Road trips are basically considered a rite for passage. In your late teens or early twenties, you have to take at least one hours-long journey cramped in the old Cavalier you got for your 16th birthday. You subsist the ride on fast food and the few snacks you remembered to pack. And it’s awesome.
They’re considered one of the first independent journeys you take that doesn’t involve your parents. You’re completely on your own with your friends and you finally have the chance to take control. If you are younger, it’s normally a make or break moment where they decide if you’re ever going to be allowed out of the house again. If you’re older it might be that one last big trip before you have to start looking into getting a job, or going to grad school. Either way, it’s a unique experience that no road trip movie does justice. You just have to experience it for yourself.
I had taken small road trips occasionally with some friends. Mainly to the closest cities to our rural, small town or to the hiking trails in the mountains near it. Road trips are always fun when you have the right friends with you. They’re good company and there’s always someone to switch off with for driving responsibilities.
But sometimes, road trips with friends can drive you nuts. You have to make sure you pick the right ones if you’re going to be trapped in a car with them for hours. Sometimes, you just need to be on your own.
Going on a road trip solo was a totally new experience. It was exciting, but also nerve-wracking. I always had had someone else to rely on, but this time it was all on me. I think that’s something I needed, though. I needed to put myself in a situation where I was the only one I could rely on.
I didn’t want my first road trip alone to be something ridiculously long, so I had to find the perfect opportunity. Luckily, one came up pretty quickly.
Living in a small town means having about zero access to any good concerts. Or anything exciting, really. The closest venue for any bigger name is around two hours away, and it’s usually at least three. My first solo road trip started with a deep need to see one of my favorite bands live, and to visit a friend that had moved to New York City in the process.
My mom instantly panicked when I told her my plans, even though I was older than the legal drinking age and didn’t even live in her house anymore. I come from a family of constant worriers. “Don’t even tell your grandmother,” she said. “She’ll call you five times before you’re even on the road.” Any time I tell my grandmother I’m doing anything that involves driving, she instantly panics and thinks that I’m going to get killed.
My trip started off well. Minus the fact that I left my concert tickets on the counter, but at least I only got a mile down the road before I realized that. I probably should have made a checklist when I was packing stuff, but I didn’t, of course. I’m admitting it here, now, that my mother was right about that one. Especially considering I forgot my toothbrush, too. Luckily you can always buy those at a convenience store or something.
The absolute best part I found about road tripping by yourself is that you never have to fight over the music. Ever. It’s all you. If you want to belt out show tunes, no one is going to judge except the car next to you. (I get really into my car-singing, okay.) My iPod shuffled from Disney songs to DMX and everything in between without one complaint. No one yelled because I turned their favorite song too early. No one wanted to plug their phone in to play their terrible music. It was bliss.
You also don’t have to fight over the food choices. And again, there’s no judgment. You don’t have to worry about the disgusted looks from your friends when you take a chance on that gas station hot dog. You can stop wherever you want to stop. And whenever. That friend who had to pee every 30 miles? Yeah, it’s nice not having them in the car.
Everything was going well until I hit the first tollbooth. I had totally forgot about the prospect of tolls throughout my journey. I’m not one to carry much cash, either, as I use my cards for almost everything. I opened my wallet and found five bucks. Luckily, this toll was a small one, but the fee to get into the city was definitely more than I had left. The next gas stop I made included a trip to the ATM—and the giant withdrawal fee that went with it. If there was one easy thing that I could have taken care of prior to my road trip, would be to prepare myself by researching which roads have tolls and how much extra money I should bring! Tolls are something that can add up quick, so it’s always good to have a plan for how to deal with them.
After the first hour or so, the novelty of being alone on the road quickly wore off. My eyelids were fighting to stay open and I was wishing I had someone to switch with for driving. A stop at a Starbucks at least helped with the staying awake part, but I also missed having someone to help navigate. GPS apps are a wonderful thing, but I wish I would have made sure mine came with voice navigation before I left. Trying to make sure I didn’t wreck while I was looking to find the next exit is something I definitely don’t recommend. Don’t drive distracted.
Also, being terrible with time management, I didn’t take into account how much harder it would be driving in and around the city. By the time I was “15 minutes away,” traffic was backed up everywhere. My friend and I had planned on doing dinner before the concert, but we only had enough time to change, grab some protein bars, and run for the subway.
Was it worth it, though? Absolutely.
There are a lot of things that I would do differently if I was doing it all over again. But if I did that, then I don’t think I would have learned the lessons that I did.
I always thought that I was someone who was prepared for everything. Even when I was impulsive and decided a trip was happening the next day, I packed and planned meticulously for it for a few hours. I’ve got my mom to thank for that one.
This trip showed me that I definitely didn’t prepare as well as I thought I did. I double and triple checked things before I left, but I still messed a bunch of stuff up. But you better believe that I always have toll money whenever I leave for a road trip now.
A road trip alone is a great place to learn a lot about yourself. It’s a situation where you have to completely rely on your own skills and choices to get you where you want to go. There’s no passenger in the seat to bail you out if something goes wrong.
After that trip I learned to love driving by myself. I may have gotten bored on that trip, but I love going on solo road trips now. If you want to make a little stop at a random shop you see on the side of the road, you can without anyone complaining. It’s such a freeing feeling.
Choosing to go solo was one of the best decisions I could’ve made. I was really insecure about spending time alone before. In fact, I was almost scared of it. This was a way for me to force myself to spend some time alone and realize that I actually enjoyed it. Spending time with friends and family is always wonderful, but sometimes you just need some time to yourself.
After college, friend time can become harder and harder to come by as everyone goes their separate ways, get new jobs and start families. Learning to love time by yourself can be pretty important for your future when your friends aren’t available to drive to the beach at the drop of a hat. It’s sad to think about, but there’s definitely going to be times when you’ll have to do things completely alone. It takes some getting used to, so it’s a good idea to practice now.
Though I definitely had to deal with some struggles, I would totally road trip solo again. I’ll be able to account for my mistakes the next time—and you really can’t beat not having to fight over the music.