but the weather was perfect for camping and after our initial shock we settled in to having the whole campground to ourselves.

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Me with Big Z and Perry on the Rattlesnake Bike Trail 

We noticed there was a mountain bike trail so I was able to get Perry and Big Z to agree that we should give it a try. So the three of us headed to Rattlesnake Trail. I had never been true mountain biking before, I mistakenly assumed it was just a bike trail in the mountains. Wrong. We noticed the entry to the trail was rather narrow, but were sure it would widen as we traveled. Wrong. We started up the trail, zigging back and forth. Yes, we had to walk our bikes up part of the way. We now realize this was perhaps more than we bargained for, and perhaps we weren’t really prepared for this adventure. Perry’s bike was made for the streets and his tires were as smooth as could be. We realized we better go on, because otherwise we’d have to go down the zig zag we just came up. So forward we marched…with our bikes. Once at the top we were able to ride our bikes comfortably, we also ran into a worker for the park who was repairing the trail. We talked to him for awhile, and he assured us after looking at Perry’s bike that we probably weren’t prepared for this trail. He said once we went downhill we could break off to the right, and it would make the trail shorter, that it was a large loop, and we could cut some of it off. So we thanked him, and headed downhill..

Breaks Interstate Park 5So the downhill was cut into the side of the mountain, zigging back and forth. We could see it part of the way as we look down the trail. Thankfully we all had good attitudes about it, but it was quite intimidating. We mounted our bikes and vowed to try and be careful for the decent. I made sure my helmet was tight, and with a wail off I went. Perry and Big Z stayed together and stayed behind me. I could not believe how narrow the trail was, and how close the trees were to the trail. I enjoyed some of the ride down, it was exhilarating and scary all rolled into one. Perry had to walk a lot because his tires weren’t cut out for this kind of biking, but he was patient and kept going. We were so happy when we arrived at the loop turning point where we could head back to the parking area. I had fell several times during this Rattlesnake run, but I was proud that I had tried something new. We look back at that ride and we laugh, we were so unprepared. So we all have an interest in mountain biking but will do more research on the trails beforehand. We went out of our box and faced our fears, and conquered them. However, leisure biking might be more our speed.

Breaks Interstate Park 2As a family we did several hikes together. There are many spectacular views right off the main road. So it’s easy to drive and walk a few steps and get some great photos. We hiked all we could, short and long. The Ridge Trail combined with the Geological trail  took us along some pretty fantastic rock formations and faults. There were many opportunities to discuss land formations, geology and geography. Most of the trails are moderate because of the rocky cliffs, but the views can’t be beat. We’d love to return to this park in the spring when everything is green, however we still enjoyed it in Fall after the leaves had all fallen off.

 

Breaks Interstate Park 8There is a hotel at Breaks Interstate Park as well as a few  playgrounds and  a restaurant and gift shop. The restaurant was closed during our visit, but we still enjoyed the gift shop for a few items. The teens enjoyed the gift shop for the WiFi it provided. There were also warnings of a bear in the area, we didn’t see him though. The bathroom facilities were pretty standard for a State Park, they were clean, but nothing fancy. We really enjoyed our quiet evenings around the campfire eating our hearty warm soups. There was plenty of fun in the hammocks and riding bikes around the camping loop. We hope to return to this park someday soon.

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Pee Wee, Big Z and Me enjoying the views 
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The rocky cliffs are intimidating but gorgeous. 

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Do you have a favorite camping spot? Where are your favorite State Parks? Where are your favorite views?

 

 

Camping at Myrtle Beach

myrtle beach 2It’s been a long standing tradition in my family to go to Ocean Lakes campground in September -October. My parent’s like to vacation without a ton of people, so they tend to avoid the busy season. The fall months are great for the beach, you avoid the crowds,you  can take your dog on the beach and the rates are cheaper. My parents rent a house in Ocean Lakes for the  entire month for what it costs in peak season for a week.This is an excellent advantage to homeschooling. You don’t need to fight for your spot on the beach at the same time as everyone else. The weather is still nice and the water is warm.

Ocean Lakes offers a lot of options for visiting Myrtle Beach. You can rent a house or you can bring your own camper and use their hookups. They also offer fresh water fishing at their lakes, there are planned activities such as exercises classes or Bingo ( a family favorite) and they have a convenience store, fast food restaurant and laundromat. It is convenient to grocery stores, restaurants and shopping. So you have the option of staying in the park the whole time because there is plenty to keep you busy, or you can venture out and see what else the city has to offer.

myrtle beach 1Most of the beach homes you rent come with a golf cart that you can use to get around the 310 acres. It’s the largest campground on the East Coast, so this is a definite break of our habit of staying in State Parks. This place has the extra bells and whistles, you can paint ceramics or swim in the heated pool. We enjoy taking a morning or two to spend painting ceramics together, it’s always relaxing and the kids always end up with a masterpiece. This year they added a new water park that we are looking forward to testing out. The showers are newer and cleaner and nicer than your standard ones at a State Park.

So this was going to be the first time I stayed at Ocean Lakes in a camper. Previously I had always stayed with my parents in a beach house. Now there were six of us, so we felt the camper would give everyone there own space but we could still spend time with my parents. We love the idea of camping so close to the beach. The kids were able to ride their bikes to the ocean and around the campground, including back and forth to their grandparents. My parents stayed in a beach house, we set up  our camper at a campsite. We met for dinners at their beach house. There are no fire rings at Ocean Lakes. Usually when I camp I do all of our cooking over an open fire, that isn’t an option here. So it was nice to be spoiled by mom’s cooking each evening. It’s a nice way to meet in the middle with vacation with my parents. My dad isn’t one for eating out, but he enjoys are family meals together, so it works for us all.

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My dad

We usually spend our time taking long walks to the pier. My parents take their Jack Russell with them. She’s getting old and they end up carrying her most of the way. We always meet interesting characters to talk to along the way. Sometimes we’ll see a fisherman catch something, and that will give the kids something to get excited about. We pick up interesting shells along the way.  At one of the piers we usually walk out and spy on the sharks below. It amazes me how close they are and how big they are, I know I won’t be swimming next to the pier anytime soon.

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Late night beach walks with glow sticks, you can’t beat it! 

We enjoy Bingo nights on Mondays, where the crowd in October is mostly Senior Citizens. We compete for junk food and free ice cream cones from the Snack Shack. You wouldn’t believe the thrill of excitement that a getting five in a row can give a six year old, or a sixty six year old for that matter. It’s a lighthearted good time. Late night walks on the beach are always relaxing too. There is nothing like hearing the waves crash on the shore in the dead of night. So we take this time at the beach to reflect on all of the good memories we’ve had in the past and plan on making in the future.

We always look back to our time at Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Myrtle Beach with fondness. We make good memories and get to rejuvenate here a few days each year. We’re going back this year, we just made our reservations.  Do you have a place that you enjoy meeting up with family and making memories? What are your family vacation traditions?