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Last year, I was invited by a good friend on a group trip with her friends to The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. I hadn't met most of the women in the group in person and I'd never been to Tennessee before; I had no idea what to expect but I was up for the adventure! This trip was absolutely incredible. I met new, amazing friends and made deeper connections with current friends. I saw a part of the South I'd never been to in a whole new light. I enjoyed it so much, my family is planning a trip back this fall. And best of all, I got to enjoy myself in every single way without a worry or care because my family and I were prepared for my trip away. Having an amazing guilt-free girlfriends trip isn't just about the experiences; it's about being prepared so that when you're on the trip, you can enjoy the moments as they happen.
Road Trip from Atlanta to Galtinburg
We figured out that it was more affordable to fly into Atlanta than Knoxville, TN. And since one of the ladies on the trip was working on a project in Atlanta, she had already planned to rent a car to drive to Gatlinburg. In fact, this was the car she planned to use to ferry us around to all the fun destinations on our trip. She rented the car, picked up another friend at the airport and met my friend Tammy and I for an amazing dinner at Bocado in North Atlanta. I flew into Altanta a few days earlier to spend some time with my friend Tammy in Peachtree City, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, before going on our girlfriends trip with the other group of ladies.
After saying goodbye to Tammy, I joined the other two ladies in our stylish minivan (okay, who are we kidding?!) and headed off to Tennessee! After we drove in circles, woke up a sleeping couple and their yapping dogs at 1:00 am, and circled back and back and back again, we finally found our hotel and got to bed around 3:00 am. I was super glad that I had packed Excedrin® Tension Headache (use as directed) for Aspirin-free headache relief from tension headaches! At least we have a story to tell now, right?!
Fun Times in The Great Smoky Mountains
After a night in Knoxville and some local fun there, we headed up to a rustic cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains. We booked a cabin perched literally on the side of a mountain that did not disappoint. There was a full kitchen, big screen TV, plenty of bedrooms, 3 balconies, a hot tub, and 3 levels of gorgeous mountain views. It was incredible!
One of the main stops on the trip was Dollywood! Three of the ladies planning the trip were from Kentucky and had spent childhood summers going to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Dollywood, in neighboring Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. They had planned the trip and then the group grew as more of us were asked to tag along.
Dollywood was super fun and nothing like what I expected. The park was clean, affordable, and full of activities. We talked to vendors at the handmade market, checked out the mines and coal powered train, watched people on the roller coasters, went through multiple museums about Dolly Parton and the local area, and tried the famous cinnamon pull-apart bread. I was super excited to find that they offered a Veterans' discount too, on top of the low price. If the Veteran in your party buys your ticket at the window, you'll get the Veterans' discount for your whole group!
Kitsch was the theme of the trip and the Great Smoky Mountains did not dissappoint! From the year-round Christmas store to the world's largest knife shop, to hilly billy golf all the way to Dollywood, there's something quaint and kitschy about the whole area.
We hit up the Rocky Mountain Cat House, which actually has real cats in it but they also sell cat toys, cat clothes, clothes for humans with cats on them, and more. You know, all things cat!
We had lunch at Paula Deen's restaurant and then sampled moonshine in Pigeon Forge.
We walked the main streets of Gatlinburg, rode the trolley through town, and took in the sights.
While walking around town, we spotted a car show with replicas of the General Lee from “The Dukes of Hazard” TV show. It was right next to Cooter's, a restaurant owned by one of the actors in the show!
There's lots to see in downtown and the kitschy vibe did not disappoint. I absolutely could not stop laughing at Fannie Farkle's … and one of the ladies on the trip kept saying it with a southern accent and I started coughing I was laughing so hard! It's the little things in life …
A few of us split off from the group for a few hours and took a ride on the aerial tram to Ober Gatlinburg. The views were incredible and once you get to the top, there's ice skating, bounce houses, and trinket shopping.
Gatlingburg is known for its fudge making so we had to sample fudge at several of the shops. The Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen makes fudge and all of the peanut and cashew brittle for Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores. (P.S., we're getting the first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in California, right in the town next door to mine!)
I thought they were joking when they said that the Great Smoky Mountains were known for pancake houses but they were serious! All the main streets in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are lined with pancake restaurant after pancake restaurant. But get up early – most of them close promptly at 11:00 am.
Even the thrift shops were filled with kitschy, unique items like this burger phone, a la Bob's Burgers, that I had to buy for my daughter Katie. Do we have a phone jack? Nope.
We really had a lot of fun seeing the sites, laughing, sharing meals, and talking to each other. And on top of that, everything was super affordable. I'm not laid back so for me, it was a combination of the company, the location, and pre-planning that helped the trip go off without any big hitches.
Planning a stress-free trip when you're not easy-going
We planned our trip in a Facebook Group, with one person taking the lead by booking our cabin, hotel, and rental car. The rest was up to each of us. Knowing how un-“go-with-the-flow” I am, combined with the neck tension I get from air travel and road trips, I knew I needed to take some extra measures to make sure I could enjoy the trip and be a fun-loving part of the group. These ladies are all really cool but all the traveling and change in environments, time changes, and so on can take a toll on anyone. Nobody likes a grump and I surely did not want to ruin the trip by being cranky; pain can make anyone grumpy, no matter how nice they are! I made sure to pack a heating pad, a swimsuit for the hot tub, and Excedrin® Tension Headache. Making sure I had the tools to relax, unwind, and deal with any pain was essential to making this trip great!
The other side of making this trip great was minimizing the worry of family at home. My husband is pretty awesome about me going on trips for work but I've never been on a trip “for fun”without my family for years. And definitely not for nine days! That's a long time to go it alone with the kids, managing the household, feeding all of our pets, and still going to work. The biggest thing that made this trip possible was preparation. My husband and I communicated about what the challenges would be and worked to make things as easy as possible. One of the big concerns was that he was diagnosed with migraines and his prescription migraine medication makes him too drowsy for work or to deal with the kids. He'd been having more frequent migraines so, in addition to stocking the fridge with food, we also picked up the #1 Neurologist Recommended* Excedrin® Migraine from the health section in our local Walmart. Excedrin® Migraine is indicated for migraines. Consult your doctor if you think you are suffering from migraines. Use Excedrin® Migraine as directed.
Sure, my husband knows how to shop at the store and buy medications without me. But the less he had to do by himself while I was gone, the better. And when his migraine demands a migraine solution, we know that Excedrin® Migraine starts to relieve migraine pain in 30 minutes. He can handle any big problems with the kids on his own and I don't need to be bothered. I'm sure most dads can figure all of that out. Taking it an extra step further, to make sure the family is comfortable while you're gone on a trip is what will prevent all of those little phone calls and texts that interrupt the fun. All of our phone calls and texts on this trip were short questions or just sharing the fun of my trip! That's how a trip away is supposed to be!
I knew everything at home was going to be just fine and that my husband had it under control. Preparing ahead of time can help you feel really good about taking time away for yourself.
Tips for Planning A Trip Away from the Family
I was able to thoroughly enjoy every moment of the trip because I knew my kids were in good hands with my husband. Like I said before, communication and preparation were key to make this trip a success for myself and for my family. I came home relaxed and rejuvenated, full of excitement and stories. And now, we're planning our own trip to the Great Smoky Mountains!
Here's what we do to make sure trips where one parent is away go smoothly”:
Let the parent away “unplug”
It's super stressful to be worried about things you can't take care of when you're 3,000 miles away. The goal of a trip away is to let that parent who isn't home, totally unplug, confident in knowing that the parent who is home is gonna hold the down the fort. We talk ahead of time about minimizing phone calls. If we can, we use texts and Facebook messages to communicate. This way I can see at a glance what's happening if there's an important message without having to leave the event or step away.
Talk about the challenges before you go
One of our biggest challenges when I'm traveling is that my husband gets really bad migraines. When you have something unpredictable in your life, set up systems and discuss ways to deal with the unexpected with your partner. For us, we make sure to pick up Excedrin® Migraine so my husband can take that when he starts feeling a migraine. We added our 18 year old daughter, my dad, and a neighbor to my son's pick-up list at school so they can step in when my husband can't. Ever had the school call you to pick up your kids when you're on the other side of the country? Let's avoid that by having a plan to deal with these challenges before you go.
Have a plan for medical issues
Make sure someone responsible is on the emergency contact list for the schools. Leave the insurance cards (and copies) in the hands of people who will be taking care of your kids. Us moms often carry the cards in our purse – don't get stuck sending photos of your insurance cards to grandma while you're away on your trip.
Make sure everyone's prescriptions and over-the-counter meds are stocked up and not expired.
And have a notification plan in case something big does happen. Let your partner know an outline of your schedule so they know when to call you. Decide ahead of time what types of issues require a phone call; is it a broken bone or do you also want a call when there's a cough coming on?
Get the house in order
The less you leave for your spouse to do while you're way, the better. Get all the clothes washed and house cleaned before you go; or hire someone to do it. Make sure there are no scheduled maintenance visits, like pest control, happening while you're away. Pay the bills and balance the checkbook before you leave. Notify your credit card company that you're traveling so your spouse isn't bothered with fraud alerts.
Minimize extra activities while you're away
Plan your trips to avoid recitals, sports games, and other big events for your kids. Don't put big events on the one parent alone if you can avoid it. If you can't avoid it, enlist another friend or family member to tag along with the family to help out.
Involve your family in the fun … but not too much
Establish a schedule for checking in with each other. We like to share via text message or Facebook message because the other person can check message as they have time. We avoid calling or using video calling because it can be super disruptive, especially if we are not in the same time zone. Share photos from your trip with the family and ask the family to share photos of what they're doing too. Keep it light, fun, and to just a few times a day so that each parent can stay engaged in what they're doing.
Where would you plan your guilt-free girlfriends trip?
We had such a great time that we're already planning our next trip … maybe it will become or annual girlfriends trip! We're thinking about Santa Fe, San Francisco, or maybe even somewhere in the Caribbean.
No matter where you go, be sure to pack Excedrin® so you can focus on the fun!
Find out more about Excedrin® here:
*Among OTC medicine for migraines. Symphony Health Solutions, 2016