This summer my family drove 5,000 miles, across seven countries. We did a fair amount of flying as well, but driving distance was right around 5,000 miles. Summer break is only 10 weeks long. 5 weeks we were home. So the rest of time we were clocking an average of 1,000 miles a week in the car. 5,000 miles is roughly like driving from Disneyland to Disneyworld and BACK. It’s like flying from here in the south of Spain, to Fairbanks, Alaska. 5,000 miles is a LONG way. For some people, maybe this is no big deal. For others, it may seem inconceivable. And for us, it has sort of just become “what we do.” So many amazing things lie at the end of the road less-traveled…and sometimes these less-traveled roads are very, very long. So, you have to put in the time to get there.
We have been so blessed to have this opportunity to travel in Europe, and to have seen so many “famous” and “must-see” sites, but for me, some of the best sites we’ve seen have been the ones at the end of the earth, the edge of the continent, or teetering off the edge of an island. These are the ones that are 5,000 miles away. We live in Europe for a very short, defined period of three years. This is year number three. The pressure is on to go, see, and do, but some of the best travel experiences have also taken place inside our small sedan… those moments in the car when you realize the joy of being able to discuss world events with your suddenly mature young adults who think for themselves and have incredible insight. Or listening to Orwell’s "1984" being read aloud because it was a required summer reading project and then actually enjoying a family discussion of the text.
Anyone who does lengthy road trips knows that emotions, irritations, and moods can run the gamut in the confines of the tiny interior of a car—exhilaration, exhaustion, serenity, frustration, hilarity, insanity...and for us, once out of the car, the close quarters continued in whatever one-room hostel, hotel, cabin or apartment we were staying in for the night. I don’t think we were ever more than 10 feet apart from each other. At one point, my sweet daughter, with the most disdain she could possibly muster (which, believe me, isn't much) said, “You know, our family is just WAY too close.” And my heart leapt inside knowing that despite some of the current frustrations, our kids will remember this time with us forever, and they will cherish it even more as the annoyances have time to fade. Finally home, with plenty of room to spread out, we continually find ourselves congregated in the same room, sitting close, all together. Not intentionally, but on some subconscious level that tells us that’s where we want to be. It will likely fade as summer slips further away, but for now, I am cherishing it.
Next summer will be different. Next summer, as we return to the familiarity of life in the U.S., there will be less travel, more independence, maybe summer jobs, a driver’s license for my daughter. I will celebrate these milestones, but part of me will always long for the days of this very special summer when it was just us and miles of time. Over the course of our trips, I read several books…travel books, mostly, about people making personal journeys. "Wild," by Cheryl Strayed, chronicled the author’s journey as she hiked hundreds of miles alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. "One Million Steps," by Kurt Koontz takes us on his journey walking 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) from France through Spain. Both are great reads, and perfect when you are making a journey of your own. One thing my journeys have taught me, and what both of these authors came away with as well, is that every end is also a beginning. Each new day is a fresh start, and dwelling in the past, except to learn from your experiences, is a waste of energy. And so a new journey begins… I wonder where we will go this time?