Today I am taking part in a blog series on Prodigal Magazine. This is my post for Travel Stories.
The idea came to me at a wedding.
I was there alone, just sort of watching the whole event unfold, and I started thinking about what I should do with my life. You know, the kind of thing you think when you’re at a wedding alone.
It must have been the cake that got to me, or maybe the disappointment of the bouquet toss which, true to form, did not go in my favor. Maybe it was the glass of wine I sipped as I sat around and watched everyone else cut loose on the dance floor.
Whatever it was, before I knew it I found myself planning the next year of my life with the most spontaneous and adventurous girl at the party.
Here was the plan (get ready for this).
We were both going to quit our jobs (the full-time job that I had just, finally, secured, in the midst of a not-so-thriving economy). We’d move out of our apartments and sell everything we owned. We’d raise a bunch of money. We would put our college loans in deferment. Then we’d travel around the country for six months to visit all 50 States.
She would play shows at cafes and bars (she was a singer/songwriter) and I would keep a blog about the adventure.
“Forget this whole marriage, settle down, full-time jobs, boring suburban people life!” We told ourselves. We were going to “live our dreams!” We were going on an adventure!!! We were out of here!!! (There were lots of exclamation points in our conversation).
I woke up the next morning feeling a little confused, like I had a spontaneity hangover or something. I wasn’t totally sure the conversation had even happened, but if it had, I was worried that I might have agreed to it.
Sure enough, I had.
So five months later we left on our trip. We visited every state. We were gone for six months (then home for five, then gone for another month to visit Alaska and Hawaii). And you know what I learned in six months traveling the country, staying with strangers (and friends), chasing “our dreams” (or something) and living out of a Subaru?
Travel changes you.
It doesn’t matter where you go, you won’t come home the same.
I learned a lot of lessons in my six months on the road. We made some good decisions, and some bad ones, if I’m being honest. Now, as I reflect back over the most epic journey of my life, here is the biggest lesson that rises to the surface.
Life is not glamorous.
You would think that six months galavanting across the country, doing “whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted” would be just about the most glamourous life you could imagine. We certainly felt this way, before we left on the journey. But what we found the more we traveled is that life — no matter where you are — has conflict, obstacles, frustrations, and fears that we have to overcome.
It’s not a punishment. It’s just life.
When we broke down in Laramie, Wyoming we had to decide what we were going to do. That was the first of our big obstacles. Our car was beyond repair, so our options were limited. We could buy another car and continue on, or to throw in the towel, sell the car, and fly home.
Neither option seemed like a very good one.
We decided to buy a new car, which was the best decision we knew how to make with the wisdom, vision and resources we had been given. And it wasn’t a bad choice. It just came with ramifications, like all choices we make in life.
We spent the next two months trying to register a car that we had purchased in Wyoming, to an Oregon address, while we were residing in Nebraska, then Iowa, then Illinois. Who would have thought, on our big adventure, we’d be wrestling with mounds of paperwork and waiting in line at the DMV?
Not us, that’s for sure.
There were several things along the way that we were excited to see but didn’t turn out to be as exciting as we thought. Mt. Rushmore, for example. Neither of us had ever been there. We had only seen pictures, so we were really excited to see it in person and take pictures, etc. (Side note: doesn’t that seem strange? Why, when we’ve only ever seen pictures of a place, do we always want to go there and see it in person, so we can take more pictures?)
But when we pulled up and found out it cost $20 just to park the car, and an additional per-person fee to get into the gates, and we could see the monument from the road, see that they didn’t really look that spectacular, our hearts sank a little.
Twenty seconds and one half-hearted, very distant, not so smiling photo later, we were out of there.
People always ask us about our favorite place of the trip, and I tell them that, for the most part, our favorite places were the least expected. Park City, Utah. Deadwood, South Dakota. The Black Hills National Forrest. Newport, Rhode Island. None of these places were on our radar before the trip began, but now they hold our biggest smiles, our best memories, our most treasure pictures.
I think that life is like that, most of the time.
It ebbs and flows, it’s full of peaks and valleys, and sometimes we’re surprised by which moments in life make us feel elated, and which ones leave us disappointed.
The best part is that you don’t really know until you get there.
You have to travel to figure it out.