Continuing from last week: At this point, we’d been in our rented van ten days, and at the start, we made the pledge to keep the van neat and tidy. So of course by the time we left Yellowstone, it looked like a bunch of college kids had been living in it during Spring Break. Somewhere between the prairie dogs and buffalo, we had put the fold-down bed into the sleeping position and never put it back, so for the remainder of the trip, anyone sitting back there was supported by luggage and pillows and surrounded by stray bits of dirty laundry.

In short, when we rolled into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, we needed a cleaning day. Now Jackson Hole is super-Old West-touristy (they have a daily shoot out in the streets), but it’s also a really easy city to navigate, so while my dad and brother took a guided fishing trip down the Snake River, Mom and I spent the day doing laundry in a local laundry mat, shopped around, watched the shootout, then we headed back to the dude ranch where we were staying (and met another herd of buffalo on the way-Mom opted to stay in the car this time).

I also picked up my favorite kind of trip souvenirs while in Wyoming: three CDs from an independent CD store just outside of town. I’m not much for trip souvenirs; if it’s not a hoodie or jewelry, I don’t get much use out of them. But I had gotten into the habit on trips of buying books or CDs from a local store as “souvenirs” because a) I will actually use them, and b) when I do, I am instantly reminded of a vacation. I still have the “In Your Eyes” 80s movie music tribute CD from that Jackson Hole store, and every time I see it on my shelf, or a song from it comes up on a mix CD, it instantly reminds me of our Out West trip, and how happy I was to have three fresh CDs for the trip home (because this was 1999-no streaming, no MP3 player, just me and my 64-slot CD holder for 20 days).

And home we headed, stopping for a night to camp in Colorado (i.e., sleeping in the van in the woods), through Kansas (i.e., the most boring state in the union. Wheat fields are pretty, but they’re just basically blonder hay fields), across Missouri again, and into Illinois, where we visited the home of Abraham Lincoln, and then walked around the outside of a Frank Lloyd Wright house till we could check into a hotel.

Now I think I probably abhorred some people when I said my parents paid for my brother and I to have our own hotel rooms throughout this trip, but I can promise you, by the time the trip was winding down, we all knew that was the best money we had spent. Not the entrance fee to Yellowstone, not the cost of fishing the Snake River in Wyoming, not the cool dinner in South Dakota where we ate bison; those separate hotels rooms were worth every penny. My parents started out the trip checking into hotels with the request of “Two rooms, but please try and make them close to each other,” and by the time the trip was ending, it was “We got two rooms: ours is here at the hotel. Kids, you’re down the street at the overflow hotel. We’ll see you when we see you.”

Wee were totally fine with that, because newsflash, parents: your kids need a vacation break from you too. Especially when you’re on long vacations, but most especially when you as parents decide that now’s the time to be making huge furniture purchases at out-of-state yard sales when you still have a week of driving left to do. If you think my CDs-as-souvenirs is weird, Bo and Terri upped the souvenir ante by stopping at a yard sale in Colorado or Kansas (I have forgotten which state, probably out of rage). Colton and I were in the back, surrounded by the debris of two weeks on the road, and those two had the gaul to open the van doors with a three-foot-tall wooden corner cabinet and a five-foot-long wooden ox yoke in tow and said cheerily “Slide these in next to you, kids!” Yeah, we needed a break so we could discuss between siblings if our parents were vacation-crazy, or if that was the beginning of the long down-hill slide, and if so, which of the two of us had to take care of them (Colton currently lives in California, if that tells you who lost that argument).

Just a side note right here: my brother and I traveled all the way home, a thousand miles, with literal furniture in the back of that messy van with us, tripping over it every time we got in or out, and I swear it was five years before that ox yoke got hung up anywhere at our house, and the corner cabinet NEVER GOT HUNG UP ONCE! Not one time, in twenty years. It’s currently sitting in storage in one of our out-buildings, the world’s most annoying souvenir from any trip we ever took. And now that I’ve brought it up, Terri swears it’s going to get put up in her house, but I’ll believe it when I see it, and if I do, that week’s column will just be a half-page picture of me glaring at a wooden corner cabinet.

But all adventures eventually end, and twenty days later, we saw our first “Wild and Wonderful” sign as we crossed into the border, ecstatic that we were finally home. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t see those signs and get a little grin on their face. Sure, vacation was fantastic, but West Virginia… it’s home, and you find yourself loving it a whole lot more when you spend some time away from it.

And so I’ve told you this two-part tale to tell you this: y’all gotta stop thinking Myrtle and its Beaches (aka, South West Virginia) is the only vacation you can take. I completely get why you go year after year: you know exactly what you’re getting into, exactly how much money it’ll cost you, exactly what you’ll see and do, and it is a nice line of beaches. There’s no chance you aren’t going to have a fine time, and therefore, that your precious vacation days (and they are precious), and your money (it’s precious too) aren’t going to be wasted. Totally get it; if all I’d wanted to see Out West was a buffalo and we never saw a buffalo, for sure I’d feel like I wasted my time and money.

But the risk, as with any adventure, is worth it. Take some extra time from your job, get an RV or a van, load up your travel snacks and your kids and go west, my friends. See real mountains, see animals we don’t have here and take the two-lane roads. Make truly brand-new memories, in a place that’s as wild and wonderful as the home you left, but come back knowing this: it wasn’t Mt. Rushmore or Old Faithful or Jackson Hole that your kids will remember. It’ll be the time you spent exploring something new, together, and that’s worth every penny and every vacation day you spend on a vacation not everyone has taken.

Go west, my friends. But if you do, could you let me know first? I have a corner cabinet I’d like returned back to where it came from.