The National Park Service: Your Passport to Vacation Fun
Updated: Mar 29, 2019
On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. – Psalm 145:5
When we first started homeschooling, traveling was something we looked forward to the most. My husband had to travel 2-3 times a year for work so we would try to piggyback family trips onto his travel plans. We started homeschooling in March and quickly had a trip planned for August. It would be an epic, historical trip out east to see Jamestown, Yorktown, Colonial Williamsburg, Philadelphia, Valley Forge and Gettysburg. We tailored our history lessons around places we would get to see on our trip and Makayla taught us a unit on Jamestown over the summer to get her involved in the homeschool fun. I have a whole blog series planned to cover that amazing trip but today I want to focus on the National Park Service, especially their Passport books.
The second day of our trip, we went to Yorktown Battlefield. We started at the Visitor Center to get a map and figure out what we should do first. While we were waiting to watch the 15 minute video we browsed around in the gift shop and found these great “Passport to your National Parks” books. They are little spiral bound books that look similar to a passport and they are divided into US Regions with a list of all of the National Parks, Battlefields, Historic Sites, etc. in them. Each section has little squares to get your book stamped at each location you visit. We decided to get 3 of them, one for us and one for each of the kids so we could start our National Park adventures together but then we can all continue collecting stamps once the kids have families of their own. Each book was less than $10 so it was a fairly cheap souvenir that we could keep using on all of our trips.
So why do we like the Passports so much?
· It was a cheap, meaningful souvenir. We really don’t like spending a lot of money on junk souvenirs that have no purpose and just collect dust. The Passport is a great way to document our trips and keep track of how many National Parks we’ve been to. It’s fun to look back and say “oh yeah, I remember that…” We also like the idea that we all have one so once the kids move out they can continue the tradition with their own families, although I hope we can continue to share some of the adventures.
· It’s a great way to find pit stops on long trips. I always bring our Passports with us on trips and along the way I pull them out and see if there is any place along our route that we can stop. If we can find a place that’s not too far out of the way, we pull off and check it out. It’s great when it works out that we can grab some subs and pull up a picnic table for a lunch break and then stretch our legs walking through the visitor’s center or strolling along a battlefield, looking at cannons and such. The kids usually grumble about every vacation turning into a history field trip but I think deep down, they enjoy it (or at least one day will appreciate it??)
· It continues to encourage us to visit and support our National Parks. If you haven’t visited any National Park sites, you really should. We have so many beautiful parks at our disposal and the Park Service has preserved a treasure trove of American History. I continue to be amazed at what an amazing job the Park Rangers do, they really know their stuff and you can tell how passionate they are about sharing what they know with families. I will never forget the young Park Ranger at the Flight 93 National Memorial sharing her story with us. On September 11, 2001, she was a student just up the road from where flight 93 went down in that field. She was profoundly affected by the events of that day and devoted her life to educating others about the ordinary Americans who became heroes on that day.
How do the Passports Work?
· Each Passport is divided into 9 geographic travel regions. Each region is identified by color through the book for easy reference. Every section includes a map of the region with a list of all of the National Parks, Historical Sites, Battlefields, etc. that you can visit. There is also a removable, foldout map of the US with each location marked if you want to hang it up and keep track of every site you’ve visited.
· Each geographic region has a section for Cancellation stamps. Whenever you plan a trip to a National Park, check to see where the cancellation stamp is available. You can look it up online or get the Passport: Your National Parks app on your phone. Most cancellation stamps will be available in the Visitor Center if they have one. Some locations will have stamps for more than one attraction in the area. For example, when we were in DC, the Washington Monument had about 2 dozen stamps for all of the monuments and several other places in DC. The kids had fun stamping away!
· Each year a series of Passport stamps is issued. Every region also has a spot for special edition stamps you can buy. We’ve never bought these so we just use those spots for more cancellation stamps but it is certainly an option if you want to step up your Passport game. There is also a section in the front of the book for the yearly National Stamp that can also be purchased but, again, we haven’t made any additional purchases since we bought the books. So far, we’re content with just stamping our books for free.
Using the Passport books is just that simple! It’s a really affordable, upfront investment that encourages travel to our National Parks and helps keep track of your adventures. You can usually find a National Parks employee who wants to compare how many stamps you have too which makes it kind of fun. We also recently found The Penny Passport book that we bought to put our pressed pennies in. If you haven’t started collecting pressed pennies, I’d recommend that too; also a really cheap souvenir and the kids like cranking the machine to get their penny. There are so many expensive, commercial places to take vacations but I encourage you to go out and explore our National Park System.
What are some of your favorite National Park Service Sites? Let me know in the comments. Happy Travels!