Tag Archives: family travel


Don’t Shoot! I am a Hiker…and “Tom Cruise Slept Here! “

An Excursion to Lexington, Virginia, USA

Don’t Shoot! I Am a Hiker

Just got back from a 2 day getaway to Lexington, Virginia, USA. We were given a gift certificate for a Bed and Breakfast a few years ago from my parents and we finally got the chance to use it this week. It was a well needed time alone together, albeit quick. For Thanksgiving we hosted 17 refugees from Bhutan via Nepal, one ESL guest from Brazil along with family and friends. Great feast and much fun, but it was time for us to use that gift card.

I got online and searched all the listings with Bed and Breakfast.com and found one that fit all of the criteria my husband really wanted. Quiet, mountains, wilderness, fireplace and hiking. Since we only had a one night stay over, we could not drive too far. We found just the right place in Lexington, Virginia called House Mountain Inn. House Mountain Inn | Welcome to Destination Relaxation.

Front of House Mountain Inn

Hike, Eat, Read, Sleep, and  Be Allowed to Do Nothing!

These were our goals for the 2 days. From our home it took us about 2 1/2 hours driving. Once we pulled up the steep and windy mountain road ( well paved and with guard rails) and saw the lodge, we knew it was what we were hoping for. We met the owner, Mr. Irvine, who was working on the grounds  and he talked to us a bit and walked us in. He introduced us to Tim Grue, his son in law. The resort is a family owned business and was started in 2003. Check in is at 3 pm , but he let us check in earlier. As we  walked in through the large double wooden doors, it felt as if we entered into a resort in Montana or Colorado.

House Mountain Inn is located west of Lexington, Virginia, and is better than your average uncomfortable and overstuffed Victorian B+B. The 15,000 sq. ft. timber logs lodge is nestled into the slope of Big House Mountain in the Allegheny Mountains and set on a 1000 acre preserve.  The great room is beautiful and spacious with a large stone fireplace with comfy couches and chairs in front of it. There are numerous wild animals of the region mounted on the walls and displayed throughout the lobby, such as fox, wild turkey, deer and bobcat.  A very large moose head is mounted above the fireplace mantle. All of this adds to the mountain lodge style. The inviting dining area blends into the great room and includes pine cabinetry with granite counter tops. Here you can help yourself to coffee, tea, snacks and includes an small fridge, and microwave to use when you’d like.


Tim spent a lot of time with us while showing us our room, the lodge and all of the details of the place and what we could do. Come to find out, we were the only guests of the entire resort, being that it was a weekday right after Thanksgiving. So technically, our gift certificate afforded us a practical castle to ourselves! Tim told us we could look around the resort at all of the 9 guest suites and large dining and restaurant area. each nights stay includes a hearty gourmet served breakfast ( from your choice of delicious options from a menu). We also could have had a dinner included in the stay with local ingredients as part of the meal. And from 4-5 pm they offer wine, cheese and crackers by the fireplace, complimentary with your stay.
View from the Front Porch

View from the Front Porch

We opted to head out right away and hike up the mountain. At the entryway we saw a sign on the door stating that we needed to wear orange vests before entering the woods. It was hunting season. Conveniently on a coat rack by the door were vests for us to borrow ( and a animal fur stole, just in case you needed a scarf ). In a wood barrel you had your choice of walking sticks ( that we forgot to grab). I had on regular comfortable sneakers..not exactly hiking boots. The only item I had that was practical for our climb, was a water bottle. We love hiking, but have much to learn in being better prepared. We brought along some apples and cheese. I really needed a proper back pack and real shoes that work for climbing up and down a mountain.
Important Advice During Hunting Season

Important Advice During Hunting Season

We hiked up about 2 miles up to get to the observation tower. It was a steady incline for the most part and I found my heart racing and I got out of breath frequently. The trail was clear and wide. So it’s manageable if you are in good shape ( I was not conditioned very well for the climb, but did fine on the way down). Once we got to the tower ( a small portion is a side trail to get to the observation deck..a VERY steep portion ), we took a break to marvel at the gorgeous view. There is a picnic table and a couple rocking chairs to rest on after the rigorous climb. The day was sunny and clear, so it was ideal for us to take in the scenic vista. After having and apple and drinking lots of water, we worked our way down back to the lodge. Being careful and putting on our feet brakes so we did not topple down the mountain!

View from the Tower

View from the Tower

Observation Tower of House Mountain Inn

Observation Tower of House Mountain Inn

Tom Cruise Slept Here

When War of the Worlds by Steven Spielberg was being filmed in 2004, Tom Cruise and his crew booked the entire House Mountain Inn for a whole week. Tim showed us the suite that he stayed in. Never thought that a place we picked out from a list of so many B+B’s would have been chosen as the place to stay in Lexington for Tome cruise. We are so used to visiting places that claim” George Washington slept here”, so I thought it amusing and we took pictures of the room he stayed in. After our hike, our dinner ( that we picked up at Macado’s because we wanted just a sandwich and soup after all that fresh mountain air) and some touring of  the historic part of Lexington, Virginia , Tim told us he was locking up the Inn and that Breakfast would be ready at 9 a.m. Coffee, tea water , muffins and fruit would be out for us earlier. So we settle in by our gas fireplace for the evening ( white cotton and terry cloth robes hanging in our closet if we so desired) and complete peace and silence. The television in the suite offers DIRECTV and as we scrolled through to see if there was anything worth watching ( we don’t have any cable channels at home), what do we find?  Four of Tom Cruise’s movies to choose from.

Tom Cruise Slept Here

Tom Cruise Slept Here

Wine and Cheese by the Fire

Wine and Cheese by the Fire

The Kids Would Love This Place

This typically happens where ever we go. On the rare chance that we have some time alone together ( we have 7 kids, remember), the whole time we are away, we comment on how much the kids would enjoy the destination also and that we want to go back and bring them next time. The area had lots of outdoorsy activities, historical interest sights and hands on educational opportunities. Sam Houston ( Remember the Alamo) Sam Houston Birthplace. grew up nearby, the Virginia Military Institute. and an old mill house museum of  Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical farm reaper. Also, while driving on the way to the Inn, we saw a large flock of sheep ( and we stopped by the farm to meet the owner ), alpaca , horses ( Virginia Horse Center Foundation ). and cattle farms. So we hope to go back and bring the kids. They would enjoy it all and we now can recommend this area and the Inn to other families.

Big House Mountain

Big House Mountain

Sam Houston Slept Here Too

Sam Houston Slept Here Too

McCormick Mill

McCormick Mill

Historic Lexington

Historic Lexington

Don’t Shoot! I am a Hiker


How we traveled from the East coast to the West coast for $27.20. 6 full days in Southern California. You can make it happen too (with a little help from your friends). Mother and daughter trip from the east coast to the west coast..6 days,$27.20. How passionate desire to travel can be achieved when you don’t have all the money in the world. My 18 year old daughter and I just returned from an adventure in sunny Southern California. We have been trying to take this trip for 5 years , but it never came together until now. Only at the very last moment did we realize we would be able to finally go. That’s how some things go around here, not knowing for sure what we are doing each day. Now the way we did this, not everyone can do. But by the blessings of many friends and relatives, we were able to make it happen. We do our best to live within our means and part of that means using no credit cards. It is truly challenging especially in our American society. Debt is not a good thing and we have gotten ourselves into trouble in the past. Something we are working our way out of ( another story later about that mess we got ourselves into ).

The main thing I am trying to emphasize here is that the famous saying “where there is a will, there is a way” is a true statementWe want to let everyone know that is not totally impossible to take your family to far away places. It does not have to cost lots of money and break the bank. You just need to be very creative and resourceful and it helps to know lots of generous and hospitable people in your life. Not to be confused with free loading ( as I was teasingly accused of doing), it’s actually reciprocal blessings ! We take in friends, relatives, even strangers all the time, offer free room and board and take them to all the local sights. We have done this for as far back as I can remember and we continue to open our doors to others. It may not be the same people who treat us in return, that it not the point. It’s knowing that we are giving a gift of hospitality and welcoming  others with no expectations in return.  And when the time comes and is desired, others share with us freely and graciously. We have some fellow friends out in the world who can share their experiences on making the way to travel as a  family. At the end of this post you can find links to numerous family travel blogs and websites on how these adventurous families achieve their travel dreams. Walking on Sunshine at the Long Beach harbor and marinaHope and Pray.   First step for us of trying to travel on a budget is to allow things to unfold as they are meant to be. We ask God first through prayer about what needs to happen in our lives . All things happen for a purpose and we need to have a good and gracious attitude about how things work out . We have the desire in our hearts to see the world as a family and our main goal is teach our children to be compassionate and kind to others . Our hope is to be able to serve others and be of some benefit . So we are working on equipping ourselves to see the world and really make a difference. Currently a few of us are getting certification and experience in teaching English.  The desire is certainly there. These things will come to pass as long as God wills it for our lives.

Beautiful Palms of Southern Los Angeles

OK, Preaching Aside,Contact all of the Friends and Relatives. Here is what I did  to make this trip happen for my daughter and I ; A few months in advance I registered us for the free Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, California. We have been in the health food and natural products industry for 6 years now and attend these Expos for market research. So far we have only been able to take advantage of these conventions here on the East coast. The California convention has been a dream goal. It is 3 x bigger than the one near us in Baltimore, Maryland and we have been attempting to take this trip for many years. So not only would attending this phenomenal event help us in our education..it’s the main source of our sustenance..eating lots of healthy and delicious foods for free as we visit ! We were 2 of 60,000 people in the natural foods industry to attend this incredible Expo ! Folks from around the globe attended. Many countries were represented amongst all the mega players in the organics world and many new start up businesses. So here is where most all of our meals came from on our trip. One exciting highlight was meeting Dr. Andrew Weil.  The first 100 people of the day got to meet him, get a signed copy of his new book ” Spontaneous Happiness” and have our photo taken with him. That night we attended a Ziggy Marley concert ( also free ) Dean Potter was at one of the company booths to help promote omega 3 oils. Dean is the world champion free high wire walker, free flyer ( donning a wing suit and diving off of the Eiger Mountain in Switzerland) and free climbing El Capitan, Yosemite. All of this with no ropes or safety gear! The cutest sight for me was when we walked into an industry dinner party celebrating 100 years of Braggs Natural Products. Patricia Bragg stands only 4 feet tall (so it appeared) and she was wearing her ubiquitous flowery straw hat and a Hawaiian print moomoo with flip flops. The Ventura Jazz Orchestra played beautiful swing and big band style music while Patricia Bragg popped out from under a table during a happy 100 year birthday song. There were 1000’s of cupcakes on these tables to share in the celebrations. After the song Patricia hands me a cupcake. It was a surreal and humorous moment.Seek out a friend or relative who works for an airline I know not everyone can do this, but it is an incredible perk..the  ever coveted  “Buddy Pass“. I  have a relative who gives us about 4 passes a year so we can take some free flights. This was one of the main expenses, and the fact that we had these tickets in hand, made the rest of the planning a reality. Flexibility is key though, we have to fly stand by and space available. At any moment we can be booted off the airplane in between stops. That flight out to Santa Anna airport had us in 5 states in that one day. So we plan on not actual getting on the flights we hope for. It goes with the territory. But it was free so we don’t complain at all. It’s all part of the adventure. Our carry on bags are equipped with food from home , an extra change of clothes and some reading material for the potential long hours at the airports. When we arrived finally that evening, we got picked up by a relative who took us to our temporary home for the next 6 days.

Call all the friends and relatives in your destination to see if they can accommodate you. This too saved us so much money. What a treat we had staying with a friend of my husbands cousin. She had an ocean front condo and was so gracious to allow us to stay the whole time..sight unseen..we had never met her!  Needless to say we became fast friends and made sure that we helped out and supplied her with lots of goodies from the health food show. They also drove us to and from the convention and around the region. In the time that we were there, these generous ladies took us to lunch, dinner, a popular surfers beach and to see more local sights. And on the last day to the airport. So because of them, all our housing and transportation was taken care of. Thank you ladies! Another way we saved was by walking most of the time. During that week we must have walked 8 miles a day. There was so many things to do and see in the Long Beach area and it was all in walking distance for us. In the Long Beach Harbor we saw The Queen Mary Cruise Liner , quaint shops and cafes, boats, the Long beach light house, and all the while listening to beachy style music that was playing out to us along our stroll. My daughter said that everything was so beautiful and perfect in California. Well is seemed to be so until we headed to a different part of town to take the public bus one day to the Convention. That 2 hour journey took us through some run down areas and behind the scenes of the facade of Tinsel Town. That is of course the reality too, and I am glad we got to sit on that bus and see the regular people that were not movie stars and millionaires. The day before we did get to see a few celebrities and get in on a set for a scene from NCIS.  The days we attended the convention, we took walks for a much needed break from the overwhelming crowds and stimulation of the immense EXPO. We hiked over to the beautiful Crystal Cathedral and got to go inside. That was a hope of mine to be able to see this unique building. Many years ago I met the architect and designer of the church, Phillip Johnson,  who said this cathedral was his crowning glory. Another day we took our outdoor break and headed over to Downtown Disney Village just to soak in some of that famous atmosphere (with out the huge price tag of actually entering the theme park). In the above link “Southern California” you can see more photos of who and what we saw.

Making a trip happen also involves help from the home front. For this wonderful vacation that my daughter and I got to take, I needed much help from the rest of my family and the generosity of friends. My 2 oldest boys took us to and from the airport, a wonderful friend took care of  my other 2 girls, and my husband and oldest son took over with my other 2 younger boys and ran the household. My husband, kids , friends and relatives , were so wonderful to make it possible for my 18 year old and I to have this incredible time together. I am so blessed to have all these people in my life.

With creative planning, you too can make some of your travel dreams come true. Don’t let fear of not having enough money stop you from seeing some of the world.  We try our best to have amazing experiences in life rather than materials things. Most all of the things we own are hand me down, found, bartered or purchased at yard sales and thrift shops. Instead of buying a new furniture set or a diamond ring, save up for that road trip to the Grand Canyon. Why not forfeit all the dinners out , cable TV and expensive clothing shopping at the mall and take that trip to France! Don’t be jealous of us being able to travel, be happy for us and know that we give up many other things and joyfully figure out ways to go into the world. Be resourceful, do your research and home work and plan ahead for ways to make it happen for you. Here are some more travel tips written by families around the world. They can teach you how they make this life possible. http://www.bohemiantravelers.com/2012/03/anyone-can-travel.html http://thenomadicfamily.com/?p=178 http://www.livinontheroad.com.au/2012/coeliac-travel http://walkingontravels.com/2012/03/28/if-anyone-can-travel-why-dont-you/ http://livingoutsideofthebox.com/2012/03/28/not-everyone-can-travel/ http://breakoutofbushwick.org/?p=842 http://experientialfamily.com/anyone-can-travel/ http://www.familytrek.org/anyone-can-travel/ http://www.wandering-photographer.com/2012/travel-possible http://solomamatravels.com/2012/03/28/even-solo-mamas-on-government-handouts-can-travel http://www.littleaussietravellers.com.au/2012/a-family-travel-lifestyle-is-more-than-just-luck.html http://www.minordiversion.com/2012/03/anyone-can-travel-just-let-go/ http://www.newlifeontheroad.com/anyone-can-travel-cant-they/ www.discovershareinspire.com/2012/03/you-have-to-be-special-like-us-if-you-want-an-awesome-life/ http://www.akingslife.com/?p=3030

Southern California For Under $30


Our Nations Capitol ..Washington D.C. !  For the past 8 years we have been blessed to live just 90 miles south of the capital of the United States of America.  While we happen to be living here, we have been trying to take advantage of our close proximity to the vast array of sights and activities. Seat of our government, it’s the heartbeat of this Nation ! The District of Columbia encompasses only 69 square miles and is bordered by Virginia to the South and Maryland to the North . Most of the buildings are made of white marble and are all low lying ( not a skyscraper in sight ! ) This is an exciting city filled with people of many nations, the countries best museums, government head quarters, tourist sights, incredible history, and where our money is printed.  Being a large family ( 9 of us ), we need to be resourceful and find as many free and inexpensive activities as possible! Washington D.C. happens to have most of it’s tourism geared towards all destinations being free. The only challenge is in parking. Getting in and out of the city is easy if you don’t count rush hour traffic . This always needs to be taken into consideration. We take day trips, so I can’t give any examples on hotel accommodations just yet.

View from the Jefferson Memorial of the Washington Monument

It’s very difficult to decide on our 5 favorite locations to see in Washington D.C. There is so much to do in this exciting area. I’ll just mention some of the places we have visited so far.


Not to be ignored by any age is the National Mall which is a 2 mile long expanse of Monuments, parks and Museums. This rectangular area is marked by the Lincoln Memorial on the East end facing the Capital Reflecting Pool and the Capitol Building at the West end. This is a good hike..146 acres to explore ! Don your best walking shoes ( I learned this the hard way this summer! ) We make sure that our kids ( and our foreign exchange students ) wear comfortable clothes and good shoes . If you are taking small ones ( 6 and under) take along the stroller . Along the Mall you can walk to visit the main monuments and government buildings: The Lincoln, The Washington, The Capitol Building, the various war memorials ( Vietnam Wall, Korean , WW I and WW II ) and most of the Smithsonian Museums ( including the Smithsonian Castle which houses the visitors center.)  All of our kids ( right now ages 9-21), enjoy all of the sights. Once we were able to get a private tour of the Capitol Building ( 2nd oldest public building in DC, the White House is the oldest) by our Congressman Eric Cantor’s office ( he is our nations current House Leader). By appointment, we were led through the underground tunnels that lead from his office to the Capitol Building and got to sit in on a live session in The House and Senate Chambers to witness some  legislation in action! Another time my two oldest daughters and I were privileged to attend a film screening at the Capitol Theater and got to meet and chat with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. !

With all the walking we do, stopping and resting on the cool white marble steps of the monuments is a good idea. We sit to people watch and plan our next destination. For eats and drinks, we pack backpacks with food and water from home. There are not too many choices for eating along the Mall. Our kids are content to eat our food on the Mall lawn and watch the gatherings of impromptu soccer and frisbee games that seem ubiquitous in this park ! A few times a year, we take in foreign exchange students. This is a perfect field trip destination for them. We get to be cultural ambassadors for these kids ! Some of these photos show a guest we had from France this past summer.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin


Museums and Zoo | Smithsonian

All free..most times that is a prerequisite  for our large family ! We do drive around in circles for a while to find a place to park on the streets ( pay attention to the signs..we got ticketed for not leaving the spot by 4 pm outside the Museum of Natural History). The most popular museums for our family are  :

The National Museum of American History,  1400 Constitution ave. See Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, Edith and Archie Bunker’s chairs from All in the Family sitcom,  Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Thomas Edison’s electric light bulb and the first record player. But the most impressive to us is the room that holds the Star Spangled Banner ! The flag that flew over  Fort McHenry in Baltimore , Md. during the British attack in the War of 1812 ! As it is for most all of the Museums, you will need many hours to really see all that is on display.

The Natural History Museum, 10th st. and Constitution ave. Our kids always want to head to this museum first. Thousands of real, but stuffed, : animals ( greeting you upon entrance is the 13 foot tall African Bush elephant), insects ( gigantic cockroaches), marine life ( giant squid found off the coast of Spain), dinosaurs ( an 80 foot long Diplodoccus), human mummies, the Hope diamond and Moon rocks !  This place can get pretty crowded if you are visiting during the summer or on school breaks. Because we home educate, we can go on a weekday and off season. Being able to let our kids spend as long as they like to view and read about each display makes such a difference in what they can learn. If we go on a weekend in the summer, I don’t get to see any of the sights..I am keeping a close eye on my kids the whole time !

The National Air and Space Museum, Independence av. between 4th and 7th st. I grew up with the American Space Program from it’s very beginnings due to my fathers work( 1st landing on the Moon all the way through to the Space Station, and the government Aeronautics industry.. F-14 fighter jets..some sold to Iran back in the mid 70’s and because of that, we got to live there for 3 years ! ) So this museum is an exciting one for us ! See up close the Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk and the command module of the Apollo 11. There is a more recent Air and Space museum now located near the Dulles airport that holds a Concord and a Space Shuttle ! These are very impressive destinations and there is an incredible amount to see.

Of course, there are so many more museums in D.C. that are just amazing:  U.S. Botanic Gardens ( live plant species from around the world) , National Galley of Art (  da Vinci, Rembrandt , Georgia O’Keeffe)  National Museum of African Art ( bronze sculptures of Nigerian Kings),  U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum ( replica of a Jewish ghetto), National Archives ( Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are all on display here.) My kids love this place due to the ” National Treasure” films. What an education we all get going to these museums !


Not to confuse the two : )

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my ! The National Zoo is also free ( but parking makes up for it..$22 for the day) We try to find a free spot on the street and just hike over to the Zoo. Here too, we pack our own food from home. Sounds dull, I know, but because we visit there so frequently, we need to make it affordable. There are so many delicious and diverse restaurants in D.C. , and we have been to some. Just can’t do it every time ( remember there are 9 of us and our exchange students on occasion : ) Here at the Zoo you can see the orangutan crossings over head, the panda village, replicas of most of the world regions with their indigenous animals, birds, reptiles and plant life. It’s a very pleasant and well designed zoo. Our kids can spend the whole day here. One of my friends teenaged guest from Provence, France, visited the zoo with her and her family. After the excursion she asked him what he thought of the place. ” This was the first time I have seen an American Bison”…then she finds out he has been on safari in Tanzania, Africa..whoop dee doo American zoo : ) At least he was very gracious.

The White House ( 1600 Pennsylvania ave. ) is directly across and in walking distance from the  Washington monument. It was originally called the Presidents House and has 132 rooms. Depending on what is happening at the moment in regards to national security or if the President or someone from his family are out on the lawn, blockades are now put up so that your view is much further back. Usually we are able to get right up to the front iron fence to look at the house ( and of course take pictures). Not much else to do after that at the spot. To get a tour now of the inside, you need to apply for free tickets online and it could be a 6 month wait. We have never been inside yet. But it is a good idea to at least go and see it with your kids. It faces the Ellipse park that is an enjoyable circular walk that contains a few more memorials and always seems to have some sort of live Military activity ; U.S. Army Drill Team and Band and The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. Concerts on the Ellipse are also free ! Mid April you can see the Cherry Tree blossoms and enjoy many of the festivities.

The Smithsonian National Zoo

A Pakistanian Truck on the lawn of one of the Museums

Bureau of Engraving and Printing


Much to learn too at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. Hard to believe when you see how our currency bills are printed..huge stacks of paper money ( really made of cotton and linen) being printed right in front of you. Sufficed to say, NO cameras are allowed to be used in the entire building  ( only in the gift shop ). This is a facility that you and your kids won’t forget ( and it’s free too, you just need to check in up front to get tickets for a certain time during the day in advance). We saw a funny sign that read, to this effect,  “Free $20 bills as a souvenir being given out tomorrow” After our whole tour with a guided speaker, when asked if we had any questions, my husband asked ” Who wrote Little Women?” ( family joke ..my husband always asks that question any where we go ) A lady next to us started cracking up when he said that : )

We have yet been to Arlington Cemetery, the National Cathedral, Fords Theater, up inside the Washington Monument, The National Geographic Museum, The Library of Congress and so many other great places that I can’t list with out writing a travel brochure ! I will post more stories and photos as we experience them. Hope that you all get the opportunity to see our beautiful nations Capital !

A Winter day at the Capitol Building

May God continue to Bless America !

Meeting Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at the Capitol Theater

House Leader Eric Cantor

USDA building and a double decker tour bus

Please feel free to share with us your comments and stories about family travel ( to D.C. or elsewhere). If we can help you with any questions in regards to our travel destinations, we will try to answer them. Peace !

For more interesting and helpful stories about favorite destinations, read these following articles from other travel loving families !

South Australia – Amy Page – Livin On The Road

The Holy Land: Israel- Gabi Klaf- The Nomadic Family

Sunset Coast, Michigan, USA – Jessie Voigts – WanderingEducators.com (twitter @WanderingEds)


Vancouver, B.C. Canada-Jess Farrugia – With 2 Kids In Tow

**** http://with2kidsintow.blogspot.com/2012/01/our-5-favourite-winter-activities-for.html ****

Costa Rica- Mary-Bohemian Travelers


Brisbane, Australia – Tracy – OurTravelLifestyle


Five Favorite Places to Visit with Kids in Washington D.C. USA