Five ways to plan and execute successful solo traveling in America

So, you want to travel. Your closest cronies are all locked into unavoidable obligations that prevent them from tagging along, but a lack of co-pilot candidates shouldn’t deter your adventurous ambitions. Solo travel is a great way to explore the country, and you’re guaranteed to experience life-changing places and people throughout the journey.

During September 2011, I embarked on my own solo road trip. My adventures in solitude took me to the peaceful mountains of western North Carolina, the unfamiliar streets of Kansas City, the sprawling flat lands of middle America, cities that I would eventually move to, and even back to my balmy hometown of Miami. Armed with the knowledge obtained during my travels, I want to share some insights to, hopefully, inspire others to pursue road tripping alone.

#1 BUY A MAP. The first step for any modern road warrior lets technology take a backseat for a moment – there is nothing more tangible or exciting than flipping through the pages of a map or road atlas. Although I have many reasonably sized atlases and region-specific foldout maps, my favorite road trip tool is the enormous, and horribly outdated, map I inherited from my father. While your GPS will inevitably take control as you navigate the country, keeping your map and a highlighter handy will prove to be an invaluable method of tracking your route. I like to use a different colored highlighter for each of my trips – it’s great to retrace paths you’ve already trodden, and thrilling to ink up a fresh section of map as you venture towards uncharted sights. Plus, it will become a handy visual for post-trip storytelling.

#2 PLAN (IN MODERATION). Now that you have your map and a noggin bursting with ideas, it’s time to start planning – but not too much. It is all too easy to spend weeks and months researching attractions, estimating distances, and anticipating all the wonderful things you want to see and do, but beware. Preparation is essential to any successful road trip, but over-planning confines your experiences. I learned that the best way to plan is to choose the destination, scope out a few options for places to rest your head, and keep up to date with local happenings. However, if there is a major attraction that you’ve been dying to visit, don’t hesitate to make a commitment. Leaving your campsite a few hours early in order to arrive at the next town in time for a once-a-decade festival is worth the planning. On the other hand, skipping town early for the sake of “sticking to the plan” isn’t worth missing out on an afternoon of hiking with those rowdy fellas you met at the bar last night.

#3 LET IT HAPPEN. The perks and downfalls of planning provide a perfect segue to this next issue: spontaneity. Your home life has probably accustomed you to certain habits, expectations, etc. Life on the road is an entirely different beast; things happen, whether you like it or not. Campsites and hotel rooms fill up, weather conditions change without warning, the only restaurant within a hundred miles might close for the night – and you must learn to roll with the punches. The successful solo traveler will view these obstacles as opportunities for alternative adventures, rather than road blocks. Arriving at a town with a grumbling belly and ‘closed’ signs on every cafe isn’t the end of the world; now is the perfect opportunity to head to a gas station, pick up some provisions, and cook a meal over a campfire – you were always curious about Spam and eggs anyways. Remember this: every misadventure makes for an excellent story.

#4 BE PREPARED. If you’re going to be rolling with the punches, you’ll need to prepare for what life on the road will throw at you. Traveling by car is my favorite way to explore, and if you take a peek in my glove box you’ll always find a stash of items I refuse to adventure without. I cannot express enough how important biodegradable wipies are. No, I’m not kidding. Travel is inherently dirty, and after four days without a shower, wiping yourself down will feel like a spa treatment. Other important items include a first aid kit, extra water, plastic bags, flashlights/headlamps, emergency snacks, a small towel, and my father’s favorite, pepper spray. Paranoia has no place in the solo traveler’s mind, but keeping defensive protection at hand will always provide peace of mind.

#5 GO. No amount of research, planning, not planning, budgeting, packing, pepper spray purchasing, or calendar countdowns can properly prepare you for what lies ahead – you simply must go. You will forget your wool socks, you’ll leave without running that important errand – it’s inevitable, and as #3 dictates, you must just let it happen. Now you’ll just have to buy a new pair of wool socks in the Rockies (a perfect and practical souvenir), and perhaps you’ll have to pick up a small trinket to mail back to whoever ends up running that errand for you. The hours leading up to your departure will surely leave you with a gray hair or two, but as soon as you leave city limits and begin your solo journey, you will feel an exhilaration unlike any other. When weather gets nasty, go. When the vagabonding girls you share a hostel room with invite you to ditch your plans and travel to the desert with them, go. When you become bored, go. When you are homesick, keep going. You’ll find that once you finally settle back home, you’ll be filled with a longing to go.

Solo travel is a beautiful and complicated task. It involves an appreciation for solitude, an openness to befriend and trust strangers, and an unwavering determination to experience. Throughout my own solo trip, I collected a lifetime’s worth of memories. I’ve chased trains down the barren highways in New Mexico, picked apples in North Carolina orchards, built my own fire in the woods of Kentucky, shared wine with eighty-year-old women who journeyed along the same routes, and became an entirely different person than who I was when I first packed up my car and hit the road.

But I am not special, nor am I extraordinary in any way. Anyone can do this. You simply must go.

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Take me back to the mountains!

My To-Do list has reached a damning level of ridiculousness, but all the writing, studying and working will be worth it at 1:00 PM tomorrow, when I will make my return to my proper habitat in the mountains. I’ll be spending a glorious weekend in the boulder fields at Horse Pens 40, in Steele, Alabama. Sleeping under the stars with Niko, tearing my fingertips apart on rocks, photographing the foliage and breathing crisp mountain air – can’t I just leave now?

For many Climbing Club members, this will be their first excursion on a climbing trip. As a veteran who distinctly remembers my unprepared first trip, I wanted to share some insights and advice about packing, what to expect and more. There’s the obvious stuff, like bringing a tent, sleeping bag, refillable water bottle and camp-friendly food. There is also the less obvious information, such as striving to minimalize and making sure you bring a roll of tape for your soon-to-be wrecked fingers.

Packing: In terms of camping, you need to ensure you have all of the above mentioned items, and I highly suggest investing in a headlamp. Not only is this beneficial for night climbing, you’ll find it endlessly useful when your bladder needs unloading in the middle of the night. Cookware and food are also important – don’t forget utensils. Ideas for camping food includes granola bars, bagels with Nutella, apples, pasta and packaged meals that only require hot water.

Climbing: There are a few essential things that every climber needs to remember: your climbing shoes, chalk bag, crash pads, tape and comfortable shoes for the hike to the boulders. A pair of shoes you can easily slip on and off will be best for when you’re moving between boulder areas – on my first trip to LRC, I brought annoying sneakers  that required constant lacing and unlacing, and it drove me nuts. Also, be sure to bring a small backpack that you can shove your gear, snacks and whatever else into while you’re out exploring the area.

Weather: The forecast for the weekend is showing lows in the mid-40s to low-50s and highs around 82. This means you’ll be bundling up at night, and stripping down during the day, so plan accordingly. Trust me, 82 might seem pleasant, but after a few hours of climbing you’ll feel like you’re baking in a sauna. Bring shorts!

General Advice: Before you leave, charge your camera and your phone! This is the wilderness, baby, ain’t no plugs where you’re going. Don’t bother doing laundry before the trip, being smelly and dirty is a glorious part of being a climber. If you’re finished packing, go back to your bag and get rid of half of the stuff you think you need. You’ll probably end up wearing the same shirt the entire weekend; no need to bring more than two. Respect nature. Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints. We are blessed to be able to climb at HP40, and we should show our gratitude by honoring nature.

Friends, readers, fellow climbers – prepare yourselves for my return on Sunday, when I shall be regaling you with tales of my weekend adventures. Story time shall be accompanied by photos, naturally. I am indescribably excited for my hooded jacket to come back to Tallahassee reeking of campfire. Horse Pens 40 is also hosting their annual Pumpkin Motorcycle Rally this weekend, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be loaded with entertaining anecdotes.

The Morning Fresh will be on hiatus this weekend, as I will be gladly disconnected from all technology while I crush some rocks.

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Life Lessons at The Red Caboose

Since the days of my disdain for older people, I have grown to have a deep appreciation for the insight and experiences that my parents, professors and older peers can provide. Yesterday, I was privileged to meet up with my human rights professor, Ray Ruggerio, for a long afternoon spent sharing stories while sipping on iced tea outside of StarSea’s famous red caboose in Railroad Square. There are only a small handful of teachers that have had as strong an impression as Ray has on my academic and personal outlooks. His tales of worldly travels, advice on academic pursuits and general outlook on life are truly inspiring.

I was blessed to be Ray’s student for three years, studying the realm of human rights. With his guidance, I produced my proudest work: a twenty page research piece entitled “Genocide of Homosexuals in the Holocaust.” I worked on that paper for more than two years, and with Ray’s help it evolved into a true example of my academic success.

Anyways, I wanted to share some of the greatest bits of wisdom that I gained during my three hour lunch with Ray. Some of these are directly from his words, and others are thoughts that I developed while basking in the Tallahassee breeze with my adored professor. (And one occasion that occurred on my way home.) These are words to live by, ideas to base your lifestyle around.

  • Measure your life in threes. This was the easily best bit of wisdom that Ray shared with me. Think about it, your life is hardly measurable on a yearly-basis, but counting by threes really makes sense. For instance, I am entering my next life cycle in a month when I turn 22. This clicked for me, because I am undoubtedly at a point in my life where I see major shifts in priorities, passions and opinions. Celebrate birthdays, but measure by threes.
  • Always give more than you receive. In fact, don’t think about receiving at all. If it happens, great – if it doesn’t, continue to give. The moment a relationship becomes about getting rather than giving, the entire dynamic has changed.
  • Write a letter or note by hand. Perhaps only once a week, but get back into the habit of handwritten communication. Send your parents a simple note of love, write a ‘Thank You’ to someone who helped you, contact a long lost friend across the country. Our cyber-driven generation has lost appreciate for the art of snail mail.
  • Escape your materialism. This is something that I have been working on for a while. I began college consumed by notions of money and status, and I think that everyone will come to realize that paper currency does nothing for your soul. Surrounding yourself with materialistic foolishness blinds you from the natural glory that surrounds you. Maybe it’s just me, but hiking to the top of a mountain and watching the birds swoop down the cliff-side is vastly more satisfying than working forty hours to be able to afford a new piece of expensive material. The people that truly matter in your life won’t care about what you’re wearing, what you’re driving or what kind of house you live in. The quality of your spirit is what will make the difference.
  • Wave to little kids. On my way home from lunch, I was driving through a rough side of Frenchtown. I saw a group of little children approaching the sidewalk I was about to pass, and watched as their mothers yelled at them to slow down. As I cautiously drove past, the children began to wave at me with expectant smiles. I waved in return, and their beaming grins were an indication of how much my simple gesture meant to their innocent souls. Take time to appreciate little ones, and their untainted love for the world around them. Kids have the best spirits, and we could all learn a thing or two from their simple outlook on life.
  • Unplug to tune in. I plan on discussing this at great length in an upcoming post, but the basic concept is as follows: take out your ear puds, unplug your iPod, and tune into your surroundings. I used to trek across campus blasting my music and ignoring everything around me. One day, I left my headphones at home and was unwillingly forced to walk to class without my iPod. During my short journey, I realized how much I was missing out on when I tuned out. Birds are chirping, sorority girls are telling laughable anecdotes, and people are paying attention to what’s going on around them. Try it, I promise you’ll be impressed by the difference it makes when you unplug and tune in to the greatness surrounding you.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but you can bet that I’ll be back with loads of positive life lessons and positive ways of approaching the world. I wish I could share everything that I took away from the time I spent with Ray, but there are some amounts of wisdom that cannot be translated into words, but can only realized through experience. I bid you adieu, my loyal readers. Until next time, keep spreading the good vibes.

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