On Comfort Zones – Aversions To Straying From The Beaten Path(s)

One of the main reasons behind why I started Nine to Freedom is to share every facet of this newfound freedom with you. You’d think that with this freedom, I’d be over the moon and that I’d be all over the country. The truth is, I’m definitely over the moon, but I definitely haven’t driven a distance that’s beyond New Jersey. There’s a great big world out there, and that overwhelming, almost palpable feeling of anxiety can sometimes grip me tighter than my hands do the steering wheel on my truck. Couple that with the fact that I am an over-thinker, and we have a perfect disaster for a whole lot of no. Sadly, that’s how it was for a while.

We are creatures of habit. We’ll stick to a habit like a security blanket if we can. That includes routes that we take to get to places we most commonly visit or routes that we might have committed to memory before we began driving. This is our comfort zone. Oddly enough, this is the one thing that I had an extremely hard time escaping, especially after my accident.

There’s Always More Than One Way

If you’re a foodie, you’ll definitely get this. Have you ever been to a deli – or what out of towners refer to as a “sub shop” – and have ordered the same sandwich each day, only to realize that each person who makes the sandwich would do so a bit differently? One person might add some salt, pepper, and vinegar. Another might ease up on the mayo. Someone else might cut the provolone or the ham a bit thinner, or thicker. The next guy might go absolutely nuts on the lettuce and tomato. Yet, this doesn’t take away from how good the sandwich really is, right? Right!

Whenever we take a trip – especially if we’re using GPS – we are usually pointed in the direction of an interstate or some major freeway, highway, or, if you’re in New York, the Thruway. Chances are, those are the most traveled roads in your state. Most of the time, this is fine. What would happen if there was an accident or some other condition that stands in the way of you making your destination? The better question would be why turn around?

If you use a GPS, chances are yours would find a way to get you around the incident or could help you find your way in the event you’re forced to detour from your route. Even then, that could cause a little unease, especially if you’re not familiar with the area. When I’m planning a road trip, I plan the route that goes with it and maybe two other routes that veer away from major highways.

Beaten Paths

While I’m traveling anywhere outside of New York City – be it Long Island, the Hudson Valley, or Western New York State – I always try to get familiar with the state highways or US routes in that area. Here are a couple of the examples of major interstates by me and the US highways and state roads that they interconnect with:

Long Island Expressway East at Maurice Avenue.
  • I-495: the Long Island Expressway (LIE): This is the one of the main East-West roads and the only interstate that serves Long Island. That said, traffic can be pretty heavy on any given day. Cars might use the nearby Northern Parkway as a means to bypass truck traffic, but that also contributes to more traffic heading eastward. State Highways NY-25 and NY-25A run in very close proximity to both of these major highways and serve as great alternates that serve the north shore of Long Island. Other north-south roads, like route 106 and 107, route 110, route 135, and route 454 can bring you to points and highways along the south shore like the Southern, Wantagh, and Meadowbrook Parkways, Sunrise Highway (NY-27), and Montauk Highway (NY-27a)
  • I-95: New Jersey Turnpike, Connecticut Turnpike, and the New England Thruway: For east coast drivers, I-95 might sound all too familiar to you. Within the tri-state area, I-95 is the main highway that people use to either continue eastward from New Jersey into New York City, into New England, or connecting with other interstates or highways toward the Hudson Valley and points north. As a result, these parts of I-95 can get congested. In New York and New Jersey, there are numerous connections to US-1, US-9, and US-46 in northern New Jersey. Both 1 and 9 join I-95 going into New York but split after you cross into the state. US-1 continues east toward Connecticut. US-9 continues north into the Hudson Valley while US-9W heads northward into the valley from New Jersey. US-46 runs the entire length of northern New Jersey, going as far west from its interchange with I-80 near the Delaware River to as far east as the George Washington Bridge (I-95), US-1, and US-9 with connections to highways and state roads that can take you into sections of the Hudson Valley that are west of the Hudson River, including US-9W. These US routes serve as great alternates since they allow you to connect to other state roads like NY-9a, CT-15 (Meritt Parkway), I-87 (New York State Thruway), I-84, or allow you to rejoin I-95 altogether. They never drift too far apart.
I-95 North at the George Washington Bridge

Those are just two examples of roads that – as we say in New York – everybody and their kid brother takes both to and from work, or just associates them with the way they need to go. Think about some of the main roads, thoroughfares, highways, and interstates that might fit this description in your town and apply them here. Maybe you might have fallen into one of those same habits that we’re about to talk about.

In full transparency, I have those habits too. There are streets that I’m familiar with, highways that I’ve grown up on, and routes that I’ve remembered since I was a child that serve as a means to tell me that I am going the right way. Even during our Orientation and Mobility, we were taught to rely on certain landmarks to show us where we are and whether or not we are headed the right direction. I cannot stress what I am about to say enough, so please read the following carefully. Do not stop relying on the tools and methods that you learned in O&M. After all, it is the basis of how we learn about where we want to go. What I do want is for you to expand on what you already know by exploring your surroundings: that way in the event that you can’t necessarily use those landmarks, street names, highways, or any of those other tools, you won’t panic, and you can find an alternate route around whatever obstacle might be out there.

75% of the time, we use alternate routes to get around something blocking our path. I leave the 25% margin open because living in New York state has given me experiences as to why I’d want to take a different way to where I want to go.

I love nature. I love trees, grass, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, rivers – you get the idea. I love the feeling that I get driving by vast fields of green and maybe that one house out in the distance. I love seeing the colors and the hues that the clouds make in the sunset. I love the ocean breeze as it goes through my open window. Here in New York, you won’t find those types of things on the interstate or the thruway. You’ll find them on state routes and US highways or maybe the back-roads of your town or village. Only you know where those might be. Studying a map and using your GPS to navigate your way around will be a great start.

What now?

Here’s one thing I am going to concede. I am an over-thinker. As a result, I also have some anxiety issues that I work on. That anxiety is amplified while I am driving. When I am going somewhere that is unfamiliar to me, I will plan my route, then plan one more route that I can use for any reason so long as it brings me in the general direction. For me, sometimes a drive is more than just a drive. It’s to prove to myself that I can manage that anxiety. The trip is the proving grounds. Getting there is my proof. The sights, sounds, and sensations of my destination are my reward.

NY Route 207 in Montgomery, NY

Even after planning my routes – yes, routes – I’ll have my GPS turned on and the audio cues turned on so that I may hear them. I listen closely to my GPS, but I also keep my eyes on the road. Your GPS might not be able to account for any hazards or detours that might be out there. Most of all, I drive like I would naturally. I have something relaxing in the background to calm my nerves, and any company who wants to come along is more than welcome, so long as they don’t press on those nerves.


I want you to think of somewhere in your state you’d like to visit: somewhere not too far but far enough that there is some driving involved. It can’t be somewhere you’re familiar with, nor on the way to somewhere you’re familiar with. Bring a camera with you and take some pictures of that place, then drive back home. It’ll be even better if those pictures include you. In a journal, write about the emotions that passed through you and the thoughts you had during that drive. You can use your GPS and whatever coping mechanisms that help you concentrate and alleviate any anxiety you might experience. You can even plan your route ahead, in fact I encourage that for every trip you take.

You can mail your responses to [email protected], and if you’re okay with it, your experience will be featured on a follow-up to this blog. I’ll be doing this challenge, too!

Stay tuned and follow from a safe distance. It’ll be worth the trip.