Ten Guiding Principles on the Road

February 1, 2021
The Washington Monument is one of the top things to see in Washington D.C.  Beat the crowd there.

Writing this post was a good exercise. No one ever told us what guiding principles we should take on the road. So we asked ourselves, what are the essential components of our mindset? Are there consistent actions we take when we travel? Which of our beliefs preserves the best of ourselves in new and stressful situations?

For the Hoffmann family, these are our ten guiding principles. Granted, they are ideals, and we often fall short when unexpected things happen. When that happens, we have a principle.

Perhaps you see things differently. We would love to hear about it!

1.  Be Grateful for the Day

Ellis Island was a fantastic experience.  We would recommend anyone visit Ellis Island if they come to NYC.  Gratitude is a guiding principal.

So much of our happiness in life stems from gratitude.  If we approach each day like a gift from God, a chance to do good things, and a precious opportunity to marvel at the beautify of life, we protect ourselves from negativity.  

Things will break.  Timing will be off.  Kids scrape their toes when they fail to don shoes before zipping around the campground on their razor scooter.  As a result of these things, plans will change.  When unexpected things happen, our moods and attitudes can suffer.  Gratitude will preserve us against these forces of opposition.

When something falls through, we try to be grateful for the chance to do something different.  If it rains at the worst possible time, we try to remind ourselves how good we have it.  After the generator stops working in the middle of the vacation, well, that sucks.

We can always be grateful for each other.

2.  Beat the Crowd

Washington D.C. National Mall is a fun thing to do with your family.  Apollo and Parker pose for a photo near the Korean War Memorial.

There are many advantages to starting early:  Parking lots are empty.  Traffic is lighter.  The heat isn’t oppressive.  Lines are short.  Photos aren’t swamped with people.  This isn’t a secret, but there are few enough people deploying this tactic that it’s effective.

How early is too early?  Never.  We will rise at 03:00 if the situation calls for it.  How late isn’t early enough?  Somewhere between ten and noon the crowd shows up.

We visited Mt. Rainier National Park on a Saturday in summer.  Arrived at 08:00 after a 2-hour drive (awake around 05:00).  There was no line to enter the park.  We hiked an amazing trail with very few people around.  Had Plummer Peak to ourselves for 45 minutes.  When we left at 13:00, the parking lots were full. The line of cars to get into the park was three miles long. Their guiding principles forgot to wake them up.

3.  Do the Research

Ka'ena Point is one of the five best things to do on Oahu.  Doing research is a guiding principal.

If we’re going to the trouble to get ourselves somewhere, why not plan the best possible experience? Research is one of our deeply held guiding principles of travel.

What if a mile down the road from that touristy beach were an even better beach with fewer people?  Why wouldn’t we visit the taco shop around the corner if it were tastier than the one across the street?  Would we visit the popular attraction if it were known to be a total dud (cough-cough, Wall Drug)?

We can research on the internet, in books, or by talking to other people.  We understand why people don’t do it — it takes time and organization.  This is a fixable problem, and putting in a little effort will pay big dividends.

4.  Hold the Itinerary Loosely

Halea and Bryce pose by the Grand Canyon.  It is hard to beat the crowd there.

The level of detail in our planning may be meticulous, but life exists outside of our ideas.  We must remain flexible to whatever transpires, whether it’s bad weather, an accident, mood shifts, traffic, crowds, closures, or any number of unexpected events.

We recently visited Big Sur on the California Coast.  The lower half of the coastline was closed due to the recent fires.  An entire day’s itinerary was obliterated, and key points of interest were lost.  The town of Carmel couldn’t accommodate our motorhome, and therefore we couldn’t visit.  

What do we do in these situations? First, we stay flexible. Compromise is always around the corner. Second, have a few back-up plan ideas, just in case.

5.  Make Reservations in Advance

Fenway Park is one of the top ten baseball stadiums in MLB.  Every baseball fan would enjoy the tour.  Making reservations is a guiding principal.

There is a subtle competition going on in tourism that is seldom discussed.  The campground only has so many sites.  The hotel only has so many rooms.  The plane only has so many seats.  The fun park only offers so many fast passes.

Once our vacation time is reserved at work – a competition itself – and the itinerary is developed, the next step is to reserve anything that can be reserved.  This includes flights, lodging, car rentals, ferry trips, tourist destinations, concerts and sporting events, etc.  

We recommend doing this four-to-six-months in advance.  If we want to reserve a summertime campsite at Yellowstone National Park, we could be looking 1.5 years into the future.  We would rather not have to get lucky, not have to be put on a waitlist, not have to hope for a cancellation.  These guiding principles help us avoid regrets.

6.  Eat the House Special

Cheap chow is in abundance at Fremont Street, one of the best things to do in Las Vegas.

This is both literal and figurative.  When we eat out at restaurants, we literally ask for the house special.  This is their best dish.  Even if the local special doesn’t sound appealing, we give it a chance, for better or worse.

Figuratively, it’s about trying new things.  What do people do in NYC do that makes them different?  What do they do in Washington, Texas, or Hawaii?  The Hoffmann’s will shamelessly appropriate anything we dig because it makes life better.  Our guiding principle is to shrug off our usual preferences and get outside of ourselves to learn new and better ways.  

7.  Splurge Where it Counts

Monica poses at The Biltmore, one of the most amazing mansions in the USA.  Biltmore Castle is one of the top ten things to do in North Carolina.  Best thing to do in Asheville, North Carolina.

Some things shouldn’t be missed.  We would recommend visiting the Biltmore, or the Polynesian Cultural Center, to anyone, regardless of how violently they dump our purses.  Sometimes people know exactly what they have, and they extract every possible penny for it.  This is capitalism at its finest.  If something is truly extraordinary, we expect to pay the going rate. Our guiding principles don’t let us cheap out all the time.

Maybe it is a top-shelf RV Park with incredible views.  Maybe it’s a fancy restaurant, or a fun park that costs $100/day.  When we visit Kauai next May, we plan on kayaking around the Napali Coast.  It will cost about $500 for the two of us.  This is more than we usually spend on any activity, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  

8.  Remember Everyone is Doing the Best They Can

Parker prepares to be eaten by an ancient shark at the Natural History Museum in Washington D.C.  Beat the crowd there.

Between our family and the rest of mankind, there is limitless potential to take offense and shovel the blame around. We all take turns making mistakes (some more than others). Each one of us can be selfish, obstinate, frustrated, or whiney in any given moment.

When we remember that “nothing is personal”, and that everyone is trying their best, it is easier to forgive people their shortcomings. When someone (not mentioning names, Parker), systematically breaks every piece of hardware in the motorhome, or his sister eats crackers in our bed, or some schmuck blocks our rig into a parking spot, we can let it go. Between having gratitude and forgiving others, most good times can be preserved.

9. Create a Game Within a Game

Disc Golf is one of our favorite things to do on the road.  Charleston, South Carolina is a great place to play disc golf.

The easy way to do this is to collect things: magnets, stickers, t-shirts, sand from beaches, etc. We’ve been known to gather most anything. Ryan’s rock pile is preparing for the big move outside any day now. Monica’s sand bags have filled a cabinet and are looking to expand their territory.

Another way to create a game is to seek something out wherever you go. Sports fans may visit all the baseball or football stadiums. Some of our church friends visit every LDS temple. Why not try to find the best slice of pizza in NYC, Chicago, or the USA? You can climb the highest peak in every state, or drive every inch of coastline.

It is also nice to have an activity you like to do wherever you are. Ryan’s parents collect a golf ball from every course they play — they have hundreds in display cases. We like to bring our disc golf equipment and hit courses around the country. It’s a cheap and easy good time, and therefore a core guiding principle.

10.  Listen, Ask Questions, and Be Teachable

Everyone loved Badlands National Park.  Keeping moving is a guiding principal.

Humans have this odd tendency to stall information that disrupts the status quo. Call it bias or close-mindedness or fear — whatever — it sucks because it slows our progress. We see it in our children and in ourselves.

Simply put, people know things we don’t know. Why would we not be seeking out these things, to learn better ways or deepen our understanding? Do you know the story behind Roswell? Next time you’re in the International UFO Museum take an hour to read the affidavits signed by the witnesses. The story is much more detailed than the mind imagines.

If someone has been somewhere, we ask them about it. If they recommend a movie or restaurant, we try it. At the very least we can learn they have bad taste.

The Hoffmann family tries our best to always be students. How we view people, the world, and this life is ever changing. Parenting has many facets; as we improve ourselves we improve our ability to reach our children. Navigating our emotions and built-in stumbling blocks is hard enough with a good attitude, and darn near impossible with a bad one.

We accept the challenge to foster open-mindedness on the road.

Alien lifeforms are a guiding principal.

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