“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” ~Buddha
I have this thing about road trips. I love them, can’t get enough of them. I could never step on another airplane for as long as I live and be perfectly fine with that—but I love having all the experiences that can only happen on the road.
Like my mom and I sleeping in our car in the parking lot of a closed motel on our way to Sedona, Arizona. We foolishly decided to forego the hotel strip outside of Phoenix and look for something more “quaint”—until, at three in the morning, we realized we were in the middle of nowhere and the quaintest thing around were saguaro cactuses.
There’s something wonderful about having the experience of arriving somewhere understanding exactly what it took to get there; understanding the land, the people, the culture, and the weather in a way you can’t experience flying.
There’s also something about exploring the winding roads of my own country that intrigues me.
The small differences and similarities are fascinating. Driving from Tahoe City and ending up, after three hours on the road, in a tiny, one-horse town in Nevada eating BBQ and drinking beer with cowboys—these experiences keep the mind fresh and life interesting.
I love that the secrets to successful road trips are the same as the secrets to a successful life:
1. Be prepared.
On the road: Make sure the car has gas and you bring a charged cell phone, a change of clothes, maps, water, maybe a snack, and your sense of adventure.
In life: Plan for the basics (food, water, safe shelter, social support) but also anticipate that things might happen unexpectedly. Do what you can to have money saved up, build strong connections with others who will help you if you need it, and develop the skills to look after yourself (assertiveness, emotional regulation skills, and boundary setting).
2. Be flexible.
On the road: Anything can happen and probably will. Save yourself some stress and don’t expect everything to happen exactly as you planned them. Remain flexible and open, and let the experiences in.
In life: The saying goes “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” By cultivating an open mind and heart, being aware of our own judgments and assumptions and working compassionately towards honesty and openness, we can learn to be flexible in any situation, no matter what.
3. Be nonjudgmental.
On the road: You will meet people you never thought existed (the Bush-loving cowboy, his Obama-loving fashionista wife, and their cute little Chihuahua, for example). To engage with anyone you meet, you’ll need to leave your judgments at the door. It’s easy to talk about being nonjudgmental, and hard to do it.
In life: Be compassionate with yourself for harboring judgments—we all do—but work to become aware of them and to let judgmental attitudes be a signal that you need to look at your own inner process.
4. Want to be where you are.
On the road: Road trips are about being open to new experiences—not getting somewhere. Throw out the schedule and just drive. Take that winding road that snakes around the hills because it looks beautiful, not because it takes you where you want to go. You won’t regret it, and there are always other roads to go on if that one disappoints.
In life: Cultivate deep acceptance and curiosity about where you are, rather than a drive to be somewhere else. Goals are good, but presence is just as important. Life happens now.
5. Keep a record.
On the road: Photos, journal entries, heck, even Facebook updates—memory is a fickle thing and we often only see our own progress when we trace it.
In life: A journal can help us realize both how much we’ve grown and the places where we’re still stagnant.
6. Pay attention.
On the road: Be present in the moment, because only then will you really experience it. The temperature, the feel of the air, the smells, the landscape, the buildings, the creatures you encounter, your own emotions and thoughts, the sense of movement. Don’t try to hold on, because you can’t, but let the experiences sink in.
In life: Let the good things that happen, even the small ones, sink in by sitting with the feelings of those moments for at least thirty seconds. This can actually change your brain chemistry and help your brain register good things more effectively.
7. Have a sense of humor.
On the road: Even when things are going badly, remember that someday you’ll be telling this story and laughing. It was irritating, at first, to be sleeping in a car in an empty motel parking lot—and even more irritating the next morning when the car wouldn’t start…that’s another story. But now we have something to laugh about with our friends and family.
In life: Even in the worst moments, remember that those hard feelings will pass and laughter will return. When there seems to be no humor anywhere, rent a funny movie or go to a comedy show. Laughter actually releases chemicals in the body that helps us heal, both physically and psychologically.
Photo by Moyan Brenn