While I’ve only lived the nomadic life for two months, I’ve learned many lessons while on the road. I follow a lot of travel accounts on social media for inspiration and find most, myself included, usually only show a highlight reel of our experiences. Realistically, however, living out of a 40 square-foot box demands some sacrifices, both materially and existentially.
When you’re on the road you learn to rearrange your idea of time and daily schedules. Instead of working hard during the day, you play, but always with the nagging question of where you are going to lay your head that night. Planning your next move is never out of your mind, and you’ll stress about whether or not you will feel confident in your parking spot or wake up multiple times in the night, subconsciously wondering if where you’ve chosen is safe.
You’ll live in clothes you’ve spent the last four or more days in, brush grime through your hair after not washing it for days, and teach yourself to pee in a milk jug because you can’t squat outside at the Wal-Mart. You’ll crawl into bed at night, not necessarily clean, but happy and proud you’ve made it another day doing exactly what you wanted to do.
You’ll learn to strike up conversations with fellow travelers or those you meet at a bar, but always keep your essential facts hidden. You won’t share where you’re headed or where you’ll camp or whether or not you do in fact have a man along for the ride who is “busy” at the moment. You’ll learn to check behind you when leaving any building and watch to see if you are being followed. You’ll feel paranoid, but realize you would much rather be safe than sorry and, sadly, trust can lead to despair quickly in parts unknown.
You’ll learn to use the pronoun “we” instead of “I” because traveling as a woman alone offers a perception of weakness or potential advantage to those with malign intentions. You’ll find that most of the people you spark up conversations with on the trail are solo traveling men and realize that you have yet to meet a woman on her own doing the same as you. In talking to these men, you’ll find that they rarely consider their safety and usually don’t check behind them as they walk across dark parking lots or question whether they should slip a key between their fingers, next to the knuckles, as they return to their vehicle after the sun has set. They don’t usually hear, “I couldn’t imagine doing something like that, all alone,” from people they meet since traveling alone as a man is more understood.
You’ll learn to be confident, or at the very least project confidence, even when you don’t have a clue what you are doing because looking weak and unknowledgeable is one of the quickest paths to victimhood. Not that asking for help isn’t necessary, but you will only seek it in times of dire distress. You’ll learn to judge others, usually skeptically, because trusting someone and being wrong isn’t worth the risk. You’ll learn to rely on yourself while still seeking companionship, as long as it’s on your terms.
You’ll realize the skepticism you have of people may be counter to the way you usually live life, but now you do it out of self-protection. Most of the people you’ll encounter you probably won’t see again, so you meter the energy you have for social interactions. You will meet amazing people on the road, but many will remain friends only in that isolated time and space.
You’ll learn that a wary outlook is nothing compared to the payoff you will receive. You’ll develop a sense of confidence and satisfaction after traveling 10,000 miles into foreign territory, alone. You’ll remember the many moments when the combination of beautiful sights, exciting new places, and utter contentment with your choices made you want to cry. You’ll remember how excited the small things, like a free shower, a hot meal after weeks of sandwiches, and scoring free parking, made you feel.
You’ll be reminded daily that you don’t have to do anything other than what you want, empowering you in a culture that seems to constantly place shame on those who aren’t working hard enough for someone else or maintaining themselves to others’ standards. You’ll learn that the life you lived before was fulfilling, but not fulfilled.
You’ll wonder what it will be like to go back to “normal” life. Maybe you’ll start planning how to ensure your normal life looks more like your life on the road because even with its gritty underbelly, it was a life worth living.