When I was a child, vacation was always in the summer and the week between Christmas and New Years. I went to public school and vacation meant “no school!” It was a time to just play, have no schedule and fit in a trip to somewhere.

At my house “somewhere” was wherever mom and dad decided we were going that year. My dad was a sheet metal worker at a large industrial plant, and every year they would “shut down” for the last 2 weeks of July and the week between Christmas and New Years. Traveling, with my family, back then wasn’t like it is today – we didn’t make reservations or visit a theme park or go to some far-away land. There were 50 unexplored states and a country to the north and south that were all within driving distance. Mom would pack food in the cooler and fill a thermos with water; she would pack all of our clothes for whatever region we would be visiting. Dad would have already looked at the maps (no GPS), and we would jump in the car to head to “somewhere.”

“Somewhere” was always educational – battlefields, forts, historic landmarks, natural wonders – wherever the car was headed. We live Illinois, so to the west there was Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone Park, Corn Palace, Badlands, Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. To the Southwest was the Grand Canyon, the Four Corners, Native American ruins. To the East there was Gettysburg, Philadelphia and all of its landmarks, Fort Ticonderoga, Niagara Falls. To the South and East there is New Orleans, Colonial Williamsburg, and the plantations of Louisiana and South Carolina.

When I was a child there were no interstates, so vacation meant going through all of the little towns in between where we were and where we were going – wherever that was. We drove dusty dirt roads, forded streams, and sometimes ended up in the middle of nowhere. Mom and Dad didn’t tell us where we were going, but we knew it would be fun and it would be vacation. I don’t think I truly appreciated these experiences until I became a parent and did some of these same things with our own children.

I think my parents were pretty smart. They didn’t tell us that vacation was educational! Not a year went by that we didn’t get an opportunity to make another family memory and learn something new about the country we lived in. This was so important to my Dad that he and Mom would put a little back during the year to make the vacation happen. Vacations didn’t have to cost much. We took our own food and stopped at grocery stores along the way to stock up. We camped or stayed with friends instead of in hotels. We visited free or inexpensive venues – the extra expense was the fuel (much cheaper in the 60’s, but the annual income was less, too). My dad died when I was 14 years old – by that time we had visited 45 of the 50 states, Canada, and Mexico. We made some great memories that we still tell today – remember that time when…

For my family, education happened on the road and all over North America. Plan a trip with your family, let the kids help, and get off the beaten path to discover new things. Pick a state you would like to explore, and contact their department of tourism for information. Go hiking, fishing, see local attractions or landmarks, visit local shops, and stop along the way. I think that might have been one of my favorite things – the unexpected sites along the way. Education doesn’t have to happen in your classroom, and it doesn’t have to come from a book. Education can happen “somewhere” – wherever that may be for your family – “Learning is a journey, not a destination.”

*Epilogue – My husband and I still enjoy traveling. We still love to go to educational places (museums, landmarks, etc.). My children (now adults) still want to take trips with us, but our horizons have broadened a little to visit beyond our US borders. Not only do we continue to learn, but we meet some amazing people along the way!