I’ve made it back home after a three week solo road trip on the west coast – and I am in one piece. My limbs are all still attached, my physical state is intact except for a bike scrape on my ankle. I’ve returned with all my possessions present, minus one lost hair elastic and one tube of lipstick. I would consider my sanity partially stable, and my mental health only mildly shaken. My bank account will need a whole year to recuperate, but I feel exponentially richer than before I left.
Ultimately, all the insecurities I had before embarking – about being bored, scared, mugged, murdered – they all dissipated as I absorbed myself in new adventures.
To best describe the sensation: I feel young – with glassy eyes gazing at the world. Thus far, I’ve spent so much time in college becoming a hard cynic with my peers – marbleizing a jaded mentality far too early in life. Traveling, however, softened me. By simply seeing more of the world, I’m reminded of how (literally) big our own country is – and that translates into limitless possibility. There is always room to grow larger. Whenever I feel suffocated, there will always be more fresh air to breathe.
Before, traveling alone was the most daunting prospect. A clichéd quote from Eleanor Roosevelt reads, “Do something every day that scares you.” I guess I followed her advice, because this road trip terrified me shitless every day.
But now, I am not as intimidated by the prospect of solo travel. My lack of companion allowed me to become my own best friend – my own over-protective, paranoid mother, but also my own free spirit.
At the same time though, I learned that even in solo travel, so much of the experience is defined by the people encountered along the way – the conversations, the exchange of stories and wisdom. For someone who is so extroverted and garrulous all the time, I learned to shut up for once – and simply listen. Absorbing is sometimes more important than sharing or speaking.
Out of everything, I had the most positive experience with couch-surfing, despite my initial qualms. My hosts were the most incredible, inspiring people I have ever met, and I only regret not spending more time bonding with them. They were all willing to give an aimless college student a slice of life advice, and they were willing to laugh with me as I shared my own stories of failure and debauchery. I stayed with a wanderlust girl starting life from scratch, an ex-navy pilot who has traveled the world, a professional photographer who gave me a portfolio of new pictures, and so many more characters.
The further I moved down south, the more risks I took. I started with a female host in Seattle, but I soon opened myself up to the prospect of male hosts. In the end, I almost feel ashamed of my initial fear of men, simply based on predator stereotypes hyped up by society. That is not to say I was reckless with my safety. Lord knows the number of pepper sprays I carried in each pocket and the number of background checks I ran on all my hosts. However, I became more trusting of strangers. Most people have good intentions, and I wholeheartedly believe that. Compassion and amicability should not be defined by familiarity. Some of the most interesting conversations I held were ephemeral, with people on buses and planes, whom I will never seen again.
This road trip was also a scout for future homes. I fell hopelessly in love with each city on the west coast: Seattle showed me kindness; Portland exuded art and culture; the Bay Area swallowed me in beauty; Los Angeles was an infinity I see myself building a career in. I am an east coast girl at heart, but I know I will be spending more time on the west coast in the future.
Perhaps it is naïve of me to look so longingly at the world. But even if it is childish, it is the most refreshing feeling to be so awestruck by my own country. It feels so good to constantly be surprised, to look upon everything with admiration. Optimism is a nice feeling.
If anything, I have accomplished exactly what I originally set out to, and I have learned so much more. Some people equate travel to recreational tourism, but travel is its own sort of education. To travel is to become more cultured, more connected to peers and future friends.
So, world, I know I’ll be seeing more of you soon.