I met Chris and Elizabeth Gilbert a few years ago. Elizabeth had just had her fourth baby, Luke, and I was in my 2nd trimester of pregnancy with Winnie. We met at a coffee shop and while she nursed and I sipped a latte, we talked about our spunky and challenging boys, our families of origin, and how much we loved Charlottesville. I asked for all the advice on how to be a mom of four and she graciously gave what she had. So when Elizabeth announced last year that she and Chris were taking their gang on the road for nearly a month, I halted. Wait! How could a fellow mom of four young kids do it, I wondered. After all, Luke was still just a toddler. Was she crazy? Turns out, my adventuring friends were on the something. After an amazing trip cross country, Chris and Elizabeth are hitting the road again in just over a week and leaving me with the itch to travel with my own team of six. Elizabeth, it was such a treat to interview you for the blog. Thank you for being on The Thersday Series and inspiring us all to get out there!
Last summer, you hit the road with your family and took us all along (virtually). Tell us why you decided to take your four children on a three week road trip across the United States.
Both Chris and I love to travel and have always dreamed about a road trip with our kids. We have been working our way out of debt for years and the sensible thing would have been to keep chipping away at that last summer. But after some heart to heart conversations and seeing friends in our community shockingly pass away at our age, we decided that the debt can wait. The thing that really pushed us over the edge was a trip to Shenandoah National Park where the park ranger casually told us that we could buy a pass to be used at any national park in the country; after a quick glance at each other we bought that pass and started planning. We are blessed to work part time with a business that can be done remotely, so last summer, we took our show on the road.
Was there a place where, when you arrived, you thought this is it. This is why we took this trip.
When we reached the national parks in Utah, Chris and I agreed that this is why we did it. But I would add that even more so was the camaraderie of our family being on an adventure together. We really bonded and saw our children bitten by the travel bug firsthand. We crave a minimalist life, and in the beginning of our marriage we had the chance to live in Rome for three months. Chris and I lived out of two suitcases and love the freedom from stuff. This road trip brought back those memories because we literally packed only what we could fit in our minivan.
Logistically speaking, how did you plan the trip from start to finish? Is there room for spontaneity or did you stick to the map, so to speak?
Chris and I are both are decision makers and have learned to work really well together. For five months before the trip, we set aside an hour every week to chat and plan. Was this a requirement in order to have a good trip? No, but it was a fun break from talking about everyday life, work, and kids.
We planned to stay with friends, tent camp and stay in hotels. We mixed it up often. After a few nights camping we needed to sleep in a bed and have access to laundry. We booked things that needed advanced reservations but we also left room for just finding a hotel on the road. We had a mix of spontaneity and a plan. We had an outline for where we were going, but allowed for freedom in the day to day. Sometimes we had to scratch a planned hike for an afternoon at the hotel pool, and sometimes we just needed to eat at Chick-fil-A and play in the kids’ area. Our motto for the trip was “High Hopes” and we allowed expectations traveling with four kids for 3.5 weeks to be what they were. It wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it.
You’re putting the final details on an encore road trip next month. What advice do you have for others wanting to take their families cross country?
Last summer’s road trip brought us together as a family so much, that we wanted to make it happen again. My advice is don’t wait. Think about how you travel. What works? What doesn’t? Don’t drive more than eight hours a day. Stop at playgrounds and play. Plan to stay in some places more than three days. We all need downtime. Don’t over schedule. Stop at grocery stores instead of fast food restaurants. Pack only a week’s worth of clothes and do laundry at every hotel that has machines. Book hotels that have breakfast included.
Eat peanut butter sandwiches and then splurge on once-in-a-lifetime activities (my daughter and I rode on horseback through Bryce Canyon in Utah and we will never forget it).
Swap your food budget for the month into your travel budget. Save money throughout the year for the trip. Try camping! It only cost us $56 for two nights in Yellowstone. Maybe you’ll sacrifice some sleep but you can stretch your travel dollars further. Pack light; you can always stop at Target if you forget something. You don’t have to have tons of money to do this. We saved about $3500 for the trip and then used our normal monthly budget for the rest. Before our road trip the most we traveled with our family was five hours to the beach. Our kids really surprised us at what great travelers they were. We never knew because we were never brave enough to try! Don’t wait. Life is precious and short. You’ll never regret it.
Who keeps you company on your journey?
Chris, Stella, Jude, James and Luke, I can’t wait to leave again in a few weeks for another crazy adventure. I love you guys.
To all the people who followed our travels last summer, offered advice, and allowed us a soft pillow to lay our heads, come keep us company again! We’re heading to Washington this time!