Our family is back from almost two weeks of vacation. We have done justice to the Family Road Trip. We have travelled thousands of miles in our dirty minivan. We have peed in hot gas station bathrooms and eaten terrible breakfasts at hole-in-the-wall cafes. Yesterday we drove 900 miles in a little over 13 hours. Instead of stopping for meals, we ate bags of potato chips and honey-roasted peanuts. None of us have showered for a long time.
We travelled through seven states, visited just about every person in our family, and saw more cornfields than Dorothy. We fished, boated, hiked, bike-rided, and chatted. Six suitcases of dirty laundry are waiting in our living room.
The laundry alone could make me question the wisdom of this yearly road trip. Why go to all the trouble? Why leave our house, where everyone has their own space? Why leave our work responsibilites, only to come home to an inbox of overdue email? Why leave our comfort zones?
Because families bond when they leave their comfort zones, and that’s what traveling is. This specific kind of travel, the long road trip, has become part of our family’s fabric. We rely on this trip to plug back into each other. And as the kids get older, that plugging in becomes more and more important. It also becomes trickier.
Throughout the year, we are all plugged in to other loud voices (email inboxes, friends, careers, and our separate hobbies). Road trips turn up the volume on our family. Our unifying adventure is the chance to understand each other a little better. Yes, it’s gross gas station bathrooms and boring hours in the car, but it’s also a grand adventure. Together, we tackle the anticipation and relief that comes with adventure.
During these two weeks of travel, our family melted into each other enough to admit some of our fears. “I’m afraid to see friends I haven’t seen in a long time”, “I’m afraid great-grandpa will die”, “I’m afraid no one listens to me”, and “I’m afraid I won’t do the right thing.” As we said these fears out loud, we recognized ourselves in each other. We saw each other as vulnerable. We saw we could help each other. And that’s when we started to show each other grace. Family bonding = showing each other grace.
Now we are tired, dirty, and overwhelmed, but we’re closer than before. The two kids who fight constantly are laughing together as I type this. After two weeks together, they’ve discovered they’re more alike than they realized (which is, of course, the reason they fight, but that’s another blog post).
By next summer, I’ll forget some of these revelations. When it comes time to disconnect from our real lives to pile our dogs and suitcases and Travel Bingo into our stinky minivan, I’ll wonder if it’s a good idea. Shouldn’t we stay home and send the kids to an important camp? What about our work schedules? Is it good for the kids to spend so much time in the car?
I hope I remember how vulnerable and honest our family is after a road trip together. I hope I remember the compassion the kids have for each other after so much time together. I hope I remember how hard they laugh together when one of the dogs toots in the backseat.
I hope I remember that yes, a road trip is messy, exhausting, and a whole lot of work…
And exactly what we need.