My Road Trip from California to New York City- Solo Female

Last September I decided to move to New York City. I made this decision about a week before I left. I honestly felt like NYC was calling me. I decided to drive because I thought, “well, I’m already doing something kinda crazy- might as well go all out.”

I wanted to see as much as possible, I wanted to go see so many things I’d heard about all my life. It seemed a good a time as any to go do it.

I sat down with my phone and put “New York” into my maps. I went through a few different routes I could take, and I chose the one with the most interesting destinations while also being efficient with nothing too out of the way. I would start putting in shorter destinations- like “California to Arizona”, and start seeing what was on that route. I would google tiny little towns and see if there was anything stop-worthy there. After a few days, I had my route… although that definitely ended up changing a few times.

When the day finally came to leave I really couldn’t feel the seriousness of what I was doing- I was just excited.

I started driving and I instantly started crying. A feeling of freedom came over me and I just felt so liberated.

My first stop was actually on the side of the road. I stopped on the way to Mojave National Preserve when I saw an eerie recliner. I was getting a little antsy so I chose to take a break and check it out.

Next, I made my way in Mojave National Preserve. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was a big desert with lots of cacti. Don’t get me wrong it was beautiful, but there wasn’t really anything to do there. I took some pictures, and then realized I was probably surrounded by snakes and ran back to my car.

My next stop was a beautiful art installation called Seven Magic Mountains. I took some of my favorite photos of my trip here. It’s basically a bunch of painted rocks stacked on top of each other, but it’s definitely worth the stop.

Only about 20 minutes later, I arrived in Las Vegas. Here I was meeting up with my friend Jon who so graciously let me stay at his apartment. We went out for all you can eat sushi, and then he took me to a cool spot where you can watch planes land and take off, all with the Vegas strip right in the background. Planes are one of my favorite things ever, so this was definitely one of my favorite nights- and my first night.

The next morning I woke up super early, adrenaline pumping, and headed for the Grand Canyon. I found a few amazing stops along the way. First, I ran into the most amazing patch of sunflowers on the side of the road- the side of the road wound up being my best friend on this road trip.

I stopped for gas in a quaint little town in Williams, Arizona. It had a very retro feel to it- stocked with a retro cafe and a statue of Elvis. These little- seemingly pointless- stops for gas is where I found some of my favorite spots. I learned on this trip that there is true beauty everywhere- or at least some cool stuff to see.

At this point, I’m not far from the Grand Canyon, but on my way, I drove past something that made me flip a U-turn. I passed this little Flintstones hotel and I had to go back and look at it. It was a completely themed experience with huge statues everywhere from the show. It was really one of those moments that displaces you from the current year and place. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re headed to the GC!

Next up was the big mama herself- the Grand Canyon. I got there and didn’t really know what I was going to do other than look at it. It turns out that’s all I needed to do. There are things to do there like different trails and hikes, but I opted for just exploring on my own. I’d definitely never seen anything like it. The immensity of this earth-made canyon can truly make you forget about all of your problems. I loved it there so much I wanted to get to my next destination ASAP- which was another national park.

The following leg is where I really started to get adventurous. I drove towards Zion National Park, and I’d planned to sleep in my car in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I found a big store that was 24 hours- and only about an hour and a half from Zion- and decided this would be my resting place for the night. I went inside to brush my teeth and wash my face, I even picked up some fresh fruit for the car. I set up my makeshift car bed and put up all of my window coverings, but I just couldn’t sleep. I don’t know if it was the excitement of the road trip or the circumstances of my sleeping arrangements- but it wasn’t gonna happen.

I made the game-time-decision to drive to Zion that night. It was already pretty late, maybe around 1 or 2 am, but I really had nothing else to do. I drove the pitch black, windy roads to the park. I don’t know why I expected someone to be at the toll booths, but of course there was nobody there- it was 4 am at this point. I drove straight into the park and parked. I was finally getting tired, so I once again laid down in the backseat and ended up falling asleep.

I woke up super early, again, the adrenaline. I was just so excited for everything I was about to do I think I slept a total of maybe 10 hours this entire week. I got out of my car right as the sun was rising, and I got to experience some of the most beautiful views I had ever seen.

I had no idea what I was going to do in the park- as per usual- but a few other early risers started to amass. They all seemed to be lining up for a shuttle, so I figured that was the thing to do. I rode the shuttle and tried to feel out where other people were getting off. After eavesdropping on a few conversations, I decided I wanted to try out the Narrows. It was a hiking section that takes you through narrow (duh) parts of the Zion canyons.

I got out of the bus to the brisk morning air, yoga mat on my shoulder, and headed off onto the trail. I quickly got to a little river with no trail left. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next, so I waited for others to catch up to me so I could see what they were going to do. To my surprise, they all began walking straight into the water. I figured we had to cross some water and then the trail would continue on the other side, so I hopped into the water as well.

After walking in the water for about five minutes, now soaking wet up to my hips, I realized this wasn’t ending any time soon. I started to understand that this entire hike was going to be in this river. Once I came to terms with that, I started having the time of my life. It was a little scary; there were tons of slippery rocks, and the current was moving pretty fast. I went for probably two miles before stopping. The rocks I was surrounded with were breathtaking- I didn’t even notice I’d been walking that long.

I knew that however far I walked out was how far I was going to have to walk back, so I decided to stop there. I made it all the way back to the beginning of the hike completely wet head to toe. I felt amazing. I felt like I’d just bathed in the Holy Water. People were staring at me as I dipped my entire head into the river.

After I got back on the shuttle, I got off at a few other stops just to walk around and explore. By this point, I’d been out hiking for hours, so I made my way back to the car. I was thinking in my head about going straight to Salt Lake City next, and skipping Bryce Canyon National Park, but I struck up a conversation with an older couple on the ride. They were doing nearly the same trip as me but in the opposite direction. Everything I was about to see, they had just seen. The wife told me that Bryce was her favorite stop yet, so at that point, I knew I had to go.

Skipping Bryce would’ve been the worst mistake of my trip, and I’m so grateful I didn’t. Just the drive there was probably my favorite part of the whole experience. Incredible red rocks in peaks and arches swallowed you as you drove. Once I got to the park, I realized it’d be similar to the Grand Canyon.

I think Bryce Canyon is completely underrated- I thought it was way cooler than the Grand Canyon- and I loved the Grand Canyon. If I could only go to one place again it would probably be Bryce… or maybe Zion.. okay I can’t choose.

Bryce Canyon didn’t take me very long, and after that, I was headed to Salt Lake City Utah. It wasn’t a far drive at all. When I got there I just wandered around for a while. It was a beautiful city, and it seemed there were tons of other tourists as well. I wanted to try to find a Bird scooter so I could ride around and site-see, but that was a bust- they were all broken. I ended up just wandering on foot to see the main temples and other landmarks SLC had to offer.

It was getting late at this point, about 10pm, so I decided to head for my final destination- Idaho. I had rented a little Airbnb so I could have somewhere to shower. Again, it was bumpy, dark roads all the way there. It was a small farmhouse, and I fell fast asleep nearly upon arrival.

The next morning, I woke to the beauty that is Idaho. The fields, the cattle, the sunrise- it was extraordinary, especially for a state that I’d never given much thought. My next stop was Jackson Hole, Wyoming, but I found a little pit stop first. I was driving along the highway and heard the strangest noise. It was so loud it seemed like it was shaking my car. I rounded the corner and saw hundreds of sheep on a hillside. They were all baa-ing with vigor. I stopped and took a photo with them. They acted like dogs and some came right up to me.

I was super excited for my stop at the Grand Tetons; my dad always talked them up. They definitely didn’t disappoint. It was kind of a weird national park because there wasn’t really a specific “thing” to do there- you just look at the mountains, but it’s definitely worth the trip. As I got up to where I planned to stop for some photos my phone died. I still had my camera for the photos, but for some reason, my phone car charger wasn’t working.

When I got back in the car my phone wouldn’t turn back on. I was heading to Yellowstone next and I couldn’t remember which direction I needed to be going. Somehow, I chose the right way. 50/50 shot. My phone finally decided to turn on and I made it to Yellowstone.

This is where I hit a little lull in my trip. I got into this beautiful national park, and I just didn’t want to do anything. I had been go-go-going up until now and I got a little burnt out. I looked around a little, but I was really in the mood to just drive.

That night I drove all the way through Wyoming and into Nebraska. I ended up stopping and sleeping at a Wal-Mart- my new usual.

Driving that night I really started to understand the immensity of my feelings. I was happier than I’d ever been. I had had a weird morning in Yellowstone, but the fact that I could just be alone and drive and feel completely at ease- it was something I’d never experienced before.

The next morning I woke up and planned to use that day to drive all the way through Nebraska, and wow. Nebraska is a very boring state… no offense to all Nebraskans. There wasn’t much to do (at least on my route- I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for other areas), so I didn’t have any stops planned. I could’ve been easily convinced that my car was on a treadmill- it was just the same scenery over and over- flat nothingness.

I made it to St. Louis, Missouri and I loved it. It was weird, very green, and very very humid. I got to stay with one of my friends there and he did a super good job of showing me how charming the area was. I didn’t explore much. Since I finally had somewhere other than my car to be, we just chilled and watched a lot of Bojack Horseman.

The rest of the drive is kind of a blur. I drove all the way to New York from there without hardly sleeping at all. I just really really wanted to get to the city at this point.

This road trip truly changed my life; I know it got a little mundane at the end, but it was just the reality of how tired I was getting. As much as I want to live in a van- I didn’t want to live in a car.

It’s made me so excited for all the van adventures I know I’ll be going on soon and I can’t wait. I have a few jobs coming up that’ll help me save up the money for the van, and then I can start building it! I’ll keep you up to date on everything here.

If you’ve ever thought about doing a crazy road trip, especially solo, I assure you it’s the experience of a lifetime. I have a ton of more travel posts planned like road trip tips and how to do it on a budget. Keep up to date with my posts with a once weekly email by signing up for my list here

Thanks for reading,

Love, Shaaylo

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