I’ve always reckoned that spending time on the road can add years to our lives. I mean, when you consider some of the known benefits of road-tripping, a lot of them sound like the things that a local GP might recommend to help keep us happy and healthy. Like embracing curiosity, giving ourselves time to think, trying new things, getting enough sleep, having screen-free time, getting into nature, connecting with people, and looking after ourselves.
It’s equally true that the end of a road trip has a whole heap of negative characteristics that can put even the most optimistic person in a bad mood very quickly. After having enjoyed days — or weeks — of wide-open roads, the experience of commuting through suburban traffic to reach our home base is about as enjoyable as a visit to the dentist minus the Novocain. And the ensuing hours of unpacking are worse still. The kitchen counters buried in food packages and containers unloaded from the rig’s fridges and pantry; the living room floor awash with dirty clothes; the inevitable trip to the local laundromat to deal with the acres of bedding that have spewed forth from inside the camper. And then there’s knowledge that, all too soon, the weight of professional responsibilities will grab us by the throat and drag us back to our daily routine.
Talk about coming back to earth with a thud. Regardless of whether our jobs are productive, pleasurable, or downright dull, the process of unpacking and returning to ‘normal’ can leave us struggling.
Knowing this, it’s been interesting to observe how our 10-year-old tackles the same circumstances. While we adults are cursing traffic snarls as we roll back into town, in the backseat the sight of local landmarks generates happy squeals of recognition. At home, the avalanche of unpacked bags and boxes are met with indifference. Meanwhile, the trip to the laundromat is regarded as a welcome foray into the neighbouring shopping precinct while we wait for the washing machine to do its thing. And the prospect of going back to school is highly anticipated.
Sure, a lot of our daughter’s enthusiasm is grounded in her relative freedom from responsibility. So what if there’s work to do to get unpacked? She’ll lend a hand but the task of finishing the job isn’t hers. It’s her approach to other tasks that provide more fuel for thought.
Take her attitude to the laundry. To her, the prospect of using the massive washing machines at the Coin-Op is novel enough to make the task an adventure in itself. As for returning to school, she finds comfort in the routine and the ebb and flow of term activities. More broadly, she focuses her energy towards each and every enjoyable activity in prospect — big or small, near or far. I’m sure she’s not the only kid who wakes up on Boxing Day and declares “I can’t wait for Easter”. The relentless enthusiasm makes me wonder whether she has some tricks up her sleeve that I should be applying.
A consistently positive attitude is prevalent in many youngsters but seems to wear off as we get older. And I reckon we adults are missing out. After all, it’s a known fact that enthusiasm can reduce exhaustion and pressure, make us more productive and lessen stress (Weisinger H, Psychology Today, 13 May 2015). So, harnessing our ‘inner child’ as we approach our post-trip routines is probably a really good idea.
In our household, prepping for a ‘soft landing’ starts while we’re still on the road. We’re forever on the lookout for places and landmarks that warrant revisiting on a later occasion. Whether it’s because we’ve had insufficient time to fully explore them yet, didn’t know they existed until after we’d passed them, or visited at a time when they weren’t at their best, we spend time in the car talking about how and when we might come back again. Could we visit on a long weekend? Is the place en route to somewhere else we’d like to go? Do we know anyone nearby who we’d like to call-in on at a later date?
Positively anticipating the future, the horizon and its possibilities helps keep an open mind. Rather than regarding the end of a trip as akin to a sunset to our wanderlust, there are a whole host of benefits in viewing it instead as the dawn of a new adventure. This approach makes us more receptive to day-to-day opportunities that arise to try new experiences, and it supports trip planning for our next foray into the Great Outdoors. Importantly it means that there’s always something to look forward to.
While this mindset goes a long way to keep help manage the post-trip blues and keep me out of the workday rut, I know I’ve still got a way to go to match my daughter’s levels of enthusiasm. The day I can get excited about a kitchen full of dirty camp dishes and laundry basket full of camp clothes smelling of smoke, sweat and bulldust, is the day I’ll unlock the full health benefits of an overland lifestyle.