Instead of juggling serious boyfriends over the years, I’ve juggled places.
I’ve always had a strong connection with them.
I never wanted to find a husband to settle down with; I just wanted to find someone to travel with me. I’ve never loved a man like I’ve loved a place. My heart has never ached as badly from a breakup as it has watching the mountains of Wyoming grow smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror.
Three years ago, I had a quarter-life crisis.
I commuted two hours a day and was emotionally drained. I knew I needed to make changes in my life, so I hired a life coach and started looking at what my life was missing.
I craved freedom. I needed freedom.
I knew I needed to travel and turned to my bucket list in a quest to start crossing off items. “Road trip to all 50 states” jumped out at me. That’s it. That’s my next adventure. Four months later, I quit my corporate job to plan my trip across America.
I knew that losing myself in this trip would somehow help me find myself.
I was lucky that my friend Katie agreed to come along. We started saving money immediately since we wouldn’t be working. I stopped going to Target. (Well, I stopped going to Target daily.) We ordered travel guides from every state, bought plane tickets for Alaska and Hawaii while we still had jobs, made packing lists, and deferred our student loans.
We calculated how many miles we’d travel and how many dollars we’d need. We made lists of people we knew in every state that we could stay with. We mapped out our tentative route and dates.
We researched volunteer opportunities (we volunteered in every state), Googling non-profit, schools and anything else we could think of. We researched music festivals, state parks and beautiful places to visit. We created a budget for food, gas, concerts, campgrounds and beer.
We hesitantly told our parents, then our friends. We created playlists for our drive to pass the hours. We planned and planned and planned, but we still weren’t prepared for the journey that awaited us.
We traveled without a detailed agenda, which made the trip haphazardly beautiful.
We camped out as much as we could and crashed on the couches of our friends, family and strangers along the way to save money. Sometimes we turned my SUV into the “Volvo Inn” and slept for the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Seven months flew by and before we knew it we were home.
Living life out of my car was over and I struggled to come down from the highs of life on the road. It didn’t make sense that I missed a life where I had so little, peed outside at night and sometime didn’t shower for three or four days.
I’d grown accustomed to my new life on the road.
I got a taste of freedom, and I was addicted.
Now, it’s hard to imagine my life without this trip. I would have missed out on so much—like eating beignets in Baton Rouge with WWII Navy vets, cliff jumping into Lake Coeur d’Alene, having a crab feast fresh from the crab trap or partying on a 76-foot yacht with travellers.
I’d have missed out on jumping into a glacial lake in Alaska for my ALS Ice bucket challenge and eating dinner and drinking boxed wine on an iceberg—and rattlesnake hunting. And of course I’d have missed Frontier Days—despite the whiskey in my system, I can still feel the drops of rain splashing against my face while I made out with that cute cowboy at the Luke Bryan concert, the dirt at my feet turning to mud and my boots slowly sinking into the earth.
I never would have made friends with bums, free spirits or hillbillies.
I never would have picked up a hitchhiker and ended up hanging out with him for a few days in Alaska, exchanging stories over Alaskan IPAs around a beach campfire. I wouldn’t have any idea how comfortable the back of my car is. I’d have missed those nights drinking beer around a campfire, basking in how incredible a moment of normalcy can feel.
I would have missed out on the intoxicating happiness I get from falling in love with places I once hardly knew existed.
Six days ago I took another road trip from Minnesota to my new home in Utah.
As I settle into my new life in the mountains, I reflect on how I got here. Not to Utah, but to this point in my life—this point where I am elevated, high on life. I’m living a life of purpose and it makes my life sharper.
I feel like I woke up from a dream and am finally seeing the beauty in everyday life.
I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined learning so much about life and myself from a simple road trip, but I realized that the path to happiness is ultimately one of authenticity and purpose—different for each person.
With the windows down and the world rushing in—the road burning under my tires—my true spirit shines, and I’m left feeling nothing but liberated.
I take this path because I realize it’s truly the journey that matters.
Author: Kristin Sweetman
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Author’s own