We have now been living on the road for two months. We’re clearly not quite caught up with respect to chronicling our travels, but I thought it would be a good idea to give a general status update from where I sit – what we call a “howgozit” in aviation-speak. Fair warning: I suspect this missive will be more for me than it will be for any reader who happens not to be me.
Above is our progress to date — places we’ve overnighted in red, points of interest we’ve visited in blue. It gets a little jumbled in the Yellowstone / Grand Teton area — lots in a small space. You can see we’ve made it further than we’ve written about, but that’s upcoming.
[Quick reset on the fact that we’re not using our actual names here, if you’re just joining us. Take a look here for details]
A few bullet points:
- We really don’t need much clothing. So far I’ve mostly cycled through a half dozen T-shirts, a few pairs of shorts, two pairs of jeans, a fleece, and a flannel jacket/shirt (plus the attendant underwear/socks). Half of what I brought hasn’t been touched, though I’m not ready to jettison any of it yet.
- 5-6 hours of driving in a day is a sweet spot.
- Eating well on the road isn’t as tricky as I had imagined, but requires significant forethought and some effort.
- The bikes are crucial; the kayaks are probably an unnecessary and somewhat space-hogging luxury. We’ve only used them twice, and both places we used them we could’ve easily rented instead.
- We opted against a dedicated “screens” policy for the kids, reasoning that we would need to make too many exceptions to it while on the road, and that a lifeline to the kids’ friends would be crucial to their sanity. We’re now questioning this decision, as the draw of random YouTube videos and mindless games seems to be too much for them to overcome; asking them to moderate themselves appears to be ineffective and probably unfair.
- We’re spending significantly less money on the road, even with gas, lodging, and entertainment included, than we were while living in Annapolis. Here’s the surprising part – we may even be spending less while still owning / paying for the house. I don’t have enough data to say that conclusively, but if it’s true then I guess that means we may not be able to afford to stop traveling! I’m joking about that part.
One thing I’ve found surprising has been how little it feels like my lifestyle has changed. Clearly it has. Yet there seem to be no outward signs of it. That might be at least in part a function of my normal professional life, which has me living out of a suitcase in various hotels for half of each month. I suspect the rest of the family feels the difference far more acutely than I.
When I envisioned how the trip would be, though, I pictured a completely different “feel” in the day to day. I looked forward to simplification — to having days with nothing to do other than hang out with my family. I also imagined being able to radically remake my lifestyle almost on a whim. In the normal state of affairs, I find it far too easy to get stuck in a rut of days that look oppressively similar to each other and a feeling of never having enough time. I pictured being able to spend days productively and exactly how I wanted to.
Very little of this has materialized. At least not in a “handed to me on a silver platter” way. I don’t mean to present this as a negative; it’s more that I’m realizing what now seems obvious as I write it — that reworking my habits, if that’s something I want to do, will require a deliberate effort, just as it would if I weren’t traveling. So I guess I have to work for it. Shoot.
There are some unanticipated, extenuating circumstances here at month two, to be sure. Not selling the house is the biggest. In some sense it’s a safety net knowing we have a fully furnished home with most of our stuff inside awaiting us in Maryland should we decide we’re done traveling. But it’s not what we envisioned, it adds a layer of complexity to everything, and it hampers our ability to plan ahead. As of now we don’t know what we are going to do come November. I don’t like the idea of having to, as a friend termed it, “re-attain escape velocity” in the Spring if we spend the Winter back in our house in Annapolis. But that may be where we are.
In general, I’ve just found that there’s still a ton of planning involved in this lifestyle – where we go next, where we stay, what we’re going to eat, how to maximize our day given that we’ll only be in most areas for a very short time, who do we try to visit, how do we educate our kids, etc. While we could almost certainly get by ignoring all of the above and playing things by ear, there would be many negative side effects that would more than cancel out the positives – several nights spent in WalMart parking lots (a fate we’ve managed to avoid up to now), far too many burgers, quesadillas, and last-minute nearest-restaurant outings, multiple missed opportunities in amazing settings… just writing all that stresses me out. “Seat of the pants” is great for a single 20-something or a young couple, but its utility for our situation is limited. The net result being that we’re about as busy as we ever were, just in a different way. Again, not a gripe, just an unforeseen observation.
The living in close quarters has not been an issue for me, at least not obviously so. There are times when I feel hemmed in and I jump on my bike or head elsewhere for a short time. But not often. And I don’t long for a stable home that doesn’t move — at least not yet. Motion suits me.
All that is me, though. Yawn. What’s more interesting, and what Tacco and I spend a good chunk of our time trying to discern, discussing and mulling over, is how this is affecting the kids. By far the most unsettling aspect of this year of travel are the mental meanderings about whether we’re helping to enrich their lives or undermine them. Obviously we’re banking on the former or we would never have attempted this. But with this much disruption there’s more than the usual faith required. There are higher highs and lower lows, and we’re pretty sure that it will take significant time and distance before we ever hear the phrase “I’m so glad we did that…”
Keeper is fairly direct. In any given moment and while we’re doing our “fun stuff,” he is, or at least appears, perfectly content. However, when asked by anyone how he likes the lifestyle and the trip he has been telling them/us point blank “I don’t.” When he first started responding this way we tried to unpack it a bit with him to see both what sorts of things we could improve or reframe, and how seriously we should take his discontent. One easy fix was buying a curtain rod and curtain for his sleeping area so that he could feel more like his space was his own.
It’s also difficult to tease out what parts of his dissatisfaction are definitely trip-related and which parts are general adolescence-related. There’s certainly some grass-is-greener-ism going on and we’re trying to point that out when we can, but of course it’s almost impossible to see from inside it. He’s having amazing experiences and he recognizes that, but he misses his friends from Maryland and imagines an idealized picture of what our lives would look like if we were still there. That’s tough.
Homeschooling started out tricky for him, but I think he’s starting to find his stride with it. Initially he told us several times that he simply couldn’t take it seriously, and he wasn’t giving it his best effort. That has changed. I don’t want to declare victory quite yet, but I think he’s starting to see how much more quickly he can move in this format, and how convenient it is to have all of your teachers’ attention all the time.
Firebolt’s response has been a bit more nuanced. She appears to be in her element much of the time and is thriving under the homeschool format, yet when we asked her recently what she thought of our lifestyle she answered that she didn’t like it either. Surprised, I reminded her of the amazing morning we had just finished hunting agates on the beach and the bike ride we had taken the day before, all the things we’d seen so far, etc. She laughed and answered that yes yes, she knows, and that she loves all of that, but that it just “doesn’t feel right.” Then she repeated it: “A house on wheels. It doesn’t feel right.” All the while smiling. Intriguing, coming from an eight-year-old.
More than anything I think she would just like more personal interaction. She’s our unabashed extrovert, and playing with random kids at various playgrounds isn’t giving her the fix she craves.
Woodsprite is just Woodsprite. She’s just on the cusp of being able to recall all this, and I think it will reduce to a happy blur for her when she looks back years later, but for now she’s just all enthusiasm and love. I’m not worried about her at all.
One huge thing we realized recently, and it’s likely a rather large oversight, is that we haven’t put nearly enough effort into bringing our kids into the planning fold. They haven’t necessarily known where exactly we were, how long we’ve intended to be there, where we’re going in the future, and what we would like to see and do. Perhaps more crucially, they haven’t even really known what is on tap for the day each morning. They wake up not knowing what to expect, so they eat breakfast, do their schoolwork, and go straight to their screens until we tell them otherwise. It’s become clear that all three of them need more structure. It will require considerable effort on our part, but we’re currently working on some way to visually communicate to them each morning both what we’re planning for the day and what’s coming up. On top of that we’d like to have some sort of “where we are, where we’ve been, where we’re going” map that they can look at just about any time.
I’ll wrap this up by saying that I actually think things are going quite well. I’ve focused more on doubts and missteps because they’re on my mind as I take inventory, but also because they provide a contrast to the day-to-day stories which might come across as non-stop adventure.
I knew from the beginning that we’d be making mid-course corrections constantly and likely wouldn’t feel fully comfortable with what we were doing until we were just about done. The first phase of the trip was always going to look different from the rest, by design (I took quite a bit of time off work and we wanted to take advantage of late Summer / early Fall’s great weather in the West). Lots of movement, tons to see, lots of activity. We’ve done that well so far and have chalked up some amazing family experiences. This will morph as we hit mid-Fall. The average stay-put time will probably stretch to a week or longer if we keep going. I’ll be away for work more, which I don’t like, but the rest of the family will have more time to catch their collective breath.
We are, however, living in the Instant Pot. Fortunately we realized this fairly early on. The Instant Pot, if you’ve read some of Tacco’s posts, is the multi-mode cooking appliance that has a pressure cooking function. There’s a relief valve on top that you open to release the pressure inside after the meal’s done. We’re still searching for that valve in Davista. Sometimes we find it briefly, but evidently it’s mobile and it’s camouflaged. In the meantime, the awareness that we’re in the Instant Pot is almost as helpful as reliable access to the release valve would be, as long as we’re able to remember it.