I just got back from a trip to Montana with the family. It’s been about a week, I’ve let the dust settle a little bit. Now let’s get to the things I should’ve done, and would do better or different next time…and all other advice I can possibly give.
Pick Your Battles Pre-Trip: I have experience with this. It was our second trip to Montana this summer as a family. I learned a lot from last years trip.
You know your wife, hopefully, a lot better than anyone else in the world. In the months/weeks/days between the trip being scheduled and it officially launching, take some time to really think hard about what you personally value most in a long road trip. For me it was a matter of figuring out exactly how I’d quarterback this trip if every decision was up to me. Then deciding what I can do completely without, what I can compromise on, and what is non-negotiable.
I decided after last years trip that the thing I wanted to do the most was drive as much as possible. I witnessed my wife driving on two lane roads through some of Texas and Wyoming last year and I simply wasn’t willing to put my life in jeopardy like that again.
When I was a kid we’d go to the Columbia River Gorge in Washington/Oregon every summer to camp and windsurf. It was a 12 hour trip and my old man drove it the whole way every time. He was sort of the captain of our family road trips, and I felt like I needed to be the same. My wife is often times the decision maker and the loudest voice in our family, so I wanted the kids to witness the family taking a long road trip my way, and see me as the captain. The feeling of validation I’d get from that was very important to me. And I truly want to be that guy for both my wife and kids going forward. So I decided before we left that there’s nothing more important on this trip (besides family safety) than me staying in the the driver’s seat. No matter how tired I got, I wasn’t getting out. I was gonna drive or we were gonna pull over and sleep for awhile. Those were our two options.
As a result of this I obviously had to cave on a lot of things, which wasn’t easy. She agreed on me driving the whole way, so I agreed to let her pick the day and time in which we’d leave. She wanted to load the wagon, so I let her, and I figured out very early that my common sense input was not needed. I tried once or twice, (just like later she’d ask me once or twice if I wanted her to drive) and it wasn’t a smart avenue to go down.
So ultimately my advice here is to take a stand on what’s important to you pre-trip, respect and leave alone the things you left out there for her to decide…and while doing that make yourself productive in other areas…, and live up to your end of the bargain. It’s also important to note that taking a stand doesn’t mean being an asshole and demanding something. Make sure you approach the wife with respect. It’s not really a negotiating back and forth session either…you need to have a feel for the room. I immediately knew if I was gonna plant my flag on the premise of driving both ways on this trip she was basically going to be dictating everything else. But every marriage is different. Adjust accordingly.
Substitute Positives for Negatives: This is more of a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do suggestion here. On a long trip like that, sitting right next to somebody, especially your wife, there’s gonna be some testy situations. There were plenty of times this sort of thing happened on our trip. I managed to get out of it unscathed, but I still didn’t have a very good approach. If I was to take this trip again tomorrow, I’d plan for every time something negative happened…to mentally spin it into something positive, and if necessary do it outwardly. Almost like an exercise. Even treat it like a job. Because at the end of the day any little thing that comes up that we argue about is nothing in the big picture and can only bring us down to a nasty level if we choose to let it take us on a path to get on each others nerves. Example: If you absolutely know where you are going, and your wife constantly updates you on what the GPS is saying, just let that go. Instead of...wow she sure is annoying as hell with these updates every half hour when we’re gonna be driving on the SAME DAMN ROAD north for the next 20 hours...It should be more like…I’m sure glad my wife cares so much about the trip and wants to make sure we don’t take any detours or make any mistakes. It’s nice that she’s actually paying attention and wants to be involved. Meanwhile that’s what podcasts and music are for, nod your head along with what she’s saying while singing or listening, give her positive confirmation on what she’s saying, and keep things moving.
Plan It Out: Have A Plan Upon Arrival. This one seems fairly simple, but I’ve made two trips to Montana with this woman, with the rest of the family, and somehow failed at it both times. Don’t just have an idea of what you plan on doing before you get there. Make detailed concrete plans about what day is for this and what day is for that, and what times. Have plans on what you want to do for dinner most of the nights. Mention certain things as definite possibilities even if they only have a 1% chance of happening. Most importantly, if your wife wants to set-up the trip in advance, and you think it’s a little over-the-top and unnecessary, bite the bullet and do it. Let her figure things out as far as scheduling if she wants to. It’ll be a blessing in disguise. You don’t ever want to be sitting around for a day on a two week vacation asking what are we going to do today? after the wife offered to plan stuff out ahead of time and you shrugged her off. That leads to all sorts of hellish flames. Bottom line: If your wife wants to plan things out, let her, and at least pretend to be involved. If she doesn’t, plan it out yourself unless you are 100% confident she’s okay with some things being spontaneous.
Make Arrangements To Spend A Day Or Two With Just Your Wife: This was a bingo-bango-bongo for me. Nailed it both years. This year we spent the whole day away from the kids, traveling around the state taking frontage roads, taking pictures together, talking about the future, eating a great lunch and dinner, looking at properties, and a few other things unsuitable for some viewers, all with absolutely no pressure or timeline to get back.
The grandparents watched the kids all day. Good grandparents say sure, what time will you be home?…Amazing grandpa and grandma’s say get the hell outta here, you don’t even have to ask, take as much time as you want, I’ll see ya when I see ya, do you want my credit card? Which is what Bob and Leeann Hawkins said upon me requesting getaway time.
Even if you think it’s impossible, on a long family vacation you need to arrange and find quality time to spend with the wife. A vacation needs to be a vacation for her as well. Nothing says vacation more than no kids.
Arrange to Spend A Day Or Two Away From Your Wife: This is obviously contingent on her finding, or you arranging, for her to do something she really loves to do. Don’t just make plans for yourself, tell her good luck and goodbye. My wife and oldest daughter wanted to see Missoula while we were in Montana. Chloe thinks it might be a potential landing spot for college and Tabitha has never seen it, despite hearing it referenced from me on multiple occasions. Those two lovely ladies and my sister get along very well, so the three of them heading to the Garden City together for a ladies day was perfect. My sister was familiar enough with the area and the university to show them around. In return I got to get out and play golf with my dad, sons, and nephew. I played golf 3 times on the trip and she was happily occupied with other things twice and just wanted the rest on the third. So it worked out for everyone.
When on vacation with the family, and the destination is to see family, getting away from each other, whether it’s parents away from kids, parents away from grandparents, kids away from grandparents, or wife away from husband,…when briefly done…is healthy.
Calisthenics: Every time you stop for gas get out, run around, do jumping jacks, sprints, toe-touchers, mountain climbers…whatever. And pee. If you don’t, two hours down the road when that tank is still 1/2 to 3/4 full, and you’re getting tired or want to stop but can’t because everyone is sleeping and you don’t want to risk waking them up…you’ll wish you had.