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Published July 10, 2015

6 Life Lessons From A Summer Road Trip

Every once in awhile, we need to take a break from the day-to-day. We have to turn off, put our feet up and find a way to refuel. I did that recently. Over the course of a week, I drove my family almost 1900 miles up and down the east coast, visiting relatives and friends, many of whom we hadn’t seen since our move to North Carolina in 2004.

We made stops in small towns in Pennsylvania’s Coal Region and on the South Shore of Massachusetts and spent time in more well-known places like Gettysburg and Boston. It was a great trip. The hours in the car gave me some quality time with my family. It also provided an opportunity to reflect on what I saw and experienced and how it applies to travel and to the journey of life.


Here is what I learned while on my summer vacation:


1. You don’t need as much as you think

I was sure that I needed everything I’d stuffed into my bag. When I got back, I realized I used only about half of the items I’d dragged with me. Things that I was convinced I needed as I was preparing for the trip, lay untouched and still folded when I returned. What things in your life are you lugging along with you day after day? We all carry “baggage.” Are there some things that you can leave behind or get rid of all together that would make your day-to-day movement through life easier


2. Planning is good

A trip, like life, takes planning. Which neighbor is going to feed the pets and water the plants? Has the GPS been updated? What’s the route, the destinations and estimated time of arrival? You wouldn’t go on a 1900 mile trip without a map–why would you go through life without a guide?

Whether it’s religion, a mentor, a counselor or a trusted friend, find someone or something to direct and advise you along the way. Our time spent in Gettysburg was a highlight of the trip because of suggestions of a friend who once lived in that town. The GPS directed us through areas we were unfamiliar with. Listen to, consider and evaluate the counsel of those who have the experience and knowledge.

RELATED: 5 Life Lessons We Can All Learn From Cats.

3. Action is better

During our time in Boston, we visited several historic sites. One winter day in 1773 over 5,000 colonists–more than a third of the city’s population– had gathered at one of our stops, The Old South Meeting House. They were there to protest the tax on tea. After many hours of debate, Samuel Adams proclaimed, “There is nothing more a meeting can do to save this country!“ This was the cue to an organized band of protestors to head to the waterfront where they dumped three shiploads of tea into Boston Harbor and changed the course of American history. There are points in life where planning has to end and action has to begin. During our trip, the GPS presented me with the planned route, and in some cases I made decisions to change the route to avoid certain roads or sitting in traffic. In our life journey, sometimes we just have to stop planning, stop dabbling and take action.


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4. Evolve

Will Rogers said, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” In some of the places we visited, it was obvious that the towns had seen their Heyday. Storefronts were empty, houses were in disrepair, cell towers were few and far between. Some people seemed resigned to the fact that life as they once knew it had passed, and they simply sat in wait for the inevitable. Is prosperity always guaranteed? No. Is change always good? No, but it does happen. Evolve. Change. Adapt. Don’t let life and progress pass you while you sit idly by.


5. Know your history

In Gettysburg and Boston, we heard stories of victory, courage and heroism, but we also heard of conflict, tyranny, and division. Both the American Revolution and the Civil War were defining moments in American history and in World history for that matter. If we don’t know what and why things happened in the past, then we are destined to repeat the mistakes of those who came before us. Reconnecting with relatives reminded me of my own personal history. It helped me to get a better appreciation for the sacrifices they’d made and for how far I’ve come, and how far I need to go, in my own journey. What are you doing to learn and, better yet, to record your history for future generations?

RELATED: 6 Terrible Life Lessons Learned By Playing Final Fantasy.

6. Sometimes you have to pay now

There were several places we stopped that were “cash only.” In today’s world that seems such a foreign concept. We are so used to pulling out a credit card and enjoying goods and services now, while paying for them later. But in those restaurants and stores, when the bill came due, it was time to pay. In the travels of life, many times we also have to pay on the spot. Sometimes you just have to suck up a bad decision, for example, taking I-95 through New York City instead of I-84 through the Hudson Valley, and deal with the consequences. Regrettable? Yes. Was there anything I could do about it at the time? No. I paid the price of long delays and immense frustration and moved on.

Over the course of the week we saw vehicles with license plates from 38 different states and 3 Canadian provinces.

We had no idea if the people inside were just beginning their journey, if they were at the end or how much further they had to go. We saw some vehicles sitting on the side of the road, immobile and abandoned and other vehicles that were severely damaged by the mistakes of their own drivers or by the inadvertent actions of others. What we were sure of was that everyone was going somewhere and that we had to share the road with them. And isn’t that the same in life? We spend so much time focused on the destination that we forget to look around and experience, learn from and share the journey.

Work and tools and striving to be your best are important, but I encourage you to focus on the journey, not just the destination. Ask yourself: Where have I been? What do I see? Where am I going next? Who am I taking along for the ride? And am I stopping to rest and refuel?

Safe travels!

6 Life Lessons From A Summer Road Trip - 4

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  • Michael Palko


  • Instructional designer, Photographer-in-Residence at Historic Oakwood Cemetery, and social learning evangelist. Oh, digital storyteller, too. I take pictures. Lots of them. Find me on Instagram: mpalko. All my articles.

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