This summer my family drove from southeast Louisiana to northern California and back. By most accounts, we shouldn’t have gone. I was 7 months pregnant and trying to keep up with a 3 year old. I hadn’t received a paycheck since January, and I had no impending income in sight.
Yet thus far in my life, here’s what I’ve learned: waiting for the right time is dangerous. We can always imagine a future when we’ll have more money, more time, and more options, but none of that is guaranteed. Financial fall outs, illness, accidents, and worse come out of nowhere. No one is immune.
So gifted with unexpected free time, I chose to celebrate with a cross country yet small-budgeted road trip. Armed with compression socks, we hopped on I-12 and drove over 5,000 miles in 11 days to meet up with friends, see new places, and knock a few items off the bucket list.
I refused to let being a responsible adult get in the way
Since becoming a parent 3 years ago, I realized so much of what sucks about adulthood in general and parenthood in particular is how isolating responsibility can be. Good parents work hard to ensure their kids get the best opportunities from pre-k to college. By default, they’re tired and stay in. I’m no different.
Adulthood for me meant saying goodbye to the hours of hanging out with friends talking with no outside demands making me feel like I’m wasting time. So being between jobs wasn’t a reason not to go, it was the best reason to go. When would I have time off like this and plan a trip again? Likely not for years, if ever.
The trip offered so much redemption
Being unemployed involved a lot of guilt for me. Guilt for passing up jobs I didn’t think were good enough. Guilt for not contributing to the family income. Guilt for not being able to afford everything we had previously been able to offer our child. I certainly did not feel like my best self or that I was supporting my family how I should have been
Yet on the road, the guilt I felt for keeping my son at home with me while I job hunted instead of putting him in preschool subsided. With each stop, he learned more than he ever could in a classroom. Months later, he’s still talking about climbing boulders and hiking in the desert. It wasn’t just him whose experiences were expanding.
I camped for the first time and finally got to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a bucket list item my husband and I had promised ourselves over 8 years ago we’d see one day. With stops to eat trendy tacos in Austin, catch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon, and feel incredibly small among the redwoods, the trip reaffirmed my previous decisions to hold out for something better.
While seeing the American West for the first time, I hung out with my husband more than we have since we were teenagers. Our son was able to see us both together, relaxed, and happy with many of the friends who have defined our lives but now live far away.
The stress of being unemployed was deeply alleviated by both the natural beauty surrounding us and the presence of loved ones whose hugs I desperately needed. I came home refreshed and ready to continue looking for better opportunities.
It wasn’t the perfect trip by any means
Who knew the Grand Canyon would be nearly freezing (seriously in the 30s) in late May? Driving through wine country while not drinking was also pretty painful. Traveling for so long with a 3 year old was tricky, especially on winding mountain roads that induced roadsickness. Oh, the budget. Though it kept things cheap, we definitely reached our limits of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and were ready to return to real beds in climate controlled rooms.
What did it cost?
We could have taken a shorter trip or let money guilt us into staying home, but it wouldn’t have given me a job. Honestly, I needed to get out and do something big for me and for my family. All the years I’ve been working, I’ve been saving for opportunities just like this. The trip was worth more money than I’ll ever make. Averaging about $95 a day for the 3 of us including car rental, gas, lodging, entry fees, food, and other costs, it barely touched our reserves.