“Don’t blink. You might just miss your babies growing like mine did. … Life goes faster than you think.”
Kenny Chesney’s Don’t Blink lyrics sum up what life has felt like since the birth of our oldest 10 years ago. I can remember everyone telling us to treasure the little years because they would fly by in a blink. And although we knew they were right and we did our best to cherish the moments, there’s an element of those early years that, like most other moms and dads, we were just trying to survive.
Fast forward a few years and we find ourselves the parents of a 10, 8, and 7-year-old—and we can’t help asking, “How did that happen?!” We are now beyond the half-way point with our oldest: She has fewer years left at home than we’ve already had the joy of experiencing, and our boys are quickly approaching their own half-way marks. As time races on, Jarrett and I are trying to seize the moments with our kids, spending as much time with them as we can and pouring into their young lives. One of the main ways we do this is by creating family connections one RV adventure at a time.
The sinking realization of how fast the years were passing first dawned on us nearly three years ago. “10 summers,” Jarrett announced one day. “That’s all we’ve got left before she heads to college.” While 10 years might seem like a lot of time left to invest in a child’s life, breaking it down to just 10 summer vacations made us realize that if we didn’t get intentional about creating family connections, we might miss those opportunities all together.
Growing up, both of our parents always dreamed about taking their families on a cross-country RV adventure, visiting iconic landmarks and creating memories that would transcend the decades to come. But one thing or another prevented both of our families from realizing those dreams. Jarrett and I didn’t want the same to happen to us.
Getting a plan
So we started to dream. What places did we want to take our kids before they turned 18? What things would we like for them to experience? As the kids grew, we sought their input as well, and over the next few years our bucket list took shape.
We are now down to about seven summers left and our bucket list still has places left like the Grand Canyon, Zion, Tetons, Acadia, Four Corners, Prince Edward Island, Great Smoky Mountains, D.C., and Alaska. So much to see, so little time.
As we continue to plot our summer travels, we are always wrangling with two limitations: time and money. Jarrett’s teaching schedule offers us a lot of flexibility to travel—we’re just limited to when we can travel, namely summer and holiday breaks. Since I’ve been telecommuting for 10+ years, I’m fortunate to be able to take my work on the road, whenever and wherever.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
7th Ranch RV Camp, Garryowen, MT
Needles Highway, Custer State Park, S.D.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Thus it’s our travel fund that constrains our travel plans more than any other factor. Anyone who has towed a camper before knows that terrible gas mileage is the great financial restrictor. With our current rig, we generally get about 8 miles per gallon, compared to approximately 16 miles per gallon when we’re not towing. That means on our 5,200-mile West trip, our fuel consumption reached nearly 600 gallons. And at the time of the trip, gas prices were around $3 a gallon. Ouch! We’ve found that if we plan a mileage-heavy bucket list trip one summer, we need to allow our travel fund time to recover by planning a closer to home trip the next summer. (For more ideas on how we and other bloggers fund our travels, see our post Traveling Light.)
Anyone can do this, just in different ways
Time and money will likely be the inhibitors most families face to taking their kids on the road. With the national vacation time average hovering around two weeks, it certainly doesn’t make it easy to pursue those bucket list plans. School schedules, extracurricular activities, and daily life commitments will also compete against travel plans. Does that mean it is impossible to pursue bucket list travel plans with your family? No, but it does mean you will have to get creative about working within your family’s individual constraints, and you will have to be intentional about planning.
For some that might mean taking a second, short-term job to finance the trip. For others it might mean saving up every possible vacation day to accrue enough time off for a longer-distance trip. And for even others, it might mean focusing your efforts on checking off bucket list stops closer to home—because sometimes when time and money don’t allow, it’s best to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.
The primary goal is about creating family connections with your kids. You can reach this goal in small ways as well as large, a few miles from home or hundreds of miles away. But if you wait until you have the ideal amount of time off and the ideal amount of money in the travel fund, you might miss out on making those connections while you can.
“Trust me friend, a hundred years goes faster than you think … so don’t blink.”
Our family’s 10-year bucket list:
- Acadia National Park (summer 2020!)
- Arches National Park
Badlands National Park (2015) Blue Ridge Parkway (2019)
- Boston, Mass. (summer of 2020!)
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
Cape Hatteras National Seashore (2016)
- Capitol Reef National Park
Crater of Diamonds, Arkansas (2017) Door County, Wisconsin (2017)
- Dry Tortugas National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (2019)
- Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
Hot Springs National Park (2017) Jekyll Island, Georgia (2018, 2019, 2020)
- Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, N.M.
Mackinac Island (2017) Mammoth Cave National Park (2017) New York Finger Lakes (2018)
- Niagara Falls, New York (spring 2020!)
- Olympic National Park
Outer Banks, N.C. (2016) Padre Island National Seashore (2017) Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (2017)
- Redwood National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Sequoia National Park
Shenandoah National Park (2019) Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (2017) Texas Hill Country and San Antonio (2017) Waco and Austin, Texas (2017) Washington, D.C. (2019) Yellowstone National Park (2015)
- Zion National Park
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