Looking back on this year, I’m so grateful for the opportunity we all had to take a break from the ordinary routine and spend months traveling the United States and Canada. This was definitely one of the best years of my life. I leave this experience amazed at what a beautiful continent this is and how much is open to all of us if we just know where to look.
A few of the highlights for me were:
- Sheer raw beauty– Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. Breathtaking vistas of mountains and ocean. I definitely want to go back!
- Glamorous city – Charleston, South Carolina. Somehow I never realized how truly gorgeous this city is with the beautiful old buildings right by the ocean.
- Old world charm – Quebec City, Quebec. Visiting here is like visiting Europe without the long, expensive plane flight. I also loved the amazing street performers everywhere you looked- from fiddle players to jugglers and more.
- Native culture – Taos, N.M. It was great to see a living American Indian culture at Taos Pueblo and the environs. It seems that most places you visit, you just hear about how the Indians used to live in a place.
- Interfaith community– Crestone, Colo. It was inspiring to see so many different faiths all having their centers together under the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
- Lovely mountain town- Asheville, North Carolina. Hills everywhere you look, wild turkeys plus a granola culture made this a family favorite.
I’m so grateful for how kind so many people were to us along the way. Out of the dozens of Airbnb and Vrbo rentals we stayed in, we only had two bad experiences- once in Toronto, when we had to put up with a filthy carpet smelling of mildew and another time in Nashville, when the apartment manager forgot when we were supposed to check out and entered our place at 9:30pm with three of his friends carrying beer. Several other times, our hosts provided toys for our children or gave us free food and drinks. More than once, we stayed in showplaces that were immaculately clean and stylishly decorated.
I was surprised that we actually saved money by traveling. With our vacation home rentals, we didn’t have to pay utilities, Internet or cable. We didn’t pay any babysitting costs or classes for our children. We spent the most during July when all the accommodation costs went up during the height of summer but other than that, we kept our costs low and were able to add to our savings account.
One of our main activities was visiting national parks and as Lee is a senior, we didn’t have to pay anything to visit them. Anyone in America who is over 62 can purchase a lifetime pass to national parks for only $10. If you know someone who is a senior, make sure you tell them to do it. It’s a fabulous benefit and you even get discounts on camping too. Our other main source of free entertainment was libraries. We visited tons of them and were especially appreciative of those that had toys for children. The boys enjoyed playing with something new and Lee and I got a rest from keeping them entertained. We also appreciated storytimes, craft times and the access to WiFi and printers. Many a time, I did my freelance writing work from a library.
I learned from this experience how possessions can weigh you down and make your life more difficult. We traveled in a Honda Odyssey minivan and couldn’t bring or get anything that didn’t fit inside. We couldn’t give into the temptation of buying stuff and shipping it home because our home was being rented. When we left, we told ourselves we wouldn’t buy anything but of course we couldn’t keep to that. We constantly bought the children small toys and books, which means along the way we had to give some up. Several times, we stopped at thrift stores to give away excess belongings. We did keep to a strict rule that all the toys had to fit into a tub.
We traveled with one suitcase each plus a big suitcase for extra clothes for the kids. It was hard to anticipate what they were going to wear over a year but I think we did pretty well. Still the kids outgrew what we had. Theo grew two shoe sizes in this trip! I felt like the worst mother when I spent some time in denial trying to shove too-small shoes on his feet before I broke down and actually got him some that fit. We also brought their bikes- a great decision because they used them all the time, a bag of bathroom supplies, a bag of books ( my weakness- I couldn’t help but buy more from time to time), extra blankets, a dry food box, a cooler and coats. Lee and I looked it all over and thought we definitely needed it all but it was still tiring hauling it in and out of the car all the time. This experience definitely made me think critically of what we need. I now think it’s OK to let go of things even if you think you’ll need them later. You can get it again when you do by visiting a thrift store.
Some of the stuff we did carry around got lost or broken. My iPhone got cracked, repaired and cracked again and I bought another one. Lee lost some pants, the kids lost various sweatshirts and stuffed animals.
But we never did really miss a permanent home. I think the gypsy life really agrees with us. Home became the four of us in our family rather than a physical place. We were so fortunate in that we got to spend basically all of our time together.
When we started this trip, we said we were looking for ways to live a better, more conscious life. I saw that there were many communities all over the continent that had clean streets, beautiful parks and lovely landscapes. I was heartened that I did not see much of the homeless, drug problem that is so rampant where we had lived in Modesto and the more urban areas of California.
We have decided not to return and instead have settled for the time being in Grass Valley, CA, which is two hours north of Modesto and is in the Sierra foothills. We like the pine trees, the rural setting and access to Waldorf education, which Modesto does not have. We miss our friends and family a lot but are glad we are not too far away and can go back to visit often.
We are only renting here so we are free to pick up again and travel if wanderlust strikes again. Knowing us, I’m sure it will even if it’s only for shorter trips.