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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Your guide to a solo road trip

City & State Assistant Editor Ethan E. Horton at Cape Elizabeth, Maine during a solo spring break trip. Photo Courtesy of Ethan E. Horton.

For spring break, I decided to go on a solo road trip to Bar Harbor, Maine.

No, I didn’t have any major self-revelations. But, since this obviously qualifies me to be an expert in solo road-tripping, I do have some small pieces of advice for those of you out there who want to do the same.

Curate a huge playlist before you leave

My playlist was simply not big enough to cover the sheer scope of my driving: 2,200 miles, which added up to more than 40 hours.

Much of the reason my playlist wasn’t big enough was because my scope was too narrow. You’re not going to be able to make a no-skip playlist out of only crunchy, folksy, acoustic sad music, as unfortunate as that is. 

I gave it my best shot, and I’m a self-proclaimed crunchy, folksy, acoustic sad music connoisseur.

You have to let yourself listen to the show tunes or the bad 2010s pop or whatever else you have on your music app of choice. It makes the crunchy, folksy, acoustic sad songs hit harder.

Choose a destination you love

I chose to go to Bar Harbor for my trip because it’s one of my favorite areas on earth. The amazing sunrises and snowy mountain drives through Acadia National Park never get old. I might have also been influenced slightly by my favorite artist, Noah Kahan.

I didn’t go to Bar Harbor to meet or talk to new people — one, that defeats the purpose of a solo road trip, and two, the people there are weird this time of year.

Even though two of my days there were taken from me by a nor’easter, I still thoroughly enjoyed Bar Harbor for what I, by myself, was able to see and experience, not for who I was able to meet or for crazy nights out on the town.

You should choose your destination the same way. Don't rely on other people to make your solo road trip worth it.

Get comfortable with your own company

I just spent a week completely alone. I didn’t have a real conversation with anyone — besides my girlfriend over the phone — the entire time.

If you find yourself constantly needing the company of someone else, this trip might not be for you. On the other hand, it could be a good opportunity to learn to relish your time alone.

A solo road trip isn’t just about the road or the trip — it's about the solo. It’s about getting quality alone time to think and to scream-sing and to take detours down small backroads. It’s about small self-discoveries. It’s about allowing yourself to really be you.

And if you don’t know who you are, that’s okay, too. You’ll have a lot of time to think about it, with no pressure from anyone else.

Try to get off your phone, too. Assuming you’re a safe human and don’t use your phone while driving, you should have plenty of time for non-distracted self-reflection.

Prepare to reenter the world

As I’m writing, drinking my black tea and sitting alone in an adorable Airbnb studio apartment in New Haven, Conn., I’m not ready to be back.

I’m notoriously an introvert. This trip has been a dream of mine, and I have felt comfortable fully inundated by my own thoughts. 

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Going back means bringing my head back above the water, though — putting my talking-to-other-people hat back on and doing life normally. And I’m terrified.

Of course, I’m excited to see the people I love again. But, this whole week, I’ve purposefully avoided big social settings. I’m just more comfortable without them.

I haven’t had to deal with my social anxiety this whole time, which has been like a weight off my shoulders. Going back means putting that weight back on and going back to real life. I didn’t think going in that I’d have to mentally prepare for coming back, but I do.

So, I suggest you prepare, too.

Real world, here I come.


Ethan E. Horton

Ethan E. Horton is the 2023-24 city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a city & state assistant editor and as the 2023 summer managing editor. Ethan is a senior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and political science, with a minor in history.