23 Things I Learned from 2 Weeks on the Road with My Family

Yup, we did it again, we took a family road trip from Minnesota to California…and back. Like I do about most things, I’ve taken some time to really reflect on every event that transpired during our 14-day excursion and I realized there were a lot of life lessons I took from our road trip. Life lessons that apply to all of us. Some funny, some not-so-funny…because, that’s kinda how like operates, after all.

Expect the unexpected

“Woo!! We are finally on the road!” I said in our jam-packed SUV. The dogs were dropped off with sitters, the car had had some last minute repairs (different from the 1,700 other repairs it had had in the last 3 months) and we were ready to roll!

Then the car stalled.

Yup it stalled. About 1 hour from home. All of a sudden our smiles were turned into twitchy, panicky frowns as we (and by we, I mean me) tried to come up with the best, most practical and affordable last minute solution.

The point is, you have got to expect that life will throw you some curve balls. I know this and yet, I didn’t plan my budget accordingly. But, I learned to roll with the punches, I crunched some numbers and BOOM life continued as planned slightly altered.

People matter

Honestly, if this trip had just been a frivolous one we had planned for fun, we probably wouldn’t have gone.

We just became debt free, were trying to build a savings and after putting thousands of dollars into a car that is just going to keep dying anyway, the last thing I wanted to do was shell out $900 for a rental car.

Why did we keep going? Because Tom’s brother is in the Navy and we usually only get to see him once every few years and this was our chance for goodness knows how long.

No, I don’t like money stress but I’ve also learned that people aren’t nearly as replaceable as money. Always remember that.

Living life on the road with my family wasn't something I expect to totally change my life. But it did. Here are 23 life lessons I learned on the road.

Not all moments are memorable

When we finally arrived at our South Dakota hotel at 4:30am, I slept for an hour, woke up at 6 to get the most out of the continental breakfast and then immediately went back to sleep…for maybe an hour.

After I woke up, Tom took the little ones down to the pool, Dezy (our 18-year-old!!!) kept sleeping and I decided to check out the gym situation.

It wasn’t much, a treadmill, a bike and a weight bench…with like 4 weights.

Since there was a man running steadily on the treadmill, I hopped on the bike. As I sat there peddling, I noticed the man on the treadmill had his son with him. His son (I assume) sat criss-cross on the floor in his pajamas. Silent. No screens, no entertainment, and no complaining.

My first thought was to judge this guy. I mean come on, that’s just so mean to do to your kid. Then, as I started thinking about it I realized, this dad took his kid with him…he could have left him in the room.

You know how many times my mom had to take me to work and I sat on the floor either coloring or bored. It did me good. And my mom did what she had to do.

Not all moments in life are epic or memorable. Sometimes we just have to learn to sit in the discomfort. We have to practice being content in the mundane and that’s exactly what that dad was teaching his son.

Some explore the unknown. Others fear it.

We finally arrived in Wyoming at a charming little Airbnb I had booked. As soon as I stepped into the front room, I strong feeling over-took me. I felt “dizzy.” I call it dizzy, but that’s probably not the best description.

CRAZY LADY ALERT: I am not beyond believing that spirits or “ghosts” may very well be a real thing. There I said it.

I have learned over time that this feeling presents itself when I’m in an old house or around old objects and I believe it’s because of the spirits or energies that are tied to them. Yup. You can stop reading, it’s ok. If you’re a believer too…continue on.

Our oldest daughter knows about “my feelings” and so does Tom, so I calmly let them know and I paced the house taking deep breaths in order to adapt to the dizzy.

By night time, word had quickly spread (because Tom doens’t think to be a discrete as me) and everyone was talking about ghosts. Personally, I have zero fear in that department. If they’re there, they’re there and they’re not gonna hurt anybody.

Despite me trying to remain calm, neither of our girls slept that night. For that matter, neither did Tom. I got up to go to the bathroom and he heard someone in the living room just before our bedroom door opened. I went right back to sleep after he told me. He stayed awake all night. So did both of our girls.

My son and I slept like babies. Because we’re cool with ghosts.

Living life on the road with my family wasn't something I expect to totally change my life. But it did. Here are 23 life lessons I learned on the road.

Never leave an appology left unsaid

I don’t know if it’s the mother-daughter relationship or if it’s just the struggle every parent faces with the child who is most like them but man, oh, man does my little girl knows how to push my buttons.

On top of that, I have an extra sensitive son who is no match for his sister quick wit and fast tongue.

As we were preparing to leave I heard her pestering him and he was crying and screaming, “I’m a boy!!! I’m a BOY!!!”

Now this has been an issue. My son has 3 older sisters, 3 neighbor girls, 2 girls they both already know at their homeschool class on Tuesdays and he is down to play Barbies any time because no one will play trucks. No one ever wants to play rough and scream and be silly…which means most of the time he’s left out or it’s up to me to be super awesome at playing Tonka trucks.

My daughter was laughing and kept asking him if he was a boy or a girl and I. flipped. out.

I got so mad at her pushed her into the kitchen and I screamed at her and called her a bully. She sat there giving me evil eyes and pursing her lips which definitely didn’t calm my temper.

The thing is, Tom got picked on as a kid. It still effects him to this day. He believes every single nasty thing that anyone ever said to him. Our older daughter has struggled with self-image and depression. I mean really struggled and my mama bear instincts went off. They went off a little too much.

It’s so easy to look back on something and see all the “perfect” ways we could have handled a situation. But you know what, we are all going to be imperfect and when we are all we can really do is aplogize.

I still told my daughter all the reasons I was mad and why teasing someone like that is not ok but then I hugged her and I told her I loved her and I apologized for getting too mad.

It’s never easy explaining how your anger is justified and yet apologizing for it at the same time. Ugh man, this parenthood gig is tough.

I feel like more than any of my kids, that little girl of mine gets the most apologies from me. While I wish I was more perfect for her, at the end of the day I hope she learns the lesson of never being too proud to admit when you’re wrong.

Never judge a Utah by it’s cover

The last time we made our way home from California to Minnesota we decided it would be “fun” to be spontaneous and just stop whenever and wherever we felt like stopping.

I had planned the rest of the trip to a tee and thought it might be fun to see where the open road took us instead. Well, the open road took us to Utah. At night. And there were no hotels available. Anywhere. In the entire state of Utah.

For years we have all spoken of Utah like it was literally hell on earth. We had stopped at every exit and checked all the hotels and no one had room for us. Which meant, at 3 in the morning, I had had a meltdown at Walmart, Tom and I weren’t speaking, the kids were all crying and Tom got the task of driving straight through the night all the way home. That’s roughly 18 hours…

As we slowly began driving through Utah this time, none of us were really expecting much. We just assume sleep through it to avoid any unpleasantries. Much to our surprise, Utah was filled with gorgeous sites, endless mountains and tons of wildlife.

Honestly, I can’t wait to go back to Utah someday and I never thought I’d say that! It just goes to show that sometimes we can think we have all the answers when in reality we were just looking at something without turning on the lights.

Living life on the road with my family wasn't something I expect to totally change my life. But it did. Here are 23 life lessons I learned on the road.

Take the pictures, then put the camera down

I remember a newer mom saying to me once that she never understood how I took so many pictures of the things we did. Then one time, she took her kids out, stopped a few times, took some quick photos and then carried on with their trip.

“It really doesn’t have to take that long!” she said.

Nope. Nope it doesn’t.

I don’t walk around with a camera in my hand stopping my kids 800 times telling them to STOP and SMILE for the camera!! –Trust me, I did that gig as a professional photographer and it was one of the reasons I quit. Too many parents think a forced smile and a good photo is a good thing…but how. You’re not even enjoying the moment or making memories…other than that painful memory of mom forcing everyone to fake being happy.

Instead, when you see a moment you want to capture, whip out that phone, snap the picture. Ask for smiles maybe. But don’t demand them. Then, keep moving on. I don’t even look at photos after I take them (and it totally drives my oldest daughter crazy.)

Pictures are so important to me. It’s the best way for me to remember the things I have done in life and really…I want to remember the reality of memory, not an airburhsed, well posed versionl.

Photos will never do real life any justice

We said this the entire time we were at the Flaming Gorge in Utah/Wyoming. As much as we want to truly capture the beauty of a moment, or the magnitude of nature….it’s just not possible.

Living life on the road with my family wasn't something I expect to totally change my life. But it did. Here are 23 life lessons I learned on the road.

Looking strong doen’t mean you are

After we had explored, hiked and taken in all that the Flaming Gorge had to offer, we wound up at the Flaming Gorge dam just relaxing and taking in the view.

We found some large boulders to prop ourselves on and after a while, we started to realize that the boulders were falling apart.

Just by rubbing our foot against this big rock, it would chip off and begin to fall apart. Kaida (my daughter) dropped a rock, and it shattered into dozens of pieces.

I feel like so many people are like this in life. We put up a good front, and a brave smile when really, the slightest thing could completely crumble us. So remember a brave face doesn’t mean anything. It’s ok to let people know you’re feeling vulnerable. Don’t try and carry all the weight on your own.

It’s ok to take your time

The first time we drove to California, we did it like we were in a race. We had good intentions., we were just wanting to spend more time with extended family….but it almost tore our family apart.

Trust me, 18 straight hours together in a jam-packed SUV is bound to make a few people a little cranky.

This time around, we opted to stop ever 7-8 hours or so. It took us a little longer to get where we were going, but we saw more places, enjoyed one another more and weren’t crazy stressed out by the time we got home.

The desire to be Rachel Green never leaves you

Going to Warner Brother Studios was really the only “super touristy” thing I wanted to do while we were in California. Ever since I learned they re-created the Central Perk set, I knew it was something I had to do.

I’m so thankful we were able to get complimentary tickets because otherwise, I don’t know that we would have been able to swing the cost financially with all of our kids.

As I stood there, in front of Central Perk, the man in charge said they would be “casting” for Rachel, Ross and Joey. How is that even fair? Do they just let women duke it out for who gets to play Rachel? I mean, come on. Do I want to be Rachel Green? Ummm yes, of course.

However, there was another woman there who clearly wanted to be Rachel. She was from another country…which means she traveled even farther than I did…like I would deny her the chance to be Rachel. I played Joey.

Living life on the road with my family wasn't something I expect to totally change my life. But it did. Here are 23 life lessons I learned on the road.

LA traffic sucks the life right out of you

It just does.

There is free fun everywhere

During this trip we did everything we could to find as many free activities as we could for us and our kids and there were so many.

I mean, just turn around and you’ll find a beach or hiking path.

People are so quick to feel obligated to spend money that they often miss some of the best free entertainment all around them.

Kids require less than we think

While we were in California we had told our daughter (who was about to turn 9) that we would celebrate her birthday in California with the family there that we don’t see very often.

We hadn’t made concrete plans on what we were going to do and wound up getting an ice cream cake at Baskin Robbins and then ordering and eating pizzas next door at Dominos.

There were 7 kids, 7 adults and zero gifts. She didn’t complain once.

Living life on the road with my family wasn't something I expect to totally change my life. But it did. Here are 23 life lessons I learned on the road.

Hands-on learning is the best kind of learning

After having pizza and cake, we went to Mission Bay. Not only did the kids love running around, getting dirty, but we found jellyfish and crabs.

Nothing beats getting down and dirty and being hands-on with nature. I love when my kids get to experience things like that first-hand.

I say, let them play, let them explore. It’s really the best way for little bodies to learn.

You can’t do all the things

Before we left for California, I had talked with a high school friend of mine who lives there and we wanted to try and get together.

Well, I had 2 grown girls who wanted to do beach things, 2 little ones who wanted to spend time with their cousins, one husband who hates driving everywhere and wanted to spend time with his brother and I wasn’t about to even try to insert my agenda in there.

Needless to say, I wasn’t able to make a meetup work because of the pure chaos. I felt such disappointment and guilt at first and then had to remind myself that I can’t please everyone and as much as I want to, it’s not possible to do all the things all the time.
Some roads aren’t worth risking

We took the kids out on a morning hike

A morning walk is better than therapy

Tom and I took our little ones on morning walks a few times while we were there and it was so great to spend a little quiet, one on one time with them before the world woke up.

There is something so new and fresh about taking in the morning air with the people you love…or heck, even quietly, on your own.

Living life on the road with my family wasn't something I expect to totally change my life. But it did. Here are 23 life lessons I learned on the road.

Don’t waste time trying to get the perfect selfie…

As we walked around the Santa Monica Pier taking in the sights of the ocean and all the fun rides I noticed a few people who weren’t taking in any of the beauty at all.

They were too busy working on the perfect Instagram photo.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore beautiful photos and a perfectly styled one with gorgeous colors and all that jazz but for the love of Pete, people, there is a world happening outside of your smart phone.

Take the photo and then move on and actually enjoy that beautiful place and those gorgeous colors.

Vegas is totally for kids…and cheap

So many people are quick to judge when I tell them we were taking our kids to Vegas but seriously…you get a hotel, a pool and tons of shiny lights. If you know the right places to go, Vegas is a totally afordable jackpot for kids.

Here are my top FREE Vegas recommendations for kids:

  • M&M World
  • Hershey’s Chocolate World
  • Coca Cola Company
  • The Bellagio Conservatory
  • The Bellagio water show
  • The Silverton Aquarium
  • The Circus at Circus, Circus.
  • The Fall of Atlantis Show inside the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace
  • The Mirage volcano

Take the water slide

At our hotel in Las Vegas there was a water slide. Naturally, I tucked myself safely near the bottom to watch the little ones go down. Then, a full-figured, middle-aged woman went down the slide…in a bikini…and I realized just how much I am not taking advantage of this thing called life.

Living life on the road with my family wasn't something I expect to totally change my life. But it did. Here are 23 life lessons I learned on the road.

Everyone dislikes something about themselves

As I sat back soaking up some sun and a little R&R at the pool in Vegas I took notice of almost every young woman.

At some point, ladies, they all checked out their stomachs. Every. single. one. Even the skinniest of skinnies were feeling self-conscious at some point.

So I say, let’s all just agree to knock it off already. Just embrace that bod of yours!

Sometimes you can’t take the shortcut

After almost 2 weeks of traveling and exploring, we heard word of a nasty snow storm headed our way (basically our entire road home was blizzards) we thought maybe we’d ditch our rental van in Denver and just fly home since flights were pretty cheap.

Well, that plan backfired pretty quick when we realized our rental company would charge us an additional $400 or more just to leave the van at a different location.

Hard pass.

I guess it just goes to show you, that no matter how good your intentions, sometimes you just have to take the long road.

The road home might be messy, but it’s worth it

It’s never easy fighting through blizzards and black ice to try and get home.

It’s also not easy sitting in a car, driving closer and closer to home knowing that you’re going to have to face the truth and attend a funeral.

Both of these situations held true for me during the end of our road trip.

Some times…almost all the time…we just have to face life head on. We have to battle the storms, fight our inner urge to pretend the hard parts don’t exist and just keep trucking on so we can get where we’re meant to go.

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