We’re All Strangers Here, A Southwest Roadtrip Story

I had wanted to do a roadtrip through the Southwest for a long time but I have been unable to convince any of my friends to go with me. Most cited life or work obligations as the reason. Others were simply uninterested. I know this made me sound like I had really lame friends, which is not true. My friends are awesome and I’m sure they love me dearly – they just don’t love the idea of being cooped up in a car for many hours on end with me. (I still love you guys).

If this had been any other occasion I’d have had packed my bag and gone on my own. But long roadtrips is different. To be honest, I find long road trips intimidating.

So where does a desperate person go to find travel mates? Thorn Tree, of course. And that was how I found these 2 strangers who are just as desperate as I am. Mark is a laid back 20 something waiter from an tiny Greek island. Carrie decided to escape life in France traveling while in-between office jobs. She was fiercely independent, the organized one of the group, and the only one who brought an MP3 player. She really, really liked Katie Perry and Pink. It could’ve been worse, I guess.

One common uniting goal that we share? To see as much as of USA as possible.

Me, Carrie, and Mark

I don’t mind the idea of traveling with complete strangers.

MORE: Some People Just Don’t Know How to Treat Strangers

Long road trips test relationships – the whole being 24/7 in a confined space thing brings out the worst in people. But I’ve noticed that we tend to be more civilized in front of strangers – don’t you agree? Friends or couples who travel together always have a risk of ending up as strangers. But if you’re strangers to begin with? It can only get better right?

Here are some tidbits and snippets from our road trip across the Southwest:

The trip started in Austin, Texas and ended in Las Vegas. We quickly fell into a routine: drive for a couple of hours, go for a hike during the afternoon, drive a couple more hours. Once we were out of Texas, the distance between the places of interest shrank considerably. I’d say that every day we drove about 4-6 hours total.

Oh the places we saw:
– Austin, TX
– Big Bend National Park
– White Sands National Monument
– Arches National Park
– Zion National Park
– Bryce National Park
– Canyonland
– Grand Canyon
– Antelope Canyon
– Monument Valley
– Four Corners
– Horseshoe Bend
– Las Vegas
– Death Valley

I lucked out with these 2 as they like to hike as much as I do. We hiked so much and ate so little that I actually lost weight! A first in road trip history I think.

We had such different taste in food that we’d go on our own separate ways to look for food and meet back at our hotel room to eat together: me and my pizza, Carrie and her salad, Mark and his package of Oreos.

Mark lived off Oreos. And steak. But mostly Oreos.

The first day of our trip we bought a basil plant and we named him, appropriately, ‘Basil’. Basil became our unofficial trip’s mascot and we babied the heck out of that potted plant. We lost Basil somewhere in Utah – after too many of its leaves ended up in our sandwiches.

Southwest Roadtrip

The scariest moment of the roadtrip was when we almost got into a T-bone car crash somewhere in Texas. Afterwards I felt the need to explain to my European buddies the subtleties of American driving. Like what “Left turn yield on green” means.

Also – cruise control. And 4 way stop sign.

My biggest fear coming into the trip was that my 2 fellow road trippers would be horrible, reckless drivers.

Well, it sort of backfired. Mark and Carrie were the slowest drivers I’d ever met, always driving well below the speed limit. It was driving me INSANE. So I tried to make up for lost time when it was my turn to drive. One time I noticed Carrie’s pale knuckles as I was going 100 mph trying to pass as semi and I realised:

OMG, I’m the reckless driver in the group.

The awesome Grand Canyon Hotel in Williams, AZ on Route66
The awesome Grand Canyon Hotel in Williams, AZ on Route66

Because I’m an introvert by nature, when we got to Arizona I needed a break from the ‘togetherness’. I decided to splurge on a private room in The Grand Canyon Hotel.

It was the best decision. Not only did I get to recharge, but the hotel was totally adorable – a renovated old building located on Route 66 filled with antiques and memorabilia from that golden era of road trips

I highly recommend this hotel (and the town, Williams – AZ) if you’re ever around Grand Canyon.

4 corners monument jump
You’re at the point where 4 states meet, what do you do? Well, jump of course.

I honestly expected a lot more dramas and foibles during our trip. Amazingly our interests, priorities, and budget overlapped enough that this motley group worked out well. Traveling with strangers can be a crapshoot sometimes, but I got really lucky in this case.

So 3000+ miles and 7 states later we said good bye in Vegas. I flew back to San Francisco while the others went on their own ways to continue their travel.

These 2 strangers and I have gotten to know facts about each other that our own friends and families might not: juicy relationship tidbits, personal insecurities, family dramas, and bathroom habits.

My travels have brought many of these short but personal relationships into my life. There are people out there in the world with whom I’ve shared some of my life’s most memorable moments that I’ll never, ever see again. It’s very enriching and bittersweet at the same time, do you know what I mean?

Anyway, I can’t wait to share with you guys more stories and pictures from this awesome trip (especially the pictures from Antelope Valley that will BLOW your mind) – keep an eye out for the following weeks.

Do you have any travel with strangers story to share?

11 Replies to “We’re All Strangers Here, A Southwest Roadtrip Story”

  1. And the award for the bravest traveler goes to JILL! Wow! I think this idea is awesome, but I don’t think I would be brave enough to do it…kudos to you. I really enjoyed reading this…especially the crazy driver being you! I would have been insane too, chugging down the road. UGH Thank you for making me smile this morning!

  2. I love that you did this, Jill! I’m not sure I’d have the courage to drive with complete strangers, though I agree that we tend to be more polite around people we don’t know. I’m getting ready to take a road trip with my husband and parents so we’ll see how that goes!

  3. That arch photo is lovely!

    I am not sure I could hack this for a long trip (hardcore introvert and shy to boot) but while on our RTW trip we shared a car with some people off Couchsurfing for a day trip around the golden circle in Iceland – one Brit couple, one American. Good fun for a day!

  4. Thats really smart, I hadn’t thought of doing that before. Its hard to find friends who want to go to the same places at the same time as you.

  5. “Friends or couples who travel together always have a risk of ending up as strangers.” I can’t tell you how much I agree with this Jill. I once travelled with some very good friends, so good they were part of our wedding party. These days, we haven’t spoken in over a year. Its sad but living in each others pockets for 3 weeks just proved to me how we should not be friends. I really love this idea of travelling with strangers and will be looking to do this myself one time. Can’t wait to read more about your road trip!

    1. Sad when that happens, right? Jack and I traveled together for 1 year and there were times when it tested our relationship.

  6. It’s funny, I never would have thought to find travel companions on a forum, what a great idea! I will be travelling by myself a lot from now on as the boyfriend wants to focus on his career. I thought there would be places that are hard to go to with just me as I’m not too keen to rent a car by myself as I’m not the most confident driver and because of the cost. I will definitely be looking for fellow road trip buddies on thorntree from now on!

    1. I’ve used Thorn Tree to find travel mates quite a bit now: in Peru, in Ethiopia… definitely a good resource to find travel mates and share cost.

  7. I’ve met people when I’ve been on the move and traveled with them but never have I done exactly what you did. Interesting way to see the world – and to explore it through other people’s eyes. Sounds like you covered off some of the best scenery in the SW – and I love the look of that hotel.

  8. I love this idea! It is funny you point out that they drove slow. I would be the same way with you on explaining driving habits and trying to make up for lost time. I have a couple of European friends that I go hiking with. When they drive, they stay in the right lane and go just or under the speed limit. Sounds like a great trip. I have done some of the parks but would love to explore more!

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