I've been terrified of driving my whole life, but a recent trip to Tennessee without a car made me realize I need to get over it

The author takes a cab through the Cades Cove area in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Insider's reporter takes a cab through the Cades Cove area in the Great Smoky Mountains.Joey Hadden/Insider
  • I'm a 27-year-old travel reporter who is terrified of driving.

  • A recent trip to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee made me realize that I need to learn anyway.

  • With spaced-out hot spots and limited cab services, not having a car made my trip harder.

Driving terrifies me. The responsibility a person takes when they get behind the wheel of a car has always felt like something I couldn't take on myself. But in this world, I've recently learned that driving is a necessity for freedom.

Not getting my driver's license never really bugged me as a kid, when I lived in Texas. I always had rides from my older brother and later, my friends. After college, I moved straight to NYC, which made learning the daunting task feel even less necessary. So here I am, 27 and completely independent — as long as I'm in a big city with public transportation or access to ride-share apps.

But when I found myself stranded on the side of a highway next to the Great Smoky Mountains in the pouring rain, desperately calling cabs while I held back tears, I changed my mind about driving.

Insider's reporter when to the Great Smoky Mountains for the first time in the rain.
The author braves the rain in the Great Smoky Mountains.Joey Hadden/Insider

I went to the Great Smoky Mountains for a reporting trip. It was my first work destination that didn't include major cities, so transportation was something I considered when planning my trip. But my concerns were relieved when I read that cabs and ride-share apps were available in the area on Lonely Planet.

Later, when I got to Tennessee, I ran into an unpleasant surprise. Despite what I read, ride-share apps were not a reliable way to get around. Although I could search for rides on these apps, I wasn't ever able to find one to pick me up, save for my trip from the airport in Knoxville to my accommodations near the park.

This unexpected setback left me frantically scheduling cab rides, which I found to be quite limited in the area, as well. Unlike the cities I'm used to visiting, I found that the Great Smoky Mountains and surrounding towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge were incredibly spaced out. Cab rides between cabins and towns were at least a half-hour long each, and usually longer.

Spending five days getting around the Great Smoky Mountains area without a car made me realize that not driving isn't sustainable if you want to live or travel in less urban areas — at least in the US. But there's so much to see in these often less-frequented places.

So it's time for me to be brave and face the wheel by practicing until I'm ready to get my license.

Read more: I visited the Great Smoky Mountains and the best part of my trip was an unexpected discovery I made while stuck in the rain with no way to get to my Airbnb

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