Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ode to Hymn #694* (Free Hot Lunch)

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who take vacations and those who travel.

A vacation is someplace you go to relax, rest, rejuvenate. It often involves travel —sometimes a little, sometimes a lot — but usually the travel is direct, getting you from home to your point of destination. Once you arrive, there may be the occasional side trip or adventure, but usually you have a base of operations. Cottages, second homes, beach houses, resorts, and destination vacations, like Disney World, all fall under the realm of vacation. Visiting the grandparents in Florida is a vacation, even if it takes two days of driving each way. You could arguably include cruises in this list, as well.

Traveling is a whole different ball game. The point of traveling isn't where you're going, it's what happens along the way. Writer Miriam Beard once said: "Certainly, travel is more than seeing the sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."

I hope that's true, otherwise the nearly three weeks that my family of six just spent crammed into a minivan were for naught. I like a nice vacation every once in a while, sitting on a beach or going to an island resort. I like to travel, too, but to travel successfully requires a lot of advance planning — something I don't enjoy. Fortunately, I have a husband who thinks vacations are a bore, who loves to travel, and who dives into all the research and prep work like a man on mission.

Traveling with three teens and a 'tween may not be everyone's idea of a good time, but this was our last hurrah before we send the girl off to college. From now on, chances are that when we gather it will be more of a vacation than a journey. One of the delicious things about this particular trip was that, with the exception of our furtherest point (a wedding in Seattle), every place we went was virgin territory for all of us.

A family is constantly in transition, but the changes are usually subtle. Suddenly, your boy is wearing flood pants and you realize he has grown three inches. Or your girl makes dinner for you and you realize how independent she is. Some of the changes are accompanied by physical symbols — that shiny new set of braces or that shiny new drivers license. Others are unheralded, almost unnoticed, like when toddler temper tantrums subside, or two consecutive years of whining taper off into the occasional eye roll. These are all signposts on the journey of a family.

But what do you do when you get to the end of the road; when one of your co-travelers is striking out on a new path of her own? If you are our family, you take one last road trip (just to ensure that as soon as you get home, she'll run screaming off to college).

When my youngest son was born, I knew he would be our youngest and I tried hard to really pay attention along the way. Despite my best efforts, many of those details have slipped away (four kids can really muddy your memory). I felt the same way on this trip. I was hyper aware of every detail along the way, worried not just about my memories of it, but that this would be the final family memory my daughter would have before her life changes forever. It was a fool's errand, trying to manufacture a memory. Memories don't come from planning — they come from doing.

We had our share of discord on this journey, but probably no more than we would have had at home — it was just harder to separate the perpetrators. We had our share of giggles, too, and bonding and awestruck moments and quietude sprinkled among the noise. When the dust settles, each of us will carry a different memory of this trip. Here are some of the things I learned along the way:
  • The two most important things to pack for a long family trip are patience and compromise.
  • A little hokey goes a long way — a reenacted shootout, a few dumb jokes at a rodeo, and the Hokey Pokey at the wedding added just enough. Bookending the trip with the Corn Palace and Spam Museum was probably overkill.
  • Always take the scenic route. Interstates are great for getting from point A to point B, but the byways will take you to places you never dreamed.
  • You can't rush experience. Leave "quickly" and "right now" at home.
  • You find the best things off the beaten path. We saw a small bear tearing apart a log when we decided to take one last dirt road before leaving Yellowstone.
  • Join AAA, learn how to change a tire and don't forget the bug spray.
  • If you are looking to live the life of a vacation, don't have a family; family life is better suited to adventurers.

"Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends.
It is played out over and over again
in the quietest chambers, that the mind 
can never break off from the journey."

Are you a vacationer or a traveler? Share your adventures by clicking here. *And if you're curious, or a seasoned Interstate Highway traveler, you'll appreciate the lyrics of the song mentioned in the title, by one of my favorite bar bands.

Read more about our trip on The Chicago Moms; see pictures here.


Unknown said...

Most of the time, we have been travelers, but as I've gotten older and the kids are gone I find a long for that arm chair on the porch to slow life down and even read a good book once in a while.

A great article, and I agree with your point of view - travel works so much better with kids!

Anonymous said...

Such a terrific article! Never thought about it that way.
When my kids were much younger, I hated the "travel" portion of vacations...couldn't wait to get to the "vacation" part and plant ourselves firmly near a fixed spot. Now that they're older, the traveling is just as fun (if not more fun) than the actual vacation itself. We took our first road trip in a stuffed minivan from Evanston, IL to Navarre Beach, FL (pre-Gulf Oil Disaster), and it was enlightening. The kids' personalities showed themselves in some very interesting ways: I didn't realize how much my oldest was into card tricks and being a schmoozer until stuck in a car with him. My daughter's ability to drown out noise while burried in a book astounded me. And my younger son's practice of keeping headphones cranked up to 11 prompted me to schedule a hearing test (which I might not have done without having witnessed up-close his listening habits). Traveling IS a great way to get to know your family, especially our mercurial children. I just get through the travels with a bit of pure vacation time, too! GREAT JOB!

Jim S said...

"From coast to coast her highways lead..." John would be proud!

Glad to hear that the family made it there - and back - intact, Sus. Now, if you could only find your cell phone...

BTW, on each of the (very few) travels that our family endured - er, enjoyed - I spent a few minutes every night entering the day's events into a journal that, even now, we occasionally revisit. Of course, this did not entirely eliminate the inevitable merging of our individual and specific experiences into a featureless continuum, but it did help. This was particularly true of our 3-week trip to Israel almost 20 years ago: re-reading the journal now brings back not only the memories of the events themselves, but of the sounds, sights, and smells that shaped those days. For those embarking on such travels, I would highly recommend that somebody in the group be assigned the role of Recording Scribe; it will definitely be worth the effort.

Susan Bearman said...

Ciss — don't know if travel works better with kids, but it is certainly an experience. I did get to read 4 1/2 book on the road, although it was while I was smushed into the car instead of in a comfy armchair.

Christine — We've done that Evanston to FL thing so many times now we could do it blindfolded with one hand tied behind our back. The first time it felt new and different and like traveling. Ever since, we just plow through as quickly as we can to get there. It is true that kids personalities are highly concentrated in the car. I'd love to see Henry do his card tricks, if you think he would show them to me. That's what my main character does. I got to interview three magicians on our trip.

James — Can't hit the road without some Free Hot Lunch. Seth was our scribe this trip, although he was mostly tracking statistics ($, miles, time, places stopped, etc.). I don't know why I find it so hard to write while traveling. Guess I'm afraid I'll miss something. BTW, got my cell phone back. I had left it at our first stop and retrieved it on the way back.

Barbara said...

Susan, I enjoyed this post a lot. It evoked fond memories from my own trips as a child and, more recently, our travels with our own children. That was what I appreciated most about winning a trip to Tampa (12/09)--it meant a family journey to FL (our first) with just us four. Hard to do now that our oldest has her own apt. in NYC!

Susan Bearman said...

Thanks, Dilly. How awesome that you won a trip to Tampa. What a thrill.

Victoria said...

Travel! I first have to say I'm so excited and jealous you made it inside the Spam museum, for sake of Monty Python alone. We drove up, but the gates were closed. Instead we had to opt for security guard photos by the pig.

You mention so many things, my little ones and their firsts, their stubbornness and the one day leaving into the wild world. We've been traveling all this time and still there are so many things to see.

I'm so glad to read this post, Susan. What a great trip!

Anonymous said...

Is there a third type? Those of us who don't do either? Hopefully we're a small contingent...

Anonymous said...

Is there a third type? Those of us who don't do either? Hopefully we're a small contingent... said...

I love them both!

You made me weepy thinking about the last time each kid does something before leaving for college. Can't hardly wait for that... :(

Susan Bearman said...

Kelly — you must be one of those trendy people who does a "staycation". So hip these days.

Tracey — Wait to you read my next post on The Chicago Moms. Even my daughter cried. This whole transition is huge for our family.

Help! Mama Remote... said...

We go on vacations. I'd love to travel. Just sounds so free

Shari A. Brady said...

Love the post. You made me stop and give my kids an extra hug after I read it. I know it will feel like tomorrow when the first one leaves the nest.

We like to do a "combo" acting as travelers along the way, while getting to our final beach destination as our vacation. BTW Love that you quoted my favorite author of all time!

QueSeraSeraBlueBird said...

A pirates life for me indeed, but I am at home - physically and emotionally - with my mother (A true Gypsy, herself, with a deep understanding). Really Travelers are better suited to be parents? I just had that epiphany today after a meaningful and enlighting conversation with my mother and father. Oh the places you'll go :) I quit a "prestigious job" - haha - at a public accounting firm yesterday. I was in my cage (the thirteenth floor of the tallest building in the city (BoA), selling my time for vacations, and I quit - without FEAR. I need to travel, explore, take control, relinquish fear, find meaning, gain understanding and wisdom of the lasting and real. The static, the a priori - that is what I want to leave to my children.

Susan Bearman said...

QueSeraSeraBlueBIrd — I think you may have graduated from traveler to adventurer. Best of luck to you on your new journey.