My first piece of road journalism was written about 11 years ago. I was 10 years old and about to embark on a long journey across my home state of Nebraska. I had done my research before the trip and picked a route that I felt maximized the experience for everyone in my traveling party. Our destination was Gregory, South Dakota, a small town just north of the border of Nebraska.
As my travel partners and I hit the open road, I held the map in my hand, my notebook and camera stored safely in my bag. I was too young to drive so I was the official navigator. It was my responsibility that my dad, the driver, knew when and where to turn throughout the five day trip.
We were going to South Dakota to visit my aunt and uncle for the Fourth of July. My aunt had rented out a lodge near her home and invited all of our immediate relatives to join them for the annual festivities. My parents had decided to make it a family vacation. I had decided to make it my writing debut.
I had tried to keep a travel log on past trips but found that I spent so much time enjoying myself that I forgot to write about it. This time though, I pledged to myself to actually write about what I did and saw on our journey across the state so that I would remember it.
My dad had asked me to help him plot our course to Gregory. We were planning to leave several days early in order to make sure we hit as many tourist sites as possible on our drive. We spent days poring over maps of Nebraska, looking for interesting places to stop and finding ways to make sure our rout took us near them.
Finally, we had the perfect route. We were going to take Nebraska Highway 2 right through the center of the state. Along the way we would stop at the Happy Jack chalk mines, Fort Hartsuff (one of Custer’s forts), Halsey National Forest (the largest manmade forest in the world), and the Sand Hills (not actually made of sand). The whole time I wrote about what we were doing.
After spending time with family for the Fourth of July, it was time to head back home. When planning the trip, my dad and I had planned a different route home so that we could maximize the things we saw on our journey. This time we stopped at the Ashfall Fossil bed (skeletons of rhinos killed by the ash of a volcano in Idaho) and took a tour of the flour mill in Neligh (water-powered).
Finally the trip was over and I did some final touch ups on my travel log. When I finally thought it was ready to be seen, I showed it to my dad who, as any dad would, said it was wonderful and proudly showed it to family and friends. It was one of my proudest moments up to that point in my life. I was a writer.
I will never forget that trip. The things I saw, the places I experienced, the fun I had with my family, all of that was written into my travel journal and ingrained in my memory.
It was the start, for me, of a longtime interest in traveling and in documenting those experiences. Every family vacation after that, I wrote a journal of what we did and where we went and what I saw.
It’s part of why I wanted to become a journalist. I wanted to experience the world around me and then turn around and write about it.
It’s also part of why I moved to New York City. Here is a place where there is constantly something new to discover. I feel like I am always finding new places to explore and write about.
For me, my life is defined by the experiences and adventures I have been able to have and to write about. It is what I hope to continue to do.