It’s been years since I’ve taken a road trip with my family. Growing up, it was common—we’d drive 1800 miles from the Heartland to visit family in LA or Montana, or we’d meet family in Colorado for camping and exploration. Then, I’d pack 14 books and my CD player so I could huddle against the door and ignore the elbow in my back.
Excitement would fill me as we left, great memories suffuse me when we returned. But leaving home, building a new life with my own family, and discovering motion sickness have all convinced me that I prefer travel in a less crowded, less large-scale family environment.
Rediscover Family Travel
Funny that it didn't take much to convince me to join in an expedition to the California coast! It's been five years since we, The Indomitable Wyatts, traveled together like sardines in our car. Then, I packed books. Now, I pack my camera and plenty of diapers, and I hold my sleepy daughter’s hand as we wind through the mountains from Redding to Arcata, California.
I must admit I’m less than excited about this trip. Claustrophobia and carsickness are closing in. Siblings keep up a running argument about whose shoulder is over the line. Scenery wizzes past and my eyes blur. I clutch the door and focus on making it through the switchbacks. This wasn't my idea, I keep thinking, and why did I come? Also, the age-old cry of “Are we there yet?”
Visiting the Beach
Suddenly, we are! We stop and pour out of the white Yukon XL into the yard where my teenage brother waits with ill-disguised excitement to show us his new house, his roommates, his school, and his keyboard.
We all marvel over his aplomb in his new circumstances and then pull him into the car and head over to Samoa Beach Recreation Area. (“Just past a sawmill. No, not that one. Or that one. There are a lot of sawmills around here.”)
I have a deep affection for the beach, and watching my family revel in it was an experience like no other. I felt my reticence, my carefully-constructed shell, melting as the waves tickled my toes and surprised my thighs. Clicking, clicking, seeing my family through a new lens. My brother's glorious defiance of the waves, his straight strong body beaded with salt in the 60-degree wind.
My parents dumping their coats in the sand and building a sand castle with their hands with the eagerness of children. My sister dancing in the waves, sun highlighting the tiny laugh lines around her eyes. My husband and daughter, facing the boundless deep with their hands clutching, the sun on their hair.
I look around me and my heart expands with thankfulness. My motion-sickness fades. My irritation recedes like the waves on my daughter's feet. I start to remember the many journeys that have led to this one–the births of my siblings, the genesis of my family from homeschooling in the deep country of Missouri to running in 8 different directions on the West Coast, from Redding to LA to Portland. We've always been drawn to travel. It's who we are.
This is life. Sharing a sun-drenched moment with family in full awareness of their–and my–lumps and bumps, farts and bruises. Reality is an elbow in the ribs, a long-standing joke I'd prefer forgotten.
Reality is the light in my mother's eyes when she sees her children racing on the sand, the lump in my throat when I realize how deep this family-travel thing runs in my blood, the squeal of delight and anger when my brother douses my sister with a handful of salty water.
When we pile back in the car, drop off my brother, and wend our weary way through the mountains back to Redding, during that interminable drive, I hold this knowledge in my heart. There are many important things in life. Health, career, knowledge.
But none of them compare with the weight of belonging. That gritty reality, the love and the prickles, is a matrix I choose to live in. I belong, and I choose to belong.
Emily McIntyre writes a travel/beverage blog, Soft Explosions, as well as freelancing for magazines and businesses. Happening to be married to a coffee roaster and fellow travel lover, with a curious toddler in tow, she travels the country talking coffee and learning about cocktails. She tweets witty tweets @mcintyrewrites and uploads lots of photos at flickr. Also on Google+ and Facebook.