I’ve mentioned before that we have a family goal to reach all 50 states with our daughters before they graduate high school. We just got back from our third annual road trip - our longest one yet: 4600 miles of driving over 12 days, reaching 9 states.

It was a whirlwind trip from Wisconsin to the Pacific coast of Oregon and back. That much time in a car can create tension in any family :)

This is our third trip and each year we’ve learned more about our family, parenting, and the keys to keeping positive through challenging situations.

Two Different Trips

Let’s compare two trips from the perspective of a young kid to understand what helps make for a good experience:

Trip One - Melancholy Sadness

Bummer: You can’t eat your favorite food from a restaurant due to a painful loose tooth

Bummer: You step in horse droppings on a hiking trail

Bummer: You get slivers in your hand crossing a wooden bridge

Bummer: You fall down in a pile of snow getting your clothes all wet

Bummer: You worry about stepping on a jellyfish on the beach

Bummer: You get sick and throw up in your hotel bed

Bummer: You feel sad about friends you miss playing with

Bummer: You experience a variety of awful sulfuric smells

Bummer: You have to sit and wait for over an hour on a bench

Bummer: You can’t see Mount Rushmore because of a ridiculous amount of fog

Bummer: Your tablet doesn’t play the movie you really wanted to watch and you have to listen to your sisters watching it on theirs

Wow; this sounds like a rough one. Maybe we’re not cut out for this travel stuff?

Trip Two - Everything is Awesome

Awesome: You get to meet your new baby cousin for the first time

Awesome: You get to play with your tablet and explore all kinds of new books, educational games, and your favorite movies

Awesome: You hike in the mountains of Glacier National Park, seeing amazing waterfalls and collecting a beautiful river rock as a souvenir

Hiking trail in Glacier National Park

Awesome: You get to cross a swinging pedestrian bridge high over the Kootenai river

Swinging bridge over the Kootenai River

Awesome: You see a wild deer by your picnic site and then have a June snowball fight with your family in the high altitude of Mount Rainier

Wild Deer at Mount Rainier

Awesome: You eat hot dogs on the beach, then build sandcastles, search for seashells, and feel the cool waves on your toes on Cannon Beach

Awesome: You explore tidal pools seeing amazing sea creatures at Haystack Rock

Sea creatures at Cannon Beach

Awesome: You spend time cuddling with your Mom watching Disney Junior (a treat since you don’t have cable at home)

Awesome: You lose your first tooth and get a dollar from the tooth fairy

Awesome: You get to see a wild elk foraging for lunch in Yellowstone National Park

Wild elk in Yellowstone National Park

Awesome: You learn the song 99 Bottles of “Juice” on the Wall, see Old Faithful erupt, then get ice cream

Awesome: You get to see Mount Rushmore as the fog clears and you’re eating more ice cream :)

Mount Rushmore with the fog lifting

Awesome: You get to play in yet another park and then get to settle in comfortably to your bed at home

I’ll sign you up for another trip, right?


I’m sure you’ve figured by now - these were the same trip. The highlights above are from the perspective of the same kid: the same places, the same experiences - just different highlights.

Shawn Achor mentions in this awesome TED talk that only 10% of your happiness is determined by your external circumstances. The remaining 90% comes from how you view the world around you.

We all experience some awesome things and we all experience some challenges. The difference is in what you focus on.

It’s fair and healthy to acknowledge the challenging times; it’s not helpful to try to pretend they didn’t happen. Recognize that they happened, learn from them, and then spend your energy focusing on the positive experiences.

In the end, happiness is all about perspective - you can choose whether to focus on the things that didn’t go well or you can focus on the amazing things in your life.

You get to write the tone of your story - how will it read?

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Will you focus on the “Bummers” or the “Awesomes”?

Van in parking lot with "Dont Worry Be Happy" on window

Fun fact: this was an ACCIDENTAL picture from our first road trip; my wife set her phone down in one of the car seat cupholders and accidentally hit the screen taking this photo

We Choose Awesome

While the examples above came from one of our children, Jaime and I experienced a lot of the same feelings. There were times where we stood in awe of the beauty of the world around us and times where we felt stressed to our wits ends.

We came out of this family trip with a motto that I think captures really well how it all went:

It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it

We came through this trip feeling ready to be home but thankful for what we were able to experience together.

In many ways, the challenges we faced forced us to grow as parents and as a family; the lessons we learned will help us both on the road and at home.

The amazing experiences we shared together are ones we’ll remember and cherish for the rest of our lives.

Mother and daughters at Cannon Beach

Coming Next

We’re already starting to draft our trip next year - covering the Northeast. If you’ve got any recommendations of places to stop with young kids (six, five, and five), let me know in the comments below!