I just noticed it’s July 8th, which means we’re already about two weeks into the annual MMM family vacation. It has certainly been reflected in the wimpy blog posting schedule, even while readership seems to be on a growth spurt due to the influence of Frugal Dad. There have been times in the last week, out swimming in a remote lake far from any internet access, that I forgot I was even Mr. Money Mustache!
This vacation has been making it easy to forget, since I’ve been living a very non-Mustachian life for the duration. Leaving the cushion of my simple life at home and the harmonious vibes of you, the Triple M readers, I’ve been confronted by the Real World, which unsurprisingly has continued on its regular self-destructive path even as we have been quietly grooming our ‘Stashes in secret.
I managed to stay in character for the first day. After burning up a season’s worth of gas driving the construction minivan a quarter of the way across the continent, I reached Des Moines, Iowa at around midnight. Inspired by this blog and not organized enough to find a reasonable hotel there for less than $100 on short notice, I decided to kick it Trucker Style and camp out at a rest stop for the night. I had never tried this before, but it was a huge success. I wish I had discovered this trick years ago! I cleared out a bed-sized area in the back, rolled out a camp pad and cozy pillow and blanket, and slept like a king with none of the hassle of check-in, check-out, and with the knowledge that nobody was washing an enormous load of sheets and towels and disposing of plastic bags and cups on my behalf just so I could sleep for seven hours. To add to the luxury, the rest stops in Iowa have free wi-fi internet access and good quality bathrooms.
Early the next afternoon, I reached Chicago, where I visited a friend who lives in the center of the city. He took me out for a day at the lakeshore where we rode the clackety Chicago commuter trains, ate several deep-fried meaty snacks at the Taste of Chicago festival, exceeded our weekly beer quotas, biked through a five mile human traffic jam of bikinis and rollerblades, parked at the harbor and battled the wind and waves for a while in a speedy powerboat, then eventually drove back to his house in a very expensive car. That night we consumed several more kinds of meat and desserts thanks to the Mexican Barbecue party hosted by his lovely wife, then slept a gluttonous sleep while the air conditioning ran continuously.
Since then there has been plenty more visiting, with everyone including me doing wasteful amounts of empty-car driving, eating and drinking. Many family members have been continually purchasing items from stores – kids’ water toys, shoes, hats, desserts, outdoor chairs, whatever comes to mind. In short it has been a completely normal mingling of middle-income North American families.
I found it interesting to note that even with gas in Canada being about $4.70/gallon US, the consideration level given to driving is no higher – suggesting that our own prices would have to rise above that level before any major changes happen.
Despite the observations above, this trip has been the best one of my life so far. The happy combination of old adult siblings getting together and celebrating their graying beards and lengthening life histories over spicy homemade food and forest-shaking laughter, young children meeting each other for the first time and becoming friends, and lots of hard work and exercise, is unbeatable. Oh, and of course the fact that early retirement is the thing that allows us to go on these long trips in the first place.
But I have noticed a significant pattern: the best part of family visits is not the part that involves buying things. If we could change our habits to include carpooling to the lake, using the toys we already have instead of buying an endless stream of new ones, biking more and powerboating less, and eating more natural and local food, we’d still have just as good a time. Probably even better, since there would be more challenge and creativity packed into family visits.
So there’s another MMM challenge for me, and maybe for you too: try to motivate your family this summer, to become just a tiny bit more Mustachian, for their own benefit. Bring a stack of your real plates to the picnic instead of plastic and styrofoam and throw them in your dishwasher when you get home. Make one kickass pesto dish in place of some of the meat. Bust out the canoe instead of the motorboat. Trick your elderly parents into going for a short bike ride with you. Pick a closer destination for your group camping trip if you can find one. See if you can max out the fun without maxing out your consumption of dollar bill employees and chunks of the Earth. I will do the same, and report back on the progress.