Friday, August 28, 2015

Final Thoughts

We've been home for two weeks.  The kids are back in school.  I start on Monday.  We've unpacked, moved the camper to its home in the backyard, and the dogs no longer think we're anything special.  Pretty much back to normal.

I have a lot of random leftover thoughts about the trip, what we saw, what worked, what didn't, etc, so I figured that would be a good way to wrap things up.  

On camping: I wish that we had camped more.  Most of the days that got cut/modified were camping days, and I wish that we had spent less time in hotels.  The pop-up camper was a good fit for us.  We would have been very unhappy (and COLD) tent camping, and an RV comes with its own problems (hard to drive in cities, lower gas mileage, doesn't actually feel like "camping').  

"There's plenty of room for all of us!" she's clearly saying.
 We'll definitely do more short camping trips next year, as it's a pretty inexpensive way to travel.  The downside of hauling the camper was that we had to drive much more slowly than we otherwise would have, which, when you're driving 1000's of miles, does add up.

On the National Parks: before we left, I was pretty judgy about people who only saw the National Parks by car and didn't really get out and walk around.  But now I get it.  The parks are HUGE, and if you hike, you're choosing to see a small part in detail rather than get an overview of the whole thing.  To really be able to explore the parks, you have to leave more time for each park than we did, otherwise you have to pick and choose your experiences.  I think coming from the Northeast I really didn't have a sense of the fact that a site could be in the same national park and still be 2 hours away.  

On driving: The driving didn't bother me hardly at all.  Only on our longest days did I really want to get out of the car.  The kids tapped out at about 6 hours, but up til then were basically fine.  I think it's important to know the cost/benefit analysis.  We could have stayed places longer and explored more if we were willing to power through some really long drives, but it wasn't worth it to us.

A lot of hours were spent looking at this in front of me...

and this behind me.
On packing: I think we packed the right number of clothes (a week's worth of underwear, a few pairs of pants/shorts, a few shirts, two pairs of shoes each).  We didn't overload the car with clothes, but I didn't have to do laundry every day either, nor did we run around filthy.  

The entirety of my wardrobe for 6 weeks.  Not gonna lie - coming home to a full underwear drawer was pretty exciting.
We overpacked car activities for the kids, most of which went untouched.  A lot of the food I prepped ahead went unused as well, and things like camelbaks were handy to have, but ultimately unnecessary.  I feel like we did pretty well, but did overpack somewhat, as we could have picked up a lot of that stuff if we had needed it.  

On this country: There is so much space that is completely empty.  It is absolutely mind-boggling.  I mean, I was expecting lots of places that were rural, but I was not expecting desolate.  It's really something you have to see to believe.

Nothing.  Beautiful nothing.  As far as the eye can see.  And farther.
On what we never got good at: lunch.  We did a pretty good job either having pancakes or cereal or hotel breakfast.  And dinner I cooked on a camp stove or we ate out or had with friends.  But lunch was a challenge the whole trip, as neither child likes peanut butter sandwiches and it was impossible to bring hot lunch in the car, and we didn't always have ice to keep lunch food cold and we didn't want to spend the money and eat junky restaurant food every day.  It was hard to know whether to stop and take a break at lunchtime if we were driving, or just eat in the car and press on.  I still have no solutions for any of these problems, and we basically just muddled through, doing an unsatisfactory combination of all of our options.

On what went surprisingly well: the kids actually got along quite well the whole trip.  They were extremely good for me on the parts of the trip that Pete wasn't there.  We had cell phone coverage almost the whole trip.  Google maps steered us right and never got us lost.  We found parking spaces for the camper even in cities, only having to cobble something together once, and even that wasn't bad.  Our fuel efficiency with the camper was much better than I thought it was going to be.  Basically, things that could have been huge pains turned out to be just fine.

On what we saw: first of all, it's amazing to me how much we DIDN'T see.  We were gone 6.5 weeks and I feel like we only saw the tip of the iceberg, both in terms of actual stops made and what we saw when we were there.  That said, I think our itinerary was pretty good.  I think it was a really solid combination of friend visits, park visits, and city visits.  We definitely didn't do the same thing every day.  We tried to build in a good amount of "down time" for the kids, where they could just play or swim or whatever, and I think that made the trip more enjoyable for all of us.  

Would I do it again?  Well, no, because I don't have to.  A trip like this is definitely not a regular summer vacation.  A lot of what we saw was "bucket list" type stuff that you don't need to see more than once (I'm looking at you, Las Vegas and Mt. Rushmore).  

That said, I would definitely take a long vacation again, and would absolutely do more driving trips.  We've already said that we're going to have to go back to Utah so we can do more in depth exploring, we'll have to return to Colorado because we basically skipped it, I'd love to do both Chicago and St. Louis as a whole family because Pete missed both those cities this time, etc etc.  And there are so many other huge swaths of the country that we didn't even see - the Pacific Northwest, the entire South, and on and on.  Now that we know we can travel like this, we can take on those smaller adventures on future trips.

So there we have it.  A year's worth of preparation, 6 amazing weeks of travel, and now the wrap up.  It was truly an epic experience that I'm so glad we did.  I am hopeful that as the children get older and their memories of the trip solidify they can look back fondly on this time, and that they see it as a stepping stone to lots of other life adventures.  I know I will.  Thanks for sharing the journey with us.


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