Canada Trip Part 1: Raleigh NC to Philadelphia

We made it to Canada, but just barely.  I’ll summarize by saying the first five and a half days of the trip to Canada were awesome and the last half of the sixth day required perseverance.  A lot of it.  Some might say the last half day of the journey to Canada was horrible, but I’ll stick with “required perseverance”.  But let’s take things in chronological order and save the explanation of the persevering to the end.

Instead of undertaking the 14.5 hour, 875 mile journey from Raleigh to Montreal in one long, arduous continuous trip, we stopped along the way in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New York City, New York.  The Washington stop was only a few hours long – just enough time to visit the National Zoo.  After leaving Washington, we arrived in Philadelphia late at night and stayed for a total of three nights.  Once we departed Philadelphia, we spent two more nights in New York City before heading north on the final leg of the trip across the border to our friendly neighbors to the north.

5 people and all the necessities and niceties for 5 weeks on the road.  All packed into one 14 year old Honda Accord sedan.
5 people and all the necessities and niceties for 5 weeks on the road. All packed into one 14 year old Honda Accord sedan.


Washington, DC

Traffic.  We experienced a lot of it on I-95 in Northern Virginia heading into Washington.  The worst of our entire trip (other than the half hour we spent driving the few blocks through Times Square in New York City).

We decided to visit the National Zoo for a few hours to split up the first day’s drive to Philadelphia.  And the Zoo has pandas.  The Zoo pit stop worked very well for the kids – they got to get out and stretch their legs and we had the Zoo mostly to ourselves since it was late on a weekday.  Parking was stiff at $22 flat rate, but the Zoo itself is free.  We were lucky to see the pandas wide awake and eating so the visit was definitely worth the hassle of exiting the freeway and navigating through the center of our nation’s capital city.

This guy is laying around in a post-meal stupor like he’s early retired, too.

Perhaps the most amazing part of the zoo for our kids was all the animals pooping right in front of the kids.  They got a kick out of watching a cow, an elephant, and a panda poop.  It was after lunch and before nap time, and that’s when animals poop.

We didn’t get to see the lion pooping, but he did roar at us.

I also discovered a new part of DC that I’ve never visited before.  Rock Creek Parkway and Beach Drive.  It’s a little winding road that gets you to the zoo.  It makes you feel like you’re exploring a national park.  The road is recessed about 50-100 feet below the other surface streets that it intersects, which means as you drive along the road you cross underneath a number of streets that are totally out of sight except for the massive monolithic bridges you pass underneath.  And there are tunnels.



We enjoyed two days and three nights in Philadelphia.  We stayed for free at the Four Points by Sheraton in the northern part of the city using our Starwood Preferred Guest points from the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card sign up bonus.  The hotel was nice enough (especially after they fixed the air conditioning in our room!).

The hotel also provided free wings and beer on Wednesday night.  The beer was disappointing since it was served in a five ounce plastic cup and there were no free refills.  The endless chicken wings, however, did not disappoint (and that’s coming from a guy that doesn’t typically like the low meat-to-bones ratio of chicken wings).

Mmmmm wings.  Barbeque and zesty garlic lime cheese I think.
Mmmmm wings. Barbeque and zesty garlic lime cheese I think.

This section covering Philadelphia is going to sound like a food blog because we spent more time eating than we did sight-seeing (that’s what happens when you travel with a two year old).  Cheesesteaks are a big deal on the tourist trail in Philadelphia, and we had to sample a few different varieties around town.  Since we were staying away from the downtown tourist area, we were able to visit regular restaurants where locals dine and avoid the long lines and inflated prices.

At Lee’s Hoagies we ordered the Super Deluxe cheesesteak with extra meat.  At $22, it wasn’t cheap, but considering the two or three pounds of steak mounded into an arm-length (and arm-girth) sub roll, I would argue it still fits our Value Conscious Consumer ™ spending patterns.  This sandwich fed the entire family.  Enough said.

I'll take one cheesesteak, please.
I’ll take one cheesesteak, please.

While I was getting take out from one restaurant, I noticed a grocery store next door.  I went in and grabbed bananas and cherries for our breakfast the next few mornings and spent less on the fruit for the whole family than the cost of a McValue Combo Meal at McDonald’s (for one person).  We also brought some leftover bagels from home and enjoyed these at breakfast, too.  Dining in our hotel room for breakfast was very simple (and healthy) compared to loading five people into the car and seeking out a place to grab a bite.

While at the grocery store I also grabbed a carton of ice cream for $2.  This wasn’t a pint sized carton, but rather the full size (which is now about 1.5 quarts).  The ice cream was our post-cheesesteak dessert.  At first glance it seems ridiculously unhealthy to sit down and eat an entire carton of ice cream, but when divided by five people, it works out to about nine ounces per person.  For reference, the medium size at Cold Stone Creamery is eight ounces, and the small size Blizzard at Dairy Queen is twelve ounces.  In other words, splitting a carton of ice cream between five people is like ordering a small to medium serving at an ice cream shop.  Except it was way cheaper at $0.40 per serving for grocery store ice cream instead of $4.00 per serving from the ice cream shop.

Between the monster cheesesteaks and cartons of ice cream, we managed to get out and about and visit Philadelphia’s attractions.  They have this thing called the Liberty Bell.  It’s cracked, but still merits a visit if you have time between cheesesteaks.  Our nation’s forefathers (including Benjamin Franklin, a very early example of a frugal, financially independent gentleman) used this bell to summon fellow statesmen to Independence Hall so they could draft documents (like the Declaration of Independence) that served as big middle fingers to the British Empire.  We love the Brits now, of course, but back in the 1770’s there was some real bad blood between the colonies and the Empire.

This building is on the back of the $100 bill.

The rest of the family doesn’t really care about history, so they sat on a park bench while I saw the Liberty Bell.  You can tell from the preceding paragraph that I learned a lot while visiting the Liberty Bell and the museum it’s housed in.  On a side note, the air conditioning in the Liberty Bell museum was mind-blowingly cold and a much needed relief after enduring the 95 degree temperatures.

It's smaller than I thought it would be.
It’s smaller than I thought it would be.

Due to the severe heat, or perhaps the fact that he’s two, Mr. RoG Jr. whined the entire time we were exploring Philadelphia on foot on our first full day of the trip.  This did not leave me with a good feeling about what the next 32 days would be like.  After a couple hours of enduring the heat and touring the downtown area, everyone was hot and tired so we decided to call it a day.

Earlier in the day, we had decided to drive the car downtown and park.  That was a very prescient decision.  Parking was $5 for two hours at a shady on-street parallel parking space (much cheaper than the $20 we would have spent on transit for the whole family).  When it was time to go, I walked back to the car and picked up the rest of the family.  Then we headed back to the hotel for some relaxation (and air conditioning).  Our hotel had a nice pool, so the kids had a great time swimming in the evening.

The next day, we decided to avoid the heat and do a driving tour from the comfort of our wonderfully air-conditioned car.  We stopped by the University of Pennsylvania and saw the historic buildings situated alongside the newly constructed mid-rise modern office buildings and hospital facilities.  We managed a visit to the famous Rocky statue in front of the steps of the Art Museum (but skipped the art museum itself).  We explored some more of the older neighborhoods around downtown before heading back to the hotel base camp for more rest and relaxation.


By the second day in Philadelphia, I realized that our daily sightseeing schedule would largely be dictated by how long our two year old lasts before he melts down.  And that’s okay – we knew that bringing a two year old on a five week trip would be a constraint on daily activity.

Traveling with kids

We knew traveling with kids would have challenges.  Here are a few observations from the first segment of our trip that might help if you’re thinking about a long trip with kids.  Ours were age 2, 7, and 9 at the time of the trip.

  • don’t plan more than a few hours of activities per day (kid meltdowns are likely)
  • get a hotel with a pool
  • accept the fact that there will be a lot of rest and downtime
  • naps are okay for kids and adults
  • pack plenty of snacks and drinks while sightseeing
  • you won’t see everything, so prioritize what you want to see the most
  • toddlers like weird things like holes in the sidewalk, textures on floors, trucks and buses (don’t forget to indulge their peculiar interests occasionally)
30% of the time, they were happy and excited like this (photo taken a few miles from home).
50% of the time, they were happy and excited like this (photo taken a few miles from home).


In the next installment of our trip summary, I’ll tell about our visit to New York City and the drive to Montreal where we had some serious trouble.
Here’s a quick guide to our whole trip:


If you want to ensure you receive the rest of the story of our trip to Canada, make sure to subscribe on Facebook, Twitter, or by email or RSS reader (in the column to the right).


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  1. Sounds wonderful–aside from the heat and toddler meltdowns of course :)! Glad you got to see Rock Creek Park, we enjoyed hiking through there when we lived in DC. And the zoo is fabulous! We love those Starwood PG free stays with free food (we’ve eaten more unusual free meals from them…but, they’re free!). Good luck on the next leg of the journey! Looking forward to reading the updates.

    1. Decent free food is hard to pass up. And if the free food isn’t great, we can always run out and grab something. It’s too bad the Starwood/sheraton hotels don’t have free breakfasts. That would be totally awesome (for free!).

      1. Some of them do! The Starwood we stayed at in Amsterdam included a free buffet breakfast for SPGs with smoked salmon, champagne, the works! We shamelessly gorged ourselves every day.

        1. Obviously we’ve been staying at the wrong SPG properties! 😉 So far I think we have only stayed at Cat 2 and 3 places here in the US (Sheratons, Four points, aloft) and none had free breakfast. Some had free drinks and this four points in Philly was the first to have free food (but only on wednesday nights) and it seemed limited if you show up late or if it was busy (only 2 huge buffet trays of wings, not sure if they replaced them later in the night since we left after “shamelessly gorging” ourselves).

          1. Ahh yes, I think it may have been a higher category property–it was also during our brief stint as Platinum (thanks to business travel). Mr. Frugalwoods is so shameless that he ate the entire platter of smoked salmon and HAD THE GALL to ask for more (which of course they brought out)… I scampered away to the make-your-own mimosa bar and pretended not to know him.

  2. I’m glad you found Rock Creek during your brief time in DC. It’s my favorite drive in the city, with the best bridges.

  3. I laughed out loud at the photo of your kids. I was thinking “that must be at the beginning of the trip” before I read the caption. Sounds like a fun family adventure!

    And I’m with you on the cheap fresh breakfasts. My wife and I visited London a few years ago and got tired of eggs and pastries in a hurry. We ended up buying some fruit and things at a grocery store and enjoyed it much more.

    Looking forward to the next installment.

    1. There were plenty of happy times later in the trip, too. But that photo sums up the spirit of adventure in the first hour or so. Other than the 2 year old getting cranky after being on the road for a few hours, it wasn’t so bad.

  4. Philadelphia is the fall is much cooler and nicer to visit. We visited the Liberty Bell and ate Philly cheese steaks too. I also expected the Liberty Bell to be much bigger than it was. My husband did not enjoy driving in downtown Philly!

    1. Philly was about as hot as Raleigh, so we were ready. The 2 year old struggled and we assume it was the heat. 90+ degrees and humid is never fun for long.

      I wasn’t too disappointed that we couldn’t tour around much in Philadelphia, it was just a city that’s relatively near where we live and I’ve never been to. So stopping by for a few days on the way north was cool.

      Downtown was pretty busy, but no worse than other mid to large cities I’ve been in. Maybe I’m just “citified”. 🙂

  5. I’d say you’ve done a great job packing your car. Our sedan looks like this when we go on a 4 day trip to visit the family up North and we only have a 2 year old. I’m also slowly starting to accept the rule about slowing down – we used to be super travelers walking around all day and seeing as much as we could… That was before our son was born. We quickly realized it doesn’t work like that anymore.

    1. Mrs. Root of Good is the packing master. I doubt I could have fit all that stuff in the car. We also used a lot of nooks and unused space in the car (like underneath the front seats) and stuffed things down into the spare tire compartment (which we found out leaks during hurricanes). We also had to pack light and focus on what was most important (for convenience or fun).

      2 year olds will definitely change how you travel and what you can do. Some day it will be different, but for the next few years, he will dictate where we go and what we plan on doing.

    2. This is the picture of our trunk when we left home. More details in the next installment, but we managed to pack another tire in the trunk!

  6. Yeah, a car trip with three kids sounds rough. Reminds me of our vacations when I was a kid, actually, except we didn’t have seatbelts or car seats to keep us confined.
    Nice to have the freedom to abort as-needed, though. That’s what financial independence is really all about, right? — having options!

    1. We tried to break up the driving by stopping on the way to Canada and I think that helped a lot. I’d rather spend 6 hours driving than 6 hours getting to the airport shuttle, riding in, clearing security, waiting at the terminal, sitting in the tiny seats on the plane, delays, arriving and getting a car or another shuttle, etc. The car was very convenient for sure, but it was a stereotypical family road trip on the longer driving segments (with a 2 year old making his discontent known).

      The ability to turn the car around and head home was important to us, which is one reason why we chose driving to Canada instead of flying to somewhere else like Guatemala/Belize, Spain, or Thailand. And yes, financial independence is about being able to do whatever you want and keeping your options open.

  7. Welcome to the white North!. Wow cant belive you are going on such a long trip in a smallish car with 3 kids!!! You are crazy. What I like to do is load the ipad with movies and place it so both kids can see for long trips. Yes snacks are a must!!!!!!!

    Have fun a good luck with the rest of the journey!

    1. Unfortunately our kids get car sick if they watch movies so we kept them entertained in other ways. And they slept probably half the time (car sickness meds cause drowsiness).

    1. I didn’t even track fuel economy. It averages around 25-30 mpg depending on city/highway mix. Probably much lower while stuck in traffic. Our car is so old it doesn’t have any mpg calculator in the dash. I usually just divide “gallons added at refueling” by the number of miles I just drove, but I simply didn’t think to do that on our trip.

  8. Ahh stuck in traffic around Times Square…yea it’s crazy around there. I thought you were going to drive to Jersey and take public transportation? I guess I’ll have to wait for the next installment. We have a one year old and we’ve been trying to think of places to go. We did drive up to Boston to visit family and that was about a 4 hour drive. It was okay but he did get a little fussy…doesn’t like being strapped in his car seat. We thought about Niagara Falls/Toronto…my brother-in-law is in Buffalo…but that’s about a 6 hour drive. I’ve also thought about Philly/Washington DC as well, but I hear traffic in the DC area is pretty bad too.

    1. I like Washington DC a lot. If you like museums, you could spend 2 weeks at the various Smithsonians. Not too much for a toddler to do though. We drove in DC traffic the last few time we were there, and it’s busy during rush hour, otherwise not too bad during the day.

      As for the driving in NYC, it’s all outlined in the next article, but the short version is that we needed to meet someone for lunch at a fixed time and didn’t know if we would make it with the 3 kids and navigating bus/subway/walking.

  9. I love DC and Philly, but trying to imagine getting around with 3 kids in tow kindof blows my mind.
    It’s a shame you weren’t there for the 4th of July as Philly tends to go all out for the holiday with a big parade on the Avenue of the Americas, and ending at the Art Museum with a big concert – very family friendly, lots of kids and families of all ages. It was the first parade I ever went to and I think it set my expectations pretty high.
    But most importantly, did you run up the steps of the art museum Rocky Balboa style?

    1. We intentionally headed to NYC for the 4th of July festivities, and it was disappointing (read more in the next installment). I didn’t even think about Philadelphia having a cool 4th of July celebration, but it makes sense (having the best claim for “birthplace of the nation”).

      I didn’t run up the steps. I doubt I could clear more than the first 20 or 30 in a run, the next few dozen would be a walk/stagger, and I’d be fully prostrated for the final few dozen if I could make it at all. Slowly walking is more of my thing. 🙂

      1. Being in suburban Philly area…yep, you missed a great 4th bash with The Roots (band for The Tonight Show w/ Jimmy Fallon), as well as Nicki Minaj, Ed Sheeran, Jennifer Hudson and Aloe Blacc. There were multiple fireworks shows as well. Truth be told though, we just watch the local TV broadcast. Sounds like you also missed TastyKakes, Philly soft pretzels, and the hoagie. Other states have subs or heroes, but none are as good as an Italian hoagie from Philadelphia. I’ve travelled to many other cities in the US and I don’t know why an Italian roll just can’t be duplicated elsewhere…must be some sort of secret! Oh well, next time you are in town.

        1. Sounds like a blast! And something much more impressive than NYC fireworks (at least from our vantage point). They had a live music show in NYC but it was only for those watching on TV (not live).

          We have TastyKakes in stores here in Raleigh. I can’t say I recall having any but I’m sure I have at some point in my life. I didn’t know they were a recognized brand name though.

          The steak and cheese places we visited also served hoagies (actually one place, Lee’s Hoagie’s, definitely does!). Looks like the same Italian bread is used on all their different sandwiches. I don’t recall the bread in particular, because the meat and cheese were right there in your face. No stomach room for an Italian cold cut hoagie on this particular trip!

  10. Get a roof rack. You can easily double your available packing space by strapping a suitcase or two up there. (No need for a fancy super-expensive roof-rack container… just buy a big sturdy Rubbermaid plastic box from Costco, and you’re all set. The trick is to strap it down well. If you use a suitcase, then put it inside a big thick garbage bag to keep it dry. It’s ugly, but works.)

    Source: Experience travelling for 3 months across the US with a 6, 4 and 2 year old in a Volkswagon 4 door Golf.. 🙂

    1. 6, 4, and 2 year old? You’re crazier than me! 🙂

      We actually had room for everything we needed, and even brought too much stuff (like a few extra changes of clothes, some toys that weren’t played with). Did you notice a reduction in fuel economy with the luggage on top? I’ve heard those can knock the mpg down by 20% or so.

      We crammed so much stuff into that car, it’s incredible. The honda accord has a huge trunk compartment (way bigger than my Civic).

      Next big road trip we take, we won’t have things like the stroller, baby bag, and a few bags of diapers.

      1. Hello,

        I’m a bit of a geek, so yes, I was tracking fuel economy before and after I added the roof rack. In city driving I saw about a 5% increase in fuel usage, and about 7% in highway driving. It was a good price to pay for the convenience of having the rack.

        In fact, despite your ability to pack everything into your Accord… the biggest advantage of the roof rack during our trip was the ability to not have to carefully re-pack everything tight-as-a-drum or spill onto the street every time we wanted to access something, or pack up the car. In other words, we didn’t actually use the extra space to being more stuff. We used the space to spread out the bare minimum of what we packed. (We’re very light travelers, and like you, we only brought the minimum necessary.) So imagine the same amount of stuff you are travelling with now, but spread out over a little more area. It’s just more convenient.

        I also agree it is awesome once the kids are finished with the stroller, baby bag, and diapers. (Although then you’ll wind up with bags of books, board games, etc…)

        One piece of advice for anyone travelling with little girls — put a roll of toilet paper into your glove box.


        1. That’s good to hear the roof rack didn’t add too much additional drag and resultant fuel economy ding. I get what you’re saying – we did have to re-pack in a tetris-like manner to fit everything into the trunk. That would have been nice for sure!

          And we have the roll of TP in the car for emergencies! Never know when it will be required. Luckily the only emergency we had on this trip was a drive by mini-vomit. And a clean get away. I don’t even think she took the seat belt off while in the act.

    1. 5 ounces was a little ridiculous, but hey, we weren’t paying for it. They made it a big deal at the hotel and had signs advertising it. You think they could at least give a nice red Solo cup full of beer. At least the wings were good. And a free dinner.

  11. Totally reading this like a year late BUT – if you ever find yourself in Philly again with kids, you must must must go to the Please Touch Museum. It’s the only museum in the country created for children 7 and younger. Lots of BIG toys to play with, all in the Philly-skin: Rita’s water ice, Shoprite, some kids TV show that used to play here…? (I’m a transplant, so forgive me, Philly, for not knowing), a CHOP – Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in which you can give you dolly an MRI. Of course a carousel and over-priced food and toys – do NOT exit through the gift shop, kwim? In fact – next time you are in Philly with kiddos, email me, and my DH or I will stop by with our membership card and get the first 5 of you (there are only 5 of you, yeah?) in for free if our membership is up to date (we let it expire sometimes and re-up after several months so the whole thing stays fun for the kids.)

    Also worth checking out:
    Smith Memorial Playground (probably the nation’s oldest playground – est 1899 back in the seen-and-not-heard days) Great stuff esp for 5 years and younger

    North and a little West of the City if the free Kids’ Castle – a 35-foot tall, 8 story wooden playground

    West of the city and maybe a little pricey are the Longwood Gardens – the Dupont family basically set-up like… royal gardens (no castle) and there’s some fun play-in-the-water stuff for kids (not swimsuit play in the water, but def water-shoes-no-socks)

    Cool stuff worth seeing and the only whining the 2 year old will do is when you force bathroom breaks or when it’s time to leave. 🙂

    1. Where were you a year ago when I needed you, Kara? 🙂

      That kid’s castle sounds incredible and might top the list of things the kids (and adults) in the family would enjoy.

      I saw the Please Touch Museum when I was planning our last trip but figured we wouldn’t get more than an hour or two before 2 year old melt down. And I remember it wasn’t cheap to get in I think. We just did a neat kid’s museum here in Mexico City (Papalote museum in Chapultepec park) and for some reason the kids didn’t seem to think it was that cool. They liked the mirror maze and the ropes course and ziplining a lot better (and it was cheaper too!).

      Thanks for the insider’s guide to Philly. I’m not sure when we will visit Philly next, but it’s a great inexpensive stopping point for a couple nights if we’re headed north of there. And not a horrible drive from Raleigh in one day.

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