I’ve discovered the joy of driving long distance alone, which is unexpected since I complain about any drive within Minneapolis that takes longer than 20 minutes. I’m not saying I’d want to drive 14 hours by myself, but the seven hours from Minneapolis to Chicago is the perfect road trip for someone who craves time without someone asking her for something. The seven hours back to Minneapolis a few days later is the bonus to think about the things you didn’t cover on the initial trip.

When I was in college, the drive from my parents’ house in Chicago to my campus in St. Louis was only five hours, and that was my first experience with the joy of driving alone. My dad drove with me the first few times then flew back to Chicago, but when he realized I could handle the trip without him he let me loose on the highway. Once in a while a friend would ask for a ride to St. Louis or a ride back to Chicago and I would panic about having enough to talk about. I did that drive many times a year during college with some Broadway show in the background (RENT!) or one of my favorite mixes on repeat. Even then I loved having a slice of time when my only responsibility was to get from point A to point B safely. The car is also the only place where I can sing unabashedly!

I lived in Minneapolis for 16 years before I drove to Chicago by myself, but now that I’ve realized how much I savor that time, I’ve done it twice in six months, and I can’t wait to do it again.

My most recent solo road trip was last weekend when I drove to Chicago for my cousin’s son’s bar mitzvah.

At the bar mitzvah with my parents.

Most people I told thought I was crazy not to fly for a weekend trip, and I understand that point of view. Spending seven hours of Friday and another seven of Sunday behind the wheel might seem like a colossal waste of time. For me, the hassle of the airport combined with the hassle of renting a car at O’Hare wasn’t worth the three to four hours I’d save by flying. I’d rather see the rolling, impressive farmland of Wisconsin than the crammed and crabby bodies at the airport. Also, I’d enjoyed my solo road trip six months earlier and was eager to do it again.

When you have four kids and a spouse, seven hours alone while driving is a form of meditation. I allowed myself a few long phone calls with friends, but for the most part I alternated between an audiobook (Theft By Finding by David Sedaris), my favorite podcasts (#AmWriting, Happier, and Double X for this trip), and a shuffling of my completely random iTunes collection. Seven hours was almost not enough time. When I pulled into my parents’ driveway, I felt I could have used another hour to tie up all the thoughts stirring in my mind. I vowed to make less phone calls on the way back to Minneapolis and skip the podcasts, and sure enough, by the time I arrived home I’d come up with an idea for a novel. It may amount to nothing, but I’m enjoying playing with the idea for now, an idea that wouldn’t have come to me without that uninterrupted time on the road.

Anyone else love to drive long distance? What is the most amount of time you’ve spent alone on the road? 

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Nina Badzin is a freelance writer, a lead writing instructor at ModernWell in Minneapolis as well as ModernWell's book club director. She reviews 50 books a year on her blog, writes reviews for other sites, and has a friendship advice column at The HerStories Project. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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