14 Practical Tips to Save Money Before, During, and After Traveling

I’m an American who works full-time with a husband who also works full-time and we have a daughter in school, and we all manage to travel as a family about six weeks out of the year. My husband and I aren’t wealthy, but we do manage our finances tightly and keep an eye on our budget. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to help keep travel expenses under control. We don’t stay in hostels or live in a van when we travel, but we don’t stay in 5 star hotels either. I’d like to pass along a few tips for saving money for travel I’ve learned and share them with you.

1. Plan your vacations waaaaaay far in advance. I’m a planner so this one’s easy for me. By purchasing airfare several months in advance, you not only will pay less, you also have better opportunities for choosing your seats. You’ll also save on rental cars by making reservations in advance, but I personally haven’t seen a huge drop in prices for hotels or on Airbnb by reserving in advance. You will have a bigger selection of available accommodations the further out you look (within 11 months or less out usually), however, so you’ll have a better chance of getting more reasonably-priced accommodations rather than getting stuck with whatever happens to be left at the last minute. I know there are websites and apps out there for last-minute deals on hotels but I’ve never had a need for them since I plan well in advance.

2.  Fly to popular destinations during the off-season or even shoulder-season. For example, we’ve gone to  Colorado in June, Utah in February (but not to ski areas), and Italy in October. Each and every time I was thrilled we chose to go when we did. Not only was the weather great, the crowds were fewer, and prices were lower.

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Colorado in June was lovely

3.  Flying during the mid-week (Tuesday-Thursday) is usually cheaper but not always. Always check to be sure. Sometimes flying into a city like New York City may be cheaper on a Saturday because of all of the business travelers during the week.

4.  Watch what you spend on food and drinks when you’re at home. The more you eat out, go out for coffee, spend on drinks, etc., the less money you will have for those things when you travel. My family doesn’t eat out at restaurants that much when we’re home except for special occasions like birthdays so we can eat at restaurants when we’re traveling and don’t have to worry about how much we’re spending on food.

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Restaurant with a view in Valparaiso, Chile

5.  Eat at your hotel, Airbnb place, or wherever you’re staying whenever possible. If a hotel offers free breakfast, by all means partake in it. If they don’t offer free breakfast, buy some groceries so you can make your own breakfast. Depending on what you have in your room or apartment you may be able to have dinner in your apartment a couple of times too, which saves even more money. My family also likes to pick up sandwiches and snacks from the deli at a grocery store before we go on a hike when we’re traveling. That way we don’t have to cut our hike short, go back to find a restaurant and have lunch, then go back to the trails. We get to have a picnic lunch while overlooking some gorgeous scenery, all while saving some money- bonus.

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We recently had a picnic lunch at this gorgeous national park in Chile

6.  If you’re in the United States, look for deals at restaurants through GrouponRestaurants.com, or Entertainment mobile app. While you won’t be able to find every single restaurant that exists, using these three apps together should help you find some good restaurants and save you a ton of money. I’ve gotten many free meals through the Entertainment app, after buying one meal at regular price, or I’ve also gotten deals like 20% off our entire bill pretty commonly.

7.  Seek out free things to do. Be creative! When my husband and I were in Sedona, Arizona, we opted out of the touristy pink Jeep tours that cost starting around $100 per person and decided to go it on our own in our ordinary rental car (not 4 x 4 or anything special). We kept coming to spots where the pink Jeeps had just been or were just leaving and laughed to ourselves. While we may not have had 100% access to every single trail, we certainly had no problems hiking around the area for a few days just using our rental car to get us to trailheads and never once did we get stuck or not be able to go where we wanted. The best part- we didn’t pay a single penny extra and we could go where we wanted when we wanted without relying on someone else.

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San Diego is expensive but hiking in most areas is completely free

8.  Play the credit card game and collect frequent flier miles. Many cards give a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus, which is pretty significant. Make sure you’re earning miles every time you buy airfare, pay for hotels, eating out, and all of your every day expenses as well such as buying gas, groceries, and everything else you can put on your card. Just make sure you pay off the card in full every month, otherwise what you pay in interest could wipe out any potential benefits. Also check to see what airlines are affiliated with the card you’re getting. If you always fly with a certain airline but your miles aren’t redeemable with that airline, find another credit card that is affiliated to your favorite airline.

9.  Be loyal but up to a point. I’m a loyal Delta flyer but only because it’s the most convenient airline for where I live and where I fly most of the time. I recently flew with Southwest, however, simply because the flights for my family were cheaper and direct flights (versus Delta’s more expensive flight with a layover). I have the Delta credit card, so I did at least earn miles with Delta by buying my airline tickets with my card, just not as many as I would have if it would have been a Delta flight.

10.  Speaking of flying, you will save hundreds of dollars, especially if you are part of a family for just one round-trip flight if you can pack minimally and not check any bags. My family and I have flown to multiple places around the world including two weeks in New Zealand, three weeks in San Diego, and two and a half weeks in Chile without any of us checking a bag for years now. At $50 for a suitcase for each flight segment, which is a pretty common fee charged by most airlines, that adds up.

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Flying to New Zealand is expensive but we saved money by not checking any bags

11.  I use Hotels.com. For every 10 nights you stay, you get one free, with no blackout dates or restrictions. There are also different tiers and once you become a higher level tier, by more stays, you are eligible for deeper discounts than those available to everyone else. I’ve saved thousands of dollars by using this website. No kidding.

12.  I also use Airbnb. Sometimes it’s cheaper in the long run if you can rent an apartment with a fully furnished kitchen rather than stay in a hotel room with no cooking facilities so you’re forced to eat out every single meal. Many times you can also wash clothes, so you don’t have to over-pack, and can save money by not checking bags. You can sometimes negotiate the price with your host as well.

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Dinner one evening at our Airbnb in Chile

13.  When you do eat out, eat where the locals eat. Not only will the food taste better, it will be a fraction of the price of a meal targeted at tourists. If a restaurant has menus in English but English isn’t the native language, say no thank you and find another place.

14.  Shop around to find the best market in the neighborhood where your rented apartment, condo, or house is. Each of the small markets will have different varieties of foods and other items they carry so try multiple markets to find one you like best. We had the good fortune of finding a supermercado in Chile that had their own baker in the back of the shop. We quickly learned to pick up hot, fresh bread straight out of the oven for dinner most days. Luckily we did a lot of walking to counteract all of that bread!

How do you all save money when you’re traveling? What tips do you have?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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Never Give Up! A Story of Inspiration Many Years in the Making

My daughter was 4 years old when she broke her arm. She was riding her bicycle, made too sharp of a turn in a cul-du-sac, fell, and broke her arm. I had a similar experience, only I was a few years older and broke my leg instead of my arm. Perhaps the biggest difference between my daughter’s experience and mine was I didn’t stop riding my bike once my leg was healed. For all intents and purposes, she stopped riding once she broke her arm.

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Elmo tricycle

That is, until recently. Yes, 7 years after breaking her arm, my daughter started riding her bicycle again. It had been so long she had pretty much forgotten how to ride so my husband and I paid for private lessons with REI, which I highly recommend. Within those two-hour-long lessons she was riding her bicycle, albeit a little shakily, but she was riding nonetheless.

We started going for family bike rides, starting out on the widest, flattest roads we could find near our house. My poor daughter’s calves were bruised from hitting them against the pedals. She would get spooked by a car coming or something else, hit the curb, and fall off her bike, but this time, she’d get back on. Sure, there was plenty of complaining, yelling, and frustration from her. Things weren’t all rosy, but I told her, yes, riding a bike is hard at first. It will just take time.

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Picking strawberries with a broken arm

The main thing is, she stuck with it this time. I’m extremely proud of her that she didn’t just give up, saying it was too hard. Truth be told, riding a bicycle after an injury is hard, mentally, as I know firsthand. You get nervous when you pick up speed or when you’re going around a sharp turn. You have flashbacks of when you were injured. But after a while, you realize that you are safe and the chances of getting badly injured aren’t that great. Sure, you’re cautious, but every good cyclist should be cautious, honestly.

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My daughter is also on a year-round swim team and runs 5k’s. I have no doubt that adding cycling to the mix will only enhance her swimming and running. Does she have plans to do a triathlon any time soon? No, but maybe in a few years. You never know, because just a few years ago, she would have told you she didn’t ride a bike, but now to look at her you’d think she’s been riding for years.

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She’s an inspiration to me and even though I’m her mother and am certainly biased, I’m extremely proud of her for not giving up. I guess her stubborn nature has its benefits at times.

When I let her read this post while I was working on it, her response was that I was making too much of a big deal out of it. I don’t agree, though. I think the fact that she didn’t give up learning to ride her bicycle despite everything she went through is a message worth getting out. If there’s something you’ve been putting off or too afraid to do, just get out there and do it. It’s never too late!

How to Raise an Active Child

I have to admit it makes me cringe when I hear parents say things like, “My child isn’t active.  She doesn’t have any interest in sports,” or, “My child doesn’t play sports.  He’d rather do other things.” When I come back with questions like, what activities have they tried, the parent will usually only give one activity. WHAT? Over the years, my eleven-year-old daughter has been in ballet, gymnastics, on multiple soccer teams, volleyball camps, a running camp and after-school running group, and swimming teams. She’s also had tennis lessons and snow skiing lessons. My husband and I decided when she was 4 or 5 that she would be involved in some sort of activity and if we had to try them all until we found one that stuck, then so be it.

So of all of the activities above listed, which one(s) stuck with my daughter? She’s now an avid swimmer and runner but all of the other activities fell to the wayside. My daughter has been on a year-round swim team for several years now and is going to try out for her school track and field team as soon as she is able next spring. That being said, our road to her being an avid runner has not always been easy.

My daughter’s first experience with running came when I signed her up for the kids’ dash at the Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure. She was three years old and ran 50 yards.

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Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure

After the Kids’ Dash at the Race for the Cure, her next major running event didn’t happen for several years later. When she was 8, she ran in a kids’ marathon where she ran with a running group at her school, tracking her miles up to 25.2 and ran the final mile on the adult marathon course. A year later, I ran a half marathon in Branson, Missouri, the Roller Coaster Half Marathon and they offered a one mile run for kids. She ended up finishing in 8:25, despite the extremely hilly course during a cold, rainy morning and she had just turned 9 years old then. Sounds pretty good so far, right? Fast forward a bit from there and things went downhill quickly.

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Gymnastics is really hard if you’re a super-tall kid, like mine is

I am a runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. So far I’m up to my 40th state and I’ve been doing this since before my daughter was born. I currently run three races a year, so I’m out running quite a lot throughout the year. A few years ago she asked if she could run with me, to which I replied sure, thinking it would be a great way for us to bond. Then the whining and complaining started. She would say, “This is too hard!” and complain that she was too hot or too thirsty or too tired, and on and on. I told her before we even left the house that she would be setting our pace and if she wanted to take walk breaks that was fine. Quickly, however, I realized it just wasn’t working. She’d only last a few minutes before she was ready to walk and the whole time she would be complaining and whining. I couldn’t take it any longer.

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Running the last mile of the kids’ marathon
Instead of giving up, however, I tried a different approach. I signed her up with Girls on the run, an after-school running group meant to encourage girls to live a healthy active life and help them build up their confidence in themselves over a 10 week period that culminates in a 5k event. This worked even better than I could have imagined.. Not only did she see that she was indeed a good runner but she began to gradually build a love for running. Since that Girls on the Run 5k, she’s gone on to run three other 5k races, one of which she won second place in her age group.

Not only is my daughter a runner, she’s also an avid swimmer, her true love. At a pretty young age (two), I had put her in swimming lessons and she had always taken to the water well. So after ballet and gymnastics didn’t work out, I decided to put her on a swim team during the school months when she was in the second grade. This was the activity for her! She loved her coach and even enjoyed participating in swim meets. Since then she has had multiple coaches and has been on two different swim teams and if anything her love for swimming has only increased.

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First swim meet at the young age of 7

What is the biggest take-away from all of this? Don’t give up! If you put your child in a sports camp and it goes horribly, try another sport. If gymnastics isn’t for your child, try tennis, or basketball, or running, or ice hockey, or volleyball, or pick another sport. Keep trying until something sticks with your child. There are so many activities offered in most areas of the US that surely your child will enjoy one of them. Most of all, though, don’t wait. The younger you get your child active, the more it will become a normal part of their life.

Another piece of advice, don’t push your child too hard. Coaches are there to do their job so don’t try to coach your child or you risk turning your child away from the sport completely because it’s too much pressure. Simply encourage your child and tell them often how proud you are of them no matter what.

For resources in your area, try searching Eventbrite. Among other things such as music, they have a link specifically for sports and wellness and one for classes; both links include activities for children as well as adults. You can even search for specific events or categories or search by dates. I’ve found it to be a great resource for finding things going on in my area and when I’m traveling as well. Check out this tool to help you find events in your area.

How many of you are like me and are proud to have active kids? What activities are your kids involved in? Have you found it to always be easy to keep your kids active or has it also been a struggle at times for you?

Long Weekend in Morristown, New Jersey

I recently ran a half marathon in Morristown, New Jersey and decided to check out the area for a few days before the race. Although I have been to New Jersey a few other times, I had never been to this particular part of the state. Morristown is about an hour to hour and a half from New York City, depending on traffic and it’s a very beautiful area full of huge houses, farmland, and trees and flowers everywhere.

We had a rental car that we picked up at Newark Airport, so we could explore the city easily. When we first arrived, we were looking for a restaurant for lunch but had wandered into a residential area and saw enormous homes with huge lawns that must have cost millions of dollars. There were rolling hills and beautiful gardens everywhere, which seemed fitting given the state nickname is “The Garden State.”

On our first day we pretty much just walked around and took in the sights and got our bearings. The following day we went to the Ellis Island Museum and Statue of Liberty, my first time to either. Between the drive to Liberty Station and back, taking the ferry, and touring the museum and statue, that was pretty much a full day for us. We returned to our hotel, Best Western Plus, which was great. They have large rooms with small kitchens, wine tastings Monday through Wednesday, a Caribbean-themed restaurant, and a good central location. We really enjoyed the made-to-order omelette station for breakfast in the mornings.

We decided to check out Fosterfields Living Historical Farm in Morris Township for something a little different. The 1920s farm sits on over 200 acres and includes the Gothic revival style home built in 1854, although it has been a working farm since 1760. Previous owners include Jonathan Ogden, followed by the grandson of Paul Revere, General Joseph Warren Revere, and later the Foster family. There are docents walking around the grounds dressed in period clothing and performing tasks similar to what would have been done when it was still a working farm.

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There are pigs, cows, sheep, horses, chickens, and turkeys, some of which may have babies there if you’re lucky like we were. My daughter and husband took part in weighing the piglets using a scale that would have been used by the Foster family. I don’t know how many of you have ever been around piglets but they are really loud when they squeal! There are also cow milking demonstations and you can help grind the corn and feed the chickens, churn butter, and collect eggs. This farm is great if you have young to tween age children because of all of the hands-on experiences.

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See the runt on the far right? That’s the one we weighed.

If you want to go inside the Willows, the Foster family home, you have to pay extra and take an hour-long tour. You can go inside the small cottage near the Willows, however, for no extra fee. There is a lovely flower garden in front of the cottage as well. Finally, there is a transportation exhibit full of antique automobiles.

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The Willows
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Cottage by the Willows

You can easily spend a couple of hours here. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for kids ages 4-16, $2 for children 2 and 3. Children 2 and under are free. This is a fun way to spend some time with your family and let your kids see what farm life was like in the early 1900’s.

My half marathon was the following day so that took up the morning. We went to Swiss Chalet Bakery & Cafe for lunch and had some paninis followed by some dessert. My daughter got this adorable cupcake which was almost too cute to eat.

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Finally we drove back to the airport to begin our next adventure- our first time to South America, beginning in Santiago, Chile.

How many of you are like me and think New Jersey gets a bad rap?  The parts I’ve been to have been very nice. Sure, there are bad sections, but every state has some bad sections.

Ten Tips for Traveling with Children

My daughter has been to Aruba, Greece, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, the western and eastern parts of Canada, Mexico, and about 40 states in the United States, and she’s only 11 years old. She’s been traveling for as long as she can remember. She began flying before she was 2 years old. When she was around 9 or 10, she told me when she was younger she thought everyone traveled as much as she did, and only recently had she begun to realize that wasn’t true.

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My daughter with her own backpack at the Minneapolis airport

I know traveling with children can be more hassle, more expensive, more things to pack, and logistically more difficult to plan, but the rewards are absolutely worth any negatives. Many of my daughter’s teachers have told me that her travels have allowed her to see first-hand places they’ve studied in school. Her travels have enriched her education in a way that I never could have imagined. She’s seen and done things that it took me 30 or 40 years to do and that many people will never see or do. This is truly priceless.

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Learning about physics at the Koch Family Children’s Museum in Evansville, Indiana

Over the years I have learned a few things about traveling with children and I’d like to share my top ten here.

  1. Pack plenty of things to entertain your child on the airplane and in the car. Even if you’re flying to your destination, chances are pretty good you’ll still be spending some time driving to places. Pack things like a portable DVD player, tablet, or other electronic games/devices. Books, coloring books and crayons, paper to draw on, and sticker books were also big hits when my daughter was younger. Now that she’s older, her tablet and some books are enough to keep her entertained when we’re in transit. Audible books are also a great thing to have for children, especially in the car.
  2. Start out small. Go on a road trip then take a longer one and see how it goes. You’ll quickly find out your child’s limits for time spent in the car. For your child’s first airplane ride, you probably wouldn’t want to take them halfway around the world. Take a short flight, say 2 hours, and build up from there. You’ll learn as you go what works for your child and what doesn’t work.
  3. Introduce your child to travel early. Children adjust pretty much to anything, travel included, far better if they’re younger. If traveling is something your child does regularly, it will become “normal” for them.
  4. Pack comfort items like your child’s favorite stuffed animal (unless it’s a giant one), a nightlight, and sound machine. We found having a nightlight and sound machine in hotel rooms to be very useful and they’re both small enough to easily pack.
  5. Call the hotel in advance to ask if they provide cribs or pack n’ plays (portable cribs popular in the US, if you’re not familiar). Many do provide these but sometimes for an extra fee, but many also do not. Some hotels also have other baby-related items they offer; just ask ahead of time to save you the trouble of bringing something you might not need to.
  6. When they are old enough, ask your child to research the place(s) you’ll be going to and find some things they would enjoy doing. Your itinerary  doesn’t have to be all planned out by mom or dad. We also get books from the library before our vacations so our daughter can learn about the places we will be going to.
  7. Don’t over-do it on your excersions. Americans especially tend to try to pack as many activities as they possibly can, but when you have young children you need to slow down a bit. Don’t forget to schedule activities around nap times (don’t skip them just because you’re on vacation).
  8. Try to stay at a hotel that has a swimming pool.  Children love swimming pools and if you schedule a pool break in your day, your children will thank you for it.
  9. Although this can be difficult to match with number 8 above, try to find a place through Airbnb that’s family-friendly. Often, places on Airbnb will have a full kitchen, living area, and separate bedroom(s). This of course will feel more like home and will help everyone relax a little more. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a place that will also have a swimming pool; if so, score one point for your great find and book it immediately!
  10. Allow your child some indulgences on your vacation, but don’t go crazy. What I mean is, let them have that piece of cake from the bakery but don’t let them have three pieces of cake plus skip their nap and stay up late at night. You’ll have a seriously cranky child and everyone’s day will be effected by it.
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Fun with bubbles at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta
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Eating a beignet in New Orleans

I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states, and my daughter has been with me for every single half marathon I’ve ran since she’s been born (39 states so far for me). I did run some half marathons before she was born, but she’s been with me for the majority of them. She’s been at the start, with a hug and “Good luck!”, and she’s been waiting for me at the finish, also with a hug and “Good job!” I can’t imagine not having her with me at all of those races.

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Most of all my advice for parents traveling with children is just have fun and roll with the punches. Things can and do go wrong on vacations, just like life when you’re not traveling. The more you can go with the flow and the less you stress out about things, the more fun you will have. Isn’t having fun the main reason we all go on vacation anyway?

Grand Canyon National Park in Late Winter- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is so heavily visited, the National Park Service even has a web page about crowding at the South Rim and how to avoid it. There are tips on how to make the most of your visit and avoid crowds. My family and I visited during late winter, and found this is one way to at least lessen the crowds; however, visiting the Grand Canyon during the winter is not all rosy.  There are some advantages and disadvantages to coming to the park in the winter.

First, a few statistics about the Grand Canyon NP. The gorge is 1 mile deep and 277 miles long, with the Colorado River running through it. The North Rim is separated from the South Rim by the 10 mile wide canyon in between. The entire park is 1,217,403.32 acres but surprisingly this is only the 11th biggest US national park by size. There are six national parks in Alaska alone that are bigger than Grand Canyon National Park.

In 2016 almost 6 million people visited the park, with the vast majority of visitors during the summer months and the least visitors during December, January, and February. We chose to visit in early March and found it was definitely not as crowded as during the summer. It also wasn’t as busy during the week as it was on the weekend, not surprisingly.

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What are some advantages of visiting Grand Canyon National Park during the late winter? (The Good)

Obviously, the main advantage is crowds are less. However, there was a big surge of visitors on Saturday that we didn’t see on the days before that. So, even during the winter, it’s still best to come during the week if at all possible.

Along with the trails and roads not being as crowded, restaurants also aren’t as crowded during the winter months.

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One of many elk along the trails

It’s also nice to see the Grand Canyon when it’s snow-covered, and see the park in a way many people don’t get to experience.

Because it’s cooler during the winter, it’s more conducive to hiking if you plan on going on some long hikes down into the canyon. The temperature rises 5.5 degrees for every 1000 feet you lose in elevation, so the floor of the Grand Canyon is often as hot as 106 degrees Fahrenheit in July. If you plan on going to the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the West Rim, the average daily high in July is 116 degrees. July and August are also when monsoon rains occur here. In contrast, high temperatures during the winter are usually in the 30’s and 40’s.

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What are some disadvantages of visiting Grand Canyon National Park during the late winter? (The Bad)

If you have your heart set on going the North Rim, it is closed during the winter months, so your only option is the South Rim.

It can get quite windy during the winter months and a cold wind on top of a high around 35 degrees can make for a chilly hike.

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Can you tell it was windy?!

During the winter, most of the trails often have at least some areas where they are slick with ice and/or snow. Even on the popular Rim Trail, the majority of the trail had slick spots and we had to watch our footing.

Any other disadvantages? (The Ugly)

Mules are on Kaibab Trail during the winter and in fact year-round. During the winter the top of the trail is snowy and icy, and further down the trail where it is warmer, there are areas where it can be extremely muddy. This combined with piles and piles of mule poop leads to one smelly, messy trail. I’m not sure which was worse, the ice and trying to not fall at the top of the trail, or the mud and mule poop later on the trail. My daughter was actually cheering when we came upon ice again after going through the thick, heavy mud for a while. At least the ice wasn’t trying to pull her shoes off her feet like the mud was! We did, thankfully, reach parts of the trail further down that were neither ice- nor mud-covered, and that was awesome!

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This part of the trail was actually not hard to walk on. The mud was the worst.

Trails at the South Rim

There are five day hikes at the South Rim, with four being steep or very steep and only the Rim Trail is flat and easy. We spent most of our time on the Rim Trail and South Kaibab Trail but I’ll discuss them all briefly here.

The Rim Trail runs along the South Rim of the canyon, as you might guess by the name and is undoubtedly one of the more popular trails because of its accessibility. You can hop on a shuttle and take it to the next stop and hike as little or much as you want, before getting on the next shuttle. The Rim Trail runs from the village area to Hermit’s Rest for 13 miles and is mostly paved and flat. There are 13 shuttle stops from South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest Trailhead. Shuttles run March 1 to November 30.

Bright Angel Trail is a steep but maintained dirt trail that begins near Bright Angel Lodge and is 12 miles long roundtrip. Park rangers recommend you turn around after going 3 miles at 3 Mile Resthouse and during the summer not going past 4.5 miles one-way at Indian Garden. There are mules on this trail.

South Kaibab Trail is a steep but maintained dirt trail that begins south of Yaki Point (a shuttle stop) on Yaki Point Road. There are great views along the trail, including one with the funny-named “Ooh-Aah Point” at 0.9 miles into the hike. By this point, you’ve lost 600 feet in elevation, from the start at 7260 feet. Cedar Ridge, at 1.5 miles one-way is where park rangers recommend people who are not used to hiking or have gotten a late start to turn around and are adamant that summer hikers not go beyond this point. You don’t get your first real view of the river until Skeleton Point, 3 miles into the hike, at an elevation of 5200 feet. This is your recommended turn-around point for a day hike, presuming you’ve gotten an early start, are used to hiking, and it’s not summer. Again, there are mules on this trail.

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Hermit Trail is steep, strenuous, rocky, and unmaintained trail that begins near Hermits Rest shuttle stop and during the spring, summer, and fall is only accessible by shuttle bus (no private vehicles). This is definitely a trail for experienced hikers. You have two options on this trail for day hikes, either go to Santa Maria Spring, 2.5 miles one way or go to Dripping Springs, 3.5 miles one way. The advantage to this trail is there are no mules.

Grandview Trail is similar to Hermit Trail, in that it is also a steep, strenuous, unmaintained dirt trail with tougher conditions than either Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail. The trailhead can be reached by vehicle (not shuttle) at Grandview Point, 12 miles east of the village on Desert View Drive. Day hikes are to Coconino Saddle (1.1 miles one way) or Horseshoe Mesa/Toilet Junction (3 miles one way). However, day hikes to Horseshoe Mesa are not recommended during the summer due to strenuous conditions of the trail beyond Coconino Saddle.

Regardless of which trail you choose, do not attempt to hike from the rim down to the river in one day during the summer months. Even during the cooler months it’s not recommended unless you start very early in the day and are an experienced desert hiker.

There are several trails at the North Rim, none of which we did since the North Rim is unaccessible during the winter months. You can read about North Rim trails plus South Rim trails here.

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How to Get Here

Most people fly into Las Vegas, Nevada and drive the approximately 270 mile route to the Grand Canyon or fly into Phoenix, Arizona and drive the approximately 232 miles from there. Rental cars abound at both of these international airports. Tours can also be arranged at both places if you feel unsure or uneasy about driving that distance on your own and/or are from another country and are uneasy about driving in the States.

Where to Stay

If you want to maximize your time inside the park (which I highly recommend), there are several options for lodging in the park. At the South Rim, you can stay in the more crowded Historic District and choose from five different lodges, or you can stay in the quieter Market Plaza near the Visitor Center at Yavapai Lodge or Trailer Village RV Park. We chose to stay at Yavapai Lodge and found the motel rooms outdated but quiet. You can read more about the rooms in the park, including what’s available at the North Rim here. All of these places tend to fill several months in advance, especially during the summer months, so make sure you make reservations as far in advance as possible.

Where to Eat

Inside the park, there are several options for meals as well as groceries. Most of the lodges have a restaurant and there are some coffee shops and taverns scattered throughout the South Rim. The Canyon Village Market General Store is a pretty decent-sized grocery store that also has firewood and souvenirs. Prices didn’t seem too terrible here either. You can also get snacks at Hermit’s Rest Snack Bar at the end of Hermit Road. Although closed during the winter, you can eat at the Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room or Deli in the Pines at the North Rim. Outside the park, you can find groceries and restaurants 7 miles south of Grand Canyon Village in the town of Tusayan.

Other Things to Do

Depending on the weather, how much time you have to spend here, and your interests, there are many options of things to do at Grand Canyon NP. As outlined by the National Park Service, you could take a mule trip and go along the canyon rim or down to the bottom and stay at Phantom Ranch, or take a bicycle tour, go whitewater rafting, or even participate in a Grand Canyon Association Field Institute Learning Adventure.

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Fees

Admission to the park is valid for seven days and includes both the North and South Rim. A Grand Canyon National Park Vehicle Permit is $30 and admits a single vehicle (non-commercial) and everyone in the vehicle.

A Grand Canyon National Park Annual Pass is good for 12 months and costs $60. The America the Beautiful Annual Pass costs $80 and allows free entrance to all national parks and federal recreational lands. The Annual “Every Kid in a Park” 4th Grade Pass is free (!) for US 4th graders who have obtained the paper voucher through the Every Kid in a Park website. Active duty military are eligible for a free annual pass. The America the Beautiful Senior Pass is $10, and the America the Beautiful Access Pass and Volunteer Pass are both free.

My advice is get an America the Beautiful Annual Pass and combine a visit to the Grand Canyon with one to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. That’s what we did, and it made for one spectacular family vacation!