17 Things I Learned Driving Cross-Country Alone

If you had told me a year ago that my 2022 would include not one, not two, but three cross-country road trips, I would have laughed and asked you who, exactly, was ferrying me around the United States. I’ve been in possession of a driver’s license since the embarrassing age of 24, but I’m not generally considered by the people in my life to be a “good” driver, and on the first of my road trips—from New York to Austin, which would be followed by another from New York to Nashville—I mostly let my friends take the wheel.

My third and final road trip of the year, though, looked a little different: I made the drive from Austin (where I live) to Los Angeles (where my partner lives) and back all on my own, within the space of a month. After spending roughly 55 hours of my life alone in a 10-year-old Honda Fit with only empty McDonald’s bags and the occasional fly for company, I feel I have at least 17 pieces of wisdom to share. Read them all, below.

  1. A road-trip routine is key. For some, said routine might involve doing restorative yoga at sunset every day or making an effort to seek out local art in every new city; for me, it looked more like getting the same venti peppermint mocha and turkey-bacon breakfast sandwich at Starbucks every single morning, rain or shine, in Lubbock or Albuquerque or Santa Fe. (Were there better coffee offerings to be had in these cities? Undoubtedly, but I’m a creature of habit.)
  2. It’s perfectly fine to drive in a sports bra when you’re really sweaty and you hate all your shirts.
  3. National parks have surprisingly nice public bathrooms. (For reference, the one in Arizona’s Painted Desert has posters of the desert hung up in the restroom, which—since I arrived too late in the day to actually explore the park—I found extremely thoughtful.)
  4. The last hour of the trip will always, always, always feel the longest.
  5. The only way to become a confident driver is…by driving, ideally across long stretches of U.S. highway, with few other cars on the road to scare you. (You can work your way up to defensive driving.)
  6. You need 20 minutes of exercise a day to prevent the dreaded “driver’s knee,” an ailment I fell victim to to such a degree that I actually had to spend an extra day in Marfa, Texas, waiting for my leg to be bendable again.
  7. If you have to spend an extra day anywhere, try to make it Marfa. (The local newspaper is also a coffee shop! There’s good food everywhere! Eileen Myles lives there, along with seemingly every other hot queer artist from time immemorial!)
  8. The only way out is through. Cliché, sure, but it certainly applies to a seven-hour drive.
  9. When you are planning a seven-hour drive and sure you can’t make it, break the trip down by activity; for example, your first hour is all about calling your friends, your second is for podcasts, your third is for blasting Kim Petras on repeat, your fourth includes a stop at the gas station for Cheez-Its and Sprite, etc.
  10. La Quinta Inn & Suites have a gym, a pool, and laundry service, usually for less than the cost of a decent Airbnb.
  11. When it comes to skin care, face mists are your friend; they instantly perk you up and make you feel like you haven’t spent the past five days on the road in a rolling box.
  12. Actually, on the perk-up note: Be honest with yourself about how tired you are! It is always smarter to stop for the night, or even for a few hours, than to get so sleepy behind the wheel that even a face mist won’t revive you.
  13. Snack strategically. I had a pretty open-door snack-food policy on my road trip, but having a bag of Kishu mandarin oranges from my partner to unfurl and pop into my mouth when I was in desperate need of vitamin C (and burned out on potato-based road foods, not that I ever thought that could happen) made a big difference in my energy levels.
  14. Be mindful of local laws, i.e., just because weed is legal in one state you’re driving through doesn’t mean that’s the case in the next. (Take it from a girl who may or may not have had a nervous breakdown outside the Border Inspection station in El Paso.)
  15. Take the time to see nice things. I know the road-trip impetus is usually to get from place to place as efficiently as possible, but my journey wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t stopped at a hot springs spa in New Mexico or taken the time to gaze out at beautiful red-rock vistas in Arizona. These are the things I actually recall about my road trip, not the days I made it from one state to another in less than six hours (although I do count those days among my most significant achievements).
  16. Audiobooks are your friend. (Tina Brown’s The Palace Papers was a real one.)
  17. Remind yourself constantly how lucky you are to be wild and free on the open road, because that’s not an opportunity everyone gets. I mean, drive safe and all, but exult in the moment a little, particularly when you’re completely burned out and just need to roll the windows down and scream along to the soundtrack from Grey’s Anatomy season one.

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