Dropping everything to take a 6-month vacation didn’t pause life for the Gordon family. It helped them start living it again.
After their kids went to bed, Gina and Jon Gordon would sit up sipping wine and dream about the adventurous life of travel they lived before having two children.
They yearned to share that experience with their kids.
“We sat in that conversation a lot late at night. We didn’t want to fold into something we weren’t, but we saw it happening. You have to pay bills and plan for what ifs with kids,” Gina told Healthline. “We began to understand all the phrases our friends who are parents would say, like being stuck in a rut and running on a hamster wheel. We thought there’s got to be another way.”
The Gordons are travelers at heart, and the itch is constant.
At 32 years old, Gina left her teaching job in the Chicago area to work for a California-based company that holds social and emotional learning workshops for middle and high school students. It was there, she met Jon.
“We were gone Sunday through Thursday from coast to coast and throughout Canada. Then our company was covered on ‘Oprah’ and a documentarian in Amsterdam saw the show. She wanted to bring a handful of workshop facilitators over to Belgium and the Netherlands and they chose Jon and I to be on that team,” Gina said.
The job required them to be in Europe three months of the year.
Before they knew it, they fell in love. A few years into the job, the Gordons got married and discovered they were expecting their daughter, Reny.
“Everything was cruising along at a fast pace. We had just signed our next contract to be abroad the following school year and it hit us that I was going to be pregnant during that time. But we kept the contract and started life as parents traveling with a newborn,” Gina said.
They brought their daughter along on seven trips during her first year of life. When she was 9 months old, the Gordons learned Gina was pregnant with their son, Kaleb.
“We thought we needed to [bring] that career to a halt. The conversations we had with students for our traveling workshop job were about self-harm, drugs, alcohol, and gangs, and we felt that many were all rooted in not having enough time with adults or loved ones, and we realized that we’d perpetuate that with our own kids if we kept up the lifestyle we were living,” Gina said.
Jon found a job in a similar industry near their home in Oakland, California, and Gina decided to start a health and wellness business selling Arbonne products from home. Within in the first two years, she doubled her income from her previous job.
Feeling stable, the Gordons began living a traditional domesticated life, focusing on similar goals many parents have.
But they soon began to feel that they’d let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction.
“While every few months, we’d dream up a sabbatical, we’d still play it safe with traditional thinking like getting a bigger house because we thought we outgrew our old one,” Gina said. “There was a two-month period when we sold our house and had money sitting there and we thought ‘let’s just go,’ but we got nervous, bought another house, and the sabbatical talk went away again.”
Last November, Jon’s job changed and the Gordons decided it was time for him to leave.
“We thought it was a sign and our time. It’s funny how things work out. I happened to go to dinner with a friend, and she said her and her roommate were getting kicked out of their place. She asked if we knew anyone who was renting,” Gina recalled. “I went home and told Jon that our friends needed a place to live and he said, ‘Let’s do it!’”
A few months later, on August 1, 2018, the Gordons and their 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son set off on a six-month adventure across the country.
Although they were thrilled, taking that much time away brought up some fears, as it would for many Americans.
But a lack of vacation and its impact on mental and physical health is a bigger problem in the United States than many realize.
In fact, a 2016 study from Project: Time Off reported that U.S. workers took an average of 21 days of vacation in May 1996, and in March 2016, they took only 16 days.
Before August, the Gordon family had only vacationed together to see Gina’s parents in Chicago a few times.
And the financial stress from Jon not having a job, even though Gina’s business helped, kept the Gordons from living out their dream.
“There is a tightness that happens in your physical and mental body when it comes to finances, and I feel like so much of what I see in my industry is that people’s health problems often come from their financial stress,” Gina said. “When we became a one-income household and wondered how’d we deal with it, going on this trip helped us think about all the bills we could get rid of since we’d be on the road. Plus, the travel with being able to do my job remotely allowed Jon to follow his passion and not just do anything for a paycheck.”
Since they started their adventure, Jon has been able to build a start-up educational program called The Piece Project. However, it has required him to travel for six business trips while the family is on the road.
Gina has also traveled to two additional states for her job, so far.
“So we are traveling within the travel,” she said.
Yet, they haven’t let any of this deter them from taking charge of their well-being and sticking to the plan they know to be ultimately best for their family’s health.
The Gordons knew they would be out of their comfort zones, and their kids would be as well.
“We figured there were going to be moments when the kids were throwing shoes at us from the back seat and having tantrums,” said Gina.
To make the transition easier, they traveled throughout California the first month. Then they headed to Portland to visit with Jon’s uncle.
“We didn’t know exactly where we’d stop and when. We had plans to stay with friends in Portland and Omaha for some nights and we had a campsite at Yellowstone for designated nights, too. So we inked in a few things and kept it open for the rest of the time,” said Gina.
They also planned to reach Chicago about 10 weeks in to stay with Gina’s parents for 8 weeks over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. They traveled through 13 states to get to Chicago, where they’ll stay for a few more weeks.
Along the way, they stayed at Airbnbs, hotels, and campsites.
From Chicago, the Gordons plan to drive through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before heading back home.
Exactly how does a plan like this benefit their family’s well-being?
In a number of ways.
Gina says the quality time the family spends together weeks at a time is the biggest benefit of the adventure.
“We spend the majority of the day together (except if me or Jon work at a coffee shop occasionally), and are in the car together for hours at a time. You don’t feel like you’re missing out on quality time or running around like you would do at home since we’re together so much,” Gina said.
She says the trip has also taught her kids about different parts of the country, including differences among environments, cultures, animals, and more.
Even though they live in California, she says they have been outside more.
And the Gordons have seen a shift in their children’s resiliency and patience.
“We don’t have all the answers for them. If they ask where we’re going today, we might not know. Not giving them the whole picture, not worrying about not knowing, and letting it be a surprise, is a great way to teach them flexibility. Our lives today can be so planned out,” Gina said.
The biggest surprises their kids learned on the trip is that they will have another sibling in March.
Right before the Gordons packed their car in August, Gina discovered she was pregnant with their third child.
“We told the kids another baby was on the way when we were in South Dakota,” she said. “It’s been great for us to frame that our family is about experiences and not things.”
She added, “I know if I was at home, I’d be worried about getting the nursery ready and getting stuff for the baby, but I’m so detached from that right now. It doesn’t matter that we’re getting home five weeks before this baby comes because it’s the experience of the baby coming and not all the things that we do to prepare for the arrival.”
She also says if she were home, expecting the baby would bring about financial concerns and other worries related to being 40 years old and expecting.
“Instead, I’m looking at it as an adventure within the adventure,” she said.
The baby also has given the family more to dream about.
“We’ve told our kids this isn’t the last time we’ll do this because the baby needs to go on an adventure too. It keeps the conversation going.”
The hardest thing for the Gordons was leaving family behind who they felt needed them.
“We have a couple of people in our lives who are not well. So, we worried about that,” Gina said.
She also said time management takes effort.
“You have this idea when you start on your trip of how things will go and it kind of plays like a movie reel in your head and then you forget that there are things you do every day at home and work that have to be factored into each day on the adventure, so time management is still a component that you have to do every day,” she said. “Having a routine was a challenge at the beginning.”
However, they learned to keep their morning routine the same — when they wake up, and what they eat.
The same goes for staying consistent with rules, such as eating together and nap time.
“You could easily bend the rules when you’re in and out of places every day. And in a 4-year old’s brain that could register that everything is a free-for-all. But we have to set the tone that we still have rules,” explained Gina.
Gina says the trip has also brought physical and mental benefits.
Science would back her claim, too.
According to an article on Inc.com, there are many major health benefits that can occur from taking a vacation, from stress reduction to fewer physical ailments like headaches and backaches.
“So much can happen for us as a family when we get away from our every day. I think me and Jon knew that, but found ourselves falling victim to the stresses of life,” said Gina. “When we’re free of those, and have freedom and choices — which is what a lot of us want for our kids and loved ones — we can find what really matters most to us.”
While Gina recognizes that her work situation was part of the reason this experience was possible. She believes anyone can take the same journey, and more should to take the best possible care of themselves and their families.
“You don’t need to have lots of money in the bank. We’re not millionaires. This wasn’t done because we had an abundance. It was done because of a deeper longing for adventure,” she said. “Anyone can do this even if it’s a microcosm, even if it’s for a couple months in the summer or for few weeks during the year. Push yourself to stay outside your comfort zone. Be limitless. Keep your options open.”
It may just be the best decision for your wellness, too.