The best part of trips are often the unplanned stops or detours along the way.
We try to take a big family trip each summer, typically about two weeks away from home. Many of you have previously read about beach trips, road trips through the Midwest and Canada, tours of New England, and visiting awesome National Parks out west. Our goal is to leave home with about 2/3 of the trip planned, leaving the other 1/3 as flex time. Despite innumerable online resources and advice from friends and family, it’s hard to really understand how much (or little) you will enjoy a destination or activity until you’re actually there.
So we call audibles from time to time. Some of our better seat-of-the-pants calls include:
- Lopping off 400 miles of driving and another destination to spend the 4th of July in Chicago, watching fireworks over Lake Michigan with a million of our closest friends. Ok, not really friends, but we did meet a guy on walkabout from Australia. They really do that.
- Pulling off the road in New Hampshire to walk through the woods and play in a river. My youngest son promptly fell in to the super cold ice melt and was swept about 50 yards down stream before he regained his footing and climbed out. Good times!
- Looking for a snack while driving through Vermont, we pulled into the Rainbow Sweets Bakery. It turned out to be a world-famous bakery with amazing exotic treats. We stayed for over an hour kibitzing with the owner (and spent over $100 on a very eclectic but delicious lunch).
- While back-country hiking Hermosa Creek in Southwest Colorado, we followed a small trail off the main path and discovered a beautiful waterfall that had eluded my sister, who had been hiking there regularly for years. No one fell in there, because the youngest had already fallen in earlier… Oh, and we drove our rental SUV back and forth across the creek a few times. Please don’t tell the rental company!
In general, there’s something exciting (and scary) about waking up in the morning and not knowing where you’re going to sleep that night (particularly when there are 5 of you).
The genesis of this missive is a recent trip we took to visit my parents in their new home in Charleston. After 38 years of living in Atlanta (34 in the same house), they recently relocated to Johns Island, a bedroom community south of the big city. They were very excited to have us come visit for a few days. My dad created an agenda email that ran about three pages, including an almost hour by hour plan, complete with links and pictures to various activities. My first thought was, wow, we’re going to eat a 1,000 calorie meal every 4 hours and this is going to cost me about $2,000.
So, one Wednesday late morning we loaded up the crew and began our drive to the coast. 4 days later we reversed course and headed back home after spending 3 nights with my parents (and brother, who also lives on Johns Island). Did we knock out every item on the agenda? Of course not, but we hit the high points. Of all the activities planned, do you know which ones were the most memorable to us and our teenagers? Three highlights stand out:
- The random stop (while on the way to the beach) at the Angel Oak. If you’ve never seen it, the Angel Oak is a 500-year old tree with limbs that cover half a football field. It’s huge, random, and totally unique. There were cars there from all over the country, so apparently it’s a big deal.
- The hour the entire family was hanging out in waist deep water off Kiawah Island, some bobbing on boogie boards, the others trying to pick up sand dollars with their toes. Completely unscripted but genuine.
- Finally, my mom cooking breakfast for us on our last morning. The waffle maker was small and slow, so we ate in shifts, but the entire family was just hanging out, talking and eating.
An agenda is great, and our meals and other outings were fine, but it was the unplanned time that really created the memories.
There is no major moral to this story or deep life lesson. The primary takeaway is to have a plan, but don’t be afraid to deviate. You never know what experiences might be around the corner!
Best wishes to everyone on the rest of your summer adventures.