For the past couple of years, we've heard rumblings of a Family Reunion Trip to Yellowstone in the works.  We were thrilled to know this was a possibility for a future adventure.  Once we got official word about a year and a half ago, we were beside ourselves with excitement.  We were going to have the opportunity to plan a trip to Yellowstone (and all of its awesome surrounding areas) AND we were going to get to see (and spend quality time with) lots of our family who live all over the United States.

Jess had been to Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole before; Dave had not.  Aside from it being somewhere brand new to one of us, this kind of trip is just different (in lots of ways).  We sort of threw our "normal" planning out the window and it all turned out way better than OK.

There were lots of moving parts and details we had to think about pretty far in advance.  For those of you not as familiar, planning to spend time at a National Park simply requires more advanced planning and lots of it.  Lodging in the parks fill up super fast.

The official family reunion was set to take place over a long weekend (July 6 - 10) however, we knew that we'd want to spend some additional time in the area.  Jess has been wanting to share the experience out west with Dave and somehow convinced him to stay for 11 days.

Anyone who knows Dave well knows that he hits his limit on time away from home at the 5(ish) day mark.  So, this was a pretty big gamble but we came home winning big.

Eleven days was the longest amount of time that we had ever spent away from Hopsen.  Eleven days out there flies by, but eleven days away from the littlest Kirk was pretty brutal on us. 

Minus travel time, we knew we'd have about three full days in Yellowstone.  We wanted to spend those days staying in the park and hanging out with family.  With work schedules and the 4th of July, we planned the remainder of our trip on the tail end of the family reunion.

This worked perfectly for us and allowed us to have lots of fun things to look forward to after saying all of our goodbyes.  Aren't goodbyes just the worst?

The rest of our trip consisted of visiting The Grand Tetons, Teton Village, Jackson Hole and Salt Lake City.  We broke up these visits by spending 1 - 2 days in each place.  It was a lot of moving, but it allowed us to be able to see, experience and enjoy a lot more than staying in one place would have.

We'll break down the entire vacation for you, but we've also got some general things to share about planning and preparing for this trip.  We've got some advice that we declared "game changers" and some tips that will hopefully make planning a trip like this a little easier on you.

First, our flight was scheduled to depart Nashville at 5:40 a.m. on the morning of the 6th.  That meant we'd have to be there by 4 a.m. (or so... we like to have plenty of extra time while traveling) which means we'd have to end up leaving our house around 2 a.m. to be at the airport on time.

We decided it was time for us to make an adult decision and book a hotel close to the Nashville Airport for the night.  We had dinner, enjoyed happy hour, showered and were all tucked in ready to try and get some sleep by 8 p.m.  This was game changer number one!

There was a special about Yellowstone on TV that night... what are the odds!

We will never, we repeat we will never drive to Nashville in the middle of the night for a flight ever again.  Instead, we will be booking ourselves a room at the Embassy Suites and enjoying a complimentary happy hour upon arrival before sleeping all night.

They also have a complimentary breakfast, but our flight was a little too early for that.  One of Jessica's work buddies shared that he and his wife always stay at the Embassy when they have a flight out of Nashville in the morning so we gave it a try.

The best part about it, besides not being totally exhausted before starting vacation is that they have a shuttle to the airport and allow you to keep your car parked there at no cost.

10 Century Blvd.
Nashville, TN 37214
(615) 871-0033 

There is a small fee if your car will be parked there for more than a week, but somehow we managed to avoid that.  Maybe it was because we are in the Hilton Honors Program, or maybe it's just because we look like two sweet young kids in love trying to travel the world?  Who knows, but we were thankful to keep the extra $30 bucks.

With comparing the cost of parking our car at the Nashville airport for 11 days, we literally ended up only paying about $20 more to stay at a hotel the night before.  And, did we mention the stay included a complimentary happy hour?  This was by far one of the best things we've discovered.

The shuttle was super easy.  It departs from the hotel every 30 minutes and once your flight arrives and you've grabbed your bags you simply call and request pick-up.  It was awesome.  We will do this again and again and again in the future.  No more middle of the night driving to the airport for us! 

Planning ahead is HUGE when you're spending time at National Parks, especially if you are planning to make overnight reservations.  Our trip was spread out all over the place and we stayed in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Rooms (and camping spaces) fill up fast at National Parks.  There are only so many, so you want to book them as far in advance as possible.  We told you, planning for these types of vacations are different and you can't expect to find a room with just a few months notice.

To give you an idea about how far in advance we mean, we booked our cabin for Yellowstone on May 3, 2016 and our room at the Tetons on August 1, 2016 (which was the earliest you could book for the next July).  Yes, that far in advance for our vacation in July of 2017.  Over a year!

If you're visiting these areas, it is most convenient to say in the parks so make sure to reserve early.  We'd also recommend booking rooms early for Jackson Hole and Teton Village, however there are a few more options in those locations so they don't sell out quite as quickly.  But, they do sell out.

11 days on vacation is also 11 days of living... and that comes with needing a lot of stuff.  There were some things that we could buy at home and easily pack to take with us, but there were also a handful of items that we'd need to purchase once we got there.  Again, this vacation was different.

We aren't huge breakfast eaters, but need ALL the dark coffee in the morning.  Most days, we snacked during activities for lunch... hello beef jerky and protein bars out of the backpack!  For dinners, it was a toss up.  In Yellowstone, we mostly got dinner at the General Stores (yes, really).

In the Tetons, we had our best dinner of the trip at the Mural Room and we enjoyed more great dinners (with the best kind of company) in Teton Village, Jackson Hole and Salt Lake City.

We were unsure of what we'd have access to at the General Stores (which was actually a lot more than we thought), so we packed the essentials along with a few extras to take with us.  We opted to buy things like water, snacks, gatorade and a few bottles of wine once we arrived.

You should definitely buy water to have on hand, but a six pack would be plenty.  Everywhere we stayed and visited had places to fill up your water bottle.  This was awesome because you had access to cold water and didn't have to worry about disposing plastic bottles responsibly.

We took Jess's large Swell Bottle from home and used it the entire trip.  If you're heading to the area, make sure your favorite water bottle goes with you.  You'll be happy to decided to pack it.

We love to book early morning flights and they always sound like a good idea... until you get up that morning.  With early flights, you are really able to maximize your vacation time once arriving plus we always think we'll have the opportunity to catch a little snooze on the flight.  It might sound silly, but another game changer for us on this trip was taking along a travel pillow.

We found the perfect Samsonite Travel Pillow from our local T.J. Maxx.  It has a cover that you can take right off and throw in the washing machine after travel, perfection!  Being able to wash a travel pillow is a must.  Can we get an amen?  Who do you think is getting the better rest here? 

I think we all know the answer to that question.

When you're booking a trip like this one, you quickly realize how much driving is going to be involved.  We didn't have much luck finding reasonable flights in and out of the Jackson Hole airport (and we don't have a money tree), so we opted for flying in and out of Salt Lake City instead. 

This allowed us to have some bonus time with family AND both of us flew for the same price that it was going to be for one of us flying to Jackson Hole.  With that, we knew we'd have a decent amount of driving from Salt Lake to Yellowstone and from the Teton Village back to Salt Lake.

However, we didn't realize just how much additional driving would be involved each day.  Yellowstone is a HUGE park... nearly 3500 square miles kind of huge.  From our cabin, we had at least a 45 minute drive to anything we wanted to see.  You simply do a lot of driving out west, there's no real way around it.  We practically felt like we lived out of our car for the 11 days.

We visited in the summer so it wasn't a necessity, but even without all of the snow we would recommend booking an SUV when renting a vehicle.  Somehow, we got a complimentary upgrade after booking just a basic compact car.  Thanks Enterprise!

Suck it up and pay the extra to go ahead and book an SUV, or ask if one is available once you arrive.  It was much more convenient having all the extra space (since we were moving around so much) and it was definitely way more comfortable!  An SUV on a trip like this is a game changer, book it.

After arriving to Salt Lake City, we quickly noticed that we were missing a suitcase.  #travelfail  And, it just so happened that the suitcase we were missing also had all of out toiletries in addition to a nice bottle of bourbon that we were taking to share with the family.  Such a bummer!

We waited through two more flights and thankfully our bag arrived.  They talked about shipping it to us in Yellowstone, and honestly if that's the route we had to take we'd probably still be waiting.

We learned a few things while waiting on our bag.  First, always make sure if you are traveling with alcohol (specifically that comes in glass bottles) that you have it "professionally" wrapped.  Wait, is that an actual thing?

We typically put it in a sealed plastic bag followed by wrapping it in bubble wrap and then wrapping it in clothes and situating it in the middle of a suitcase.  Second, if the bottle happens to break and spill out on other peoples' luggage you can be fined up to $250K.  Did you know that?
Yeah, we didn't either...

We also learned that the bug spray we had packed might have been what flagged our bag and got it held up by TSA.  We never ending up finding out what happened with our bag (it may have actually been lost) and who really cares?  We were just thankful to see it and more than ready to start our vacation.  After the whole fiasco, we'd recommend waiting to buy bug spray until you arrive.

The few dollars it might have saved us wasn't worth the extra hours we spent at the airport by baggage claim.  We would however recommend stocking up on lots of mosquito repellent bracelets.

The mosquitoes out there are no joke and you seriously need to be prepared.  A lot of the time we had one bracelet on our wrist and one on our ankle and we still ended up using an entire bottle of bug spray.  They are real, they are big and they are mean.  Be prepared, it's a game changer.

 Dave just finished up getting bit by a mosquito here.

We really had to do a lot of planning for our daily activities while preparing for this vacation.  When you visit a National Park, it can be pretty overwhelming.  There are so many things to do and see, so many trails and routes you won't want to miss.

You invest all kinds of time, energy and money into visiting and at the end of each day, you want to feel like you've really made the most of it.

We printed off lots of maps that included all kinds of hiking trails and bike paths.  We mapped things out that we knew we wanted to do and then went with the flow while we were there to maximize our time around those things.  It ended up working out perfectly, but if we had gotten there without a plan it would have been a completely different story.

Be warned, this was a hard trip to pack for.  You have to be smart about packing for a trip like this after planning.  If you're going to be doing a lot of hiking, then pack actual hiking shoes.  Definitely have sunscreen on hand, regardless of the time of year you visit.  The sun there is always intense.

Not only were we moving places every few days, but the temperatures would go from 85 degrees during the day to the 40's at night.  With this in mind, we packed lots and lots of layers.  Aside from a couple of nicer outfits for dinners, we mainly stuck to active wear and pullovers the entire trip.

By the evening of day six and the morning of day seven, Dave started to really not feel well.  After a few calls to his physician at home and a stop at a local pharmacy, he was all taken care of.

Altitude sickness had struck.  And while we were thankful to hear it was just altitude sickness, we still wanted him to feel better quickly so that we could continue enjoying vacation.

We spent the majority of the trip at 8,000 feet altitude... which is a little different than what we are used to at home measuring just 394 feet.  We think we travel pretty prepared for most things, but altitude sickness was not one of them.

To help avoid this, drink lots and lots (and even more) water and use a saline nasal spray daily.  Oh well, we know now... drink some more water!

The last game changer we've got for a trip like this is to take your good camera and pack a tripod.  Everyone debates whether they should take their good camera, or just use their iPhone for photos on vacation.  We'll admit, we're even guilty of it and we both love photography.

We've lugged our camera around on trips and have come back home to find that not a single photo was taken on our camera and yet somehow we've got hundreds on our phones.  Sound familiar?

This was one of those vacations that we knew we were going to get incredible views and see things unlike anything we've seen before... even if you've seen it before.  Take your good camera on a trip like this!  Heck, take your good camera on every trip.  You will not regret it, we promise.

Sure, the iPhone certainly wins for convenience (they are the easiest) and it even takes great photos.  But, the photos from a quality camera win out over iPhone photos every. single. time.

OK, so you're taking your good camera... now you need to pack a tripod.  Yes, really!  We knew that the first few days of our vacation we'd have 50 other family members around to take photos of us, but what about the rest of the time?

Selfies work when that's all you've got, but selfies wouldn't have worked to get the photos that we wanted (with certain things in the background).

We know that we looked ridiculous, and we are totally OK with that because we also have some once in a lifetime pictures that we will cherish forever (and ever).  A tripod takes a little more effort and certainly takes more time, but it is so worth it for the pictures that you'll get.

When you plan a vacation like this, you'll be surprised how many people have visited (and love) the places you'll be visiting.  Talk with people about your trip.  Ask for their favorite things to do along with recommendations.  Jess and her family had been before, but we also received awesome recommendations from people we know just by sharing the upcoming trip with them.

When people love a place, they get pretty passionate about sharing all of the reasons why.  We truly believe that because of people sharing their experiences and recommendations with us that we were able to maximize and make the most of ours.  A huge thanks to all of the wonderful individuals and families who shared their stories with us!  We couldn't have planned those 11 days without ya!

We've got a lot to share about what all we did, saw and tasted over our 11 day vacation.
We'll break it all down for you by location here:

Always look for a hotel near an airport that allows you to park for free and provides a complimentary shuttle.  Airport parking has gotten ridiculously expensive!

When you're planning an eleven day trip, you've got to prioritize planning.  If you don't have some type of itinerary, you'll miss out.

Yellowstone is massive!  Plan for driving and remember to fill up on gas anytime you see a station. The gas stations in the park are few and far between.

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