In early 2017, with our two daughters both living outside of Nova Scotia, and no jobs to keep us in Halifax, My Lucky Half (MLH)* and I put our house on the market. It sold quickly, and we were nestless. We were also restless after 31 years of pouring our effort and attention into family and business since settling in Canada from the UK (me) and Egypt (MLH) in the 1980s.
Wanting to discover our chosen country and continent, and with our furniture safely in storage, we set off in our car to drive across Canada. After reaching the Pacific we turned South and kept going into the US, returning to Canada five months later. This was so much more than an extended road trip; yes we explored as tourists would, but we also uncovered all sorts of interesting things about ourselves and the communities we passed through along the way.
Here’s my record of this internal and external journey. I’d love you to join me on it.
*I am the Other Lucky Half. Put the two of us together and you get a Whole Lot of Lucky, with neither of us being luckier than the other. Equality is important when you are driving across the continent together for five months, as you will see below.
4 things you need to do on a 15,000-mile road trip with your partner and still be speaking to each other at the end of it.
Many of my Nestless and Restless readers have been amazed that MLH and I managed to hurtle round a large part of North America in a 3,000 lb metal box on wheels for five months and emerge without having a major falling out or one of us being left at the side of the road to walk home. To be honest, I am quite surprised too. This was a major experiment and test of our relationship. The details of our particular ups and downs are sealed into the Nestless and Restless corner of our hearts, never to be revealed; but I have come up with 4 essential things voyagers with a partner need for a successful extended expedition:
Accept that neither of you will change just because of the temporary change in your life style. If one of you likes to have total control of his/her environment and possessions, he/she/they will want to pack and arrange the car each time you move (approximately every other day). This means you might want to go and have a coffee while this takes place, and refrain from pointing out that the spare toilet roll which must be wedged precisely between the hiking boots and the extra bag of San Francisco Fog coffee beans in the car trunk is totally redundant. Likewise, if one of you dislikes shopping with a purple passion, this will not change simply because it is a new supermarket in a new town with previously undiscovered brands of cereal. He/she/they will still pout while wandering the aisles, and you will probably still find him/her/them after your shopping marathon at the coffee shop with his/her/their nose in his/her/their e-book suffering from caffeine overdose. Accept, drive on.
Two: Get distracted
Organize distractions while on long, boring drives with little to see. We started off with the radio, and it was fascinating to hear what was concerning the population according to the local stations. Reception can be spotty, however, which sometimes means an ad for the annual Houndsville Dog Show gets superimposed on an ultra-right white supremist rant while a call for donations in the soft tones of the PBS (US public radio) announcer weaves in between. This can be disorientating. Podcasts are good, and we listened to some brilliant ones from the CBC and This American Life. I spent quite a bit of time noting down the names of RVs and grouping them according to marketing themes (Call of the Wild – Heroes and Gods – Modern Hippy) and trying to work out vanity licence plates on cars. The distraction which seemed to push the road under us the best, though, was my reading out loud. I thought I couldn’t do this – I have car sickness – but if I kept my head down on the highway I was alright. Many miles sped by as we were transported to Egypt in Bassem Yousef’s recent book: Revolution for Dummies. I highly recommend it as a good way to understand the Arab Spring and to scare yourself silly with his comparisons between the regime in Egypt and the US Trump administration.
Three: Get company
We had a threesome for the entire trip, and it was splendid. The street lady we picked up for $200 before we left was well worth the money. Lady Garmin diverted many a mean thought and acted as a buffer when driving got tense. When we had to cross six lanes of traffic in one mile to take an exit and we didn’t make it, it was so very soothing to be able to blame the resulting twenty-mile detour on Lady Garmin. “What was she thinking? How were you supposed to make that exit? Stupid woman!” All frustration can be channeled to an entity who can’t answer back. MLH did all the city driving, and once he got to know the roads, would practice spooking her by taking a short cut and declaring “That will teach her!” as Lady Garmin sputtered “recalculating, recalculating”. In addition to a repository for evil feelings, our street lady had invaluable and incredibly accurate knowledge of the actual streets, of course. Make it a ménage à trois, you won’t regret it.
Four: Be curious
If you’d asked me at the beginning of Nestless and Restless what I thought a couple needed to on a trip like this and come out smiling at each other, I would have said: love, patience, time, money. Now at the end of the trip I think you truly need only one thing: curiosity. Curiosity about the world and what is around the next corner is a given, otherwise you wouldn’t start a journey like this. However, I think you also need to be curious about all sorts of other things. Curious about how you will function as a couple on the road: curious about your reactions to the inevitable disasters when they come; curious about each other’s bottom lines (MLH – more than two hours in an art gallery, me – hummus for lunch more than seven days in a row.) Curious about how extreme heat and cold will affect you, curious about your interactions with the people you meet on the road. Curious about which bits you will love and which you will hate. Curious about whether that cowboy hat which MLH bought in Calgary for the Stampede, and which is laid with reverence on top of his suitcase every time he re-packs the car, will make it to the next trip – or will it be donated to charity AS HE PROMISED IT WOULD BE 10,000 MILES AGO? Be curious; the most important thing.
And there you have it. Accept the things you cannot change, fill your driving time with brain stimulation, let someone else get between you, and stay curious. Until the next trip. Bon voyage!
PS: My astute husband has worked out that you will not be fooled my clever use of he/she/they and his/her/their in Things You Need Number One. MLH wants you to know that the only reason he is so obsessive about packing the car is that when I do it he cannot find anything, nor can I remember where I stashed the bottle opener/bear spray, and this is incredibly annoying. He acknowledges, however, that contrary to the norm, I am right on this point; people don’t change when they get in a car and drive. It is indisputable that over thirty-one years of living together, I could never remember where I put things in the house, either.