Xin Xin | Where’s Xinderella
Like Emily Pelland from Episode 10 of the WOTR Podcast, Xin didn’t trade in everything she owned for a van or a camper before hitting the road in 2017 to travel all 59 US National Parks. She set off solo in a small SUV. She calls this lifestyle, simply, road tripping.
In a little over a year, she’s traversed 31,000 miles across 23 states (including Hawaii) and when we caught up with her, she was about to begin a road trip around Australia.
All this from a woman who learned to drive three weeks before a 2-week 1,900-mile solo journey in New Mexico. We so admire her audacity.
Learn more about Xin. Interview below!
How did your traveling lifestyle come to be?
Towards the end of 2016, I decided to quit my job and travel to all 59 national parks across America. That goal was the beginning of everything.
With my previous road trip experience through New Mexico, I figured the best way to accomplish my travel goal was through another road trip! Traveling by car gives me more flexibility and it is more budget friendly compared to flying to everywhere. Personally, I love driving. I find it quite therapeutic. Driving down a long stretch of highway is my kind of meditation.
What is your road trip vehicle of choice and what do you like about it?
I drive a 2011 Honda CRV. As advertised, it has great mileage and a spacious trunk. My only concern with this car is that the backseats do not lay flat. It took me a couple of uncomfortable sleepless night to creatively figure out the best way rest up.
You were born and raised in Beijing, China but now Seattle, Washington is your home base. Growing up with family on three (!) continents, travel was a necessity. Have you always felt at home on the move?
Since I have families on three continents, I feel more at ease knowing that home is not far away. Ever since I started traveling solo, my definition of home has shifted significantly. I have three kind of homes.
- The home with the most comfortable bed (the home I look forward to the most)
- The homes I grew up in (my roots)
- The homes I continue to create as I travel and grow as a person:
- The campsite I stayed in Yosemite National Park for 2 weeks and where I got terribly sick
- The rooms I crashed in when I visited my friends
- The city that made me want to move to the other side of the country
- The car I packed my life in and slept in for the past year
I don’t always feel at home when I am traveling, but I try!
Ever since I started traveling solo, my definition of home has shifted significantly.
You took your first road trip to New Mexico only three weeks after learning to drive. What was it like to travel long distance as such a new driver?
I got my driver’s license when I was 18. However, unlike other super-duper cool kids, I did not get a car nor have the need to drive to anywhere. It wasn’t until 4 years later that I wanted to learn how to drive again because I was sexually harassed on my way to work (I had to walk half a mile from the bus stop to work everyday). I didn’t feel safe walking that road during the dark winter mornings, so I figured driving would be a much safer option for me.
As for traveling to New Mexico soon after I relearned how to drive, I drove about 1,900 miles in a week. Honestly, I would categorize that experience as one of my “stupidly bold” moments. It was my first solo traveling/driving trip, I didn’t purchase travel insurance, and I barely remembered much from my driver’s license test. I packed a suitcase, rented a car and I was on my way to explore New Mexico. Any travel fears were distracted by the thought of all the fun I was going to have. I was not afraid because I thought what could possibly happen in a week?
Looking back, I would highly not recommend that anyone start a solo road trip like that. I was lucky that I only broke 2 cameras, instead of 2 of my legs. If you are a new driver going to take your first road trip, be overly prepared!
You still say you’re not the most confident driver and often cruise at a speed below the limit. What keeps you motivated to drive anyway?
I think I am a smooth driver, but I guess other drivers on the road might think otherwise. I usually keep my speed at or just a tiny bit below the speed limit because I don’t want to miss anything on the road.
My most intense driving experience was probably in California or Texas. There were also stressful times such as almost running out of gas at midnight on a highway, car battery dying multiple times, or tire problems. Despite all that, I keep one thing in mind – I have places to see and explore, nothing should stop me from doing that. Especially not my own limitations. To put my mind at ease, I make sure to be extra extra prepared. Know how to work the car, have an emergency contact, car manual and insurance nearby, and never let fuel go too low.
What do you like about road trips and car/van travel compared to other modes of travel?
It’s the perfect middle ground between flying and walking. Car traveling lets me see the nooks and crannies of places I don’t get to see when flying. I also love the spontaneous aspect of driving. I can stop wherever and whenever.
Are there specific comforts you bring with you or make sure to find while traveling?
Whenever I am on the road, I must bring my security blanket. Yes, I am a 25 year-old with a blankey. I purchased it during my very first solo road trip in New Mexico and it is the softest blanket I have ever laid hands on. In a way, the blanket symbolizes the beginning of all my crazy adventures. If I can’t sleep at night, the blanket will put me right to sleep.
During my trip, I also like to find tea rooms along the way. I am not a coffee drinker, so a tea room is the perfect place for me to sit down somewhere for awhile, grab a hot beverage, rewind and reflect on my trip.
Tell us about your National Parks road trip and where 2017 took you. Any favorite landscapes or experiences?
2017 ended with driving 31,000 miles across America, 24 nationals parks in 23 states, and a women road tripping talk at REI Seattle. I would say 2017 was quite eventful. Here are some of my favorite highlights/mishaps:
- Glacier National Park
- Hiked 14 miles in a day. The most I have ever hiked in my entire life. Glad to know that I can continue to push my limitations.
- Got stuck on a hike down because I was still terribly afraid of heights.
- Isle Royale National Park
- I went just before winter hit. I was able to take a boat taxi to one of the islands for an overnight camp. Little did I know, I was the only person camping on that entire island. Needless to say, I did not do much sleep on my very first solo camping trip with coyotes howling in the distance.
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Ending the day with a calm and easy hike. On my way back I almost got bit by a rattlesnake. Unfortunately on the timing, I was the only person on that very short hike. It took all the courage I had in my body, a tripod and howling like a dog to run back to my car.
- Haleakala National Park
- Almost froze my butt off because I was not well prepared with the park weather. However, I got to see my very first milky way and the most amazing sunrise.
- Badlands National Park
- As the night fell, most visitors had left the park. I decided to stick around a little longer to see more wildlife. About 10 minutes in, a herd of 30 mountain goats casually walked by as they sought shelter at the nearby cliff. I enjoyed being a fly on the wall to observe the adorable creatures.
- Yellowstone National Park
- I went to Grand Prismatic Spring at the right timing to catch a double rainbow right above it.
Take a photo of your 5 must-have items for van life.
- Bluetooth connector
- Car adaptor
- Lip balm
- Eye drops
- Favorite southwest blanket (not pictured, I didn’t bring it to Australia with me)
Final thoughts? What have you learned along your journey?
It is not a lifestyle for everyone. Solo road tripping can get lonely sometimes.
On one hand, you are saving accommodation money; on the other, you don’t get to meet that many people while sleeping in your car. Lots of times when people ask if I get lonely when traveling solo, I often say not at all because I don’t want to discourage anyone from solo traveling. After a year of traveling on the road, I learned to be more honest with myself – I do get lonely when I’m on the road. However, the positive outcome is that when I am lonely, I seek out social interactions, which means I come across as even more friendly.
My advice for other solo road trippers is: don’t be afraid of feeling alone. The key is to figure out your own method of dealing with loneliness.
Photos courtesy of Xin.
Do you dream of taking your life on the road?