The following is adapted from my new book, Travels with Hafa.
Halfway through 2019, I went through a breakup, and it sent me spiraling into despair. Like all breakups, it was a catalyst for regret, and I needed time to mourn all the possible futures I had imagined. My first impulse was to get some distance from the situation. So my dog Hafa and I hopped in a rented RV and explored Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon for a month.
I’m no therapist, and I hadn’t planned the trip as some kind of grand therapeutic exercise. I’ve just always been one of those people who crave change, and nothing seemed more natural than escaping for a while.
Nevertheless, once I returned to my daily routines in L.A., I realized that road trips aren’t just a nice getaway or an opportunity to see new things. They are deeply cathartic, therapeutic experiences that can help you grow and heal in ways you never imagined. Here are four major reasons why.
1. Planning is Cathartic
Before you ever step foot into a car, van, or RV, you’re already reaping the therapeutic benefits of a road trip. Planning itself can be very cathartic because it allows you to imagine. You start to dream of all the places you could go and the things you could do. I envisioned myself snuggling with Hafa beneath the stars in Utah, cooking a steak over a campfire in Wyoming, and meeting my friend’s newborn baby in Montana. Instead of dwelling on the pain in my present life, I was able to focus on the joys of the future.
Planning also gave me a sense of control. There was so much in my day-to-day life that I didn’t have control over, and during the breakup, it felt like my emotional world was spinning out of control. But by planning my trip, I was able to ask, “What do I want to do, and how am I going to accomplish it?” Every time I pored over a map or gathered supplies, I regained a sense of autonomy. This trip could be whatever I wanted it to be, as long as I gave myself clear directions and took charge.
2. The Power of Saying Yes
When most people think about their bucket list, they imagine doing things when they’re old. They think they have all the time in the world to accomplish their goals, so they delay them over and over. You don’t have to wait; tackle your dreams now. Learn to say “yes” when life offers you opportunities.
While I’ve always believed in “saying yes,” nothing drove it home quite like my road trip. Road trips are one of the most accessible forms of travel.They don’t take a lot of money, and depending on where you want to go, they don’t even have to take that much time. They just take willpower and a willingness to say yes.
Then, when you’re on the road trip, keep saying yes. When you’re crossing the mountains and get sick of driving, stop and enjoy the scenery. When you’re driving through a tiny town in Nevada and feel hungry, find the hole-in-the-wall locals go to, and relish it. Road trips force you to live in the spur of the moment. No matter how much you plan, you’ll have plenty of chances to say yes.
3. Develop New Skills
Road trips also teach you great lessons in self-sufficiency. For example, when I was at Yellowstone National Park, my RV blew a fuse, and the generator went out. I was also in a spot without cell reception or wifi. I found a payphone a mile and a half up the road, and was eventually able to call some friends, get some advice, and make my way to a nearby town. I couldn’t remember the last time that I had to go old-school with technology like that—and more to the point, rely entirely on myself.
Of course, if you’re traveling with other people, you’ll have some help, but chances are, you’ll still have to problem-solve together. There’s no way you come out of a road trip without a boosted feeling of self-efficacy.
Road trips also allow you to develop empathy. Often, when you travel by plane, you stop in big cities or visit major attractions. Road trips give you access to rural areas and places you wouldn’t otherwise see. I drank beers with locals all along the route; I had deep conversations with a woman I met along the way; I learned how other people experience, see, and think about life. That kind of enriched appreciation expands your mind and gives you a more vivid picture of the world.
4. You’re Exactly Where You Need to Be
Traveling with other people is rewarding in its own right, but for me, being alone on this trip was invaluable. When you set out on the road by yourself, it forces you to go inward. Without solitude, it’s far too easy to avoid introspection.
There were plenty of nights where I didn’t have cell reception or wifi, and I was forced to sit and meditate under the stars. I say “forced” because some nights were downright lonely, but they were also valuable. They allowed me to process not only my breakup, but also my feelings about my habits, my friendships, and my way of existing in the world.
In L.A., it’s easy to get sucked into the rat-race. My phone is in my hand every hour of the day. I’m always around people, even when I’m sitting by myself. By definition, a road trip gives you space and solitude. You’re moving through the landscape, seeing deserts and mountains, passing through long stretches of road where your only company is wildlife. When you stop for the night, you have no feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out). You only have the sense, “I’m exactly where I need to be.”
Be a Fish out of Water
One of the biggest benefits of therapy is that it forces you to pause and reflect about your life. The tide of everyday life has a powerful pull, and day in and day out, we fall easily into our routines. There’s nothing wrong with routine, but if we truly want perspective, sometimes it’s useful to break out of them, to become a fish out of water.
A road trip does just that. It gives you time and space to see your situation with fresh eyes, and it creates room for growth and change. Ultimately, it gives you an opportunity to question the deepest parts of yourself that you’ve taken for granted. Road trips invite you to see the world in new ways. Why not say yes and see where your trip will take you?
For more advice on road trips, you can find Travels with Hafa on Amazon.