Wednesday, June 28, 2017

what I learned from 4,000 miles alone

This past fall, I spontaneously packed up my car and drove from Upstate NY to Breckenridge, CO (and back). I stopped in Niagara Falls; Cleveland, OH; Chicago, IL; Des Moines, IL (on the way back); Omaha, NE; Denver, CO; and finally, Breckenridge, CO. I stayed anywhere from 1-4 nights in each city. I was in a transitional time in my life. I had just graduated college, I had just gotten out of a relationship, summer was over, and I was having one of those, “What the f*ck am I doing with my life,” kind of moments. 

My sister thought I was absolutely insane. My parents know my personality well, so they knew I was going to pack my bags and go, whether they agreed with my decision or not. I told them it was just something I needed to do…and boy, was I right. 
I planned the trip within days. My parents helped me out with money for gas (it was about 2,000 miles each way) hotels because if I was going to go, they wanted me to be safe. People often ask me if my parents were nervous with me on the road…let’s just say, they did not sleep soundly for weeks and my mom prayed all day, everyday. 
I remember the feeling I had the morning I left like it was yesterday. I was so excited but also feeling like holy sh*t, this is happening. So, off I went with my bag of quarters for tolls, a hugely overpacked car (the weather was different in every city), my skis (for Breck), and a roadside kit for emergencies (thanks, mom). A few weeks later and 4,000 miles under my belt, I returned a changed woman. Here are 5 things I learned while on the road: 

I Gained Major Confidence. This might have been the biggest one for me. I am a pretty confident person to begin with, but traveling alone really increased my confidence. I had no one to rely on for help, I had to drive in heavy city traffic (for the first time ever...Chicago—holy sh*t, stressful) while having no idea where I was going, where my hotel was, etc. I had periods of time on the highway (like 300-400 miles) where I passed nothing but rest stops and an occasional McDonald’s. I remember pulling up to a few sketchy rest stops thinking to myself, “Laura…play it cool.” Meanwhile, my heart was beating a million miles an hour knowing that if anything happened to me no one would ever know because I was in the middle of nowhere. Driving cross country by myself was not all sunshine and daisies. At times, it was downright uncomfortable. But as the saying goes, nothing grows in a comfort zone. After navigating my way from NY to CO and back, I can confidently tell you that there is very few things I am afraid of now (dock spiders still make the list though). 

I Learned How to Be Alone. This was another big one. I learned how to be alone because I had no other choice, I was completely alone. I had never traveled without my family, a friend, or a boyfriend before. I had no one to talk to in the car, no one with me in my hotel room, no one to do things with. At first this was strange, but then I got the hang of it after a few short days into the trip. I explored Niagara Falls by myself. I went to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for the day, by myself (one of my favorite things I did on the trip). I skied Breckenridge by myself. I explored Denver by myself. I drove the Mount Evans Scenic Byway by myself, a tad nerve-racking once I was up a few miles in the mountains with NO cell reception and the road covered in snow (thinking to myself, if I slipped off the road would anybody ever find me…). I spent Thanksgiving alone (that might have been the hardest day for me on the trip). I think going to dinner was the hardest part of being alone. I really pushed myself to eat lunch and dinner out. This was a bit uncomfortable at first. I personally hate seeing people eat alone, and then there I was, the girl eating alone. What worked for me was bringing a journal—I would order a glass of wine while at the bar or table, and journal about my day. That way, I didn’t feel like a total loner. By the end of the trip, I was completely comfortable being on my own. I wasn’t shy or embarrassed by it. I learned that I’m completely capable of being on my own. I don’t mind it at all, in fact, I’ve learned to love it.

Story Time: I explored Chicago through a company called “Chicago Private Tours.” I wanted to see as much as I could while I was there. Chicago is an intimidating city when you’re there by yourself, hence why I paid for a tour. Online it stated that there would be other people in the vehicle. I thought, perfect I won’t feel so alone! Well, when I met the tour guides in the lobby of my hotel, I found out I was the only one that was going to be on the tour that day. I thought, hmmm okay…a little nervous, but we’ll see how it goes. So, I hopped into a big black van with tinted windows with two men. Immediately, I’m sitting there thinking…should I get out? Is this sketchy? They had great reviews on Trip Advisor? Am I going to end up on the news? However, I decided to stay in the van. I shot my parents a quick text that said, “Hey, don’t be nervous but I’m on a private tour of Chicago in a black van with two male tour guides. They seem nice. If you don’t hear from me in a few hours, I just wanted you to know where I am.” I look back now and think, WOW if that isn’t a parent's worse nightmare! Long story short, it ended up being one of the BEST days of my whole trip and it made it even better that I was the only one because I got SO much out of the tour, the best pictures, and great one-on-one conversation with the guides. 

Don’t Wait. This lesson I actually learned from talking with different people throughout my trip. The most common thing people said to me after I told them I was driving cross country was, “I always wanted to do that but I never took the time.” I literally cannot tell you how many people said this to me! People of all different ages, backgrounds, situations. People with kids, single people, elderly people, people in passing, hotel staff, waiters and waitresses. The more I heard this from other people, it made me kind of sad..but reassured me that I had made the right choice by packing my bags. It’s true what they say, life is short, and it’s passing you by right now as you read this. So if there’s anything you want to do, or say, or change in your life, do it. The time will never be just right to do anything, so don’t wait. 

Materialistic S*hit Doesn’t Matter. This is perhaps one of the biggest lessons I’ve always known but really hit home with me on this trip. On my journey back home to NY, I remember thinking, “someday I’m going to look back on my life and be so glad I did this.” I returned home with no souvenirs but a few post cards, my hotel room keys, and my journals that I wrote in while on the road. When you're away from home, you miss your family and friends..not your "stuff." Money is an essential part of life and survival (and it sure does make things a whole lot easier...I’m not telling you anything you don’t know), but I promise you if you think having more “things” is the key to happiness, it’s truly not. The best things in life can’t be bought. They are people and places, memories and pictures. They are feelings and moments. These are the things you leave with when you reach the end of your life, these are the things that are most important.  

Live for You. Last but not least, this is a lesson I wish I had learned when I was 18. When I say, “live for you,” I mean…live the life YOU want to live. Not the life your parents want you to live, not the life your teachers or coaches want you to live, not the life your friends live, not the life society tells you to live. Reflecting back on my senior year of high school, I had not a clue what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. Senior year is all about career planning and college and questions and more questions about who you are and what you’re going to do and blah blah blah. It made me feel like a loser for not knowing. I often felt like what’s wrong with me? That’s what society pushes in your face from the day you graduate Kindergarten: get good grades, graduate high school, go to college, get a career, get married, start a family. Nobody ever tells you, HEY, it’s okay if college isn’t for you…it’s okay if you don’t have a plan…it’s okay if you don’t want a set career…but it’s also okay if you do. I met some of the most AMAZING people on my trip with the most amazing stories—particularly in Breckenridge, CO. Many of them in their 40’s and 50’s (some even in their 70’s!!) that drove out to Colorado to ski bum when they were in their early twenties and never left. They’ve been in the ski industry their whole lives because skiing and/or riding was their passion. They then found love and someone to marry, settled down and started a family. Bottomline, the one thing that all of these people had in common was that they were SO happy because they followed their heart and passion. Those are the kind of people that inspire me because they are the ones, that I believe, truly “get” it. Nothing is worth it in life if you’re aren’t happy. There is no right or wrong way to live your life. Nobody is better than anybody else. You gotta ignore the naysayers, find your passion, chase your dreams, decide what you want and make the necessary choices to live YOUR best life, the way YOU want to. 

In closing, I want to tell you that it doesn’t matter what’s been written in your story so far, it’s how you fill up the rest of the pages that counts. My road trip changed my life, it changed my perspective, and most importantly, it opened my eyes and helped me grow. 

Go find what makes you happy, take time for adventures and most importantly..

Keep on keepin’ on—
XX, Laura 

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