Since I got back from a six-day, cross-country trip on Tuesday, I’ve been craving the open road. Last week Darren and I left my hometown of Sonoma, California, and drove my Jetta and most of my belongings to my new home in Jackson, Mississippi. Each day of the trip was so exciting that it’s felt like a bit of a letdown to readjust to a normal routine. In order to maintain the energy of the road trip, I’ve decided to take four major lessons from it and try to apply them to my everyday life.
1. Do things that you enjoy, especially with someone who makes everything fun.
Darren, my partner in crime, was thoughtful enough to fly to the Bay Area for just a couple of days to help me pack and keep me company on the drive east. I’m glad that we already spend so much time together working from home, so there was no question that we could handle nearly a week of 24-7 together time. Even though I don’t love being cooped up in the car, we made it fun by playing cheesy road trip mixes (including “Country Roads,” “King of the Road,” and Darren’s least favorite of the bunch, “Loveshack”) and making up games.
We downloaded the Three Cups of Tea audiobook and, when we found the story fascinating but the prose overwritten, we invented a coffee drinking game. Instructions: Drink every time you hear a groan-worthy analogy, like “his learning curve with climbing was as steep as the rock faces he was soon scaling,” or flowery descriptions of the mundane, like men’s snoring as “sonorous rumbling…in languid concert.” This game grew to be our favorite, and it both kept us entertained and put a lot of caffeine into our veins.
Take-home lessons: Make normally boring tasks into a game. If you have to clean the house, put on a dance mix and sing as you scrub. If you have to do your taxes, take a swig of your favorite beverage every time you complete a section (the IRS would recommend something non-alcoholic). Whatever the task, it’ll probably be more fun if you invite a friend or partner to join you. Also, find ways to incorporate more things that you enjoy into every day.
2. Choose your own exciting goals and make a road map to reach them. Be flexible, but have daily benchmarks of progress.
I wanted to see the sights of the southwest for the first time, so I chose to pass through Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Albuquerque. Texas wasn’t so much a choice; it was just what was between New Mexico and Louisiana. Darren had visited all of these places on a family road trip, but he was happy to return. One of my favorite things about Darren is that even if he’s seen something before (Lost episodes, movies, etc.) he likes experiencing it again with me.
Each day of the road trip, I enjoyed waking up with a sense of purpose. It was one of those rare occasions when I had perfectly clear goals and no question about how to achieve them. Darren and I had printed out a map and directions to each location, we knew where we were going and how we planned to get there. Six days allowed plenty of time to make the 36-hour drive to Jackson, so we could sightsee on the way and be flexible with the daily driving quota. We looked at our Google map online each night and could see our progress along the route.
Take-home lessons: Create your own daily road map. Get a friend or partner to help, because they’ll be more objective about what you need to do. When I was feeling stressed yesterday, Darren helped me break down each of my big projects into next actions. I felt much less overwhelmed when we were done. Cross the tasks off your To-Do list when done, or use strikethrough to cross them off on the computer. Celebrate your accomplishments by rewarding yourself.
3. Listen to your body’s signals to meet its basic needs.
When we needed to eat, use the loo, or sleep for the night, we stopped as soon as we could. I knew that if I ate more than I needed during meals, I’d feel gross when I got back in the car. I tried to eat as lightly as possible — a challenge when fast food chains were the only option — and snacked on healthy foods as needed. When I’m immersed in work at home, I tend to lose touch with my body’s needs for fuel and rest. When I wasn’t distracted by other tasks, I felt more in tune with my instincts and was able to follow them.
Take-home lessons: Take breaks between tasks throughout the day and use them to check in with yourself. Think, “Am I hungry? For what kind of food? Do I need water? A stretch or bathroom break?” Meet your body’s needs, and don’t put them off. Even if sensing these signals is challenging at first, it will get easier with practice.
4. See and learn new things every day.
Throughout the trip, I sent regular updates from my cell phone to my Twitter and Facebook pages. I had endless material to share, and it was fun to see the enthusiastic responses from my friends. Here are just a few highlights from what I’m grateful to have seen on the trip:
- View of Las Vegas at night, from our spa suite on the 28th floor of the Excalibur. The hotel looks like a huge castle, and we arrived late enough at night to get a free upgrade to an available room that was as big as our apartment.
- Gambling in a casino. I gambled away 50 cents and felt complete. It was a relief to discover that I would never become a gambling addict.
- The Grand Canyon at sunset, glowing pink and orange.
- Stunning red rock formations against blue skies in Sedona, Arizona.
- Vortexes (areas of healing energy) in Sedona. I was disappointed not to feel anything special, but perhaps we didn’t hike out far enough.
- The night sky in the desert. I could see stars upon stars without the glare of city streetlights.
- A bit of Albuquerque, where my parents met on a college trip in the early 70s.
- An armadillo (dead) and a roadrunner (alive, and running across the road in front of my car. Luckily, I didn’t hit it). A large herd of elk in the Sedona woods.
- Small-town America.
- Hilarious or disturbing Texas billboards. One for an aptly named Big Texan restaurant, advertised a 72 oz. steak that was free if you could eat the whole thing. My status update about it: “Yay obesity! Yay wasteful cattle raising! Yay America.”
- Changing scenery, from vast treeless plains to mountains with snow still on the peaks.
I had never felt so curious about the geography and culture of my own country. Every night, I looked up the sights I’d passed on the road that day. One day it was the glass Skywalk bridge over the Grand Canyon, and Roswell, the site of a supposed 1947 UFO crash south of Albuquerque. The next it was Cadillac Ranch, an art installation of cars stuck into the ground near Amarillo, Texas.
Take-home lessons: Make a point of exploring your surroundings, wherever you are. Even if you’re in the middle of nowhere, it has something to teach you. Tell other people what it’s like to be there, because they may have no idea. Wonder about the things you see, and Google them.
It’s pretty simple to take the elements of an exciting road trip and work them into your daily life. If all else fails, blast the song “Low Rider.” It will raise your spirits, every time.
Coming Soon: Slideshow of more road trip pictures.
What are some of your best road trip moments, and what have you learned from them?