Happy One Year D20Nomadiversary!

When people take a vacation or a trip to a destination, often there is a sandwich of relaxation pressed between two pieces of stress.  There is the stress of planning the trip, packing everything you may need, and the journey there.  The relaxation kicks in after you arrive and a person can think about nothing if they want and enjoy the time away.  The stress returns with the completion of the vacation and is coupled with the anxiety of returning to work the next day.  So many people work extremely hard to earn a week or two off from the grind; they work, raise a family, send the kids to school, and many other chores and responsibilities that encompass their day.  There are those who flourish in this chaotic lifestyle and, in fact, need it to survive.  To us, the chaos was changing our family and those changes were not welcome.  We decided to do something about it; now, a year later, we could not be happier with our choices, our life, and our future.

Our Travels

We have traveled over 7000 miles, visited 17 states, met some equally awesome people, and have explored countless national parks, museums, and other locations.  It has not always been as easy as that, but through the hardships, we have become stronger and the experiences richer.  This past year has reformed our family and the bond and strength we wield compels us forward.  We are not on vacation, we are not taking a trip, we are not retired; we are living our life the way we want to and enjoying every moment that comes our way.  We have all learned so much over this year of traveling life and have never felt more at peace with living.

White Sands

Carls Bad

Great Smoky Mountains

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Sunset

The D20Nomads have seen mountains, rolling hills, majestic rivers, stretches of desert, amazing sunsets and sunrises, vast lakes, and beautiful forest land.  It is difficult to say which was a favorite destination or sight since so many offered so much.  The Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina gave us miles of vistas that never seemed to end while the rolling hills and farmland of Lancaster Pennsylvania painted a picture of a very peaceful life.  Arkansas and the hot springs area combined the amazing scenery with deep historical roots and sprinkled in intriguing human interaction which made it one of our best stops so far.  Texas did not lie, everything is bigger there and the state does go on forever when you are driving through it.  Surprisingly though, Texas was a pleasant place to visit and explore.  The contrast between the eastern side of the state and the western side is stark; bustling cities and activity versus more open plains and stretches of horizon.  The real treasures of the country lay just to the west of Texas and as soon as we entered New Mexico we felt it.  There was something about the area that gave us a sense of belonging and peace.  The views of massive mountains, acres of cacti, huge cave systems and what seemed to be the freshest air around spoke to us all.  Arizona was equally as amazing for much of the same reasoning.  The entire southwest culture and life will be difficult to top in our minds.  Our year took a pause in Iowa where we will hold up for the summer and enjoy the surroundings of

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Adventureland Amusement Park and places like Des Moines and Altoona.  Have we seen everything we wanted to, no, but that is the beauty of our life.  We travel and work and live and have fun.  If we don’t get to see something, we know we will be back to explore the area again.  I think that fact more than any about this journey has given us the most peace of mind.  We do not have to jam everything in to one week or worry about prioritizing what to do.  The calmness that brings is amazing and allows us to breath.  Too often, we see families running all over the place and trying to do everything in the small time allotted before they have to go back to work.  Through their struggles we see the enormous benefits of what we do.  The year has taught us much and those lessons will carry us through the next year and beyond.

If we could offer advice to anyone just starting out or thinking about this life, it would be to find your own way of doing it.  Yes, of course ask questions, and get opinions from others who have been doing this a while, but ultimately it is still your life and your travels.  Take what others say, use what others have experienced, trial and error your own ideas and mash up a way of life that works for you and your family.  You will be surprised at what you think you need versus what you actually need.  In our year of travel, we have changed and adjusted so many aspects of how we do things to get to where we are now and we expect to make more of those adjustments in the years to come.  We look back at who and where we were when we began this journey twelve months ago and have a good laugh at those timid and even scared people who pulled out of a driveway in Hahira, Georgia last year.  We have enjoyed sharing our life, both the good and the bad, with all of our family and friends.  Staying connected and maintaining those friendships has made the traveling more exciting to us.  Without the support and, in some cases, the oppositions of everyone around us we would not be able to do this.  We may be out on the road as a single family, but we travel with a whole host of people by our side.

2015: A year of choice and change

2015 was a year of choices and change.  A year ago we were in full get ready to leave mode and we had half a year still to go before we could begin our journey.  We were all getting very anxious knowing that the time was still months away, but it would be upon us very soon.  So many choices to be made; what do we do with all this stuff, what kind of RV are we going to get, what kind of car do we get, what do we do with the old van?  Somehow, we survived the build up and anticipation and answered all of those questions and more.  The change was now upon us and our new life on the road began.  Every day was now about new adventures, new choices, new challenges, and of course change.

We can say, without any hesitation, there have been no regrets or second guessing about our choices.  We are living life on our terms and our way instead of waiting for things to happen and hoping to “get away” for a few weeks during the year of constant struggle.  Sure, it has not always been easy, but through every hardship we have figured it out and found an answer to keep going.  So much so in the first eight months of our journey that we have self nicknamed our family the Figurerouters (Fig-ur-er-outers).  As individuals, I think we have each changed, at least a little.  For myself, I have become much less stressed and have got back to my easy going nature letting things come as they will and rolling with it.  Christi has boomed creatively, not that she was stagnant before, but now there is no distraction of the struggle we once had and she seems so much more focused on what she wants rather than how can we survive.  Trinity has adjusted to this on the road minimal space life better than we would have ever hoped.  She is very comfortable and has really gained an understanding of the more important aspects of life.  Avery, I think, has changed the most of us all.  She still maintains her go back to and recharge from the social aspect of life, but she has really opened up to going out and playing with other kids and actually talking with other people.  Avery is still very much an introvert, like her daddy, but it has been inspiring to see her adjust and grow yet still maintain who she is as a person.  As a family, we have changed as well.  We have become stronger and more connected; we have become a tighter family unit that bands together and helps each other out through any hardship and we have become a happier family, which may be the most important.

2015 saw many choices and change for us all.  Where once we lived in a 2000 square foot home with rooms for days, we now live in a space less than 200 square feet.  We had many hard choices to make when downsizing and to let go of the material life we once lived.  Yes, we still have possessions, we have not completely given up the idea of the material life, but we have shrunk the need to our family’s basics.  Our family is very tech heavy so a lot of our choices have been around that aspect of material items.  Where once we had the ability to go to another room to get away from whatever, we cannot go really anywhere without still seeing the other people.  However, even in that makeup, we have all managed to find our own space and retreat to it if we need to be “alone”.  We even made a change to our family itself.  The D20Nomads were cat people; at one point I think we had four feline friends.  However, when we hit the road, we were not sure we could do a pet and still travel.  That quickly changed and now, after constant asking for the better part of several months, we got a dog that has joined our family and is now firmly entrenched; Lilith really has been a welcomed addition.

2016 has just begun and the outlook for the year is bright.  We have a good plan and probably many back up plans just in case.  We are ready to take on the challenges as they come and conquer them all.  The D20Nomads are still rolling and the game will not end until we are ready to pack away our dice on our terms.  Bring it on Dungeon Master; we are ready to roll for initiative!

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Bathroom DIY Projects: replacing your old worn out toilet with a shiny new one!

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Old and broken.

We have all said it, “I can fix that”.  We, at one point or another, have also made the claim, “It shouldn’t take me very long”.  Never say that EVER!  Inevitably, it will take forever and you will make three times as many trips to whatever store you need to go to for parts and whatnot.  Since we purchased our rig, we have had and continue to have grand plans on updating, replacing, and painting everything.  The bathroom was one we kind of put off because, well, it was the bathroom and no one except us really use it and everything works so why not just leave it for now.  Fast forward now, to a slightly damp and stained carpet in the bathroom.  It seems we had developed a small, but continuous leak in our fancy RV toilet.  The seal had given way and not only would it not hold water in the tank, but it also was leaking out onto the floor.  Sure, we could have tried to just replace the seal, but what fun is that.  It was at this point when both my wife and I uttered the fatal words mentioned above; this is where our story begins.

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Bathroom Bandit?

When the realization of changing out the toilet was unavoidable, we researched a few models that we liked and made sure the measurements would fit in the space we had available.  That point alone, measuring to make sure what you buy will fit your space, is very important; not only the length and width of the toilet, but also the height of the seat itself.  There are so many options out there, high profile, low profile, the material it is made out of, where the flusher is, additional spray, and the list goes on.  Take your time and make sure you find what will work best for you and your home.   We found our toilet on Amazon and we had our order within a few days of the purchase.  I took it out of the box and the first thing that struck me was the unbelievable feather-like weight of the toilet.  It was like holding air in my hands.  It is an odd thing to get such pleasure from a bathroom product, but hey, I was pretty excited.  That would be the second point to make, inspect your product before you put it in just in case something is missing or even broken.  Fortunately for us, everything was there and there was nothing that was broken.  However, we did not realize that the supply hose that connects the PVC coming into the RV to the actual toilet was not included in the package.  So, there was one thing we had to go to the local home improvement store to get.  There would be more as the project continued.

The massive task of removing the old toilet now loomed.  Well, admittedly, the task was not really that massive, but setting the stage with drama sounded good.  Before you even think about undoing the nuts and pulling the toilet off, please remember to first turn off the outside water supply and disconnect the toilet from the RV water supply in the RV.  I cannot imagine someone forgetting to turn off the water before undertaking this task, but, I thought I would remind you anyway.  In truth, there are only two nuts and bolts holding it all down.  One was fairly easy to get to and undo, it was located just inside the step pedal that we used to flush the toilet.

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It is so dark in there.

After wiggling my way into position on the small floor of the extra small bathroom, I was able to get my wrench inside and work the nut loose enough to slowly take it off with my fingers.  A small sense of accomplishment now swelled inside.  That feeling was very quickly deflated when I tried to figure out how the heck to get to the back nut which still held the toilet in place.  There is an access point under the lid, but let’s be real here, unless you have the hands of a mouse or a very bendy wrench, there is no way you are going to reach the nut from above.

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Seriously, how is that even possible?

After trying, and failing, several different methods to reach the nut from that above position, we finally gave in and took to Google and YouTube for the answers.  Typically, this is the easy way to figure out things you have no idea how to do.  This was not one of those times.  We looked at many videos that showed how to remove the toilet, however, they inevitably skipped the part when they removed the actual nuts and the toilet is magically removed and everything is fine.  These were providing no help or guidance what-so-ever.  I returned into my contortionist form and wedged myself back into the bathroom to try again.  During one of my many pauses to curse the creator of this access point and location of the damned nut, my wife finally found something of use.  There was, apparently, an opening behind the toilet that you could get the wrench inside and work free the nut.  Let me again say, the bathroom is REALLY small and there is just inches between the back of the toilet and the bathroom back wall.

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Once again, I wedged myself even further into the back of the toilet area an between the blind feeling around with my hands and just blind luck, I was able to connect the wrench to the nut and get it loose enough to undo it with my fingers.  Here is a minor tip for this portion of your project; wear gloves while digging around the insides of your toilet.  This is especially true if it has been leaking because there is no telling what “fun” very old liquid type stuff you may find down there.  Now that the water has been disconnected and the nuts are off, the toilet easily lifted from the mount and the swelling of pride and accomplishment returned with a rush.  At this point, feel free to pose with your conquered game and claim ownership of your kill; I did and it felt great.

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The old toilet is no more!

All that remained was to put the new toilet in, tighten it down, connect the water supply, and BAM! We have a new bathroom.  This is where the several trips to the home improvement store come into play.  First, the new toilet did not come with the supply hose needed to connect the water so it all works properly.  Second, we had already thrown out the old toilet; which probably had the hose and correct fitting size still on it  You may not want to keep the old probably really gross hose from the old toilet, but it may be a good idea to hold on to it for size and length references.  Here were the obstacles we had to overcome if this was to be a completed bathroom project.  First, the old toilet has the water connection at the bottom of the base so it was an easy connection.  The new one had the supply connection higher up so I needed a longer hose to reach.  Second, because of how the PVC came up through the floor at an angle, I had to get a connector so the hose I still had to buy was not twisted and bent to reach the toilet.  Third, I do not do this very often so my judge of what size the PVC was was not so good.  Off to Lowes I went with family in tow, because when fixing a toilet in your RV, it is a family event.  For anyone who does not think or believe that it is possible to spend an hour or possibly more in only two isles in Lowes, you would be incorrect.  I can only imagine what we looked like as we combed through each box of connectors, picked up and almost bought just about all of the water supply hoses, and generally looked completely lost in our attempt to buy what we needed to complete the job.  This is where having the old pieces to help figure out how the connectors and hoses fit correctly together would be AWESOME!  Sadly, we did not have those pieces and were trying to guess our way through it.  Finally, help arrived via a sales associate.  Unfortunately, this particular associate had no idea how to help us so he referred us to the guru of bathroom plumbing and fixit lady who he guaranteed could help us.  The only thing more amusing than watching us walk around miserably trying to find the parts on our own was watching me try to explain our plumbing situation in the RV bathroom to someone who must have thought I was a crazy person.  She was really nice though and did her best to get us the pieces we needed.

We sort of kind of confidently drive back to Floki so I can fix the toilet for good.  I get into the twisted position needed to reach and be able to somewhat see the pipes and back of the toilet.  Guess what, we got the wrong size and the hose was WAY too long and a handful of totally other wrong things that now made me get back in the car and drive back to Lowes.  This time, however, I had the extra bonus of the correct sizes and length needed to get exactly what I needed; which is what I should have done in the first place.  Second trip to Lowes was successful and I returned home ready to finally finish the work.  Within about ten minutes, I had the pieces in and everything connected.  We turned the water on and SUCCESS!  No water leaks from any of the connections or from the hose or from the toilet itself and the bowl actually held the water like it was supposed to do.

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Mission accomplished.

I cannot even begin to express the sense of accomplishment I felt when the water came back on and the toilet was finished.  It is really exciting to figure out how to do things on your own and, even though it was only a toilet, it is still good to add another trade to the ever growing arsenal of DIY capabilities.  No matter what the task, no matter how difficult or easy the project may be, and no matter what skill level you think you may have research what you’re doing, use YOUTUBE and Google to its fullest, and do not be afraid to ask for help.  It’s your RV so make it your own by doing as much of the work as you can yourself.  Good luck and happy remodeling on your next project.

How we stay connected while on the road

One of the more difficult parts of full time traveling is staying connected in this increasingly digital social media dependent world.  Cell phones and computers have come a long way and the wireless capabilities are growing constantly.  The one drawback is the amount of data which can be consumed in what feels like an instant if you are not careful with its use.  If you live in a typical stick and brick home, data use is no problem.  You can stream movies, videos, game online, Facebook, email and thousands of other things mostly at the same time with no problems.   Once you enter the realm of full time family traveling, that option for unlimited data is no longer as easily accessible.  Thankfully, there are options still available for just about every budget and family.  We knew, even before we launched, that the internet was going to be one issue we had to tackle.  There are many things we could stand to live without, but the internet, and what it provides our family, we could not sacrifice.

As a little background to give you a context and insight into why the internet was a game breaker, we are a big online family.  We game online, create and post YouTube videos, stream our gaming to the masses, we home school which can be internet intensive, we blog, (obviously), we use the social media to network and so many other ways that it is entwined in the very fabric of our life that we just could not give it up.  We researched so many options including phone data plans, satellite, and other cell based methods but nothing really fit who we are and what we needed.  We had to have unlimited data; how we got it didn’t really matter, but having it was important.  We know we are not alone in this idea, which is why we decided to pass along our adventures, trials and errors, and eventual solution to the internet issue that plagues a lot of full time families.  There are answers out there and the one that suits you and your family may not be the same for everyone, but just know that you have the ability to stay connected if you really want it.

One method of obtaining the almighty unlimited wireless data is to find an RV park that provides Wi-Fi, preferably free of charge, to its residents.  This is not always as easy as it sounds.  Even parks that advertise free Wi-Fi do not always have it up and running or it is so weak you have to be right next to the router to get a single bar.  This is still a viable solution and can be successful in allowing you to have descent and even somewhat reliable internet service.  One key point to remember about the park wide Wi-Fi service is that every resident in the park could be potentially using the same service.  This point is important because the more people that access the bandwidth the slower the internet will be and the less you will be able to do.  A lot of parks even block the ability to stream things like Netflix to keep the bandwidth as open as possible.  Still, slow internet is better than no internet any day of the week.  If there is no park wide internet, do not despair; the free stuff could be in a main recreation room or main lounge or in a place similar to those buildings.  This may not be as convenient as sitting in your jammies surfing the internet in the privacy of your rolling home, but at least you have it to use; and I am sure you could probably wear your jammies there if you really wanted.

A second method still centers on the park as well, but it relies on a third party internet provider.  There are companies, like Tengo Internet, which outfit the parks with wireless internet and the residents pay for the use of the service.  The service could be for a day, a week, or even a month.  This service can be hit or miss.  You could be in a park that is great and you get coverage no matter what, or, you could be in a place where you have to drive to nearest bathhouse where the internet antenna is located and sit in your car hoping for a signal.  The biggest problem with this method is the fact that you forked over money for this service that is not always there.  This third party service is not something you can rely on to be at every place you visit during your travels either.  Another problem is in the fact that, especially with Tengo Internet, it only provides access to the internet on ONE device.  This may not be a problem if you only have one device or have some amazing ability to share the time on that one lonely device, but when more people want to use the internet it can be a real issue.

Let’s move back to a word that is much easier to handle when the internet, or really anything, is concerned; that word, of course, is FREE!  Depending on where you call home for that part of your journey, you have a smorgasbord of possibilities and opportunities available to you.  The catch, however, you have to be willing to pack up your already on the road show and take it on the road.  There are magical places around with names like Starbucks, Lowes, McDonalds, and Target that offer their shoppers free Wi-Fi while inside.  Lowes is particularly good in this adventure because the signal can reach out into the parking lot.  Depending on your car situation, we have a mini cooper which is a little on the tiny side, you could comfortably sit and surf until your heart’s content; or until the close the store for the night.  We took advantage of this particular situation a few times, and even though we were a bit cramped, it worked out.   Perhaps the best option is a little place called Starbucks.  We would plan on a day, sometimes as much as once a week, and have an internet binge day.  We loaded up all of our electronic stuff including chargers, laptops, tablets, etc and drove down to the local target which happened to have a Starbucks inside.  A coffee, White Chocolate Mocha, and a couple of hot chocolates later we were comfortably sitting at a table enjoying the free internet and fancy drinks.  This option really works out very well as long as you don’t mind the transport, travel, and drink buying.  If you are looking for an extremely budget friendly unlimited Wi-Fi plan, this would be the one for you.  The big drawback here is the fact that it is away from your home and in a public place so gaming and Netflix could be an issue.  For basic internet use though, this works.

Cell phone hot spots and data use are certainly an option; the problem here is the amount of data you get each month and the price you pay for not only the data, but also the cost of overage.  If you are a heavy user of the internet, I mean like several hundred GB worth of data heavy, then it is impossible to realistically use a cell phone data plan unless you have unlimited budget to go along with the unlimited internet.  Again, if you are only an occasional data user and only use it for the basics, a phone plan may fit you.  A family of almost any size though will struggle to stay within the boundaries the company offers.  We also looked into several companies that advertised unlimited data use.  A few of those were Broadband Q and X-Broadband.   These companies use the cell towers to bounce their signal around so you can pick it up with one of those fancy wireless routers.  These may sound like viable solutions; descent price, unlimited data, and a reputable company.  One offer did have unlimited data, but it was only during the late night and wee hours of the morning time.  Everything else was only a finite amount of data.  Another offer was indeed free; however, it was only a 3G service.  This may not be a big deal for you if you don’t care about the speed.  Streaming is still possible, but it may have a quality degrade and any online gaming would be difficult.  They did have a 4G option, but that was a data limit plan and not unlimited.  The 3G option looked like it was going to be our best option for a time; it was mobile, affordable, and fast enough to at least let us use the internet and stream our videos and movies.  Then we started researching the old Verizon unlimited plans and just like that we found our answer.

We knew Verizon had plans that were unlimited but they were very difficult to locate.  We asked a lot of questions, read anything that was posted about it, and did what we could to research the option as thoroughly as possible before committing.  Of course we had concerns; does this really work, is it reliable, can we justify the cost, etc, etc.  After reading a few more posts and recommendations, we found a data plan and decided to go for it.  This has been an amazing choice for us.  We have unlimited and very reliable internet whenever and wherever we go.  We can take it with us in the car and it works while we travel from place to place in the RV which makes those longer trips SO much better.  We use a lot of data, as I said before, we are very heavy users; several hundred GB of data heavy.  This plan has never failed us or slowed down or anything that we were even remotely concerned about.  It works on any signal it picks up, but 4G has been available just about everywhere we go.  We can stream, watch videos, game online, and just use it to surf all at the same time with no real noticeable drag on the bandwidth.  This, for us, has been the best solution we could have ever hoped to find.  It does come with a price tag, but considering the other options, we said it was worth the price to have what we wanted from the very start.

There are a lot of possibilities out there for full time traveling families.  Some answers are much more budget friendly and others will add to your monthly bills.  In the end, it is the balance and trade-off you have to weigh and see what you are willing to pay for or sacrifice.  You have free options and I hope this works options as well as costly ones.  We have offered our experiences, what we tried, what we researched, and finally what worked for us.  This is certainly not a complete listing of possibilities.  There may be other solutions out there that we never came across or even thought of trying; the best advice we can offer is to research your options and be open to any solution until you find what will work.  Ask questions, read what other people are saying, and don’t give up.  You do not have to give up staying connected just because you leave the old stick and brick home.  The answer, and the truth, is out there; you just have to be willing to look a little deeper and maybe think outside of the box.

Dragon Con and Kids Can Mix!

We'll get you, Mario!

We’ll get you, Mario!

We just got back from our second year at Dragon Con.  While prepping for our trip last year, I scoured through blogs and pages about taking kids to Dragon Con.  Most of the pages had one message in common: Leave your kids at home.  Well, we are here to tell parents that not only is taking your kids to Dragon Con possible, but it can be an amazingly fun experience.  I LOVED watching my kids gush over the costumes, point out all of their favorite characters, and mingle with the cosplayers.  We were taking a break when all of the sudden, Sparkles jumps up, runs over to a cosplayer, and says “Watchdog!  Can I take a picture with you!”.  Yes, we were totally beaming with pride.

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Taking your kids to Dragon Con can be an amazing experience, but a little planning can go a long way.  Here are some tips that really helped us.

Location: The first year that we went to Dragon Con, we were working on a tight budget.  In order to save money, we thought it would be a great idea to camp out at Stone Mountain and drive in every day.  That was a bad idea.  It was a 30 minute drive and after a long and tiring day, the kids got cranky in the car and then no one wanted to cook when we got back.  Also, it is still fairly hot and humid in Georgia at that time so no one was getting a good night’s sleep.  This year, we opted to rent a house through AirBnB.  While it was pricier than camping, it was cheaper than staying at one of the host hotels.  The house that we rented was about 10 minutes away from the festivities.  It was close enough that the drive wasn’t a burden and far enough away that it gave us an escape from the crowds at night.  We were able to store freezer meals that could be popped into the oven for easy dining.

Parking: If you are staying in a host hotel, parking shouldn’t be an issue, but if you are driving in, you will need to budget for parking.  Last year, parking in any of the surrounding lots was $25 a day.  This year, $30 a day.  Once you park, you can’t leave or you will have to repay that fee.  Parking fees are good for 24 hours as long as you don’t need to go anywhere.  It may be cheaper for smaller families to park and take the MARTA into town, but with 5 of us, that option was more expensive.  We liked to park in the lot that is located at the intersection of Peachtree Center Ave NE and John Portman Blvd NE.  This put us right beside the Marriott and was within easy walking distance for lunch time.  It is also a good parade watching spot.

Badges: If you have the option of getting your badges on Thursday, do it!  There is no wait time and the kids will have fun running through the maze of barricades.  If you can’t get your badges until Friday, get there EARLY in the morning.  The line backs up very quickly and you will spend hours waiting just to get your badges.  Your kids do  not need to be present to get their badges, however, adults will need to show ID.  Also, Dragon Con does not provide lanyards for badges.  They are available for purchase, but finding a vendor can be difficult.  Bring your own lanyards to help keep badges safe.  Kids 4 and under do not need to have badges to attend.

Food: Convention food is EXPENSIVE so if you are on a budget, plan, plan, plan for food!  Those really small bags of chips that you get in vending machines?  $3 a bag at DC.  Yeah.  Nonsense!  We brought a back pack with us which we filled with snacks.  We packed a variety of snacks including fruit cups, fresh apples, granola/granola bars, and chips.  We ate breakfast when we got up, packed sandwiches in a cooler to leave in the car for lunch, nibbled on the snacks throughout the day, and cooked dinner when we got back to our rental.  We spent about $80 for the entire weekend on food for 5 of us.

Water: Last year, we attempted to carry around plastic bottles of water.  That got heavy fast. This year, we got refillable water bottles.  There are water fountains located throughout the hotels that have decent drinking water.  Keep hydrated and remind your kids to drink water because it does get hot.

Costumes: Costumes are a lot of fun, but need a lot of planning and consideration.  The hotels are hot and crowded so bulkier costumes can get burdensome quickly.  If you plan on walking around in costume, go with something light and that doesn’t restrict visibility.  If you have a larger costume, the Marriott is a great place to hang out and mingle with other cosplayers.  If your kids are dressing up, have a change of clothes handy.  This year, we had the girls put on shorts and tank tops under their outfits so we could shed them quickly without struggling to find a changing area.  Since the car was parked close by, D20 Dude ran the costumes back to the car so we didn’t have to lug them around.  People LOVE kids in costumes so prepare your kids in advance that people may stop and talk to them or want to take their picture.  Sparkles is an extrovert so she ate up all of the attention.  Rainbow is more of an introvert and by the third picture, she was giving people scowls that would freeze them in their tracks.

Panels and workshops: Panels and workshops can be a lot of fun, but don’t overdo it.  There are a lot of exciting things that happen at DC and it is very easy to over schedule yourself and your kids.  What we did is made a list of events that each of us were interested in.  We marked each event with symbols noting how high of a priority they were.  For example, meeting Adam and Jamie from Mythbusters was a high priority, but the panel on UFOs was low, meaning if we got to make it, cool, if not, no one would be devastated.  If you are attending one of the higher profile panels, such as the George Takei panel, you will need to be in line at LEAST an hour before hand.  They say you can’t line up before that, but everyone does it anyway.  If it is a high priority, be there well in advance.  Waiting can be very difficult, especially for younger kids so bring things to occupy them in line.  We brought tablets and gaming devices.  Of course, this is how D20 Dude waited for upcoming panels.

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Walk of Fame:  This is an exciting part of Dragon Con.  Getting to meet celebrities from your favorite shows and movies.  The line for the walk of fame moves pretty quickly so don’t worry about the wait.  Some of the higher profile celebrities may have a longer wait to meet them, but if you are just looking for a peeksie, you can usually stand off to the side and catch a glimpse.  Celebrities do charge for autographs and pictures so be aware of that.  Prices range from about $25-$50.  However, talking to the celebrity and shaking their hand is free.

Parade: The Dragon Con parade is on Saturday morning at 10am.  Scope out the route before you leave.  The route has changed from year to year so you want to make sure you have the most current parade route.  If you want a good spot, get there early.  There is going to be a lot of waiting, so bring water, snacks, and entertainment.  The roads are not blocked off until shortly before the parade starts so watch for traffic too.  This is a lot of fun though and there are so many amazing costumes and props.

Toddlers and infants: Toddlers and infants can be a little more difficult.  If you have the option of wearing your child in a wrap or carrier such as an Ergo, it will be easier to navigate through the crowds.  Strollers can be very tricky through the crowd and on escalators.  There are elevators in the hotels, but there are usually long lines to use them.  As with any situation with wee ones, be prepared with lots of distractions and take lots of breaks.

Resting spots:  Sometimes you need to get away from the crowds and take a break.  There are a lot of nooks and crannies in the hotels that will give your family space to sit and rest a while.  Seek out spots away from the chaos to take a break, eat snacks, and hydrate.  These breaks gave us enough energy and sanity to keep going through the rest of the day. There are usually restrooms in the more secluded spots that allow for quick trips to the restroom for smaller bladders.

Bring entertainment:  There is a lot to do at Dragon Con, but there can be a lot of waiting too.  Be prepared.  Bring handheld video games, tablets, books, crayons, or whatever else will keep your kids busy during these moments.

Pictures:  There is a LOT to take photos of.  Give your kids the camera for a while and see what they come up with!  Seeing the view from their perspective is awesome.

Days of Attendance:  We buy weekend passes so that we have the option of going at any time.  This may or may not work for your family.  Saturday is the busiest day of the con.  This is usually when the more elaborate costumes come out.  This is also when more of the higher profile panels happen.  There is a lot more to do and see, but the crowds are intense and the lines can be very long.  Friday and Sunday mornings are great because there are smaller crowds but still a lot to do. These are the best days to hit the Walk of Fame.  Monday is still a convention day, but the activities are very limited.  Most of the celebrities are packing up and leaving and cosplayers are minimal.  The upside is that the crowds are sparse so it is very easy to maneuver and attend the few panels that are available.

Hope this helps our fellow geeky parents!  If you have other tips, please leave them in the comments below!

Our Journey Begins…

There comes a time in most of our lives when change is needed. The change can be small like a new haircut, or change can be bigger like a new job; at times, however, change can affect an entire lifestyle.  Our life, like many others that we have encountered, has been an ongoing book with chapters ending and new ones beginning.  Each chapter is a change and represents a new start.  The time has come, once again, for an old chapter to close, and a new one to begin.  Like so many before it, the idea of change began small and through careful nurturing and care grew into a bigger idea fanned by the frustration of life and fed by the hope of happiness.

As we said, change began small; smarter lifestyle choices brought on by the diminishing size of a paycheck.  Those changes grew into the idea of less dependence on “stuff” and more focus on what we really need.  That was never more evident than when we moved from one county to another in Georgia to start a new job.  The move took three days which included packing every square inch of the biggest truck U-haul had to offer, driving to the new house, unloading the metal piñata, driving back to the old house, repacking the truck once again to the limits of capacity before finally driving back to the new house and unloading the seemingly endless supply of boxes and various other material items in our possession.  After seeing just how much was there and the utter uselessness of the majority of it, we purged and sold off and gave away a huge portion of what we once could not live without.  A funny thing happened at that point, the world did not end and we did not miss the items we no longer had.  We had learned that minimal living is not that bad and it is ok to have things, but there is no need to go overboard.  Slowly, we made more and more changes to our lifestyle, all the while feeling comfortable in our choices.

In the middle of these adjustments and changes to life are our kids.  We have three girls who are now 5, 7, and 16.  The two younger kids, Rainbow and Sparkles, have been unschooled from the beginning.  We felt that the public school system would not be a fit for their personalities and would serve to limit them rather than allowing them to blossom on their own.  That choice has been amazing for them and they are learning everyday on their terms and loving every moment of it.  Rainbow and Sparkles both enjoy the freedom to explore interests on their own and figure out just what is important to them.  They have been on board with our changes and, in most cases, have helped plan and participate in all that we do as a family.  Our oldest child, Soccer Chick, is a recent addition to the unschooling world and has enjoyed her new found freedoms to learn and really pursue what she wants to do; not what she is being told to do.  Since her departure from the public school system, she has spent time finding out who she is and what path is right for her.  Like Rainbow and Sparkles, she has taken to this new lifestyle and is looking forward to what the future holds.

As a family, we have decided to start the next chapter of our life and finally shed the weights of doing what we are told and embrace the freedoms of doing what we want.  Our plan is to begin again, this time through traveling the country and living life on our terms.  Together we will experience life on the road as we go from city to city and state to state to free our minds and embrace all of what this country has to offer.  The campgrounds, parks, and open country will be our backyards as we live, work, and learn our way to a better life.  This is our family, this is our life, these are our choices, and this is our journey.