Happiness trail: Family's reconnecting 10-month road trip ends in Pittsburgh
Iconic scenes from around America line Britt Reints' living room wall. Brightly colored frames hold images of the Liberty Bell, the Lincoln Memorial, the Statue of Liberty and many more.
Each one serves as a reminder of a specific memory created when Reints, husband Jared and their two children traveled across the country in an RV, visiting 40 cities in 29 states — a journey that brought the family from Florida to a new home in Squirrel Hill after they fell in love with Pittsburgh during their trip.
The trip also set wheels in motion for Reints, the blogger behind “In Pursuit of Happiness,” to delve into the important life lessons she's learned over the past few years. Those experiences are shared in her new book, “An Amateur's Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness.”
“The travel wasn't the interesting part,” says Reints, with an often-present, affable smile. “It's about all what happened before, during and after with our relationship.”
The story of Reints' quest to become happy began anything but. It started when her marriage “blew up” in 2009.
“We weren't ‘having troubles' — we hit rock bottom,” Reints says. “We knew we had to go to counseling.”
The couple entered therapy and seriously considered divorce. They ultimately opted to work on growing closer rather than drifting further apart. With a new dedication to personal development, they managed to make it.
“You realize what's important and re-prioritize,” Reints says. “I had never really learned how to communicate or listen. I have no clue how people stay married (without counseling).”
A year of hard work later, Reints was happy. She had a flexible job in marketing and was freelancing as a travel writer. She had a home she enjoyed, a comfortable income and wanted for nothing. There was just one problem — between work and school schedules, her family wasn't around enough to share in her joy with her.
One night, Reints casually mentioned to Jared she was considering taking a year off to travel the country. She'd read about other families who had done it, and she thought they could pull it off. Jared thought about it for a day, then asked his wife a question.
“He said, ‘You want us to come with you, right?' ” she says laughing. “I said, ‘Of course!' ”
He was in, and within a few months, they had sold their home in Florida as well as the bulk of their possessions and enrolled the kids, Devin, now 13, and Emma, now 8, in cyber school for the year. They hit the road in June 2011.
“I had no idea what was coming next,” Reints says. “I knew I didn't want to go back to what we had before, and I didn't want a storage unit full of stuff influencing our decision.”
Over the course of the next 10 months, they saw the Grand Canyon, the Malibu coastline, the Gettysburg battlefield. From Savannah to San Francisco, New York and Austin, they spent their days discovering, exploring, visiting loved ones and generally enjoying being together.
“It was a way for us to change our family dynamic,” Reints says. “We spent a lot of time together. That's what made the trip so great. It's still part of our lives.”
Jared echoes her sentiment.
“I really enjoy spending quality family time together,” he says.
By the time their travels ended, the family had learned they liked more urban settings with a strong sense of community. They loved the time they spent in Pittsburgh visiting a friend, and the city's beauty, friendliness and entertainment options were enough to entice them to move here. They settled in Squirrel Hill, where Reints continues to work as a freelance writer. Jared is a house painter.
“We just loved it,” Reints says. “Everywhere else, we compared to Pittsburgh. We really made a very conscious choice about where we wanted to live and hold onto the parts of our lifestyle that are important to us.”
Also after the trip, loved ones were quick to tell Reints she should write a book about the family's experience. She was reluctant.
“I didn't see the story in the trip,” she says. “How could this be important to anyone else?”
The more she considered it, the clearer it became that the real story was about happiness, how she'd found it and how she's worked to keep it.
“The information I wanted to share became really important,” she says. “It's not the story of the trip. You don't have to go on a yearlong trip and live in an RV to make these changes. I didn't want people to get all tangled up in, ‘This is how we did it.' There are a lot of easier ways to get to this point.”
The self-published book debuted Aug. 14, and delves into what Reints calls “The Five Maps of Happiness” — personal responsibility, growth, gratitude, self-discovery and acceptance. She hopes readers will learn from her experience, take time to consider each area of self-development, then make small changes to improve their lives.
“I think all of us struggle with being intentional,” she says about seeking true happiness. “We go through the motions and don't stop to think about it. Stopping and becoming aware of it is the biggest part.”
On her family's trip, Reints experienced one such moment of awareness in the unlikeliest of places. They had parked at a campground for the night when they got word of a tornado warning. Not wanting to risk the night in the RV, the family gathered up sleeping bags and a safe holding their important documents and walked to a nearby restroom.
In the family bathroom, they huddled on the floor, slept on and off and made it through the night safely as the storm tore through.
Sitting on that concrete bathroom floor, Reints felt nothing but grateful.
“This sounds crazy, but I kept thinking, ‘All I need is right here,'” she says. “We woke up the next day and there was flash flooding everywhere, but what really sticks with me was knowing that everything else could be replaced.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.