Posted by: stacylynn12 | September 23, 2011

I Need a Vacation


Now, I know what you are thinking. Is she crazy? Well yes, most likely, but that’s beside the point. Please read on.

First, let’s get on the same page with a few things.

A vacation is where one escapes from day to day life for a while, typically a week or two.

On a vacation one may not have to cook, clean, do laundry, grocery shop, pay bills, etc. Then again, if you run with the crowd I do, a vacation may look like thrusting a very heavy backpack on your back and finding some rock to cling to or some mountain to slog up, only to sit in the tent (if you are lucky enough to have one) in the rain/snow/sleet until the weather clears so you can continue to trudge up said rock or mountain. You’ll sweat, stink, not change your socks or underwear, eat beef jerky and ramen noodles and you’ll come home dead tired. But you will love it. This is not the kind of vacation I am referring to.

Vacations often (though not always) cost lots of money due to the fact that someone else may be doing the cooking, cleaning, etc.

We are most definitely not on a vacation.

Now, now, don’t get your panties in a bunch. Taking a year to go traveling is a luxury, we are having a tremendous amount of fun, new experiences and grand adventures but all of this comes at a cost. For us, it is well worth paying.

I’m writing this post I guess to dispel any myths floating around and to paint a realistic picture of our day to day life on the road. Granted, it’s early yet – we’ve been traveling for only 12 weeks and we’ve got a lot more to go. Our day to day life will change dramatically as well once we finish our road trip and head overseas. But for now…

Myth #1

We are taking a year “off”.

It is a phrase I hear uttered quite a bit and in fact have used myself. But I’ve been reflecting on this. Taking a year off from what? It’s true that Randy is taking a year off from his job with the City of Seattle. In every other aspect though I think it is more appropriate to say we are taking a year away. We are away from our home, our school, our friends and family and many of the things that occupy our time back in Seattle. Still we are responsible for paying our bills, educating our children, doing our laundry, buying groceries, cooking and cleaning up.

Myth #2

We are wealthy people and that is why we can afford to take a year off. Oops, excuse me I mean “a year away”.

A friend of ours recently went to Nepal and climbed a very, very big mountain. Guess which one? During his time there, he wrote about his experiences. In one post he candidly addressed the question he knew everyone wanted to ask but never would. “How much did it cost?” He said “I’m not going to come out and tell you how much I paid but you can read between the lines if you really want to know.” It was an honest depiction of the monetary costs and relative sacrifices associated with following ones dreams and I appreciated the sentiment.

So, I am not going to tell you how much this year is costing us because well, frankly, I don’t know. We don’t have a trust fund, a whopping bank account or a secret sponsor. (Though if anyone out there is looking for a fundee you know where to find us!) We have prioritized time to travel at the expense of other material things we would like to have, the most obvious one being a house of our own. It’s true, we are renters. But it’s ok. We’re kind of glad to be renting in this real estate market.

We met a fabulous woman once while traveling down in Joshua Tree National Park (on one of those “vacations” where you don’t change your socks or underwear). Her name is Lucy. This was in 1995 and last I chatted with Lucy she was still off traveling. She said something that struck a chord with me and I’ve never forgotten it. She said “when you are laying on your death bed, what will you regret not doing? Will you wish you’d worked more?”

When we began planning this trip there were certain, uhm, parental units who questioned the responsibility of this frivolous year. What about saving for a house? What about the lost income? Retirement? Security? They are valid concerns. It’s true, we could be and perhaps should be saving for a house. But when I think about the traveling I’ve done in the last 10 years, when I see my children’s face light up when they experience something new, when I think about what I’d most regret not doing if I were to be on my death bed… I think we are doing exactly the right thing. As to the question of responsibility, we toe the line for sure but Randy and I both agree that at this point in our lives it would be irresponsible to do this trip if he did not have a secure job with sweet benefits to return to. On our last “year away”‘ back in 1995 we both quit our jobs to go to Asia. We did not have two kids then. We would not do that now. But having employment waiting at the end of the year makes it acceptable. The rest of it, well, we will sort that out in due time.

Myth #3

We are travelers not tourists.

I’ve always thought there was a difference between travelers and tourists and lord if I don’t get hoity toity about it sometimes. It’s kind of like the difference between a vacation and a… well, whatever this thing is that we are on. How can one help it though. Tourists are the brunt of many travelers jokes. Just recently while we were at Chena Hot Springs outside of Fairbanks, Alaska I awoke one night to the howl of what sounded like one big party. Chena is supposed to be one of the best places in the world to view the northern lights and since this is on my bucket list (I just started one, being 40 and all) I’d been getting up every night to check on the sky. When I heard the hooting and hollering I figured something must be happening so I got up to investigate.

It was freezing cold but the sky was crystal clear. Across from the campground I saw a crowd gathered all gazing northward. I looked. I saw nothing. I figured the display must be low on the horizon so I walked over to join the spectators. It was a group of Japanese tourists who had arrived earlier in the evening. They were now all toting humongous cameras with tripods and they were wrapped in those crinkly silver foil emergency space blankets. The tourists, not the cameras.

It was a sight to behold. No, not the northern lights. I kept looking but the only thing I could see was a whole lot of hullabaloo over nothing. All I could think was that these people had flown half way around the world and they were going to get up in the night and take a picture of something dammit. I shook my head and went back to bed.

You see what I mean though right? They were tourists.

I hearken back to another scene from Nepal 10 years ago when Randy and I were waiting to board a plane from Lukla back to Kathmandu after trekking in the Everest region. A group of tourists had flown in to see the mountain, walked the shortest distance possible to do so, and now were flying out and were boarding the same plane as us. They wanted to get on first to be on the “right” side of the plane to view the mountain during the flight. There were no boarding passes. The first person in line got on first. Three women who couldn’t have been any taller than my shoulders elbowed their way past me and then shoved 6 foot tall Randy out of their way and dammed if they didn’t get on the plane first. We stood there dazed, mouths hanging open wondering what had just happened. Tourists!

But back to the myth part. The truth is if I get off my highfalutin horse, I was out there at Chena just like those Japanese tourists. And if one of them had handed me one of those ridiculous cellophane space blankets I just might have wrapped it around myself. Flying into the Himalayas only to get a glimpse of a mountain so I could say I had done so, not interacting much with the local people and experiencing little of the culture is not really my cup of tea but hey, whatever floats your boat right?

Another truth. Or maybe a confession. Back in Juneau… remember when it was pouring rain and I was sulking? There were these huge cruise ships in port. Travelers definitely don’t do cruises. But as we got off our ferry and headed out to a soggy campground I envied those cruise ship passengers. I wanted to get on that ship, check into a nice cabin, dress up in fancy clothes and have someone else cook my dinner. I’d be dry, warm and relaxed. Someone else would be taking care of everything. Shhh… don’t tell anyone.

The Ships

We are all tourists from time to time. And when the travelers are pretending to be tourists the real tourists are probably laughing behind our backs. Those silly travelers, don’t they know they could have someone else arrange all the details of their travel so they could just sit on a bus with 12,000 other tourists and enjoy seeing insulated snippets of life as they wiz by? :). Oops, there I go on that horse again.

Myth #4

We spend lots of time relaxing, taking it easy…we are on a year long vacation.

It’s true, relaxing is one of the goals of our travels but we clearly haven’t hit that part of the trip yet. Road tripping is a great many things but relaxing is not at the top of the list. We’ve clarified the vacation part so let me share with you what a typical day (if there is such a thing) is like for us on the road.

First, it depends on if it is a moving day or a staying put day. I’ll tell you about a moving day because, well, we’ve been moving a lot lately and after 8,000 miles the staying put days are a bit fuzzy.

We wake up in the morning whenever that happens to be. We’re definitely not on arctic time anymore as the daylight and darkness have come into balance but we’ve never been crack o’ dawners either.

The morning usually looks like breakfast and coffee cooked on our camp stove…unless there is a decent coffee shop nearby; then one of us does a coffee run. Camp coffee is tolerable but not preferable. I’m a high maintenance coffee drinker, what can I say.

Camp coffee, option A… The Bialetti Moka Pot

Camp coffee, option B… Starbucks Via

Usually, after we get the boys dressed, Randy will tear around the campground with them while I make pancakes or the boys will scamper up on a rock and build a village for their dinosaur friends, moose friends, mice friends…or they will hunt for frogs and build them a habitat or go fishing or…

After breakfast, Randy will take the boys on some sort of mini adventure while I pack up the van. There are dishes to be done and to do that, I’ve got to haul water and heat it on the camp stove. The sleeping bags get packed away and the beds transformed back into seats. Then everything gets loaded into the van, which is always a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. We “drop the top”, put the bikes on the back of the van, fill water bottles, brush teeth and load everyone in.

Bessie, pre “pack up”

On any given day we may have to find a laundromat to do laundry (once every couple weeks) find a grocery store to get food (1-2 times a week), find a place to shower (um, we’d better just keep that to ourselves) or any number of other miscellaneous and random tasks or errands.

Then there is of course the weather to contend with. We’ve had warm and sunny days for sure but most of our time in Alaska and Canada the weather has been mediocre. Cloudy and cool to cold was the norm with rain now and again to really spice things up. When we started this trip I was bitter about having to endure a northern summer. I haven’t felt heat since oh about August of 2010. But I’ve surprised myself and begun to rather enjoy watching the weather patterns and being out in nature and all her elements. My down jacket and I are inseparable. I’m still anxiously anticipating some tropical time but I do worry about our children. On the rare occasion that the sun was out and the temperature hit anywhere close to 70 degrees fahrenheit they seemed to wilt like delicate little flowers, whining profusely and complaining “it’s soooo hot…”

When we drive… it’s sometimes just a short way to a new cool spot to check out… and sometimes for several hours. These days while we are driving we often do schoolwork but over the summer the boys were entertained by drawing, looking for wildlife or listening to books on tape. Thank God for books on tape. Randy and I have been amazed at how great the boys have been traveling. They have their moments where they fight intolerably and I’d like to tie them to the roof rack but overall they’ve been amazing troopers.

How’s this for a school bus!

Arriving at our next destination (which is a process in and of itself) we’ve got to reverse the whole shebang…popping the top, unloading everything, setting up our awning, finding water, making dinner, setting up beds, etc.

Bessie, ready for bed

There’s lots of looking at maps and guidebooks, talking about options, making decisions. Basically most things we have to do at home, we still have to do on the road… It’s just a bit more challenging. Like the call of nature for example. Managing 4 different people’s digestive tracts on the road is a fly by the seat of your pants experience. There’s never an outhouse around when you need one and when there is no on has to go.

Outhouses in Chicken, Alaska

Despite my initial reservations about a long road trip, it’s been great. Everything that goes into making things run smoothly though, takes a fair amount of energy and there’s not much down time. We’re often surprised how tired we are at the end of a day.

I think we need a vacation.



  1. Great post Stacy! a good dose of realism as we prepare for our mini-time-away expedition. We’ll be landing in bangkok mid February. Australia in March for a short stint and then on to NZ for most of march/april to tour the countryside in our van-away-from-van. Any ideas of your overseas itinerary yet?

    Look forward to hearing more about your travels and exploration…and nail that coffee thing down for us, will you?

    • I’m so excited for you! That sounds awesome. I wish I had the coffee thing figured out. Our two camp coffee options aren’t too bad. I also found this $10 milk frother which believe it or not does a great job and really makes it more espresso like.

      We don’t know where we are going after Maine yet. Can you believe it!? Hopefully we will know something about Randy’s work opportunity in the next couple of weeks. I’m researching other options now.

      Stay in touch. I can’t wait for your trip!!!

      Stacy Mercier Earlywine

      Sent from my iPad

  2. Another fabulous post, Stacy! Thanks for satisfying the curiosity about what life is really like on the road. I know I tend to idealize it but when I’m actually “out there” a lot of times I feel exhausted by how much more effort it takes to meet my basic needs. Because everything takes so much longer, your life gets simpler – and that’s what makes it “time off.” But in the end it’s just us working on different things, narrowing our focus to more concrete and tangible necessities rather than the superfluous stuff that takes up so much of our “normal” lives.
    Just got a postcard, too, and loved it! Thanks to the writer, the artist, and the artist’s muse/boss. (o:

  3. Hi Randy and Stacy,

    I think we might have (another) friend in common, if your climbing friend from Nepal is Seth W.–I ran into him on a 50K about a year ago and stayed in email touch but we never managed to meet again. Small world!

    It’s great to follow your travels virtually and this was a really fun post about the trials and tribulations of being a traveler.

    By the way, I suspect the Japanese travelers making the noise at Chena were probably subscribing to the myth that the Northern Lights respond to
    people “singing” at them…that’s what we would tell the tourists when I lived in Alaska, anyway!

    • Hi Tim,
      Indeed Seth W is the mystery climber! So you are one of those crazy runners to eh? Glad to hear you are enjoying the posts and thanks for sending us a note!

      Stacy and the boys

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