Driving across the country on my own was certainly a learning experience. There were so many people, places, experiences, things that I was exposed to for the first (and maybe last time of my life). But, if I were to do things over, there are some things that I would do differently.
Now that I’m a veteran of the solo cross country drive, here are 5 things I wish someone would have told me before I headed west, and what I’d share with anyone who might be looking for advice.
1. Eat out less.
Listen, I know almost all of us can be united with our mutual love of a good Chik-fil-a sandwich. But, the sad fact of the matter is, those things are NOT good for your body. Neither are disgusting roadside McDonald’s Chicken Tenders and soggy fries, or countless bags of spicy cajun bar mix. Sometimes, eating fast food is inevitable on the road, like when you find yourself between Austin and Marfa at 11:00 PM and it’s pitch black and when you finally come across a rest stop it’s like a freaking oasis in the desert. I should have taken the opportunity while I could to stock up on items at Whole Foods or other grocery stores when I could. If I would have done it all over again, I would have invested in a mini cooler in the car to keep berries, pineapple slices, hummus, carrots etc to keep on hand when I was starving but there was nothing available or convenient.
2. Splurge on the occasional
fancy nice hotel.
Driving across the country can be expensive. Meals, gas, lodging, etc can really start to add up. I tried to be as budget conscious as possible, but staying at motel night after night really started to stress me after several nights. Although I was lucky to stay with friends a few times on the trip, I can’t tell you what non-stop nomadic travel starts to do to your psyche after a while. It’s like you become a cranky little toddler. Splurging on a nice hotel and feeling like you can take your shoes off and crawl under the covers without thinking,
“Wonder how many mid-level prostitutes have been in this room before…” can do wonders to salve your soul. Oh, and a nice, long, hot, bubble bath.
3. Download more podcasts/audio books/Spotify playlists.
This one might seem pretty self explanatory, but I was obviously super clueless here. When you drive through rural Mississippi and the only station for 3 hours is either gospel music or a fire and brimstone preacher telling you that he’s pretty sure we are all damned because of the “homosexuals and feminists” believe me you are going to be desperate for any other type of auditory stimulation, even if its a 5 year old interview from Fresh Air. Although, I have to admit, cruising the local talk radio stations can be fun — but only for the first hour or so. If I was going to do it all over again, I’d make sure I always had a mix of things to listen to: serious books on audible I always claim I’d get around to reading, fun fast paced ones like The Hunger Games, some emo music when I’m feeling weepy, some head banging tunes when I’m scared I’m going to fall asleep at the well, and a smattering of podcasts for when you’re feeling lonely, curious, or just want to hear someone and not think for a minute.
4. Exercise more.
I know, I know. This is probably applicable to every situation in your life. We could always use some time off of our butts and getting our bodies moving. But this advice is doubly important when you are spending all day every day sitting in a car. Eating Chik-fil-a sandwiches. And Oreo McFlurries. I personally would recommend finding a studio or gym that offers classes, because it’s nice to feel connected with other people even if it’s just for an hour. I went to a barre3 studio in Mobile, and it was so great to spend the class with friendly, sweet people (and the owner even knew the gal who owned my previous barre3 studio!). I left feeling re-energized and ready to take on the rest of the day. I did do some (minimal) hiking as well but–not enough. And, you always push yourself harder in a class anyways.
5. Be flexible.
Even though I didn’t always have a plan, I still felt an undeniable need to keep going west every single day. I wish that I would have just relaxed a little bit, and realized that I had no deadline to getting back home, nothing was going to go terribly wrong if I stretched out my stay by a day or two. I definitely would have done this for my time in Natchez (don’t know if I’ll ever make it back there and that’s a real shame!), and it would have been nice to do it for a few other places too. I felt on many occasions on my drive back west that there were a lot of lessons to be learned on the road. Learning to take a deep breath and do something that is not what I had originally planned is not necessarily in my nature. But sometimes the most wonderful moments are the ones you didn’t expect or plan for. Cliche, maybe, but definitely true.
Do you have any tips for solo cross country travelers? Leave them in the comments below!