Traveling is an eye opener…in more ways than one. In addition to the sights, sounds and surprises that find you along the way, you’d be surprised how quickly you can learn in just the first couple of hours of being on the road. So no matter how prepared you think you are, you might want to think again.
In this post, I’ll share what’s caused me to think twice. First though, I want to let you know that I made it to my first destination: Columbia, South Carolina. And what a great time it is! But, before I recall the experiences this awesome southern city has offered me over the last few days, I want to take a step back and share with you a few of insights I’ve gained in just the first few hours of my first, open-ended road trip adventure.
You need more time. If you think you’ve allowed yourself enough time to prep and pack, you haven’t. Although the idea of journeying had been brewing for a year or more, I’ve been running through the logistics in my mind ever since. Before I left, I was fortunate to have almost three weeks of uninterrupted time to focus on closing out in Orlando. Ridding myself of most material possessions. Checking out of the house I was renting. Moving. Paying off any remaining balances on bills and utilities as well as preparing for my upcoming trip. I’m an intricate planner, live by to-do lists, do my best to schedule and anticipate as many eventualities as possible, but it didn’t prove to be enough.
Intending to leave at 8:00a.m. on a Monday, I found myself up extremely late the night before and running three hours behind the next day due to trivial to-do’s – things I was meant to do but just didn’t have the time. My miscalculation caused me to skip Savannah, Georgia, one of the first planned stops along the way, which brings me to my next point:
Flexibility is the ticket. Unless you’re away on business and have to literally schedule every meeting, meal, networking event and “must see,” I say stay fluid. I’m finding it’s helpful to have a rough sketch of where I want to go, what I want to do and when, but marrying yourself to an itinerary really only seems to impose limits and cause stress. That’s not what traveling is all about. So, out the window it went, and here are the realizations that took its place: Don’t over-plan and remember to take your time! Before you go, say your “goodbyes” and “see ya later(s)” over a meal (no matter how casual it may be) even if your timeline doesn’t allow for it. You’ll miss the people you’re leaving behind and having face time with them before you leave gives you something to remember and hold on to. Skip a stop along the way to provide more time (and consideration) for the people you are going to see – in-so-far you can come back and see it at a later time. Stop often and don’t rush along the way as long you stay in touch and keep your peeps up to date.
You won’t get to it all. Naturally, you’ll want to look into and plan the time you’re going to spend at your destination. Must sees, highlights, historical and natural landmarks are all very important in ensuring you get to experience the destination and everything it has to offer. If a week (plus or minus a few days) seems like plenty of time to do and see it all, it’s not. A few days can’t kill curiosity, but don’t sweat it. As I said before, stay flexible. The people you’re traveling with and those you’re going to see will want to contribute to your experience, and it’s important that you allow them to. I, personally, was flattered to see the care and concern my friends put into my time with them. More often than not, they’re right, and the list you made as an outsider was based on commercial interests (Food Network and Travel Channel) or other travelers’ reviews (TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google Local, etc.) who may or may not share the same interests and values as you. So, stay open to it all, and don’t be afraid to substitute one activity or point of interest for another. Chances are you won’t “miss out” and might just be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.
The other thing that will keep you from being the Energizer rabbit that keeps going and going and going is down time. Everyone needs it, but few pencil it in. By not allowing yourself to relax and just be, not only will you run yourself ragged, spend more than you may be able to afford, or worse, put things-to-do in the way of the personal connections you’re there to make. Seek to find the balance between entertainment and the human need to build relationships and just be. You (and hopefully those you’re visiting) will be grateful you did.
What can go wrong, will. It’s Murphy’s law. While I’m happy to report that nothing has gone “wrong” (yet), I anticipate something will. Things break and mishaps happen. It’s all a part of the journey, and it’s all good! As a traveler, it’s important to anticipate them but not let less-than-ideal situations cloud your perception or stand in the way of appreciating an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For me, my 2008 Mazda 3 is my one and only mode. With approximately 70,000 miles on it prior to my departure, I had it checked out before I headed out. The dealer gave it a “green light go” and said everything was perfect. It wasn’t. And although its not the mechanics fault, nor does it effect its running condition, no sooner did I get to Columbia and started running around town with my hosts – who I must say have not only accepted me as family but shown me Southern hospitality like I’ve never experienced before. Love you guys, really do! – the passenger-side door / lock mechanism broke. Now closed, the front right door will not open, but it’s no big deal. I could’ve worried, stressed and paid out the ass to have it fixed, but I didn’t…at least not yet. My mates will just have to play Dukes of Hazard by hopping in and out of the window or climbing across the console from the driver-side door. Worse things could have (and probably will) happen.
Yesterday (Thursday, July 11th) was testament to that. My Wanee music family and I were on our way to Charleston, South Carolina to eat, drink and beach our way through this quintessential coastal town. About three quarters of the way there, we hit heavy traffic and had to play “stop and go” for several miles. As we did, we noticed the car would not coast. Something was hindering the front right wheel from spinning freely. We could smell the brakes, and we could see smoke. So, we pulled over onto the shoulder, let it cool down and tried to loosen the caliper. No sooner did we stop; we were on our way. What was most telling (and an insightful embrace of the nature of exploring) was my friend’s – an experienced road tripper – post on Facebook: “It’s always an adventure.” And that’s exactly what it is. It’s just a matter of how you accept the unexpected.
Gas goes fast. This fact needs no explanation except to say that when you’re driving to and from work and running errands around town, a full tank seems sufficient. Locally, it may be, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little surprised by how fast gas goes and how little a full tank really is when you’re going the distance. Even with decent gas mileage (32 MPG highway), I burned through about one and half tanks just getting to my first port of call. Maybe it is the wind resistance caused by my mountain bike I’m toting on the back of my car?
Anyway, I’m just five days into my trip and feel like I’ve already learned more than I ever could in the “race” I used to run. I can’t wait to see what else comes to light along the way.
Have you learned a lesson you’d like to share? Please do. Just put it in a comment below. I thank you, in advance, as it will help prepare me for what might be next.