April 21, 2021

A Nine-month Family Vacation

With the pandemic on and school online, one family fulfills a dream
By Ross Boissoneau | Feb. 27, 2021

Long before the pandemic, Joe and Christina Sanok had a plan. A dream, really: They wanted to take off with their kids and explore the country. With online schooling available and plenty of ways to learn firsthand about the country, it seemed like it could be a great learning experience for the kids. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad could enjoy the scenery and some focused family time while the kids were still, well … kids.

“Christina gets full credit” for the idea, said Joe Sanok.

Christina takes up the story: “I’d been dropping hints for years. I wanted to travel, stay as long as we wanted, be unplugged, take in outdoor recreation. I brought it up [again] when I turned 40. I said, ‘I’m serious.’ 

“About a year ago, we started planning. I had the RV picked out. Then COVID hit and paused everything.”

Dismayed but not defeated, the Sanoks continued to plan, keeping an eye on the pandemic as restrictions came and went and came again. They selected their home away from home, bought a truck to pull it, and waited some more. Then they finally decided to pull the trigger.

“We weren’t planning to send the girls back to school [in the fall]. We left Sept. 8,” said Christina.

Joe said their daughters’ schooling continues unabated, just using online options much as they would have had they been studying at home. “It seems the kids are excelling faster,” said Joe of Lucia, 9, and Laken, 6.

“It’s evolved,” added Christina. “They’re doing science, social studies, and geography on the road. The kids are curious and really engaged.” 

But it’s not all school. There’s also fun and games, for adults and kids alike. The trip has encompassed national parks, scenic vistas, even natural disasters.

After traversing the Upper Peninsula, they went through Wisconsin and into the Badlands. From there, it was off to Glacier National Park, in Montana — or at least, that was the plan.

“We were traveling into the wildfires. They were just 10 miles away,” said Christina. So instead of spending a week in Glacier National Park, the crew shot down to Colorado, where they ending up spending six weeks. They then took in the Grand Canyon, the meteor crater — “I loved it,” said Lucia — and other sites along the way.

Not only are the kids doing school while on the road, Joe is able to work as well. The former owner of Mental Wellness Counseling, he sold the business in 2019 and now coaches mental health professionals who wish to start, grow, and scale their own private practices and podcasts. He’s sold a book to Harper Collins and does a regular podcast himself, "Leave To Find," a family adventure podcast.

The flexibility has afforded the family a new kind of freedom. “We just start moving when we get antsy,” said Christina. “We’ve learned a lot about the country — and how cold the South can be,” she said with a laugh. “New Mexico, that will be warm. Nope. Southern California was kind of warm. Arizona was warm.

Their California adventures also inspired a new passion for Christina: Surfing. “I want to keep surfing until we’re ready to go,” she said.

They’ve made friends along the way. The day they were interviewed, they were heading to Big Bear with some new acquaintances. There have been challenges along the way. They’ve had to abandon some of their planned destinations, like their trip to Glacier National Park. The pandemic has forced them to abort some of their plans. “The trip has not looked how we imagined or dreamed it,” admitted Christina. “There are parts that are different. We love good food and would have loved to go to wine country.”

While the Sanoks miss home (their house is currently being rented to keep it occupied and safe while bringing in some money to pay the mortgage), Christina said the benefits have definitely been worth it. “To see our daughters’ see sunset on the New Mexico desert, see their sense of wonder." 

Christina said that with just one another, their daughters’ friendship has grown. “We used to fight all the time,” said Lucia of her sister. “Now it’s hardly ever.”

They’ve discovered they don’t need as many toys. They’ve also found some new favorite things. “Boogie Boarding is so fun,” said Lucia.

For Laken, the best experience was a visit to the petrified forest. “There were so many pieces of petrified wood. It looked like a rainbow of circles,” she said.

The Sanoks intend to return to Traverse City, but they’re taking their time, targeting June for their return. Until then, they will keep exploring, learning, and enjoying the country and countryside.

Family Life on the Road
Tips from the Sanoks

·      Make sure you have reliable transportation. You don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere (or anywhere really) because your car/truck/RV broke down.

·      Plan ahead but be flexible. Make sure you know the hours for the attractions or places you want to visit, but if you find something so enjoyable you want to stay longer, give yourself permission.

·      Take your time. It’s more important to enjoy what you like than to try to see and do everything. 

·      Be prepared. Just like the scouts, have a first-aid kit, some extra clothes, an all-in-one tool, and extra chargers for your electronics, among other necessities.

·      Check school requirements and availability. In addition to their regular online classes, including Beast Academy for online math, the Sanoks are using a tutor based out of Chicago three to five hours a week for more personal attention.

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