Given that we’ve been on the road (more or less) for about two and a half months, I figured it was time for another installment of Lessons Learned. As we’ve made our way through the demise of our not-so-trusty traveling companion and regrouped to travel in a more slimmed-down fashion, here are some of my recent thoughts.
- The types of dining or fast food establishments in a town (if any) can be a pretty good barometer for the economic health of the area. A Chipotle? The area must be pretty well-to-do. The nicest (or only) fast food is a Hardees or a Subway? It’s either a really small town, or at least several rungs below the Chipotle towns in economic status.
- Things don’t go according to plan. This is such an important lesson that I’ve been learning most of my life. Embracing it allows me to let go and move on much more quickly.
- Flexibility and patience are key to minimizing stress. This is one of THE most important lessons I’ve learned in the past five years. While this isn’t something new to me, I’ve intentionally focused on practicing flexibility and patience in the presence of adversity, small and large, during this trip. This has made a remarkable difference in my stress level.
- The only way to get over irrational fears is to face them head on. When I was a child, I had a fear of dogs. Thankfully, I’ve gotten over that, but I’ve moved on to bigger and badder fears – airplanes and bears. Kinda stinks for someone who likes to travel. Having the van to sleep in on nights and in places that I was a bit more scared of bears served as a warm and cozy security blanket. As we traveled, I found myself thinking about bears less and less as we were out and about on trails, cooking dinner, and sleeping at night. It’s much easier to think about bears constantly during weekend outings than it is to think about it day in and day out when I’m living in the great outdoors on a semi-permanent basis. Now that I don’t have the van as a back-up sleeping destination, I’m forced to reckon with the fact that if we want to travel, I need to sleep in bear country. And it’s been going remarkably well, helped in large part by several months of facing it every day with a back-up plan. Will I have the same reaction in grizzly country? No, I know I won’t. But that’s a much smaller part of our journey. I am so relieved to be making progress towards putting bears (or at least black bears) in the same category as woof-woofers, using Van terminology.
- I belong amongst trees and mountains. And no, I’m not snobby like some Coloradans I know (wink, wink) – the Rockies are not the only topological bumps I’d call mountains.
- Lavender Kombucha (my favorite drink of the past few months) is a great conversation starter from Kentucky to Arkansas to Colorado. It’s a bit pricey compared to our usual drink of water from public spigots, so I don’t splurge often. But, I don’t think that I’ve made the splurge on this trip without an interesting and fun conversation to go along with the drink.
- As much as we like to joke about it, my father really is the most interesting man in the world. He’s been to so many of the places we’re exploring and always has an interesting story about his time there. I’ve heard fun and crazy stories about my father my whole life – each one of which would be the most interesting thing to happen to someone else – and yet these are all new stories. I think I ought to write a book.
- Even with three people living full-time in a car, we still have plenty of room to bring wants. The continuous downsizing of our possessions has been a great lesson in need vs. want. We’re still taking plenty of wants with us – needs for three people do not fill up an entire car.
- The best destinations usually cost the least, if anything at all. We are not traveling to see all the major tourist destinations. We’re traveling to get to know pockets of this country in a way we cannot without going there and engaging with the land and its people. Yes, we’ll be hitting some of the major National Parks with our annual pass, but other than the $80 we spend annually on this pass, most of the places we’re visiting don’t cost anything. There have been some notable exceptions (The Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill and the Museum of Appalachia being two destinations very worth their admission fees), but we are generally very hesitant to spend money to have an experience on this trip. Because of the thought we’ve put into paying for “attractions”, the few places we’ve paid to visit have been fantastic experiences. If we were on vacation somewhere for a week, I’d probably be more free with my wallet. But, given that we’re traveling for so long, it helps us in numerous ways to keep that wallet closed more than we open it. Besides the saving money part, it also encourages us to see some lesser visited places that may be free or to explore towns and the natural environs of the citizens instead of the touristy parts of towns. There is a lot of fun to be had at libraries and laundromats, town squares and supermarkets. Writing that last sentence made my realize that this trip has basically been a tour of town square picnic lunches!