Taking the Scenic Route

scenic route

A couple weekends ago, my wife and I took our son down to North Carolina for a wedding. We flew into Charlotte, rented a car, and drove the rest of the way to Asheville and our hotel. It’s a part of the country I had never been to before, even though I spent my four years of college in North Carolina, so I was pretty excited about it.

It was a great trip. Our hotel had an indoor salt water pool, which we had a lot of fun with (though it’s basically the same as a regular pool, it just tastes salty). We spent some time exploring downtown Asheville, a cool city that’s definitely got a feel of its own. We ate some delicious barbecue, threw around some rocks (my son’s favorite game these days), and of course went to my friend’s wedding.

There’s one part of the trip I’d like to highlight though, as I think it has some pertinent lessons for how we plan our lives. Not to get you all jazzed up or anything, but I’m going to wax poetic about our drive from the hotel to the wedding.

The drive

Our hotel was in Asheville, but the wedding was at this crazy castle-looking place about an hour west of Asheville in a town called Tuckasegee (side note: isn’t that a great name! Try saying it out loud. I promise you’ll feel at least 5% happier afterwards. Saying it fast is even more fun. That little game kept my son laughing for a good 15 minutes).

Our plan for the day of the wedding was to eat lunch and then head to the Arboretum, a place where we could do some leisurely hiking and explore a little bit of the outdoorsy stuff that Asheville is so famous for. It had been recommended by several people and it was close to our hotel, so we could get there easily, spend a couple of hours exploring, and then drive the last hour to the wedding. It was a perfectly efficient plan to maximize fun and minimize travel.

Well, it didn’t exactly work out that way. By lunch time our son was exhausted and clearly not up for an afternoon of hiking around. So, rather than forcing the ideal plan we had made above, we decided to switch things up. We packed up our stuff, put our son in his car seat, and set off towards the wedding spot.

big rockNow, I said above that the wedding was about an hour away from our hotel. That’s true, but that’s not the way we decided to drive. Instead, we decided to take the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a road that takes you straight through the heart of the Smokey Mountains. While our son slept, my wife and I enjoyed the ridiculously beautiful views, like the one at the top of this post and the one here. We also got to pass through a bunch of these cool tunnels that cut through the mountains and had absolutely 0 lighting inside them. It was like passing through the center of the earth.

tunnelInstead of an hour, it took us about 2.5 hours to get to the wedding. It definitely wasn’t the most direct route, or the most efficient use of our rental car’s gas. But it was a really cool experience that I’ll never forget.

The lesson

An important part of a fulfilling life is setting and reaching for long-term goals. A lot of people have goals to go to college, to get married, to have kids, to pay off debt or to retire early. Those are all fantastic goals well worth pursuing. And with a singular focus, they can all be done much quicker than you might think.

But sometimes in life, the most direct route to get where you want to go isn’t the best choice. If you’re spending all of your time and energy focused on achieving a long-term goal, what kinds of opportunities might you be missing out on along the way? And when you reach that goal, will you suddenly be able to flip a switch and start enjoying the present? Or will you have to set a new goal that you can devote your time to?

Finding a balance between working for tomorrow and living for today is never easy, but I think it’s the key to a truly happy life. Living too extreme in either direction will throw your life out of whack. You’ll either live it up today but have to live with the anxiety of not knowing what tomorrow might bring, or you’ll end up doing everything with your eyes on a “tomorrow” that never really comes.

So set your goals and make a plan for reaching them. But don’t be afraid to take the scenic route. Life can be pretty cool if you let yourself get carried away with it every now and again.

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54 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • AvgJoeMoney August 21, 2013

    Fantastic piece. When I was a financial planner I was always worried about the future: my plans for the next week, how many appointments I was keeping, my client’s long term goals. Everything was out there a week, a month, a year away.

    I realized that it became a struggle to be “present” in the now after awhile. I’d become so effective at plotting the future that on vacations it would take me two days just to actually get “on vacation” mentally. That’s one of the reasons I left what really was an awesome career otherwise.

    When my kids were seven we took our family vacation down the Blue Ridge Parkway. We started in Shenandoah National Park, did all the Junior Ranger programs (really awesome for kids), and had a hilarious time teaching my kids “God Bless My Underwear” while trying unsuccessfully to start a decent campfire. Then we spent a few days down the trail, and finally ended up in Gatlinburg and Smoky Mountain National Park (where we rewarded the kids for all the hiking and outdoors with a stay in a real motel and some mini-golf and touristy fun). What a great trip. Your pics and comments are like a trip down memory lane πŸ˜‰

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      I still have a strong tendency to be very future-focused, which is both a strength and a weakness. I think it’s so important to set aside certain parts of the day where you concentrate only on the present, and to take vacations where you’re truly unplugged from everything (as you just did). Setting strict boundaries with myself is one way I’ve helped mitigate the tendency to always be planning.

      Your trip down to the Smoky Mountains sounds great. I’d love to go back there when my kids are a little older so we could do some hiking and camping. It’s such a beautiful part of the country. And building a campfire is actually the one “handy” skill I actually have!

  • Totally agree, and I try to work this into my every day life. Take going to the gym from our office. The back way is beautiful and goes past golf courses and lakes, but takes about 10-12 minutes. The main way involves two left turns across highways 8 lanes wide and traveling at. 55+ mph. But you probably get there in 8-10 minutes.
    2 minutes. That’s how much I “waste” by taking the long way, and many people are surprised that I waste time like that when I’m so cognizant of waste in other areas. =)

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      It’s pretty amazing how much of our life we spend avoiding things that feel difficult or wasteful in the name of productivity, when the reality is that those things are much less wasteful than we think. There’s very little that can’t wait for a couple of minutes so that we can spend a little extra time enjoying the world around us.

  • Budget & the Beach August 21, 2013

    Great post Matt! I’ve heard great things about the Asheville area and that’s a party of the country I’ve yet to visit, so note to self. I have to keep myself from “future tripping” so much because it can overwhelm me. I try to…as much as I can, focus on what I can get done today. I think planning is fine, but SO many things can happen between “now” and “then” and if your’e too focused on the future you miss out on so many great things happening today. And not to be morbid but you’re never guaranteed “the future” so you might as well be present as much as possible. Of course that doesn’t mean blowing your retirement savings because you’re being present. πŸ™‚

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      Great points. It definitely all comes down to striking a balance. Planning for the future is a necessary part of building a viable lifestyle, but as you say knowing that “things happen” and being able to not only roll with, but enjoy the punches is a big key to happiness.

  • Joshua Rodriguez August 21, 2013

    Hey Matt, I really love what you did with this piece. I set a lot of goals and I see direct routes to them every day but, sometimes roundabout options really are the best. When it comes to the driving side of things, you should come up to Oregon one day and see how beautiful the back roads are here! Talk to you soon!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      I’ve heard fantastic things about Oregon and Washington. That’s definitely a part of the country I would love to visit some day.

  • Andrew August 21, 2013

    Excellent Post! I like how you paint a story and then have a lesson at the end. I love scenic road trips…Pacific Coast Highway (L.A to San Francisco…and another trip from Seattle to Vancouver/Whistler Mountain). And I think that was a great lesson…I tend to focus so much on the end goal that I forget to enjoy the present. Time flies so you should definitely enjoy it. Once again…great post.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      Thanks Andrew! San Francisco is another one on my list of places I’d love to visit, as is Vancouver. I’ve never been skiing out west and that would be a pretty great place to start.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money August 21, 2013

    Loved the post, Matt! This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I know I can work really, really hard right now and spend most of my time pursuing debt paydown and building up assets that produce income so that *one day* I will have more time and be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. In reality we are never promised tomorrow, so I’m personally starting to realize how important it is to start enjoying each and every day and to shut the laptop or let something on my to do list slide.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      That’s such a key point DC. If you’re always focused on that “one day”, you’ll really never get there. It’s important to work for the future but just as important to learn how to enjoy today.

  • Jacob @ iHeartBudgets August 21, 2013

    I have to remind myself ALL. THE. TIME. to slow down and enjoy what’s in front of me. I’m always 5 years ahead, and days just fly by. I love my wife for this, because she helps ground me, and my son brings me back to enjoying the moment. It’s tough sometimes, because there is always “so much to do”, but just being in the NOW should be at the top of all of our to-do lists.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      I’m right there with you. My wife and son are really helpful at bringing me back to this. Focusing on being present with them in my non-work time is something that’s really important to me.

  • E.M. August 21, 2013

    I need to do this more often! I get so focused on trying to eliminate my student loans that I miss out on doing other things. It is important to prioritize things when you’re in debt so you don’t become completely deprived. I’m also constantly thinking about the future when I need to step back and enjoy the present. I mean, my blog name IS *journey* to saving, which means enjoying the ride there. On a side note, actually taking scenic routes is so fun and refreshing. Mountain views are always nice!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      I love driving through the mountains. It’s so different from what I’m used to at home. And you make a great point about your blog name. It really is a journey, not a sprint or a competition.

  • PFUtopia August 21, 2013

    Dang it, Matt! Now you’ve got my brain entertaining a bunch of philosophical thoughts! Many of us are so driven to accomplish our goals that we forget to take a step back and keep things in perspective. Sacrificing health or time spent with family and friends might not always be worth it. A meandering river still reaches a larger body of water!

  • GamingYourFinances August 21, 2013

    There is definitely something to be said for the whole slow living and slow travel movement! Looks like a beautiful drive!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      It was incredibly beautiful. And I agree on the idea of slow living. It doesn’t really align with the US culture, but mixing a little of it in can be really helpful.

  • Lisa vs. the Loans August 21, 2013

    I love this. Although the scenic route may take longer than originally anticipated, it may leave you feeling refreshed, not burnt out, when you reach your goal/destination.

  • Done by Forty August 21, 2013

    That sounds like a great trip, and a good metaphor for a life well lived. I’m often in need of a reminder to enjoy the present, so thanks for that lesson.

    I think the Appalachian Trail goes through the Smokey Mountains so I’ll be sure to see them one of these years (though I’ll probably be really old, like 40, by then).

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      Haha, 40 is so old! Are you a hiker? There are definitely a lot of great trails through the Smoky Mountains, or so I’m told anyways. Some day I’d like to go back down there to try them out.

  • Tara Zee August 21, 2013

    such a great post! It’s so easy for people to get lost in planning their lives. You can’t plan your life no matter how hard you try. Better to do the best you can do and go on with it.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      Thanks Tara! You’re absolutely right that there’s only so much you can plan. Being able to adapt and find happiness in those random moments is a great skill.

  • debtfreeoneday August 21, 2013

    Firstly, your photos are just stunning! I agree that by becoming too focused on a particular goal, it’s easy to lose sight of opportunities along the way. Keeping things in perspective is really important.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      Thanks a lot! I would have loved to be able to take even more but with a sleeping baby you’ve got to keep the car moving. It’s a beautiful area.

  • cashRebel August 21, 2013

    Great lesson Matt. I was just in that part of the world in June and I loved it. The views are incredible when you get them and I love looking out over all the damned water. Taking the windy road is almost always the right way to go if you’ve got a little extra time.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      That’s where you took your hiking trip, right? Some day we’ll get down there to do some hiking ourselves. I’ll have to look back through your posts for suggestions.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar August 21, 2013

    That’s my favorite kind of trip and what a great lesson for life! If you always take the quickest path, you could miss some really great things along the way. If you always take the long route, you could also get left behind because you’re too late. I think finding the balance is that hard part, but when you do, it’s really a sweet place to be.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      Balance is definitely key. I love those kinds of driving trips as well. It’s low-stress and I think a fun way to see a different part of the world.

  • Personally, I hate driving. I do enough of it for work. So I’ll forgo the scenic route (it’s safer if I’m paying attention to the road instead of what’s beside it!) to get out of the stupid car faster.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      Haha, good point about paying attention to the road. I feel like I’m a good enough driver that I can get away with it thought (haha, kidding!). I do like driving though, especially when it’s something like this and not the normal commuting.

  • Lindsey@ Sense & Sensibility August 21, 2013

    That sounds like it was lovely. The drive is a nice way to see the sights without creating a child tax (grumpy son = no fun). It’s nice to slow down and appreciate the view once in awhile – nicely done, buddy!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      Haha, child tax. You’re spot on though. When they need sleep, you need to give it to them. Otherwise everyone’s going to be in for a rough time.

  • Holly Johnson August 22, 2013

    North Carolina really is beautiful! I love road trips to places I’ve never been before. Greg usually drives…so I can just enjoy the scenery =)

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      I love road trips too, but I can get antsy when I’m not driving. Although there’s something to be said for just being able to check out the views for sure.

  • Your Daily Finance August 22, 2013

    Going up to SC/NC for Thanksgiving. Haven’t been home to SC in a while and while up there going to visit NC. i agree that most of us just dont have the on off switch and what if you spend all that time trying to reach a goal and when you finally have it its not what you expected.

  • Shannon Ryan August 22, 2013

    Love this post! I am very goal-orientated and you are absolutely correct that sometimes we get too laser focused on our goals and can’t see what’s around us. Sometimes we do need to loosen up and live life. While it’s important to not lose sight of our goal – we can enjoy the journey to achieving it.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      “While it’s important to not lose sight of our goal – we can enjoy the journey to achieving it.”

      Perfect summary. Thanks Shannon!

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup August 22, 2013

    Asheville is our favorite place in NC. My wife and I love it there. We have been there many times and really enjoy the city. We have camped on the outskirts and that is the area where we would love to retire one day. We try to get there once a year if we can. My wife never wants to leave and we always have a relaxing time.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 22, 2013

      If we head back there I’ll have to hit you up for tips on where to go. I can definitely understand why you guys like it so much. Is there a reason you wouldn’t move there before retirement?

      • Grayson @ Debt Roundup August 22, 2013

        Make sure you do! Well, my wife can find a job up there, but I am in the tech industry and the job market up there is a little scarce. Also, our family is all round now, so that is really important for us with our son.

        • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 23, 2013

          Gotcha. I definitely get wanting to be near family. We used to have a bunch of different places in mind for where we might move, but after having our son we realized that we really only wanted to be near my family or my wife’s. There are just so many positives to having family nearby.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer August 22, 2013

    Matt, so funny – this is my daughter’s dream trip, as this is where she wants us to move! We’ve never been down there before, so thanks for the pics! What a gorgeous place, Matt. Good for you for taking the time to enjoy it. πŸ™‚

  • addvodka August 23, 2013

    I love taking the scenic route! There’s nothing better. I think that town name is pretty funny but we have some ridiculous ones here! (Spuzzum, Chilliwack)

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 23, 2013

      Haha, those are definitely good ones! It’s funny, my wife thinks the town names up here by Boston are so weird, but they seem so normal to me. I guess it’s just a matter of what you’re used to.

  • Greg August 25, 2013

    I also enjoy exploring somewhere that I might otherwise never see. Like you say, it gives you a chance to see things differently. And you definitely have to make sure that your are not so fixated on your future goals that you miss out on the present. Just have to make sure priorities are set so you know what to miss and what not to.

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