21 Life Lessons from an Unplugged Road Trip: 14 Days and 3200 Miles (Part Two)

nathan with stream


Last month, I embarked on an amazing road trip.

I summed up the 10 Practical Lessons learned in Part One of this series here.


Here we go with Part Two, the more reflective and big-picture lessons I took away…


#11. When Life Hands You Lemons, It’s Because You Wanted Lemonade

The Law of Attraction works.

I’m not saying that all you need to do is think about what you want and it will magically appear.

What I mean is that when you are specific with what you are looking to bring into or develop in your life, be it a creative project, a relationship, or a way of being, and you actively put that energy out into the Universe, chances are the Universe will respond with support.

It may not be show up the way you thought, so be open to whatever comes your way.

Back in June, I wrote about the “Healthiest Road Trip Ever” – I was specific with how I wanted that trip to look, and at the same time, I wanted to do it now! So what did the Universe do?

Out of the blue, I received an email from a Nonstop Awesomeness reader I had met while in Portland. She was going to Australia for a few weeks and wondered if I might like to borrow her car.

Ummmm…. yeah!

Oh, and just to sweeten the deal, there was a two-person tent, sleeping bag, and cooler in the trunk.

The wheels in my head were already planning the road trip of my dreams before I finished writing her back! :-)

Now, if someone had called asking if I wanted to borrow a boat fully equipped with Scuba gear, perhaps I would have done that, but I think it’s just way more than a coincidence that I received that email.

See what I mean about Attraction? Time to magnetize more often!


#12. When You Need to Learn, Pressure Can Help

So that car I borrowed: a 1985 BMW.


nathan bmw


(Not sure why I seem to attract these ‘85 cars, but I’ll go with it.)

Definitely a cool car with one hiccup (at least for me): it’s a manual, and I didn’t really know how to drive one. Nope.

After a stressful first day with the car, I went to YouTube (the home of all good info) and watched . As simple and as silly as it was, it gave me a good understanding of the basics.

The next day, I went out to an empty parking lot and practiced – I even found a slight incline to practice stopping on hills! After a half hour, I felt ready, and knew that the majority of my driving would be on the highway anyway.

So what did the Universe do?

On my first day, I exit I-5 for the highway to Crater Lake in Oregon, assuming it will be another smooth ride. Nope. Stop lights as far as the eye can see!

Turns out, the Universe wanted to make sure I knew how to really do this, and to see if I’d lose my cool.

I stalled several times, with the requisite amount of freaking out (“Is that car behind me going to hit me? Will the driver get out and yell at me?”), but after a while, it became smoother, and by the next day, I was definitely getting the hang of it.

I was definitely stressed. I was “under pressure” to perform.

But I couldn’t just will the car forward, I couldn’t push it, and I didn’t have anyone else I could ask to drive it. I needed to figure this out – and right away. There was no stalling (hehe).

Eventually, it was smooth sailing…er, driving. :-)


#13. The Preparation Has Been Underway, Even If I Didn’t Know It.

Naturally when you take a trip, there are things to do beforehand: buying food, packing your gear, and wrapping up some loose ends.

The things I hadn’t counted on being part of my preparations were how I had been living my life!

1. Showering

When you’re camping, showers are a bit of a luxury, and often they’re not around every corner.

Fortunately, I’ve been showering about every three days, which coordinated perfectly with my trip.

I’ve also been experimenting with washing without any products (no shampoo or soap) since January. I’ve found the water does a pretty good job on its own cleaning me up and I still feel refreshed afterward. This was all handy on the trip, because I had no items to haul around or worry about leaving.

2. Eating

My approach to food had also been unknowing prep for this trip.

As you can see in my Healthy Ways to Awesome Days guide, I tend to go for whole, fresh foods – mainly fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, which were perfect for my trip, in terms of foods that would last, transport well, and still taste awesome, not to mention good for me!

The trail mix I had been enjoying whether I was in Chicago or Portland finally got to be used for its namesake as I hiked in Wyoming, Montana, and Washington.

3. Sleeping

I had no idea that couchsurfing and staying with friends over the last year would be so handy for my trip!

Getting used to sleeping in different places almost every night made the change of scenery on my road trip seem that much more usual, and not that big of a deal.

I’m thrilled to welcome this kind of change so easily, as I imagine it will allow me to see other “big changes” as just my next step in life.


#14. I LOVE Driving.

Whether it’s coming around a bend in the road and seeing snow-capped mountains, a crystal-blue ocean, or rolling hills, I always enjoy that “wow, that is so awesome” moment – something I had not seen before and didn’t know was there, and suddenly BOOM, there it is.


mt hood driving(taken while driving) “look Ma – no brains!” :-)


There is such flexibility and freedom that comes along with driving that you can’t get from taking a train, bus, or plane.

You get to decide when and where to stop, and how often.

Whatever strikes your fancy, you can go check it out, for as long as you like. That kind of travel makes me very happy.

During my trips up and down the West Coast, I often felt like stopping every quarter-mile, as the views are just that spectacular.

Just about anywhere you go, there are turnouts, trails, little towns, and other interesting places peppered along the route to discover – for me, life is all about taking the time to stop and see what’s out there.

I’m also a big fan of driving music. :-)

During my time in LA, blasting a fun and LOUD song as I (horribly) sang along, cruising down the 101 freeway, was one of my favorite parts of the day.

Some of my go-to artists: ELO, Journey, Coldplay, Black Eyed Peas and Cake. I’m not sure it’s possible to listen to their songs too loud.

On this trip, as there was no stereo, I was listening to music through my iPod in only my right ear, so I’m sure to anyone who noticed, I may have looked absolutely insane: singing loudly and proudly to no audible music whatsoever!

Gotta do what you love! :-)


#15. I’m a Country Mouse.

I lived in Los Angeles for 11 years, was comfortable there, and truly enjoyed it.

I had thoughts of moving to San Francisco! I figured I’d always be in cities.

I was convinced I was a city mouse.

But you know what? I’m now certain that I enjoy being out in nature – quiet, untouched, and untamed nature – a whole heck of a lot more.


nathan glacier park


I think I have to blame Hawaii for this one. :-) I mean, that place really ruined me on cities. I came back and now when I go to somewhere like Chicago (beautiful as it is), I just think, “why is there so much concrete!”

Not to mention, I seem to be able to hold my own out there. I survived camping, ate a pretty simple and healthy diet, and I hiked about 30+ miles all over the place and loved every second of it!

Whether I was heading out to waterfalls, checking out glaciers, or admiring canyons, I loved being out there.

My favorite points would be when there were no other people around – when I would stop and I could hear only the natural sounds around me. That, to me, is pretty cool for a guy whose spent lots of time in the concrete jungles. :-)


#16. I Don’t Miss Email (Ditto for Facebook and Twitter)

I think this road trip is the longest period in the last ten years I had gone without checking email. Wow.

Even during my work-exchange month on Hawaii, I was writing blog posts and finishing up VA work!

I thought it might be difficult to remove the desire to check, and yet I knew it wasn’t even going to be a possibility to get online. Knowing the internet wasn’t going to be available was perhaps the most exciting.

No matter how much I might want to see what’s going on, too bad – it wasn’t going to happen.

By about day 4 or 5 (while I was somewhere in Wyoming), I realized something cool: I didn’t care what was happening online.

I had no interest in what blog posts were being written or what was being posted on Facebook.

This is nothing personal – I’m totally inspired by many of the people I interact with and follow, but I realized that my life is not dependent upon being connected online and reading what’s going on. I’m still totally excited to follow and support them; I just need to do it in a way that still supports me.

That stuff is all fine, but my life can exist quite fully without all of it.

Now as someone playing in this digital space, I’m not looking to just abandon all this technology, and often it does play a very helpful and important role, so for me it’s about finding balance with how much time I’m doing this.

For me, the days of spending eight hours online (or more) are over.

Towards the end of my road trip, when I first logged online, I went to my email “just to see what was there.” Nothing looked that important and I logged off, thinking little of it. And yet later that day, I could feel my body was in a funk – I think it was anxiety around all those unread emails. Plus, my brain started to concern itself with all the things it had been “missing” – all the blogs posts and social media happenings that had transpired.

I was so thrown off that on a hike later that day, I repeatedly tripped over rocks and banged into tree branches. I was really off my game. I literally stopped, took a few deep breaths, and refocused so that I could go back to enjoying my trip!

Lesson learned: don’t check email until I’m ready to deal with it!

While I was hiking, camping, and driving around this beautiful country, none of that online stuff mattered. It was only when I saw what I missed that it became important.

So, it has been necessary to eliminate how much I see.

This is all in an effort to increase productivity. When I’m on the computer, I want it to be to get the stuff done that I need to and then get back to LIVING my life!


#17. I Need to Keep Doing Trips Like This.

I had WAY too much fun on this trip for this to be one of those, “yeah, I’d like to do that again…someday….”

At first, I start thinking, “well, I can’t just keep going on road trips – I mean, who’s going to pay for me that?”

Guess what, Nathan? That, my boy, is limited thinking!

If I’ve found something that I would literally (and in a sense, I did) PAY to do, then the question becomes: “how can I get paid to do this?”

Well, I’m not entirely sure…but I got some ideas, naturally. :-)

I’ve thought about creating a combination road-trip/learning experience, where I take a small group of awesomists out into the beautiful wild, get back in touch with our values and nature, and also bring along an expert in an area we’d all like to master: our financial world, personal relationships, business, creativity, nutrition, and so on.

Now that is something I would pay for – how about you? (let me know in the comments below)


nathan shadow


Now in the short term, I do have this USA National Parks pass until August 2012. I started researching other parks around the US that I’d love to see, and I’m tentatively planning a trip to the Cascades and Olympics in Washington before driving up to Alaska next summer (no details in place beyond that :-).

I have no interest in buying a car, though I’m open to renting or borrowing another one. My ideal car would still be a hybrid, electric or biodiesel – anyone got connections? :-)

I also learned that Amtrak offers stops to several parks around the US – could be a good use of points…


#18. I Eat Too Much.

This is one of my nutritional beefs with, at least, America.

In addition to not knowing what the heck is healthy (thanks to lack of education and marketing), and not knowing all the interesting ways to prepare foods (sticking to the tried and true boil, bake or fry), most people, including myself, have no idea how much to eat!

Even when we’re being healthy, how much salad is too much? Do we need another serving of vegetables?

I’m really working on listening to my body for cues when it’s full, and also practicing mindful eating – taking slower bites so that I can really taste my food, and aid my body in the digestion process. I even read that gas, belching, and bloating can be caused by eating quickly. No bueno.

So how do I know I eat too much?

After tracking what I ate for the two weeks on my trip, I can see that I can survive, and thrive, on a lot less than what I’m used to eating.


food journala couple pages from my food journal (click to enlarge)


Here was a typical dinner for me – and this included the days when I hiked 10 miles:

    • One entire avocado
    • Three scoops of Almond Butter, or a half-dozen Dates

Yup, that’s it. Sometimes, I’d have a few squares of chocolate about an hour later, but not always.

If you’ve never done the avocado dinner, it is SO GOOD. Very dense, very nutritious, and very tasty.


tomato avocado appleNo need to adjust your screen – that IS one massive avocado…


Breakfast was usually a banana and some nuts. Lunch as a specific meal became non-existent, and I just ate an apple or tomato or carrot when I was hungry. It made no sense to eat big meals as there was more hiking to do!

I’m not suggesting that this is only what I’ll eat, or that anything beyond this is over-eating (for me), but it was cool to realize how else I could eat and still experience a high quality of life.

It has been a challenge to stay on top of this since being back, where food is so plentiful everywhere I go – for most Americans, we don’t have to worry about where we’ll find our next meal or snack, and for me, it’s easy to just keep eating when food is around.

This definitely is a practice I’m excited to continue and can see that it will take serious effort on my part.


#19. We Are So Privileged

Whenever you spend a week traveling, be it camping or flying, I’m sure when you get back to your house, you’ll notice all the extra things that you were able to do without.

I’m not saying we need to get rid of everything and live like monks; it’s more to cultivate gratitude for all that we have, especially those of us living in the United States.

I’m so grateful that I truly have no idea what poor really looks like, or what it’s like to feel so absolutely hungry and unsure if or when I’ll eat.

When you’re also out in the wild, you begin to appreciate many of the conveniences we have in the modern world.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved (literally!) to come back to indoor plumbing. :-)


#20. The Unfamiliar Can Become the Usual, and You Even End Up Missing It. 

To say that I haven’t done much camping lately is an understatement.

I think the last time I went camping was sometime during the Reagan Administration. It just has not been how I rolled.

But with a tent in the car’s trunk and no desire (or money) to spend time at hotels, it was time to change things up and throw myself into the experience 100%!

And guess what? I really enjoyed it. It was genuinely fun to set up the tent at each new spot. Plus, after several days of setting up and moving gear, it became a routine just like my meditation or exercise practice. My body became used to this whole camping experience.

Which is why I was sad to arrive in Portland and find no places to camp.

Sure I could have paid $20 to set up my tent surrounded by RV’s in a trailer park, but I had just come from Mt. Hood National Forest – with lots of trees! Not interested in staring at lots of vehicles.

I had never expected that camping would be something I was looking forward to.


nathan camping


I’m sure we all have our own versions of this, like a food you refused to try and now can’t live without.

Now I’m curious to see what other funky or bizarre practices will come along that will soon seem as normal as… well, camping.


#21. Life is a Continual Experiment.

Despite my many months of traveling and adjusting to different couches and beds, I guess I wasn’t really ready for the subtleties of sleeping outside. :-)

The first night was pretty horrible: I didn’t have a pillow so I bunched up a couple jackets, which reminded me of sleeping on the floor of an empty apartment in .

Just like in Honolulu, I spent more time readjusting the jackets than actually sleeping.

When I arrived in Wyoming on the third day, I picked up an inflatable pillow, hoping this would accomplish my mission.

While my head was indeed more comfortable, I spent most of that night waking up every couple hours to put on another layer – ‘cause it was cold up there!

By about the sixth night into my trip, I pretty much had a system down, yet there were always new variables: there’d be high winds, the sleeping bag would slide off the mattress pads, or the temperature would fluctuate.

Now, I easily could have gotten up every morning – or spent the night – cursing my fate. To me, though, it was more about having a good sense of humor about all this and just looking at it like, “ok, what can I try next?”

Because I knew there was a solution out there – I just had to keep going.

We’re not talking about something impossible or inconceivable – it’s about me being comfortable enough to sleep! This puzzle could totally be solved.

The piece that would make the difference in terms of figuring it out, though, would be if I had the patience and clarity to see past the “plight” of my situation and to just focus on what I could do. This wasn’t the Universe punishing me, it wasn’t personal – why take it that way? It was just the situation I found myself in at this moment.

I think this “experiment” concept will be very helpful in the rest of my life: by taking this approach, I can relieve the pressure off myself by just trying something and seeing what happens.

Whether it’s with a creative project, a conversation, or even a blog post, it’s more about just diligently taking the next step, doing the work, and looking at the results.

No need to be so fully invested in something that it must work – life doesn’t respond work that way. If you apply too much force, chances are you’ll either break something, hurt yourself, or both.


So that’s Part Two.

If you missed it, check out Part One here – more of the practical items learned from taking such a massive road trip.


What are some of YOUR reflective/philosophical/big-picture lessons from past trips (be it in planes, trains, or automobiles)?


I’d love to hear your answer along with any other comments you have below.

Until next time,


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