So, I should probably warn you before you even start to read.
This post has many photos.
And none of them are ministry-ish... none at all.
Five weeks of essentially vacation traveling will do that to you!
Especially if you've never done anything like that before as a family.
We left Niamey on June 9. We finally pulled in to the driveway at the missionary house where we will be spending this next year on July 14. That's five weeks of travel for a family of 10, living out of 2 small vans or one large van most of that time. What we saw and experienced are mostly once in a lifetime sorts of things and I don't know that we'll ever have such an opportunity again... ever... with all of our children. Today, as this post posts, I'll be on the road, taking our oldest off to college and we are beginning a new stage of parenting and just life in general.
It seemed frivolous, even selfish as we planned this trip - but we are thankful that we just went ahead and took that time to be together, to travel, to explore and see some amazing parts of this world. We kept shoving those doubts about frivolous and selfish to the backs of our minds and focused on redeeming our time... enjoying the moments... ones that would never be just ours again.
And we figured out some things about how to thrive while on the road, in such close proximity and confined spaces while in a rather longish state of transition.
1. Switch things up frequently and keep everyone involved in the planning... Change seating arrangements and make sure EVERY voice is heard when deciding what to do, even if it is the 4 year old begging to eat at the only McDonald's we saw in Scotland... AGAIN!
2. Give everyone a specific and unique to him/her job each step of the way. Wheeling his/her carry on through the airport, loading the pillows into the car, cleaning the trash out of the car seats, drying the camp dishes, photobomber (yes, some jobs can be silly), gathering pine cones to "feed" Daddy's Kelly Kettle, or keeping track of a sibling. When each person knows his/her job, it helps in the keeping track of everyone, boredom complaints are minimized and life tends to run a lot more smoothly.
3. As much as possible, keep times approximate and schedules flexible. Airplanes and ferries and some schedules won't and don't give. But a phone call to the camper van rental people might just mean you still get to see the William Wallace Monument and Sterling Bridge... even if it is from a distance and not as long as you might have hoped. Adding an extra day of travel might just mean you get to see those folks you haven't seen in really long time...
4. Practice "serendipity." What's that mean? Long before I met my husband, he and his cousin spent as much of their summers as possible hanging out at a golf course and canoeing Michigan's rivers. This cousin carried with him what he affectionately referred to as "the canoe-er's bible" and in it, he had penned a definition of serendipity. It is still my favorite-definition-of-the-word-ever. Serendipity (according to Cousin Andrew) is an "unexpected pleasure along life's way." That means you go ahead and splurge and eat those buffalo burgers, chase the wild mustangs, pose for a picture next to the Route 66 sign, call friends to catch up with them even at the last minute, taste the raw salt at the salt flats, etc.
5. Don't insist that everybody does everything all of the time. Sometimes, bigger girl might just want to sleep. Another time, Mama may want to read. Or wooden flute aficionado might want to wander through the tourist trap while the rest of us sip a soda. It's okay.
6. Do delight in another's delight over something, even when you might not find it nearly so appealing. You might care less about chasing wild mustangs down 4 wheel drive only trails in your big green 12 passenger van, but seeing the joy in her eyes can still make it a highlight for everyone.
7. Know when to sing and when to be silent. There is a time for both. The corollary to that is knowing when to enforce silence and when to allow singing... even if it is driving you crazy.
8. Get as many truck drivers as possible to honk as your vehicle goes whizzing by. The kids will smile and I'm guessing those truckers who do are smiling, too. And the others who don't probably didn't even notice your kids bouncing around in the back seat, pumping their arms.
9. One or two "distractions" or entertainment sources per child is MORE than sufficient. More than that just becomes clutter to pack and unpack... pack and unpack... pack and unpack... Well, you get the idea. Maps, travel brochures and cameras are awesome "distractions" and sometimes you get some great rewards/souvenirs/ideas from a different perspective than your own. Packing lightly is, in general, a good idea.
10. Sometimes you just need a break. It isn't a "fail" to snag a hotel room when you are mostly tenting your way through a region. Besides restoring sanity and giving our group of 10 some breathing space, free WiFi, Disney Channel or Animal Planet and the all you can eat breakfast buffet in the morning sometimes made the hotel room the cheaper option. (I know... that one surprised me, too.)
11. A lake with a beach (rocky or sandy... lonely or crowded) almost always pleases everyone... even if it is in different ways.
12. Consider it serendipity (see above) if/when you actually manage to synchronize bladders for a sensible rhythm of bathroom breaks. Otherwise, plan on stopping just about every other exit... Well... that may be a bit hyperbolic, but only a bit...
13. Use bear safe lockers where they are provided... and stay awake to listen to your kids talk in their sleep after they've seen a real live, uncaged grizzly down by the beach. It will make you smile. Don't read Night of the Grizzlies that same night. That won't make you smile.
14. Take advantage of those leave-a-book-take-a-book libraries found in campgrounds and laundromats and hotel lobbies and etc., wherever you find them. You might find yourself reading some pretty fascinating material you might have never considered otherwise. I'm reading a real cool "documentary" called Garbage Land right now that I can promise you I would have never picked up otherwise.
15. Hold hands, snuggle on laps, tickle, giggle, laugh, wear your sunglasses backwards, buy your kids a few souvenirs they don't need, walk barefoot on the beach, eavesdrop on interesting conversations taking place the next stall over while showering (sometimes it was my girls!), talk to strangers (those bikers from Québec thought it was pretty cool our kids spoke French) and find out a little bit of their stories... In other words, do your best to intentionally and unexpectedly enjoy each moment God sets before you and then make sure you thank Him for it.
And those seem to be pretty good rules to apply to life in general, regardless of your destination, your ETA... and even when you are just hanging out at home.
Do you have any tips for when your family travels over an extended period of time?