Ladies and gentleman, there was booze. There was the constant packing of my car, the unraveling of my tent, and the eating of roadside jerky and McDonald’s ice cream. There was no shaving and no makeup. It was glorious.
Now I sit in Portland, the hairiest and freckliest I think I’ve ever been. And while the journey was certainly F-U-N, I like to think that the ventures fed a bit more than my wanderlust. When you’re on the road, sleeping alone, navigating things by yourself, and eating the majority of your meals in a blue camping chair, you have a lot of time for introspection. Especially when the drive is 300 miles on a flat road and there’s nothing but sagebrush to keep you from typing out “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Luckily, I kept my motivation and my sanity! Which gave way for a delicious reflection on the memories, the stories, and all of the lessons I can stretch into a more planted lifestyle.
1. Ask questions.
If you’re talking to a local, they probably know more than you. I had never been to Utah or Idaho, and the plethora of campgrounds, cafés, and Natural Parks could have left this indecisive libra gripping the steering wheel in a paralyzing trepidation. I knew Portland was the destination, but I invited unexpected messengers to help me guide my journey.
A man in a Navajo shop encouraged me to camp out in Lone Park Beach, where I met a few traveling couples who suggested the best path up to Brice Canyon. From happy hours to hikes, those strangers know where it’s at.
2. Go slow.
Literally and metaphorically. I have issues with patience; They’re often so intense that like the little match girl, I fail to notice the present treasures and fall into the rabbit hole of the future. Going slow means reading every word of your father’s email, or listening intently to your host’s conversation.
It means listening to your body and knowing when it’s time to pull over and rest, even if that means a later arrival time. It means you get to take two naps after a 4am desert photoshoot with the gorgeous gal photographed above. Going slow means less skimming the surface and really getting your hands dusty.
3. Be brave, but don’t be a dumdum.
A woman traveling alone can be a risky thing. When my camping neighbors saw what I was doing, many of them expressed surprise, or better yet—maternal concern. To be safe, I selected campgrounds with onsite hosts or rangers and with positive reviews advocating the camps' safety.
I didn’t drive at night and I didn’t tell strange men I was traveling alone. I didn’t get in the back of any vans. I stayed with my fire until the coals were completely black. Taking a risk doesn’t mean abandoning responsibility, but rather forces you to look at your safety (and that of the world) in an alternative perspective.
4. Find ways to stay grounded.
Free spirits have trouble planting roots. And while this airy lifestyle inspires the most delicious form of freedom, it can lead to feeling disorganized and without routine. Should you have room, I encourage you to create a travel space that makes things simple. Have designated spots for each item (I used a three-tiered plastic drawer set from Target and put it in the back of my car with the drawers facing the hatchback. When I opened the back of the car, I could wash my face, apply lotion, brush my teeth, and do all of that other nourishing stuff without unpacking a thing.)
Meditation helps. If you’re close to the earth, enjoy it. Feel the rocks and the soil. Eat plant-based foods. Stand with your barefoot on a thick root. Wild souls can make anything a home.
5. Accept gifts and give back.
Many of us, myself included, have trouble with money. We overspend and feel guilty. We fear loss and so we never give. We morph into misers, calculating every cent when the bill comes to our table of six.
The world is a generous place. I was so fortunate in my travels, and had friends provide me with warm meals and frosty beers. In return, we can offer so much: a listening ear, a hand in the kitchen, a bottle of wine, or we can pay it forward when it’s our turn to help out a fellow traveler. Instead of being miserly, we must have faith that (in the least new age-y words possible) there is a cycle of giving/receiving, so we might as well jump on board. It’s a boat leads to free street tacos. ;)
6. Enjoy what is different.
When I drove away from LA, I was frightened that I was making a mistake by leaving what was essentially “the biggest party in America.” The idea that there was no better place on earth had managed to engrain itself into my brain.
But just like people, it’s easy to stereotype a city. It’s easy to think that Salt Lake City is full of mormons and that Idaho is full of gun-loving/moonshine-making truckers. But to label something as such deprives us of the million little diversities that make said city a gem. True, SLC is packed with mormons, but it also has several ex-mormons, one of whom might take you to a bar called “The Garage” and politely tease you for drinking a Miller High Life before you both reveal your earliest datings stories. These surprises make every city the best.
7. It’s okay to stop talking to yourself.
Dude, we all need to get out of our brains. Writers especially. The road is a terribly perfect time for this: we stay up in our heads, crafting scenes, wondering what we would have said in that last moment with Hotty McWhitePants. It’s awesome, until it’s not.
Listen to a podcast, book on tape, a musical. Distract your brain so that you stop talking to yourself and turning into a total narcissist. If I had an idea for my script or story, I'd leave a voice note or type it in as soon as I pulled over, but I wouldn't stay up in my head for too long. Our brains are cool places, but they aren’t the only things out there.
8. You can force yourself to do what intrigues you.
When I first started camping, I had no idea what I was doing. I was the girl scout who got a badge in indoor activities and alternative s’more platforms. (Fudge Striped Cookies, brah!) But for some reason I wanted to get really good at it and spent a $150 at the army surplus store buying the basics. I was locked into learning how to use that shit. It took me a few tries, but now I can build my own fire, chop wood, and light a propane stove without burning off a limb.
Curiosity gobbles up fear. If we approach the daunting tasks with an attitude of, "What's gonna happen next?!", we do the work without putting pressure on the situation. Find the things that sing to you and work towards them. Run with outstretched arms and collect all the kickass things that come your way.
9. Trust what is difficult.
I didn't make this up—I read it in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke and I think it rings true for artists, explorers, and everyone else in between. The uncomfortable feelings—the working long hours, living in solitude, building a fire in the rain—brings forth intense rewards. Forcing oneself to do something new or hard only makes us able to do it. We do it, and BAM—like a little Miley Cyrus, we’re growing up.
10. Fill up for gas. A lot.
Honestly, this is just practical. The gas stations outside major cities can be few and far between, so if you’re anything less than 100 miles to empty, it might be a good idea to fill up. I was so close to empty that I took a risk on a gravel backroad because Google Maps said it would take me to a U-Fill, and I ended up close to the middle of nowhere with the road ending at a cow pen.
But let’s stretch this out. You gotta refuel too, homie. Drink water and get sleep, even if that means it’s in a Love’s parking lot. Solid adventures require attention. You don’t wanna miss a thing.