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.