A solo trip is something I’ve thought about for a long time, but I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to actually try it. I felt like there was so much stigma around solo travel-
What are people going to think of me?
Can I stay in a hotel room by myself?
What if something goes wrong?
And how awkward am I going to feel being around couples, families, and groups all the time?
I wouldn’t know unless I tried, right?
I planned to visit my sister for Easter weekend, see her new baby, and then go from there. Her location in Wisconsin would be the perfect jumping-off point for a western road trip.
The visit to my sister was also what prompted the idea of solo travel. I thought it might be awkward to invite someone to travel with me and then tell them they had to first spend three days staring admiringly at my seven-week-old niece. I just didn’t see all the pieces fitting together.
So, I hit the open road, leaving my sister’s house and my tiny new niece for the unknown. South Dakota has always been on my bucket list, I had lots of miles on my soon-to-be-ending lease, and a week off school.
The time had come to try a trip on my own.
The first hurdle- driving. There was A LOT of driving.
Eight hours of farm country lay ahead of me, but the weather was brilliant and sunny, with crazy-high temperatures. I sweated my way through the drive, forgetting to take my sweatshirt off at every rest stop. And there were a lot of those! I don’t know if it was the coffee or nerves, but I had to stop A LOT.
At least I was able to get out and stretch my legs.
In between stops, there was hardly any traffic, so I set the cruise and… went. Best of all- there was Caribou Coffee in Minnesota! Seven hundred calories, but so worth it. My trip was off to a great start.
Interstate 90 is the main highway across South Dakota, and the roadside attractions make a major effort towards keeping drivers entertained. I stopped first at the roadside Sculpture Garden, which was closed but provided me with an exciting detour down a dirt road, where I almost got stuck in a dirt pile. Next was Mitchell and the Corn Palace. It is a true testament to the remoteness of South Dakota that the Corn Palace is so well-marketed. Mitchell was a seedy town with a tiny main street decorated in an Old West theme. If I ever need leather goods or tomahawks, I know where to go.
The Corn Palace is really just a corn façade. The rest is a regular building, complete with a full-size basketball court. No idea why…
My visit was tempered by the rumbles of thunder coming with more and more frequency.
I dashed back to the car just as the rain started. My sunny day was gone, and so was my smile. It became three hours of rain, hail, thunder, lightning, and wind. At one point there was even sleet and I seriously considered just stopping.
I pushed on and made it to the highly advertised Wall Drug just in time for the snow to come. Somehow, the snow seemed to even put a damper on my buffalo burger. Snow was not in my plans.
But when I hit the Black Hills the next day, snow blanketed the landscape, providing me with some hair-raising driving. The speed limit dropped, and dropped, and dropped again as the road rose and fell, twisting around. At times it seemed to disappear completely, causing me to shriek and hit the brakes. Thank goodness there were no cars around me.
I skidded my way to the Crazy Horse monument and then to Mount Rushmore. Both have long been on my bucket list. I love bucket list days! There’s something so surreal about experiencing things for yourself when you’ve only ever viewed them in pictures.
Everything was covered in snow.
Not my ideal, but beautiful in its way.
After a brief stay in a one-stoplight town that left me thanking God I lived in Ohio, I was ready to visit Custer State Park. Again, the roads were completely empty. It was just me, my music, and my terror, alone on the crazy, twisty highway.
Not going to lie, the driving was tough. My heart was in my throat the whole time. I was dry-mouthed and chilly; my legs were shaky when I finally flung myself gratefully out of the car.
The roads were narrow and full of multiple hairpin turns, with frequent drop-offs. At times I had to almost stop, but then I was nervous about making it up the hills. They just kept winding up, up, up. I couldn’t believe how high I was at times- with the earth falling away and spreading out right next to me. Beautiful, intimidating, and invigorating.
The driving was a challenge, but it was exhilarating, too. I must be crazy.
Custer is famous for its scenery, but I didn’t get to see a lot of it. Everything was (surprise, surprise) covered in snow and the temperatures were still low, so I wasn’t motivated to explore much. When I tried to stop at one of the lookouts, I almost got stuck in the snow.
I did see a lot of wildlife, which was amazing, though seeing all the buffalo made me feel guilty about eating one of their number the day before.
And then- Badlands National Park. This was my favorite part of the trip. Almost as soon as you get in, you’re greeted with the Pinnacles Overlook. Jaw-dropping.
Amazing. Breathtaking. It was so wonderful it almost moved me to tears.
I couldn’t believe I was the one looking at it. At the second overlook, I sat down and ate a pizza (I only travel with the essentials). It was completely quiet except for the wind. It was just me, alone in this wild, remote place. And I loved it. I didn’t feel lonely or sad. I felt alive.
As I sat there, I realized I didn’t want to be anywhere else, with anyone else.
I was at peace.
I’m so incredibly thankful for what I was able to experience and so glad I didn’t let fear hold me back. The whole trip was great, and I would definitely travel solo again.
I’ll talk more about traveling alone in my next post. This week, I’m thankful for the blessing of an adventure. My ideal trip might look different than yours, but I loved it. Together, let’s celebrate every SINGLE blessing!