The Undivided Life Blog


Life Lessons from Living in the Car

communication leadership mindset personal development undivided life Jul 08, 2024
Three young men sitting on top of the car

During college, a few friends and I embarked on a series of road trips that were far from ordinary. We were seeking adventure but didn’t want to get into any trouble, so we created the following rules for the road:

• Don’t bring any money or credit cards.
• Only bring one backpack each and pack one change of clothes along with some books, etc.
• Meals would be earned by offering to help with chores at each restaurant we visited.
• We would rely on the kindness of strangers for food but never accept any offers of money.
• Gas would be purchased on the old Texaco card (but we couldn’t use the card for snacks/drinks).
• We’d take turns journaling about the experiences.

Our first expedition came about spontaneously when Josh Worthy invited me to Mardi Gras in the middle of our sophomore year. I wanted to enjoy the fraternity of a road trip but needed to steer clear of the near occasion of sin, so I convinced him to jump in the car and drive the other way instead. We set our sights on Four Corners, USA, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico unite in one perfect intersection. Our rules of the road were established as we both grabbed a bag and one change of clothes and then we were off. At a pit stop in Lubbock, my best pal from high school, Benji Coomer, decided to join and jumped in the car, ready to make new memories as well.

My late-night hunger was temporarily addressed when I landed a box of old donuts from the Best Western Hotel in Nowhere, New Mexico. We now had the confidence of our first meal, which was earned by offering to do chores, but we had to be honest: We wouldn’t be able to sustain life on the road without better meals. The next morning, we met some incredible women who allowed us to eat at the main campus cafeteria at the University of New Mexico, enjoying eggs, bacon, hash browns, and a huge spread of ice cream. We were set and knew that we would reach our destination, eat well, and encounter great people along the way.

We made it to Four Corners after the park closed that evening. The area was fenced off, and no one could let us in. We jumped the fence and ran through the empty park entrance, Chariots of Fire playing in our heads (imagine the scene when Wally World is closed from the movie Vacation). We made it to the four-way intersection of states just in time to play a hand of cards before the sunset.

That night, we stopped at a family restaurant and talked with the owner as we enjoyed a full made-from-scratch meal and great company. We knew we would drive back to our respective colleges the next day and vowed to do it again months later.

That trip inspired two much longer journeys. Starting from Texas each time, we covered most of this great nation, with trips to Southern California one summer and an East Coast adventure the following year that took us over to the beaches of South Carolina and up the eastern shore to Boston and back.

Along the way, we offered to clean the windows, wash dishes, and take out the trash, and we received over 40 free meals for our efforts. We also slept in a wide variety of places, including our car, college dorms, a resort on the Vegas Strip (another unbelievable story), the beach on both coasts, my grandparent's house in upstate New York (we were desperate for rest and a shower), parks, and parking lots. Benji and I even appeared individually on an MTV show called Total Request Live, both of us requesting some random song as part of their programming.

Here are five of the countless life lessons that came from living out of the car:

People Are People

I was told before our trips that no one would help us once we got outside of the Texas-South because people in ______ are not as friendly. That isn’t true and we proved it. We ate great meals from New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, the Deep South, the Southwest, and the West Coast. These meals came from family restaurants, fast food, high schools, colleges, room service, and strangers we met who invited us out to break bread. We even got a free meal one block off Rodeo Drive after participating in the audience of the show Politically Incorrect (I say “participating” because Bill Maher called out to me during the show after I cheered too enthusiastically).

Everywhere we went, people all wanted the same thing from us. Connection. People wanted to hear our stories, and we were curious to learn more about them. Before these trips, I already had a high emotional IQ and a skillset for people-centric leadership. But it was during these encounters with people who “would never help me” that I came to clearly see the uniting factors of humanity. We have the same fears and hopes and are all on the same truth-seeking journey. I am a better leader (husband, father, neighbor, friend, businessperson) because of this stark realization.

Eye Contact Matters

When I would give someone the respect of looking them in the eye as I asked for the opportunity to earn a warm meal for me and my friends, I could sense the connection between us. Even if they rejected my request, the human bond was stronger in those moments. When I didn’t make eye contact, the sheepish request often felt less vulnerable and therefore, less sincere. I made a vow on those road trips to maintain eye contact with others for the rest of my life and that has allowed me to offer more clarity in communication, more dignity during difficult conversations, and more connection when my time with others is fleeting but I want to give them my best.

You Won’t Get What You Don’t Ask For

No one ever offered us a warm meal just because we were hungry. The same can be said for everything else. I even asked the MTV producer which songs she needed Benji and me to request on live TV, which prompted her to open her clipboard and select one for each of us. Just ask and see what happens.

Rejection is Part of Life, Don’t Take It Personally

• 1/3 of the time, our offer to work for food was rejected, and we were left empty-handed.
• 1/3 of the time, our offer to work for food was accepted, and no chores were needed. We were given some food and sent on our way.
• 1/3 of the time, our offer to work for food was accepted, and we would get to wash windows or take out the trash to earn our warm meal.

When we were rejected, two things were true. First, we were still hungry. Second, we were in the exact same position we had been in just a few moments before we made the request. People weren’t mad at us and were not rejecting us as humans. They couldn’t or wouldn’t accept our offer, and we had to get over it and move on to the next opportunity. I can promise they never thought about us again after we left so rather than worry about the rejection, we moved on to find food elsewhere.

And the food always tasted better when we worked for it. When we were allowed to put in some effort to earn the reward, we felt more connected to the reward and made deeper connections with the person providing the meal.

God Provides

Like manna from Heaven, God always provided exactly what we needed. No more and no less.

I still read through the journal entries that each of us made on these trips, especially when I want to reconnect to the lessons we learned along the way. I could fill several books with the stories of generosity, struggle, connection, kindness, prayer, reflection, and coming-of-age that God provided each of us on those trips. Collectively those stories fueled my passion for the undivided life and helped fortify the foundation on which we continue building today.

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