Road-tripping and camping along the way through Utah should be fun… right?  After all, how hard can it be with two kids and a motor home?  One mom learns her limits (and her children’s) as she bravely agrees to drive and camp on a one-month trip throughout Utah and Nevada.

My family, which includes two kids under 6 and I went on a month long vacation this past August through the state of Utah. The plan was to spend the first part of our trip camping out of our motor home, touring the National Parks in Southern Utah. The second part of our trip we spent in Salt Lake City visiting my husband’s family. The trip was enjoyable but also challenging at times. To get myself through the trying times and my eventual homesickness, I decided to write an essay of sorts on what I “learned on my summer vacation.” Attached is my “therapeutic exercise” which I decided to share with you. 

WHAT I LEARNED ON MY SUMMER VACATION

1. Vegas is a playground for kids too.

This is where we spent our first couple days and I would recommend it for kids over 4. I discovered that there are a number of fun things to do with young children in Vegas (shark reef, lion habitat, Circus Circus amusement park, etc.) Yes, summer in Vegas is pretty darn hot but we traveled by taxis and stayed mostly in casinos the whole time. 

2. Not all showers are created equal.

My only trepidation about staying at campgrounds was the public showers. I was spoiled by the first campground we stayed at… very clean bathrooms, very large shower stalls. It was like being at a college dorm. “This isn’t so bad,” I told myself. Unfortunately, the shower quality progressively deteriorated as time went on. At the very last campground, there was a long row of small shower stalls, each with their own tiny dressing area. More unfortunately, the partitions separating each of these stalls had a one inch gap so that you could see a sliver of the person in the stall next to you. This was not something I noticed right away as I was standing in my stall, getting myself and my daughter undressed. I was quickly apprised of my situation when I happened to look up and see a sliver of a pudgy white butt belonging to the lady in the stall next to me. My head immediately snapped to the other side of the stall and I was greeted with another pasty rear end.  It took me about 3 seconds to realize there would be no modesty at the campground that night. 

3. You’ve seen one canyon, you’ve seen them all.

At the start of our vacation, my husband envisioned us traipsing along from one national park to another…..to another….to another. I knew better. We made it through 3 days of the beautiful canyons of Southern Utah. My kids couldn’t have cared less. While driving from one park to another, my husband was overcome by a particular scenic part of the drive and stopped to take pictures and admire the view. My son and I had fallen asleep so he turned to my daughter, “How would you like to go outside with Daddy and look at the beautiful canyon?” In a very clear voice, my daughter loudly proclaimed “B-O-R-I-N-G.” Our national park tour ended the next day.

4. Sure it’s 112 degrees, but it’s a dry heat.

We spent the first 9 days of our vacation on the road, the first 8 days of it in 110 degree heat. Summers, apparently, are very hot in southern Utah. We’ve been spoiled by L.A. summer beach weather so this was not a familiar experience for us. The heat was tolerable part of the time. We stayed inside casinos in Vegas. At the next stop, we stayed at a hotel with a pool. (The swimming lessons my kids took all summer really paid off.) However, some parts, particularly the days at the national parks were miserable, at least for me. The kids fared a little better. My husband, on the other hand, seemed happy as a clam.  Dry heat my *ss. 110 is 110 and that’s too damn hot as far as I’m concerned. 

5. Camping is for the birds.

Before this vacation, I thought I liked camping out of a motor home but I apparently have a quota. I’d say a 3-day weekend, 3 times a year is about right. We exceeded my quota.  We camped 6 out of the first 9 days of our trip, before high tailing it to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Salt Lake City. After settling in for about 4 or 5 days, we decided to take another 3-day camping trip, this time with the grandparents and 4 cousins in tow (all in the same motor home, I might add). I am boycotting the motor home until next August. This is not open to discussion. 

6. Know thy limits… or should I say, thy child’s limits.

Before this trip, I naively thought that a month on the road sounded like fun. Reality check: each person has their limit as to when being on the road stops being fun and starts getting old. My husband can literally be on the road for months at a time and be happy. My daughter is more easy-going and can go with the flow as long as she is adequately entertained. My son, we discovered, has a one week tolerance level for traveling from one place to another.  I should have known better. My son thrives on structure, routine, familiarity, predictability……none of which is present when traveling from one place to another. On day 7, his behavior starting rapidly decomposing. When he feels stressed or anxious, he gets facial tics and verbal tics. I had never seen this poor child tic more than on those last couple days before we hit Salt Lake. His eyes were blinking away. He’d latch on to a phrase or sound and start repeating it over and over again. “I want to see a deer,” he said on a shuttle ride through Bryce Canyon, which then became “I-wanna-see-a-dear-I-wanna-see-a-dear-I-wanna-see-a-dear-I-wanna-see-a-dear…” The decision to high-tail it to the familiar terrain of Grandma and Grandpa’s house required no discussion. 

7. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

My son, apparently, gets his need for stability, routine and familiarity from me. Perhaps it was the heat, my child’s decomposing behavior, or the repetitive sounds of “NA-NA-NA-NA-NA,” but I really felt the need to stay in one place after one week on the road. I breathed a sigh of relief upon getting to my in-laws house.

8. You can take the girl out of the city…

Before this trip I knew that we’d be seeing lots of wide open spaces and small towns. I didn’t think much about it beforehand. I probably should have, having lived in a suburb of L.A. for most of my life. After 9 days on the road, traveling through progressively smaller towns, my husband is thoroughly enjoying the experience. He loves being able to look out on the horizon, mountains in the distance, beautiful blue skies, nothing around except for the main street of the town that we happen to be standing on. The cowboy lifestyle of the townspeople makes him nostalgic. He imagines the simplicity of their lives and has a desire to experience it. The charm of small town life is COMPLETEL lost on me. I am in my own version of hell. At one point I wanted to scream, “THERE’S NOTHING HERE! I’m in the middle of nowhere! I need people! I need buildings! I need action! Quick! Get me a ticket to New York!” Apparently, you just can’t take the city out of the girl.

9. It must be hereditary.

Being from Utah, my husband grew up loving country music, especially the old country hits. I hat
ed country music when I met him, and except for a few current female singers, I still hate it. I particularly detest old country. So, we go on this camping trip with grandparents and cousins and everybody does well on the 2 hour drive to the campsite. The kids are excited, playing games, watching videos, drawing.   On the drive back, the close quarters start to take a toll and the last hour stretches. (Remember, there are 10 of us in one motor home.) We hit a point where everyone is quiet and all that can be heard are the sounds of old country playing on the CD player. Suddenly, my daughter bursts into tears, “I can’t stand this music anymore,” she wails.  The apple and the tree. 

10. Man cannot live on tortillas alone… (and pork and beef and beans).

When we come out to visit my in-laws, it’s a tradition for my mother-in-law to cook up lots of authentic, heavy Mexican dishes. This usually involves some type of fried beef or pork, drenched in a spicy, flour based sauce, accompanied with beans, lots of flour tortillas and occasionally fried potatoes. Vegetables are not present, unless you count the green chilies that are sometimes present in the sauce. I normally enjoy this food when we come out to visit, but after a few days I found myself staring at my carnivorous, vegetable-less plate thinking, “this is not right.” We’d also just come off of 9 days on the road, eating out in little “meat-and-potato” towns with limp, frozen veggies and iceberg lettuce salads. (I admit my “big city” life has turned me into something of a food snob). My stomach started to rebel. Both my husband and I started noticing our waistlines expanding. We did manage to eat a bit healthier once we started eating out (Salt Lake has gotten a bit more cosmopolitan in its restaurant choices). But the damage was done. We both came back home weighing heavier than we’d ever been. 

11. There’s nothing more important than family.

This trip was definitely memorable to me for less than pleasant reasons: the heat, the behavior meltdowns, the small towns, the weight gain and especially towards the end of the trip, my homesickness. But despite all my above complaining, we did build many positive memories and I really treasured how much time we were able to spend with family, both nuclear and extended. David spent countless hours shooting the breeze with his dad (with countless cans of Budweiser beer, I may add….did I mention his expanding waistline?). The kids spent countless hours with their cousins.  And I spent countless hours with my mother-in-law. Believe it or not, this was not a bad thing. As a matter-of-fact, it was kind of a bonding thing and I truly realized how fortunate I am to have such a good relationship with my mother-in-law. I actually felt like I was tearing up roots when it finally came time to say good-bye and I knew she felt the same way. So all in all, despite the trials and tribulations of our one month journey, I have to say the trip was a success. It was all about family time and creating and you can’t put a price on that.