As featured on Thought Catalog.
This summer, one of my best friends and I decided to go on a 1,741 mile, 26 hour road trip from Chicago to Arizona. We stuffed ourselves like little sausages into her front two seats, my suitcase and her entire life lodged into the back of her new car like Jenga pieces.
Our snacks were strategically placed in the console between our two seats, my purse was at my feet, phone chargers plugged in with extended cords, and sunglasses and waters in the cup holders. I was dressed in a loose-fitting sundress; she wore a comfy t-shirt and shorts. Both of us had sandals and sweatshirts tossed in the back between her box of winter clothes and dressy heels. With our GPS’s ready and bellies full, we headed off. Our first stop was Iowa: meeting our friend for lunch in Des Moines.
I’ve been on several road trips in my life. Most short, like the two hours from Northern Cali to the Bay, or from Illinois to a Wisconsin Dunes campground. Those have been with friends. Those have been short enough to be manageable. No big fights. No farts hot-boxing the car. No annoying stations on the radio.
Almost every year, my family and I will do the long trip South: Chicago suburbs down to Naples, Florida where we have our condo. This one’s a little more…challenging, let’s put it. It’s my parents, my younger sister, and more recently, our fifty-two pound Pit-Terrier, Flash. This road trip usually consists of my dad starting out, then my mom, then me taking the 2 AM driving shift that nobody wants while my dad snores incredibly loud and my mom stays up anyways because she gets anxious. This 22-hour trip is guaranteed to have a lot of lingering dog poop smells, uncomfortable and scrunched-on-the-floor sleeping positions, some sweaty Flash cuddling, and Cheeze-Its (don’t ask, it’s just the family road trip snack of choice).
So I’ve had my share of road trips—good and bad, but this would be the first time I would spend a large amount of time in a car with someone I wasn’t related to. I was mostly hoping that by the end we wouldn’t want to murder each other with forks.
My best friend was headed to Arizona to start her life. She graduated the year before me, and had been spending the last twelve months saving money, slaving her life away at a local steakhouse. She had worked hard and she had loved living in Chicago, but in her opinion, it was time to start doing what she had always wanted to do—move West and pursue her acting career. I was incredibly proud of her.
I was actually headed to Arizona to meet my boyfriend’s family for the first time. GASP. Yes, I was extremely nervous. And when I realized that my best friend was driving to literally the same area, I was not only thrilled I’d have some company to hold my scared, sweaty hands but I’d get to spend time and really say goodbye. It had randomly worked out to be the perfect scenario.
After meeting one of our friends to drop off my car in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, we were Des Moines bound. The first three hours consisted of catching up, talking about what had happened in the last few weeks since we’d last seen each other: the guy she’d met at a hotel party her restaurant had been catering, the latest drama of my long distance relationship, and our last five Instagram posts. We reached Des Moines in no time, already starving and craving Panera (my favorite place in the entire world!) And we spent the next hour chatting with another one of our college friends between slurps of Broccoli Cheddar Soup and chunks of sourdough bread rolls. Then off again.
The plan was for her to drive the first five hours while I slept, then I’d take over sometime around 10 or 11 PM. And we’d switch every five hours, or once one of us started hallucinating or off-roading.
Well…it didn’t really go as planned. In fact, by the end of the trip, the two of us had slept about an hour each. But the trip ended up being the most valuable pre-my-best-friend-is-moving-across-the-country bonding I could have asked for. Actually, I’d go as far as saying everyone needs to take a cross-country road trip with their best friend(s) at least once in their life.
Why? #1 You’ll cry.
And I don’t mean a little sniffle here and there. I mean the full-out, we-should-probably-stop-and-get-Kleenex-because-my-arm’s-all-snotty type of bawling.
Somewhere in the rainy, pothole-covered backroads of Colorado, my best friend and I shared some of our biggest regrets and fears. This went everywhere from the drunk college mistakes to the family secrets weighing on our hearts. I mean, we confessed and talked about it all.
I remember one moment vividly—we had just pulled onto a county highway somewhere in Colorado and could actually drive more than 45 mph because the ground was finally pothole-free. My best friend had just told me something heartbreaking, and I remember looking at the road, dark and empty stretched out before us. I started thinking how terrifying it would be to get in a car and drive across what felt like the world, leaving everything and everyone you knew to start somewhere completely different. Then I looked up at the sky, at the stars that would still be the same stars in Arizona as they would be in Chicago, and thought of how exciting her new life would be. She was starting fresh. She was dream-chasing. I reached my hand across the center console and took mine in hers. It was a simple gesture, and since I couldn’t ask her to pull over just so I could squeeze her in a giant bear-hug, it would have to do.
And as our little car rolled down this dark, deserted Colorado backroad, I cried. She cried. We both cried until we laughed blubbery, half-cry-half-giggles, and then we cried harder. And laughed harder. And in that moment, some little broken parts of our hearts were filled.
#2 You’ll laugh.
Uncontrollably. Randomly. You’ll make eye contact, start giggling, and suddenly you’re bursting out laughing for absolutely no reason. There’s nothing like being sleep deprived and high on sugar candy and Starbucks Doubleshot Energy Mochas. There’s nothing funnier than two clueless Chicago girls getting pulled over for speeding in the middle of Kansas by a cop who ends up letting you go because he feels bad that you still have over 13 hours of driving left. There’s nothing better than getting your most embarrassing, never-been-told-before stories off your chest. And there’s nothing better than fart stories. I mean when’s the last time you told a fart story?! For me, never. (But side note: girls still don’t fart.)
#3 You’ll learn your limits.
Mile 367 you’ll learn that your best friend’s automatic, hands-free calling device is freaking loud and will wake you up from any attempted nap. Mile 1,021 your best friend’s paranoia of you driving on the winding mountain roads will drive you crazy. And mile 1,060 your I’m-about-to-meet-the-parents anxiety will drive her absolutely bonkers.
A one-day-three-hour road trip will show you how much of one person you can take. It will show your pet peeves: drivers that can’t pick a lane, the smell of stale Fritos, 60 mph speed limits for no reason (I mean, really! Why can’t they at least be 65?!)
You’ll learn how caffeine affects your body (For me it’s like snorting cocaine…not joking. My whole body shakes and my brain goes 27975 miles an hour!) And the most important life skill: you’ll learn how long you can hold your pee.
#4 It’s stress free (except driving around the mountains)
Seriously though, what’s better for you than your favorite Pandora stations, binging on junk food, and talking about everything on your mind? I mean, with best-friend road trips, who needs therapy sessions?
#5 It’s actually educational
In a day-long road trip, you’ll learn a lot about yourself: goals, fears, future plans. You’ll realize that you want to live in a big city, that you want to marry someone who loves your emotional side, that you’re terrified of hating your future teaching job, and that no matter what you try to do, your hair is going to get greasy at some point on this car ride.
You’ll learn a lot about your best friend, too. You’ll realize how strong she is. How beautiful she is, even after being cramped in a car for 27 hours. And you’ll learn that you can’t live without her. And that no matter how far apart you’ll now live, you’ll still stay just as close.
And #6, You’ll realize that no guy will ever replace the bond between you and your girlfriends
By the time you reach Arizona, you’ll probably smell like a mix of Burger King, coffee, peanut butter crackers, and sweat. You’ll have your hair tied at the top of your head, your makeup rubbed off, and your two-day old clothes stuck to your body. But your best friend will love you through all of that. A true example of unconditional love.
And as you unpack your suitcase from between her laundry and bedroom décor, you’ll realize that no one can ever replace the bond of your girlfriend. The one who knows all your secrets, comforted you through all your tears, and loved you even with baggy under eyes and road trip dog breath. True love at its finest.