It has been exactly one year since my last real adventure.
Like most of the country, I spent 2020 in my apartment dreaming of future travel plans. When the COVID-19 pandemic seemed like it was never going to end, and given how international travel with an American passport was starting to look like a thing of the past, I focused my wanderlust on something I have always wanted to do; a road trip in America.
To prepare I asked myself, what are some ingredients of a great American road trip? Well, obviously you need to start with a large serving of freedom and the ability to travel. Blend that with a portion of confidence, a pinch of adventure, and a dash of spontaneity, and you’ve got a winning recipe!
Without a doubt, being spontaneous is the secret ingredient to my travel style. I have the most fun when I’m going with the flow, and accepting that whatever happens was meant to be. Trip planning can be stressful and, in my opinion, planning everything out can often lead to experiences that don’t live up to lofty expectations. Hence, whenever I travel, I find that the less planning I do, the greater chances I have of having a meaningful experience.
Part I: Freedom Phil
Before setting off, the only loose plan I had was to get to the State of Montana.
I thought there was no better way to reawaken the need for adventure than by setting to explore Big Sky Country like Lewis and Clark. Thus, I loaded my car with camping gear, my backpack, and a cooler filled with food and hit the road. By the end of day one, Las Vegas was in the rearview mirror. By the end of day sixty, I had traveled through six states, worked on two farms, and camped all along the pacific coast.
One of my favorite moments was driving through Scenic Byway 12. Also known as Highway 12 — “A Journey Through Time” — this road stretches 120 miles across ancient seabed remains in Southern Utah. The best part was how drastically the landscape changed as the road climbed 9,000ft into the alpine forest. The views of the Grand Escalante Staircase were breathtaking.
500 miles into my road trip, I’m still movin’ and shakin’ along the byway. Since the start, I have gone to sleep countless nights without any idea of what my plans are for the next day.
Despite following my road trip recipe, as I crossed through Utah I started to think that this idea might be just a tad bit crazy.
That all changed when I crossed paths with a stranger who I nicknamed Freedom Phil.
We met at a scenic overlook along Byway 12 in the alpine forest section of the drive. He was headed south and I was headed north. As we swapped info about what was coming up and where was the next gas station, I learned that this guy was traveling with no phone, no map, and no plans. In fact, the directions to the scenic overlook were written in marker on the inside of his motorcycle windshield. He fully relied on his ability to meet other people to find out where he wanted to go next.
Freedom Phil. What a legend.
I told him about the trip I was on, about how I try to be as spontaneous as possible and it brought a huge smile to his face. He then slapped me on the back and said “be free brother” and took off down the highway. And that was it.
Even though I’m probably never going to see Freedom Phil again, that little 3-minute exchange was all I needed. That was all the clarity I was looking for.
As the words “Be Free” bounced around in my mind, I realized this trip was going exactly the way it was supposed to go, and I must continue to trust in that as I travel down the long road ahead.
Part II: Sustaining
The sign read “Welcome To Montana” as the sun started to set on day five of the road trip. The next few days I spent rolling from town to town, popping into museums and small historical cafes for a famous Montana Pasty.
This spontaneous approach to the trip has been very successful, especially since meeting Freedom Phil. The roads in Montana can stretch for miles without a proper campsite, not to mention it was the end of winter months with snowstorms happening almost daily. Wanting to continue to explore but at the same time remain true to my sustainable travel goals, this meant finding ways to stay on the road without harming natural and cultural environments.
Inside room 201 of Motel 6 in Butte Montana, there I was sending email after email through the WWOOFING platform, out to farms looking for help in Montana. By morning a farm stay was booked and the next destination was set. Onward to Helena and a little place called Odd Fellow Farms. It was snowing that day–and the farm entrance took be a long a dirt road–as I clenched the steering wheel tightly while my little Acura moaned and groaned, almost like it was begging me to get off this road.
In the distance there was a large brick home with a red barn in the back.
For the next two weeks, my day by day was based around the needs of the farm, and in exchange for my work, a place to sleep and three meals a day.
A farm stay is also a great way to explore more of the state. Day trips became my norm, and after work and on days off, it was time to hit all the great spots. The Gateway To The Mountains, and the old mining town of Virginia City.
Part III: On The Road Again
All together I was in Montana for one month.
It was a milestone to find a way to travel each day without a plan and turn that into a 30-day experience. Maybe I was just lucky to have made it this far without major issues. Though, not all things went according to plan.
Like the scary biker who I cut off in a shopping center that followed me for six blocks. Or the time I got the car stuck in the mud along a backcountry road, only to be pulled out by an ATV being ridden by a sixty-year-old woman wearing two guns and a knife on her waist. Free from the mud I drove as fast as I could back toward the main highway, looking back in my rearview mirror checking to make sure vigilante grandma was not hot on my trail.
When I did get to the road, it was a right turn, west toward Washington. After five hours I pulled off in Spokane. In the 7/11 parking lot, using my phone to book a motel for the night, it was officially State number five and still no plan.
Part IV: Brake For Brown Signs
After a long night in the famous or even infamous Green Tortoise Hostel in downtown Seattle, my journey started heading South.
The farm stay in Montana was so great. Why not do it again, this time in California?
Now heading toward the Golden State, my mind clicked to a memory of a bumper sticker I once saw that read “brake for brown signs,” and it sparked an idea. On my way to California, my campsites would be decided at random, basically stopping at a brown sign when it felt it was time.
For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, oftentimes on main highways in the United States the brown signs inform you of upcoming historical significance, campsites and parks. In some states, these signs can also be blue.
To do this you need to trust that no matter what happens it’s going to be ok. As someone who camps often, finding a comfortable and memorable campsite off the main highway is a gamble. The gamble paid off.
At 5 pm in Northwest Washington a brown sign put a campsite a ¼ mile ahead. My surrounding was nice enough, green trees and lush mountain ranges.
Once the campsite is in order, you can explore the area, and it only took a few steps to realize that this campsite is just feet from a wide-open beautiful beach. It was like this ocean just appeared out of nowhere and in an instant, my entire surrounding changed.
This could have been a stroke of good luck, I thought to myself the next morning as I packed up to continue my drive South in Oregon.
Again, five o’clock came around and so did the next brown sign suggestion for a campsite. This time the location was typical of a spot just off the highway, with its flat campsites and asphalt parking spots. I tried to keep a glass half full mentality about the place while setting off to explore the grounds.
The campsite registration station mentioned a hiking trail just outside of camp, so naturally, I went for it.
The sunlight glaring off the lake bed was blinding. Walking past the lake and charging up a tall sand dune, a dune buggy whipped by me, kicking sand into the air and almost blowing out my eardrum. I dropped to the floor with my eyes shut, anticipating another vehicle to be coming shortly. Nothing came as I slowly opened my eyes to reveal miles and miles of dunes.
By pure chance, it was the famous Oregon Sand Dunes. Once more my spontaneous travel style has led me in the right direction.
This continued for the next several days, one campsite after the next, until I eventually reached the farm in Northern California. The highs were plenty and the lows were few.
How was this possible?
Could it be could because I was keeping an open mind? Yes, but also simply keeping to my travel goals by trusting my decisions and starting with the flow.
Part V: Flowing
Travel can leave us with so many special moments of reflection about our lives. Especially while on a long road trip, sometimes you fill the hours of downtime living in your mind.
For me, this trip was all about facing fear and embracing the adventure by being in the flow. My travel style was not going to work if anxiety or fear of the unknown had control of my decision-making. The only chance to succeeded was to anticipate the journey and to focus on the experience, and evaluate what lessons were to be had from it all. You can use fear to motivate yourself forward, and towards stepping outside of your comfort zone. Then you can truly start to feel free, and what the world has to offer.
As a travel blogger, I am all about the sharing of information, travel tips, and guides, etc.
So, I will leave you with some wise words of advice that someone once gave me.
“Be Free Brother, Be Free.”