1. When you crossed over that first state line

You’d been on the road for half a day, maybe longer. You were still enjoying your Spotify playlists and you hadn’t even put a dent in that huge bag of trail mix yet. Things were good. Then you crossed that first state line and realized home was now far away, it was too late to turn back. And things got a whole lot better.

2. When you quickly got a crash course in road trip budgeting

You’d been funneling money into your savings account for months, maybe even years. And when you left you had a pretty phat sum on your hands. So yeah, you tipped the servers 30%. And yeah, you bought a round of shots for that couple on their honeymoon. And $80 hotel rooms? That wasn’t no thing, baby, because you were on vacation.

Then you realized how quickly you could blow a grand in the French Quarter — even when Kettle on the rocks was only $4. And you’d been on the road two weeks and only made it to New Orleans? You had one last farewell night at Snake ’N’ Jake’s and headed to the nearest campground the next day. From then on out, you’d be sleeping outside with the snakes.

3. When you stopped at your first roadside attraction

And you immediately regretted driving 10 miles out of your way to see the World’s Largest Rocking Chair. You still kept going to them, though, if only to ask the universe: What is the meaning of this?

4. When you stumbled on a seriously fun party in the middle of nowhere

The only reason you wanted to go to Luckenbach, Texas, was because that Waylon Jennings song had been stuck in your head since the Gulf. So you found the dirt road, you parked in the satellite parking lot, and you pushed open the door to that run-down saloon, not knowing what to expect. What you found was a New Year’s Day jam session with a circle of seven musicians. An old tabby cat was sleeping on the bar while a room full of people sang “Wagon Wheel” at the top of their lungs.

5. That time you zoned out for hours, only to come to and realize you’d been listening to Christian Talk Radio the entire time

It happens.

6. When you tasted Mexican food for the first time

You had scarfed down your fair share of gourmet burritos before leaving home. But when you finally got to Santa Fe at 8 in the morning, and bit into some huevos rancheros from the Palacio Cafe, every plate of nachos you had experienced beforehand felt like an abomination.

7. When you picked up some hitchhikers just because you hadn’t spoken to anyone in a few days

Too bad they only spoke French.

8. The first time you couldn’t believe nature was real

You’d seen pictures of the Grand Canyon before, so you knew what to expect. It’s just a big hole, right? Wrong. When you looked out over the South Rim for the first time, you felt like an astronaut on Mars. The space was so pink and red and orange and white. And so vast that Earth’s curvature wouldn’t let you see the whole thing.

Your first thoughts were: Is this even real? And: I am so small.

9. All those times you got hooked up by the pure kindness of strangers

You met a retired couple in Tucson and they offered to let you stay in their adobe guesthouse just because they needed some light gardening done. That raft guide who beat you at pool offered to watch your dog so you could camp near the Grand Canyon. Your subscription on Housesitters of America finally paid off and you got to spend two weeks in New Mexico on a 600-acre ranch. (And there was a hot tub.)

Every time your bank account popped up and told you to stop, some complete stranger would come along and give you the means to keep going.

10. When you finally made it to where you were going

Maybe you didn’t know exactly where that was at the beginning. You told people back home you might end up in Los Angeles, or the tip of the Baja Peninsula, or maybe all the way up to Portland, Oregon. But plans changed, you got sick of cities, and you realized you couldn’t go home without seeing some redwoods.

11. That moment when you finally felt homesickness

You didn’t miss the Sunrise Trail back home until a friend let you borrow their XR100 in New Mexico. You didn’t miss your familiar landscapes until you tried hiking in San Diego and only saw smog at the summit. Even though you’d been out in rugged nature for months, you all of a sudden realized that every plant in the Southwest wants to hurt you. And just like that, it was time to go home.

And you took an entirely different route to get there.