An unconventional year on the road

Annie Gregory Reneau ’97 came to Cornell from Washington state and graduated with a degree in English and secondary education. She works as the assistant editor for Brilliant Star magazine and writes about the hilarities and horrors of parenting and travel on her website, She lives in Des Plaines, Ill., with her husband, Javad, and their three children, Avery (13), Ella (9), and Isaac (5). On good days she enjoys educating her children and balancing work and family life, and on bad days she indulges in chocolate and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Annie Gregory Reneau ’97
Annie Gregory Reneau ’97

Late August 1996. My friend Shannin and I fly down I-90 in my Honda Civic, windows down, tunes blaring, Montana’s scenery whizzing past us. Most of my worldly belongings sit haphazardly packed behind us. In two days we’ll arrive in Mount Vernon for our final year at Cornell College. Life is good.

Fast forward to August 2013. My husband and I drive down I-90 in our Honda Pilot, A/C blasting, iTunes blaring, watching that same Montana scenery fly past us. Three kids and nine bins of clothing, food, and educational materials sit expertly packed behind us. We’ve spent four months traveling up the West Coast and will spend the next six exploring the Midwest and East. Life is even better.

I’ve flashed back to my college years many times during my family’s year of nomadic living. One thing Cornell gave me was an affinity for creativity. The One Course At A Time model is unconventional, but brilliant. It showed me that there’s more than one way to successfully approach anything—learning, working, life. It’s a lesson I’ve taken and run with.

My husband and I work from home—he as a web marketer, I as a writer—and we homeschool our children. Recognizing the freedom that lifestyle offered, we decided to redefine “home” last year. We downsized our belongings, put everything that didn’t fit into our car into storage, and became modern nomads. The money we budget for housing went toward month-long vacation rentals. What we’d normally spend on kids’ activities, we spent on gas and museum admissions. We worked and learned from wherever we were.

During that year we toured Spanish missions, saw whales and dolphins in the wild, explored tide pools, hiked to waterfalls, fed giraffes and tigers, swam in both oceans, explored scores of museums, and saw countless historical sites. I even fulfilled my transcendentalist dream of visiting Walden Pond. Our kids got an education no books could touch, and our family built a plethora of memories that will stay with us forever.

I also got to see firsthand how far and wide my college friendships stretch. On our way through Colorado, we stayed a night with Jon and Lisa—friends who met at Cornell and now have three kids of their own. Another Cornellian, Becky, brought her family to visit us in Michigan, and then again to Cape Cod to help us ring in the New Year. On our way through Virginia, Sarah—my college friend with the sweet southern drawl—showed us Civil War sites around Fredericksburg and let us crash with her family for a night. We missed many more friends by a mere hundred miles.

Driving through California I met Shannin for dinner, and we reminisced about that drive through Montana 17 years ago. We laughed about arriving in Billings at sunset and having to drive late into the night—and far into Wyoming—to find a hotel. I felt so blessed by old friendships kept fresh and made new.

I didn’t expect Cornell to follow me this far into adulthood, much less around the country. But the lessons I learned and friends I made there have made delightful travel companions, and I expect they will continue to enrich my continuing life journey.