What I Learned From A Month Long Road Trip With My Parents (And My Dog)

It is a somewhat unconventional way for a college student to spend the summer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Before this past summer, I had never been further west than Kentucky. My parents, our puppy (Brooke) and I traveled in my dad’s big red truck, pulling our fifth wheel camper across this beautiful country all the way to the Grand Canyon and back. We spent 27 days traveling through 17 states. We went from sea level to 11,000 feet in elevation, and visited Seven National Parks. I have grown up listening to stories from my parents about their adventures as newlyweds, tent camping in National Parks, just them and their two dogs. This time I finally got to join them on their adventures, and we went in style. I was alright with skipping the tenting aspect. Once I got back to school, I was asked several times how I managed to survive a whole month with just my parents. The thing is, I’m not sure I have ever felt more alive. My parents are my best friends, and my favorite adventure buddies. There is never a dull moment, they are always teaching me something, and I learned a lot during that month. 

My dad’s big red truck, pulling our fifth wheel camper.

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I learned that sometimes it’s okay if I am teaching my parents something. My dad and I shared several conversations where I disagreed with his opinions, he disagreed with mine, or one of us was undereducated on the topic. We learned a lot from each other, and even agreed to disagree on some things. It made me feel like a full blown adult, which was simultaneously as exciting as it was terrifying.

I learned again that avoiding social media can be a gift. I created a separate account, to post daily reflections on what we did and what we saw, and that was my only contact with social media for the month. It made me pay better attention to what was going on around me. I looked out the window instead of scrolling aimlessly through my news feed, and did a lot of snuggling with my dog and writing. I took pictures for no one else but me, and I treasure them today (and have hung all over my dorm room). I’m so aware of how much of my attention social media takes, and I take regular breaks from it now.

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I learned what it feels like to really have no control. During our stop in Oklahoma City, we spent a few hours that night in the tornado shelter at our campground. The next day we drove straight through Texas, skipping a campground, to avoid an even worse storm. We drove between two red patches on the weather radar, perfectly timed so that we only got hit with the outskirts of the storms. We could actually see tornadoes forming in the distance and it was terrifying and humbling. There was nothing we could do but drive and pray, and thankfully that worked out pretty well. It taught me that even when I had no control over the situation, by trusting my family I could be just fine. We trusted my dad, his driving and his judgment, and like usual, he got us through safe and sound.

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I learned that beauty truly does feed the soul. When we got back to our home in Pennsylvania, I was exhausted. Full days spent on the road, miles and miles of hiking, and so many adventures had me physically very tired. My soul was more awake than ever, however. Everyday we saw somewhere more beautiful than we had the day before. I took the time to notice all the little things, like singing in the car, the way the dirt on the side of the road changed colors when we entered New Mexico, and the carefully preserved paths in every National Park. The first time my eyes rested on the walls of the Grand Canyon, it literally took my breath away. Eventually I took another breath again because my brain needed more oxygen to attempt to comprehend all that I was seeing. From my perch on the South Rim, the canyon looked like it could have been a green screen, and yet I had never seen anything so real. Blue, orange, green, red, white, purple, all took turns jumping out from different peaks, ridges, and shadows. The orangey-red of the walls demanded to be seen as the light shined perfectly on them, making them glow. It’s a moment I will remember forever, when I felt fully and vibrantly alive.

The Grand Canyon.

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My dog.

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I learned that home is really where your heart is. Other than missing my sister who stayed home with her fiance, I really wasn’t homesick at all. My heart was wherever we were parked, because it rested in the adventures I was having, and who I was having them with. Getting back to the camper after a long day of adventuring really did feel like coming home. I miss that home everyday, and I am counting down the days until our next adventure. There is always more to learn.

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