The Plan Is, There Is No Plan

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” – Winston Churchill

This summer we will embark on an epic family road trip. Now, I know that there are plenty of people out there who’ve taken their kids out of school and drive around South America or sail the Mediterranean. They homeschool their kids at the Louvre and Angkor Wat. But those aren’t normal people. Let’s just admit there’s something loose about them. How do they afford it? Are they teaching their kids algebra? Can they really tolerate their kids for all of that time? (Ok, I think they’ve actually discovered the secret to happiness, but I’d rather dismiss them as crazy.)

We, on the other hand, are normal people. Life-long nine-to-fivers. My wife did live in Europe for two years after college, but she had steady jobs. Our kids are typical. They go to regular public schools. They take dance lessons and play little league. They misbehave in restaurants and have tantrums when they can’t have ice cream. A two-month, budget-friendly, roughing-it road trip is definitely out of the box for us.  No, we won’t need shots for Yellow Fever or be driving the Darien Gap. But we will be suffering summer crowds at the National Parks.

We had some friends who started an online travel company. They weren’t tied to a brick-and-mortar job. When summer rolled around they’d split for the Southern Hemisphere or Europe. The kids would get out of American schools in May, hop a jet, and find themselves joining a Spanish speaking class in mid-semester taught by a nun. These kids now speak three languages, so what do I know? After our summer on the road, I suspect our children will solidify their grasp of four letter words.

So what is the plan?

I should document the plan publicly so that we can look back and see how different it ends up being. Here it is in broad strokes: This summer, we leave Florida and first head to Charleston where we begin roughing it… in a hotel. Hey, we have nothing to prove. Then we embark on seven weeks of camping with a few respites. First, North Carolina mountain style. Most of this will be in a campground with restrooms and shower facilities, but nothing whatsoever in our campsite – no water, no electrical hookup.  When there’s a gap in blog posts, send a search party.

After that, we will go to a friend’s family’s mountain house for a couple of nights with lights, showers and beds. This is one of my best friends, but I haven’t actually seen him in like 7 years. Since our last meeting, we’ve combined to father at least 4 children, so it’s going to be a bit different this time.

Then, there’s a lot of days and a big country to cross. We have about 6 weeks before we need to be back in South Carolina for an intimate gathering of 25 in-laws. And in the midst of that we’re invited to a housewarming in Northern California and for a boat trip with my best friend who happens to live in Seattle. He’s a retired military pilot who now flies for an airline. In his free time he has adopted two sweet kids, donated bone marrow to a stranger, and has never made a bad business deal in his life (his wife deserves credit for everything except the bone marrow.) He is living proof that in college you do not know who will end up in prison and who will have a yacht. If we’d had camera phones in college, I could finance my kids’ schooling just from blackmailing him.

We have friends and family peppered up and down the pacific coast and a lot of country to cover in between. This is where my wife comes in. Her master’s thesis was on cultural tourism and she has worked in a number of roles in travel planning and tour guiding. While I’d absolutely love to get out a yellow highlighter and an Atlas and trace a path across the country, her pleasure in this trip starts with the planning. And she’s amazing at it. When we had just one child, we went to Switzerland. Our son became car-sick on the ride from Zurich to our apartment in the Alps. While he was throwing up in his car seat, she was able to be nurse, mother and navigator – guiding us directly to our Air BNB without consulting a map. I trust her.

If there exists a perfect combination of weather, traffic, attractions, public restrooms, accommodations and dining between Florida and Seattle, she’ll find it.

So we have a nice large blank slate, with a few specific places to be along the way. Of course, no amount of planning can account for the variables presented by two kids, thousands of miles of travel, weather, and the potential for suddenly exploding arteries.

Check back for updates as we prep for the trip. Drop us an email or add a comment if you have any “must-sees” between Florida and California/Pacific Northwest. Be sure to sign up on the right to follow this blog and get notified of new posts (no spam).


“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan and Monica Kile. Check out Jon’s periodic column, “So How’s That New Book Coming?” at Creative Loafing – Tampa. His 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at Monica is a freelance grant writer, non-profit consultant, tour guide, and connoisseur of 70s rock lyrics.  

7 thoughts on “The Plan Is, There Is No Plan

  1. Please take your children to the Flora-Bama. US 98, Perdido Key. DO IT NOW. Also take them to the coonhound cemetery in Alabama, near Muscle Shoals. It’s awesome. I know you’re not #petpeople (happy, Dan?) but it’s the best cemetery ever. Kentucky and Texas are functionally useless; avoid them. But Alabama is AWESOME and the van will fit right the hell in.


  2. Since we’re starting in Charleston and then the Smokies, we won’t find ourselves in the Florida panhandle. And our only foray into Mississippi might be outside of Memphis for a Ray Lamontagne/Neko Case concert. (My idea of trip planning involves overlaying our route with summer concert and festival tours.) When I was looking for a campground near the Ray Lamontagne concert I stumbled upon… I’m not making this up… John Kyle State Park. How can we NOT stay there? We should get free admission. We do plan to miss all of Texas in both directions. I’ve driven every inch of I-10 too many times and the Northern Route is only slightly better. El Paso is a gem… and by gem, I mean it’s the only place I’ve ever seen a moving car explode for no reason. I’ve never been to Austin, so my best experience in Texas was the little town of Brenham… which is the idyllic home of Blue Bell ice cream (send me all the recalls, I’ll eat them) and a place where they celebrate Halloween by going to church. We attended a beautiful wedding there, where I’m convinced that the reason it was held in a remote barn was because there would be dancing.


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