Like many, I’m struggling to process the horrific massacre in Uvalde, Texas. Writing about our summer travel plans feels frivolous and unnecessary. But traveling is such an important aspect of my family’s soul – both collectively and individually – that writing about it is cathartic and serves as the reminder I so desparately need about the power of love, curiosity, and relationships. So write, I will. Some of the most popular posts on this blog are about our decision making process when it comes to planning summer travel (see our 2018 summer travel plans plans and 2019 summer travel plans). While we’ve been traveling with kids since they were very little, being a military family ensures that we live far from most of our family so a lot of our travel would be centered around visiting our parents. But for about the last decade, we’ve made a concentrated effort to plan travel that didn’t always involve visiting family and as a result, we’ve gone on some pretty amazing adventures (and also experienced a couple of flops).
Last summer, travel restrictions prevented us from going on an overseas adventure so we focused on domestic travel instead. We kicked everything off with Memorial Day weekend in Saugatuck, Michigan, we experienced Walt Disney World with family and friends, we hiked and whitewater rafted in Vail, Colorado, we camped in Door County, Wisconsin, and spent time in one of the most beautiful places in the US, Glen Arbor, Michigan (pictured above).
So how did we choose our summer travel this year?
Because we’re PCSing from Fort Sheridan, Illinois to Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, we’re operating on a pretty tight timeline due to the inflexibility of Clay’s upcoming school schedule. We’re kicking things off with a remote cabin rental in Door County, Wisconsin over Memorial Day weekend – an amuse-bouche to the more robust trips we have planned. As far as our bigger trips, we initially explored going to Italy or Ireland but we quickly determined that the instability of travel restrictions with COVID-19 and the potential quarantine would add a lot of unnecessary stress to our PCS. So we’re not traveling overseas this summer – womp womp.
Back in January during a sub-zero polar vortex, Clay and I sat down on the couch with our laptops and began to brainstorm possible trips for the summer, knowing that we’d have to be flexible due to unknown PCS-related dates and requirements. The weather outside impacted our initial search efforts – we looked a Caribbean resorts but we weren’t really feeling a laid back beach vacation – we wanted an adventure! So we then flirted with the possibility of planning another Costa Rica trip (the Army and Covid have cancelled our previous attempts to drink coffee in the jungle), but we decided that luck probably wasn’t on our side and the aforementioned travel restrictions combined with our tight schedule and variety of PCS unknowns meant that domestic travel was probably the safest bet.
We then focused on Alaska. Clay and I went there with Weston when he was 20 months old and stayed with a friend from our Fort Drum days. It was a fantastic trip but we were limited as far as what we were able to experience so we definitely want to go back someday. We explored the option of an Alaskan cruise but quickly decided we wanted to maximize our time on the ground. We then contacted a few family adventure companies that specialize in multi-day tours involving multiple modes of transportation. There was was a 16-day tour that really appealed to us – it involved kayaking, whitewater rafting, Denali, camping in the Arctic circle, and visiting the major sights of Fairbanks and Anchorage. However, when looking at our schedule and realistically assessing our capacity to vacation during a PCS, we determined that one two-week+ trip just wasn’t feasible this summer. Seeing the various Army commitments on the calendar in June and July made us realize that it made much more sense to take two separate weeklong trips, if we could make it work.
So Alaska was out because when we go again, we want to go longer than a week. But we couldn’t shake the adventurous elements of that itinerary that excited us the most – kayaking, whitewater rafting, and camping in a remote location. A quick Google search later, I stumbled across a trip that I knew would be perfect for our family this summer…a 6-night guided whitewater rafting camping trip down the Salmon River in Idaho. We let it marinate for a day and researched the opportunity, which only made us more excited about the trip. We called the rafting excursion company and reserved our spots.
A river is more than an amenity…. It is a treasure. It offers a necessity of life that must be rationed among those who have power over it.– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
The Salmon River has the reputation of being The River of No Return, due to early explorers being able to raft down the river, but not be able to return upstream due to the tremendous current.The trip is considered all-inclusive in that they provide the gear, equipment, and food so we don’t have to fly with anything except our camping backpacks. We will fly into Boise, ID, drive to McCall, ID, spend the night, and then board a bush plane to Salmon, ID the next morning. We will then spend six nights rafting down the Salmon River back down to McCall. We’re very much looking forward to completely unplugging and having a transformative experience that leaves us with an even deeper connection to nature and to each other.
A couple of months after booking the Idaho trip, we scheduled the packing and moving of our Household Goods (HHGs) and realized that we had 6 days open prior to when we would need to physically drive from IL to PA. We immediately ruled out leaving early and stopping somewhere en route because we’ll have our dog, Teddy Girl, with us and we’ll be towing a U-Haul trailer behind one of the cars. But when Clay’s sister, Meredith, mentioned her family was thinking about going to Maine this summer during the stretch of time we had open, we quickly embraced the idea of joining them for part of their trip to Vacationland.
Clay and his family vacationed in Ogunquit every summer growing up so coastal Maine is a special place in his family. Our little family of four visited Ogunquit in 2014 and this summer we’re excited to finally have the opportunity to return. We’re flying in and out of Boston but maximizing our time in Ogunquit so we’re not spending any time in the city this trip. While we hope to go lobstering again and go on a whale watching tour (I still have never been on one!), this trip will be more laid back than our rafting trip. Lots of seafood, hiking, and relaxing along the coast will be the perfect prelude to the insanity of moving. We will fly home to Chicago and then leave for Pennsylvania a day or two later.
Why travel during a PCS?
Why not? US Army War College is quite famed for not being able to accommodate door-to-door moves so when we learned that our HHGs will likely be going into storage, we decided to use it to our advantage. We’re having our HHGs packed and everything loaded on the truck prior to our trips, so instead of hanging out in an empty house for a few weeks, we might as well travel. And Clay’s schedule will not have much flexibility for travel once he starts school so we have to maximize his free time in-between assignments.
We know that we will likely have the opportunity to squeeze in a few smaller trips before school starts for both the kids and Clay (will we attempt New York City, despite our propensity for getting norovirus whenever we visit?) but as far as the ‘bigger’ travel, we’re pretty pleased with our choices. However, we will absolutely be going overseas next summer – either for travel or to PCS…only time will tell which one will prevail. In the meantime, we’ll explore as much as we can and have a blast doing so.