MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Meredith Johnson has learned a lot of new songs over the last eight months traveling the country in a van. She's also learned a lot about her three kids.
Before we get to the end of their journey, let’s go back to the beginning.
It all started last summer when Meredith had an idea.
“No idea where it came from, but I knew it was now or never,” said Meredith.
She wanted to pull the kids out of school for an entire year and travel the country.
When Meredith gets an idea in her head, she makes it happen.
“We left on Sept 1st and we had planned pretty well the first weeks and then planned as we went,” said Meredith.
They took off from Minneapolis and headed east.
“Our first leg took us to the east coast at the most beautiful time changing leaves in New England states,” said Meredith.
They stopped in Ohio, Pennsylvania and then on to New York City. That was 14-year-old Gracie's favorite stop.
“I like the city,” said Gracie. “My uncle plays the trumpet on Broadway, so we got to see Aladdin backstage. That was really fun!”
They even caught their own dinner in Massachusetts.
“We were staying with friends, right on the ocean. There were a lot of first experiences that stands out as highlight,” said Meredith.
Along the way, they stayed with family and friends, when there was a place to crash.
Otherwise they just figured it out on the road. Sometimes it was hotels. Other times, it was a tent.
To keep the peace and sanity, they broke up the trip into four legs. The second leg took them south. They met the Governor of Iowa, learned all about money in Kansas City and spent Thanksgiving in Texas, where of course, they ate a lot of BBQ.
The third leg was back toward the east coast. They visited the nation’s capital, West Virginia, the Carolinas, tasted the sweet peaches of Georgia and took in a parade in the Big Easy.
In Mississippi, they visited the birthplace of Elvis Presley, a man very important to mom, but not so much for the kids.
“There was a lot of conversation about how I was selfish and it was always what I wanted to do and they didn't get to choose and why I’m always selfish,” Meredith laughed.
But fear not, they made it to Issac's favorite spot: Universal Studios in Florida.
Finally, the fourth and final leg of the trip was on the west coast. They visited 13 states in that trip. They took a selfies at Mount Rushmore, took in the awe of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, tested their luck on the Vegas Strip, and taste-tested the famous food trucks in Portland.
In Wyoming, they tried roughing it in a sheep wagon instead of a hotel, something mom thought would be really cool, but so much for the kids.
“We stayed in a sheep wagon in the middle of nowhere. Yeah,” laughed Gracie.
An experience, she might appreciate in a few years.
Just like any family trip, there were ups, like when Mattie celebrated his 9th birthday on the road.
“It was fun,” said Mattie. “We were in Idaho and we went to see The Jungle Book.”
But there were downs and plenty of arguments in between.
“Who got to sleep in which bed, who got to sit in the front seat,” said Meredith. “Really creative ones.”
Keep in mind, mom, Meredith, was the only driver behind all 27,000 miles. But it wasn’t the time behind the wheel, the planning, or even the fights that got to her.
“The only thing that was harder than that was I thought was that my middle guy didn't really ever totally embrace the trip. He was always committed to getting home,” said Meredith.
11-year-old Issac is a homebody and while he had some good times on the trip, the best part, he said was coming home. So he was beyond thrilled when they finally drove by a place he's seen before.
With only a few more exits to go on 35W, their excitement kept building. Their home away from home this last year, was finally getting that much closer to their actual home. When they pulled into their neighborhood, they realized just how big of a feat the road trip really was.
All the people they've missed. All the moments they missed. All the conversations they've missed. It's been a long journey, but it's all been worth it.
“It's been incredible every single step, but I am tired and ready to be home with my husband,” said Meredith.
“It's great to have them back. It was very boring to not have them around. I was ready for them to come back,” said Keith Johnson, the father.
Even Issac, the homebody who just wanted to get home most of the trip, realizes this was a once in a lifetime experience.
“Yeah cool to say I went to all 48 states,” said Issac.
So what started out as mom's crazy idea - just might have worked.
“I just hope that this creates long-term deep relationship between the kids. The luxury of spending this much time together is extremely unique. And it wasn't always easy, they may be sick of each other now, but if this creates long-term relations, mission accomplished,” said Meredith.