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Two Februaries ago, I sat in a Boston bar with a group of writing-conference friends, shooting the breeze about nonsense like tone and voice (I’m making us sound way more scholarly than we are – we were probably yelling about television or something, my memory is fuzzy). My friend Amy, who I had bonded with the previous year over our love of our respective football teams (hers, the Packers; mine, clearly, the Steelers) looked down at her phone and suddenly went wide-eyed.
“You guys, I just got into LSU!” We all immediately ordered a shot of tequila — because, really, how else do you celebrate getting into a graduate MFA program with an under-5-percent acceptance rate — and cheers’d her accomplishment. At some point the conversation between her and I turned into her having to quit her job and take part of the summer off to relocate, and then at some further point into the wee hours, I suggested she should stop off in Pittsburgh and we should take a road trip.
Amy and I, shortly after meeting for the first time, probably discussing football.
In the moment, it sounded like what our creative, yet 9-to-5 employment-having, brains needed. I’d just take a week off and she’d find a way to get to the Pittsburgh airport (which was a debacle in itself) and we’d hop in my car and go! We joked about it for the rest of the conference, but then I got back on a flight to Pittsburgh and wondered if it could really be a thing.
I looked up gas and toll prices idly, considering our options as snow swirled outside my windows in the March cold. We had people we could stay with — friends scatter-shot across the Rust Belt — and I had some PTO saved up. I made a Google Map, considered the wear and tear on my car, and finally decided why not? I sent Amy a detailed proposed itinerary and she bought a plane ticket from her hometown to Pittsburgh.
So we took the road trip. And it was the greatest decision I’ve made in recent history, even though we were late for nearly everything, went under a structurally-unsound set of elevated railroad tracks in Cleveland in the pitch-black-dark while a train rattled by over our heads, and bent several Ohio traffic laws to get to a barn of cheese before they closed.
Day one of our road trip. Theme: giant baskets.
To borrow the word of Aubrey “Drake” Graham, YOLO. I’m being serious — you really are only young once. If you’ve got a break in your work or schooling, why not get out and explore? Everyone needs a change of scenery, and it will revitalize you to get back to your grind. Mine happened to be timed right before we went into the busier holiday season at work and it kept me going through the end of the year. The summer was the perfect time to press play on a playlist of ’90s hip hop and press pause on our otherwise busy lives.
You will come back with amazing stories. My friends and family were skeptical when I told them I was taking a road trip through Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, but then I came back and showed them all the pictures of the (in order) largest apple basket, largest regular basket, largest loaf of bread (now rusted and somewhat sketchy-looking), largest candle, the place where the largest fake eyeglasses and nose are supposed to be, largest kielbasa-shaped sign, largest tire, largest bronze falcon, and largest rubber stamp. Amy and I took selfies in front of as many of these things as possible and I still look back through the album sometimes and laugh.
The last day of our road trip. Theme: meats. Yes, that’s a beef jerky outlet. It’s in Erie, Michigan, and the jerky is delicious.
The bond you form with your fellow roadtripper will be awe-inspiring. Amy and I were friends — maybe not the closest, but friends — before our trip, but since then, we’ve spoken almost every day, and she’s become integral to my existence. Topics of discussion over our week ranged from intensive political debate to light discussion of our favorite makeup products and everything in between. Comfortable silence and endless chatter were both appreciated. We figured out how to coexist in a very cramped space and came out all the better for it.
+ Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and taken a road trip? Where did you go, and how did it make you feel?
road trips, wanderlust
Best trip ever, till the next one!
Thank you for this! I just decided today to take my mini trip of the summer. Originally, I had planned to go with a friend, but she decided to move with her parents across the state so I was going to not go. But then I realized, that I can’t keep living my life for everyone else, sooooo in August, I’m taking a solo 2 day trip to the Great Lakes!
After parting ways with my corporate job in early January, I saw a college friend post on Facebook that she needed a driving buddy to help get her car from Boston to Denver. After making sure she was serious about the offer, I was in. For the first time in my adult life, I had no plans, no job I had to be back for, nothing but the open road in front of me. It was glorious.
She drove the first day to my place in Harrisburg, PA. From there we took off to Louisville, KY where we couchsurfed with the coolest guy in town, Dusty who sent us to all the best craft beer bars and stayed up till 3am playing trivial pursuit and sharing his bourbon with us. Next up, was a stop in St. Louis, MO, where we stayed with a friend of mine and managed to hit 5 craft breweries, a bbq joint, the City Museum (a MUST for anyone visiting STL), and a punk-rock pinball bar all in the span of 12 hours. From there, I spent a week in Denver, where we both went to college, and found myself hiking, reuniting with those classmates that stayed in the mile high city, guest lecturing at my college’s leadership courses and getting my nose re-pierced (Corporate America made me take it out).
My trip was open ended from Denver. I didn’t quite know where I would go or how I would get there, but I was ready for the ride, whatever it may be. After a few FB messages asking “Mind if I come visit?” to my West Coast compadres, I used my frequent flyer miles to book a flight to LA where I met up with a travel buddy from PA who flew out to have an adventure with me. We shopped our way through flea markets, vintage stores and street art gallery showings, unsure where we would sleep each night (Couchsurfing and AirBnB didn’t work as well as I hoped in SoCal, but the HotelTonight app saved our butts each time). From there we decided renting a car and driving up Highway 1 to San Fran was the best idea we’d ever had. And minus the $350 speeding ticket, it was!
In San Fran, we slept on the floor of my high school buddy’s Haight Ashbury brownstone, along with her 3 roommates and cat. She was working for Google, so we got to have lunch on campus in Mountain View (yes, it is as nerdy and way cool as you think it will be), and we did our own sightseeing of the Bay Bridge and even hugged some redwood trees. I bid adios to my PA travel mate and climbed aboard an Amtrak for a 19 hour ride to Portland, Oregon. The long and gently-rocking train ride lacked both wifi and cell service most of the way, leaving me to take in the Oregon mountains in peace and splendor.
Once in Portland, I was greeted by another Pennsylvania friend who had relocated to the Pacific Northwest for work. He made sure I got my dose of nature in both the mountains and waterfalls, and along the sandy but warm (even in January!) coastline. We talked of new business ideas for hours, both budding entrepreneurs, and ate our way through some of the town’s best restaurants. I fell in love with the town of Portland and it’s creative, vibrant personalities and vowed to move there one day.
Beyond Portland, I was running out of funds and missing my own bed. I had never been to Seattle, so I trekked that direction on a Bolt Bus and spent a day exploring with a college student I met through couchsurfing, before catching a flight back to good ‘ol Harrisburg, PA. I returned refreshed and renewed, as if I had taken a mini-retirement. I decided there might be something to this “entrepreneurship” thing and set out to use my inspiration from my travels to found my own business, and haven’t missed the corporate world one bit.
I completely agree with Katie (great name, btw!). If you get the chance to travel on a whim, with no real destination or timeline in mind, take it! Never have I felt so free, so empowered, like the world was at my fingertips. Whatever the outcome and expense, your adventure will be well worth the memories and invaluable for the soul.
This is hilarious.
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