June 27, 2019

Summer Road Trips: What Can You Learn?

Taking a vacation is one of the real joys of a satisfying retirement. Sometimes that means a night away at a local hotel or resort. It may mean a long weekend when your calendar is suddenly open. Every once in awhile it means something truly out of the ordinary: a cruise through the Caribbean, a week on the beaches in Hawaii or Mexico. No matter how elaborate or inexpensive, a vacation always has the possibility of enriching your life in ways you didn't expect. It becomes more than just a break in your routine.

Several years ago Betty and I took a driving trip in the car. This wasn't a two hour jaunt to Flagstaff, or 6 hours over the desert and mountains to San Diego. This was a long distance endurance test: 25 days covering 5,000 miles and eight western states. 

Named The Drive Till You Drop Road Trip we saw the country, experienced bizarre weather including some flooded roads,  lived together in close quarters for almost a month and not only survived but prospered.  

We even managed to handle a major adjustment without a meltdown. When we were as far away as we could possibly be from Phoenix (Port Townsend, WA) our eldest daughter called to tell us our third grandchild was coming early and asked when would we be home. The answer was "as soon as we can." The return 1,500 miles was covered in just over two days and in time for the birth of Kassi.   

When we were able to catch our breath, unpack, and download thousands of photographs, we asked ourselves was it worth it? What did we learn? Quite a lot, actually:

Compromise and patience. For something this involved, we began planning 6 months before leaving in late May. Thank goodness for the Internet, AAA's maps, and the phone's GPS.  With a set limit of days away and so many places we could see, there was a lot of compromise involved. After some give and take on both our parts, we developed a viable itinerary. Of course, some of that careful planning was tossed out the window as we raced home for the birth.

Even the best-made plans need to be adjusted. Consistently rotten weather for a good portion of the trip forced us to re-route and re-plan on the fly. In late May we didn't expect to encounter snow, hail, sleet, days of heavy rain, fog, and temperatures in the 40's. We certainly didn't pack for it. A laptop and WIFI allowed for last minute reservation changes....along with a little luck and a lot of prayer.

Seeing America up close and personal is a thrill The country looks totally different from the window of a car than from the window of an airplane. Small towns are often interesting, welcoming and attractive. People are generally friendly and helpful. Tell them you are on a long road trip and everyone expresses envy. Little known attractions and historical sites are everywhere. With the freedom of a car, we were able to stop where and when we wanted.

Seeing your traveling partner up close and personal is a treat. There is no better opportunity to learn more about your traveling partner and yourself than being in close proximity for 25 days. My wife and I both came home feeling the time together was a tremendous bonding experience. Even after so many years of marriage, we discovered new things about each other than will help us with whatever lies ahead.

Time away from routine is important.  The change in your schedule, the different foods, sights, and sounds can act as a tremendous dash of refreshment. Having someone else do the cooking and cleaning is hard to turn down. I knew there were things happening at home I'd have to deal with upon our return, but while away it seemed like someone else's life.

Creating forever memories is priceless. We finally decided to take the trip because we began to worry we'd run out of the ability or opportunity if we kept delaying. Now, we have the satisfaction of doing what we set out to do, and creating memories that nothing can take away from us. The money we spent was an investment in us and worth every penny (lots of pennies!).

We like small vacations. A weekend away or even two nights out of town is a tremendously invigorating experience. But, this road trip was unique. No other trip to Europe or Hawaii or wreck-diving in Bermuda came close to being as intense a learning experience. I would heartily recommend one as part of your journey in building a satisfying retirement.

What about any trips you have taken that proved particularly memorable, either good or not so good? Where did you go? Was it worth it?


  1. Ah, you are a man after my own heart, Bob, and I agree with every single one of your comments. Alan and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary in a few months and we've been enjoying long drives in the countryside together since we started dating. You could say that we grew up on the road together - and still live there. Our honeymoon was a month-long cross country tent camping trip that solidified our love of the open road and each other. We have since logged nearly 60,000 miles with our two travel trailers, and that doesn't include all the vacations we took by car.

    Road trips must be in our blood and our penchant for them passed down to our kids. During a cross country camping trip taken when our son was 13 and our daughter was 8, the possibility of a change in travel plans that would delay our return home came up. When we asked the kids if they were getting homesick, Ryan - who was sprawled out in the dinette of the travel trailer at the time - responded, "Why would we be homesick? This IS home." We were on the road together and it felt like home. His comment was made more than ten years ago and it still warms my heart. And I'll bet this post warms the hearts of road trippers everywhere. Nicely done, Bob!

    1. Thanks, Mary.

      Yes, for those lucky enough to have an RV or travel trailer when you are parked for the night you are home. Favorite knick knacks, pillows, books, DVDs,music, games...all travel with you. It is a very different feeling from motel travel.

  2. Great post, Bob. My wife and I just returned from a three month road trip to your part of the country and can honestly say that the entire trip was delightful. America is a place of staggering beauty and the best way to see it is on the road less traveled. We love small towns and always look forward to browsing through small shops and flea markets. My friends ask a lot of questions about long-term travel, but the two questions most asked are "What do you do?" and "What's it like to spend that much time with one person?". Both answers are easy ones. If you enjoy each other's company you find things to do together and simply doing nothing can sometimes be just as much fun--like reading or working jigsaw puzzles. Finally, I have one bit of advice for anyone thinking about hitting the road...do it before you're dragging one leg behind you.

    1. The cliche, "you'll never be younger than you are today" is true. Delays can end up being permanent.

      Betty and I just returned from a quick 3 day/2 night getaway to one of our favorite Arizona spots: Prescott. Just the break in everyday routine was well worth it. We celebrated our 43rd anniversary and loved every minute of the cooler, green, small-town feel of Courthouse Square in downtown Prescott.

  3. Just last summer, a friend and I road tripped to southern Saskatchewan and then north to Qu'Appelle Valley. We had B&Bs booked in Medicine Hat & Fort Qu'Appelle and a hotel/spa in Moose Jaw; the rest of the time we booked into hotels where we landed at the end of the day. I had been to Medicine Hat many times with a chuckwagon racing team but didn't expereince it as a tourist; I was impressed with what the city had to offer. I loved the Maple Creek area in SW SK; we enjoyed local museums and art galleries; we saw beautiful scenery. One thing we didn't expect to do was spend time in 2 cemeteries which we came upon at different viewpoints. Again, the history. Like you, there was a loose itinerary that we changed as locals, time, weather and energy dictated. Re: chuckwagon racing - I traveled with a chuckwagon racing team from one end of the province to the other for several years. I would be on the road for 4-6 weeks, living in a 40 ft travel trailer with 4-6 other people including 3 kids as we traveled from one race meet to the next. The demands of the daily routine took up much of the time but it was a lesson in team building and team work. I often say that it's easy to say you're a nice person when you live alone. Travelling with this team stretched me personally and made me appreciate my quiet life at home for the balance of the year. I've enjoyed overseas travel but these road trips are memorable.

    1. I think you have mentioned your chuckwagon racing experiences before. It sounds so quirky and fun! I'm glad there are groups of people keeping old traditions and experiences alive.

      One of the many things I like about Canada: the fascinating town names. You just know there are stories worth hearing about places called Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat, and Fort Qu'Appelle.

  4. Hi Bob! Funny you should mention it but in a week or so my husband and I will be heading out on a 30-day road trip to the Pacific Northwest. Hopefully our weather will be far better than what you experienced but staying flexible is always important in travel. We will be staying in a series of Airbnb rentals because we like to spend time in locations rather than just drive through. And while we hope to visit certain areas and sites, we also plan on connecting with friends, family and even other blogging friends. That makes a trip very special for us. And yes, after 42 years together as a couple, there is ALWAYS something new to learn about each other. And I think the major reason we love to travel--either on road trips or internationally--is the chance to break up routine and remind us to see the world and our lives from new perspectives...AND we are always very happy and grateful to return to our regular lives when it is all over. ~Kathy

    1. You are traveling a month later than we did, so you are probably safe from snow in West Yellowstone!

      A break in routine, whether for a few days or a month, does have the power to shake things up just enough to freshen your view of things and makes home even more special.

  5. We love a good road trip, and one we still talk about is driving to Taliesin in WIsconsin, wandering the back roads, then up to Bayfield on L. Superior and into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to visit family. It was just a blast and, yes, you sure do learn more about each other on that kind of trip.

    Our dog is 12 now with heart issues, so we're thinking we'll go when he doesn't have to travel with us or be left (he can also be pretty anxious). The last time we flew to AZ, we both said we should drive out next time, so maybe the cross country jaunt will be next. I'd also love to drive to the East Coast and up into Canada. So much to see, so little time. And, of course, you're right...we're not getting any younger. :-)

  6. In 1985, I celebrated the fact that I had finally defended my dissertation and graduated with my PhD (at age 37) by turning a 5-day academic conference in Seattle into a month-long cross-continent vacation. I splurged on a 30-day 1st class Canadian Via rail pass and took the train from Montreal to Vancouver and then a bus down to Seattle for my conference. After the conference, I went out to the Olympic Peninsula and spent three days backpacking in Olympic National Park. From there, I went on to Victoria, B.C and then on to Vancouver, where I picked up the east-bound train, getting on and off as I meandered my way back to Montreal. This was my first big vacation alone, and I learned a lot about myself: that I found it much easier to meet and strike up conversations with new people when alone than when traveling with a companion, that I loved long-distance train travel, and that I could cope just fine with adversity (like when some of my gear was stolen in Banff National Park). And I came home with a treasure trove of priceless memories.


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