And so, we did it. 3 people (including an 18-year-old). 32 days. 84 sq. feet of space. 7 National Parks. 5031 miles. It had been a dream for the past year, but I admit, as our departure drew closer, I was a little afraid it would turn into something of a slightly scarier variety. After all, we have never had our trailer out for more than 3 days at a time. And while we like each other, this was taking closeness to a whole new level.
As it turns out we had an amazing time. We saw places that are beautiful beyond comprehension. We laughed more than we bickered. We ate a lot of yummy things not typically on the diet (yep chicken fried steak and huckleberry ice cream).
So here are the top 10 things I learned about not just surviving, but actually thriving through this kind of experience.
- Agree on Your Goals
I tend to be a Type A vacationer. My perfect day starts with the 6-mile sunrise hike, takes in a museum in the afternoon, finds a place with live music for dinner and ends with s’mores around the campfire. My husband and son are slightly more chill. So, it was important to remind ourselves (OK remind me!) what the purpose of the trip really was. In our case, it was pretty simple – spend time together. Miss a sight because the navigation took us on 45 miles of dirt back road that led nowhere. OK, we were together through the bumps. Too hot or too much rain to see something I had been counting on. OK hanging in the camper or going to the movies is still togetherness. In your quest to have a great time, don’t forget what really makes for a great time.
- Accommodate Family Member’s Idiosyncrasies
For my husband, it is a cold Diet Coke with ice first thing in the morning, so we made sure to have a good cooler and made frequent stops to fill it. For me, it is at least one non-fried meal every few days. For my teenager, it is not going too many days without being able to connect with friends through Wi-Fi or text. Despite ads to the contrary, most campgrounds do not have reliable internet so every few days we needed to find some café or restaurant we could park in for a while. While you are trying to get away from the trappings of your everyday life, remember there are some things you still need to function!
- Stock Up on Ikea Bins
Genius way to make sure everybody keeps their stuff organized and in their own space. Critical when your living space is less than the size of most apartment bathrooms!
- Collect Something Together
Figure out something to seek out, collect and remember the trip by. For us it became the National Park Vintage postcards and window stickers. It just gave us another fun quest to pursue and talk about. It was even a little competitive to see who could find new ones first. Now we are having fun brainstorming ways to display them in the trailer.
- Download Audiobooks
Best. Tip. Ever. There were a few days when even after driving 5 or 6 hours we did not want to get out of the van because we were in the middle of a good chapter. It also gave us something fun to talk about over dinner. We listened to mostly action adventures by Preston and Child and Douglas Richards but I even managed to sneak in chapters of a few more substantive books like Francis Collins’ The Language of God and The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.
- Break Up the Rhythm
Our hope was to see 6 National Parks (we actually made it to 7) What we realized, however, was that between the glorious hikes and taking in the scenery, we needed a change of pace. It actually is possible to get a little numb to all the beauty. We learned to take break days. Sometimes that meant hanging out in a close by town like Missoula or Jackson. Sometimes it meant just spending the day hanging at our campsite playing games and doing laundry.
7. Don’t Think You Have To Do Everything
Following #6 meant giving up some of the plans we had set. This was stressing me out until my very wise husband said “Stop thinking of this as the only time you will ever be here. Think of this as a scouting trip for things you want to come back later and do.” Somehow that idea helped me relax and focus more on what we were doing and less on what we might be missing. Even if I never make it back to Zion I still have great memories and I can dream about hiking up Walter’s Wiggles sometime in the future.
8. Let Your Teenager Sleep in As Much as Possible
Our kids are under so much stress and definitely sleep deprived. While I admit, I drug my son out early for a few morning hikes and bike rides I tried to satisfy my need for seeing sunrises without making it a family mandatory. I wanted this to be a trip he enjoyed, not one he endured.
- Have Some Personal Time Projects
Make sure you take personal things to work on. There are the inevitable bad weather days and you do need occasional breaks and you really have to have some alone time to stay sane. For me it was writing, for my son it was sketching and doing some computer art, for my husband it was having some trailer improvement projects to work on.
- Don’t Eat the Asparagus
When you are living and sleeping in really close quarters its important to respect your roommates!
It was great and I’d do it again. I hope for any of you who are saying “hmm I’d like to try that” you won’t hesitate – or rather, that you won’t let your hesitations stop you!
In the words of Walk Whitman “I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.”