The Art of Unglamorous Travel: The Misguided Adventures of the Stephens Family

Ahhh. The allure of glam travel on Instagram is one of my favorite indulgences. Scenic beaches and glamorous supermodels (or simply feet) in exotic destinations have been enormously successful on Instagram. I dream of the day when I can post such scenery. My far away dreamy thoughts are interrupted by the ear piercing screeching of two restless girls in the backseat. Back to reality.

We have taken our kids all across the US on extensive road trips. You gotta be either one of 2 things to accomplish this 1) Impulsive Adventure Seeking Gypsies, or 2) Certifiably Crazy. I do believe we are both of these things.

Our road trips with the girls road have included:

  • Texas to Nevada (we intended on stopping at the Grand Canyon, but impulsively decided to continue driving to the Hoover Dam, followed by Vegas)
  • Texas to Florida
  • Texas to Colorado
  • Texas to Michigan twice more (completing the circle tour around the entire shore of Lake Michigan).

    Note: The view of Lake Michigan looks the same throughout the entire loop.
  • We’ve also road tripped to the Mexican Border.
  • We’ve flown to Los Angeles and to Oregon (where we road tripped with family to the coast).

The trips always start with the vision of familial fun, unity, and glamour. You know, all the smiling faces in perfect photo ops like you see on the Gram. It’s not usually until the last day or so we experience such a treat. It takes a little grit to get there. The magic doesn’t start to happen until somewhere between leaving the driveway, reaching a boiling point, and arriving at some random roadside attraction.

Some quotes from the road include:

  • “Is that your ass or the outside that stinks?”
  • “The rule is…roll down the window of you fart. No exceptions.”
  • “Oklahoma is the armpit of America. What century are they even living in? Who requires exact change for tolls without allowing dollars or pennies? This is fu$@&ng ridiculous.”
  • “It smells like ketchup in here. Gross.”
  • And my personal favorite, “Stop talking. All of you.”

I like to think the most important thing we’ve instilled in our kids is not only the vagabond spirit, but a sense of culture where they no longer fear the unusual or the unknown.

We’ve taken them to places such as the Vegas Strip, and even to Bourbon Street. These places really are family friendly, provided you don’t go out at night. What surprised me most was Venice Beach, CA. My kids learned what pot smells like from people smoking on the boardwalk in broad daylight. My kids learned what a live pot plant looks like on accident in Colorado. Some things they are exposed to are unavoidable. Occasionally I’ll have a moment where I question my decisions, but then I realize that we can’t control the world; nor would we want to.

Most importantly, though, are the life lessons I teach my kids on the road that you can’t learn from books. My youngest has a heart for the homeless. She’s seen the worst the streets have to offer, but continues to show compassion and empathy. The fear of the misfit or the unknown will not hold her back from a future in homeless ministry if that’s her calling. We stop and we pray for these folks, and we move on. All the while my tween is watching. She’s learning that life choices like addiction have consequences. She’s learning that mental illness can cost you everything if left untreated. She’s learning when to create a strong boundary and when to extend compassion.

Road tripping down the ole Route 66 has it’s drawbacks (i.e. sibling fights, car farts, exhaustion, constantly full bladders, road food bloat, etc.) but it continues to do what it has done for decades. It continues to bring families together. In this fast paced world, my family’s priority is connecting. Nothing connects us more than the unglam, uninstagram worthy, ever reliable, good ole’ family road trip.

Stay sober my friends!


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