Or, “Reflections on Our Cross-Country Family Vacation”

We are now home from the all-American road trip with a renewed appreciation for the United States. We went through 24 states, nearly half of this glorious country, and, yes, I’m counting Georgia even though we were there for about 10 minutes driving on the highway outside of Chattanooga.

Our car smells like …well, it smells like four people have lived in it for a month.  Even though we bathed at every opportunity, it is hard to escape the odor of twice-worn hiking clothes paired with many food du jours. Forget Febreze, the car needs a bath in Clorox.
I can’t recommend a family road trip enough, especially a long one. Being away from one’s day-to-day routine has many unseen benefits. During ours, we got to know both ourselves and our children on a much deeper level.

Sometimes, this was not necessarily a good thing. For example, I found my most common words tended to be “Honey, I have all the confidence in the world in you. I know you can  …stuff your sleeping bag, deflate your air mattress, wash the dishes, help with dinner, walk up this mountain, hunt buffalo with spoons, insert any task at hand…”  While the words sound wonderfully supportive if I am honest, the tone carried a certain ‘Attila the Hun’ flavor and contained the deeper message of, “you will do this, or I will hurt you.” 

My Bambi-eyed children soon learned that my “vote of confidence” meant there were chores to be done with their names on them. On a trip this long and involving camping, everyone must pull their weight, or it strains the whole unit. I suspect I am not the first mother to have this vote-of-confidence conversation with my offspring while traveling. I bet those ladies riding in the covered wagons all day did some serious confidence-building activities. The nice thing about having time together and nowhere to run is that you can give each other the requisite space for the complaining and tantrums, while still holding the expectation that the task will be done. There is no hiding from each other or chores on a family vacation.

A few traveling revelations:
1. The iPhone rules. Since I’ve only used an iPhone, I cannot speak to the rest of the smart phones, but the GPS paired with Google maps was infinitely useful in helping us find Starbucks, Redboxes, and Walmarts. All of which played important roles in our survival. The Starbucks kept us sane, the Redboxes kept the children from talking to each other (and thus they got along), and the Walmart was our proverbial chuckwagon.
2. It is possible not to eat fast food and live. Besides Starbucks, we did not eat fast food. We bought our meals at Walmart or the grocery store. Lunch often consisted of a great loaf of bread, peanut butter, chocolate almond spread, and an assortment of fruit. Triscuits and cheese were also a favorite. The only downside is that rotting fruit left in the car stinks and is hard to find under all of the stuff. 
3. Everyone needs a water bottle. National parks no longer sell bottled water. Instead they have watering stations where you can fill up your own bottle.  We also filled ours at gas station stops.
4. Books-on-tape make for fun long driving days.  Even now that we are back, and she is no longer being forced to sit in the car for endless hours, my daughter is still listening to stories from the Percy Jackson series. Though we had many authors to choose from, Rick Riordon was the only one we consistently stuck with, because the books are fast-moving and enlightening. For example, while listening to The Red Pyramid, I learned about the Ancient Greek gods, the eternal fight of order and chaos, and discovered –in addition to earth, wind, water, and fire– cheese is considered one of the classic elements. It is no wonder I like this guy, he and I think alike.
5. Go off the beaten path when you can. When looking for a campsite, we pulled into Fremont Indian State Park in Utah, which is in a gorgeous canyon surrounded by nothing. We were greeted by the haunting sound of Native American flute music echoing through the air. I suspect our park host, who was playing the music, was politely notifying our family that fighting children disrupted the parks calming ambiance. Regardless, it was amazing. So was that night, with a million stars shining on us.
6. Be prepared for unexpected incidental costs and personal reveals. Ours included a loss of glasses from capsizing a Sunfish on a windy day in Lake George, NY. During this experience, my daughter heard me engage a whole host of vocabulary words she had never heard me use before. Also lost were contacts, a tent rainfly (it got thrown out – don’t ask), and there is a phone charger still stuck in the Stratosphere in Las Vegas. 
7. If going through Las Vegas with children, be prepared to explain a lot of things you normally can avoid talking about – especially if your children can read. Actually scratch that: if your children can see, they are going to be exposed to things normally found on certain internet websites and in magazines sold in tinted plastic covers.
8. If you’re camping, and there is an option for a tent-only section, take it. The generators and fumes from large campers are noisy and nasty. So is the envy you may experience when a camper the size of an 18-wheeler pulls up next to you and sets itself up in less than 5 minutes, while you are pulling your hair out because the tent poles really don’t fit that well in the small sleeves and grommets.
9. Joyfully give up all sense of control. Trust me when I tell you that this must be a conscious choice on your part. If you don’t give up control, then every day is going to be a challenge and a fight between chaos and order. To give you an idea, it took us from about 6:30am to 10:00 to eat breakfast, break down camp, and pack the car. That is 3.5 hours for what should take normal adults about an hour, and I wasn’t cooking bacon. We were eating just-add-water oatmeal or cereal and milk. Giving up control helped quiet Attila who was itching for action.
10. Once back, allow for a few days of reintegration. You will especially need time for naps because your brain won’t function in society for a few days. 
Again, I can’t recommend this experience enough. All in all, the trip was totally worth it.  Now I just have to convince my children to have as much confidence in themselves and I have in them. Who wants to help with dinner!?!