Recommendation: Travel Alone

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Well, this map is now looking exactly as perfect as I’d hoped, with a couple of weeks to spare in fact.

When the spark of this idea to complete the continental map before my 50th birthday came into existence, I had 20 states to cover and an entire 4 ½ months to cover them in.  Out came my Passion Planner and my Breakthru Journal (thanks Cindy) because I knew that this would require a bit of planning.

I didn’t plan it this way but 17 of the 20 states I visited this summer, I visited alone.   Just so you know, traveling alone is not a common thing for a Cuban, Catholic, married, conservative woman born into this Herrera family of ours, at least not traveling for pleasure.  What does ‘alone’ mean to someone in the category I just described?  Traveling without someone you know and certainly not without your husband.  I found after my first trip ‘alone’ to Africa in 2014, that traveling alone is pretty awesome.  That trip had me promising myself that I would take a trip ‘alone’ at least once per year, even if only to the West coast for the weekend.  I’m happy to say I’ve kept my promise (on steroids).  Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with family and friends just equally love traveling alone.

During this ‘Summer of Anywhere-but-Here’, I’ve reconfirmed how much I love airports.  Yes, that’s weird for some but I love to people-watch and make up my own stories of what’s going on with them; I love to meet new people who are generally less afraid of answering when I ask “what’s your dream?” because they figure they’ll never see me again.  I’ve had some great beautiful conversations with perfect strangers because I’ve been alone.  At these airports I love to look out for those rare good-customer-service experiences at airport Starbucks (WHY?) and love that I’m with no one to complain about the bad ones, at Starbucks or anywhere else.  I’m aware that it’s happening but am satisfied with simply tipping accordingly in lieu of hearing someone bitch about it.  Memphis and Ft. Lauderdale are awesome by the way.

I’ve been able to check off, not only this big goal of completing the map, but along the way have checked off a lot of things which have been in my bucket for what seems like forever.  I’ve experienced most of them through my own filter which I love because I tend to really enjoy and at least like everything because everything has something to offer.  I’m not a complainer and find myself always in search of the silver lining and I promise you that that’s been much easier to do because I’ve experienced a lot of this alone.

I’ve enjoyed the questions too.  They’re varied: Why are you doing all the states?; Are you traveling alone?; Did you really sleep at a truck rest stop in a Pink Beetle?; Aren’t you afraid of getting lost?; Aren’t you afraid of breaking down in the middle of nowhere?; Why isn’t your husband with you?; What do you do for a living that you have all this time?; Can you really drive 18 hours a day with only one 5-Hour Energy?; Can I take a picture of your car?

This 48-by-50 adventure had me visiting some beautiful parts of our amazing country, which I knew I’d get to eventually just didn’t want to wait any longer.  To be fair, unless there was a specific place I wanted to visit in each state, I’d sort of wing-it, knowing full well that my amazing talent for getting lost would lead me to find exactly what I needed to find.  You see when you travel alone, it’s okay to get lost because no one is there to have a panic or mini heart attack when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, with no telephone reception.  I’ve found out a lot about myself in the places where I’ve been lost and have loved every minute of it.  In every ‘lost’, I find myself a little more.

If I’d break down, I’d look for the ‘why’ it’s happening and for the ‘what’ I am getting from this.  If I’d see a hiking trail, I’d simply pull off to the side of the road and take a 10 minute or a 3 hour hike, depending on how much water I had with me.  Eating when and where, staying when and where and driving when and where are just added benefits of traveling alone.

However, the true benefits of traveling alone are more than just these tangibles – it’s in the really getting to know yourself, what you’re capable of, what your limitations are and how to break through them; It’s about loving your own company enough that you are alone but not lonely, listening to yourself, searching your soul and finding answers to questions you hadn’t even been asking before but needed answers to.  It forces you to experience vulnerability – first with the unknown and then with everything else and opening yourself up to that vulnerability is a BEAUTIFUL thing.  I’ve been emotionally and physically uncomfortable during my travels and above everything else, I’ve reconfirmed what I’ve believed for so long that life really does begin at the end of our comfort zone.

At every turn, I heard ‘So do not fear, for I am with you;’ –  Isaiah 41:10

Adventure On 🙂

Berta

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Miracles Everywhere

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Well, this map is looking nearly perfect right now.  Actually, next Sunday, it will look completely perfect, as least as far as my 48-by-50 goal is concerned.

This latest trip had me doing the not-so-big 5 – Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas.  I’d fly into Wisconsin, rent a car and casually make my way down the map to arrive at my perfectly pre-reserved (a rarity for me) hotel in Memphis, for a night or so from there.  Not only was it more feasible than trying to leave from Arkansas, but it gave me a little excuse to spend some time in my second favorite state, Tennessee (second only to Florida but tied with Colorado).

To be honest, there was nothing I was extremely excited about seeing at any of these states and although I have friends at several, I knew time-constraints and my demanding schedule on this trip, would not allow for even a coffee meeting, so I didn’t bother to try.

Because typically my spontaneous yet precisely schedule itineraries (yes, that’s an oxymoron but that’s how I plan them) tend to work out, I thought nothing of it.  There’s always an allowance for getting lost just so you know because I tend to do that a lot.  Getting lost has taken me to some of the most beautiful places I’ve seen so I’m fully aware that God’s hand is in every incident and I’ve learned to trust, enjoy, relish and trust, did I say that already?

What’s interesting is that what hadn’t ever happened before was an issue with a rented car.  I thought about that yesterday and with as much and as often as I travel, the fact that this had never happened is a miracle in itself so I am grateful that this was only the first time it occurred.  Just so you know this is typically Jorge’s big scolding for me “well, what if you break down all alone in the middle of nowhere?” so naturally it was bound to happen.

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The plan was to rent the car in Milwaukee airport and eventually drop it off in Memphis once I was adventured out.  Four hours into my trek exploring Wisconsin and heading toward Minnesota, the battery light came on.  Weird I thought but I kept trekking along and suddenly, the ABS light started flashing on and off as did the overdrive light and then I lost my Bluetooth connection.  Okay, let’s call.  “Go to Enterprise” I said into my Google search microphone icon and found I was only 30 minutes away from one, in the opposite direction mind you, but only 30 minutes.  I thought it was a good deal.  “Call Enterprise” I said this time and they assured me that if I made my way to a location, they’d switch out the car.  This store was located in the cutest little town, which I’m aware I would have totally missed if not for this mishap.  I parked, turned the car off and then back on and sure enough, no battery light.   I explained to the attendant what the issue was and since she didn’t have a car to offer me, she went and checked it (no, she wasn’t a mechanic but maybe they have a 10-point checklist or something I’m not aware of).  In perfect Michigan J. Frog mode, she concluded  there was nothing wrong with the car at all.   I told her God must have wanted me to visit this little town and before I headed off, I Googled “Go to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church” just in case that was it.  I keep running into churches of the patron saint of my first parish as a child just about everywhere I go and wanted to make sure if this was His point, I wouldn’t miss it.  Nope, 190 miles away – that wasn’t it.

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Back on my way to Minnesota and for the third time now, saw all the same beautiful corn fields which seemed to drown the houses on these large beautiful homestead tracks of land.  Man, I thought Wisconsin was known for its cheese but there’s freakin’ corn EVERYWHERE!

I entered Minnesota, after a tiny hike for pictures along the Upper Mississippi River in Brownsville and headed for my next stop, which was Iowa.  This had me going through this beautiful winding country road.  Already into Iowa and through this not-so-much mountain but large hill (beautiful) range, there it was again, that fucking battery light.  This time making an appearance with all the lights in the dash going off, losing bluetooth again and only then realizing that the battery hadn’t been working for some time and neither of my phones were charging.  To top it off, the delay meant night fall was coming with far less miles than I’d hoped to have gotten through.  Since I was told they’re all over the place “Go to Enterprise” I said again.  “Offline” my screen said.  Thank God I have 2 phones and when one doesn’t, the other one usually does.  “Go to Enterprise” = “Offline” on this one too.  Okay, I figured if I made a U-turn and made it back to the main highway, I might have reception before both batteries were completely depleted.  Suddenly, the entire dash went blank – everything turned off, even the A/C.  I remembered when this happened to the Rover it was that the car’s computer (brain) simply shut off and everything stopped.  Miraculously, this car was still moving so I kept going to see how close I could get to a town.  Miracle #1 – If I’d had the foresight to look through my rearview mirror as I prayed my Rosary for the second time that day, I’d swear I would have seen a band of angels God had summoned, pushing me the entire way.   Finally some reception or at least enough to make a phone call to their roadside assistance number.

Fantasia was the name of the lady on the other end of the phone.  I can’t say I sounded panicked but after sharing my story and middle-of-nowhere location, she had mercy on me and tried her best to help me.  Because of the time of day, only airport locations were available to pick up another car and she offered a tow if I wanted to stop somewhere.  She couldn’t believe the car was still moving.

I got far enough that I was back at exit 1 in Wisconsin (man I felt like the parents in the South Park Time Share episode) thinking am I EVER going to leave this state?  Was I in the Twilight Zone or something?  I pulled over so that she could go down the list.  She wanted to know where I was so that she could tell me what was close.  Milwaukee Airport was 4 ½ hours away; Green Bay was forever way and then she said let’s check LaCrosse Airport.  Ready for Miracle #2? 5 minutes away.  I thought WHAT?  I don’t know who was more excited, her or me.  “I’m calling them right now so that they are ready and you don’t have to wait.”   “May I speak to your supervisor please?” I asked.  I told Gina what an amazing angel they had in Fantasia and she assured me everyone would hear about how Fantasia had gone above and beyond in customer service, for which I thanked her.

Miracle #3 was that LaCrosse actually had a vehicle to lend me which the girl says never happens since it’s a small airport.  “We had a cancellation just a little while ago and you’re gassed up, nothing to sign, have a safe drive to Memphis.” she said.  I knew I wouldn’t make it to Missouri or Arkansas early enough for the hikes but would have to settle for the hot fudge sundaes and at least a walk, even if only to the bathroom.

The rest of the miracles were things like my being able to stay somewhat awake for my 18 hour drive day with only one latte and one 5-Hour Energy; seeing through the thick 3 a.m. fog; having angels along the way who I was either following or were following me on those desolate miles of highway; a check-in, albeit late, to a nice and clean hotel room; a warm shower and then another; the sufficiency of two hours of sleep so that I could visit Beale Street before heading to the airport and the fact that all 5 states were now checked off.

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I love how God never wastes an opportunity to show me His grace – every day and in every situation.  I love how God always sends his angels, in the form of a roadside assistance operator, kind understanding people at the rental car counter, a hotel attendant who will hold your reservation despite being sold out; and in the form of people who were sharing hundreds of miles with me on the same highway where we ended up sharing an unspoken little convoy of looking out for each other, making room for passage around trucks and so many others, flashing the hazards as if to signal goodbye when they reached their exit.

By the way, all these truckers WOW – hats off because they really help literally ‘drive’ a big part of the economy of this country.

So, as I always do, I thank God that this trip, despite the delays and detours, ended up being a great one.  I fall more in love with this country of ours with every state I visit and always run into people who prove that we Americans are pretty awesome.

And now there’s one – can’t wait.  I think I’m getting too old for this HAHAHA!