Lessons From the Road
Ever since I can remember, I have been going on family road trips. Florida, Texas, Utah, California, Oregon, and British Columbia are some of the many places we have visited by Sprinter or motorhome. All our friends know that Conser family outings often have two attributes: they sometimes pop up unexpectedly, and they rarely go as planned. Trips for my father’s businesses could materialize anytime so we got used to rearranging our existing plans at the drop of a hat. In just hours we would pack up, leave our Tucson home, and take care of business in New Mexico, California, or Oregon. But fun expeditions and vacations also could develop or change at the last minute. Big Bend NP, southeastern Arizona, and New Mexico were common locations.
Because of these many destinations and changing plans, there has never been any shortage of adventure in our family life. This all can be traced to my father’s love of driving. He seems happiest when the road stretches out in front of him and the jazz is turned up loud. It rubbed off on us; my brother and I have adapted so well to this lifestyle that some might say we are all traveling machines. And we have become jazz fans too!
Through these trips we learned new concepts. Dad always pointed out things to us that might help us learn and grow. He taught my younger brother Peter all the aspects of setting up and caring for our vehicles, equipment, and tools. Peter was always tasked with assembling any new devices that we bought.
Dad taught me how to be organized, plan a trip on paper maps, use a compass, keep track of direction by the sun, and be efficient. I can see now that he was very big on the importance of common sense and the necessity of being aware of my surroundings.
He taught us through many methods but probably the most effective was simply watching him on these trips. Two of my father’s best traits are adaptability and problem solving. When problems came up, we got to see him take stock of a situation and then plan a solution. He did that a lot! There was the time he had a dental emergency. Instead of ruining our big trip to Canada by bringing us all home, Dad left and took care of the issue while we camped, and then returned to us so we could resume our journey. Another time our back window was broken out, so we had to delay a trip while he found the quickest way to get us back on our way. I cannot even count the amount of times he used a chainsaw to clear the road in front of us of fallen trees in places like the Chiricahua mountains or outside of Port Orford, Oregon.
Through these adventures—which we saw as pure fun—we learned that even when things go wrong, if you stay calm and are prepared, solutions present themselves. These trips taught us to adapt. It started with the preparations; Mom was somehow able to shop and pack for all the possible scenarios. The adaptability we learned from Mom and Dad does not just help on family trips; nowadays I am always ready to jump right into a challenging work or social situation where I am needed even without any advanced notice or preparation. I have discovered that having a mindset that welcomes change and is not deterred by small problems gives me all the tools I need. I just find a way to make things work. This mindset gave me an advantage that I can put to good use for the rest of my life. I have since realized that adult minds have a hard time learning that lesson. The best time and place to learn this approach is at a young age.
As well as adaptability, we were taught patience on these adventures. I think patience is an underrated virtue today due to our demand for instant gratification. When we were young, we did not have video players or tons of toys to entertain us on our trips. These trips might entail 6-10 hours in a vehicle, and at first, our main entertainment was pestering Mom or each other. She and Dad would counter that by coming up with fun diversions like playing games or watching for certain things out the window. Spotting the first deer or seeing specific vehicles could win you FIVE WHOLE CENTS! Ironically, one of our games was counting Sprinters. Back when they were rare it was a challenge but once they became popular, we had to find something else to count!
It really was fun. You could ask our mom now about those trips and though we did our best to annoy her I guarantee she will first remember all the laughter we had together in the car. Once we got there the lessons continued. Mr. Subliminal (my Dad) always seemed to know just how to encourage us to fill our time and have fun. All he had to do is say something like “Hmmm…a dam would look pretty good here” and before you knew it, hours would have flown by as we busy beavers played in the stream.
On balance, I would say the most valuable trait I learned was how to be content in any situation. Learning adaptability and patience were very important lessons but adding this sense of contentment helped me see that the world was wide open.
I now see that these trips that we took in our youth conditioned us for life, including all the troubles that come with it. We all face roadblocks and detours in life, but it is our reaction to those things that determine our quality of life and our level of happiness. Peter and I learned these things early on, and we are better for it. I think Dad is pleased too. He sure likes that we are more than ready to jump into a vehicle at a moment’s notice and whip through 10 or 11 hours behind the wheel.
Remember, these times with your kids won’t last, but the lessons they learn on the road will. Plan a trip, get out there, and enjoy whatever lessons come your way.