Imagine driving 80 miles per hour on a small country road with no place to be, no other cars in sight, and no cell phone reception. Only you, your heartbeat, a kickass playlist, and the road.
I can't think of a moment when I've experienced freedom more intensely than on my solo road trip from Kansas City, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
That's 764 miles, or 11 hours and 42 minutes of mind-expanding freedom.
When I left my New York home and possessions behind to travel the world for 16 months, my head was filled with all kinds of ideas of how it would look like. Yes, I had the intention to go into it open-minded, but let's be real: it's impossible to stop a human brain from creating stories and expectations.
I'm now 3 weeks into this adventure, and so far it's been nothing like I have imagined.
I'm very excited to share 7 things I've learned so far with you.
I've come to these conclusions while traveling, but they're just as applicable to everyday life.
If you're like me (and about 95% of all people), you're going to pack way more than you need. I have a suggestion for you: leave all the "just in case" things behind. The stress of having to open and reshuffle your luggage filled with personal items in front of the whole airport is not a pleasant experience. I ended up checking in two bags instead of one, all because I couldn't let go of the two books I'm going to read one day, the extra pair of jeans I couldn't live without, and a few other things that I could live without.
Pack one item from each category instead of stocking up on "extras". That goes for clothes, beauty, and personal items. Trust me, it's going to be enough. Especially since you're likely to acquire more things as you travel [who knew that Kansas City would be such a hipster shopping mecca?!]
2. OPEN MIND
When traveling, you're going to meet a lot of people there are not like you. The key to growth and a sense of connection is coming into every interaction with an open mind. I would have never thought that I'd have some of the most interesting conversations and have the best bread I've ever had Gallup, a 22,000-people town in the middle of New Mexico.
The owner of Silver Stallion Coffee & Bread Scott shared about his journey from an international professional cyclist to a coffees shop owner, and his wife, who's a midwife on an Indian reservation, told me about the state of Native American culture. Oh, and she used to live 3 blocks away from me in New York!
Surprises always await. You don't have to travel far to find them – try going to a new coffee shop at least once every week and striking a conversation with a stranger. You'll be amazed how much you can learn about the world and yourself.
Do you know that feeling when everything comes together effortlessly, in the most joyful way possible? Welcome to "the flow". That's how I feel anytime I'm on a plane, train or in anything else that takes me out of my routine.
According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, "flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity."
Flow is where the magic happens. It's the unknown. It takes courage to let go of our need to know everything, but the reward is bigger than you could have ever imagined.
You can't enter the spectacular state of flow unless you learn how to trust. Trust was a big lesson when I showed up at the car rental place after it closed [how could a New Yorker have even considered that a Hertz office can close at noon?!].
Unconditional trust was what I turned to tar when I didn't know where I'd sleep. FYI, I ended up booking a last-minute AirBnb, with alpacas playing outside my window, a firewood-powered hot tub session under the stars and homemade kombucha in my hands.
The key to achieving the flow is releasing expectations and trusting that everything will unfold in the best way possible, even when things make absolutely no logical sense.
5. WORK/LIFE BALANCE
The main reason I decided to be a nomad is the realization that my creativity, productivity, and sense of fulfillment all increase when I travel and work at the same time.
Instead of working the usual 9-5, I now work in increments. I wake up and do what I feel like: take yoga classes, explore local coffee shops, or go for a hike. I may drive for a couple of hours, then Yelp a coffee shop and settle in to get work done for a few hours.
The result is that there is no longer a separation between my "work" persona and my "life" persona.
I no longer felt the heavy "UGH!" when I receive a work-related text while sunbathing on the beach. Instead, I head to a coffee shop, take care of business, and then return to my own adventures.
When you're traveling on a budget and staying with friends, you have to learn how to give your ego a break and be more mindful of other people. Things are no longer going to be your way all the time. I had to adjust to my friends' schedules and learn their way of making coffee and drying dishes.
As a result, I've become more flexible, mindful, and less attached to my way of doing things. That has created space to focus on things that are more important than my attachment to my daily habits.
To succeed in living with another human being – whether it's a host, a roommate, or a partner – communication is key. Take, for example, my friend Abbi in Kansas City – she can't stand it when jars are dried upside down – according to her, it results in a stinky smell. Instead of correcting my task every time, she just communicated her preference once, and that was it. No hard feelings attached, just a kind, straight forward request.
Communication is just as important, if not more, when you're traveling (especially road tripping!) with someone. Instead of creating room for resentment with misunderstood jokes, if something bothers you, say it right away. Speak your authentic truth without defending yourself or attacking the other person, and you've mastered the whole relationship thing.
p.s. Kansas City sunsets are the bomb.