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An End and a Beginning

The Journey

The Journey

Dear Friend,

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. 🙂

Your friend,


{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Vesna November 14, 2011, 4:17 am

    Thanks for sharing Hugh!!  For Florida, we could not find anything in the keys, although I know there are some spots, but it seemed rather difficult, so we gave up.  We ended up at an amazing spot in Titusville – there are a few up and down the coast there.  Nothing like the west though 🙁

    As for traveling overseas.  We are currently in Serbia – we were in Germany back in June and have been in Serbia since.  It is amazing here.  You are 100% correct about the kids learning more about culture and what makes humans tick.  They learned a lot on the road in the u.s., but more about history and landscape.  Canada is pretty much a carbon copy of the u.s. and the differences were incredibly minor.  As you mentioned, we did notice, and were shocked by, the waste size difference as we traveled from the west coast through the southern states to the east coast.  It was quite shocking.

    The learning here in Europe is quite different.  We’ve been stationary for what seems like a while now, but we’re still doing a ton and learning a ton.  The differences in thinking and what people find important (home cooked meals made from HOME GROWN food….and consumerism?  No such thing.  EVERYTHING is used and saved and reused…..even bricks of buildings that are being taken down.)  These are massive life lessons for us and the kids, and we are finding great changes in our mindsets.

    Serbia is incredibly inexpensive when you are using north american earned currency.  We are living on about 20 euros a day ($25 – $30) and that includes electricity, gas, internet, cell phones, food, clothes, etc.  We are not paying for a place to stay, as we are in my uncle’s place, but even if we were, it wouldn’t add more than $150 – $400 per month.  Email me if you want details, but it’s not as expensive as you think 🙂  The flight cost can be a pain, but I can give you the time period for the lowest rates (which are cheaper than a lot of flights within north america!)


    P.S. Also – I forgot to mention that internet here in Europe ROCKS!! As do cell phones…..SO CHEAP and SO FAST! You have no idea! (or maybe you do!). But, it’s been really amazing. Here in serbia we’ve enrolled our kids in swimming (and they don’t just do pansy ass swimming lessons – they are like olympic training! – 1 hour lessons every day for crazy cheap), now karate – $13 per month for 3 one hour lessons each week! They are also enrolled in Serbian lessons – $6 per one hour lesson. Taxis anywhere within the city is $1.20

    Food is CRAZY cheap….and talk about a 100km diet!? Yeah – all non-sprayed awesome and fresh. Consumerism = MINIMAL!

    Anyway, I could hook you up here pretty well – do NOT give up on Europe….we’ve been livin’ the life out here.

    Let me know if you’re up for more info….sorry to bombard you 🙂 It’s just been an amazing experience!


  • Hugh DeBurgh November 15, 2011, 12:40 am

    I just got this email from Marci Livingston from over at http://www.livingstonfamilyadventures.blogspot.com and she said it was OK to re-post her note here, along with my response. Thanks, Marci! 🙂

    Hugh –

    I have enjoyed reading your posts and I am especially interested in this recent post.  Our family of 6 is planning to get on the road this fall full-time and we are really wanting to learn from others as much as we can. 

    I know you are busy but I wonder what you would say changed your families desire to travel any longer……age of the children, the type of RV you were living in, the places you stayed, the places you visited, etc.  We have lots of reservations and concerns about the unknown but we are super excited about trying to be full-timers even if we try and fail.  But, the advice of others is strongly welcomed! 

    Thanks! Marci Livingston

    My Response:

    Hi Marci!

    First, I want to say that you should forget all of your reservations
    about traveling. Don’t let anything stop you from setting forth on
    your journey! There is nothing to fear. Full timing is great! As far
    as what impacted our family’s desire to travel – nothing in
    particular, really. I think we will still travel. I just think we
    need a bit more novelty, as we had seen what there was to see in
    this one area.

    Our RV is a 35 foot motorhome. Good sized but a 45 foot 5th wheel
    would’ve been even better – in other words, with a big family more
    space is better. Period. Especially if that space is
    compartmentalized so there is a bit of privacy separating the kids
    from the adults, and the kids who want it get a bit of privacy, too.

    There is no place in North America that I would not recommend
    visiting. It is particularly important to see the sections of the
    Continent that are very different than what you are used to. After
    our travels we split the Continent into three big chunks – East to
    West: The East, which is the Atlantic and the foothills on each side
    of the Appalachians up to the Mississippi; the Midwest, which is
    Corn Country; and the West, which is generally brown in color,
    beautifully desolate and empty compared to the rest.  That is a HUGE
    generalization but you get the idea.

    And don’t forget Canada – there is incredible beauty in the Canadian
    West – don’t miss it!

    We have not “failed” – we are just continuing our journey in a way
    that is authentic to us. No one is judging your choice. If the
    desire strikes – seize it! The only failure is to let fear overcome
    your curiosity. The fear will soon disappear because it isn’t
    justified. I am so glad and proud of what we have done together as a
    family so far, and I am certain you will be for your family, too.

    So GO!!!!

    Love, Hugh

  • space2live November 21, 2011, 1:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing your tales of the road with honesty.  It’s good to hear the parts of the trip that were disappointing. I would love to take my kids on a trip in search of meaning.  I am sure I would get some of the same responses you did.  I like being home.  Will we have internet connectivity?   I guess it takes adult hindsight to know how powerful an experience can be.  Nevertheless, I am sure there will be sand on you and your family’s shoes from this trip for the rest of your lives.  

  • Heidi Marshall February 16, 2014, 11:23 pm

    Great article! Love the honesty. I didn’t see a date on this article so I’m not sure if you’ve done anything crazy since the kids weren’t too excited to start traveling again. I hope you don’t mind if I make a suggestion. You said you wanted your children to really experience a different way of living and you mentioned Mexico. We’re living in Mexico right now with our 3 small children and we loooooooooove it!

    It doesn’t sound like your family is ready for a full on pick up and relocate to Mexico but you could do an extended vacation. Like spend the whole summer in Mexico. It’s cheap, beautiful, you can drive here, very different cultural, and the food is amazing. Anyway good luck with your adventures!

  • Hugh DeBurgh February 17, 2014, 1:14 am

    Heidi – Thanks for the great comment! I talked to our gang about Mexico a while back, but all everyone knew about was the border drug war, and I couldn’t get them excited. They thought I was crazy. Give me the ammo I need to broach the Mexico option to them again. Tell me (and everyone else here) why Mexico is such a great idea. Why do you love it? What are the good and not so great points? How do I know it is even safe to cross the border? Sell me! Please! 🙂

  • Heidi Marshall February 21, 2014, 11:16 pm

    Mexico…… Where to start? Safety- I haven’t personally driven over the border but being here I have met many people that have. We have friends that have driven from Texas to cozumel 5 times. Yes there are parts that are dangerous like the border cities but as long as your not hangin out there at night time you shouldn’t have any problems. There are also parts of America that are extremely dangerous. I’m not gonna go hangin out in Compton at night time.

    We have driven all over the Yucatan peninsula and I have never felt scared, actually quite the opposite. Compared to the US people here are more religious and much more family orientated. When was the last time a stranger stopped and talked to you and told you how beautiful your children are and talked to your baby and asked you questions. When we first moved here I was shocked (and slightly scared) when a waitress held my baby for me so I could eat my dinner. We mostly just feel a whole lot of love from the Mexican people.
    Sure there are bad people here but there’s a lot of bad people in the US also.

    We have also experienced a whole of trust worthy people. So far we have left a cell phone in a car rental, a camera in a separate car rental, my wallet full of rent money in a laundry mat, and just recently my debit card at a local grocery store

  • Heidi Marshall February 21, 2014, 11:35 pm

    (I hope I’m not rambling but this is the important part) ALL of the above items were returned to us with not even a peso missing.

    Ok so it’s safe but why should you visit? Three words: food. ocean. people.

    We just finished the best dinner of my life for $12 and that fed a family of five. When we came here my kids would only eat quesadillas. Now they eat every kind of taco, panuchos, salbutes, and much more.

    The ocean here is beautiful, warm, and there is a ton of sea life. I know not every beach in Mexico is like the Yucatan but you can find little paradises all over Mexico. We also really like Cabo.

    You said you wanted to expose your kids to a different culture and way of living. You got that hands down here. The people here are humble, loving, and patient.

    Ok I think I’ve gone on long enough you can check out my husbands blog. I think there are some pictures there and he’s a much better writer than I:) http://www.familyrocketship.com our contact info is there so please send us an email if you have any further questions

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