Road Trip to Nowhere: What I Learned From Taking a Leap Into the Unknown

Have you ever wanted to pack all your things and hit the road? Drive away from all your problems and watch them fade into the distance in the rearview mirror? Well, I did that (kinda), and I learned that while it’s impossible to actually escape your problems, it is very possible to get out of your comfort zone, take some time to clear your head, and figure out what you want to change. Road trips are an excellent way to give yourself a little breathing room to think.

I recently went on a road trip across the country, from Chicago to California, without knowing where I wanted to live next but hoping to find a new spot to call home.

I’d visited southern California for the first time when I was 18, and I immediately fell in love with it. It was the first time I’d seen a place with mountains, the ocean, beaches—and beautiful weather all in one place. I had made several attempts to live there — once for college, once for an internship, and once for an earlier move, but all of them fell through for financial reasons and most likely because I just wasn’t truly ready to make the leap yet. So, I buried my dream of living there and accepted that it might not be in the cards.

The author’s dog poses for a pic while on the road.

For the past few years, I lived in Chicago, where I’m from, and poured myself into work. I had two part-time jobs at local nonprofits while also growing my own marketing and copywriting business on the side. Eventually, my hard work paid off, and I was making a steady income  solely from my freelance work. Experiencing this stability was refreshing, and I kept the goal in mind of being able to work from anywhere, so I’d be able to have the freedom to travel and even to potentially move somewhere new.

Even with steady work, I started to feel a bit restless again and like I was outgrowing Chicago. I was in a different stage of life from my friends, there was never-ending construction in my apartment building, and I just needed a change of scenery. Finally, I reached a point where I was ready to hit the road.

I’ve always believed in taking action when something isn’t working. That it’s important to DO something, anything, rather than to just complain. I took some time to look within myself and I realized there was a big truth there that I’d been ignoring: I was the one holding myself back from moving.

So, I decided to take a big leap into the unknown. I donated most of my things, packed my car, and made a plan to drive across the country. I knew I wanted to look for a place to live along the way, and I made plans to meet up with friends and made reservations for pet-friendly hotels and Airbnbs, since I was bringing my pup with me. Fortunately, I could also bring my work with me. I took my time and drove through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally, California. I got to see beautiful cities, like Santa Fe and Sedona, and explore without having everything all planned out.

I met people from all different walks of life, from a homeless woman in St. Louis to honeymooners from London. I got to see the big cities in the Midwest, the farm fields and small towns in middle America, the pueblos and hot springs in New Mexico, the red rocks in Sedona, and any national park I could along the way (White Sands National Monument was my favorite!). 

And all this time alone allowed me the space to consider what I truly wanted in life and where I was heading next. My big “aha” moment happened while I spent a week in a secluded desert valley in Desert Hot Springs, living in a refurbished home that was originally built by pioneers. As I reflected on the past few weeks I’d spent on the road, I realized that no matter what, we never know what life will throw our way and all we can do is enjoy where we’re at. The peace and tranquility of spending time in the desert, alone, with limited distractions and tons of nature, helped me to slow down and accept the beauty of the present moment.

A glimpse into the author’s time in California.

I felt so grateful to be able to see so many places and to have the freedom to pick up my life and go. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me to appreciate the comfort of having a home, a luxury I’ve often taken for granted in the past. Since I was able to navigate and make my way across the country as a single woman, I have a newfound sense of confidence in myself. And it showed me that taking a leap of faith, no matter how big or small—whether it’s across the country or just doing something outside your comfort zone—is how growth happens. I wasn’t the same person at the end of the trip that I was when I left because along the way, I’d been forced to adapt, to face my fears (especially my phobia of heights while driving through mountains!), and all the time for self-reflection had made me more grounded and centered.

My road trip to nowhere ended in a beach town in California. I spent a week there and then extended for another week, and another one. It wasn’t an instant flash of THIS IS IT—but it was a gradual knowing that this is the right place for me to be now. And I never would have found it if I didn’t have the courage to leap into the unknown, heading toward it without knowing what it would look like.

I ended up finding a cottage that felt like home from the moment I saw it. I feel a new sense of excitement and hope about my future in California—and I’m loving exploring all the natural beauty along the coast, from beaches to more national parks to hiking trails. I feel like I’ve finally found a place that feels like me, and I couldn’t be more happy to be here now.

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