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.

My First Solo Travel Experience

Or, How I Became a Roving Stone

At some point, somewhere, every person catches the Wanderlust Bug (and if you don’t, I’m sorry, but you are a broken person). My family lives for adventure and exploration, so it was only a matter of time before I came down with it. My grandparents have pared down their lives to a camper and spend their retirement roving the country. My dad spent the better part of his thirties and forties living in a new place every six months. Basically, traveling is hardwired into my DNA. In another time, I may have become a nomad rather than a nanny and, soon, a teacher. Who knows, I still may (but probably not because I have way too many things that I’ll never be able to get rid of, like my cat and my books and my coffee maker).

As a child, we took the requisite family vacations: Yellowstone, Disney World, and visiting family throughout the west. From the bits I remember, they were mostly perfectly fine vacations. [On a side note, don’t take your five-year-old to Disney Anywhere. Her only memory will be the fact that she fell in the shower and “cracked her head open”, and the overpriced toys and costumes you buy her will be in a box in your basement by the end of the year.] My childhood was full of an adequate amount of travel, and I was mostly ambivalent about it. I certainly didn’t have The Bug.

That all changed the year I turned thirteen. My dad, thanks to an inner sense of wanderlust (or possibly a midlife crisis), made a pretty drastic career change from Salesperson to Set Builder roughly around the time I turned ten. The pay was low and the hours bizarre, but the job made up for its failings in two beautiful ways: travel and live theater. During his time in theater, he worked in about nine states and even more cities. I was thirteen when my mother finally conceded to letting me fly by myself to visit him, and I was ecstatic (and also terrified).

I took a whopping two-hour flight from my hometown of Cody, Wyoming to my dad’s new home of Phoenix, Arizona, but to me it was a massive excursion. I won’t dive into the fun times you can have in Phoenix, because to me that wasn’t even close to the best part of that trip. The best part was the feeling of absolute freedom that coursed through my little, naïve veins as I wheeled my suitcase through the airports. I looked around at the various flight boards and gates and felt like I had just been given the keys to eternity. I was convinced I could go to any one of the gates, hand them my ticket, and wind up literally anywhere in the world.

 

Of course, I’ve learned a lot since then about airport security protocols and basic finance, and I now know that a plane ticket isn’t a magic pass to anywhere I want to go. Even so, I can’t help but feel that same sense of wonder and longing anytime I’m in an airport. I connect to that little thirteen-year-old who’s just learned that a whole wide world is at her fingertips, waiting to be discovered. That first experience traveling alone taught me that I can go anywhere, anytime and I can do it by myself. It gave me my sense of wanderlust, which has only grown stronger thanks to several more exciting trips throughout my teenage years. I’m thankful to my dad for many things (helping to create me, teaching me to love football, and paying for my car insurance to name a few), but the greatest gift he’s ever given me will always be my wanderlust.