Posted on | July 28, 2009 | 1 Comment
Four years ago today I packed up my car with camping gear and set out to explore the United States. It has been a wild ride of ups and downs through 47 states and more than 30 National Parks. To celebrate my four year anniversary of hitting the road I thought I’d share a few things I learned along the way.
1. Be crazy….or courageous.
When I packed up my car with camping gear and left my life behind to explore what else was out there a lot of people told me I was crazy. Or they said I was courageous. Or maybe a little bit of both. There is a fine line between being crazy and courageous. Crazy knows no boundaries, no limits, no fear. Courage is stepping past boundaries and limits, self-imposed or otherwise, in the face of fear. Regardless of whether people think I’m crazy or courageous, solo road tripping the United States is one of the best things I have ever done. Take bold steps forward, even when people call you crazy.
2. Pick a direction and be flexible.
Long-term travel never goes according to plan, almost to the point that it doesn’t pay to plan everything out. I generally travel for about two months at a time before taking some sort of break. If I tried to plan out every detail I would never go anywhere. I would be in a perpetual state of planning my big trip that never happens. Don’t worry about all the details. If you wait for everything to be perfect you’ll never go. Pick a direction, prepare as best you can, and then go.
3. Be good to yourself.
Long-term solo travel is wearing at times. I do all the driving, planning, tent set-up / take-down, etc. There is no one to help me out when I’m tired or sick. Without my health I could not have done what I did. Your health is precious. Take care of yourself.
4. Adversity builds strength and character.
Solo road tripping the United States has been one of the highest growth phases of my life. Life on the road is roller coaster of exceedingly high highs and almost unbearable lows at times. While the high points were exciting, most of my growth came out of dealing with the lows. Adversity is an opportunity for growth. Embrace it.
5. Always have something to look forward to.
Sometimes life on the road by myself sucks. Bad weather, sickness, and car breakdowns happen and there is no one there to lean on in the bad times. I try to live in the moment but when life in the moment isn’t going well looking down the road boosts my spirits. Things always get better eventually. Hope in a brighter tomorrow gets you through the bad times.
Before hitting the road I put all my possessions in storage except for what fit in my car. When I first hit the road I missed some of my stuff, but the longer I was on the road I enjoyed the simplicity of not having a lot of stuff. By simplifying my life so drastically my definition of essential items changed. Doing without makes you realize what is important. You need less than you think.
7. Let go of who you think you should be to become who you are.
I’m still working on this one – easier said than done. Solo road tripping across the country is not a normal thing for a girl to do. If I had let societal norms dictate my direction I would never have packed up my car with camping gear and had the adventure of a lifetime. Before I hit the road I defined myself too narrowly and held too much of my identity in my career. On the road I gave myself room to grow and my definition of myself broadened. If you give yourself room to grow, you can become more than you can imagine.
8. Life gives you what you need, which is not necessarily what you want.
I used to hate it when I didn’t get what I wanted. But in retrospect, more often than not what I wanted wasn’t really what I needed. Life gives you what you need even if you can’t see it in the moment. Accept what life gives you and go with the flow. Everything happens for a reason.
9. Enjoy the journey.
I used to live for the big payoff. I would endure drudgery hoping it would payoff in the end. If you don’t like what you are doing day to day on the journey to your big goal you probably won’t like your life any better once you achieve that goal. The big payoff won’t be what you imagined and may even lead to more drudgery. Do what you love and enjoy the ride. Eventually you’ll get where you need to be.
10. Happiness is best when shared.
The more I solo travel the easier it is to handle the hard times. I count on my experience to get me through and always know that better times are ahead. Conversely, the more I solo travel the harder the good times become. I could spend the rest of my life traveling from beautiful location to beautiful location but without people to share with it starts to feel empty after a while. When I first started solo traveling it was about my own personal development and exploring new places. Somewhere along the way it became more about others and people rather than places. Share the ride and give back to society.