05 Aug My Mom’s Advice
Last year, after getting back from my big trip to Europe, I struggled to put all the adventures and all the lessons learned into words. It all felt too big for me to fathom in the moment, so I ended up writing just a simple list of everywhere I had gone and all I had done. A year has gone by now though and I find that with some hindsight, I have a lot more clarity on what the trip really meant to me. I was recently asked to write an article about my Europe trip for a summer road trip themed magazine and it was really fun to revisit that time and finally put some thoughts into words! My article was published in part for Wildway Magazine, but I wanted to put the entire thing here too, as it just gives me the warm fuzzies inside! Haha. Enjoy!
They said I was crazy; quitting a great job in finance at age 35; leaving behind all my comfort and security to head out on the road.
My first adventure was a solo climbing road trip through Europe, and sitting there in my rented camper van, about to enter the world’s most terrifying roundabout, the Arc’ De Triomphe in Paris, I couldn’t help but think, they were right. I was crazy!
Hundreds of cars and mopeds flew past; entering, exiting, changing lanes, darting around like a flock of birds in some hectic, choreographed pattern that I didn’t understand. Watching them, panicked tears streamed down my cheeks, while my hand shook on the stick shift. I was convinced I was about to drive into certain death – if not my death, than at least that of the poor soul who got in the way of my complete inability to drive a manual transmission.
It hadn’t been my choice. Manual transmission vans were all they offered in France. But as I sat there watching the traffic, I couldn’t help but yell at myself. Why had I gone through with this! What had I been thinking! I couldn’t drive a manual at the best of times, let alone through crowded, narrow streets, in a city where I was completely lost and couldn’t read the traffic signs. This was crazy. I was crazy. I couldn’t do this.
But somehow….I did.
Through a blur of tears and panicked breaths, blaring horns and near stalls, I made it through that roundabout, down miles of narrow streets, and finally out of the city and onto a quiet country road, where I pulled the van over to catch my breath. After a few moments, the panic began to subside and in its place, a wide smile split my face. I couldn’t believe it. I had done it. Maybe to anyone else, driving this van would have been no big deal, but I’d been too scared to drive a stick shift my entire life, so to teach myself right there, smack dab in the middle of Paris, filled me with pride! I sat a little straighter in my seat after that, and with renewed confidence, pulled back onto the road, heading towards the world famous climbing destination of Fontainebleau.
My confidence quickly faded, however, when I reached my campsite a few hours later and it was pouring rain. For the next week, the rain never stopped, and all I could do was stare longingly out the van window at the wet boulders and think once again how crazy this all had been.
Over the next few months, such thoughts would creep up on me time and again; in that small town in Greece, when I needed medicine and couldn’t find anybody who spoke English; in Switzerland, when a travel hiccup left me stranded for a night without a place to stay; back in Paris, when another vehicle hit my van and ran, taking a side mirror with them; or in England, when it rained and snowed for weeks on end and I found myself unable to climb once again.
There were all these moments on the road when I doubted myself, when I thought I was crazy , when I believed that this whole quitting-the-job-and-hitting-the-road thing had been a terrible mistake. But despite those thoughts, and no matter what happened, somehow, I always made it through.
I learned that with some patience, laughter, and a lot of hand gestures, we can all speak a common language. Car insurance and medicine will get sorted out, and when the woman working at that tiny corner pharmacy in Greece puts a hand on your shoulder and smiles, despite all the barriers, you’ll understand how connected we all really are.
I learned that you can’t control the weather or your circumstances, but you can always make the best of them. You can laugh at the fact that you’re about to spend the night on a park bench in a foreign country. And in the morning, you’ll watch the sun rise over a glorious horizon of turrets and spires and you’ll be really happy that you did. You can bundle up, shove a towel under your raincoat, and take up a new past time of hiking in the rain and jumping into all the freezing cold lakes and rivers you pass along the way. You can stop worrying about all the things that are going ‘wrong’, and realize how much is going ‘right.’
You’ll learn that crazy, is actually pretty great.
For me, this was a big lesson. Growing up, I had always been a color-inside-the-lines kind of girl. In high school, I remember my mom telling me once, “You know, you’re pretty much the perfect daughter. It worries me. I kind of wish you’d get into some trouble.”
But I never did. I always felt this intense pressure to be perfect, to follow the path that society had set out for me. And for 35 years, that’s exactly what I did. I had the straight-A’s, the college athletics, the government internship, and the study abroad. Later, I settled down in the big city of Los Angeles with a comfy career. From the outside, I probably looked like the picture of success, happiness, and the American Dream.
Only, I wasn’t happy. And over the years I had begun to realize that none of this was my dream. For most of my adult life, I suffered from severe depression and anxiety. I also had incredibly poor self esteem, which left me painfully shy and afraid to speak to almost everyone.
The one thing that truly made me happy, however, was rock climbing. Upon moving to Los Angeles, I had started climbing at a gym near my work simply to keep myself busy during rush hour traffic. I started climbing at the rather late age of 28 and never expected it to be anything but my rush hour hobby, but I ended up falling in love with the sport, and after a few years, I was competing and had even picked up a handful of sponsors. Climbing was the one place where I came out of my shell, where I felt happy, strong, and comfortable talking to others. I even began coaching and guiding, as I loved helping other people step beyond their comfort zones as well. It was in climbing and coaching that I found fulfilment, and by the time I was 35, I realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
And so, I quit my job and decided to go climbing. I cleaned off the desk I’d been at for five years and a few weeks later, found myself crying at that roundabout in Paris.
It was on my trip to Europe, that for the first time in my life, I finally took my mom’s advice. I did everything wrong! I went out with no maps and no phone service, getting lost more times than I can count. I talked to strangers and slept on their couches. I stayed at hostels, leaving my belongings wide out in the open, yet nothing ever got stolen. At times when I didn’t have a car of my own, I accepted rides from people I didn’t know, and even hitchhiked down country roads.
People told me it would be dangerous for a female to travel alone, but I didn’t find that to be the case. Everywhere I went, I experienced unwavering kindness, generosity, and support for what I was doing. I only ever saw the best in people! And just as importantly, I also began to see the best in myself. I learned that I was strong and capable of handling all the adversity and challenges that came my way. Being out on the road helped me gain so much confidence and taught me to be grateful for who I was and all that I was able to do.
It’s been over a year now, and I’m still on the road all the time, living out of my car, working freelance jobs, and traveling around to climb. I don’t know how long it will last or when I might want to settle back down again, but I do know that this crazy decision was one of the best I’ve ever made. So for anyone out there who might be thinking about hitting the road, whether it’s long term or for a summer trip, I’d absolutely tell you to get up and go! Out there, away from the norm, I have no doubt that you’ll find adventure, excitement, and hopefully just a little bit of trouble. But most importantly, you’ll also discover things about yourself and the world you might never otherwise see!
And maybe next time, when you travel somewhere new, at the car rental counter when they ask what you want, you’ll be able to smile proudly and say,
“I’ll take a manual, please.”