Spring Break. Back in my childhood that meant a family road trip to Panama City Beach. It meant a long drive in the minivan. It meant a week in a hotel kitchenette. It meant a pretty predictable menu. If we were feeling really fancy it would mean dinner at Wendy’s. (They had a salad bar! The salad bar had pudding! What more could you possibly want?) But mostly, spring break meant a week lying on the beach reading and playing in the surf. My dad, the original Google Maps, would print out an estimated time chart for each leg of the trip. If we averaged 50 mph than we would arrive at the first landmark by this time, averaging 55 would get us there at an earlier hour, and then the actual speed my dad drove would allow us to feel like we had broken some sort of record and led to competition with previous years and gas-only rest stops to “splash and go”. (My dad did grow up in Speedway, Indiana, home of the Indianapolis 500.)
For these trips it was necessary to prepare in advance. You had to book a room. (Which I believe my dad always did at the same place for the following year at the end of the current vacation.) It meant prepping the travel agenda of arrival time goals. (For which my dad earned the nickname the “Agenda Master”.) And then of course you had to pack. We were super fancy so we packed in giant Rubbermaid tote boxes. Each person had a box. They stacked beautifully in the back of our GMC Safari van. And since we made the same trip to the same spot we knew exactly what we needed. My dad kept a packing list on the computer that he would print out and put in a plastic sleeve for the duration of the packing process (It doesn’t get any more “football coach” than this! My home is now filled with important papers in plastic sleeves that my husband brings home from practice each day.) But all-in-all Spring Break meant a beautiful routine away from routine. It was relaxing and wonderful, and we looked forward to it every year. I would make countdown charts to put in the front of my school binder, so I could X off the days as Spring Break approached. It was a beautiful thing.
Spring Break as an adult is different. And Spring Break this year is even more strange. The past two years we have traveled to a beautiful spot just south of Tampa, FL called Anna Marie Island. The beach is gorgeous and the weather is warm, and we can basically re-create the ease of my childhood vacations. I like the security of having the Big Van along for the trip. I like being able to bring extra things “just in case”. I like that the “planning” portion of the trip basically involves me getting on VRBO and booking a little house for us to call home for the week. We mostly just hit the grocery store and make the same yummy food at the beach that we would be making at home (although it always tastes better on the beach!) But this year. This year we decided to take a real trip. An adventure. We are traveling west.
The first hurdle to this trip is a cross-country flight for a family of 7. As a college football family we have had the opportunity to fly with our team to a few bowl games over the years. But these were not commercial flights. We were on a chartered plane surrounded by people we know. Our bags were not lost because they traveled safely on the team equipment truck. We didn’t have to set foot in an airport. We would literally ride up to the plane on our bus and go through security as we made our way to the stairs up to the plane. So basically all of the convenience of air travel with none of the hassle. Not Spring Break. We will be flying commercial with 5 children. (Luckily all of them over 4 and all comfortable travelers.) My husband is not a fan of checking bags so we are also limited to one carry on per person for a week. In a completely different climate. In a shifting winter-spring season. The pressure to get it right seems immense.
When we have traveled to National Parks and National Forests nearer to our home we have always traveled by Big Van and camped. The things you need (and your ability to bring “extra”) are much different. Our “plans” for the trip are just to hike, to cook over the fire, and to sleep in the tent and then wake and repeat. I’m not exactly great at scheduling out a plan for what we are going to do. (Which does not stop my husband from suggesting I do just that.) When I read trail reviews to determine if a trail is too strenuous for our crew I struggle a little because most of the trails rated as “family-friendly” are really glorified sidewalks. We literally have been trying to get in as many extra steps in preparation for this trip (to get in the habit of walking!) as we can. The kids and I have started walking part of the way to school each morning, with a plan to step up the distance this week. But most of our summer hiking, which is usually just a portion of a camping day, takes us on 5-7 mile excursions. That being said, our youngest, who is gigantic, has completely outgrown the possibility of the hiking backpack and so we are a little concerned about what his max distance will be!
I know we will have to eat. I know there are restaurants in the parks. I assume we will pass grocery stores on the way. But let’s be honest, food for 7 is no small thing. So planning for meals, when I don’t exactly know what to expect is pretty daunting as well. I am trying to set low expectations on this front because the focus of the trip is not supposed to be the food. It’s supposed to be the great outdoors. I just need to find a grocery store on the way into the National Parks and we can get by on easy meals for the week. But snacks are a necessity. Because in the interest of honesty, sometimes you have to use apple sauces to bribe small children into hiking to the next rest point.
The days are passing by and the trip is getting closer, and to be honest my excitement is starting to match my stress level. Please don’t get me started on the added pressure of traveling during the Coronavirus hoopla. We will wash our hands and spend as much time out in nature and away from crowds as possible. So now we are to the portion of the preparation where it is too late to Amazon Prime forgotten items (or panic purchases…like the boot grips I bought yesterday) and everyone has to stop wearing the clothes they want to take along on the trip so I can wash them one last time. (My daughter started the week wearing new wool hiking socks to school each day.) So now I need to stop typing and go pack. Or at least fold some laundry.