I hate the cliché that women travel to run away from troubles; to avoid seeing the person who broke her heart; to make a great escape. However, that is exactly how my trip to the Southeast started. I was lying on my cousin’s couch in LA (ironically, already on my first attempt at a trip to heal my broken heart), when I did it; I texted him. After a decent talk, my heart was broken again when I read the words I love you, but I still don’t think that we should be together right now. I dreaded going back home – even though he was technically no longer there. I knew it was too easy for us to drive that 1.5 hour drive to go visit. I had one semester of my Bachelor’s left, so I couldn’t just stay in California. I decided while reading that text message that, as soon as possible, I needed to get away and be gone for a while. I was going to take a month-long solo road trip through the Southeast.
Back in Missouri, after several visits to Arkansas to visit the boy, and one attempt at actually trying to be together again, I was even more eager to graduate and hit the road. Christmas and graduation celebrations were filled with crazy conversations with my friends and family: What is Couchsurfing? Will you be safe? Are you taking a weapon? Won’t you miss us? Won’t you be bored? Won’t you be lonely? The truth was, I was stuck, and I needed to get out. I was lonely in Springfield, and it had nothing to do with the amount of amazing friends and family members I had or the boyfriend that I didn’t have. It had everything to do with myself.
Week one of my trip was spent in Nashville and various cities of North Carolina. The first night I visited Asheville was the point that the trip, and honestly my life, turned around and changed.
Despite dating someone new, I still felt heartbroken. Traveling was something my ex and I did together and we thrived on the road. In Charlotte, I visited a couple of Art Museums, which was kind-of “our thing” and for about 48 hours he was so intensely on my mind that I wasn’t even enjoying the trip. I finally called him while driving to Asheville, hoping that somehow this “independence” I had now had, traveling alone for a month, would make him want me back. That was not the case, and for the 100th time my heart was broken by him.
As I was driving up towards Asheville, I was just listening to music and thinking. Dwelling on how stupid I was for making that call, and just angry in general with myself for still being so upset about a breakup six months later. It was at that point I decided that that was it. I was going to take control. That feeling was a big part of what prompted me to take a spontaneous side-trip to Chimney Rock State Park. It wasn’t the most successful side trip (by the time I reached the top of Chimney Rock, all I could see was fog), but I was a bit recharged by this act of spontaneity, and I could physically feel my trip turning around.
When I finally made it to Asheville, I felt even more inspired about what I was doing, and why I was on the road- that I was truly doing it for me. I was meeting up with a woman that I had been in contact with through blogging and this was our first time meeting face-to-face (of course I would be meeting her wife too)! Meeting Liz and Lina was like being reunited with lifelong friends. They were so encouraging and had such great energy to be around during such a time in my life and my travels. After four days of spending every minute of the day with these two amazing ladies I felt better, I felt rejuvenated and I felt like me again.
As I left Asheville, I realized that I had been defining myself by things I no longer had. I defined myself as a student. I defined myself as a partner to a man I was crazy about. What I wasn’t doing was defining myself as me. Spending time with Liz and Lina allowed me to finally define myself based completely on ‘me’ and the things that I love to do – and it felt great. I realized that my title is traveler. My love is the road. My passion is wanderlust. All I wanted to do was travel and write.
It was bittersweet to leave Asheville after only a few days. It was hard to leave the place where I had felt like myself for the first time, but it was also amazing to completely own that, and to continue on my journey as me. I continued on for the next three weeks throughout the Southeast. I made stops in several other cities. I walked along the beach in South Carolina enjoying the sand at my feet. I totally nerded out at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I was totally okay with it. I explored the beautiful abandoned movie set of Spectre from Big Fish and felt like I was living in a dream. I made friends with Couchsurfing hosts. I swam with manatees. I climbed old oak trees covered in Spanish moss. I learned about the struggle of minorities and paid homage to those who have given their lives in the name of Civil Rights in Montgomery. I ate and drank my way through New Orleans with my best friend.
The best thing that happened on this trip was that I found myself again. Solo travel completely changed my life – It made me more capable, confident, independent, and allowed me to reflect on each and every beautiful moment, museum, site, and experience in exactly the way I needed to. Traveling has opened my eyes more than anything else I’ve ever done, and I have no intention of closing my eyes anytime soon.