We were hoping and praying for this moment for years. After five studious, hard, driven years in college, my husband finally graduated and got a wonderful job. That he finally graduated was a relief—no more student loans, grant applications, late nights studying, and stressing over exams. That he managed to get a wonderful degree-based career with unbelievable perks and insurance? That was a miracle. Several of our acquaintances weren’t so fortunate right out of college.
My husband and I looked at each other and then glanced around at the small three-room apartment that we’d called home for the past year. The only negative aspect of this new miracle career was also one of the most thrilling positive aspects: It would require a move across the country from our small Alabama town to the bustling, night-life filled beach town of San Diego, California, and a lot of subsequent travel, as well. The contract allowed us two months for preparations, and we felt that two months was far too long. We were ready to begin our lives; we wanted to explore the country and see what the world had to offer beyond Florida vacations and small southern towns where everything closed down at 9 p.m.
We spent our allotted two months planning a massive road trip. We could fly to San Diego, of course, but when would we ever get the opportunity to travel across the country again? So we plotted a route that would take us over 2,000 miles through Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and, finally, California. It wasn’t the shortest possible route, but again, we only planned to do this once, so we wanted to see as much as possible along the way.
Our first obstacle came with the realization that we were two people with a full retinue of stuff—nick-knacks, vacation souvenirs, books, photos—you name it, we had it. After all, who manages their belongings based on what will travel well in a 4-door VW Jetta? But that is exactly the dilemma we were now faced with: What would fit in our little car? This new job would require a lot of traveling over the next couple of years, and we couldn’t justify the cost of packing and unpacking a couch and hanging and rehanging pictures in different places every other month. We finally decided to just get rid of almost everything.
This is a process I would highly recommend to anyone who can endure to part ways with unnecessary belongings. There is something so freeing and liberating in knowing that all of the junk cluttering the shelves and the closets is just gone. We gave our dresser, bed, couch, chair, coffee table, and kitchen table away to friends and family; we donated all of our clothing with exception to five outfits each; we put all of our photo albums, scrap books, and irreplaceable family heirlooms into storage bins and left them in safe keeping in family member’s garages and attics for later use. We did keep our flat screen television. We had family members meet us and bring that to us at a later date. We spent a very liberated last week in Alabama, cleaning the newly empty apartment, sitting on the floor to eat pizza, sleeping on couches and in guest bedrooms at family member’s homes. All of our belongings (with exception of the storage bins) were in our car: our clothes, a cooler with snacks and drinks, our camera, cellphones and lap tops, one pillow and one blanket, and an easily accessible overnight bag for hotel stays. We said our goodbyes to all of our friends and family members; to the small town where my husband played high school football and I cheered him on; to our first jobs, church, and favorite back roads; to the places where we dated and got engaged and married; to everything we’d ever known, and we set off on our own.
We left before sunrise and by lunch time we were in Little Rock, Arkansas. We drove for 10 hours that first day, taking turns. I slept some while he drove, and he slept some while I drove, but for the most part, we talked about how nervous we were to be starting all over and how excited we were to be going somewhere new. We enjoyed the drive and scenery, and it felt wonderful to know that we were heading toward our future and that we were exploring a little bit of the world together with no obligations and no responsibilities for the time being, except to ourselves. We woke each other up to point out interesting things. Flipping through my pictures later, I noted with humor that we managed to take over 64 blurry stills of wind mills because we’d never seen them before. We were so amazed at how big they were.
We stopped at a hotel in a small town in Oklahoma. This first stop ended up being one of the most interesting stops along our route. The town was nearly deserted. Most of the local stores had boarded up windows and broken glass, and there were large stretches of dead, blackened grass where wild fires had broken out. The temperatures were reaching 112 degrees by noon, and no one wanted to venture out into that kind of heat, so the result was a very eery ghost town effect. We drove around for miles, taking pictures of empty houses and broken, faltering buildings, and finally found a small diner to visit. The store owner was also the chef, and we were the only customers. The waitress told us her story while we ate: She’d come to this faltering town to care for an aging parent, and she stayed after he passed. The store owner had big plans for his diner. He told us about the table covers he hoped to get soon, and what colors he hoped to paint the sign for the front window. He beamed when we told him how wonderful his meal was, and it truly was! My husband and I both feel to this very day that it was one of the best meals we have ever eaten. This stop proved a lesson for us both: There are many more things to experience than the typical big city, night life visions that we so often entertained.
We continued our journey through the country, leaving while the stars were still out and going to bed before the sun set to avoid the onslaught of other travelers. We got to see some wonderful sights, although our first glimpse of a sky scraper was eclipsed by our anxiety of city traffic. The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo was definitely a highlight, and we made sure to scare ourselves by looking over the astounding heights at the Hoover Dam in Arizona. We made ourselves sick eating too much authentic Mexican food in New Mexico. We lost $5 to a street performer in Vegas and won it back in the penny slots, and we watched the Bellagio water show three times. When we finally arrived in San Diego, we were exhausted and ready to be out of the car, but we sat on the beach later that night feeling completely fulfilled. The city lights at the other end of the beach reminded us that we were nowhere near home. We put our feet into the Pacific ocean and felt the cool 72-degree breeze and knew that we’d made the right decision. We took a chance, giving up familiarity, and we went completely beyond our comfort zone, but the journey we took to get to that spot was so amazingly worth it.