I now have a solo travel idol. Her name is Laura and she's 25. She and her friend Alexa, two country girls from the (still) United Kingdom stayed with me in August, a few days before Alexa had to fly home and Laura was getting ready to continue traveling around the U.S. on her own for two months.
In return for a few nights at my place, the two of them cooked me dinner and left me with a thoughtful gift and a homemade picture postcard with photos of places they'd visited while in Washington.
I was disappointed I was "only" able to get her a bed with friends or family in New York, Massachusetts and California. She stayed with my niece, one of my dearest friends and is now with my second cousin.
But I shouldn't have worried. I was far from the only one looking out for her and booking her places to stay.
Coincidentally, I was vacationing in Maine in September about the same time she planned to make it to Maine. So my friends and I hosted her there, all of us indulging in as much lobster as we could manage and spending a morning paddle boarding near Portland.
My friends contributed to the hosting chain. One put her in touch with her daughter (Laura ended up staying with the daughter's former roommates in Austin) and the other contacted her son in California, who was game to host.
But Laura also has a knack for making friends on her own. On ferries, at hostels and while visiting hosts that other people found for her. And that begets more invitations for lodgings. This is all "brilliant," as she might put it.
There was the judge in Texas who is a friend of her uncle's. A nurse in Boulder, Colorado, who her father met years ago when he was a counselor at a summer camp in Connecticut. (That's how I know him as well and why I hosted Laura to begin with.)
And I think she either stayed or thought about staying with some people she met who were vacationing in upstate New York, who lived somewhere along the route she would be heading on her way south.
The nights none of the many people looking out for her could fix her up with a bed, Laura stayed in truck stops (sleeping in the van that has taken her to 29 states), motels, AirBnB's and with a couchsurfing host.
Because she's on her own, Laura is doing exactly what she wants to. She and Alexa started in Miami and made it to New York. Laura then went as far north as Niagara Falls--to both the Canadian and U.S. sides. Then she headed all the way back south to Texas. Nobody debated the merits of her route. Her van. Her trip. Her choice.
Because she's meeting so many people, she has local experts telling her where to go in their town and what to do and the best places to eat.
She's had some rough days when not everything felt fun. But I think that having all these friendly hosts provides great company and adds a personal touch that makes her travels special. Those memories will last a very long time.
I've never done a solo road trip, so I'm in awe of Laura's adventures. And I'm so pleased I could share in them for a short time, help her along the way and read about all the fun she's having. And I think most of her hosts feel the same way.
I'll have to seriously think about following in her tracks. After all, by now she's found so many people to stay with, I could just drop her name and have myself a bed.
Photos: 1. Laura in Colorado...I think... 2. Moxie soda, sold by the Bite into Maine lobster roll truck. 3. Lobster salad, Maine: A fine reward after 2 hours of paddle boarding.