One year of solo travel as a nomad has seen me through many states, including Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina, and Mexico. After a year of solo travel, I’ve had some experiences and learnings worth sharing, so I’ve collected questions from some friends and readers, and here are the ones I could answer.
1. WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT TRAVELING
What I’ve realized about this last year of traveling is that not only are the places new, but I am a different person in those places. I think that’s why we fantasize about moving to places we vacation; because we see ourselves anew when we travel. It’s a different version of us, and it’s so refreshing to see ourselves differently.
Every place I go, I discover something about myself I never knew, or some new aspect is born into me that would have never been otherwise if I hadn’t traveled. I discover new flavors, smells, tastes, sights, textures, and sounds in each place and learn new likes, dislikes, and behaviors in response. Isn’t it fascinating to see what we will do or how we’ll feel?
2. MY FAVORITE PICTURE FROM A YEAR OF SOLO TRAVEL
One of the best parts about traveling all the time is having new things to set my focus on. If I could only keep one picture I took from my travels all year, it would be this one from Death Valley National Park.
Years ago, when I was unable to travel anywhere, I had a t-shirt with a colorful pink, purple and orange sunset on a black background with “Death Valley” in tiny crystals across the chest. I couldn’t believe a sunset could look that way. But as I sat on the hood of my van, watching the golden sun sink behind the mountain, that picture became real. It felt like a dream manifesting. It reminds me that unreal things do exist, and that I’m always rewarded for pushing outside my comfort zone – because spending a night alone in Death Valley wasn’t an easy decision.
3. WHEN I’M SCARED OF TRAVELING ALONE
I’m generally not fearful, or I could never travel solo, but I get scared. Mostly I’m afraid of being approached by men when I’m in isolated places. Once in Moab, I was alone, far from anyone on public land, when a creepy guy with two big dogs in the back of his pickup truck pulled up, blocking me into my parking spot. After a strange conversation, I got him to leave, but as night fell, he drove by again, and I had to find a new place for the night.
Hiking by myself has got my nerves going too. Bears are always a wild card for a solo hiker, not that I’ve gone into many remote, bear-filled locations, but you never know. Still, I try to tell myself that if I die that way, it’s better than by some douche bag in a pickup truck. I’ve read a lot of serial killer books, so they get me worked up. Can you tell?
4. FAVORITE LANDSCAPE
Monument Valley at the four corners of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. I’m such a fool; I didn’t plan to drive through it; it was unintentional! If I have the time, I adjust my GPS to avoid highways, so I can take backroads that cut through towns, and that’s how I ended up in Monument Valley. It was poor planning that I didn’t even know it was worth seeing.
I was driving and the landscape slowly started to shift like it does when you’re approaching a special place. Nature begins to quiet, the land evens out, then builds. The towering red-orange sandstone buttes in the valley pulled me in with an energy and beauty so powerful that I pulled to the side of the road. Everyone does this. You can’t keep driving. You must stop and take it in for a while.
5. MY BEST HIKE
This is tough, but my favorite hike was the Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington because it was so unusual. The area is a World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Everything is covered in so much moss that it hangs from the trees like curtains. Bizarre mushrooms and slimy things grow from obscure places.
The trail is short, but I was the only person on it, and the moss is so effective at absorbing sounds that when I stopped moving, it was like my ears stopped working. It was dead silent. I clapped my hands to check that I hadn’t slipped into some Twilight Zone.
6. FAVORITE EXPERIENCE
My favorite experience was the day I spent learning to be a beekeeper because it was so unexpected. I was afraid and didn’t think I would like it at all. But, since I was the only person in the class, I had to get engaged and do all the work myself. I suited up and learned how to use a smoker to stun and calm the bees so I could invade their home like a crazy person.
I learned about different types of hives, how the magical creatures create either comb or honey, how to open a hive, collect honey, and much more. I learned bees aren’t anything to fear, but they’re brilliant, amazing and essential. It completely changed my perspective. I love it when that happens. Plus, I got to eat a bunch of honey in the end, so I was happy.
7. THE MOST INTERESTING PERSON I’VE MET
I’ve met so many characters, but one of my favorites is Tony, whom I met on a boat in the Puget Sound in Washington as I was about to get on a parasail. He was there with his wife and young son, also parasailing. We were chatting when he randomly asked me my birth date.
“Uh, June?” I answered, confused.
“June is six, OK. I tell you something about yourself. You good at attract money. People too, but you like money, things.”
He then preceded to ask more numbers and practice numerology on me. Every time he’d ask me a number, he’d tell me something about myself. After, he’d ask me if he was right. He was only right about half the time, but he said he was just learning. He’s my favorite because he was interesting and kind and told me I’m brave and inspiring. I’m trying never to forget that.
8. WHAT IT’S LIKE SLEEPING IN A VAN
I like having a van I can sleep in for camping weekends at National Parks, but other than that, it sucks. When I got the van, I never planned to sleep in it a lot, but I thought I would more than I do. At first, I did, but my van isn’t made for sleeping. It’s a Ford Transit, and the bed is tiny; and I can’t even stand up in there. But I think even if I had one of those fancy vans, it would still suck. I’m so grateful I didn’t spend more money as I almost did. I’m just not a big camper and that’s what van life is mostly.
I’ve stayed on public land and camp/lived for a few days at a time, and it’s a novelty to have the freedom of finding a great public spot on beautiful land. But most sites aren’t Instagram pretty; they’re plain and empty or highly trafficked. It’s often hard to find good places or the locations are sketchy at best. I’ve even slept in McDonald’s and Walmart parking lots on my way between locations just because it’s easier, but not very exciting or pretty.
After a year, I think I’ve given up sleeping in the van in favor of Airbnb or similar rentals, except for National Park campgrounds on the weekends.
9. BEST ROAD TRIP
Anywhere in Arizona, but the one I didn’t expect was the two-lane highway from Helena, Montana, to Glacier National Park. It’s funny how you hear the phrase “Big Sky Country” but wonder what that can that mean? It’s not like the sky can be bigger there. But then you’re on the road, and there’s nothing but you and golden crops on either side, lined by wooden fences mile after mile.
The clouds are as puffed as marshmallows, and the sun is as round as a beach ball. Somehow the sky really is bigger. If you keep on going through Montana into the panhandle of Utah, you’ll see some of the tallest pine trees and greenest fields too. And that’s mighty fine driving also.
10. BIGGEST MISTAKES
My biggest mistakes have been not planning enough time or the right time of year in certain places. I zipped through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks in three weeks, and I wish I would’ve stayed six or more. Then I went through California during wildfire season, so I couldn’t do much of what I wanted.
I was in Utah in June when it got up to 115 degrees, and in South Carolina, I poorly timed my visit just missing the synchronistic fireflies. There have been many things like this where I’ve missed events or seasons. I’ve spent too long in one place and not enough time in another. It’s hard to plan for everything on a year-long drive.
11. PERCEPTION VERSUS REALITY
A few people asked me about “perception versus reality,” and I think what they mean is: Is being able to travel all the time as awesome as it seems? Most of us live an alternate reality of rarely being able to travel, and it sucks when you wish you could travel, but can’t for whatever reason. So, it seems like traveling all the time must be awesome, is it?
I can’t answer easily or briefly, and I better address the pros and cons of long-term travel in my post “Six Months a Nomad,” but the short answer is, yes, it’s a pretty amazing experience.
Despite any of the difficult parts or the things I’ve given up, my life and my days are as or more interesting and enjoyable than I hoped when I started this adventure. I’m learning so much, evolving, meeting people I never would, and being regularly amazed. There are downsides, of course, but mostly it’s awesome. (Next answer: I work remotely full-time)
If only we realized how quickly a year goes. At first, when I thought that I might travel for an entire year, it seemed insanely long and undoable, but now, looking back, I blinked and well, you know. I wish the living of the days could feel as sweet as their memory.
12. HOW MY OUTLOOK HAS CHANGED AFTER A YEAR OF SOLO TRAVEL
I used to have this outdated idea that owning a home was the only “right” way to live. I did that for a long time, but it didn’t make me especially fulfilled and it took most of my time and money preventing me from doing much else. I don’t feel that having one place I always go back to makes me a more “stable” person. I’m a lot more stable and dependable than many people I know who stay in one place.
Nomad life doesn’t come with a blueprint like my old life, but it enables choices and feels more like me.
What's the longest trip you've ever taken by yourself?
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