When I set out on my fabulous, adventurous road trip from Miami, Florida, to visit every city I’d like to see in the U.S., I was wide-eyed and ready for life to happen for me. In the way that famous quote says, “Life happens for you, not to you.”

It’s April and I’m in my white Hyundai Elantra ready for North Carolina in all its mountainous glory. Asheville was the first time I’d ever been away from home post-pandemic. I had all the plans to work on my next book — of which I wrote 800 words and haven’t opened the word document since. Later, I’d travel to Charlotte, to find it wasn’t my vibe. Every time I use the phrase “not my vibe” I’m reminded of my age and how I probably shouldn’t be using the phrase “not my vibe” at 30.  

After North Carolina — a charming, lush state which I hope to return to whenever I “settle down” — I drove to Washington, D.C. I did the monuments, the Hinge dates and the Ethiopian food (courtesy of my host, who was Ethiopian and took me out to eat). Funny story: he also tried to feed me with his hands while we were at dinner, which I was told is normal in Ethiopia, and would be rude of me to deny. Can you imagine me, a Cuban from Miami, eating from this man’s hand?! Ni muerta.

The next day I was headed to Chicago! Bright lights, big city! The Windy City! But not before a quick rest stop in Cleveland, Ohio. 

This is the part of the trip that gets a little strange and exhausting. Driving from D.C. to Ohio was one of the most eerie experiences of my life. I was driving through the Appalachians on my own. It was raining, and I was questioning my life choices — including this “fabulous, adventurous” road trip. This might sound very woo-woo, but I really felt the heavy energy of driving through one of the oldest mountains in the world. And equally, the weight of danger and uncertainty — when you’re road tripping alone, you become hyper-aware that danger is right around the corner.

In all honesty, I would have driven back to Florida in a heartbeat if my friend hadn’t agreed to meet me in Chicago, and do the Chicago to Colorado leg of the trip with me. Not wanting her to think I was a selfish asshole was my sole motivation to keep driving. 

So before I get to the monumental life lesson this road trip has taught me, I would like to offer up some practical advice in case you’re planning to venture out on four wheels — and you should at some point in your life.

TIPS: Space out your stays. If you plan to stay in cities for at least a month (which I consider the perfect amount of time to get to know a city), become a Landing member — it’s the best option for remote workers who want short-term rental options (or for people with commitment issues, like me). Get the Discount Tire insurance — they’ll cover your tires for a cheap price. Or as the title would suggest, discounted. And lastly, take the scenic route (but you knew that was coming). 

Alright, let’s skip to the good part. 

This solo road trip has been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. When I turned 30 in March this year, I really wasn’t down for the cause. I felt the pandemic had stolen my time, and still feel that way. But equally, I felt this was the only time in my life when I’ll have so little commitments (and a remote job), that I could actually do something as bold as drive across the country on my own.

When you’re on the road, it doesn’t feel fabulous or adventurous. It feels mundane, impractical, even. It feels like something you have to question. When you arrive to your destination, when you see the National Parks, when you visit the monuments, when you’re forced to talk to strangers, when you remember what it’s like to be daring, free and ready, that’s when you find some truth in the whole life happening for you thing. 

Before I came face to face with the realities of what a road trip might actually look like (not the romanticized version in my head), I thought this trip would guide me toward an improved version of myself. But it’s true that everywhere you go, there you are. So, have I improved? Yes, but it would have happened anywhere with enough effort. Am I still as fun and fearless as I was in my early 20s? Absolutely not, and I shouldn’t be. But I am more cautious, patient, and have a better sense of direction — when driving and elsewhere.

I’m writing this from Denver, Colorado, unsure whether my trip is over; unsure about where to go next. But tomorrow I will wake up, drink my coffee and be glad I’m here. At some point, I’ll pause traveling. But for now I can say I’ve found my vibe — even at 30 years old, or especially now.