Making the decision to go on a vacation while we were in the midst of trying to sell and buy a house and plan a thousand-mile move across the country was not part of the plan, and it showed in a vacation that lacked a true itinerary or any kind of organization.

I started “planning” the start of our summer 2021 vacation back in January, just as everything started to fall apart for me. My sister-in-law was making plans for her sabbatical, which was to include at least a week of traveling with our family, and my family had started making plans for a family gathering in Indiana. For the first time in three years, I was planning a vacation around other people as well, and I was doing so while deep in personal grief. That isn’t to say I didn’t want that valuable family time. I did. But my head and my heart just weren’t in it.

And so when we prepared to leave Texas for our two-week family vacation in the middle of putting our house on the market, looking for a house in another state, and preparing to move 1000 miles, things were certain to not go smoothly. We had places to stay, but no plans. I didn’t have an itinerary. I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do in each location.

The result? High points captured by my camera that popped up between fights, tears, and things actually breaking along the way.

This is the rollercoaster of our not-so-carefully-planned vacation.

Traveling to Georgia

Our drive to Georgia was going to take two long days. We did everything we could to leave by an early time on Saturday morning, but we had to leave the house in perfect condition for showing. We would have a cleaning crew arriving to finish what I couldn’t (and they did a less-than-stellar job, which was another issue) but we still needed to make sure that everything was placed just as we wanted it. I had spent the previous week cleaning and painting and doing general repair and my husband and I had survived multiple late nights of packing. We didn’t leave for Mississippi until almost noon, which meant we would be meeting up with my husband’s sister and parents after sunset.

We managed to get into our camping spot without much drama. But as we pulled out the next morning, we got distracted by our son’s frantic search for his headphones, headphones that would give all of us necessary peace for another 400-mile trek. We heard a horrible scraping sound as we pulled out of our site, but it wasn’t until fellow campers ran us down that we realized that we had been so distracted that we had forgotten to put up our front jack. Instead, we had torn up the paved site and a couple of feet of the road (camper mishap number one).

We thought we were in the clear once we left the park, only to go over a steep set of railroad tracks and severely damage one of our stab jacks in the process, which made it completely unusable for the rest of the trip (camper mishap number two).

Too Many Drives to Atlanta

One of my goals in Atlanta had been visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and Centennial Olympic Park. I made assumptions based on life in Texas only to discover that quite a bit of Atlanta was still taking a lot of solid COVID-19 precautions.

We woke up later than usual due to exhaustion from the week before and then arrived in Atlanta only to discover that Centennial Olympic Park was not open the day we were there and the only building open in MLK Jr. NHP was the gift shop.

So much for spending several hours walking in the footsteps of giants.

We still got to see the outside of buildings and eat some good food at a local restaurant, but it wasn’t the full experience we had been hoping for. Then my sister-in-law took the kids for a couple of hours and they discovered the College Football Hall of Fame…an hour after it closed.

While my husband then checked the website for times the Hall of Fame was open, he misinterpreted the one day a week it was closed, making the mistaken assumption that it was closed on Sundays. The next day he drove our son and his parents into Atlanta (by this point we had learned this was really a 75-minute drive from Chattahoochee Bend State Park with at least 30 of those minutes on windy country roads) only to discover that Tuesday, not Sunday, was the one day a week it was closed.

In order to appease our devastated 10-year-old, we sent the rest of the crew on to South Carolina the next day while we spent five hours driving to Atlanta, exploring the Hall of Fame, and driving back to the state park, only to have to still pack up the camper and travel another six hours to our next stop, arriving well after dark. And while it definitely contributed to way more driving than we had originally anticipated, it was a delightful two-hour excursion that helped to distract our son from the reality of our looming move.

Rain in South Carolina

It rained on our way to Georgia. It rained on our way to South Carolina. It rained while we floated down the river in kayaks. It threatened rain while we visited Fort Sumter. It rained while we walked through the Charleston City Market. It rained while our kids swam in the Atlantic.

And the rain matched our moods as our house officially went on the market and the reality of our house possibly being sold while we were on vacation sank in for both of our kids. So there were fights, battles-of-wills, and plenty of tears.

While the rain kept the temperatures down and made our stay in South Carolina much more pleasant, we also watched as Hurricane Elsa made its way across the Atlantic and hoped that the effects of the storm wouldn’t impact us too much.

We’re also thankful that we didn’t experience a serious accident when we realized that we had forgotten to hook up our electrical from the trailer to the truck and that we noticed it before we were on the interstate (camper mishap number three).

A Fourth of July Celebration in North Carolina

If I’m being perfectly honest with myself, North Carolina was a checkmark stop. Finding a state park that would house our travel trailer became a significant challenge and we finally ended up at a Corps of Engineer park, which is a good alternative and was a lovely spot in the Appalachian Mountains. My husband, sister-in-law, and I went out for some local moonshine, I did laundry, and the rest of the family enjoyed some sun and swimming at the reservoir.

And for the first time in six years, we took our kids to an actual fireworks show. Our 10-year-old, who had never actually stayed awake for a whole display, was amazed by what a real show put on by professionals, not neighborhood amateurs, could be.

It appeared to be a nearly perfect stop.

Then we packed up to go. We didn’t get the camper properly hooked up to the truck the first time and it dropped off of the truck, nearly rolling down the hill and getting caught by the two leveler blocks that we had put into place when we parked (camper mishap number four). Then, while we were dumping our wastewater, I discovered that the greywater tanks were not closed and got gross dish and bathroom sink water all over my hands and arms (camper mishap number five).


A Long Wait in Tennesee

Once we were finally on the road, we got a phone call from my sister-in-law that our daughter had a sudden and inexplicable rash all over her hands, stomach, and feet. She gave her Benadryl but otherwise we didn’t know what to do. When we finally arrived for our one-night stay at a state park in Tennessee we learned that nearly everything in the park itself was still closed, including the pool.

We finally found a place in town to eat a meal so that we didn’t have to cook and were excited to try a local, small-town joint. Only there was a very small staff and we were a party of seven and we showed up at 8:00. One hour later we finally had our food, and while it was pretty tasty, the long wait had somewhat soured the experience. In the grand scheme of things, it was really a minor issue, but when compounded with everything else, it was just additional frustration.

Narrow Country Roads in Kentucky

Living in Indiana for thirteen years gave us several opportunities to also explore Kentucky. And because we had somewhat romanticized the lovely rolling green hills throughout the state, we had given ourselves permission to forget just how narrow the country roads are and just how many country roads one must travel to get to many of the sites we wanted to visit.

It didn’t take us long to remember.

Our first goal for Kentucky was a stop at Mammoth Cave National Park, a family favorite that we had visited with our kids right before we moved to Texas. The kids wanted to return and we were happy to oblige. Since the tours are limited right now, we were only able to get on the main historic tour and enjoyed our two hours walking two miles through the main portions of the longest cave system in the world.

Of course, before we could go on this tour I also spent three hours driving distances and waiting on prescriptions as we went to an urgent care clinic in attempts to find out what was going on with our daughter’s inexplicable rash. No answers and an hour wait to fill a prescription for cream and steroids that the doctor hoped would get rid of it.

Oh, and our son discovered that one of our travel trailer tires was flat, so that was another fun issue to deal with (camper mishap number six).

The next day my husband and I got back into the truck so that we could travel on more country roads to Makers Mark, where we would get a free tour and he would get his Ambassador bottle of the original Makers Mark bourbon. (For more information on how to get to this program, click here.) While it was more driving, the tour and the chance to just get away for a few hours as a couple, with our kids safely under the supervision of family, was fantastic.

But again, more driving.

We also stopped at a tire repair place to get the nail removed and the tire fixed so that we could get back on the road the next morning without any further challenges.

More Rain in Indiana

As we were packing up to leave for Brown County State Park in Indiana so we could join my family, my husband suggested that we should probably fill up our freshwater tank before we left because it would be the only place on vacation where we wouldn’t have a water hook up at our site. I agreed and he started the fill. Then water came out on the ground.

Unbeknownst to us, at some point, our plug and drain for our freshwater had somehow come out. We had no way to keep the water inside the freshwater tank (camper mishap number seven).

I lost it. I sobbed uncontrollably. And suddenly our pack-up process became significantly harder because I was just done.

We stopped at an RV store in Elizabethtown and then Lowe’s, where my husband was able to get the part that he needed to plug the hole so that we could have water. We pulled into one of our favorite state parks in Indiana after my family had already started dinner, just in time for family photos (for which I looked amazing, I’m sure), and sleep.

The rain held off long enough to allow us a good campfire, a hike on the Fire Tower Trail, and plenty of time for cousins to play. And I was thankful for the time with family.

I just wish I knew where I got the 30 plus bug bites that plagued me for days afterward.

And Finally Home, for Now

We left the camper in Indiana, on the country property of friends of my sister and brother-in-law. Even that didn’t go as smoothly as we initially hoped. It was a long back-in job and we had agreed to meet our Indianapolis realtor so we could finally see the house that we had put an offer on, sight-unseen. I was eager to help and started putting down the sway bars before Jeff was ready.

The trailer dropped off the hitch, almost crushing both of us and requiring the use of a jack so that we could raise it again, put it back on the truck, repark, and start the process over (camper mishap number eight).

Not one of my better moments, to be sure.

We saw our new house and then headed on the road much later than we had planned. We finally found a roadside motel in Missouri where we could take our dogs and slept for a couple of hours before getting back on the road and getting home by dinner.

It was…a trip.

We needed to get away, but that getaway came at a lot of costs. We had two kids who were upset about lost time saying goodbye to friends. We were trying to negotiate a house purchase and sale while fighting with spotty service and wifi. I was trying to communicate with my new school and my husband was still doing his own work. My determination to support local state parks meant that we were often staying FAR away from the places that we wanted to visit, which meant a lot of driving. I had an idea of what I wanted to do with my family but no real plans, which meant a lot of time and miles were wasted along the way. And everything just kept breaking.

Were there good moments? Yes! There were even great moments. But it will definitely not go down as the greatest vacation in Styf family history.

I think I’m going to just look forward to getting very settled into the next phase of our life before I start planning the next one.

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