I Travel The Country Solo In A Van. Here's What I Love (And Hate) About It

Written by Alyssa Ackerman

I love to travel alone. I also hate it.

Since college, I've explored India, Europe, and the United States solo, most recently on a cross-country road trip in a Ford Econoline. Here is my ultimate pro-con list for solo travel.

The good.

No one tells me when I did something wrong.

I didn’t realize how much criticism was happening in my daily life until I escaped it. Traveling alone made me a better problem solver and more confident in my intuition. I am driven by no one else’s expectations or critiques. I explain myself to no one...except the police who pulled me over in Pennsylvania for not using my blinker 300 feet before changing lanes.

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I've stopped rushing through life.

Traveling at my leisure into and out of cities, through chaos and wilderness, allows me to appreciate my environment and the people I cross paths with. Traffic is an awesome excuse to sit in the car and listen to music, while standing in lines means I can people watch! It's all about perspective.

I found a form of prayer that works for me.

Though I’ve never practiced any religion regularly, I've started saying a prayer every night before dark. Upon arriving in a new place for the evening, I stand outside, take it all in, and say—sometimes to nobody—"Thank you for having me as a guest in your home. I’ll tread lightly and with respect. Please also respect my personal space tonight. Thank you." Silly. Effective.

I see every sunset.

OK, this one may only be because I'm afraid of the dark (I'd start settling down later in the day so I didn't have to drive through the night). Come sunset, I'd spend time in this new space, imprinting my environment in my mind so I'd be able to see it in the dark. It was a great way to fight off those fearful stories my mind could dream up about surrounding creepy crawlies.

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I get to embrace sameness.

When I travel alone, I’m reminded of my startlingly high threshold for sameness. Listening to YACHT’s new album from Asheville, North Carolina, to Marquette, Michigan, to Omaha, Nebraska, while eating kitchari for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is not how I live with other people. Though I often feel averse to routine, I seem to create it wherever I go, and I can respect the comfort in it.

The bad.

I can't be a free spirit.

Spontaneous I am not when I travel alone. Turns out, I’m only carefree when I’m surrounded by people I love and trust. When I travel alone, I become the boss and the decision maker. I overpack layers, food, and water. The gas tank never drops below a quarter tank. I rarely party. I drink tea at night over beer. If I go to a show or out dancing, I'm sure to plan my parking spot wisely early in the evening and pack myself a toothbrush.

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I am scared a lot.

Fear is always with me on the road. Over the years, I've tried and failed to "live with less fear," so now I just try to appreciate it and balance it. I used to wonder exactly whose fear I was dealing with. Friends, family, and the media constantly tell me that I should be afraid of so many things traveling alone. Breakdowns. Break-ins. Running out of gas. Abduction. Rape. Murder. Theft. Animals. People. Weather. Whatever. The reality is, the more I go into these things that terrify me, the more clarity I gain on fear.

The somewhere in-between.

I can do whatever I feel like whenever I want.

This is both good and bad. It means I can wake up in Salt Lake City at 5 a.m. and drive 18 hours to Seattle with hardly anything to eat, but it also means I can decide to spend the night in hot springs with new friends, setting up hammocks over frigid rivers and learning how other travelers dine. It means I can go for a 10-mile hike at Pictured Rocks, Michigan, in the morning and fall asleep at a campground in Wisconsin.

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Love looks different.

People think it’s a solo feat, to travel alone. But let me tell you there are so many important people involved in my day-to-day life on the road. The people I love touch me whether I'm speaking with them on the phone, thinking about the great advice they’ve shared, reading a book they gifted me, worrying about something they told me, sleeping in their driveway, visiting a trail they’ve hiked, working with a mechanic they found on Craigslist, writing under lights they helped to install, charging a battery they taught me to wire, getting a tow truck on their AAA account, texting them my location before going to bed—just in case. My dependencies have shifted and relationships have taken a new form.

It’s because of these relationships that I am able to travel far from home, alone and often.

Dying for more insider info on what it's really like to live on the road? Check out these van tales from a growing family, an entrepreneurial couple, and a nomadic artist.

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