There’s no question about it, people: the summer ‘grams are upon us. On any given day, during any given scroll, we’ll suffer a throng of study abroad photos, vacation-grams, and, most certainly, the ubiquitous road trip photo. If you’re like me, and you’re a sucker for pics of America’s wide-open spaces, the last will resonate with you the most.
We may glimpse our fave bloggers dangling over the edge of the Grand Canyon in a jean jacket embellished with the American flag, or a model admiring a vast stretch of desert in a UO maxi dress. They look so… wild. And free. Oh, and one with Earth.
But social media, as always, proves somewhat misleading. I embarked on a week-long road trip through nine states with my best friends and boyfriend, and, thanks to Instagram, my expectations were a just a tad off-base with reality. Here’s what I didn’t know to expect:
You and your travel buddies will hate each other at times.
It shouldn’t have surprised me that spending days-on-end with friends in the cramped interior of a Honda Pilot could harvest some animosity. We did get into a tussle or two, but nothing major: Who is driving next? — Give me the charger! — I’m leaving you in the desert tonight to go to a hotel!
It all worked out OK, though, once we realized that without teamwork, no one was making it out alive.
You will feel really not cute at times.
I had taken the time to plan out some photo-worthy outfits for each day of the trip, but the American southwest proved a dehydrating, lip-chapping, reality check. Track shorts and a T-shirt were a welcome alternative. At least my hair was un-frizzy for once, thanks to whatever moisture-sapping elements were in the sweltering air.
You will be really scared at times.
When running on little sleep and suffering from mild dehydration, you’ll be able to detect the potential danger in all the various non-threats surrounding you. Is that shadow of a cactus actually a murderer slowly approaching? Yes. Are the stray cats in the parking lot possessed? Absolutely. I had to call my mom to talk myself and my friends out of packing up and abandoning our first sketchy motel of the trip (the first of many). She did, and we were fine.
You will feel like you want to go home at times.
Maybe it will be the moment you realize you’re stranded in the desert for the night, facing a sandstorm complete with heat lightning (because of course). Maybe it will be at 3 AM in the motel room that, despite the Black Ice air freshener taped to the A/C unit in the corner, still smells faintly of various bodily fluids. Maybe it will be when you’re on your fifth McDonald’s run in a three-day period (suffice to say we went to McDonald’s a lot more than we’d planned to). You will most certainly find yourself longing for the little comforts of home during these dark (but brief) hours.
You will make changes to the itinerary as you go.
Your friends may not be totally psyched about the idea of hiking two miles up the Rocky Mountains with 50 pounds of camping gear on their backs. That’s fine – you can adjust accordingly. If my camping-averse friend Ashlyn hadn’t begged us to please not go camping for a third time, we wouldn’t have had time to visit Telluride, CO, which, hands-down, was one of the best parts of the trip. (Shoutout to all the awesome locals we met. I know you don’t remember me, but I miss you.)
You will feel like you’re in a movie at times.
Cruising through Monument Valley, with Monty Kelly playing through the speakers, I really felt like I was in an old western film. Or, at the very least, the third Back To The Future installment. I can thank a carefully-curated road trip soundtrack accompanied by some incredible scenery for what I will look back on as some of the most magical experiences of my life.
You will come to really appreciate your friends.
And not just for the obvious reasons, like when they dig your lost shoe out of 3 feet of snow to save you from impending frostbite. (Thanks Seth.)
In the strange, beautiful, uncharted wilderness, I found myself especially grateful for my road trip companions, because I got to watch each of their individual strengths come into play. Their tenacity for adventure never ceased to surprise and reenergize me, and I woke up every day excited to hit the road with them, no matter where or how little we’d slept the night before.
So, there you have it. If you find yourself reading all of this and remaining relatively unfazed, still determined to road-trip, I’m not here to deter you. In the end, what we glean from social media is actually kind of accurate: it’s definitely worth it to hit the road.