Ditching the all-inclusive resorts for a bigger world view. Dominican Republic

How We Transitioned From All Inclusive Vacations to Hiking and Camping Out of Our Minivan

At one point in life, right after we had just purchased our “dream home,” I started to feel the urge to partake in an all-inclusive resort. All the richest people on my Facebook seemed to be soaking in the sun at beaches in Mexico and I desperately wanted in on the action. We managed to get in an all inclusive vacay every two years or so, until one day I started to feel a shift taking place internally. It was the same shift that had taken place before we decided to downsize our house and move into something smaller. That little voice inside was saying something like, There has got to be more to life than this. Here’s what realizations I had about all inclusive resorts and why we decided to shift how vacation looked for us.

Vacation didn’t feel like vacation

I still remember our first all inclusive vacation. Tom and I sat side by side with some tasty drink in each of our hands. Heads titled back back against the smooth, lounge chair-shaped tiles of the pool, we glanced out at the ocean view through our sunglasses, and I asked Tom, “Do you feel relaxed?” … “No.”

During our first all inclusive vacation, I would say it took a solid 24 hours before either Tom or myself was able to relax. We were truly taking a vacation in an attempt to escape our lives. Life back home felt busy, chaotic, financially stressful and I suppose the fact that we had sold our townhouse but didn’t have a house to live in yet probably added to the stress.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the two people smiling and tan in the photo below were about to make their lives way more complicated and it was all because they insisted on keeping up with The Joneses.

Ditching the all-inclusive resorts for a bigger world view. Riviera Maya, Mexico
Riviera Maya. Stress level 8.3

All inclusive vacations are what we’re “supposed” to do

While I will never deny the awesomeness of an all inclusive getaway, I will say the reason we were doing it felt wrong and out of alignment with who we were as people….at least at the time. Basically, our only reason for booking all inclusive vacations was because it was what everyone else was doing and we believed it was the best way to travel and see the world.

As much as I would prefer to deny it, there was a part of me that felt satisfied and accomplished being able to take that obligatory picture of my sandy feet with an ocean view. Sure, those moments were peaceful and relaxing, but I was more concerned with how the image came out rather than how relaxed or content I actually felt in that moment.

Drinking at 10am

I’ve never shied away from the topic of my dad’s alcoholism and how it had greatly affected my life, and largely impacted my reason for wanting to start practicing minimalism. Despite my strong feelings against drinking too much, I found that on our all inclusive vacations drinking alcohol almost seemed like it was the goal.

Sure, we partook in things like snorkeling, and kayaking but those events were smooshed in between an otherwise busy day of sipping mojitos and falling asleep on the beach. (Also, make a note that mojitos at all-inclusive resorts have the best mojitos. It can’t be denied. Oh shoot, what was I saying?)

Oh yes, the drinking. Did I really want to make a sport or vacation out of chugging as many drinks as humanely possible while stuffing my face as frequently as we could in order to get our money’s worth? After a while it all started to feel hollow and void of meaning.

Ditching the all-inclusive resorts for a bigger world view. Riviera Maya, Mexico
Riviera Maya Take 2. Stress level 7.

People from around the world want to see America.

What really made the metaphorical lightbulb in my head go off was when Tom and I sat down to dinner one night with 2 families from Scotland and The Netherlands. This time we were on an all-inclusive vacation in the Dominican Republic which made us feel like we were real world travelers even though we never left the resort.

At dinner, I sat next to a man from The Netherlands who rattled off a list of the places he couldn’t wait to see in America! America! Here I was trying to take a vacation, to see the world and yet I was sitting next to a European person who was dying to explore more of the country I lived in. A country I had barely even seen. Maybe it was time I started re-thinking my way of vacationing.

Budget friendly plan: Explore home first. Then abroad.

One of the main reasons our all inclusive vacations were every other year was because we were still raising kids and didn’t always have the extra cash for lavish getaways. After talking to the main from The Netherlands, however, my perspective began to shift. What if we started putting our focus on traveling to places that were within our reach and didn’t cost as much money to see?

Full disclosure: these all inclusive vacations were actually more affordable than some of the vacations we would plan going forward. However, our all inclusive vacations were often half the length, didn’t include our children and didn’t bring nearly as much spiritual fulfillment, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Ditching the all-inclusive resorts for a bigger world view. Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic. Stress level: 8.

I’m actually not an all inclusive girl

When we got back home after the Dominican Republic vacation, I finally got the nerve to tell Tom I wanted to take a break from our all inclusive getaways. Tom, being riddled with anxiety had actually learned to love these vacations and was baffled at the idea that I wanted to stop.

n”I think I’d like to see the mountains, or something,” I said. The biggest American-based trip I had taken was when I was twelve and my mom and step dad took me to Colorado to see some family friends. I still remember opening my sleep-filled eyes and being in a total state of awe of the mountains of Colorado. Growing up in Minnesota, an environment like that was not something I was used to. Now that I was older, I wanted to get back to environments like that and actually spend more time in them.

Instead of planning a trip to the Rocky Mountains, we decided to start a little closer to home.

Getting back to my nature roots

Tom still wasn’t fully on board at the idea of skipping our all inclusive vacations, but was willing to humor me. One weekend I suggested we take our youngest kids (who were now about 4 and 5) up to Minnesota’s North Shore for the weekend. When I was little my dad had always taken me to Gooseberry Falls so I thought that might be a fun place to start our family vacations.

As we got to the falls, Tom and I sat back as we watched our kids play in the water and scamper across the rocks. It was in that moment that I had another lightbulb moment. My daughter started quickly climbing the rocks — which I know would freak most moms out — but it brought this calm through me and a voice in my head said, That’s me!

In that single moment I remembered who I was, who the inner child in me still was. A playful girl who liked to get dirty, climb rocks, and explore. I knew I needed to make an effort to make more nature-filled, wildlife vacations a part of our family routine.

Road trippin’

A few years later we made plans to road trip to California to visit family. This was something we did a few times, sometimes with all four kids, sometimes with three. All the times it was what you expect any family road trip to be: a shit-ton of chaos that we will later gloss over as amazing, wholesome memories.

Even though our vacations still largely focused on very touristy stops, it felt good to be giving our kids bigger experiences beyond basic all inclusive resorts. At this point, we still weren’t very seasoned hikers, and weren’t sure how or where to find good nature spots to visit. When we saw an opportunity, we’d take it and sneak in a good view here and there. Beyond enjoying the beaches of California, we got to do Warner Brother’s Studios with the kids completely for free!! (I knew a girl who knew a girl…)

Slowly, we began stretching our legs into what it meant to be a family that takes a vacation that didn’t involve leaving the kids at home, or spending all day drinking on a beach.

Covid minivan camping

After a few years of visiting Gooseberry Falls and several tips to California, we started exploring more state parks in Minnesota. Letting our kids get muddy, climb and play in the dirt became a new way for us to spend our weekends. Bless our unexperienced hiking skills, we considered hiking a simple walk through the woods with no destination in mind.

Then, Covid happened and we were itching to get out and explore more than ever. Like most of the world, Minnesota was pretty well locked down which meant hotels weren’t an option, but the parks were. On my birthday/Mother’s Day weekend we bought a minivan and committed to camping out of it while exploring more of Minnesota’s North Shore. I had seen videos on Facebook about Minnesota’s waterfall trail, then I began researching more and more places to see right in our own backyard.

To this day, hands-down, that was my favorite birthday/Mother’s Day I have ever had.

Ditching the all-inclusive resorts for a bigger world view. Silvery Bay, Black Beach, Minnesota
Minnesota’s Black Beach. Stress level: 3 (It was still Covid, after all)

Bucket List Travel or Bust

In September 2020, we made the decision to attempt to make my Bucket List Travel goal come true: to see the beach where they filmed the movie, The Goonies. Spoiler alert: we didn’t make it. Wildfires.

We did, however, spend 2 weeks in the car traveling with our youngest two kids. At this point we had explored nearly every nook and cranny of our home state of Minnesota. Each adventure we went on I would share on Facebook and was constantly met with comments from other Minnesotans who said the same things we did, I didn’t know that was in Minnesota! I’ve lived here my whole life and never seen that.

While we didn’t make it to our final destination of Astoria, Oregon, we did have an amazing time and so many adventures with our kids. The best of which was accidentally climbing a mountain at Glacier National Park. I had researched different hiking trails and thought we were taking an easy 2 mile jaunt that would be easy for our kids. It turned out to be an 11.6 mile, 2,200 climb. Thank goodness I didn’t realize it at the time or we would have missed out on the view and the stories that followed.

Finding balance with travel

Now that our kids are in their teens, they are craving the all inclusive vacations, and we just might indulge them one day. However, I am forever thankful that we decided to start by exploring our own backyard first. Seeing all that our state and country has to offer is something I’m so glad I didn’t spend my life missing out on.

Oh, and we did make it to Astoria the following year! Goonies for life!

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We went from all inclusive vacation obsessed to camping out of our minivan for hiking trails a little closer to home. Here's how we did it.

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