Learning to live in the moment

11,332 miles.

54 days.

25 states.

16 national parks.

Two tarantula encounters.

One fender bender.

Zero regrets.

… We’re back from our U.S. road trip!!!!!

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The “after” picture—all four of us (including the Subaru) made it back in one piece! Unfortunately, you can’t tell how extremely dirty everything and everyone is in this photo.

It was, in a word, a WHIRLWIND. After a couple of days basking in the simple pleasures of things like a real bed and a hot shower, I’m still processing everything that we experienced. I think I might be for a while yet. (Luckily we took eight billion pictures to help me remember it all.) But one thing I can confidently say is that we live in a giant, huge, stunningly beautiful, diverse, enormous country. (Did I mention how large it is?)

In less than two months, we experienced every type of weather that exists (multiple times). We drove through deserts and rainforests, through vast prairie lands and windy mountain passes and everything in between. Including alien landscapes that I don’t even have words for:

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I honestly never fully understood everything that this country has to offer us before this trip. Especially right now, at the end of the most contentious and cutthroat (dare I say nasty) election season ever, it can be hard to feel anything but anger and fear. So if you’re ever feeling discouraged or hopeless about the state of America, let me strongly suggest a trip to your nearest national park . Nothing will make your heart swell with awe and patriotic pride like walking up to this view:

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America the Beautiful is a HUGE understatement, y’all. We have a lot of problems to fix, but it is worth the effort.

Anyway…if you’re an astute reader, you might have noticed that I haven’t posted anything in more than a month. I have a LOT of stories to tell. But first, while everything is fresh in my memory, I wanted to share a few of the most important things I learned on this trip. If you’re planning a road trip anytime in the near future, here’s my biggest pieces of advice:

1. Pack carefully

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It’s some incomprehensible law of physics that the smaller the container, the easier it is to lose objects in it. (Anyone who has ever carried a purse understands what I’m talking about.) So when you’re living out of a car, packing strategically is key. And by strategically, I mean two things: compartmentalized and color-coded. Don’t get me wrong—this will not prevent you from yelling “WHERE THE %*#& IS MY _____ I JUST HAD IT IT WAS RIGHT HERE” at least once a day. But trust me, that’s a significant reduction from the 10 times a day you’d be yelling if all the cooking supplies weren’t confined to their own color-coded (or even better: color-coded AND see-through) bin. I might write a full post about packing for a road trip in the future, but for now, just know that making a trip to The Container Store and embracing your inner neat freak will be 100% worth it.

2. Bring a road atlas

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A few days before we left, I ordered this atlas on a whim (bless Amazon Prime two-day shipping). I thought it could be fun to trace our route on it, and I figured it would be a good backup for Google Maps if we lost cell service.

Turns out it was only the best impulse buy of my life. Anyone older than 35 is probably rolling their eyes at me right now, but you get SO MUCH MORE from a big paper map than you do from following the little blue line on Google Maps. Not only did it save us a couple of times on remote cell-service-less back roads, but it was really fun to mark our route on paper as a keepsake, it helped us find many a campsite/rest stop, and it gave us ideas for impromptu side trips and roadside attractions. Speaking of…

3. Always have a Plan B (and C….and D for good measure)

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Take this as literally or as metaphorically as you’d like: roads will be closed. Campsites will be full. The sun will be hovering directly behind the scene you’d been dreaming of photographing, making it impossible to get the shot you’d envisioned.

This is where it helps to have a backup plan. Now that it’s all said and done, a couple of our absolute FAVORITE spots were the places we saw only because what we had originally planned didn’t work out. Which brings me to…

4. Embrace spontaneity

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Great Sand Dunes National Park: an impromptu addition to our route, and one of our favorite parks of the whole trip.

When even the backup plans to your backup plans don’t work out, that’s when you have to just laugh and roll with it.

There is always a new route. There is always a different angle. “New” doesn’t necessarily mean better…but it does means possibility. It is a blank slate and an opportunity. Don’t waste it wishing for what could have been.

5. Prioritize right now 

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When the view in front of you looks like this, you need to stop paying attention to anything else and just soak it in.

Before we left on this trip, I imagined that we would have hours and hours of boring time in the car or hanging out at campsites, giving me plenty of opportunity to write lengthy blog posts sprinkled with beautifully edited photos.

This was naive. In the first couple of weeks of our trip, I was immediately surprised by how difficult it was to find time for blogging. Between figuring out where we were going to sleep that night, making notes in our atlas and my journal, and things like sleeping and eating, I had WAY less free time than I’d imagined. But still, I made time—ignoring the scenery out the window in order to write until I felt carsick, forgoing time by the campfire (or sleep) to keep up with my own arbitrary expectations.

Until one day, a few weeks in, when I  was feeling stressed and guilty at falling behind on my blogging—and I suddenly realized that my fixation on keeping up with my overly ambitious plans was keeping me from enjoying the incredible (and fleeting) experience that I had worked so hard for and dreamed about for years. Right then, I made the decision to put blogging on hold until we returned. It was a humbling realization for me, and a tough decision to let go of my expectations and focus on just being in the moment and appreciating it right then and there. It was so, so worth it.


So, with that said—I can’t wait to share everything with you all….in good time. But first, I have a dear friend’s wedding to celebrate and two months trekking in South America to prep for. So now I’m going to go take my own advice and go enjoy it. 🙂

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