Destination: Joshua Tree, California USA
Trip Length: ~9 hours
Vacation Days Used: 0 hours
Trip Cost: $0
The first trip I ever went on by myself was on March 12th, 2017. I had downloaded the couchsurfing app a couple days beforehand (having heard about it from some college friends). I wanted to be like them, use the app to live as a world citizen, going from couch to couch all around the world. It sounded like ultimate freedom. Yet a part of me didn’t know if I could give up the rest of my life doing that, so I decided to dip my toes into that world by meeting up with some fellow travelers in the area and going on a day trip.
I connected with a group of travelers in the area that were headed to Joshua Tree and decided to join up with them and make the trip together. I headed to the meet up spot at 7:30am in the morning in the parking lot of a local Albertson’s grocery store. A couple minutes later I saw somebody from the group pull into the lot, I was super weary but I went up, said hi, and met Jennifer. She seemed like a friendly person. She was in the area for a conference and on her day off decided to try to get some hiking in. We waited around in the plaza for 2 other people, but they never showed, and after 30 minutes we decided to just leave for Joshua Tree.
During the 3-4 hour drive there, we chatted a lot about travel, and our motivations. I told her that I wanted to travel while I’m young before I have even less time and energy to do it. She told me about her travel experiences, balancing travel and work, and shared with me her motivations for travel, her travel stories, and the friends and connections she’s made along the way.
After we got to Joshua Tree, we only had about 2-3 hours to explore the park because she had to be back that afternoon to catch her flight out. We drove around, stopping at some of the recommended highlights around this beautiful area. The park was scattered with enormous round rocks that looked like huge dinosaur eggs. It was quite a sight but also a bit crowded that day. We hiked around some of the marked trails and climbed some of these rocks, trying to figure out what geological process could’ve made these boulders so round and bulbous.
Between hiking around rocks and driving from one part of the park to another, I told her that one of the things on my bucket list was to go see the northern lights, but I’ve been on the fence about making the trip to Alaska because I’d probably have to go solo (I didn’t have many friends at the time nor did I think I could convince any of them to go on a random trip to Alaska with me). What if something happens on the trip? What if it costs too much? But she encouraged me that it would be fine, and there was no hesitation in her believing that I could do it. I think that was the most encouraging and surprising part, because I don’t know if I would’ve gotten that from some of my friends or family. And even though we barely knew each other, I believed her, because here’s someone with so much travel experience telling me I could do this trip no problem.
We ended up rushing out of the park a little earlier than planned because she realized she had left something at her hotel. On the drive back, traffic ate up so much time that there was no time for her to drop me back off at my car in the Albertson’s parking lot. So I went with her to the airport, she dropped off her rental car, she told me to tell her all about my Alaska trip once I go, and ran to the terminal. I took a cab back to my car, went home, pulled up my saved google flights search that I had been mulling over and hesitating over, and booked the flight at the end of the month to Fairbanks, Alaska.
Looking back, I think meeting Jennifer on this little day trip was a butterfly effect moment that ended up altering the course of my life for the better. I wasn’t sure if it was brilliant luck or what but this otherwise random stranger was kind, encouraging and motivational, and she helped ease my anxieties about solo travel at just the right time, and gave me that little push to kick off one of the most rewarding passions in my life: travel.