When an opportunity presents itself, there are incredible benefits to committing and making it happen.
For the Piening family of Liberty Township, that moment came in July of 2020, when a few different factors were lining up for them to take an unforgettable yearlong road trip.
“We had a lightbulb moment when choosing between in-person and virtual school,” said Jaime Piening. “[My husband] Dan said, ‘You’re telling me that the kids can stay in Lakota in their schools and my job just sent me remote? I have a crazy idea. What if we just buy a camper and travel?’”
“We had a lot of preparations to make,” pointed out Dan Piening. “We had to buy a camper, sell sedans and rent out the house and we figured everything out while making some maiden voyages that summer to see how it’d all work.”
They began by heading north to Michigan and New York, then circled down the East Coast and spent as much time in the warmer states as possible during the wintertime.
Their trip took on a fairly comfortable rhythm, with travel happening on most Sundays, settling them into a new campsite for the week. If the children were able to finish their school tasks early on a given afternoon, they’d have the option to explore local attractions, and the whole family set out on Friday evening and Saturday to see the local sites. They saw at least 14 national parks, multiple historic sites and a variety of other landmark locations from Niagara Falls to the Grand Canyon.
The Pienings had a relatively roomy camper, 37 feet long, but it was really their ability to get along that helped them enjoy the many stops on their route. The family of five–Dan, Jaime and their three kids, Elle, Daniel and Cami–also had their family dog Bailey along, who helped everyone feel more at home.
“I’m really close with my siblings, and it was pretty easy to be with each other a lot,” explained Cami, now in second grade.
Along the way, the weekly routine was interrupted by some moments of true serendipity, or ‘divine appointments’ as Dan and Jaime called them. These were experiences that they could never plan for. Just by being on the road and willing to adjust on the fly, they were able to experience great things.
Take, for instance, how Jaime’s sister coaches college basketball and they were in Texas at the perfect time to see a tournament game. Or how they pulled into a campsite on South Padre Island while they were still in Texas only to realize their timing worked out for them to watch a SpaceX test launch.
Other timing was beautiful because of the learning it empowered. When passing through Alabama, the Pienings were able to spend Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Selma, getting a real-life taste of Civil Rights movement history.
Their Lakota teachers learned that they could bring in what the Piening children were uncovering in their travels and make it part of virtual learning.
“I’d give facts to my class about the place where I was, and everyone would guess, like ‘Where in the world is Elle?’” said sixth grader Elle. “I could get on Zoom calls and people could see me at forts or even in the Kennedy Space Center.”
The siblings didn’t even see sharing a single room for a year as very difficult. Third grader Daniel pointed out that being in the camper didn’t feel that much different from being at home once he and his siblings were able to spread out around the camper and their campsites.
That’s the fun thing about spontaneous adventures: when you never know what new discoveries will come, rising to the occasion in the moment can be a real bonding experience. The Pienings learned that and many other valuable lessons with more than 20,000 miles and 26 states in their rearview mirror, returning home ready to see those they cared about here in Ohio and tell them about all they learned.