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.