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Travel is the ultimate form of independence. On Fourth of July weekend this year, after putting our belongings in storage, my family hit the road — and we haven’t looked back.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how much we took for granted, whether that was hugging our best friends, grabbing after-work drinks with colleagues or taking a walk without wearing a mask. After months of isolation in a sketchy apartment — each day blurring into the next with unrelenting repetition — we were open to shaking things up a bit. My partner and I had a unique opportunity to work remotely, and our daughter, who had just turned 1, didn’t need to stick around for school. Was living the road trip life the right answer?
For this very specific moment in time, the answer was “heck yes.”
Spending the last five or so months in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas has rejuvenated us in several ways. For my partner, road-tripping has given him a sense of control that he felt like he lost during the first few months of the pandemic. For me, I’ve regained the anticipation and excitement of having something concrete to look forward to, knowing that we would never be in one location for too long.
And for our toddler, Zoe, there has been the constant stimulation of new environments and experiences, from swimming in Central Texas’ Guadalupe River to seeing 2,000-year-old petroglyphs in Clark County, Nevada’s Valley of Fire.
While munching on macaroni and cheese at an outdoor restaurant in Marfa, Texas, Zoe blurted out her first complete sentence, 'I love Dada.' While bittersweet for Mama, it was a milestone only amplified by Marfa’s singular setting.
We believe that travel enriches children because we have seen it firsthand in the form of huge developmental leaps. For instance, after Zoe’s first airplane flight in 2019, she crawled for the first time. Months later, on another family vacation, she took her first steps. And travel during the era of COVID-19 has been no different.
While munching on mac and cheese at an outdoor restaurant in Marfa, Texas, Zoe blurted out her first complete sentence: “I love Dada.” While bittersweet for Mama, it was a milestone only amplified by Marfa’s singular setting.
My parents always said that there’s no better education than travel — and as much as I hate to admit it, they were right (yet again). Zoe loved seeing the farm animals from her books come to life during our three-week stay in Texas Hill Country. Wild deer ran around at dusk, and she regularly spotted cows, chickens, horses, sheep and goats from our car window.
While this wouldn’t seem like a big deal for locals, there aren’t quite so many opportunities for farm animal sightings back home in Los Angeles. Our temporary base in the Hill Country was also a 5-mile drive from Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site, where Zoe and I would go on morning walks among wildflowers and alongside two gigantic Texas Longhorns (don’t worry, those big boys were fenced in).
Our road trip during the era of COVID-19 hasn’t been without hiccups, of course. State and city reopening plans are constantly evolving, and there’s nothing we can do about it. That meant that for most of our stay in Austin, Tex., outdoor parks, recreational facilities and swimming holes were closed.
With unforgiving temperatures in the 100s and the indoors mostly off-limits, too, there was a sheer lack of things to do. We made the most of our time there by going for family walks around the surrounding neighborhoods and ordering the region’s famed Tex-Mex cuisine, complete with margarita kits, to go.
The pandemic has made travel harder, but not impossible. It’s made us reconsider what’s important to us and allowed us to look inward to the towns, cities and state parks hiding in plain sight. Years to come, when we reflect on this abrupt period in our lives, we’d like to remember more than just the hardships we’ve all endured. We hope that we’ll be able to recall the memories we’ve created as a family while embracing the freedom of the open road.