We are leaving for Chicago tomorrow afternoon, spending the Thanksgiving holiday with my husband's sister and her family, and two new babies (that makes five total, but who's counting). My husband's boys (actually young men) are packing and preparing and figuring out what music and food to bring along (the two most important things, right?). Scout will not be traveling with us, which makes me kind of sad. On the other hand, she will be having a good time with her family-away-from-family, and we'll be a little freer too.
My husband's sister is a great hostess. We always feel very relaxed and at home when we stay with them. She's the most excellent cook; she gets up and puts the coffee on early in the morning; we can sleep in as long as we want. She never makes me feel like I have to do anything to help, but I always want to. One year I made my special raspberry walnut muffins for breakfast.
Road trips have a long history in my family. I never flew anywhere until I was 21 and a senior in college. Our family road trips included frequent travels to the family farm in southwestern Minnesota, a trip to Duluth in 1969, and two extended vacations by car, one to Seattle, Washington, and the other to Disneyland. I was ten when we travelled to Seattle. I took my first pictures of the Pacific Ocean and the Continental Divide and Yellowstone Park (and got two cameras for Christmas, that year). I was sixteen on our trip to Disneyland. We had a tour guide and our group included people from France. Afterwards, I decided I wanted to be a tour guide in Disneyland when I grew up. Instead, I am a pastor. I wonder what that means.
We considered the possibility of flying instead of driving this year, and asked the boys about it. They chose the road trip.
Here are some lessons I have learned "on the road":
1. The journey is as important as the destination. Now that in itself is a cliche. But it's still true, because the scenary, the detours, and the travelling companions are all a part of the journey. There are things you just don't see when you are up in the air, or at least don't see in the same way. And in the car, there are opportunities for the dirt-road turn-off, the deep conversation, the sudden realization. On the road, the journey is a shared experience, and it deepens our connections with each other. Maybe that's why the boys opted to ride instead of fly.
2. You always take more than you need. This is especially true for me on the road. I always think I am going to need my knitting, my piano books, 3 or 4 different books to read, my camera, my travel alarm, my curling iron, music for the car. On our family road trips, we took a cooler with food and snacks as well. This year, I am taking a picture of my dog. I will not need all that I take, but I want to make it seem like "home."
3. The anticipation is part of the event. This is true in small and big ways. Before we went to Disneyland, I prepared by sewing new clothes for myself all summer. For Paris (not a road trip, I know), I didn't have much preparation time, but I dreamed of the Louvre and Notre Dame.
4. You always learn something. Sometimes it's just: I don't have any comfortable shoes. Other times: the world is so large, and so beautiful, and I am so small. And still other times it might be: I could travel forever, and not see everything.
I'm over 50 years old now, and, unlike Hank Snow, I haven't been everywhere. Not even close. A road trip isn't always the most efficient way to travel.
But maybe it's not just about where you go and what you see. Maybe of all the things you learn, the most important lessons are about who you travel with: what makes them cry and what gives them hope, the things they can't stand and the things they can't live without.
Like Godiva chocolate. The Allman brothers. The dog. And each other.