23 Things We Learned from 23 Days on the Road

When our family of 5 piled into a van for 23 days to travel on an epic road trip of over 3,000 miles, we were super excited about what we were going to see.  Little did we know just how much we would learn…

Here’s 23 Things We Learned From Our Epic 23 Day Road Trip

1.Contrary to what media tells us, there are tons of great people out there.

If you pay attention to the media, the US is falling apart at the seams.  And in some ways it is.  We are getting more agitated on social media and in public about politics and injustices.  People seem divided and upset.

But that is just half the story.  Or maybe it is only a slice of the story.

When you travel 3,000 miles through 6 states, you get to know the people.  Even if only for a second.  You interact at mundane places such as gas stations and the grocery stores and at highly touristy places in State and National Parks.

Ask them for directions or to help you and they are happy to oblige.  They are simply people living their lives.

This is the normal America.  People living their lives.  People just trying to get by.  People trying to thrive.  People wanting to matter in this big, messy world.

2. It pays to talk to people.  

You learn so much more when you talk with people!!!  My kids used to tease me about how I talk to EVERYONE.  Now they know the benefits.  We learned countless, helpful things everyday that made our road trip better.   For example, when we checked into our hotel in LA and mentioned we were going to leave in a few minutes to take our van to a storage facility for our time overseas, they offered to keep our van there (for a price).  This was HUGE!!!  Not only was it a great price, but when we get back to LA, our car will be there waiting for us and we will not have to get a taxi to go get it an hour away.

3. Idaho is AMAZINGLY beautiful (and does exist)!  

You’ve probably heard the joke that Idaho doesn’t exist because no-one has ever met anyone from Idaho.  After spending a day in Coeur d’Alane, we know why.  It is so beautiful, why would you want to leave?!?!


4. Burn rubber, literally means burn rubber.

In Bozeman, MT we attended a classic car show and arrived quite near the end of the show.  As the cars were leaving, someone decided to burn some rubber.  A lot of rubber.  Then of course nobody could be outdone and one by one, we watched car after car burn rubber, engulf themselves in smoke and peel out.  Halfway through the antics I (the mom) realized wearing sandals and being about 5 feet from the cars wasn’t a good idea as a tiny piece of rubber flew off and hit my toe and burned it.  Still, it was worth it.  Eleven year-old twin boys with their uncle just a few feel from cars burning rubber – priceless!

5. We want to stay home sometimes.

Being on the road and moving and packing up everyday can be grueling.  Sure, you see a ton of stuff, but it gets tiring. You don’t sleep the same as you do in your own bed, so we were all exhausted by the end!

6.  Organization (and re-0rganization) are key to living in small spaces.  Here is a picture of what our van looked like every morning before we set out on the next adventure.  If we moved things into another spot, somehow it just didn’t work.  It was as if we brought twice as much stuff!  So this was the preferred packing.

project gap year packing

7. Being grateful for our gifts and skills~

We will never forget the image we received from a little town we passed while looking for a restroom near the towering Redwoods in California. The people there were rough. Glancing over to the side of the road we saw a boy about the age of 13 with a mowhock sitting under a rock with his young dad, their clothes in rags and a small blanket between them. They had just woken up for the day. We wondered where their next meal would come from.

It made us thankful for all of the good things in our lives. For a warm place to sleep, food in our bellies and clothes on our back. For the opportunity to be able to travel, be together as a family and see this hugely amazing world and for the skills our parents instilled in us.

8. Our California fruits are grown in a desert. 

This freaked us out a bit.  Drive from San Fransisco to LA and the entire 380 miles is desert.  Not just dry, but a real, full-on desert, except for the weird fact that it is lined with fruit trees.  It’s all heavily irrigated, otherwise it would all wither and die.  All mass produced huge corporate “farms”.  Don’t be fooled, there wasn’t a farm house in site.  It was mass production in a desert.  This picture doesn’t fully capture all the nothingness and you can barely see the dusty hills in the background, but there are hardly any places to stop for miles to even take a picture.  These trees were just at the edge of one field and in the distance is a new field.

CA fruit in a desert

9. Not being around your normal medical establishment can be a little nerve-wracking.

When our daughter came down with a high fever from a dog allergy reaction, it was super nerve-wracking to wonder where the nearest medical center was in case she developed pneumonia (which often happens from her reaction). We found out how much you take for granted that in your own town, you know where everything is.

10. The experience becomes the school.  

When we crossed the continental divide, our kids were able to get out and understand how the water there was flowing.   And Yellowstone is the perfect science immersion.



11.  You see so many new things that give you ideas that make you happy.

Our boys unanimously chimed in on this one and wanted us to include it as something important they learned from the trip.  Seeing so many new things really opened their eyes to what is out there and inspired them.  They are the happiest we have ever seen them.

simple things


12. What you expect, often doesn’t happen.

We thought that most nights we would sit around a campfire, talking about the day and what we saw, but in reality we were so tired, we just went to bed. In 23 days, we only had 1 campfire!!!  You quickly learn that you can’t expect things to always work out a certain way, but instead, flexibility is key.

13. A portable toilet is really handy.

No explanation needed. 🙂

14. You always feel like you are on an adventure.

No day is boring, because it is all new.

gap year adventure

15. It’s fun being homeless, with less stuff.

You quickly find out that what you crave in life isn’t stuff – that just distracts you from the real things in life.  Not that stuff is all bad, it is just overrated compared to being together.  What you crave is time together.  Time to think.  Time to see new things.  And when you are “homeless” (we sold our house before leaving on this trip), you have time to take it all in.

16. Lighthouses are lit up by a light not much bigger than a standard lightbulb.

This one blew us all away.  You can actually stand at the top of a light house while it’s on.  We have always assumed that the light is huge, but in reality, what you actually see from the outside is the giant prism.  These large circular lenses (below) inside the Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Oregon were shipped from France in the 1800’s.  They focus the light into ‘strips’ that allow it to be seen up to 20 miles at sea.  A you can tell from the picture, the light really isn’t much bigger than a standard lightbulb.

lighthouse lamp


17. Fresh food is essential, but sometimes you need a burger!

For most of the 23 days we went to grocery stores for food to keep our costs down and eat healthier, but we are not going to lie, when we pulled into Hardee’s one day after traveling for nearly three weeks, it tasted fabulous.  haha!

18.  Sometimes the most idyllic camping spot isn’t so amazing.

In the Sandhills of Nebraska, we pitched our tent at the edge of one of the most amazing, incredible places ever.  The air was still, the sky was clear – it seemed like the perfect spot.  Until the winds kicked up when the sun went down and we had to move our tent at 1 am to the only tree in sight to avoid the tent laying on our faces from such incredible wind!  lol!  If you look closely in the picture below, you might see our tent under (and just a little left) of the moon.



19. PLAN ahead in state and national parks or you could get stuck.

While we did reserve a few places, we were told that the west coast, highway 101, had tons of state parks to stay at so not to worry about booking anything.  Well, after driving around for nearly 4 hours one night and ending up getting a hotel, we planned every night from that point on.

20. Nature is incredibly stunning and humbles you.

When you gaze up at 300 foot redwoods and mountains and see how the jagged cliffs meet the ocean, you can’t help but feel small.  You realize that the world isn’t you, but you are of this big, magnificent world.


21. A plug-in cooler stinks.

After a few days of wondering if the plug-in cooler was going to drain our battery at night, we switched back to a good-old-fashioned ice cooler.  While dumping the ice is a pain, it is better than worrying about if you can start your van in the morning.

22. Sometimes the long-haul drive is worth it.

While we initially thought we would go 4 hours everyday, a few times we said, “Screw it!” and went the long haul in order to stay in the next spot for more than one night. Because moving every day can be grueling (see number 5).

23. Home isn’t a place, but where your heart is.

And for us, being together was and is our new home.  The closeness this trip brought was amazing.  We also learned a ton about ourselves and each other and had to grow immensely in a short amount of time in such a small space.

family walk


Looking back, we will never forget this epic road trip!  And we are so excited to see what we will learn from our entire Gap Year adventure.


Take care!

Summer, Jeff and kids

fam van

Hey, before you go —  Follow us on our Gap Year journey through Instagram and Facebook for daily updates of our Gap Year.  We expect to travel through summer of 2017.  🙂

P.S.  We couldn’t forget this incredible bonus picture…

If you are anywhere near Tillamook, Oregon stopping at the Tillamook Cheese Factory is a must!!!  The best (and biggest) ice cream ever!!!!!!



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