Gustafson: Maximizing minimalism on the road again |

Gustafson: Maximizing minimalism on the road again

Once again I find myself climbing behind the steering wheel for a dose of wanderlust as administered one Midwestern pit stop at a time. My kids and I hit the road last week, determined to end the school calendar summer with at least one more noteworthy adventure.

Fueled by caffeine and sugar in search of family-bickering (I mean bonding) and self-discovery, the family vacation is where the rubber meets the road. Ahh, the great all-American past time of U.S. road-trippin’.

Along with miles of semi-truck drag racing and fast-food billboards, there must be something left to achieve that keeps us going forward beyond the Corn Palace and the Mall of America.

In a country that lives large, and dreams big, it’s hard not to notice what a cache of resources, grand ideas and excess that we have available. And still, we are drawn to a minimalist fantasy of limited belongings and open roads. This promises inward and outward adventures — or perhaps it is a well-worn cliche to take a trip down these roads so frequently traveled.

Beyond row after row of corduroy corn accented by a speckling of silos and seemingly endless stretches of farm fields rolling on and on over the nearly flat patchwork of Midwestern landscape, we can only conclude that this is one big country.

Having traveled these roads to visit relatives now for decades, I have grown accustomed to signs and rest stops boasting the idea that size matters. Here it seems that bigger is better. And the biggest is the “bestest.” We passed the world’s largest Porch Swing, Ball of Stamps, Kool-Aid Stand, Covered Wagon, Dog Dish, Talking Paul Bunyan, Set of Teeth, Bird-feeder, Shoe House and Ball of Twine. Oh, yes, and the Mall of America where even the straws are bigger, allowing for bigger gulps of supersized drinks. The gas stations and fast-food stops that line the interstate and the billboard attractions that draw in the masses can leave the impression of a gluttonous culture.

But this year, as we ventured off the interstate and down small town Main streets, I noticed that the trend I’ve seen on the coasts is making its way inland and the new move toward small-scale, homemade and farm-fresh is growing.

Everywhere we went we noticed signs boasting locally grown, hand-dipped, farm-fresh, old-fashioned and locally owned. It seems as if the millennial shift in consumer interest toward supporting the small, local business may have made it to the heartland. And despite all the efforts to sell the great big American dream, perhaps it’s time for a shift.

Even as the miles add up, I wonder if I haven’t found that for which I am endlessly searching: Optimism. Though perhaps now I do feel a little more compassion for the tractor’s pace of life.

Maybe there is something about travel that helps us to discover just how much there is for which we can be grateful. Where perhaps we can finally find a true habitat to call home. Or maybe that which we seek is in the fulfillment of a humans instinct toward the nomadic lifestyle.

Maybe while mapping out our futures, there is an instinctual drive to, well, just drive; to keep moving ever forward and avoiding stagnation.

Perhaps some of us simply feel an urge to see it all for ourselves. No virtual tour can fulfill the true need to explore.

“Map out your future — but do it in pencil,” songwriter Jon Bon Jovi once said.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at

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