#9. Imagine renting an RV and driving across the country

Although we pledged at the outset to provide suggestions that could be taken up by those with limited means, there are some ideas so compelling that it might be well worth the effort and sacrifice of even two or three years’ saving and planning to implement. Many of these involve travel, sometimes overseas, and some might best involve multiple family members to be truly successful as they are presented; many of these also involve considerable time that could mean stretching vacation allotments to the maximum or sacrificing work income.

Thus, some of the suggestions in this section will appear to be for the affluent alone. We would strongly suggest, however, that community resources and even financial aid might well be found that could reduce the burden. In addition, a thoughtful student and an energetic family might be able to develop some specific fundraising schemes focused on making one or more of these suggestions feasible. This will not be easy, but the payoff in terms of a powerful, life-changing thinking and learning experience could be enormous.

Perhaps some of the suggestions among the Big Ideas Requiring Serious Planning and Resources will inspire a child to begin dreaming and, more importantly, to begin developing a plan to realize a dream. Not every suggestion will appeal to that degree, but a couple of them should at least pique some curiosity and generate some thought.

IDEA #9. Imagine getting hold of an RV and driving across the country. Send each of your teachers a postcard from someplace interesting. Keep a journal. If the RV is too much, take a car and a tent. If cross-country is too much, visit a state or two that you’ve never been to. Don’t forget the postcards

Not for the faint of heart or the short on resources, this was once the ne plus ultra of educational vacation ideas. Cross-country travel has been the iconic American experience since the days of the Forty-Niners, but in recent years the ease of air travel has induced more and more vacationers to eschew the highway and turn much of our nation into “fly-over” territory.

But the recreational vehicle (RV—those bus- and trailer-like vehicles with brand names like Winnebago that provide many of the comforts of home for families on the move) has also grown, and more and more families are electing to pile aboard to explore the highways and sights of America. Not only are there things to be seen along the open road—especially if the travelers avoid the interstates—but there are also big lessons to be learned about living in close quarters when underway for a few weeks at a time. (By contrast, the squeamish or claustrophobic might consider the journey of the Mayflower, into which a hundred travelers were packed for weeks without access to laundry or any but the most crude bathroom facilities. And the Mayflower was just a bit larger than a really big RV.)

If the notion of RVing from sea to shining sea is too much—and those who would have to drive need a stout heart and a strong commitment to the enterprise—it is also possible to travel around a single region. Car camping with tents and sleeping bags from campground to campground is also a time-honored way for Americans to get around, removing the need for a driver to be comfortable manhandling thirty or more feet of vehicle but also compressing the travelers into an interior only slightly larger than that of a Wells Fargo stagecoach; the enforced intimacy is not to everyone’s liking, but a pile of books on CD or, in the worst case, personal music players with headphones, can make the hours pass smoothly.

How you travel is a great deal less important than where you go, what you see, and above all how you look at and talk about what is observed. It is possible for a car full of people to travel many miles with its occupants contained within a cultural bubble impervious to outside influence, but a truly valuable journey must be made with eyes turned outward and minds wide open. Begin by carefully and practically planning the journey, which should be a relatively democratic process, and make sure that dialogue continues as the trip takes place; journal-keeping is also encouraged. Rather than merely sightseeing, a trip of this sort should truly be an odyssey of the mind.

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