My husband and I have decided to drive through the state of Montana with our two kids–ages 6 and 8–this summer. Our plan is to fly into Missoula, dip down into the Bitterroot Valley, swoop up to Helena, spend a couple days in Bozeman and Yellowstone, and then finish up in Billings.
We’ll spend seven nights, eight days, covering 600 miles, and along the way we hope to climb tall mountains, plunge into cool lakes, catch a fish, drink a huckleberry shake, and take in Big Sky country’s majestic scenery (and my 8-year-old daughter hopes that we won’t be seeing any grizzly bears).
Before heading out, we established some guidelines:
– Travel on a budget. We have $1,400 to cover the cost of lodging, food, hotel, and entertainment for 8 days; this comes to $175 a day. We’re not including the cost of driving a car or our plane flights or airport related expenses.
– Act like a local. Read local papers, listen to local radio, talk to local people.
– Avoid franchised restaurants. Eat where the locals eat. Go to farmers’ markets. Picnic.
– Travel off the beaten path. Stay off the interstate whenever possible and take the scenic route.
– Appreciate our surroundings. Learn all that we can about Montana by stopping at museums, reading interpretive signs, talking with experts.
– Keep the kids entertained–without the help of a DVD player. Sing songs, play games, look out the window, and bond as a family. We’ve downloaded dozens of Books on Tape onto the iPhone–thanks to the San Francisco Public Library.
– Stop every two hours. We’ve designed an itinerary with short driving days. Some days we’re only driving an hour. But on those longer hauls, we promise to pull over and let the kids run around.
– Eat all the huckleberry shakes we possibly can. The weather is supposed to be hot and we plan to cool off with berry shakes.
– Swim. We’re staying at Best Westerns along the way and they all have swimming pools. We also hope to splash around in a mountain lake and get our toes in rushing river.
– Have fun. Relax. Move slowly. Stop to smell the roses.
You’re welcome to nit-pick at our budget and the way we approach our trip. I’m sure some of you would do things differently. But even better, feel free to offer up ideas for places we should visit along our route and tips on how to travel on a budget.