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The Great American Travel Experiment: Can You Recreate the Past with a Family Road Trip?

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Think back to that one childhood vacation that you can never forget, now imagine trying to recreate the experience as an adult with your own family? Jamie Simons did just that when she set out to revisit her husband’s trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks in the world of iPads, portable DVD players and a restless only child.

This summer my husband and I decided to find out if it is possible to travel 3, 000 miles in two weeks with an only child and emerge happy and still speaking? We packed the electronic equivalent of siblings―portable movies and video games, books, games and toys––but, as any parent of a ten-year old knows, what a kid really wants is other kids.

We were headed for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, so I figured there would be lots of other families traveling too. But how to meet them? For you parents out there, I offer three magical words: family summer camps.

Yellowstone Family Camp

Both “Good Morning America” and Family Fun rated the Yellowstone for Families 5-day 4-night camp as number one in the country. This was our first family camp so I had no basis of comparison, but I can’t imagine it getting any better.

What made it so spectacular? For starters, there were two other families with children ranging in age from 8 to 14. All of the children were smart, enthusiastic, well mannered and a joy to be around.

The setup was also key. We stayed at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins at the north end of Yellowstone. All of the families stayed side-by-side in what looked like slightly upscale barrack-style housing that was still comfortable and charming. Our rooms circled a large lawn so when the day’s official activities were over the kids ran wild while the parents sat together on the porch and sipped wine. The program serves breakfast and lunches, but at dinnertime, you are on your own. Sometimes the whole group would walk over to the hotel’s restaurant, which proved surprisingly good. Other times we’d go our own ways, heading into nearby Gardiner, Montana for pizza or Mexican food.