Tips For the Best Solo Road Trip

Rules of the Road:

How to Have the Best Road Trip Experience When You’re all by Yourself

A while back, in an attempt to have a Great American Adventure, I took a road trip from Montana (the state in which I live) to Colorado (the state in which most of my family lives). It was my first ever solo road trip, and I was both terrified and excited at the prospect. Along the way, I learned a lot about the complicated love/hate relationship one develops with solo travel. I also learned a lot about the pitfalls that come from poor planning. If you’re planning on taking a solo road trip, save yourself some stress and learn from my mistakes!

 

1. Track your weather often. I made the mistake of waiting until the day before I left to do this and ended up having to postpone the trip because of a winter storm.

* If you live in a magical place that’s always sunny, this one might not apply to you (and also, I kind of hate you).

 

2. Don’t forget WATER. Snacks are obviously important, but please for the love of God do not forget to bring along water bottles. You’ll thank me halfway along a lonely interstate when the nearest gas station is hours away and the combination of the heater and the three bags of Funyuns have you thoroughly dehydrated.

 

3. Pack snacks that will remain edible after being knocked around in the car. You may think you’re trying to be healthy, but sooner or later you’ll find that bananas are not made for long road trips. I repeat, bananas are not made for long road trips.

 

4. TRACK THE FULLNESS OF YOUR GAS TANK. If you do not pay attention to this, you may find yourself halfway through Wyoming with no gas station in sight. I remain firmly convinced that it was the power of prayer fueling my car for at least thirty miles out there.

 

5. Bring sunglasses. They help keep the sun from blinding you, but they also lend you a stylish flair when you burst into a small-town gas station and buy their entire stock of Baked Lays Originals.

 

6. Don’t forget your entertainment! When you’re a flying solo, there is no passenger or copilot to entertain you through the long hours. Podcasts, carefully curated music playlists, and audiobooks are your friends.

 

7. Please keep your mother/father/aunt/uncle/cousin/bestfriend informed of your location and safety. If you forget this step, you will be attacked by a thousand voicemails and text messages. Also, you know, they’ll be totally worried about you and you’ll feel like a terrible daughter/son/niece/nephew/cousin/bestfriend.

 

8. In order to legally follow the previous piece of advice, bring a Bluetooth/headphone microphone set/fancy car system. Many states have laws prohibiting talking on the phone without a hands-free device (including my own), and even if the state you’re traveling through does not, it’s a good safety practice.

 

9. Plan your time well. The day I left, I was traveling part of the way to stay a night at my cousin’s house and planned on completing the rest of my journey the following morning. I left my house at six in the morning and ended up at my cousin’s hours before she was expecting me. I could have slept in! I could have driven the entire way! I could have stopped at all those Starbucks I passed!

 

10. HAVE FUN! For the first hour or so, I was so focused on getting to my destination on time that I both sped and panicked about the fact that I was speeding. The next hour was spent driving under the speed limit and panicking about that. When I finally let go and allowed myself to sing loudly and obnoxiously to show tunes or laugh out loud at an audiobook, I had the time of my life.

* Bonus tip here: Don’t forget that cruise control exists.

 

11. And finally, let yourself feel the feels you need to feel. I took this trip to get some distance from a hard situation, and road trips are fantastic places to process hard feelings. You can cry (though not too much, because you need to maintain a certain level of visibility), you can laugh, you can scream as loud as you want. You can feel. Let the road trip be your slow ride to healing, and arrive wherever you’re going in a better frame of mind. Arrive at peace.

Making Moves

I talk a lot about looking to the universe – for signs, for guidance, for instructions on how the hell to be an adult… I’m always looking, but I never really expect to see anything. Sometimes, though, the universe slaps you in the face.

 

As some of you may know, I moved to Montana about four years ago, after deciding to take a break from college and leave Florida behind. Since I grew up an hour from here in northern Wyoming, moving to Montana felt a lot like coming home. And while there were a lot of pieces of my childhood in Wyoming that I’ll cherish forever, going “home” was never something I wanted to do. I’ve been planning my departure for almost as long as I’ve lived here, staying as long as I have only because I love my family and I love my job. Like I said, sometimes the universe slaps you in the face.

A little while ago, my mom, sister, and brother-in-law all announced that they were planning on moving. The timeline wasn’t solid, but it would be soon, and they’d be gone. I reeled – sure, we were all busy and didn’t see much of each other, but what would I do in a city that I didn’t like without the people who made it likeable? I started thinking about this place I’ve called home for almost four years, about everything that had kept me from moving. Without my family, the only thing left was a half-completed degree (at a school I hate) and my job. My wonderful, exciting, life-giving job. My job that would be ending within the year, because of my college scheduling and because the littlest would be starting preschool. So, adding all of that up, I’m not left with much… a family moving, a job ending, a school that makes me – a lifelong nerd – dread going to school, and a boyfriend living across the country.

After telling him what was going on, he summed it up efficiently and insightfully, as only my boyfriend can. “The only thing keeping you there is inertia, and that’s not a very good reason.” Universe, thy name is Shane.

 

Over the past four years, I had become very accustomed to things not going my way. I got used to pieces falling apart just when I needed them to stick together most. But that night, on the phone with my boyfriend, all of the falling pieces started to take the shape of a plan. A very scary, very exciting, very possible plan. If all of the things keeping me in Montana were disappearing, why did I have to stay in Montana? I wanted a better education. I wanted a new adventure. And, most of all, I wanted to start my life with my wonderful person (and stop spending ridiculous amounts of money flying across the country to visit him). My feet had grown itchy long ago, and it seemed like the Universe was telling me to let them roam.

The thing about moving across the country, though, is that you’re moving across the country. There is no way to simply move 3,000 miles away just like that. For one thing, despite my dislike of the city, I’ve built a life in Billings and formed my own family here. Saying goodbye to the sisters I’ve found here, the kids I’ve helped raise, and the bosses that have become like family will be like tearing out a piece of my heart. For another, packing up my belongings and driving them across the country will be like tearing out a piece of my bank account. Or, like, all of it. I’m scared to say goodbye to my closest friends. I’m scared to pare down my life to what fits in the back of my car. I’m scared to disappoint the people I’m leaving behind. I’m scared to live in a new state, and I’m scared to take such a big step in my relationship.

But underneath all of that fear is something so wonderful. Underneath is the understanding that in life, sometimes you have to make big moves to get big results. It’s the idea that for the first time, I’m taking responsibility for my own happiness. I’m looking at areas in my life that do not bring me joy, and I’m choosing to put in the work to change them.

I made a lot of changes in the past year. I’ve worked hard to learn a lot about myself, and to grow and improve in areas that need it. I started this blog, started going to therapy, started letting people in… And as I look back, I’m realizing that all of those changes were leading up to this moment. Call it fate, call it a higher power, call it whatever you want – this entire year seems to have been orchestrated to prepare me for this moment. To stand at the edge of a new life, and take the plunge – not unafraid, but not unprepared either.

So here I go. Saying goodbye to family, goodbye to a job that’s shaped my adulthood, and goodbye to a place I’ve (reluctantly) called home for almost four years. I’m stepping into a new year, a new state, and a new life in a deliberate effort to change my world for the better. 

2018 will be a lot of things. It’s going to be the year I learn how to be a little selfish. It’ll be the year I say goodbye to the two amazing children I’ve been lucky enough to help raise. The year I learn just how many books I own when I try to fit them in the back of my car, the year I try not to cut myself with a packing tape-gun, the year I de-clutter my life, the year I cry because it’s so hard to make big changes, and the year I make them anyway. 

When Vacations Go Awry

There are times in life when, despite hours (and hours and hours) of careful, thoughtful planning, things do not go the way they should. Regardless of your meticulously-bulleted itinerary, your well-researched list of restaurants and local attractions, and your overly-packed suitcase (okay, okay, suitcases), life has a habit of getting in the way. Which explains why, on my second-favorite holiday (because, you know, Christmas), I found myself writing this blog post from bed instead of eating hot dogs and waving sparklers.

I spent the Fourth of July in Denver with my boyfriend (Shane). He and I spent months planning this trip. Long distance relationships are rough, so we poured all of our restless energy and excitement into carefully mapping out our Denver Adventure™. I would drive down, he would fly in, I’d meet him at the airport and tackle him in a hug. We had several restaurants we wanted to try, along with a few local attractions to visit – most notably the zoo and museum, a pair that we planned on visiting back-to-back on a day we dubbed “Zoo-seum Day.” Yeah, we’re that couple. We planned on rounding out Zoo-seum Day with an evening of fireworks at Independence Eve, an annual Denver celebration. I packed snacks and sunscreen and a picnic blanket and a patriotic shirt and wine and – well, suffice it to say I basically filled the entire backseat of my car. I was ready.

When Zoo-seum Day arrived, Shane and I packed up my car and set out for part one of our adventure. We had planned on getting to the zoo as close as possible to nine (when they opened) so that we could beat the crowds. We should have known what the day would become when we finally pulled in to our fourth-level parking spot at 10:45AM and battled a throng of stroller-wielding families to exit the parking garage. After a few more kerfuffles piled on, we decided to abandon the zoo and visit the aquarium instead. The Denver aquarium was fantastic – they had a great mix of fish and lots of themed exhibits (everyone knows how I love a good theme). Most importantly, we made friends with some of the cutest otters in the world and I didn’t even otter-nap one to bring home. I’m such an adult. By the time we were nearing the exit, though, Shane was growing weary. We grabbed some food, came back to the hotel, and promptly fell asleep. Apparently, he’d caught the cold I’d been battling for a week or so. The perks of being a Nanny.

The world's cutest dog with his new best friend, the otter.

The world’s cutest dog with his new best friend, the otter.

When we woke up from our nap, I was prepared to enter Caregiver Mode™ and help him through the evening. That is, until I saw the several missed calls and texts from my mom. I’ll give you the short version of this story in the interest of time and feels. My mom was cat-sitting for me, and my cat had become very sick at some point in the day. Very, very, sick. After a few hours of phone calls between Shane, my mom, the veterinarian, and myself, the vet put my sweet kitty down while my mom held her. She could have waited until I got back, but it would have been an incredibly painful week for my sweet girl. So, battling the runniest nose I’ve ever seen and a killer sore throat, Shane spent his evening taking care of me instead. He talked to the vet when I couldn’t stop crying enough to speak, he helped me work through the emotions to reach a decision, and when it was all over, he let me cry on his shoulder and did his best to make me laugh (his best is very good, and I laughed a lot).

The next day, we both knew we wouldn’t be feeling up to any Fourth of July celebrations, despite it being one of the greatest holidays ever. So instead, we spent our morning watching How I Met Your Mother and eating crepes we had delivered to the hotel room. Eventually, thanks to some nap-related energy, we finished off the day by walking to a nearby Mexican restaurant for dinner and margaritas. We’ve since decided that celebrating America’s birthday by eating Mexican food is going to be our tradition. It wasn’t even close to the celebration I had carefully planned, but it ended up being the most fantastic day.

The Great American Celebration

The Great American Celebration

I’m a planner. I like organization, order, and color-coordination. I love maps and itineraries and Yelp reviews. I like being able to feel like I’m in control of how my day goes, but life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you skip the zoo and meet cute otters instead. Sometimes you catch a cold. Sometimes bad things happen when you’re very far from home and you have to do your best to deal with it. I’ll be honest, if all of these things happened to me on an average day, I would probably lose my mind. And yet, when they all happened on what was supposed to be the culminating day of my vacation, I didn’t panic. I didn’t lose my cool. I didn’t cry over the spilt plans. Instead, I leaned on the person I was with and learned something about our relationship that no Zoo-seum Day could ever teach: we work, even when life isn’t a fun adventure. In fact, we work well.

If you spend all of your time focusing on making things exactly what you think they should be, there’s no room for making the most of what actually happens. And sometimes, the most is much more than you had planned in the first place.