i went on a roadtrip by myself...and you should too.

Anxious fingers tap the steering wheel as the hills surrounding LA shrink to flat in my rear view mirror. Mascara races down my cheeks, carrying the weight of thoughts unsaid in its dark twin tides. Shaky breathing and every so often a quietly muttered, “what am I doing” score the drive. The backseat is filled with every blanket and pillow I could find in my tiny North Hollywood apartment. Books and half-empty notepads litter the floor. I have nowhere to stay. I have no food. I have very limited cash. And I have no idea why a Thursday night panic attack led me to toss a few things in my car and leave LA on Friday morning. In that moment, all I knew was that I needed to get out. But what I didn’t know was how freeing that weekend was going to be for me. I didn’t know that a mere 90-some hours later, I would return to LA feeling like a new version of myself. In that moment, I was sad and I was alone, but I decided to take a chance and follow my gut. And what was waiting for me on the other side of that door I had been too afraid to open was better than I could have imagined.

Stop 1: Sacramento

My best friend was in town for a gymnastics conference, so after a quick phone call I was all set to spend the night with her and her teammates at their hotel. I was admittedly nervous, having never met her teammates and clearly being the outsider coming in. But after a few hours I knew I had nothing to worry about. We spent the day lunching in downtown, the evening walking through Capitol Park amongst the sunset-coated roses, and the night was a blur of IPA’s, false eyelashes, and drunkenly dancing our way down the pristinely kempt Sacramento sidewalks. Here I learned to let go, that life is more fun if you don’t take everything so seriously, and that making new friends is really only as difficult as finding the nearest bottle opener.

Stop 2: San Francisco

I wanted to add a quick detour to see the golden gate bridge, as it had been on my bucket list for years. Here is where I was really forced to face being alone. Trying to absorb the magnitude of the bridge was almost overshadowed by my insecurity of being there by myself. I stood at the top looking out over the bridge for quite some time. The longer I stood alone the more comfortable I became. I realized that it wasn’t other people making me feel insecure about being there by myself, it was me. When I became comfortable with the idea of being here alone, I felt the weight of being judged lift off my shoulders. I realized this was true of all my insecurities. No one else was standing over me making me feel bad about myself, it was all coming from me. I learned to change my attitude and start loving myself instead of beating myself down for everything that didn’t match up to my expectations of the perfect person.

Stop 3: Somewhere along I-5

As I was driving back south, I looked out my window and saw the evergreen trees covering the hills, the light hitting the branches just right. I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of it that I had to pull over. As I looked out and breathed in the scene, I unexpectedly began to cry. I didn’t really understand why at first. But as I mulled through my own mind, it hit me. This was the first time in years that I was just living in a beautiful moment without trying to stop myself from feeling too much. Without preparing myself for it to end. Simply falling, and letting anything I felt, just be there without monitoring. I realized I had been waiting for someone else to be in that space with me before I jumped into such uninhibited emotion. Because it was too scary to take the first few steps by myself. Scary to think about the pain that could follow if it all fell through. But that fear was only limiting my own experiences, hindering my own growth, pausing my own life. If I’m ready to travel, I shouldn’t wait for someone else to be ready to go on a road trip before I pack my car and leave. I shouldn’t wait for someone else to think I’m worth loving before I start loving myself. I shouldn’t wait for someone else to believe in my vision for my life before I start working to build it. I realized I need to move through life at my own pace, and the right people will keep up with me. I need to be a little selfish and feel okay about moving faster or feeling deeper or thinking bigger without permission from anyone to do so. And I had jumped, after all, by myself, with this trip. And it was beautiful and it wasn’t scary like I thought it would be. So why wouldn’t all the other things I thought would be scary by myself turn out to be just as amazing? And even if they end up hurting, isn’t that better than being too scared to feel anything at all? I got back into my car with tears still falling down my face, feeling like I had just unlocked a part of my heart I didn’t even realize I had caged. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.

Stop 4: Big Sur

I pulled into the first campground I saw when the afternoon sun started to sink in the sky. I paid my $60 fee for a spot near the river. It had a picnic table and a fire ring and was surrounded by towering pines on all sides. With no tent to pitch I spread all the blankets I had brought with me across the lowered back seats in my pilot and set out to find some firewood. I felt myself now at ease with being alone, ready to enjoy the time camping by myself and not apologize for it, and open to whatever experience presented itself to me. After a pensive walk pondering the light subject of the meaning of life, I grabbed my swimsuit, and headed down to the riverbank to soak in the sunset. I was sitting with my feet dangling in the water when a man and his elementary-aged daughter waded back upstream to the campground. I said hello as they passed and ended up in a great conversation about what brought each of us here. They invited me to join them for the evening. Habit told me to decline, but the high of actually connecting with the world around me over the past few days told me to say yes. As the three of us sat around the fire pit at my campsite, we talked about our pasts, our goals, our fears, and the peacefulness that came with Big Sur. He told me stories of his travels, and when the sun went down his daughter begged me to tell ghost stories around the fire. When she had finally had enough, we said goodnight and goodbye and parted ways. I’ll never see Lily and her dad again, but the honesty of the experience I’ll never forget. I spent the rest of the night journaling by the fire and fell asleep to Bukowski poems read through flittering eyelashes. The next morning I woke up and smelled the freshness of the dew on the trees around me. I headed out to explore Big Sur, feeling content in my single traveler-ness, and open to whatever lesson I could pick up that day. The coast was lined with picturesque landscapes, mountains meeting ocean and gorgeous winding roads connecting it all. I got so wonderfully lost in that place that I forgot I had bills or that I wanted a big house someday or that I hadn’t watched netflix or been on facebook for a solid three days. I hiked among the redwood trees and looked out over the ocean. I felt so small. My problems felt so small. I realized here, that I am only a tiny piece of the universe. And so all that really matters is that I am trying to make things better and that I am happy doing it. I left Big Sur with a perspective both humbling and inspiring.

When I returned to LA, nothing about my life had really changed. I was still Taylor Byers. 22 years old. Struggling artist. Health Issues. Family Issues. Love Issues. Still lost as fuck. Still broke as fuck. Still swimming in student debt. All the facts remained the same. But my view of it all had changed. My perspective had shifted. I had leapt, and I had caught myself. I was refreshed, feeling confident, knowing I could overcome life’s challenges standing on my own two feet. A whole person again for the first time in years. If you can take anything away from my experience, take this: Everything you need to be a boss ass bitch is already inside of you. And if you ever feel broken, the best place for healing is the road.

Taylor Byers