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5 Lessons From 3 Months of Travel

by RJ about a month ago in travel advice

Stories from my Journal

5 Lessons From 3 Months of Travel
Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

We haven't spoken in months. I thought I had nothing to tell you. But, to be honest, I haven't written much of anything. I'm only writing this because I forced myself. I arranged all the conditions to conduce a “creative environment.”

I'm sitting next to the door at my local laundry mat, the warm but not hot summer air occasionally wafting by, illuminating the scent of detergent in the small building. Across from me, my clothes are tumbling in circles in the dryer. The rhythmic noise helps me keep my pen moving. I'm using pen and paper to feel the connection. I'm not letting myself stop in fear I won't return to it.

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There's a lot I haven't told you. Over the past three months, I've seen the sun crest over the California valley, the ocean lapping at the Oregon coast, and a canyon of molten lava- at least the remnants of one. I traveled from coast to coast, and though I wasn't writing, I did journal about my travels. Maybe through my scrambled thoughts and stories, you'll find a laugh or a lesson or two.

1. The Bad Days Become Funny Memories, and the Good Becomes Great.

On the first day of our trip, we left at about 3 am. Things were going smoothly until my girlfriend started to note a strange smell in the car. I shook it off, saying it was probably the farms nearby. Yet the scent lingered, so my girlfriend investigated and found that one of our cats, Summer, had defecated and urinated all over herself and the playpen. Unfortunately, we couldn't remedy the situation until we reached a stopping point, and as we pulled into our campsite, it was getting unbearable.

When we opened the flap of our cat's playpen, Summer ran out and started sprinting frantically around the car. My girlfriend and I took turns trying to coax her into relaxing enough for us to clean her off. We both gagged throughout the process, taking breaks outside the car for fresh air. We had to make trips to and from the bathroom with little supplies beyond pet wipes to get her clean enough to be comfortable. Did I mention our other cat was traumatized from the whole experience and crying the entire time?

After we got the tent set up, it started to rain, so we all collected in the tent and huddled together to avoid the cold. Eventually, water found a way through our tarp and tent, causing it to pool in the corners and get our bedding wet. Throughout the night, the cats cried, and so did we, it was my first time sleeping damp, and I can say I do not recommend it. But now we look back and laugh.

The bad days become the funniest memories and the small good moments became my favorite of the trip. When I look back, I see my girlfriend passed out in the passenger seat. I think about the perfect song that played at the ideal moment. I think about sunrises and sunsets—the feeling of the cool sheets after sliding into bed for the first time. I don't think about minor inconveniences and little things that didn't go my way.

2. Rest Every Chance you Get.

After traveling down the California coast, we made it to our first stop at a friend's ranch in Vale, Arizona. The ranch seemed misplaced, splattered between a suburb neighborhood and desert on all sides. Nevertheless, it was beautiful, similar to an oasis in a changing world. Minutes down the road, there was a National Park that homed cacti over a hundred years old.

While staying at the ranch, watching the sunset became a regular ritual of mine. The birds and bunnies all collected under the orange glow to enjoy the cooler weather and pick at the food set out for them. If I sat silently enough, the hummingbirds would appear above head, nipping at the dangling feeders.

I gained an appreciation for the simple life. I spent hours under trees in the afternoon. If not there, I could be found speaking to the owner's horse, Dan. He was an old riding horse whose glory days had long passed, but he still got excited for a sugar cube or a handful of hay.

At night we exchanged stories and smoked at an old picnic table in the yard. Our host told us about being mistaken for a killer and the fear he felt when the cop leaned over the hood of his vehicle, shotgun drawn.

He had a smooth Matthew McConaughey-like southern tone that relaxed you and pulled you into his words. He told us about riding 90 miles a day by bike and spoke about the kindness of strangers. He told us that anyone he met always tried to help him out on the road.

At the end of the night, he left us with the advice to rest every chance we got. And to embrace change.

The following morning we were off again; while we drove past the new cluster of retail stores, I wondered how long places like our friend's ranch would be around.

3. Prepare (Without) Obsessing

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Months leading up to our departure, we did our best to prepare for being on the road. We bought a vehicle, checked the tires, and did a general tune-up. We bought sedatives for our cats to help them relax and ease the stress of travel. We tried our best to account for every issue that may arise, and still, things went wrong.

I realized that you could never be completely prepared for life. It's more about trying your best and learning to roll with the punches as they're thrown. You can't account for everything, and something will always slip through the cracks. So save yourself the mental anguish because you'll never understand things as clearly as you will after they occur.

4. The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side.

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Before we left Portland, I was miserable there. But now that I'm back in my hometown to finish my degree, I see the issues I glossed over when considering moving back. I find myself longing for walks throughout the city, for the noises and smells. I have plans to return to Rose city one day, with more resources and vigor.

I want so badly to find where I feel at home. In Portland, I had anonymity. No one had an idea of me they expected me to stick to. I felt free creatively and personally to grow into something new. While back home with the people I grew up with, I feel the pressure to be the RJ they know and are used to. No matter where I go, I'll struggle with one thing or another, but I always find myself glamorizing the place I left, continually searching for something better. If you can, I advise you to find the good around you. And appreciate where you're at, even if there are things you wish were different.

5. The World is Bigger than you Think.

Traveling has colored my perspective. I saw signs in Memphis that let customers know there had been too many robberies and the businesses had to reduce their hours. Some businesses in Portland refused to allow law enforcement inside.

In Pikeville, Tennesse, I was one of the only black people in the city; that experience comes with new emotions and desires. I know I need people who look like me; I need my people's culture to feel safe.

I've compared food from state to state and heard their people's stories. It stretched what I knew was possible and made me grow. It's easy to stay stagnant, never leaving for fear that you won't have enough or because of the desire to have more. But if not now, when? Make the mistakes, go on adventures, grow and become a better human now. The timing will never be perfect, and everything will never align; why wait?

Document Your Life

Life comes at you quickly in brief vibrant synapses that leave as soon as they arrive. Memories are a gamble, but documenting your life can give you a wellspring of nostalgia and happiness. I love looking back at old pictures even if I'm glaring at the camera or maybe don't look my best. It's so interesting and yet cripplingly cringy sometimes.

I wouldn't have the details of the stories I told today so vivid in my mind if they weren't on pages in my journal. It helps you see your progression, and gives you a way to glance into the past. When I'm stuck in a rut my journal helps to remind me what habits I have and what I was doing when I felt better. It helps me reset and keeps me aligned with who I am at my core. Document your experience for yourself and for others, I hope you got something out of mine.

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Hi,

One last thing.

It can be impossible to earn a living as a writer by reads alone, if you liked what you read, please consider leaving a like or if you really enjoyed it, a small tip.

It means more than you know, thank you!

Talk to you soon,

RJ.

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travel advice

RJ

Aspiring storyteller, and sometimes other things

Find me on Instagram at @awriterwhodraws

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