Somewhere between the silence and the dull brass landscape of a desolate stretch of highway in southern Wyoming, it suddenly struck me: I’m actually enjoying this.
We’d been on the road for five days, the “we” in question being me and my oldest brother G*, who’d agreed to join me on a cross-country road trip when I moved to Seattle.
A few months earlier, over pancakes and bacon and coffee the morning following the funeral of a cousin who’d died way too young, my two older brothers and I reminisced about her life and our own childhood while lamenting the fact that we weren’t as close as we’d like to be. As a step toward cementing our filial bond, I invited them both to join me on my cross-country roadtrip when I moved west.
The invitation was part intent, part politeness; I wasn’t expecting either one to take a week off from work to cram themselves into a small car and drive for thousands of miles across America. I hardly imagined that three months later, I’d pick up G from the airport to begin our journey.
We drove from New Jersey through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, and Oregon to Washington. We ate our way across the United States—boy, did we eat!—sampling deep dish pizza in Chicago, bison burgers near Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, and green tea tiramisu in Seattle. We took pictures of the stunning Pittsburgh nightscape (who knew?) and the rugged, barren beauty of the Badlands. We laughed so hard about everything from mimsy front desk clerks in Salt Lake City to cliff-dwelling cows in northern California, I felt lightheaded with intoxicating joy.
I was having a blast.
It was somewhere in Wyoming, where the desolate landscape might have claimed our collective sanity but instead only served to strengthen our resolve to press forward, that questions began to creep in.
Was I too blindly committed to solo travel?
I know why I like to travel solo. I’m a private person who guards her personal space like Fort Knox. I bristle at the idea of small talk. I’m insanely independent. At the end of day, I like having the freedom to come and go or stay as long as I want because it’s only when I travel that I feel like my time is really, truly mine.
Five days in and this road trip with my brother was changing EVERYTHING. Was it truly possible for me to have a satisfying travel experience with someone else?
Apparently, it was.
It turns out my brother and I are a lot more alike than I realized. We both innately understood how to respect each other’s boundaries. There were stretches of road when neither of us felt the need to speak for conversation’s sake. Both avid enthusiasts of photography and food, we shared an unspoken mutual understanding about stopping to capture the stunning landscape or sampling the food each city had to offer.
Forty-five hundred miles, 14 states, and nine days after departing New Jersey, our joint journey now ranks solidly as one of my favorite experiences EVER.
Was it enough to get me to permanently trade in my solo travel card? Heck, no.
In spite of the amazing time I had driving across America with my brother (and rediscovering how awesome he is in the process), solo travel enables me to detach from the responsibilities and restrictions of life and carve out time to be at one, and at peace, with myself.
Traveling alone is for me, less about traditional enjoyment and a “good time” than about engaging and reconnecting with who I am at the core without any input or interference from anyone else. Those moments of self-discovery have become invaluable touchstones in the often chaotic machinery of my life and I wouldn’t exchange them for anything.
So while I’ll admit I’m a bit more open to traveling with other like-minded family and friends, I’ll always come back to solo travel. Always.
*Names have been abbreviated to protect the innocent.