Not every post on this blog comes from observations collected during my 256 days of living in Shane’s Chevy S-10 white pickup truck with mis-matching red cap. The posts also come from other adventures that were inspired by the values I embraced while on that trip, and all my blog posts are infused with the new way of thinking I took on after spending nearly a year “on the road.” I can’t imagine not having one’s way of looking at the world altered after undergoing such a radical lifestyle change.
On the most basic level, our cross-country trip (approximately 30 states, including parts of Canada and Mexico) taught me about the great world of camping and hiking, two pasttimes that go hand in hand, of which I knew nothing about until age 22. Before August 14, 2008, I had never slept in a tent or even outside, for that matter. I was a sheltered only child who believed that my upbringing, followed by a four-year stint at an American university, constituted the standard American experience. When one’s travel consists of visiting one’s relatives in West Palm Beach and school field trips to Europe, it’s not surprising that I thought the things that I thought.
However, the more I read, which has been one of my life’s passions since a young age, the more I suspected that my existence was perhaps the exception to the rule, that my lifestyle was unnatural and that my reality was in fact fantasy for anyone not living on either of the American coasts. Several other factors, coupled with my suspicions gleaned from my reading, pushed me toward the brink of finally taking the road trip. I met Shane in college, by which point he had already experienced the dichotomies of social class while on mountain climbing expeditions to Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Aconcagua, and Denali. It was during these expeditions that he realized that the majority of the world’s people live differently than the way to which many people in more developed countries are accustomed. He made a lot of insightful comments to me about how we come from an over-privileged culture, and he wanted the opportunity to show me that our upbringing had been everything but normal.
Before taking the trip, I thought I would quickly give what I thought was the “real world” a shot. I took a desk job, and found that it was exactly that– a desk job. I was stunned to find out firsthand that people who work at desk jobs actually do just that– they sit at desks for eight to ten hours a day! I did it for ten weeks, and couldn’t last any longer. I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t learn anything about the world while sitting in my cubicle.
So we packed up the car and did the trip. We originally planned on going camping for two weeks, but on the road, as you might learn someday, one adventure always leads to the next. There was poison oak, mosquito bites, matted hair, unshaved legs, swimming holes, s’mores, and meeting other campers on similar road trips. I learned that my upbringing had in fact been an exercise in going through the upper middle class motions- the completion of which quickly lands a person in a line of meaningless work. Good thing Shane told me I was too creative for that. While on the road with two outfits and a shower once a week if I was lucky, I learned that happiness is not measured by your list of material possessions– it’s measured by how good you feel when you are with the person (and dog) you love exploring the world and realizing that it is not as scary of a place as we had been taught.
After taking a break from the fast lane, I was able to appraise the current state of things and identified some things the world needs– volunteers for one, and education above all else- and not just education in general, but rather education about inclusivity and taking notes from our diverse world culture. Having explored my own country and some others, I’ve had the opportunity to realize that through teaching I can effectively channel my energy to affect meaningful change. If I had stayed on the fast track of repetitive work followed by buying, buying, and more buying, I probably would have missed my chance to find out what it was I really wanted to do with my energy. Thanks to being in love with Shane and his adventurous / free spirit, I was brave enough to take a break from the hamster wheel, so it is thanks to him (and Ruby) that I was able to realize that I am happiest when helping others, learning about other cultures, and then teaching about the joys of exploring other places and meeting the people there to young people at home. If more people could teach others about the beauty of learning about the ways other people live around the globe, the next generation of the world’s people could have better relationships than what we have going on now. If there could be more understanding between cultures, we would have less political and economic misunderstandings, and there would be a lot more happiness to go around for everyone. All it takes is the willingness to try something you initially didn’t think you would like, i.e. getting in a car for 256 days, coupled of course, with a sense of adventure.