Road Trip Lessons

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Ahhhh… family vacations!!

Family adventures for most people evoke vivid memories. Annual trips to the lake, cruises with multiple-generations, ski-trips, national parks, beaches, and of course, the most-beloved road-trips. Some of you may have had the types of vacations best depicted in a Chevy Chase movie, while others have been whisked away to tropical destinations.
From my personal childhood archive I can remember: the time my 4 siblings and I all contracted chicken pox the day we left on a 2-day drive to Florida. We scratched and itched our way through 2 weeks of sunshine, but it was winter and we were from the North so we didn’t care that much.
There was also the time our mini-van broke down on the side of the interstate (while on another family trip to Florida). We were rescued by a truck driver who piled all 7 members of my family into his cab and drove us to the next town. Our van was towed and we were holed up in a low-budget motel. But with 24-7 cable we were happy and oblivious to the situation. It was an adventure!
I think for most people the “road-trip vacation” typically involves someone getting car sick, the car breaking down, getting lost, and plenty of other unexpected moments sprinkled throughout. But typically these experiences create deep bonds and make for colorful conversation (or blog material) later in life.
So when we piled our family into the mini-van last month I was pretty excited. We were intent on unplugging and getting away from the emotionally draining summer that we had just endured. And though there were a few items on the bucket list to cross off, we were happy to take the scenic route, play tourist and not kill ourselves just to get to “the next thing”.
We were eager to expose the kids to new experiences, teaching them and sharing our love of adventure. But, honestly, my kids ended up teaching me just as much. Through them I learned about gratitude and grumbling, complaining and contentment, laughter and letting go.

We started with the Grand Canyon. We hiked along the rim and planned to go out to the most picturesque point to soak in the sunset hour. My jaw hit the ground. While I stood there in awe and hurried to take pictures from every angle imaginable, my kids were happy to sit on a rock and eat their little pack of fruit snacks. That was their highlight for the day.

We camped next to mountain creeks that lulled us to sleep at night. The highlight of the trip was definitely being in the campground, and “throwing rocks in the stream” was their favorite activity. I mean, they literally stood there for hours pitching stones into a shallow creek.

As we drove down through the breath-taking Rocky Mountain passes, they were happy with their $3 activity books. When we stopped to take in the view and breathe in the crisp mountain air, they excitedly sang Frozen songs while eating their soft-serve cones. At Arches National Park, as we gazed up at the mammoth stones, they were content to pick up pebbles and carry them out like treasures.

It was the little things that captured their attention and made them smile. Give my kids bunk beds and they are happy - they care not about the comfort or size of the mattress. Make sure they can jump in a pool a couple of times and they are ecstatic – it doesn’t matter when it had been cleaned last.

They loved the rustic cabin we spent the night in. They loved cooking food in the open fire. They didn’t care that the toilets didn’t always flush, or that when it was dark we simply went to bed. They never complained about sleeping on the ground in the tent, or eating hot dogs for dinner, or even spending hours in the car. They hiked and trekked with us and really only complained a minimal amount when you consider we covered 2700 miles and 6 states in a week.

At the end of our trip I realized thatI was complaining a lot less, hearing from God a lot more and smiling a lot wider. The dark cloud that had hung over my head had dispersed. I felt recharged, refueled, revived. And honestly, a great deal of that was because of my kids.

Every night before bed we have a tradition of listing a few things we are thankful for as a family. This routine continues even when we are away from home. Each night during our trip the list of “thank-you’s” grew longer. We pressed the kids to remember details and moments, and they continued to give us fresh perspective on the small things we may have taken for granted, or missed altogether. Here’s the list we complied as a family:

  • sledding down sand dunes

  • Grand Canyon at sunset

  • antique coin-rides in the arcade

  • beautiful sunsets

  • Manitou Springs, CO

  • BBQ for lunch

  • picnics in city parks with swings and playgrounds

  • catching fish

  • Arches National Park

  • standing on the Four Corners

  • roasting marshmallows

  • seeing wild deer (within arms reach)

  • Michael Jackson dance parties in the van

  • bunk beds & bean bag chairs

  • campsites next to the stream

  • the night sky full of stars

  • the Rocky Mountains

  • pancakes for bedtime snack

  • Garden of the Gods

  • singing along to the Cars soundtrack while driving on Route 66

  • seeing the fountains at the Bellagio

    • and the chocolate fountain

    • and the arboretum

  • ice cream at various places

  • Colorado Springs

  • hiking as a family

  • the global Church

  • visiting Durango & Vegas

  • early morning sunrises

  • flashlight tag

  • eating Fruit Loops at the hotel (because that only happens on vacation)

  • campground showers

  • hotel pools

  • sleeping in a tent together as a family

  • Skype sessions with dear friends

  • monorail rides

  • the Hoover Dam

  • souvenir shopping & collecting postcards

  • collecting rocks from 6 states


May you see the little things as big and may your heart be full of gratitude. In all things, give thanks.