How to Live Your Road Trip Dream
By Phil & Carol White
Breaking the news
Saying it makes it real. The sooner you start telling people you are planning to go on a road trip adventure, the sooner you will start believing it and orienting your thought processes around the idea. Even if you are not 100 percent committed to the idea yet, it solidifies your own commitment to start "socializing" the idea with friends, family, and organizations with which you are involved.
Even a year ahead is not too soon to start. You will find that you need about six months of intensive planning time to get everything done without making yourself crazy or a complete slave to your schedule. So the sooner you pick a date to leave and begin telling people that you are going, the easier it will be when you begin doing your planning in earnest.
People's initial reaction may be to resist or dismiss the idea, and this is especially true for people who depend on you for support of some type (financial, emotional, social, and so on). The earlier you begin talking about the idea with them, the more time they will have to incorporate the plan into their thinking. A series of discussions that cover the "what, when, why, and how" of the trip will help your friends and loved ones understand the importance of the decision to you and how they can support your decision.
Those who depend on you most will need particular attention. You need to be considerate of what they are feeling. Most likely they are thinking, "What will happen to me while you are gone?" Have a plan ready to address those needs. Once they understand that they will be taken care of, they will usually be in full support of your trip. The table "Some Potential Scenarios" addresses some of the questions that could come up and offers some ideas on how you might address each concern. Certainly this list is not exhaustive, but hopefully it will get your own ideas flowing for how to address your family's issues.
The bottom line is to do everything you can to provide for your obligations, but be firm that you are going on this adventure. Your firm resolve will motivate people to rally around you and become part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Here is where your skills as a cheerleader and motivator will become handy. Your own enthusiasm for the project can be contagious, and most people will ultimately be excited for you and can help you build consensus in your circle of friends and family.
When we first told people we were thinking about doing this, no one believed us, especially the kids. "Parents don't just run away for a year!" they exclaimed. I'm sure they thought we would "get over" this crazy idea and life would go back to normal. But as time grew closer and we began involving them in the planning by asking their opinions and assigning them duties while we were gone, they soon realized that we were actually going to do this. They became very supportive, even though they initially felt that their support system would be diminished. Other than not being available to take the kids off their hands for an afternoon or evening with Grandma and Grandpa, they actually saw new benefits to the time away. The postcards arrived pretty regularly, their phone was always handy to give our cell phone a call, our website showed them fun pictures of what we were up to, and the learning opportunity on geography was undeniable.
We were fortunate to have not only family but also friends who could and would help us to make this a reality. We made them all part of the process of getting ready to go and part of the trip while we were gone. Finding ways to include them, get them excited, and bring new experiences into their lives all end up being positive developments that couldn,t have been predicted ahead of time.
Here are some ideas for ways to include people in your planning and your trip:
Make an adult child responsible for your mail. Forward everything to them, have them review it all, throw away the junk, pay any miscellaneous bills, and occasionally forward anything important to you. Remember that they can call you on your cell phone with any questions.
Add one person to your checking account to take care of unexpected issues and to do any banking business. This could also be important if something were to happen to you on the trip.
Enlist a "techie" friend to help you build a Website, learn e-mail, or consider the options for GPS systems.
Secure e-mail addresses from everyone you talk to and build a list so that you can send out mass e-mails to keep them up with what's going on while you are on the road.
Ask someone with some spare space to be your "warehouse" while you travel so that you can ship treasures and out-of-season clothes to them along the way.
Have someone be responsible for getting the local news and gossip to you each month-via e-mail, of course!
If you do something involving children (i.e., volunteer at school, teach Sunday school, serve as a camp counselor, etc.) or have a teacher friend, set up part of your Website for them to follow your adventure. Post geography questions, pictures, and other information that is appropriate to their age and to the area you are currently traveling through.
Ask a marketing friend and/or a realtor to help you learn how to market and care for your home while you are gone.
The more committed you become to your trip, the more enthusiasm will build around you. We guarantee that your positive attitude will go a long way toward encouraging others to support you. Build a good plan, communicate it early and lovingly, keep a problem-solving can-do attitude, and never lose sight of your goal. You too will soon be on your way to your trip of a lifetime.
What about the pets?
We had pets in our lives when the kids were growing up. We have now chosen to consider each other our only pets! But for many folks this is a major consideration. We can tell you what we observed along the way.
Many people travel successfully with their pets, and there is no reason that you can't take most dogs or cats with you. They seem to enjoy it as much as the adults do. Most RV parks and even many motels have "walking areas" for your friends. We also saw many kenneling opportunities at large attractions, so you don't have to leave those companions in the car.
If you believe that taking your pet is not a good idea, for whatever reason, there are other solutions. The obvious one is to loan them to a loving family that either has pets or would like a "trial run" with yours. If your pet is a snake or some other exotic, this may be more difficult.
Another thought is to include the pet as part of the lease on your residence. This could either limit your potential caretakers or be seen as a bonus. We worked this strategy in reverse when we came home during the holidays. Since we had no home to come "home" to, we circulated an e-mail among our friends a month or so ahead of our arrival and offered to pet-sit for someone going on a trip during the holidays in exchange for a bed. Sure enough, friends of friends thought this was a terrific idea-no need to board the dog and someone reliable to watch over the house!
The children, grandchildren, and other support systems
This is just a short plea for sanity. The most common refrain we heard-and still hear ^ was, "I could never leave my grandchildren that long! How did you do it?" We also heard it in relation to children, dogs, neighbors, and parents, but most often about those darling little humans that grow way too fast.
We too love our grandchildren to death. We now have eight, and we see some portion of them almost every week. We wouldn't miss their growing up for anything and continue to arrange our lives to live close to them. But we also know that life is short, and we never know when our time here will be over. We were good parents. We prepared our children well for life. We did our jobs and more. We willingly and gleefully gave of our time and our talents and continue to do so. We never took long vacations away from them and we now take the grandchildren with us from time to time and will do more as they get older and easier.
But at some point in life, don't you just want to scream, " But what about me? "
We decided our time had come. If we didn't grab it now, we might never get the chance. It was our turn to do something special for ourselves.
If you still don't believe you can do it, think about some of the things they would miss:
That phone call at the top of Bear Tooth Pass, 10,000-plus feet, and that little voice saying, "Hi Grandma, what'cha doing today? I love you," and you telling them about looking down on mountain lakes and glaciers and about the bears in Yellowstone Park -maybe we'll go there together one year.
Those pictures of Grandpa in silly positions with his hands in Colorado and Utah and his feet in Arizona and New Mexico at Four Corners . "Where is that, Mom?" "Let's look on the map, honey, can it be true?" Another lesson learned.
That meeting at the airport after six months away and the look on their little faces to finally see you again. Priceless!
Arranging a little detour in your trip so you can join them on their vacation and they can see how you have been living. A day at the Smithsonian, a day at the park, or even dinner together can be memories they will never forget.
If you really can't stand the thought of separation and if space allows, how about having them join you, one by one, for part of your trip? What a special time for both of you!
We know how important this factor is for many people, but we really plead with you to consider yourself first for a change. If extensive traveling is indeed of interest to you-or we assume you wouldn't be reading this book! -- then take a deep breath, kiss the grandchildren, and plunge ahead with this crazy idea!
Missing important events
There is never the perfect time to take this trip. We missed class reunions, weddings, birthday parties, retirements, births, funerals, and many family get-togethers. These will all happen while you are gone. Life does go on around you. We finally decided that we have been very lucky to live around family and great friends all our lives and that this little "blip" of time wouldn't change that. We thought about all the people who spend their lives moving around or who live far from family, and again we counted our blessings that we would miss only a few events in the scope of things.
We made a conscious decision to do what we could to support those events we were missing and to include those people in our trip and thoughts to the fullest extent possible. We always send e-cards or postcards to mark events. We sent presents when we would have bought presents at home. E-commerce certainly makes this easy these days. We made phone calls when appropriate. We encouraged people to visit our website, and we often posted greetings or special messages there. We received digital pictures in e-mail so that we could see what we had missed. In other words, we acted just like people who live far away from home.
If there is an event that you just can't miss, consider it as part of the trip experience and include a trip to the location as part of your budget. We knew that we wanted to "take a break" and come home for the holidays, so we included that in our plans. We left the van for a "checkup," hopped an airplane, and spent a wonderful four weeks with our families. Your break might be a class or family reunion along the way or a trip home for the arrival of that new grandchild.
You can simply make the extra effort to stay in touch and to be a part of lives and events. Your trip will be over in the blink of an eye, and although you will undoubtedly miss some significant events, the enrichment that you experience on your trip can never be replaced.
The great 24/7 "getting along" issue
Speaking of "humor" and "patience," if you don't take those along with you in large doses, you will be heading home in the first month. Guaranteed.
Nothing seems to strike fear into the hearts of couples faster than the idea of being together on a 24/7 basis for even a week, much less a year! This is unequivocally the most important issue to face before you decide to go.
Actually liking your spouse (or traveling companion) is probably a prerequisite for attempting to do this. If you can look that other person in the eye and say, "You know, I really do like spending time with you," then keep reading. If not, find a new companion for the trip.
We never even gave this a thought as we made up our mind, as we genuinely enjoy each other's company and like to do many of the same things. We just naturally spend a lot of time together, so we really thought nothing of it. However, 24/7 does have its challenges, even for the most "together" of couples.
Support, support, support. If you don't do this and be sensitive to each other's needs, moods, and quirks, you could be really miserable on the road. Think about your current day-to-day relationship. Do you like spending time together even if life doesn't let you do it often? Do you enjoy the same activities? Do you have fun together on vacation? Do you find it relatively easy to help each other out and plan for things together? If you can answer yes to most of these, then you already have the foundation for a successful year together on the road.
That's not to naively say you will always get along. You will both have bad days and good days, but it is really your frame of mind that says, "We are going to support each other through those times, and this too shall pass! We have a lot of fun and interesting times still ahead of us, and we'll have great memories to take home." And if you don't keep a positive outlook, you are surely headed home.
Arranging some space within the space is also helpful. If each person has even just a drawer or shelf that is all theirs, or a time of day when the other one just leaves them alone, then togetherness becomes more inviting.
We'd also put in a plug for exercise. We all know that it is good for us, both mentally and physically, and now you have the time to do it. We found that an hour of yoga-by a beautiful river, near a stream, viewing the mountains-was very calming. We also took a walk almost every day at the end of the day to reflect and recharge our batteries. Whatever works for you, just make sure it becomes part of your routine. Having that daily bit of structure will go a long ways toward mitigating the "too much togetherness" that we've been discussing. Each of you can do it alone if that works better for you.
So what do you do when those bad days come, when you've just had it "up to here" with the other one and you want to run screaming from the campground? Just separate for a while and go do something individually. It may mean that you read while he golfs. One of you goes to a museum while the other one goes to a sporting event. You lie out in the sun and send him to get groceries (yeah, right!). Just do something to put distance between the two of you for a day. When we went home at the holidays-six months into our adventure-we figured out that we had been apart only nine hours in those six months and we still liked each other!
If you are not currently a "cozy couple," talking about it and setting some boundaries and routines ahead of time could help ease the transition to more togetherness. Taking time to discuss it and practice it could definitely make the difference between success and failure. This trip should not be another chore to live through, but rather a life-changing, exhilarating experience to cherish forever.
When you return to your home, you will be a changed couple. We found we were closer than when we left, and our experiences continue to enrich our lives and conversations in a way that no other event could possibly have done. It could be the spark that keeps you together for the next fifty years of your life!
Some Potential Scenarios & Potential Solutions
You pay the bills for your elderly father: Put most of them on a bill-payment plan from his bank, the utility companies, etc. Have a friend or family member pay miscellaneous ones each month when visiting.
Your disabled sister depends on you to mow her yard and grocery shop for her: If there isn't a family member who can take over these duties while you are gone, hire someone to do the work and include the cost in your budget.
You visit shut-ins at a local nursing home who have come to look forward to your visits: Find a friend or recruit someone from your church to start going with you and integrate them into the facility before you leave on your trip. Get the folks excited about your trip and offer to send e-mail or postcards of what you are doing. They will love that idea.
You have a three-year commitment to your community's planning commission, homeowner's board, etc.: Turn in your resignation early so that they have time to replace you and you can help orient the newcomer. This happens all the time. Don't let your guilt become a deterrent to your trip!
Your mother depends on you to manage her medications, get her to the doctor, etc.: Again, this is one of the areas where you can ask someone in the family, her circle of friends, her church, etc., to fill this void while you are gone.
You baby-sit your granddaughter two days a week: If your son/daughter can't make other arrangements on their own for new childcare (the best option), then you may have to offer to find and pay for the care while you are gone. This is another item to include in your budget.
Your brother worries that you won't keep providing that extra income he counts on each month: Assure him (if it is true!) that you will continue to take care of that, and then set it up on an automatic payment directly to him or to his checking account.
Your business partner is concerned about what will happen to your clients while you are gone: It will take some negotiation to plan for not only the workload but also the split of profits, payment of expenses, etc. A weekly conference call could help keep an even keel, or completely turning the business over to her for a year may work. Don't over commit to your involvement or neither of you will end up happy with the arrangement.
Excerpted from Live Your Road Trip Dream: Travel for a year for the cost of staying home by Phil and Carol White. Copyright © 2004 Phil and Carol White. Excerpted by arrangement with RLI Press. All rights reserved. $17.95. Available in local bookstores or call 888-522-8747 or click here.