Archive for April, 2012

Sometimes Ya Gotta Go Off Track To Get Back On

Meet the Ezgur’s, a family of five from Chicago, Illinois.  Parents, Wendi and Michael, met during their freshman year of college at the University of Illinois and are celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary later this year.  They have three children, Aidan, Charlie and Rosie.

Both Wendy and Michael are self-employed.  In the early 1990s, Wendi founded an idea generation company, Leadhead, Inc., which develops innovative products and service concepts for a variety of clients including Kraft, Burger King and Pepsi.  Michael is a real estate attorney with a real estate development company.

When the recession threatened Michael’s company and the family’s financial well-being, Wendi determined to turn their financial misfortune into something positive.

“As the real estate market came crashing down, and my husband came home talking about how we could lose everything, I actually began to feel happy because I saw a big fat juicy opportunity,” explained Wendi.  “I saw the moment in time when we would have my husband to ourselves.  This small window could never come again.”

Wendi focused her innate creativity and ideation abilities on her family and invented the concept of a “family sabbatical.”  She envisioned her family swapping homes or making a temporary home in Europe.

“I went through much iteration of ideas before we finally hit on traveling in an RV.”

The plan for a five month road trip across the western United States hit Michael and Wendi during a twelve hour drive in the family minivan to visit family in New York for Thanksgiving in 2008.  Michael and Wendi discussed the logistics of the trip and began the four month planning process leading up to their April 3,  2009 departure.

This clearly wasn’t any ol’ family road trip.  The Ezgur’s trademarked the phrase, “Family Off Track,” as the title of their five month adventure.  They created a website and blogged about their experiences.

Wendi, on sabbatical from Leadhead for the duration of the trip, took primary responsibility for organizing the family’s travel blog.

“I wish I didn’t have the pressure of doing the blog each day,” commented Wendi.  “On the other hand, what a great archive and history of the trip.”

It became a charming chronicle of the family’s travels and the perfect vehicle for introducing the individual Ezgur personalities.    Here is an excerpt from the blog written by eight-year old Charlie as he explains to Sasha and Malia Obama why his family is going “off track.”

“The reason we are doing this is because my parents wanted a life time experience for all of us. Because of the economy right now, my dad’s business is slow, so rather than just staying home and being scared they decided to do this.”

Family and friends were able to follow the Ezgur’s progress and the five travelers welcomed the 15,000 hits to their website.

Missing the last few months of school, the Ezgur children were responsible for continuing their educations on the road.  “Because we had taken them out of school,”  Wendy explains, “the kids knew the onus was on them to learn.”

Aidan, then 11 years old, focused on his creative writing and journalism skills and became the narrator of the trip.  Six year old Rosie, an artist, was responsible for creating a picture power point presentation of the trip.  At eight years old, Charlie monitored the family’s finances and budget.  All three were also responsible for assisting in meal preparation and helping the family maintain a healthy diet on the road.

The Ezgurs traveled south out of Chicago and continued south to Louisiana.  When they hit the Gulf Coast, they drove west to the Pacific coast of the United States.  Next, the family traveled north up the coast and, finally, back south and east to Chicago.  During the spring and summer of 2009, the Ezgur’s RV could be found in numerous national park grounds, Walmart parking lots, and even behind the Circus Circus hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip.

The Ezgur’s had several corporate sponsors or partners who assisted them financially or otherwise.  In a blog post published on May 22, 2009, Wendi describes one sponsor’s contribution.

“Our Family Off Track sponsor, Geico, came up with a fun, out-of-the box concept called ‘Dinner on GEICO.’  Basically they said, ‘pick a campground where you are staying and offer to provide lunch or dinner to the people staying there and we at Geico will foot the bill.’”

Wearing Geico t-shirts, the Ezgur children organized special events at various campgrounds to advertise Geico’s RV insurance.  Along the way, Geico sponsored ice cream socials, a Mexican Fiesta night and a Wine and Cheese party.

These corporate contributors only covered a portion of the expenses during the trip.  Nevertheless, the trip was a cost savings for the family.  They budgeted their food, gas and other expenses and saved on regular household expenses and summer camp tuition.

In addition to the cost savings, the trip gave the Ezgurs the gifts of time and togetherness.  The hectic schedule of everyday life in Illinois did not exist on the road.  The five month hiatus also helped the family gain perspective on their financial struggles.

As Wendi stated, “We came back with a clearer head on what our priorities are.  Let’s not get out of control over the things that are not meaningful.”

The Ezgur family’s story exemplifies this blog’s themes – finding opportunity in misfortune and doing something you are passionate about.  The Ezgurs are now back in Chicago.  Wendi continues to build Leadhead, Inc. and Michael has reinvented himself and is focusing on commercial real estate development.  Aidan, Charlie and Rosie are hard at work back in school.

Wendi, Michael, Aidan, Charlie and Rosie – Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.  Your strong sense of family and of adventure are an inspiration to all of us.

If you are, or someone you know is, pursuing a passion despite this tough economy, please contact me here.

© sourtosweet