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Summer of 1999: Strum Family Cross-Country Trip

1080740030The summer of 1999 is now 20 years in the rear-view mirror. So much has changed in the world and in my life since that summer. But it was a special summer for our family.

Here’s how…

As background, I sold my interest in my ad agency, The Star Group, on April 15, 1999. The timing was ideal as I created a plan that our family would take a summer long cross-country trip when our children, Carolyn and Carl, got out of school in June. This was an excellent break from the ad business. In retrospect  I am thankful to have had the time and financial wherewithal to do so. I was 46 at the time, my wife Beth was 44, and our children, Carolyn and Carl, were 10 and 5 years old respectively. They were still young enough to follow our lead on summer plans. Beth planned many of the local activities and shared in the driving.

Having sold my interest in the Star Group, I had no specific short-term business plans, purposely so.  I had lots of thoughts but what I knew is that I no longer wished to own or run an ad agency any longer. My interest in the marketing and business at large remained strong, but I felt it was time to re-direct my life. It was “halftime” for me (without any wardrobe malfunction) and I knew the second half would begin post Labor Day, but I was in no hurry.

Those that know me understand I have a very strong internal compass, and I am strongly independent. In Covey’s 7 Habits speak, I have Habits 1-3 nailed, but I am still working on Habits 4-7. Those are both my greatest strengths and also admittedly weakness as well.  And while I humbly believe my strengths outweigh my weaknesses, I am evolved enough to clearly see the world (and myself) as it is. As a result, I am very well suited for my independent consulting life, now in its 20th year. More on that in a future Struming.

Here was the plan for the summer: We would leave in June in our new Olds Silhouette minivan equipped with a VCR (that was a big deal then) and drive and stay in 32 places throughout the U.S. arriving home in late August before Labor Day.

I mapped our trip well. I knew where we were going, yet had no GPS. I am a planner and I had a thick binder with tabs on where we would be going and where we would be staying. We did not plan the day time activities in every stop but Beth and I obviously focused on the top 2-3 attractions in each city, ones best for a family.

I had made CDs of my favorite tunes (thanks Kel Smith) and had a selection of kids’ videos heavy on Disney, Space Jam, Land Before Time and Good Burger.

We packed the day before we left and organized ourselves to have roughly 2 weeks of “apparel” (largely t-shirts, shorts and swimsuits). We figured we would do laundry in hotels along the way. And since we were driving through the land of Walmart, I figured we could buy anything we needed or had forgotten. Regarding hotels, I had made reservations in every stop, largely midscale hotels heavy on Holiday Inns, Fairfield Inns and AmeriSuites. I had faxed driving directions from each hotel which were in the binder. Instead of thinking about it as one big trip, it was a series of 2-3 days trips with 300 miles between stops. So we drove roughly every 3rd day for 4 hours on average.

A big shout out to AAA, which helped us tremendously. I got every relevant U.S. guidebook and things to do and also a series of what were called Trip Ticks with directions to our 32 stops. Remember no GPS, Garmin or any digital means of driving directions, so it was good to know where we were going. (BTW, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, which is handy to know if you are generally going in the right direction). AAA saved my life that summer.

Where did we go, you ask? Here were the stops, in order, and some of attractions in each

1. Williamsburg—Colonial Williamsburg/Busch Gardens

2. Outer Banks

3. Charleston—Fort Sumter (PS: Interesting take on the Civil War “Our brave boys fought against the interlopers from the North”)

4. Savannah

5. Atlanta—CNN, Coca-Cola World

6. Nashville—Grand Ole Opry

7. Memphis—Graceland, Sun Studios (PS: Best food was in Memphis)

8. Dallas –The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (aka Book Depository), 6 Flags

9. San Antonio-Riverwalk, Alamo

10. El Paso

11. Albuquerque

12. Sedona—Pink Jeep tour (called the “sore butt” tour by our kids) along with a side trip to the Grand Canyon

13. Phoenix

14. San Diego—Beach and Zoo

15. Anaheim—Disneyland

16. LA-Santa Monica

17. Carmel/Monterey—Dennis the Menace Park

18. San Francisco

19. Lower Oregon

20. Portland

21 Seattle—Space Needle, Yankees game vs. Mariners in “new” ball park, Safeco Field

22. Spokane

23. Bozeman, MT

24. Yellowstone Park (it is really big)

25. Grand Teton National Park

26. Cody, Wyoming—Buffalo Bill Museum

27. Mount Rushmore & Crazy Horse

28. Pierre, South Dakota

29. Minneapolis—Mall of America (are 26 shoe stores really necessary?)

30. Madison, Wisconsin—Dells

31. Chicago—Pier, Michigan Ave

32. Cleveland—Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

33. HOME

It’s the kind of summer that creates lifetime family memories, and the memories are not all the big sites. For example, the Grand Canyon is breathtaking but 5 minutes later it’s still the same. But our kids really remember bungee jumping in San Francisco, and The “Iron Horse”, a Seattle restaurant which brought the food via toy trains. And they remember listening to U.S. Blues by the Dead where they’d sing “I gotta go pee” throughout the song.

The full cost of the trip was roughly $18,000, or roughly $300/day. Obviously not cheap, but hardly a lifetime budget buster. Daily cost was roughly $100/day for hotel, $100/ day for meals and $100/ day for entertainment and travel (and remember when you are away for 2 months you are replacing the costs of life during that time).

We returned home the last week in August, spent a few days in Belmar and then the kids were back off to school, ET Hamilton Elementary School in Voorhees where Carl was in kindergarten and Carolyn was in 5th grade. Haltime was over for me, and the second half (a/k/a Strum Consulting) would soon begin.

I hope for our children and Strumings readers that you have opportunity to do a trip like this one sometime in your life.

For us it was a trip of a lifetime and we will never forget it.




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