The Travelogue series recounts a seventeen-day-long cross-country road trip I took at age 21 with two college friends. We started in Charlotte, NC, and ended up two weeks and 8,000 miles later in Los Angeles, CA. The previous 18 posts in the series are taken verbatim from a handwritten journal I laboriously kept on the trip. Names have been changed, but the rest is absolute, 100%, unedited truth.
I wouldn’t do it again.
I know. Call me crazy. It was the trip of a lifetime. But if I could take it back and never have gone, I would.
I loved America. I loved the variety of the cities, the rural areas, the topographies, the animals, the trees, the people especially. But I went with the wrong people, at the wrong time, in the wrong way.
We were poor recent college grads looking for an adventure, and yes we got it, but at what cost? I can honestly say this trip damaged irrevocably my friendships with both “Jessica” and “Samantha.” We were on a time limit because we were on a budget; we had arranged to stay with friends and family at almost all of our stops, so we didn’t have the luxury of staying an extra day here and there, or leaving a little early on that day. We had to stick to schedule.
Which meant a lot of long, hard days in the car. Have you ever thought about how small a space a car is? We had three people LIVING inside of a compact car for 17 days. There was no space, no privacy, no alone time. All of our flaws were constantly on display, and we mercilessly pushed each other’s buttons.
“Samantha” had a flight home a few days after we made it to LA. She returned to the East Coast and started working. I haven’t seen her since.
Jessica and I stayed until early August, about 8 weeks. We worked at “Shelby’s” the whole time. We took two vacations, once with her mom and family up to Monterey and once with my mom down to San Diego. We split up and had some different experiences. We discovered some of the best (cheap) restaurants in West LA (Cafe Buna and the Flying Jalapeno, I’m looking at you!). We got our nails did and hair did and ate lobster in Little Saigon. I turned 22 and ate almost an entire Porto’s cake. We experienced the best that Venice Beach has to offer. We saw Santa Monica. We saw Hollywood once and never went back. We fought through the traffic. We hiked in Malibu. We learned how to Uber and how to AirBnB. We inhaled more secondhand weed than I ever want to know. We rode bikes for hours. We ate lots and lots of ice cream. We befriended a grocery store security guard. We saw the Getty. We lived through the dissolution of our living situation and floated around for the last two weeks. We learned how to say thank you in Vietnamese (it sounds an awful lot like, “Come on!”). We bought cheap knockoffs. We ate beans and rice for dinner for weeks on end. We got gorgeous tans.
By the time we left, we were up for another trek along the southern route. Our mistake on round two was timing. We went from LA to San Diego, to Tijuana, to Phoenix, to Austin, to New Orleans, to Pensacola, to Atlanta. All of those cities were extremely attractive to us and we were so excited about visiting them.
What we didn’t think through was that we were hitting these cities, the hottest cities on our entire round trip, at the hottest time of the year. Every last one of them was miserably hot, which made us miserable. I don’t have a single good thing to say about any of those cities, which is a shame. I still loved the people we stayed with (with one glaring exception I won’t go into). Talking to them, hearing their stories, was the highlight of the trip. But I will never under any circumstances return to Austin, and I will definitely never return to New Orleans, during the summer months.
(Tijuana, you were my fav, I’m sorry you’re included in this list of terrible visits. You’re the bomb; never change.)
I think everyone should do a road trip. A long one. They’re fabulous. You see the country and the world and people and things in ways you never ordinarily would. The road forces you in to some simultaneously introspective, extro-spective dimension.
But give yourself time. And give yourself space. And be willing to spend a little money here and there, even if it’s just for really good sushi in San Francisco. Stop when you want to stop. Try not to be on the road for more than 5 or 6 hours a day. Be willing to drive the extra 45 minutes to see something extraordinary. Do whatever it takes to keep from getting road weary. Mix in a little city with a little country. Take time to appreciate the beauty in the drive and in the destination. Make sure you get 7 or so hours of sleep. Enforce rules. Screw passive aggressiveness; it has no place on a road trip.
Do a little more planning than you think you need to, but be willing to change those plans. We knew what cities we wanted to hit and when, and that was good, but in cities where we didn’t have obvious landmarks to check out (Kansas City, Seattle, Nashville), we wound up with too much time on our hands. The cities that were the best (St. Louis, San Francisco) were the cities where we had definitive goals. Also be willing to go along with your hosts if you have them (Pine, Salmon, Folsom); they tend to know what’s worth seeing and what’s not.
Talk to the people that you meet. Even if it’s friends and family you already know. People and how they live are a remarkably interesting topic, worthy of their own journey. One of the strangest parts of my road trip was that I would meet people and constantly think, “Where do I know them from?” even if there was no way I could’ve met them before, or “Who do they remind me of?” People, for all their differences, are all the same, from Maine to San Diego, from Seattle to Key West.
Have a clear goal, but give yourself a little wiggle room.
Maybe what I learned is that you need to be rich to travel. At least, to travel this extravagantly.
Maybe what I learned is that I need more me-time than I thought. Or, contrarily, that I need to put myself out there more often.
But I also learned that people are beautiful, fragile, impressive things, and that everyone, even Joe Schmoe, has a story and a voice and a joy and a pain, and that we really all can understand each other if we want to.
I also learned that America is gorgeous. I don’t know how many times I used the word beautiful, or incredible, or stunning, or absurd, or ridiculous, or wonderful on this trip. Some people call it America the Beautiful because they live in a nice place. Some people think you’ve got to go to Europe or Africa or New Zealand to see true beauty because they’ve never left their suburb. Whatever side of the camp you’re on, get out there. See what it’s got to offer before you stake your claim.