A family of five stuck together in an RV for five months? Most people shake their heads and have one question: "Why on earth would you want to do that?" When the economy started to falter, my husband's real-estate development company began to follow suit. Hard as it might be to believe, a feeling of excitement is what I felt, followed by a sharp stab of guilt. I quickly realized that the excitement was really just a feeling of overwhelming opportunity. With change, good or bad, comes opportunity if you look for it. Time is a precious commodity and we found ourselves in a rare moment where we actually had time, and we knew it may never come again. The moment seemed even more perfect because of the ages of our three children (11, 8, and 6). After eager thoughts of moving to another country were shot down by my husband, we arrived at a shared enthusiasm for hitting the road to explore all that this great country has to offer. An RV was our chosen method of travel. We created a website to help communicate about the experience at FamilyOffTrack.com.
After five months in an RV with a family of five, here are five tips that I'm sure can help any family road trip.
1. Know What You Want
Before you even get behind the wheel, it's best to get everyone behind the idea. Get a flip chart or a large piece of paper and do a mini brainstorm session with the family. Set out some goals for the trip and have everyone start shouting out some things they'd like to see or do. This can help you pick a location, or if you already have your destination in mind, you'll end up with a better feel for the activities your family would like to do. We realized we loved swimming in springs, natural pools, lakes, and rivers. It became something we looked for and asked about everywhere we went. Here's a video of our planning sessions.
2. Curiosity May Have Killed the Cat, But It Can Save a Road Trip
Wherever you go, whether it is a museum, a trail, a swimming spot, a resort, or a national park, challenge each member of the family to find something they are curious about. Nothing is off limits! Urge everyone to find more information (even if it's just one fact) about what they are curious about and share it with the rest of the family. When we visited the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois, our 11-year-old son was curious about a hologram he saw and learned how it worked, our 8-year-old couldn't believe Stephen Douglas thought slavery was good and proper, and our 6-year-old daughter was very curious about all of Mary Todd Lincoln's dresses.
3. Do Not Invite Distractions
For some reason, when planning a road trip, we constantly think of ways to fill up the "downtime" that we assume we'll have. We bring books, unfinished photo albums, and all manner of other time burners along for the ride. It is very tempting to look at a road trip as a huge personal chunk of time. But, that doesn't let you focus on the art of the road trip itself. One big difference about being on the road and away from your home is that many everyday distractions are removed; you no longer have to deal with mail, answering the phone, laundry, constant tidying, television, etc. Rather than finding more distractions for yourself, watch how the extra time can afford you more patience, more moments spent talking with and listening to your family, and researching and deciding together what to do each day. We picked up a great book on Lewis and Clark and read it out loud. My husband loved listening to it while he was driving and we all got very wrapped up in the story. It also made many of the places we visited much more relevant.
4. Do Not Let Your Route Own You
My husband dove wholeheartedly into mapping our five-month journey. Within the first two weeks of being on the open road, he felt we were falling behind. "We should go,” he said, "because we have to get to the next place." Immediately I felt that we were not at all "Off Track." It seemed we had just swapped one track for another. As the planner, one can become very vested in "the route." Don't allow yourself to be ruled by it. Think of it this way: Wherever you are, do it well. Once you have been somewhere, you are less likely ever to go back. Therefore, take time to do and see what you want and, if there are places you are then forced to cut out from your route, they'll be the places you can look forward to visiting on another trip.
5. Ask Good Questions of Real Live People
This circles back to the number one tip on this list. The better understanding you have of what you want, the closer you will get to it. There are real live people everywhere you turn on a road trip and most can be a great resource—better than anything you could read in a guidebook—if you know what you like. That means when you're being served at a diner by a waitress who has lived in the town her whole life, ask her where her favorite swimming places are. Don't just ask her the general question, "What are some good things to do?" Tell her the type of things you really like and she will be in a much better position to give you good advice. It often leads to many more gems. We did this all the time at the visitor centers in the national parks. We explained the type of hikes we liked best (we were getting sick of forested walks and wanted boulders to climb and surprise views to come across) and the maximum mileage our kids could manage. In this way, we hit it right a lot more often than not. --Wendi Ezgur
Wendi Ezgur is a wife, mother of three, inventor, and founder of Leadhead, Inc., a leading consulting firm in the pioneering industry of ideation. Recognized as one of the top ideators in the U.S. and abroad, her latest innovative concept of the "family sabbatical" developed into a one-of-a-kind RV journey.
PHOTOS: (top) The Ezgur family on a hike; (bottom) The results of the Ezgur's brainstorming session (Wendi Ezgur)
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