10 Life Lessons From My Solo Road Trip Across America

As anyone who travels a lot will tell you, life on the road isn’t easy. Whether you’re taking a short road trip or trying to live the nomadic life full-time, you’re going to face some unique challenges that only the road can present.

In preparation for my 2-month, 9,000-mile cross-country road trip, I’d formed several goals and expectations about how healthy I’d be (and further become), how much I’d do and see, and all the great self-reflection I’d achieve. I had pretty idealistic visions of how productive this trip would be for me. And this wasn’t my first rodeo, but it certainly was the longest and most ambitious road trip I’d ever undertaken.

So despite my every intention to give my physical, mental, and emotional core needs solid focus, I still found it difficult to actually implement them on the road, where every day is different. What saved me was my predilection to make plans and lists, and give everything around me structure. Without that, I would not have been able to navigate what I discovered to be a very challenging way of life. Even for someone as free-spirited as me. As a dear friend of mine once put it, “create deep structure to allow for deep chaos.”

I’m certain I will repeat this experience again, possibly even make it a more regular and recurrent lifestyle. So it will be vital to figure out how to keep myself healthy and happy in the process. Here are some key lifestyle lessons I learned on this epic road trip and fully intend to better embody as I adventure onward.

#1. Find Your Own Road Routines

Good food, enough sleep, and regular exercise. These are the core fundamentals we need everyday to stay healthy, happy, and well. Going into this trip, I knew I’d have to keep a very strict focus on these basic needs. Because life on the road can make it that much harder. And because at the start of my road trip, I was the heaviest and most unhealthy I’ve ever been. So I knew I’d need to set some strong ground rules and (most importantly) keep iterating on them, learning what’s actually feasible and compatible with my road trip life.

It’s pretty easy to create a healthy routine when you have a stable home, work, and relationships. But when all three are constantly in flux and on the move, the formula gets exponentially more complicated. So it’s important to figure out what works for YOU and how you live your on-road lifestyle. For my bedtime routine, I learned that I like to pull into my overnight spot just after sunset, have some settling in and reading time, and hit the hay by midnight. Then I’d let my body wake up naturally, which would often fall between 8am-9am. If I’d parked somewhere a bit less on the up-and-up, however, I might have to set an alarm to get up and out of dodge before any cops came a-calling. But this was rare.

I also set clear goals around what I’d let myself eat, and found that I could get decently healthy options at gas stations if I aimed for the larger truck stop travel centers (like Pilot and Love’s) which often had hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, and fruit in stock. For exercise, I designed my route to take advantage of my 24 Hour Fitness membership and hit as many of their gyms as possible on my way. 24 Hour Fitness US map.pngIf you don’t have a similar gym membership, you can still find a way to regularly exercise. I got additional cardio from national park hikes and occasional morning runs. Plus, I’m a big fan of calisthenics you can do anywhere, like lunges, squats, crunches, planks, and, my personal favorite, push-ups. No matter where I am, I have a goal of 100 push-ups a day. I rarely hit this, but just having the goal motivates me to get at least some in every day. You gotta figure out what works for you. And then don’t stray!

#2. Budget For More Than You Expect

This means both in finances and in time. It will cost you more of both than you originally estimate to get yourself from point A to point B to point C and so on. Why is that? Well you may not find the gas prices you forecasted. Or you may have a sudden travel expense you didn’t expect. Like needing to replace your car brake rotors. That gets mighty pricey, believe you me.

It’s even more important with respect to time, the one resource you can never get more of. I guarantee you it will take longer than you expect to drive (ride, bike, hitchhike, etc) to each next point in your journey. Or to explore each of those destination points. If I had a nickel for every time I wished I’d had more time to explore the various national parks I visited on my trip… well I’d have a whole lot of nickels. A few hours is simply not enough, even for a quick driving tour. And one to two days was not enough to get to know each of the amazing cities on my route, like Austin, New Orleans, and Nashville. Especially when you’re already weary from all that travel, some sleep deprivation, and perhaps even a little altitude sickness.

Ultimately, my ambitious plan to drive across the entire country (and back) and visit almost every state in two months proved to be much more hurried and harried then I’d anticipated. And I knew it’d be tight to begin with. So learn from my mistakes and give yourself more time and budget than you think you’ll need.

#3. And Expect Less Productive Time

At the same time, don’t expect to get as much work or other sedentary productivity done as you intend. Like reading. Boy did I have ambitions there. I’d designed one of the shelves in my custom cabinetry to the exact height for my books. Essentially, I built myself an in-car bookshelf. IMG_20190924_181547680_PORTRAITI packed the thing with about ten of both my favorites and ones I’d been meaning to read for forever, fully intending to finish some and at least start the rest. But being on the road makes it very hard to actually do any of that. Not unless you (once again) budget in the time for it.

By this, I mean giving yourself designated time being still in one place (not mid-traveling) to sit and work with your full focus. While on the road, I’d also intended to do a lot of writing (like on this blog), not to mention research into new potential career paths. However, my trip had such an aggressive timeline of ground to cover that the vast majority of my schedule was necessarily budgeted for driving time. And as I discovered, reading and writing (and even Googling) are near impossible while also driving behind the wheel. I only got any decent work done when I made the time to stop in a town and stay put for a while to eat a good meal, relax, and access some reliable Wi-Fi.

So if you have any intentions on this as well, my advice would be to set aside some solid stationary time for your own work, or whatever still-sitting, high-focus activities you intend to do on the road. It will likely eat into your driving time and extend your overall timeline. So make sure you weigh where your priorities lie and design your road schedule accordingly.

#4. Make Better Use Of Driving Time

If you’re too busy driving to read or work, you can take advantage of all that driving time for other valuable activities instead. Like thinking through stuff. I do some of my best self-reflection while driving. So this road trip was basically that on steroids.IMG_20190529_192138799IMG_20190529_192137674_HDR

I’d set a goal of making some significant discoveries and decisions about my next career and life path on this trip. So I made good use of all that time behind the wheel, driving mindlessly on one highway for hundreds of miles at a time, to do some solid soul-searching and what I call “self-talk.” Yes, I talked to myself. Out loud. A lot. One of the benefits of driving alone. My car is my little safe space where I can talk or sing or scream to my heart’s content without judgement. And personally, I also process things better out loud. I’ve just always been that way.

Maybe you can relate. And if you do, I highly recommend embracing the relatively soundproof bubble of your vehicle to let your vocal ponderings fly free. Or do whatever else you find valuable and meaningful that doesn’t require your eyes and both hands. Maybe just your vocal cords and a few small one-handed gestures. Like belting out your favorite Disney songs. Or composing voice-to-text if you’ve discovered some magical software that doesn’t suck at that. Whatever fires your jets and greases your wheels.

#5. If You Must Use Your Phone, Mount It

I can’t tell you how incredibly valuable a car dashboard phone mount can be. It’s the bees knees of sliced bread, or whatever. It saved me time, focus, neck pain, and so much more. Of course, ideally we aim not to use the phone at all while driving. 😉 But there are always going to be exceptions. Like navigating with Google Maps. Or responding to urgent (or even non-urgent) texts. Or looking up the few words you forgot in that Disney song.

I also discovered, upon using all that driving time to think through things, that I then felt a strong urge to write down all those great thoughts before they faded into the limbo of my mind. And if I hadn’t had the dashboard mount to keep my phone in easy viewing and typing distance, I would not have been able to capture all those great personal insights, or at least not without seriously compromising my driving and safety.

So be safe, be smart, and get yourself a dashboard mount (or finally install the one you bought months ago). Or if you’re super cheap, just use a binder clip and a rubber band.

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Same difference.

#6. Be Prepared For Driving Pains

Sitting still in a driver seat for many hours at a time, whether or not you have your phone car mount handy, will inevitably take a physical toll on your body. Car seats are surprisingly NOT designed to be particularly ergonomic. Which means, as I discovered, that considerable back and shoulder pain will inevitably ensue. As well as arm weariness if, like me, you’re still determined to try and do things on your mounted phone while driving. Holding your hand nice and steady next to the car mount is actually surprisingly tiring.

My lesson from this is thus to incorporate some preventative means of maintaining better driving posture, like a back brace, or lower back pillow (or just a spare sweater you can shove down by your lower back in a pinch). You should also have ready some reactive means of addressing the pain once it occurs, like tiger balm, or a neck massager, or just a tennis ball you can once again wedge down behind you and awkwardly roll against as you drive.

You’ll also want to pay attention to how frequently your body asks for breaks to stretch and realign. I found that my sweet spot was about every 3-4 hours, at which point I’d find a place to stop and breathe (amazing how therapeutic just breathing deeply can be), stretch, pee, and perhaps refuel with a snack. Driving is especially exhausting on certain stretches of road across the country, like those long flat interstate highways with high winds that push your car about, or the kind of pavement that makes your tires whistle like an angry tea kettle.IMG_20190430_154528057_HDRSo be prepared for the longer hauls, stock up on supplies, and (most importantly) follow the next tip!

#7. Pace Yourself! 

I can’t stress this one enough. I had so much ground to cover on my road trip that my pace ended up quite spastic and aggressive. It was not sustainable, even with back braces and tiger balm and frequent breaks. I ended my road trip completely wiped out, mental drained, decently sleep deprived, and in need of another vacation to recover from that one.

I was certainly in no position to implement any of the revelations I had on the trip, let alone continue uncovering new ones. It took months to get back to a fully healthy state of body and mind. And we simply don’t have that kind of time. Life and responsibilities start nagging, and before you know it, you’re committing to another exhausting and costly endeavor. Why do we do this to ourselves?

So please, for the love of all that is holy and wholey, take it slow as you go. So you don’t have to madly (and unsuccessfully) play catch-up later. Don’t overcommit to too strict a timetable or pace or to do list. And give yourself the freedom to change your mind, change course, or just stop altogether whenever you need to. Your health is more important than seeing the world’s largest frying pan (especially since there are actually six of them across the country all claiming the same title).

#8. This Too Shall Pass

Remember, at the end of the day, this trip (or that particularly frustrating section of the trip) will eventually end. When the going gets tough and you’re running on fumes, try to remember that it’s not forever. It will have an end. And until you get there, you can take it in small sections, with small milestones, one at a time. You can even give yourself a reward as you reach each. Like a whole week in your favorite city visiting your favorite old haunts to congratulate yourself for making it halfway through this insane behemoth of a road trip you’re already drowning in way over your head.

After all, we only have so much time left. So you might as well enjoy the journey along the way and let go of the rest. However hard it may get, or much you may struggle, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. I mean park the damn van, get out, and smell some flowers. Look at trees. Breathe in some fresh air. Or whatever else that means to you.IMG_20190509_144545346Life is too short to spend the whole thing running around madly trying to cover as much ground as possible, and missing all the great stuff around you in the process.

#9. This Too Shall Prevail

At the same time, in the end, this trip will be worth it. In spite of (and no doubt because of) all these ups and downs, it will prove an amazing journey that will teach you so much about yourself and help you grow in more ways than you expect. It will be a wonderful, challenging, frustrating, amazing, life-changing experience that is entirely unique and special.

So even as you are swearing at the other asshole drivers on the road, or balking at the price of gas, or tossing and turning at night kept awake by bright Walmart parking lot lights and thunderous rain storms, remember how lucky you are to be here on the road living this lifestyle. Practice some gratitude. I try to make this a daily habit every night before I go to sleep. I think of three things I’m grateful for and send out mental thanks to those people (or places or things). And then I let that fond feeling lull me to a gentle sleep. Works like a charm.

Do whatever you need to do to find that same inner calm (like the next tip). And know that it will all be okay. More than okay. It’s going to be triumphant.

#10. Find Your Inner Peace

My mantra is: Breathe deep. Seek peace. Beat free.IMG_20190416_122057086_HDR

No matter where you are or how rough the road may be (literally or like totally litrally), you can always press pause, take a deep breath (remember how good that is for you), and find a little slice of peace, however small and bite-sized. Take it in and let it fill you. There’s no better cure for the many kinds of pain that the road will inflict on you. Unless, you know, you’ve got some serious pain, and then maybe take some medication or go see a doctor.

I got this great fortune cookie once that I’ve since taped to my laptop, so it’s always front and center (well, technically top and left). It says, “No person is important enough to make you angry.” And it’s true, of everyone and everything. IMG_20180912_160218193So no matter what upsets you as you travel on your own journey, remember these mantras. Or find your own mantras or other tricks to bring yourself back to a peaceful state of being.

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Anniversary of a Dream… 7 Years Later

Seven years ago today, I reflected another year back to March 2011 and the day my dream came true – or at least the dream I had at the time.

I’d been drowning a horrible nightmare of anxiety and depression after losing my mind in the corporate hamster wheel, trying to leave that world behind and find a new path. And I’d finally found it, my true purpose: turning my passions for action and films into a new career in action filmmaking. I’d forged a new partnership with an incredibly talented director & fight choreographer, become part of a stunt team, and been offered the most incredible role of a lifetime: producer and lead stunt actress in a new independent feature film.

One year later, the dream had fully become reality. A real-life live-action independent action film called Death Grip. We released it to decent acclaim, a few awards, one packed Comic-Con panel room full of laughs, and plenty of international sales. We then went on to make several brilliant short films, got hired to design the action for others’, and began planning our next feature. We were killing it!

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But as with all good things, it cannot last forever and eventually must come to an end. As my partner and I grew in our own individual creative journeys, we found our vision and goals didn’t align as much as they once did. So by March 2013 (six years ago now), we had very amicably and mutually parted ways and Action Pact Entertainment was no more.Comic Con with Darren Shahlavi3.jpg

I will be forever grateful for that experience, and how much it helped me grow and find myself. But for the next six years, I felt a little lost without that clear direction and partnership. I’ve tried to find it in so many other places, positions, and partnerships to little avail. I’ve dabbled in entirely new fields like fin-tech (aka digital currency aka the wonderful world of Bitcoin) and women’s menstrual health (Flex. Check it out. Srsly revolutionary). But nothing gave me the same surge of passion or purpose. Nothing has clicked.

Eight years ago, when I last felt that lost and decided to leave the Google corporate machine, I first took a 3-month sabbatical to clear my head and do lots of deep soul-searching. I cleared my schedule of all commitments except a whole lot of journaling – right here on The Writes Of Passage. (In fact, that was the impetus for starting this blog in the first place.) It was the best decision I could’ve made and gave me the space to discover that new freelance path ahead.

Now I’ve once again hit that serious rut, only in a new shape (same dog, different tricks). You could say it’s been a while coming, but I guess I’ve just finally reached my breaking point. So I’ve decided it’s time to rinse and repeat.

If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed… I’ll just have to go out there and find that new purpose. I have no idea where it is, so I’ll just have to look everywhere.

I bought a Honda Element and just finished a pretty sweet buildout (I’ll post more details and photos of that soon). So now the plan is to take this new home-on-wheels and van-life it across America the beautiful. 3 months. Over 9,000 miles. Nearly every state. And just about every national park I can manage.IMG_20190416_122108312_HDR.jpg IMG_20190416_122057086_HDR.jpg

It’s going to be one heck of a road trip adventure. With plenty of time driving alone for lots of reflecting and soul-searching.

So here’s to taking another 3-month sabbatical, much like I did eight years ago. And like eight years ago, I’ll once again be journaling and posting about my journey as I go right here on The Writes Of Passage (and on Instagram, coz I’m a sucker for social pressure).

So wish me luck, and stay tuned!

A Little Bit of Mystery

This thing we call life. It’s all such a mystery, isn’t it? I took this monstrous step and am now attempting to tame the wild beast that is both within me and in the nature of life itself.

It’s a couple of chess pieces inching across the board; it’s a set of hieroglyphs scrawled on a cave wall; it’s a car careening around the bend on a mountain pass; it’s the part of the story where the plot congeals and takes some totally unexpected turn and (… wait, what am I reading again?); it’s a hat on a peg in a dark corridor…

It’s the point where it’s hard to tell where the plot is heading – though who’s to say if we’ll ever really know. The world can be a very mystifying setting, and the journey an unpredictable narrative, where mysteries unfold and anything can happen.

It was in this mystical realm that I attempted the unthinkable… to step away from all structure and certainty, and fervently take on the unknown beast, leaving all future possibilities to fate’s mischievous disposition.

It’s a little bit like life-noir. I’m walking the streets of San Francisco as a dark misty fog starts rolling in around me, and somewhere Dick Tracy’s voice is saying:

It’s a big world you know… I was beginning to wonder, what was I waiting for? A nice, safe desk?

And there I am, in my trench coat and fedora, scanning the streets suspiciously for a sign. I’m searching for something that seems to be calling me through the fog. I can’t see it, but I know it’s out there, waiting for me to make it through the dubious forecast and into my future.

In this business there’s only one law you gotta follow… Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doing it.

Action-Oriented

I’ve always been a get-shit-done kinda girl. I don’t waste time. Life’s too short. No reason to dilly dally or beat around the bush. I’m like Nike – I just do it

I learned in making my massive career change last March that bold steps can be rewarded boldly. I learned that sometimes the best therapy is just having the courage to share all that crap bottled up inside of you out with people who care around you. It’s not healthy to keep it locked up inside, doing nothing but stewing and simmering dangerously.

It takes action to make any kind of progress. Writing in this blog has taught me that. Sharing with you all has taught me that. And living my life the way I have, and the way I intend to keep living, has taught me that. It’s made me a stronger and more reliable partner to work with. And I feel stronger and happier when I’m being productive, so it’s a win-win.

How perfect then that I now get to put that tenacity towards creating even more action I can share with the rest of the world. I’m using my action-oriented nature to productively produce great action films that can move & inspire others. A beautiful complimentary combination, I think.

I’m action-oriented. I’m a get-it-out, get-it-done kinda gal. And now I get to say I get-it-on-film too.

Lights, Camera, ACTION!

Happy Habits

Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. -Abraham Lincoln

I was talking to a good friend recently about all the goodness and new life happiness I’ve been exploring and developing over the past year. And as he shared his own similar quest, he mentioned his own journey to identify and implement what he called “happy habits.” What a great way to name it!

We all have the negative self-talk and some of us (like me) have an even more frequent propensity to get ourselves stuck in depressing trains of thought. So this practice can be beneficial for anyone, and especially valuable for folks like me who need that constant reminder of the good things in our lives that DO make us happy.

Here are a few “happy habits” I’ve discovered for myself:

1.Take care of your body and health first and foremost! This has been a tough lesson for me, having a tendency to prioritize all the tasks and to-do’s I have on my plate before I take time to relax. Throughout my life, this has meant inconsistent sleep schedules and unhealthy eating habits – often going an entire day without eating anything! But the truth is the healthier and happier we are, the more efficient and effective we can be. So I’ve learned to put this at my highest priority now, and make sure I stick to regular & healthier meals and a more consistent & complete sleep schedule.

2. Along those same lines, exercise exercise exercise! For me particularly, I never feel so alive as when I’m pushing my physical limits. So a trip to the gym or my regular stunt trainings are the perfect happy moments for me. But even if you’re not an adrenaline junky like me, you can still reap great rewards from breaking a little sweat. It’s amazing for your health & longevity, and who doesn’t feel happy when they’re in shape? Best of all, exercise gives you endorphins, which is essentially the happy brain chemical.

3. Spend more time with friends and family whose love and good opinion you seek. Of course I have members of my family and certain “friends” that haven’t been a positive force or energy in my life – so those aren’t the people I’m talking about. It’s been hard to learn how to spend less of my energy worrying about those relationships and focusing more on the uplifting ones. But it does make a difference, so it is definitely worth it!

4. Spend more time outdoors! It’s no secret that being around nature has a calming and soothing effect on people. Especially if you’re a wilderness lover like myself, you can’t go wrong with a quick trip to the park or beach. And if you can’t pull yourself away long enough for something like that, then at least get off your butt and go stand outside your office. Take a few deep breaths and just feel the sunlight on your face. If that doesn’t perk you up, I don’t know what will.

5. Take time to stop and reflect on the good in your life, and appreciate the little things. I’ve started a new practice inspired by my roommate. At the end of every day, he and I will tell each other what 3 things we are most grateful for from that day. It really is a lovely way to remind ourselves of the good things we have in our life. It’s even started to get us in the habit of looking out for those good things throughout the day, so we can remember to name them later that night.

6. Take an active role in something you believe in, be it a cause, an organization, a project or other creative outlet. I’ve found possibly the greatest source of happiness in my life from changing to a career that hits at the core of my passion – filmmaking and stunt acting. By getting to do what I love everyday, I’ve become so much more of a content and fulfilled person than I ever thought possible.

7. Play to your strengths, not your weaknesses. Forget all the hype about being “well-rounded”. That’s all really just a bunch of hooey. The smarter approach is to develop the skills you are already naturally good at, to build your marketability and appeal as an “expert”, rather than slave away at areas you don’t already shine in or enjoy. A community doesn’t thrive by having a whole lot of people who are all somewhat good at everything, but rather by having individuals who are each very good at different roles. So focus on things that utilize your strengths, and I guarantee you’ll have a better time doing them.

My 2012 Passages

I recently wrote a post on my Chaos Whisperer blog about setting and sticking to your 2012 resolutions. I shared my top 10 tactics for setting up your goals for success and actually seeing them through. And in the process, I shared my own personal 10 goals for this year. So then the thought occurred to me, why don’t I share them here? This is after all my personal blog and personal record of my life’s passages and progressions. So it would probably be a good idea to lay out the plans I’ve prepared to pursue my chosen passages for this year.

Here are my 2012 resolutions:

  1. Reorganize my work spaces for greater productivity & creativity.
  2. Clear the clutter in my life (literally & figuratively) and seriously question the value add of any new purchase.
  3. Consolidate all my finances and investments under one easily managed roof.
  4. Commit to a healthier sleep schedule to address my insomnia.
  5. Regiment my workout routine, train harder and more consistently to master new martial arts/acrobatics/stunt fighting skills.
  6. Blog weekly (The Chaos Whisperer every Wed) and make regular writing time to develop other stories & ideas.
  7. Dive further into mastering my film producer role and seek guidance from more experienced producers.
  8. Learn to forgive the patterns of my past & accept the new challenges of building a lasting & loving partnership with someone.
  9. Find greater comfort in silence, and appreciate not just the words of others, but also the space between them.
  10. Ensure that each new Chaos-balancing system I create owns my unique voice and celebrates (rather than suppresses) my free spirit and authentic self.

These are my goals for the year: what I want to accomplish, how I plan to live more intentionally, and ways I can achieve greater balance with my Chaos.

Want to tell me yours?