I’ve become a bit of an Airbnb evangelist after two trips this spring: one to a treehouse in Asheville, and another this past weekend to a renovated bus in Pittsboro, both ridiculously cheap and beautifully strange places to sleep. More than that, though, I’m an evangelist for traveling around North Carolina alone.

I think the impetus to my obsession with mini solo adventures can be traced back to last spring, when Raleigh-based songwriter Jess Ray’s song “Headed for the Hills” was released. As I listened to it on repeat in the basement cubicle where I used to work, I began to crave the escapism the song alluded to, and started planning my getaway without quite understanding the spell the song had cast on me.

At last I understood when sitting at the base of the Graveyard Fields waterfall, water misting my face. I’m so driven and people-oriented that to sit still, alone, for an hour, was nothing short of wild, not to mention that the prevalence of Instagram-friendly group vacations make the idea of exploring somewhere alone appear sad or dangerous. It is neither, and now that it’s a habit, I’m not sure I could stay sane without these escapes.

Part of the magic of such a getaway is that they afford me autonomy separate from my daily goings-on of choosing what to buy at the grocery store. I’m talking about the autonomy of picking a nearby town on my GPS, driving down unfamiliar roads and eating dinner at the bar of an old-timey soda shop just because the fancy struck me. Or getting badly beaten at Mario Kart by a stranger at a brewery. Or climbing Mount Pisgah at golden hour, savoring a private view at the summit, making memories that aren’t shared but have no less significance in their solitude. Freedom like that is possibly one of life’s greatest highs.

The best part of running away alone, though, has to be the reminder of how simple it actually is to be alive. It takes me by surprise every time. I typically bring several philosophical books and my journal, anticipating some deeply profound revelations for whatever angst or stress is the flavor of the day, but they usually go untouched.

Instead, somewhere along a three-hour drive, I’m slurping a chocolate milkshake, my shoes are off, I’m obnoxiously harmonizing with the Dixie Chicks, and I transcend needing to know the answers to all my questions without even noticing; enjoying my very existence, with all of the clutter cleared away.

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