Enduring vs. enjoying the journey.

Enduring vs. enjoying the journey.

I’m typing this from the balcony of our home-away-from-home (not by deed, just by practice, alas): My family just kicked off our annual week at the beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast. (Don’t worry for our sakes: we have house-sitters, an attack dog, plus a construction crew at our house all week.)

This is the tenth year we’ve been coming down here: we started making the trip when our now twelve-year-old was three.

Every year, I look forward being here, but I dread getting here.

We’ve always made the drive in one day, leaving very early in the morning—waking the kids well before sun-up and piling them in the car in their pajamas.

We drive straight south, and depending on traffic and how many stops we make, it takes 10-12 hours.

To some people, this is no big deal. But I hate feeling “stuck,” and I hate the interstate—which means I’ve never liked road trips.

We’ve always taken a rip-off-the-bandaid approach to our long drives: if you have to do something unpleasant, get it over with as quickly as possible.

But our drives down have never been great, and last year’s was the worst yet. We had to leave by 4:00 a.m. to stay ahead of a strong line of incoming storms sweeping the southeast. The kids were too excited about the trip to sleep—especially our youngest, who woke me a half dozen times between bedtime and departure.

The next day in the car we were all cranky, and I was so tired I felt ill. It took me 48 hours in Florida to feel like myself again.

After that horrible drive, I resolved to try something different next year.

Despite that, as this year’s departure grew closer, we weren’t sure we could actually pull it off. Will’s been swamped at work and getting away the night before would be tough. We confirmed just a few days before departure that our kitchen would be gutted while we’re away—which is awesome, but we had to move out of two rooms of our house in two days, on top of everything else.

Painful memories fade in a year, and we wondered if it would really be worth the trouble and money to book a hotel en route and unpack for the night.

In the name of experimentation (learn by doing has been my anthem of late), we went for it.


I booked a hotel on Expedia not quite three hours before we left; I told the kids two hours before our planned departure time. (Three kids were ecstatic; one was conflicted—they all love waking up early and leaving before sunrise.)

We planned to leave late afternoon, drive a little over four hours, and stop at a hotel with an indoor pool. We’d leave the next morning to drive the rest of the way—a little under six hours.

To make a long story short, that’s what we did, and it worked great. 

The kids were pumped about the surprise early departure. They ate dinner in the car, watched a one-hour movie, and spent a lot of time staring out the window.

I didn’t experience the familiar get-me-out-of-here-already feeling that usually hits me at the Kentucky border (at which point we have two hours behind us, and eight more to go—if we’re lucky).

Our evening drive took a little longer than we’d hoped—we drove through a few serious downpours, and traffic was thick in places—but it wasn’t bad. We checked in to the hotel, dropped our bags, and hit the pool. The kids did cannonballs while Will and I hit the hot tub. (They slept great, and Will and I slept well enough.)

Our drive the next morning was blessedly uneventful. Since we weren’t in a blazing hurry to get there, we spent more time on county roads (which aren’t so bad) and less time on I-65 (which I abhor), not even caring that it added 10 minutes to the drive. We didn’t cringe (much) every time somebody said they had to pee.

We didn’t get to town much earlier than we would have if we left at 4:00 a.m., but we were all much happier when we got there, and we haven’t had to spend the subsequent days catching up on sleep.

This wasn’t a big change. It wasn’t without cost: in terms of waking hours, we left six hours early. We had to get a hotel room. Will missed 90 more minutes of work (but he had a conference call at the beach on Saturday, so I’m calling it even).

But instead of dreading the journey, I almost enjoyed it. I never felt trapped in the car all day. The kids were full of anticipation instead of the usual frustration.

Now I’m asking myself how many other things I’m forcing myself to endure, when with a simple—or at least far from impossible—change, I might actually enjoy them.

If you have any examples to share of small—or at least not impossible—changes that have transformed your experience, I would LOVE to hear them.

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  1. Heather Anna says:

    Regarding extra cost in these types of decisions…a few years ago when our oldest was born and we were strapped for cash, I was talking to my mom about baby items that were sanity-savers (we’ve always been far away from friends/family/free help), but lamenting the cost. Her reply? “What price do you put on your sanity?” My new mantra! 🙂

    About road trips…I can never decide which is better, the band-aid or the drag-it-out approach. I’m pretty sure we switch every.single.time. we take a long drive, and spend half the trip debating the merits of this time vs last time and what we should do next time. If it were just DH and me, 10 or 12 hours would be no problem. But we have two, almost three, little guys with all their little and not-so-little needs that must be taken into account too.

  2. Anna says:

    When my kids were little we were between 9-12 hours from family. We would leave in the evening, drive all night, arrive early in the morning. Then we were moving cross country (Baltimore to Northwest MT) with a 4 1/2 year old and an almost 1 year old. We planned to do a 6-8hr drive each day, tried to stop at places with a pool when we could, and took in some sights along the way. That worked so well for us, it’s our preferred way to travel now.
    I also got some small (carry-on) size suitcases for the kids. The first ones were for traveling via car in the US. They could each pack their suitcase & backpack (with help for the youngest.) Then they could take their own things in & out of the car, too. It simplified the loading & unloading process. Then we upgraded to hard sided carry-on size for air travel. (We traveled lots from Feb 2013-March 2014, so we learned as we went.)

    When flying internationally, we’ll sometimes go with a slightly more expensive ticket to get fewer layovers. When you have to drag kids & luggage (and yourself) through the airport, less is better.

    Other than travel, some small changes that seem to help are breaking things down into smaller sections when planning or doing a big or overwhelming job. I think different people have different styles when it comes to this, but I like to set a small goal, and usually have some kind of break or reward at the end. That helps me to stick with it, because I know I just have to do that one smaller thing, then I can check that off the list and not think about the whole big thing all at once.

    Another thing is just to not procrastinate. I find myself putting off certain things I’m dreading, and more than 1/2 the time, they’re not really as bad as I thought they would be. But by putting it off, I wasted so much time & energy dreading it. Put some music on & get it done. Or listen to an audiobook while doing those pesky tasks, and you can enjoy it more. 🙂

    Another way to enjoy instead of endure is to have a friend join you. This isn’t possible for everything, but it can change something that is no fun into time spent with a friend laughing and making memories.

  3. I love your anthem “learn by doing” – I think I’ve been working on that myself lately too. Learning to enjoy the everyday things – just because this is my life and these are my things – the challenges, the chores, the changes in plan – all of it. My life can completely brighten with a simple change in my attitude. Thanks for sharing your experience and example. 🙂

  4. Ruth-Anne Hayes says:

    We started making a habit of breaking up our trips several years ago and have never regretted it. Everybody’s mood is improved, my husband loves not having to eat out of his lap while navigating traffic, and who doesn’t love a late night swim. Plus, we try to stay at a place that cookies in the evening and breakfast in the morning. Bonus!! It’s the little thngs in life that smooth out the wrinkles.

  5. Kate Filer says:

    Two years ago we made an impromptu decision to leave the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to try to avoid a snowstorm that was hitting the area on Wednesday. Bad weather combined with extra drivers leaving early turned the trip into a nightmare drive! After taking 4 hours to get to the Mason Dixon line (normally 1.5 hours), we realized it was going to turn into an all-night drive. We decided to shell out the money to stay overnight in a hotel before finishing the drive in the morning. It ended up leaving us both way more refreshed before we arrived at my in-laws. We decided to plan ahead last year and booked a hotel about 2 hours away from my in-laws. It turns an extended weekend with my in-laws into a mini-vacation with my hubby. Arriving well rested and relaxed definitely helps the holiday overall! Sometimes a one-night hotel stay is worth more emotionally and relationally!

  6. Bethany V. says:

    A couple years ago we started staying in a hotel when we travel to visit my husband’s family the weekend before Christmas instead of at his mother’s house. It is a significant expense for us and we have to pay extra for refundable rooms (with the high possibility of snow up north we didn’t want to be out alot of money if a blizzard comes through). But our visits have been so much more pleasant (even though we can’t afford to stay for as long) and honestly we don’t see that much less of his family than when we stayed at the house because his mom is always on the go. Having our private space and a place for two introverts to decompress at the end of the very long days of noise and socializing has been vital to making these trips manageable. It used to be so awful that we would come home and my husband would be emotionally wrecked for a week often almost ruining Christmas. It’s hard because this means we can only afford to go once a year and no one in the family seems to understand why we feel the need to do this. But I think it has made the difference between continuing these yearly trips and stopping them altogether.

  7. Leah says:

    A couple of years ago I had two toddlers and was drowning. I finally decided to shell out $40/week for a homeschooled teen to come play with the littles for two hours, two days a week. One day I would clean the house; the other day I would shower, do my nails, pay bills, read… some quiet activity alone in my room with no (or very few) interruptions. money was tight and it felt extravagant but it made the biggest difference in my outlook and psyche and my family benefited greatly. It taught me that cost comes in all forms and sometimes, it’s not worth saving monetarily but paying the cost in stress and exhaustion.

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