Our journey across North America left me with distinct impressions that I feel compelled to share.
There were impacts that I had hoped for, those that I expected, and others that I was surprised by. I saw many different places but I also saw great homogeneity.
I had hoped that this journeying experience would impact the way my kids saw the world. And it did.
They now realize the size of our Continent (at least the Anglo part). And also its accessibility. When I say, “Hey, let’s drive out to Vegas (from Virginia) they aren’t totally shocked as most people would be. They know it is very do-able.
But one disappointment I do have is that the world they experienced was so similar to the world they have always known. I am disappointed that their way of viewing the world (and mine) was not impacted in the way or to the degree I had hoped it might be.
The unique variations in the culture of Anglo North America are hard to see today. No doubt these variations are still there. But for the casual traveler, relying on guide books and reasonably passable roads, they are hard to find.
When I use the term “culture” here what I am really talking about is the unique temperment and attitude of the people. And the way they live their lives. How they, in Jefferson’s words, pursue happiness. This is what gets me excited. I want to learn from others what makes them tick. What makes them happy? What matters to them? What does integrity mean to them?
Everywhere we traveled there are big-box stores. The same ones you see at home. Convenience? Absolutely. I’m not anti-Wal-Mart. Heck, we benefited greatly from the hospitality that Wal-Mart provides to RVers, allowing us to stay overnight in their parking lots when we drive cross country.
No, it’s not the stores. It’s the monochromatic culture that people seem to have adopted that is reflected in these stores. Home cooked meals are hard to come by. Unique creativity is getting harder to find. So many people struggle to get by doing the same boring jobs. Working in a 7-11, or in one of those big box stores. Merely surviving.
Obesity is unbelievably rampant across North America. I have struggled with this problem my entire life, so I can identify. My impression from our journey is that “fast food nation” seems to have turned this land into a heart attack waiting to happen. I’m talking about people carrying massive weight, while standing in line at a store next to magazine stands featuring the latest Hollywood bulimia candidates. We seem to idealize a look that our lifestyle makes impossible. And the pleasure and ease of eating this way may just be the best pleasure many of us realize on a daily basis.
North America has physical beauty that is unbelievable. Wildlife seem abundant and are increasing in most areas we explored. People are basically honest and kind. And many tourists from other continents are exploring North America as well.
The method that we used to travel was awesome. The RV allowed us to explore without being uprooted from our “home”. This was huge when traveling with four kids. It reduced the level of stress related to moving to a new locale. I have nothing but good things to say about RV travel. Except maybe that living with five other people in a pretty small space can get tiresome.
Did my family go mad living in such a small space for so long? No. Did we get mad? Not as often as you might expect. But what we did do is intensify our relationships. And this means that, if there were ever issues between any of us, those issues came to the surface sometime on this journey. Our relationships did change. Better or worse, they are more real. More authentic.
My family has a bond today that I don’t think we had before we left. We are better friends. There is definitely more trust. It was hard to hide anything under these conditions.
I spoke today with a guy from Norway who took his family of five on a one-year world journey. They spent their first six months in the Cook Islands, and the next six months backpacking across Southeast Asia. When I asked him how this experience effected his children, he told me it changed them forever. In his words, the “sand has never fully left their shoes.” The time they spent in the Cook Islands helped them to adapt to a new, slower speed of living, and to not take their lives or themselves too seriously. Since that time, his wife has taken some of the children with her on business trips to India, where they experience a completely different approach to life. We spoke about the impact that seeing someone who lives in poverty has on a child. But even more importantly, seeing such a person who does not know he is poor, and is quite happy with his circumstances. This type of experience challenges a child’s (and an adult’s) ideas about what it is that makes a person happy. Such a realization can change the course of entire lives in profound ways.
Perhaps I was naive, but I had hoped that our journeys might impact our kids in similar ways. They did not. At least not like I had hoped they might.
My kids were never particularly materialistic. And leaving behind so much stuff that nobody missed was a great lesson for us all in how little we need to be comfortable. These were valuable lessons. But I wanted more. And I still do.
So now I consider the next leg in our journeys. Where shall we go? What shall we do? And how can I achieve the impacts that I want these trips to have on my children that I still feel we have not experienced?
Traveling to distant lands can be expensive. I don’t have tons of disposable dollars, and if we continue our travels beyond our Continent, it’s gonna cost. I am not the roughing it type. I don’t have to live in high luxury, but I like A/C and heat. I like clean sheets. I like privacy and quiet. I need to feel safe. So far, overseas travel looks like a big expense for a family of six.
Another problem is that I’m not getting the enthusiasm I want from my crew for such a journey. After two years on the road they have a been there, done that attitude. Some of them no longer want to travel. My youngest doesn’t get travel. She likes to stay home, and she has made that quite clear. My oldest has a strong interest in gaming and game design, and the Internet on the road is spotty. My oldest daughter wants to hide from the world while she transforms into a butterfly in that precious process called puberty. And my younger son has trouble with change and crowds as he deals with mild Aspergers/Autism.
There, is, of course, Mexico.
I have talked about this before. It’s on the same continent. We could go there in the RV. Fuel is cheaper there. There are many beautiful sights and a different culture. My kids would finally get to see how the other half lives. Yet every day we hear about crime in Mexico. How bad is it? Are the police corrupt? We are ignorant, and that makes us patsies. I don’t like being a patsy. Do I take my children through that kind of gauntlet? If anything happened to them, I would be destroyed. Yet most of that crime problem stuff is supposed to be on the border.
Maybe I have lost my shot? Maybe my opportunity window for world travel and discovery with my family is closed? Some parents would just pile the kids in and say “too bad, we’re leaving.”
We’ve talked about getting a boat. I have a love-hate relationship with this idea. A boat is limited in where it can go in relation to populations. But it isn’t restricted by continent like the RV. And a boat that comfortably houses my army will be expensive. Boating is restricted by the weather much more than RVing is. My wife has stated that she will only go on a boat if it stays within sight of land. The idea of doing the great circle circumnavigation of the eastern US (Atlantic, Mississippi River, Great Lakes route) doesn’t excite me, because it tours some of the same places we have already visited. Touring the Mediterranean might be cool. The Caribbean? Maybe. Or traveling the canals of Europe. Or the South Pacific, but that may require a pretty high level of seamanship.
So, I’m not sure what to do. Plus, since we got home this last time my wife discovered that our kid’s local Montessori school was going broke. So now she is the volunteer Executive Director! Hmmm.
Well … we have decided to head south in a few weeks for a little jaunt. One place we’ve never taken the RV is Florida (though most of us have been there several times). We have talked about heading to Key West, but I’m not so sure we’ll find a place for our RV there. I guess we’ll just have to give it a shot and see what happens. At least, that’s what my wife says (WOW – what a change!)!
Until later, I wish you wonderful lives and interesting travels.