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Planning the next family vacation

Back in December of 2008, Traci and I bought a timeshare. Several times before our purchase, we’d stayed at different “one night free” spots and had timeshare presentations, which turned into really cool weekend getaways for us on the cheap. We’d tell them politely “no thank you,” and we’d walk away with a free night stay at some location, and some free swag to go along with it. It cost us a couple of hours of time, so in the end, we found that it was worth it.

When we accepted the offer to stay at The Jockey Club in Las Vegas, we thought we’d be doing the same thing. Only, they put us at this seedy hotel off the strip because of the wheelchair accessibility. And when I say Seedy, the Greek Isles (which isn’t even there anymore) was VERY seedy. We came back to the room one night sharing an elevator with three guys who walked ahead of us on our floor as we exited the elevator. They stopped about 5 doors away from us, drew their guns and proceeded to enter the room in a search mode. They were detectives and the room was empty, but it scared the crap out of Traci and I. Imagine what we’d have walked into if they people that they were after were actually in their room at the time. What timing. After that experience, how could we not buy? Right?

The truth is, the sales representative did a very poor job of explaining exactly what we were purchasing, and the guy that she brought over to help her seal the deal was just crooked lying used car salesman. But we bought anyway. The reason, we wanted to vacation. And we felt that purchasing the timeshare in the manner in which we purchased it was a) affordable, and b) fit the way that we’d want to vacation, and c) that by purchasing the timeshare, it would motivate us to use it, thereby making it a good purchase.

The program that we got was through Geo Holiday, which included something like 20-25 locations across the globe. It wasn’t anything that we were jumping up and down with, but their property on Las Vegas Boulevard located directly next to the Bellagio and in between that establishment and the developing City Center seemed like a pretty good location. Add into that the fact that we really weren’t buying the location as much as we were purchasing points, which had the capability of being redeemed through timeshare juggernaut RCI, and it gave us staying possibility through an exchange process at anyone of the thousands of RCI destinations around the globe. All of the sudden, we liked the idea.

For what we paid, I think we received a fair deal. It was a little bit of a struggle to learn how to use the points within the guidelines that they’d given to us, but I actually think that I’m 60% happy that we bought it. The reason that I’m not 100% happy is two-fold, 1) We weren’t sold the program the correct way and they weren’t honest with us in how it ACTUALLY worked. And 2) We simply haven’t had the capability, either based on timing or finances, to afford to make full use of it. That’s where this blog comes in.

I could’ve done a much more thorough job of explaining exactly how the program works, but that’s a blog in itself, so instead I want to work on where I’m looking to head this year. Since we’ve had the timeshare, we’ve taken a few trips out to Las Vegas with the kids, one this past spring where Traci and I went together to New Orleans, LA, and one where we went with the family to Sedona, AZ. So we’re using it a little, but not to its full capabilities of what we purchased. But it’s the trip that we took with the family to Arizona that makes me want to take a few more trips with the family before the kids get too old, and they don’t want to do it anymore. With Kelli turning 14 years old in just a week, and Emma following suit mid-year this year, plus our little girls not being so little any longer as they will both be 11 this year, our time is running short to have them still be kids, and we want to create a few vacation memories with them. Because the Sedona vacation may have been my favorite vacation of my life, and I’m pretty sure that it was for everyone in my family.

So I’m trying to narrow down when we’ll be taking our next vacation and where. I’m a little premature in the planning process, but I want to be ready for when the time comes because I don’t want anything standing in our way of using our points this year. The only hang ups that we have right now are our annual maintenance fees, which we’ll take care of with our income tax returns. But until those are paid for, we can’t really book anything. But I can still plan on a few destinations, and I think that I’ve narrowed it down to 4 possible spots that I’d prefer to go to.

Bear in mind that with all 6 of us traveling, that we won’t be flying. It’s simply just too expensive to buy 6 plane tickets really to anywhere. Instead, we’ll pack the van full of family and road trip our way to wherever we’re heading, which limits the destinations to the Western United States (I don’t think that driving through Mexico is something I want to do with our kids). So from Los Angeles to a few driving destinations, it comes down to what areas of the Western US are touristy destinations or have some kind of value to us in the form of “we have family there,” or “I’ve always wanted to see that,” or “I just hear that area is really beautiful. Here’s the top four that I’ve come up with.

1) St. George, Utah. There are a couple of locations just outside St. George, located within about an 7-8 hour drive of us. The small town in Southern Utah is located within driving distance of places like Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. As a kid, I remember my Grandpa Bernie telling me that Bryce was the most amazing thing that he’d ever seen, and I’d put that on my list of must see places since then. It’s also within driving distance of the northern end of the Grand Canyon, which the kids absolutely loved when we went to Sedona. I think this one would be a really great trip.

2) Port Townsend Washington, and Salem, Oregon. I don’t know that we’d actually do both of these in a single trip, but it sure would be fun to do over say 10 days or so. Traci’s brother P.J. lives in Salem, and she lived there for a while as well. I think that she’d want to do the “memory lane” trip with her kids of the area, which may involve a day of traveling the Oregon Coast, and some of the most gorgeous areas of Oregon that you could possibly imagine, in addition to visiting with the family. The drive however is 13.5 hours from our house, which is a long haul. It’s even longer if you’d do what I’d want to do which is make Salem a 2-3 day stopover on the way to a 3-4 day trip to Port Townsend (located a further 4.5 hours north), which is nestled at the top of the Puget Sound. If possible, I’d like to steal a day to head across the bay to Victoria, British Columbia and give the kids a sample of one of my all time favorite cities, including a trip to Butchart Gardens and all of the other amazing destinations. And perhaps drop into Seattle on one of the days to check out the space needle. There’s a lot of potential with this trip which would require a ton of planning. Plus the drive home would be a VERY long one at nearly 18 hours.

3) South Lake Tahoe or San Francisco – Geo has some great resorts located on the lake, and it’s a reasonable 7 hour drive to get into the area. I don’t really know what we’d do once we’re there as I’ve never been before but the location may include a day where we venture for a day into Yosemite which is about a 2.5 hour drive. I’m not as “Gung-Ho” on this particular trip, but I think that it’d be a good one. I may actually have more fun with the family on a San Francisco trip, but I think that this one would be less expensive. But San Francisco makes the list more for the kids. Each of them had been trying to get their Girl Scout troop to San Francisco for a bridging ceremony that would get them walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’d be a really neat trip, but has always ended up being too expensive for us to consider it. So it hasn’t happened and the girls have always been bumming about that. But it sure would be fun to ride a trolley with them, show them China Town, and to see the bridges and the beauty that the City by the Bay has.

4) Yellowstone National Park. The area is a national treasure and one that I’ve always wanted to visit. I know little about it other than the fact that I’ve always wanted to go. When I was a kid I went on a road trip with my mom and my sister where we started with a drive to Victoria, BC and then were going to head to Yellowstone. But she got fired from her job while we were in Victoria and she overspent when she couldn’t figure out the currency exchange, so we never really ventured east. I’ve always regretted that. I’d love to throw in a visit to Mount Rushmore if that was possible, but I don’t think it would be. It’s an 8 hour drive one way to get there from Yellowstone, meaning 16 hours roundtrip. Add to the fact that Yellowstone is more than 16 hours drive time, and I think that we may rule this one out altogether. But it is something that I’d like to do at some point. An alternative plan may also include a location near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, but that lessens the one way trip by a meager 2 hours. I still think that this trip is a real longshot for our next destination, which is why I listed it fourth on this list.

There also runs the possibility of heading back to Sedona, and I wouldn’t be opposed to that one. It was a really great destination. Perhaps this time we could mix in a trip to Monument Valley, or perhaps venture over to Santa Fe, New Mexico, just to mix it up a little. But those are the base places that I’d like to head to. Again, it’d take some real planning to get any of this done, but after our taxes come through, we’ve got a few things in mind. It’s just nice to actually get these written down for once.

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