What does traveling mean?

Three months. That was our longest road trip. When I was a kid, we traveled a lot, but never more than the summer my dad took his sabbatical. Our trailer became our literal home on wheels as we crossed from California to Massachusetts and back again. My parents wanted to grab at the last shreds of time where it would be possible to travel as a family. In the hazy memories of my mind’s eye, it was the best summer of my life. Some memories have faded considerably, but a few important things remain.

I’ll never forget the feeling of starting out on a trip. We would always leave 2 hours later than our planned departure, courtesy of my mother’s pack rat tendencies. But once we were out of the city, on a stretch of open, unknown road, that’s when the true adventure began.

Road trips can get tedious, but I don’t remember ever being bored back then. We’d play games and listen to stories from my parents. Most of the time, simply looking out the window at our surroundings was enough.

I suspect that I wasn’t the only one with an attraction to water, because we often drove alongside rivers and lakes. We set up camp by the water and spent hours playing and swimming. As a West Coast native, when I finally saw the Atlantic Ocean, I rejoiced because it was calm, nothing like the swelling and moody Pacific.

Not all my memories are so peaceful. We traveled through hailstorms, outran tornadoes and sped past blazing prairie fires. None of that compares to the horror of the bull, which has become a Wanser family legend.

We camped in an Arizona forest for the night, only to be awoken by lowing from what we later found out was a bull (my dad does a formidable impression to this day). The next morning, my mom told me not to wear a bright-colored shirt. Of course, I disobeyed and put on a hot pink shirt before walking outside. I rounded the corner of our trailer, only to come face to face with the bull. Convinced I was about to be attacked as punishment for my rebellion, I jumped inside the trailer and screamed, “MOM, THE BULL IS BACK!” Luckily, we were spared from his wrath; contrary to folklore, bulls are color-blind and not enraged by the color red. We later found out there was a watering hole right behind our campsite.

I learned more from these trips than to obey my parents. What struck me about America, even back then, was the sheer enormity of it. I’m convinced that you could travel to 50 different countries without running across the same diverse beauty that is integral to the identity of the American landscape.

Travel is about embracing something bigger than yourself. It’s listening to the wind whistle through the car windows, not choosing a radio station. It’s standing in a barren prairie and trying to understand what the people who crossed it 150 years ago must have felt. To travel the vast expanse of the United States is to know that we don’t just belong to the bubble of the city we live in.

Emerson once wrote that traveling is a fool’s paradise. I think he meant this as a comment on the importance of accepting reality and not wasting time looking for some magical existence, the metaphorical “greener grass.” He may be right about this. But sometimes it is essential to break from our own reality to learn something about the world. Some people travel to find themselves. I travel to find the world; in doing this, I find peace.

Solo travels

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling. I went to San Diego for a weekend, then took a trip up the coast to Santa Barbara for half a day before driving to Ojai for a short stay. And I just returned from a long (5 day) weekend in the Tempe area of Phoenix. But for this post, I thought I’d focus on my trip to SB and Ojai.

For the first time ever, I had the chance to travel alone. I love driving by myself, but traveling and staying overnight in a different city was new to me. It wasn’t very far, but the sense of freedom I felt while driving past the ocean was empowering.

Private entry just south of Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara

My first stop was Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara. I met an alumnus from my school for brunch at the Boathouse there, then set off to explore the city. The Santa Barbara courthouse interior architecture and design was stunning, as was the view from the top.

Santa Barbara Courthouse



Next, I walked down State Street, which is the main road through downtown. It was a comfortably cool, overcast day around lunchtime, so people were bustling through the streets. I saw group after group of people eating lunch outside, sipping wine. My kind of place!


After wandering around, I decided to head to Ojai a bit earlier than planned to beat the traffic. The highway from Santa Barbara wound and twisted through the mountains like a lazy snake, and soon I was in the Ojai Valley.

If you’ve never heard of Ojai, here’s a little back story: My high school swim team attend ed local high school Villanova Prep’s annual swim invitational every year. It became  tradition to eat at the same restaurant then walk around the main street downtown after dinner. My mom and I fell in love with the town, so we’ve visited a few times since. Fun fact: Jason Segal said hi to me at the top of Meditation Mount in Ojai!

I digress. I arrived in Ojai about two hours before my hotel check in so I decided to take advantage of the time with a hike. I went to the Pratt Trailhead just a few minutes from the main street downtown. I hiked past orchards of oranges and tangerines, and next to some beautiful mansions nestled in the hills.

On the Pratt Trail

After that, I checked into my hotel, The Hummingbird Inn. I relaxed by the pool for a bit before showering and heading to dinner.

When traveling solo, eating alone can be the most daunting part. I used the time to read the news on my phone (and maybe Snapchat pictures of my food and margaritas to friends).


Agave Maria’s: I had the combination plate with a taco, enchilada and a tamale. Oh, the house margaritas were also a happy hour special!

I walked around the downtown area a bit, then drove back to my hotel. I spent the rest of the night watching the Olympics. To most people, this might sound like a waste of vacation time. But for me, watching TV is a luxury I almost never indulge in. I then fell into a blissful coma in my fluffy queen-sized bed.

When I woke up, it was still cool enough to go for a run/walk around town. When I got back, breakfast at the inn still wasn’t open (even on vacation, I’m still an early bird). So I decided to try another hike.

This time, I went to the Shelf Road Trail. It’s a level path, until I reached a fork about a mile in. I chose the left trail and began ascending a narrow, zig-zag path up a hill covered in waving grass. When the wind rustled through the grass, I swore it sounded like a rattlesnake. But the view took my mind away from that fear. Watching the sun part the clouds felt special because I was that much closer to heaven.

When I descended, I returned to the hotel, had some breakfast, and relaxed for a bit before I headed home.

I planned to stop at the Santa Monica Pier or in Venice Beach, but as I drove by Santa Monica, the crowds and lack of parking deterred me. I drove on to Venice, hoping to find a spot to park near the beach. After searching the streets for 20 minutes, I’d nearly given up when I found a spot in a nondescript-looking residential area. As soon as I got out of my car, I realized I was at one of the entrances to the Venice Canals. I’d never seen them before, but I’d heard of them.

It’s obvious that California is in a drought; all of the boats in the canal are beached. But the layout is a sight to behold, the series of waterways are connected by arched bridges, and houses back to the water on both sides.


Stumbling upon the canals felt like finding a hidden treasure. After I walked to the end of the street, I made my way to the ocean where I happened to find the Venice Beach Pier.


As I drove home, I thought about what made this trip special to me. Before leaving, I spent a good deal of time planning and researching what I wanted to do. When some of those plans fell through or I changed my mind, I rolled with the punches and the results ended up being better than I’d planned. Traveling alone means you get to put your needs and desires first. While it’s not always possible, sometimes it’s healthy to take a little time to yourself. I found out I CAN relax when things don’t go my way; who knows what you’ll find out?

xx, Brooke