Most Americans are lucky to get a week of vacation, but what if you lived on the road for an entire year?
I know a thing or two about that. My three kids and I have taken a long, long vacation — and survived.
Last week, we celebrated a full year of uninterrupted travel. In the past 365 days, we've driven from Florida to Arizona and have explored the western states from Arizona to Alaska, one month at a time. We sold our house and car and relied on rentals and hotels during the adventure.
And we're still going.
How did we do it? And what can you learn from this unlikely adventure? You'll want to ease into something like this, take your time with the travel, and establish a routine. Otherwise, you probably won't make it past the seven-day mark.
Want to be on the road for a year? Don't jump in headfirst
I have friends who tried — and failed — to successfully transition to a mobile lifestyle. When I review their circumstances, I find they all had one thing in common: They abruptly decided to quit their stationary lifestyle and hit the road.
That's a mistake. Before you go on a long trip, even if it's just for a month, you might want to do a test run. Take a long weekend, then a week, then two weeks and see how it goes.
We started traveling as a family back in 2007, not long after my daughter was toilet trained. We called Orlando home, so our first few trips were to nearby destinations like Miami, Sarasota and Savannah, Ga. On those adventures, before we lived on the road, we learned how much we could tolerate travel (some of us did, others, not so much).
We made some adjustments. We tried longer trips out west, some as far as Hawaii. Then we returned to Florida to reassess. Also, the kids needed to be in school.
Take your time
If you have a job where you don't have to be in the office and are free of some of the typical time constraints, here's another piece of advice: Take your time. Over the years, I've worked with clients and a travel agent or two who wanted us to go, go, go — one night in one hotel, the next night in another, the next night still another.
I remember our first trip to Hawaii in 2011, long before we lived on the road. We tried to see everything, which meant a lot of island-hopping, packing and unpacking, and overall chaos and confusion. I mean, every time we switched islands, we had to pack, check out of our vacation rental, return our rental car, get screened by the TSA, board a flight, and then do everything in reverse.
After week two, we were exhausted and ready for a vacation from our vacation. As if that's possible.
Instead, I wish we'd found a little apartment in Hilo and gotten to know the neighbors. It felt as if we were moving so fast, we couldn't even remember where we were. Yes, it's possible to try to squeeze too much into one trip.
Remember the routine
Oh, and one more thing: Routines are necessary. Travel is disruptive, and to the extent that you can un-disrupt it, you should try. Having your own kitchen is important because you can prepare meals for the family.
I'm no master chef, but I have a few reliable dishes I can cook for the children. Preparing them reminds them that no matter where they are, they're home. That's especially true of the food they say they hate.
"You're not making that again," my middle son, Iden, complains when he smells sautéed onions and garlic in the pan.
"Oh yes, I am," I invariably say.
He hates it, but he also loves it. Because he knows I make it with love, and that's not something you can say about restaurant food.
Pay attention to other routines, too. The afternoon walk, watching Netflix in the evening, the bedtime ritual. Even when you're far away, they can give your family a sense of security. I try to build this sameness into every trip no matter where we go. It's also why we now spend a month at a time in one place. It's nice to wake up in the morning and know where you are.
These insider tips will help you survive a one-week vacation with your friends and family — or a one-year odyssey. Life on the road can teach you so much, but it can also drive you crazy. A little practice, timing, and sameness can take you a long way.
Christopher Elliott's latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). He edits the family adventure travel blog Away is Home. You can follow his adventures on Twitter or Facebook.