How a Cross-Country Road Trip Helped Me With My Identity Crisis

[Originally published here at ValleyMagazinePSU.com on September 2, 2015]

When I woke up on the morning of May 13th, 2015, I felt normal. I was the same person I’d been for a while. I still slept with a light on and I still considered Where the Red Fern Grows my favorite book and I still hated mashed potatoes. Everything was normal. I was at my parents’ house though and all was strangely quiet – normally it’s total chaos before we leave for a big trip, or any trip at all really.

On May 13th, 2015, I packed my things into a small duffle bag and an even smaller rollable suitcase and hit the road for 38 days. In those 38 days, we (my mom, my aunt, my childhood best friend, and I) saw 27 different states, spent roughly 48 hours on trains, drove over 8,000 miles in our rental car, and only managed to get pulled over once. I read more than eight different novels on my journey, wrote in my diary everyday, and listened to Opus Orange’s album Mile… Mile and a Half more than 500 times from start to finish. I did all the things I would normally do, but on the road. Yet when I came back June 19th, I was different.

Turns out, taking your normal routine and habits on the road doesn’t guarantee that you won’t have some pivotal epiphany about yourself and your life. It was slow and nearly undetectable but it hit me like a brick wall when I returned to Central Pennsylvania — I know who I am because of my 38-day road trip across America.

1. Isolation

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Photo by Madison Lippincott

Nothing instigates self-reflection quite like being cut off from the rest of the world. Nowadays, everyone (myself included) is completely absorbed with the internet – surfing it, being on it, referencing it. It doesn’t seem like you can even talk about much anymore without being “in the know” about the latest internet craze.

I, myself, struggle with an internet addiction and the first few signal-less deserts we drove through were some kind of painful. But after a week or two, I started making use of the time I’d usually spend on my phone by keeping a journal. As it turns out, documenting your thoughts and feelings really helps keep everything in check and allows you to look back and reflect. When you’re sucked into your phone and you’re constantly exposed to posts and likes and retweets, it’s hard to come to terms with things that you’re thinking and feeling.

As for face-to-face encounters, it’s also healthy to get away from the people you see every day every once in a while. It may not be apparent right now but the people around you are constantly influencing you and, consciously and subconsciously, the choices you make. It’s good to have some time to make your own choices (and mistakes).

 2. Exposure

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Photo by Madison Lippincott

Constant exposure to your phone can be bad when you’re roadtripping – just think of all the sights and interactions you’re missing out on when you have a screen to your face. Most other kinds of exposure you’ll find on a road trip, however, are great. You’re exposed to so many different towns, cities, back roads, boonies, what have you, and no two are exactly alike. Los Angeles had something completely different to offer me than San Antonio, Texas. City or desert or vineyard countryside, every single stop along the way had a completely different takeaway.

You’d think that because America is this united front to the rest of the world that most of its land would have an abundance of the same thing to offer. Quite the contrary. Seeing the West coast and the deserts of the south west and the redwoods of Washington was truly humbling. Not only are we a part of something bigger, we’re part of something beautiful.

3. Family Business

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Photo by Madison Lippincott

Be it your parents, your childhood best friend, a significant other, or your pet chinchilla, if they’re willing to spend 38 days cramped in a car with you, it means you’re something of worth.

Sure, was the whole thing a smooth ride? Pun intended, but no. It was not. There were fights and there were tears and there were sleepless nights, but we never turned around because you don’t turn back on people you care about. While having some alone time is going for exploring who you are and who you want to grow into, it’s important that the important people in your life have some

4. Schedule

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Photo by Madison Lippincott

Have I mentioned yet that I’m not a morning person? For the 38 days that I was out and about around the country, we were on a strict eat, sleep, and drive schedule. And we had to me! As much as it sucked to wake up before 7 a.m. on most days, it was necessary in order for us to see and do everything we possibly could. Not a moment of the entire trip was wasted. Once I got acclimated, I was energized and roaring to go. I was clear-headed and was focused on more than when I’d be able to squeeze in a nap.

It’s no secret that college is tough on your schedule. You’re staying up late most days for one reason or another and you’re eating what’s cheap. It’s hard to figure out who you want to be when you’re groggy and constantly lagging from lack of sleep.

5. Less Stress = More Fun

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Photo by Madison Lippincott

The final and most crucial part to finding myself on the road across America was the ability to just let loose and have a good time. I didn’t have to worry about tests or work or student loans, nothing except what kind of margarita I want with my dinner. When you have time to relax, breathe, and let your thoughts flow, it’s infinitely more easy to sort out who you want to be and who you don’t.

Plus, if you take some time to have fun, you’ll discover all kinds of hobbies and likes you never even knew you had while you were stressing about your daily life.

So when it comes down to it, sometimes you just need to get away from everything to find the person deep down inside you that’s been there the whole time. Your environment and your circumstances are crucial to your personal growth and immersing yourself in different cultures and routines can give you a perspective you’ll never find if you stay in your comfort zone. Go out and learn to love things and hate things, find places you’ll visit again or swear off for the rest of your life, learn things about what’s in and around you. You never know who you can be until you put the effort in to try to figure it out.

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