When Zoë was little I was a single mom supporting us on a minimum wage income. Money was definitely tight. One thing that I really wanted to do, but that was waaaaay outside of our budget was taking traditional summer vacations. There was no way I could drop a couple thousand dollars (or more, if we’re being realistic) on a full week vacation. Despite my lack of funds I was determined to give Zoë the experiences that a vacation would bring. So, every payday or so we would take little day trips or overnight trips.
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We basically went where ever one full tank of gas could get us in any direction from home. At that time we lived in Knoxville, TN and went to the Smoky Mountains (Cades Cove), Atlanta, Asheville, Nashville, Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Chattanooga, Lexington, KY and many, many places in between. We often had friends that lived nearby so for overnight trips we’d crash on their couches. We could often eat pretty cheap since it was just the two of us and we were not above McDonald’s dollar menu 3 meals a day.
Sometimes we would splurge and get a hotel room. I remember this one time that a friend of mine worked at a hotel booking center for Gatlinburg. She hooked us up with an insane discount for a pretty decent hotel. Of course I also remember a time we slept on top of the covers at a hotel in West Virginia because we were afraid to sleep on the sheets. Whatever the experience, we were always ready for the next trip.
We were out there making memories and enjoying her childhood. I got to watch Zoë develop a passion for history through touring historical landmarks like The Hermitage in Nashville. We bonded over a mutual love 70’s and 80’s music especially The Cars and Def Leopard. At the time, I was just in it to have fun, but looking back from a older and wiser perspective I think those trips exemplified the future homeschooler in me coming out and sharing a wonderful education with my daughter.
Fast forward 15+ years. We still love day and overnight trips.
I’m definitely not as spontaneous with the kids now as I was when Zoë was little. But I do have more available income and much more freedom. And while Zoë almost always learned things on our trips, I am much more purposeful now in what I plan for us to do to make sure that the kids get the most from the trip. Plus, now I almost never stay in a hotel that I’m afraid to sleep on the sheets.
I still love to pick up and decide to go on a day trip or quick overnight trip. I love exploring with the kids like I did with Zoë. I’m not in my 20’s anymore and I don’t have as much energy or as much childish curiosity, but in those moments when the kids and I are exploring I can feel that youthful me coming out. As we are exploring I can see that THESE are the moments that foster a real love of learning. These are the moments that I can look at my kids and see real joy in their faces as they explore, learn, and grow.
We are lucky in that we live in a country where we can drive 2-4 hours in any direction and explore something completely new. We are lucky in our country that there are so many different opportunities to learn and grow. We cherish our history and preserve at least parts of it in every town. We believe in the natural beauty of our land and keep parts of it pristine, untarnished by the modernization of mankind. We value the hustle and bustle of a growing economy and have huge cities with everything you could possibly want to do available within the walking distance of a block or two. Plus, there are all of these little unexpected gems that we find in between.
And if all I need to do to give the kids the chance to experience all of these possibilities is drive a few hours, then isn’t it worth it?
I think so.