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. Sara K. says:

    This post is well timed. We are leaving on Wednesday for a Virginia to Florida drive – about 10 to 11 hours for us. Like you, I’m not a big fan of long car rides and would much prefer to stop and spend the night somewhere partway. I don’t think we are going to do that this trip though!

    Hope you have a great vacation!

  2. Jessie says:

    I enjoyed reading this because I can relate. We live in Florida and make drives up to SC/, N/C, TN to visit family. For most of our marriage we drove like you and Will, straight through. 3 years ago we made the switch to stopping overnight and I hope we never go back to the straight through drive. I enjoyed the stop, dinner in a strange town, despite having to unload and reload the car.

    One other change we made last month. We traveled back to India (my husband’s home land) to complete an international adoption. THIS time we took another airline and paid a tad bit more for economy PLUS seats, giving us enough leg room to make the previously unbearable flight doable. It was worth the extra cost. 🙂

  3. Deborah says:

    We live in Saudi Arabia and it takes us 30 hours to get home to Tulsa, OK. In the past we’ve powered through and it has been miserable. This summer, we decided to stop in London to break up the trip. Such a good decision! Two time zones is no big deal, so we didn’t have jet lag issues. London was amazing. And we still had energy for family when we arrived in Tulsa. We will definitely be doing this with other European cities in the future.

  4. Ana says:

    In itself this is a great idea…but even better is the whole concept. It has me thinking, too. There has been a lot of “enduring” going on lately and its no way to live.

  5. Jeri says:

    this weekend I told my husband, “I want to be in Colorado, I just don’t want to have to get there from Illinois”. I so get you. Can you read in the car? I cannot and that is a frustration too.

  6. liz n. says:

    I love road trips! Being able to travel at my own pace (depending on traffic, of course), stopping to check out anything that catches my attention (world’s largest ball of string? I’m in! Best coffee in the South? I’ll try it! Roadside produce stands? Aw, yes! ANOTHER historical monument? Let’s go!), and not having to share travel space with strangers are some of the benefits of road trips.

    However, I will drive a total of eight hours a day, not counting pit stops and side trips to see the world’s largest ball of string, and then we are spending a night in a hotel before the next leg of the journey. I’ve done the marathon driving thing, and I think it eats into Enjoyment Time: by the time you arrive at the main destination, you’re tired, cranky, and sore; you feel covered in road grime, checking in and unpacking is a drudge, the kids go into Arrival Energy Burst just as you’re sinking into Arrival Energy Drain, and it takes at least a day to recover.

    Vacations are supposed to be relaxing and rejuvenating, not stressful and draining.

  7. Kelly says:

    Always, always break up a long drive. We regularly drive 22+ hours to visit folks, but with our kiddos along we take stops to make it more fun for everyone. We can still make our destination in 2-2.5 days, but we all arrive happy. For overnights, I also pack everything that everyone needs for the one hotel night in one bag so that we only have to bring in one bag…everything else for our long visit stays packed in the car, which allows us to get back on the road with less hassle.

    • Karlyne says:

      Or, as the kids get older, everyone gets his or her own small tote bag to back overnight stuff like pjs, toiletries, bedtime books, etc. New toothbrushes to put in each one is a nice touch, too!

  8. Mystie says:

    Oh, I hear you! I am very much a “plug my nose and get it over with as soon as possible” person. I like to plunge in and just say, “In 12 hours (or whatever) it’ll all be over.” I’d say it’d all be a memory, but the truth is it’s something to forget about, not remember. Perhaps actually thinking in terms of making it a memory rather than a nightmare would be a good change. That approach got me through a number of very difficult births, though.

    I made a change like that with laundry years ago. I’d do a huge laundry marathon on Mondays that I dreaded and never actually all the way finished on Mondays. I hated laundry. I reluctantly tried out a one-load-a-day routine – and added listening to an audiobook or podcast while I folded the one load – and now laundry is no big deal. Really, it’s my 10 minutes of pause in the day as I take the laundry to my bedroom to fold on my bed and close the door. I never thought doing laundry every day would make me dread laundry less.

    • Katherine says:

      I took a similar approach with our kids’ chores this summer. Instead of one massive “chore day” where we all…uhh…hate life all day, now we do a smaller amount every day. The kids are used to it, they don’t mind the little doses, and I don’t have to write off my whole Saturday morning to the exhaustion a mountain of chores. It works for us.

  9. Susan says:

    Last year we took a cross-country trip and I was dreading it. Both of our parents used to get us up before light and drive 600+ miles per day on car trips. So, like you, I decided I wasn’t going to relive an experience I knew I’d hate. Instead, I started planning 3 months before our trip. These changes made the travel as much (if not more) fun as the actual arrival:

    1) I planned sight-seeing stops for every 3-4 hours on the trip. The sight-seeing included historical sites, caves, hiking trails, and even a movie.
    2) I planned the route for scenery. We traveled over 2600 miles, hitting the interstate system for less than 60 miles.
    3) We stayed in older, inexpensive motels on little-traveled state highways and local roads. The costs were much less than staying in motels on the interstate and every motel was different and quirky (but not icky nor unsanitary). If our budget were larger, we would have stayed in B&Bs for even more variety.
    4) We packed snacks and ate inexpensively in chain-type drive-ins. We were careful to pick chains that aren’t common to our part of the country, so even fast-food was different and interesting. (And before you condemn fast-food as bad, I suggest you try chains such as the Burgerville we ate in in Vancouver, WA. Food was fresh, locally-sourced, and absolutely delicious.)

    We were actually bummed on the day we arrived back home because the travel was over. Now that’s the way to take a trip!

    • Charyse says:

      As a Pacific Northwesterner with a Burgerville in my town (the furthest one south!) Burgerville rocks!! My mom loves it so much that even if she comes to my house for a meal, she always stops at Burgerville before leaving town.

  10. Pam says:

    Living in the Midwest, it takes us a good 15 hours to get to Florida. We go a few times a year, so we are pretty darn good at long drives. We’ve discovered that it makes ALL the difference to look at the drive as part of the trip. We always stay in a hotel one night (hello pool – it’s the official “start” of vacation). We use Yelp to find local restaurants for all our meals, and look for fun things to do along the way. Through the years, we’ve stopped to pick strawberries at a U-Pick It Farm, visited a dairy farm, seen the World’s Largest Windchime, etc. The kids love it and look forward to our adventures. Yes, we lose a day or two on the drive, but we have fun and make great memories!

  11. Susan says:

    We live in Chicago and have made the Florida drive several times. My husband always wants to power through, but I can only make it to Atlanta no matter what time we leave. I second the suggestion to pack one bag strictly for the intermediate destination. We take that in and any electronics that need charging. The rest of the stuff stays in the car to make a quick exit in the morning.

  12. Marie says:

    Neither my husband nor I is a marathon driver. We’d put off a trip to Disney for many years because we just couldn’t handle I-95 for that many hours. Then a friend told us about the Amtrak Auto Train, which originates not too far from where we live (though we saw many license plates from further up the coast). What a blast! Nice, roomy seats; dinner and breakfast included; a movie in the lounge car; hot chocolate available all night; and the experience of traveling the country by train–we definitely felt like this was a mini-vacation in itself. Plus, no wear and tear on the car. It costs a little bit more than the drive to Fla. plus a hotel room, and it was well, well worth it. Plus, we were actually excited for the trip home, and when does that ever happen?

  13. Janet says:

    I hate long car rides, generally get car sick and miserable. So the rule here is, if the trip is more than 2 hours we fly and if the flight is more than 2 hours we go first class. Makes traveling a whole lot more fun.
    I realize with children this probably isn’t possible and when our daughter was young we couldn’t afford it. But we can now and by golly we deserve it.

  14. Maggie says:

    My kids LOVE hotels. We have done this before and it works so well. Even if it’s just a cheap no frills place, they get so excited about it. We end up being the heroes of the story.

    • Bonnie says:

      My boys were the same way. Motel rooms mean Cartoon Network (later ESPN–we’ve never had cable) and a pool. That was often the highlight of any trip for them.

  15. Sarah says:

    Every summer, the kids and I travel 11 hours to visit my father (my husband skips this trip). We have three trucks for making this pleasant. First, I leave around 9:00 am so that I’m not exhausted (because who cares if we don’t get it until late in the evening), if we are good in the car (myself included), we get a couple of expensive Starbucks stops on the interstate (latte for me, cake pops for the Kid’s). Lastly, we have discovered that the Ted Radio Hour is our mutual love language, so we listen to one episode every time we start feeling cranky. If the youngest gets bored during the podcast, she is allowed to put in her earbuds and listen to music on an old iPod. The podcasts (which we listen to through the car speakers) give us topics for discussion to pass even more time.

  16. Laura says:

    We just did a cross country road trip- NM to NY- and took an a whole week to drive out because we brought our newborn in addition to 4 older kiddos. The extra time and civil war themed stops made the trip manageable, even fun. We stayed in DC and enjoyed a few days there. Spacing out the drives, staying with friends, and listening to audiobooks helped.

  17. Charyse says:

    My family used to travel from Salem, OR to Lake Shasta, CA. It’s about a 6 hour drive straight through. We would travel with another family who also had two kids. Pulling out of the driveway at 5 am was easy for the two dads who were usually up for work at that time anyway. But the rest of us would’ve struggled if we didn’t do a few things.
    We all traveled in our friend’s motorhome. The dads took the front seats. The moms made the couch and table into beds to sleep. All four kids piled on the queen bed in the back. We slept till we stopped for breakfast halfway there. After breakfast, we watched movies all the way to california. Best memories with my sister and our friends watching movies in the motorhome. Once we arrived and loaded our stuff onto the houseboat, we had nothing to do but relax and enjoy the lake.

  18. We just did this. We have made the drive from Southern California to northern Nevada or Utah (and back) many times, visiting family. It always requires a long drive home through Vegas and a lot of desert in 100+ Degrees. This year we took the long way – straight to the coast and then down Highway One. We stayed in Monterey and Solvang. So much more beautiful and worth the hotel $!

  19. Dana says:

    We used to do the marathons, but now my husband picks different routes so we are not seeing the same road all the time. He enjoys planning the route and looking for things to stop and see along the way, plus we stop after 8 hours and spend the night. It is nice to see the backroads and small towns along the way. We always look for a place to stay near a bookstore so we have something to look forward to on the stop.

    I always pick a book to read aloud in the car. If we are getting to a leg stretch stop soon, I will stop at an exciting spot in the book so we are eager to get back in the car and start reading again.

    We stop a lot for snacks or drinks and bathroom breaks. No sense being miserable.

    As others have mentioned, pack a separate bag for the one night. So much easier.

  20. Beth Lockard says:

    We’ve done any number of long road trips and downloading wonderful audio books beforehand has made the time in the car fly by! My husband and I and all three of our kids (who are now in their 20s) have very fond memories of some of the great books we’ve listened to through the years. Of course, all the Harry Potter books are just marvelous – narrated by a British actor named Jim Dale, who truly turns the reading experience into a performance with different voices for each character. There are tons of kid books, Young Adult, and just great stories for every age. You might give it a try and see what you think.

  21. Leigh Kramer says:

    The last leg of my Wheaton to San Francisco drive was going to be over 12 hours. I could have done it but I didn’t want to worry about SF traffic or trying to find my new home in the dark. I decided instead to drive 11ish hours to Martinez and stayed with friends that night. Then I only had an hour drive the next morning. It was such a good decision!

  22. Paula says:

    7-8 hours on a drive is my max. For longer drives, I’ve often considered trying to drive longer in one day, thinking I’d lose less work time and maximize the time at our location. But I know that, like you, that kind of drive is too stressful and will wipe me out. I’ll spend at least a whole day or two running at half-capacity. So, driving in one day and getting there earlier wouldn’t actually maximize my time there and probably gives me less enjoyable time.

  23. Kacie says:

    We stopped and stayed over this year, too. That made our much dreaded drive much more bearable.

    Side note – Do you know of any must eats in Louisville?

  24. Julie says:

    We just got back last night from a two week Chicago to Hilton Head vacation. We totally broke it up. We drive to St. Louis a lot to visit family so we knew we could do about 5 hour stretches but there was no way we were going to try it all in one shot. I am sooo glad we did it that way. Even the 5-6 hour stretches got crazy at times. I think it will be awhile before we try it again – I’m sure the memories will fade after time and we won’t think it so crazy once again.

  25. Sarah R says:

    You all are so much braver than me! We live outside of Milwaukee and travel to Orlando three times per year. We always fly. When the kids are under 2, they fly free as long as they sit in your lap. We also signed up for the Southwest Airlines credit card. You have 3 months to charge $2,000 on the card (we pay it off immediately so we don’t incur interest charges) and then you get 2 airline tickets for free. We have a family of four, and by the time we calculated gas, wear and tear on the car, a night in the hotel and the cost of food, plus the extra vacation time for my husband, we are better off flying.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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. 🙂

  29. 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.

  30. 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!

  31. 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.

  32. 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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