road trip reflections.
It's been about a week & a half since I wrapped up my summer road trip, and although I haven't posted anything since Saturday, August 13, I haven't slowed down either. I'm in the middle of my second week at my alma mater First Stage Children's Theater, working as a Resource Teacher with students on the autism spectrum in their Next Steps program. I really wanted to spend some time reflecting on the six weeks I spent on the road before I write something up, so I've taken the past couple days to sit with my thoughts, and here's what I've come up with.
everybody should travel by themselves.
And I'm not talking about a three-day weekend to a nearby city. I'm talking about hopping in a car, or on a plane, and taking off to somewhere totally new. It totally awakens your senses to be constantly shifting from place to place. And anyone who loves a challenge (like me) will thrive off working out the logistics of a solo trip.
But especially if you're feeling how I felt at the beginning of July, super conscious that one chapter of your life is ending and a new chapter's about to begin, striking out alone is an incredible gift to yourself. Obviously, traveling solo afforded me a lot of alone time to reflect, meditate, and recalibrate my inner life. Navigating my way across almost 8,000 miles of pavement (and not pavement) has helped me largely avoid the existential dread of leaving academia & shift into a new, full-time New Yorker state of mind.
AND you can see sights like these, which are from hands-down the most beautiful drive of the trip, up north on Highway 12 in Utah (shoutout to Tim for the killer recommendation!).
solo travel tips.
That being said, I got to figure out where I wanted to go, what I wanted to see, and how I wanted to structure my days all by myself. For me, I totally loved this aspect of my trip, and I think I found a nice balance between having a gameplan & going with the flow.
I had quite a few days where the main activity was driving. When you're with someone else, you can always take turns. But when you're by yourself, it's easy to overdo the driving, especially when you're driving through some of the...more monotonous states. Whenever I was in doubt about my stamina in the driver's seat, I pulled over at the next rest stop to stretch and recharge, or I'd stop at a scenic overlook and snap a few pictures. Even if I paused for just 10 minutes, I found that it did wonders for my focus.
This might go without saying, but budget, budget, budget. Unless you have a trust fund, then I guess disregard this paragraph. I knew I would be making several big purchases, including new hiking shoes & the beautiful tattoo you see above. So when I was planning out expenses for the trip, I factored that into the overall budget, even though I figured I could spend $50 a day (and mostly succeeded at it!. But keep in mind that there will certainly be unplanned expenses (food you wanna try, museums you want to visit), and costs you might forget about (parking, entrance fees, laundry detergent). Plan beforehand, but be prepared to record & recalibrate your spending during. I managed to spend less than $5,000 for the entire trip, which was my goal!
Speaking of budget, I highly recommend using AirBNB, which is super convenient to use when you're traveling alone. An AirBNB stay costs less than a hotel by a long shot, and you can easily find places that will accommodate you in a private room. I had a 90% positive experience in terms of hosts, and I booked my stays ahead of time on their user-friendly app. Doing this not only gave me structure, but also forced me to take the plunge & strike the open road, in case I might get cold feet. Plus, when you stay with locals, you get much better recommendations than a guidebook or a website. Although if you're looking for online trip-planning resources, TripAdvisor & Yelp are definitely the way to go!
Leave off the pressure to do everything everywhere. Because you won't. You can't. It's impossible. Unless you have an indefinite amount of travel time, make priorities of what you'd like to do and what you enjoy. For me, I loved museums & food. I didn't get to spend as much time as I liked everywhere, but I also wouldn't seen as much as I did. road trips are different than vacations, because you're going to a lot of different locations. So do what you can, and make a list of places you'd like to return to for a longer stay. Here's mine: Park City, Utah; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Colorado Rockies; Highway 12; Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland; and Mammoth Mountain.
Most of all, I feel like I've healed my relationship with myself. As I write this, it sounds like total hippy-dippy BS, but hear me out.
If I'm being honest with myself, for the past 10+ years, my mind's been mostly focused on what's coming next. Middle school was about getting ready for high school, high school was about getting ready for college, college was about getting ready for life after college...and now that I'm here, post-college, I've come to realize that the majority of this time, I've been dutifully accomplishing what I think I should be doing, without taking much pause to consider what truly brings me joy. I've been volunteering, interning, learning, teaching, & working, but in pursuit of getting ready for the next phase of my life, I've been seriously neglecting myself.
Thankfully, this summer & largely due to my road trip, I've reconnected with things I love that I will bring back with me to NYC. I escaped into nature on a regular basis, which I've stopped doing since moving away from Central Park. I've realized that there are more enjoyable ways to learn about the world than sitting in a classroom & writing papers, including podcasts & museums. I've started reading for fun again (I seriously forgot what that felt like!).
There's been two books this summer that have totally rewired my brain. The first is this amazing book called The Gift, which was given to me by my boss & I highly recommend to any artist. Besides being a fascinating anthropological survey of gift-giving, the author Lewis Hyde makes a case for the fruits of any artist's labor to be treated as a gift rather than a commodity. A difficult but satisfying read!
The second book is called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and it was given to me by my mother (not passive-aggressively at all!). Admittedly, my room has been a disaster zone for a while, probably because I'm a minor league hoarder. But the KonMari method of cleaning has actually changed the way I think about my space and my possessions. My parents are moving in the next couple of months, and for the past year, my mom has been only keeping objects, as per the KonMari method, that bring her JOY. I wish you could hear the way my mom's Midwestern accent pronounces this word.
At Big Sky Theater Workshop, the incomparable Stephanie DiMaggio (Program Director of BSTW & my former acting teacher) kept repeating this beautiful phrase throughout the week. It was said by Konstantin Stanislavsky towards the end of his life. When someone asked him for his advice for young artists, his reply was five words long:
"Lighter. Higher. Simpler. More joy."
Joy. It's never been a priority in my life. But it's also never too late to start.
I've got a little more than a week of vacation time before I head back to New York City. I'm looking forward to our students' presentation of their work tomorrow morning for their parents & friends. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with Wisconsin folks over the next couple of days. But most of all, I cannot WAIT to be free of responsibilities for a FULL WEEK. Although I do need to finish cleaning out my childhood bedroom. And I have a bunch of books to read. And applications-
All right, so I might not be slowing down any time soon. But I can say with certainty I'll be chugging along with more joy.