How a Travel Binder Can Save Your Sanity

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Making a travel binder to cope with the overwhelming task of planning a trip across the country with three teens saved my sanity. Or most of it. I’m a little weird when it comes to binders, and office supplies in general. “Oh, look! Those are such cute paper clips! Oooh, I love this binder system. I think I need one!”

I’m also a little weirded out, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, by the thought of stepping out of my comfort zone. Homeschooling three kids has definitely stretched that side of me, but it has also given me an outlet for my office supply obsession, as binders are so very necessary when you have papers, schedules, records, and a million notes to keep up with.  It’s a little embarrassing that I’m on a first-name basis with the Staples store manager. His name is Aaron. But I digress.

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The thought of trekking to the far shores of the Pacific was exciting, but also, it filled me with trepidation.  When I tried to imagine myself actually standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, all I could think of was a Griswold family vacation experience. The remedy for any anxiety provoking subject for me is always research (after prayer!), so, I sat down at the computer and warmed up the printer. The afternoon rapidly vanished as I feverishly googled each stop on our route.

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Each national park has wonderful information in PDF form on their website. By printing these booklets ahead of time and storing them in my trusty orange binder, I was able to make note of what was most important to see in our limited time. For example, we knew we would not be able to take a mule tour into the Grand Canyon. If that is on your bucket list, you need to sign up a year before your big trip. (Yeah, that’s why we didn’t do it. My distrust of the mule”s footing and the subsequent possibility of being hurtled down the innards of the canyon into the Colorado River had nothing to do with it. Let’s just say my heart wasn’t broken upon realizing this preclusion.)
Thanks to the park brochure, we knew in advance which rim of the canyon we wanted to visit and which trail would be a reasonable option for our family’s needs.
The same was true of all the parks we visited. Yosemite? Glacier Point (sadly, permanently closed to the public shortly after our visit) was on my son’s list of must-sees. Naturally, Half Dome and El Capitan are the main attractions. Half Dome literally took my breath, making ME stop talking mid-sentence as tears of joy crawled down my cheeks. Sequoia National Park? You can’t miss General Sherman, the largest known living tree on earth.

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So how did I put together this marvelous little tool? Start with a good sturdy binder that will stand up to all the abuse of lugging it in your bag, passing it all around the van, and opening it twenty times a day. A 2 inch binder with the clear pocket on the front will allow you to pop in a copy of your itinerary so you can see at a glance what each day’s plans are. Page protectors are non-negotiable. You must have them for storing not only the pages you prepared before you left home, but also for dropping souvenir brochures into your binder for later.

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Souvenir Brochures from Alcatraz

IMG_6662Use card stock to make your dividers for each day. I didn’t tuck these into page protectors, since they were already nice and thick. I listed in bullet point form the expected activities and destinations of the day, including where we were to stay the night. Then I included some cute clip art to give the pages visual interest. Immediately after each day’s page, I inserted the page protected park information and other educational tidbits. One caveat- don’t feel trapped by your plans. That should apply to life, not just travel! It is okay to make adjustments to the plan when you see that the situation calls for it. “Rearranging” can lead to ADVENTURE! You cannot predict from the comfort of your desk chair at home what might happen while touring across the country. Be open to spontaneity. You may not know, for example, that the park you planned to see for the day is undergoing roadwork, and the current wait time on the day you arrive is two hours until they allow the next group of cars to enter. You may have also thrown in an impromptu cable car ride back in San Francisco, which has placed your arrival in this particular park late in the afternoon, meaning you will not have any time to tour said park once you get in. You get the picture…

IMG_6664  This is how you accidentally spend the night in one of the most amazing, offbeat little towns ever, Twain Harte ( I misspelled it on the road!). Visit them here. I will never be sorry that I spent the night at the Wildwood Inn in Twain Harte instead of the Comfort Suites that we had reserved.

Long after you are back home and your trip is a series of happy, dream-like memories, your trip binder will be a journal of your escape from reality!

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