Quarter-life Crisis: I Traveled in an 18-Wheeler to Get Clarity
Photos by Marielle Sales
It seems like quitting your day job to travel is the common move for our generation, and I’ve always wondered how the heck people managed to do this. My curiosity with this idea transformed into the default daydream at my 9-to-5 working as a social media coordinator for a photo studio. Although it was the fitting job for a millennial like myself, the inevitable happened, and I started feeling… stuck… literally to my desk. As a scorpio, it’s in my nature to be addicted to rebirth and transformation. Yet, I wasn’t sure what the next chapter of my life looked like nor did I think I was ready to trade stability for indefinite uncertainty. I just knew that there was something bigger out there to explore.
My boyfriend was an over-the-road trucker. He drove an 18-wheeler all over America delivering refrigerated goods such as beer, meat, ice cream, and what not. I decided, why not go on the road with him? It wouldn’t just be a free 3-week cross-country road trip. Rather, I viewed it as an opportunity I could learn and grow from personally. Of course, there was a caveat – going on this trip required taking a break from work (which is so damn hard in New York!). I had no source of income lined up, and I could already envision my savings dwindling by the minute. My heart was already invested in the adventure though; I couldn’t turn back on it.
As an artist, I’ve always been determined to break free from the traditional career route and eventually transition into my own boss. I told myself in order to make that happen, I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone and take a risk. By declaring that I was going on the trip, I already forced myself into a freelancer’s state of mind. And if freelancing doesn’t work out, I can always pick up a desk job.
After weeks of confiding in close friends about my plan to step down from my full-time position, I finally mustered up the courage and gave in my 3 weeks. The overwhelming amount of unconditional support from coworkers and friends was comforting. I even received a card from coworkers who wrote, “keep on trucking.” A huge weight was instantly lifted from my shoulders, but the thought of being unemployed and living in New York still sounded dangerously scary. Did I just walk away from my dream job?
Fast forward to the morning of our departure, my phone got severely water damaged from running in heavy rain. I was so close to calling off my trip, but then I was like, “fuck it – i’m still going without a phone!” (Plus I’ve been wanting to go on a digital detox anyway.)
For the first few days on the road, anxiety about not having a phone consumed the best of me. I compulsively asked my boyfriend if I can use his hotspot to check potential iMessages from family and work on my laptop. I had to remind myself to take a deep breath and stop anticipating my entrance back to reality, or else I’ll never enjoy the present. As the anxiety subsided, I finally settled in and shifted my focus to documenting the vast American landscapes, and getting to know the ins and outs of the trucker subculture.
On the road, our day-to-day consisted of: waking up, eating a breakfast sandwich, driving until the clock ran out, sleeping at a truck stop, and repeat. Our cab was hooked up with a tv and X-box, which helped time pass during the long periods of waiting at warehouses. In terms of food, prior to leaving, I stocked the cooler with our favourite smoked fish from the Greenpoint fish market. Once that ran out, we resorted to the great American diet of fast food, copious amounts of Flying J coffee, and whatever healthy snacks were available at truck stops.
It became the norm to not know when my next shower was going to be. I trained myself to control my overactive bladder as we attempted to cover as much mileage without stopping. My main source of physical activity was walking back and forth from the truck to the store. I couldn’t imagine doing this every single day alone. Trucking is not for everyone – I’ve found a new appreciation for men and women who do this for a living.
We wouldn’t know where we were going until the dispatcher assigned us our next pick up or delivery location. They threw us all over the map – Georgia, Tennessee, Dallas, Nebraska, Michigan, until we made our way back home to New Jersey. This line of work is a serious lifestyle change, but I can understand why truckers enjoy it so much. For some, it’s a way of figuring out oneself without feeling stuck, since immediate surroundings were constantly changing. As we drove for hours to our destination, I spent my time soaking in heavy contemplation while listening to satellite radio (shout out to Sway in the Morning and the ‘Chill’ station). Being isolated to a certain extent helped me slow down and dedicate the time to reflect on my inner self, facing issues I’ve neglected from my nonstop lifestyle in NYC.
Around 20 stops and 3 weeks later, my perspective has greatly broadened. This trip was not your typical backpacking trip across Europe or whatever. I didn’t have the freedom to explore the cities we passed by or eat well like I would’ve wanted. It was simply an opportunity to try something new while adapting to a different lifestyle. The open road gave me the clarity that I lacked in the bustling city, and I felt like I came back with confidence to tackle whatever the universe had in store for me.
If I had never acted on my feelings at the time, I’d always be wondering what the outcome would’ve been. I’m not saying you need to drop all responsibilities and leave to feel some sense of “freedom”. There’s a fine line between escaping and taking a healthy break for personal growth. Don’t get it twisted either – it took years of preparing and saving, and luckily, I was able to work remotely on the road as well. What’s most important is being honest with yourself, identifying your needs, and trusting your gut even if you don’t exactly know where you’re going next. You just need to make the first move.
Marielle Sales is a freelance photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. She’s a self-proclaimed breakfast snob (her favorite meal), and she loves having breakfast at different NJ diners, especially on the weekends. You can see more of her work on her WEBSITE and INSTAGRAM!