We had always wanted to take an epic, cross-country, family road trip. Unfortunately, there was always some reason we didn’t plan one. We had other obligations or some other lame excuse. In the end, I think we were nervous about spending too much time together in an enclosed space. Is that horrible? Well, it’s honest. If the quarantine taught us one thing, it was that we actually could spend an extended time together without killing each other. Further, while in the past we were also never able to fit it in to our summer schedule, summer 2020 changed everything. Because of Covid, all of our normal summer plans were cancelled.
Just Do It
Sounds perfect, yeah? Well, I never planned that roadtrip. Instead, I played it safe and reserved a cabin up in Lake Tahoe for a few days. It was on our last day in our Tahoe Cabin that we all agreed we had zero desire to head back home. A quick chat later I found myself saying, “Fudge it! Let’s just do it!” If I am being honest, I may have led that sentence with an excited f-bomb. We packed the car and embarked on a week long spontaneous road trip to Yellowstone National Park. It was my husband, myself, our daughter who was 9 at the time, and our son who was 12. It was a two day drive to get to the park. We had no plans or no reservations. We hadn’t even packed for it… I mean, worse, we had a car full of “cabin gear.” We hit the road only with google maps, a full tank of gas, and our sense of adventure.
In the course of that week, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It was like a comedic movie…. but we were living it. We hit major hiccups: car problems, road closures, cancelled hotels, car sickness, and more. On the personal front we even had some knock-down, drag-out fights, but in the end, we survived them. All said and done, so much also went so right. This trip ended up being one of our best and most memorable ever. Our family survived it, and we wouldn’t change a thing.
One Year Later: Another Road Trip
On our next family road trip, we journeyed from California to visit family in Iowa and Indiana and then headed back. We drove a northern route east which took us back through the Yellowstone route we’d taken the year before. That route also allowed us to visit some amazing places like Devil’s Tower, Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore and Deadwood, South Dakota. It afforded us at least one tourist trap, Wall Drug… of course only minutes before it closed.
On the way back home we took a southern route. Who wants to see the same things in reverse? We traversed states like Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. We hit many sites, national parks and a few more tourist traps along the way.
For this entire trip I had only reserved one hotel in advance. It was for a specific hotel I knew I wanted to stay at near Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. The rest of this trip was largely unplanned. As we drove, we found sights and towns that we wanted to see, and took the time to experience them. Some of our most memorable and favorite days were completely spontaneous and unplanned.
There is something so freeing about not having an itinerary or plan you have to stick to. It’s liberating to just embrace the open road and your sense of adventure. Sure, there are risks in doing it this way. You never know what is coming up next beyond a route on the map. There was more than one night we almost had to sleep in our car because we couldn’t find vacancy at a hotel, but it wasn’t anything an extra hour of driving to the next town couldn’t fix. It was also a bit stressful making sure there was always a place to eat — the drive through North Dakota is a killer! Still, we were always able to find something to eat and a place to stay. These little struggles taught us all a little lesson on perseverance and how to make anything work.
I’ve realized how grateful I am for being able to take these trips while the kids were still young enough to enjoy them. As of this writing, we have two amazing family road trips under our belt. Granted, while I call them amazing, my kids would probably have another word for them. A word that I would rather not repeat. Nonetheless, these were two epic trips that I’m sure even my kids will look fondly back on one day. At least that is what I kept telling them!
I did a few family road trips like these with my parents when I was young. I still remember them as if they were yesterday. Every family needs an epic road under their belt before the kids are grown and gone. It’s a bonding experience, already full of nostalgia, that we, as a family, will always have as a memory. We will reminisce about the incredible moments as much as we will laugh out loud remembering the crazy ones.
The Crazy Moments
I guarantee no one will ever forget the air-conditioning dying in the middle of the 117 degree desert outside of Monument Valley on the way to see the Grand Canyon. My daughter was absolutely sure we were all going to die in the extreme heat. Nor will we forget when we got stuck behind a herd of bison… for three hours… in the middle of Yellowstone. We just sat there waiting. Well, we sat there until until I, of course, had to pee and ended up mooning the line of cars stuck behind us. Or, when we decided to see the St. Louis Arch. Instead, the GPS took us to a dead end on the banks of the Mississippi river. To be fair, it was right up near the arch, but the road literally drove into the Mississippi river! Yep, good times. I say that will all of my heart — they were really good times. It’s those crazy moments that stick with you and make you smile. They are the rights-of-passage that signify that we, as a family, survived an epic adventure.