So far, in addition to the friends and family I have left behind, most of the people I have met on my journey have told me how awesome they think this trip is. Strangers tell me how proud they are of me for having the courage to take it. People have commended my adventurous spirit and applauded my gall. Some have said I have gumption, which I love because it reminds me of that scene in The Holiday. Others have said this trip takes “some balls” to which I take offense, because obviously ovaries are the true purveyor of strength and awesomeness. Still others have expressed a desire to do something similar. There’s almost a hint of jealousy that I’m doing this crazy thing and they wish they could do it to. But before you quit your job and head out on your own epic adventure, let me slow you down for a second.
Let’s call it 50 States in 50 Weeks – A Reality Check:
So far, in the two weeks that I’ve been on the road I’ve spent two nights in my car. Overall, not bad. At least I have a car. I could have had to sleep outside. However, the second night in the car I woke up because I couldn’t feel my feet. I have pretty terrible circulation, so my feet are usually cold whenever it’s not summer, but I checked my phone. It was 34° F. In September. Oy. I’d planned on fall staying a bit longer and somehow toughing it out through the winter if I had to…yeah, that’s not gonna happen. I’m not sleeping in my car if it’s going to be that cold. I did survive, obviously, and could do it again, if I had to, I just don’t want to. That’s not what 50 States in 50 Weeks is about to me. It isn’t about pushing my boundaries and seeing how far I can go before I break. It’s about having fun. Doing the things I’ve always wanted to do and living in the moment because it’s all I have. It’s about taking a risk and devoting myself to my writing to see if writing is really what I want to do.
In an ideal world, I’d finish 50 States in 50 Weeks and turn my adventure into a book. Aside from the obvious title, The Kindness of Strangers, seems to be a mantra of this trip. I haven’t touched on it much yet, because I didn’t quite know how I wanted to handle the logistical portion of the trip. So far, I’ve settled for a By the Numbers post detailing the numerical logistics, but that’s it. However, without the kindness of strangers, I wouldn’t be here. If I’d spent the last two weeks sleeping in my car I would’ve done one of two things. Either, I would’ve given up and called the whole thing off, or, more likely, I would’ve sped up the trip and tried to have it done by Christmas. Thankfully though, through the kindness of strangers I’ve only had to spend two nights in the car so far. The kindness of strangers a very real thing for me. I have people I don’t know welcoming me into their homes on a daily basis, and it’s amazing. I’m meeting super awesome and cool and interesting people I never would have met otherwise. And I love it!
However, it’s not as easy as walking up to a stranger at the store and asking them to take me in, though I’ve considered doing so on more than one occasion. I spent three and a half hours on Couchsurfing requesting to stay with people in Massachusetts. Three and a half hours. Previously, I’d only been requesting one, maybe two people per night. Thus the sleeping in the car I did when someone didn’t get back to me and I didn’t have the time, or the internet access to request someone else.
Back in New Hampshire I met another surfer who was also traveling around the U.S.. She had been on the road for over a month and hadn’t spent a single night in her car. She said she sends out thirty or so requests per night with good old copy and paste. Unfortunately, that’s just not my style. I like to read about the people I’m staying with. By entering someone else’s home I’m being vulnerable. I won’t go just anywhere, only to have a roof over my head. At least, not yet. I only look at profiles of people who have at least two references (because that’s the number I started with when I began surfing again this year). I usually only look at people who are Accepting Guests as opposed to Maybe Accepting Guests, unless I’m looking in a place where my options are few and far between. I also look for a complete profile. I like to get a sense of a person to see if I’ll actually be able to hold a conversation when I get to their house or if I’ll be subjecting myself to an agonizing night of awkward.
Speaking of agonizing awkwardity, if you knew me in NYC, and perhaps at later times in life too, you probably know I really hate going new places. That may sound odd considering the venture I’m on, but it’s true. When I lived in the city and was freelancing, every single time I had to go to a new gig I couldn’t sleep the night before and had crazy, I-won’t-even-call-them-butterflies-because-that-makes-them-sound-pleasant, cramps in my stomach until I was like an hour or so into working. I’m not sure what it is about me, but I get crazy anxiety when I go somewhere new and meet new people. It’s not true if I’m just visiting a museum or something by myself, generally. Though I do sort of feel that way driving into a new city at first as well. I’m working on it, but every time I drive up to a new person’s house I’m overwhelmed by anxiety. I try to talk myself out of it and convince myself I’m freaking out for no reason, and usually I’m right and laugh at myself later, but the stress is really awful. Sometimes I think about quitting the trip and heading…well, that’s the problem, I don’t know where I’d go, or what I’d do when I got there, so I just push through it and keep going.
I’m also not eating particularly well on the road, which is unfortunate, because I was eating pretty well before I left Arkansas. On an average day, if I’m lucky, I eat breakfast and dinner with my host which is awesome because it’s usually much better than I’d eat on my own. When I’m not so lucky, breakfast is usually an apple or a plum and a bagel with peanut butter. Most days lunch/dinner (if I don’t eat with a host) is a hunk of bread, an apple, or some other fruit, a tomato, and a green pepper. While I’m not sick of this yet, I can only imagine how I’ll feel about this spread in a month or two. After the summer of 2008 when I ate turkey sandwiches twice a day everyday, I couldn’t eat another one ever again. I hope that doesn’t happen during this trip, or that I figure out a way to add some variety to my meals without breaking the bank. (Suggestions are most welcome!)
I go on my adventures and they seem super awesome and la-de-da, but the actual writing of posts takes me so much longer than I anticipate and hope it will. On average each post gets about two to three hours put into it, which is a mega pain considering a fair amount of that is formatting and uploading/adding photos. Especially since I can only do that when I have internet which doesn’t happen as much as I’d like. Sure, my hosts usually have internet, but how rude would that be? Oh hello, thanks for inviting me, a complete stranger, into your home, excuse me for a few hours while I’m totally anti-social to update the world on my adventures. I’ve tried writing before I go to bed, but my posts are just terrible when I’m so tired. I’m fighting myself to stay awake and then the content is complete crap. I’ve been waking up around 6 a.m. or so everyday, but usually I’m in a total panic about all the things I have to do that day (yesterday’s blog post, next week’s rough outline, next week’s couchsurfing requests, today’s itinerary, today’s blog post, plus I should exercise and shower, and I need more food for in the car…) It’s debilitating. I usually end up staying in bed until around 7 a.m. and then forcing myself to get up and do some sit ups. I tell myself I’ll do yoga later, when I’m out and about, I go say hello to my host, and ask if they mind if I hang out for a bit to sort out some of my life, I end up leaving before anything is really accomplished and go to a McDonald’s (because it’s the only consistent place to find WiFi) where they usually don’t have an outlet so I have to try to fly through the post, still don’t manage to finish it, and the whole cycle repeats again the next day.
So, before you quit your day job, just remember: even though I’m having fun and doing cool things, traveling has it’s down sides too. The weather is unpredictable and at times disruptive to my plans. Meeting new people and going to new places is stressful. I spend a lot of time looking for hosts, which is often unfruitful. (The three and a half hours I mentioned earlier? Yeah, that got me two hosts. I sent out at least four requests per day for a week…and only got two days squared away.) Nutrition is taking a backseat. As is regular exercise. Resources, like the internet, are limited and hard to come by, and time is often consumed on planning instead of on adventures. Just, you know, some things to consider before you get too envious of this crazy thing I call my life.