Lessons from the Rear View Mirror

How a Road Trip Changed My Life

RobinRunck/123rf

As a kid, the most I traveled was to my relatives’ house a few cities away to jump in their pool during the dog days of summer or to the doctor to get a new asthma inhaler. Good times.

As an adult, I didn’t really travel much either outside of the occasional Staycation. I’m not opposed to travel. As a matter of fact, I’ve always had a passion for it. Sometimes, life just gets in the way. What happens is you wind up being stuck on autopilot just going through the motions with your obligations and everyday life. It’s not that you don’t want to travel, it just seems that whenever the opportunity comes up, so does other crap that ends up taking a front seat in your life. Other times, the last thing you want to do is travel with someone who has to bring along their homemade pharmaceutical bag for every possible ailment they think they have. While you’re stuck in the car with them. As they get car sick.

So, traveling often took a backseat sometimes, either by choice or by circumstance.

Like many, I fell victim to the daily grind with work and tending to responsibilities. Part of that daily grind had me considering moving for family. So, what better way to feed two birds with one seed than by jumping in the car and hitting the open road for a week?

…while leaving the homemade pharmaceutical bag and the car sickness at the curb.

“Travel can foster personal growth.”

Open Road to Self-Awareness

I consider myself lucky that my travel partner was pretty awesome company. More often than not, we didn’t have a need for the radio as we chatted each other’s ears off from one city to the next; from one state to the next. This, I found to be pretty important if you’re traveling with someone: make sure they’re not a prick. Seriously. And if they are a prick, make sure they hide it well. If you’ve been friends forever then you probably know their quirks and they know yours. So, they probably already know you’re going to program every Starbucks into the GPS to appease your coffee addiction, and you know they got your back mapping out the rest stops for after the coffee.

There’s seriously nothing cooler in my opinion than a hot latte while watching the sun come up over the horizon as you’re headed eastbound. These are the moments that you start realizing how magnificent life can be and how insignificant our problems really are in the big scheme of things. Sometimes, all you need is a hot coffee and the cool, fresh morning air of the open road to make everything better.

Bonus points if your travel buddy is awake to appreciate it with you.

And, sometimes all you need is reception in order to call your loved ones back home just in case you get stuck smack-dab in the middle of a severe thunderstorm.

Like we did.

Pink Lightning

By the time we cleared Colorado and were just outside of Paxton, Nebraska, we both noticed the wind started kicking up, the traffic started slowing down, and we heard loud sirens alerting of an approaching storm. The radio went eerily silent — silent — for a few seconds, until the sirens were howling through the car speakers, too. It was a muggy and hot August summer night with the craziest magenta colored lighting I’ve ever seen. Pink. Lightning. Until that night, I didn’t even know it existed. And if we didn’t catch it all on video, I’d say you’re pulling my leg if you told me it did.

We didn’t really think too much of the wind or storm approaching, given that time of year in the Midwest. But, as we inched along the highway we noticed cars pulling off the road trying to get to the lowest point I suppose, in case a tornado was on the loose. We saw a tractor trailer flipped on its side in the turnout in the middle of the interstate and one of its tires got airborne, bouncing dangerously close between cars, including ours. It seems to be at the most random times when you start questioning things, and one thing I started questioning at that moment was why I didn’t opt for that upgrade at the car rental company instead of my choice for that sub-compact.

After an amazing night’s sleep and a near miss with one of the most killer storms I’ve lived through, we continued along through Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. Each state had its own uniqueness, its own story. The same storm seemed to have crippled parts of Indiana which had us rerouted off the main highway with a 7-hour detour as most of the main highway was flooded out. And, quite frankly, it was one of the most amazing detours I’ve experienced. It’s times like this where you’re traveling back roads and off the beaten path that you start thinking about things — how beautiful and quaint the world is, how quiet and clean it feels in the early morning hours, how happy your road trip buddy makes you when you two bust out in laughter together or when you both sit in silence admiring the scenery, or admiring each other a little.

By the time we arrived in upstate New York, we were exhausted, and invigorated all at once. A hot shower later, some epic New York style pizza and calzone delivered by the coolest pizza delivery guy ever, and our road-trip was nearly complete.

So, what’s the point of this story, anyway?

3 Lessons Learned from the Rear View Mirror

1. If you really want to get to know yourself on a whole other level, then travel. Travel your ass off. Seriously. You want to experience those epic road trips where Your Person is in the car with you, where you can be yourself, where you have time to figure yourself out and where you feel safe and unconditionally appreciated. Travel should be about self-awareness and insight. It should have a dash of the unpredictable with it because this is how you learn about yourself, like moments stuck in the middle of severe storms. If you find out your road tripping buddy is a first-class jerk, then lesson learned. If you find out that you’re using travel as a way to escape your boring and uneventful life back home, then insight gained. Travel doesn’t have to be to another country to learn about yourself. It can happen cruising to the next state over, a few states over, or even the next town over.

2. The destination is cool, but the insight, the fun and the lived experiences are found in the journey. Maybe your road tripping bud hates silence. Let them learn to appreciate it. Be their comfort, let them know the “awkward silence” with you is OK, even appreciated every now and then so that you can take in the scenery and a little personal growth. Be OK with getting lost, or with the GPS routing you in circles, or in tossing out the itinerary. My road trip proved that the unexpected can happen with highway closures and severe storms, and that joy can actually be in the connectedness and intimacy you share finding your way off the beaten path, or in finding your way together.

3. We never know what tomorrow will bring. The places you visit can change, the people you visited them with can leave your life when you least expect it, or never expected it. Things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes you have to roll with what life hands you. So, live. Live each experience as if you’re experiencing it for the first time. And, if it is your first time, journal all of it. Take tons of pictures. Who gives a crap if you have bags under your eyes from lack of sleep, or if you gained five pounds from eating fast food along the way. Cherish those memories. Cherish those five pounds. Cherish the eye bags. Hold those memories near and dear to you. Refer back to them when you want to gain more awareness or more insight, or are feeling Wanderlust, or missing the people you shared the memories with, or are just missing the memories.

Written by

Psychologist. Behavior Analyst. Helping warriors recognize their inner strength & empowering them with a little badassery. #INFJ. Seeker of the perfect latte.

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