By Melissa Dohmen
Editor’s note: Carson Vaughan and Melissa Dohmen are two full-timers formerly from Nebraska. After renovating their 18′ travel trailer, “Elsie,” they hit the road with their dog, Costello, for adventures to come. Here is a set of reflections penned by Melissa.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain
“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck
“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” — Lawrence Block
If you’re big on Pinterest, or happen to travel a lot, or just frequent airport gift shops, then chances are you’ve seen your fair share of inspirational travel quotes. I’ve got mixed emotions on them and whether or not it’s a productive exercise to try and sum up the experience of traveling, mostly because I think it leads to cliches and comparisons that aren’t all that revelatory.
I’ve been thinking on this recently because we are often asked what our personal travel philosophy is; how we decide exactly who we’ll talk to, what we’ll do, when we’ll do it and where we’ll head when we land in each state. The problem with travel quotes is that they often leave out the honest truth: We have no agenda. There is no plan. We show up, make the best we can of where we’re at and who occupies that space with us, and the rest is completely undecided.
I understand that this is an unfulfilling answer for people who like to look up the top things to do in each place or aspire to write thorough Trip Advisor reviews. I’ve been known to do it a time or two myself, if I’m being honest. The temptation to Google “what to do in Memphis” is always there, but I try to ignore it.
Instead, I think it’s easier for me to try and explain this nonexistent manifesto of ours by telling some honest truths about what it’s really like to travel full-time, and how the schedule/pace/culture of this lifestyle really doesn’t lend itself well to quotes and succinct sentences on how to do what we’re doing.
1. You can’t pretend to know a place in a week
We spend roughly a week in every place we land, and as Carson said this morning, “It’s much easier to stay longer than you expected than to cut it short.” That’s because a week is never enough time to truly know a place. It’s barely enough time to scratch the surface, usually, after we consider all the time inevitably spent setting up and taking down the trailer, doing our jobs (marginally well), seeing any friends/relatives/family in the area, etc. Even if we did max out every minute with a place’s food, culture, city and shopping, we could never really know what it’s like to live there. Travel mode does not equal “I live here” mode. There isn’t an equivalent.
2. Setting itineraries and schedules is time consuming (and often unfulfilling)
We don’t set itineraries. Ever. I know, it’s making my fellow Type-A friends very nervous, and it’s something I had to seriously overcome this year. At first I did my fair share of Googling and visiting Eater.com and Thrillist.com trying to find the best and brightest each place could offer. I even looked at Trip Advisor, which I DO NOT recommend under any circumstances. It’s natural to want to make sure you’re not missing out. But the more time you spend doing everything I listed above, the less time you have to actually enjoy yourself. Plus, if you start making lists of things to do, you’ll push yourself to conquer the list at all costs, giving yourself zero time to relax, take detours, skip or repeat something. Instead, we’ve started asking people to tell us about neighborhoods they like instead of actual places. It gives us time to seek out what we like and get a feel for a place without getting specific.
3. No place is ever as cool as they say it is
There isn’t a place yet on our trip that has lived up to the hype. Because it’s just that: hype. You’ll be thoroughly disappointed if you focus on “hot spots” because they don’t always translate. I’ll give you a personal example: All throughout the trip people kept telling us that we’d love Portland, ME, Providence, RI, and Burlington, VT. And while those places are fine, they don’t even crack our top 10. Instead, we fell in love with Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Memphis and Milwaukee (and a few others, too! We see you, Asheville, we see you!).
4. First impressions usually stick
This is one I know will be controversial, but stick with me. A first impression is different than a perceived impression you have about a place. For instance, you can think one place is something before you get there based on what someone told you, pictures you saw on the internet or what Anthony Bourdain said about it. But your first impression — i.e., the feeling you get when you arrive somewhere new for the first time and walk its streets and spend even just an hour there — that is different. And for me, my first impression — i.e., how I actually felt when I got to a place — usually held true. If I got a good vibe from a place, it usually stayed that way and vice versa. Now, I know some people will call that “projecting” since I’m not taking into account outside factors like how I was feeling when we got there, the weather, how long we stayed, etc. But THAT is all part of travel. Good, bad or in between. So first impressions matter, and they stick, and they aren’t always fair. But that’s how it goes.
5. It’s important to do nothing
You will become very irritable to the outside world, your partner, your friends and your dog if you don’t give yourself time to breathe. Read at the coffee shop. It will tell you as much about how you feel in any given space as it would if you were hiking that big hill or raving at the best club.
6. Suggestions from friends, family are completely subjective
One great thing about travel is that it opens people up. People LOVE to tell you about their favorite places, hangouts, restaurants, etc. We have met many new people and friends on the trip simply swapping sandwich shops and trail recommendations. But know that everything is subjective. Sometimes places hold nostalgia for people, but not for you. Or sometimes why you like a place depends on certain intangibles that don’t really transfer. Our advice is to use suggestions from your peers and friends as a starting point, not a road map.
7. The golden rule: seek out what you love
You know that phrase KISS (keep it simple stupid)? Well, it 100% applies to travel, and here’s how: The most rewarding/amazing/groundbreaking experiences will happen if you keep it simple and stick to what you love. How do you know what you love? It’s not always easy to figure out, but start with your hobbies. You know, things you do when you’re at home on your own. It took us a while to find ours, but here are a few examples. I’m a runner, so one of my favorite things to do is make a running route in each place we land. Carson is passionate about writing, so we try to find at least one cool book store in each state and purchase a read by local authors.
Just do what you love. It’s that simple.
You can follow Melissa and Carson’s adventures on their website, localcolorrx.