We’re a nation teetering on social burn-out. The multitude of devices designed to bind us together like links in a chain has made it difficult to go to the bathroom and be alone. Articles on efficiency are prolific: how to cut a minute off some task, make your morning shower more efficient, and speed up this or that. And yet I know more discontented people than ever. When the pundits start messing with your morning shower, who wouldn’t be unhappy? It all begs the point, if being continually connected to a large group of people and having your life maximized for efficiency can’t deliver happiness, what’s missing? Some solo time, my friends.
Ester Schaler Buchholz, PhD, an outspoken advocate for solitude, in her 1997 book The Call of Solitude writes: “We live in a society that worships independence yet deeply fears alienation. The earth’s population has doubled since the 1950s and in cities across the world, urban crowding and the new global economy have revolutionized social relationships. Cellular phones now extend the domain of the workplace into every part of our lives; religion no longer provides a place for quiet retreat but instead offers “megachurches” of social and secular amusement; and climbers on top of Mt. McKinley whip out hand-held radios to call home. We are heading toward a time when, according to the New York Times,” portable phones, pagers, and data transmission devices of every sort will keep us terminally in touch.” Yet in another more profound way, we are terminally out of touch. The need for genuine and constructive aloneness has gotten utterly lost, and in the process, so have we.”
Solo road trips (SRT) strike fear in the heart of many. Either the brain conjures up “solitary confinement” and goes downhill from there or the thought of a road trip disgorges memories of the family sedan and their Dad’s mission to see America at 55 mph. But it’s not about getting away, it’s about going somewhere….with yourself. I read an article on solo travel that recommended spending some time on a psychological sofa before heading out on a solo road trip. I beg to differ. The trip IS the psychological sofa. And there’s no astronomical hourly billing attached. It’s liberating, empowering, rejuvenating. Yet as good as that sounds, most people have NEVER taken one. Friends can face down a room of professionals in a board room, or the crush of orders coming in for burgers and fries at high noon, but they can’t face the prospect of being alone.
Let’s debunk a myth right off the bat about solo travel. There are those who believe the only experiences that really matter are those you share with someone else. Pifel! That’s my mother’s favorite exclamatory word and provides a more politically correct substitute for my favorite words: bullshit, crap, crapola, and whatacrock. If you asked these people in a question format “do you believe the only experiences that really matter are….” they would likely say “no.” But my SRTs have become a curiosity, and with that I’ve become a curiosity. So I hear feedback about them and I can tell you a lot of it is negative and without any ability to relate. Why? Because deep down they believe the myth and they can’t relate to those of us who don’t. My husband’s family is so unable to relate to my road trips without him, they can’t even talk about them. Upon my return last fall from 9 days on the open road, a best friend called and said “Okay, it’s just not right you wanting to have all that fun to yourself, and I demand to go with you on the next one.” Judy. Then it wouldn’t be a SOLO road trip. The concept is beyond her; fun should be shared.
Now that we’ve covered the touchy-feely side of solo travel, let’s talk about the practicalities, most of which revolve around safety. Until 2007 my solo road trips were taken in a 1994 Mazda MX-6. No 4-wheel drive, no GPS, no OnStar, no AAA membership, and just enough clearance to not be a turtle killer. And I had a fantastic time, no matter what happened, and a lot happened.
- The single most important component: your mindset. Make sure you’re ready to consider everything that happens part of the adventure.
- If you can afford it, purchase a AAA membership.
- Inform close friends and family you’re leaving and what general direction you’re headed. Yea you’ll have to hear all the crap about it, and listen to your Mom tell you not to sleep in your car, but do it anyway.
- Designate one person as your daily contact (and tell the others who that person is). Make that call once a day, without neglect.
- Purchase a recent Atlas.
- Pack a warm blanket in the car, heavy duty gloves, a rain jacket, jumper cables, ice scrapper, a pair of boots, and all the tools required to change a flat. Make sure you’ve got a good spare.
- Have the oil changed, tires and basic fluid levels checked.
- Place a first aid kit in the vehicle.
- Never allow your fuel to go below ½ tank.
- Know the territory you’ll be in. If hiking, know the rules, the dangers (are there bears in the area, snakes, etc.) and be prepared for those. If you don’t know, don’t go. Actually, unless you’re familiar with survival techniques, I’d caution against going into any backcountry situation alone. With quite a bit of experience under my belt and some near misses (a run-in with a full grown mountain lion comes to mind), I now avoid most wilderness situations unless I’ve someone accompanying me.
- If you have any alcohol to drink, drink it after you’ve checked into your lodging for the night. Besides not wanting to drink and drive, you’ll also have all your capacities and wit about you during the time you’re out and about.
- Take both a car charger and a wall charger for your cell phone, and keep it charged.
My own rules: No fast food. I pack sandwich fixin’s, snacks and drinks in an ice chest before I leave home.
And I limit major highway travel. I’ve seen few things of note at 75 mph. But if you’re contemplating your first SRT and you’d feel better staying on major freeways, then do it! You’ll get all the benefits of solo travel and you’ll feel safe (VERY important).
Get out there!