I was reading an AOPA article just now about a Class B airspace violation [https://bit.ly/2EJCjWZ], which made me think about what I would have done differently in this situation. This then prompted me to pull open SkyVector to look at the charts for Chicago DuPage (KDPA), and start the process of preflight planning, including identification of landmarks and non-GPS navaids to avoid the Class B airspace while departing from the Class D airport. This made me realize that I very much miss certain aspects about being a solo student pilot. I will be perfectly honest here, and admit that VFR flight planning was one of my less favorite exercises as a student. Back then, I looked forward to the day where I could simply decide on a place to go, pull up my phone or iPad, enter a direct-to, and start flying in that direction.
I of course still make use of all of the flight planning and meteorological tools available to me before every flight, but don't necessarily make flight planning an extensive learning exercise in the way it is as a student pilot. But, as this article shows, it is so important to retain the skills of pilotage and to remember how to use non-GPS (especially the non-certified iPad kind) navigation systems. Reading this article, and the subsequent analysis and flight planning I did on my own, made me miss that exercise. It was very mentally engaging to be constantly thinking about flight planning, wondering what the next destination my instructor would decide on for me to go would be. During my solo cross-country flights, I still carried the iPad with me, however it was never needed, as I have yet to get lost on a VFR cross-country.
The solution to this problem is that I should plan and execute a long trip somewhere. I have been talking about doing it for the past two or three months, with a likely candidate being Lexington, KY to visit my partner's brother. And of course I am technically still a student, as those of us who do not hold every single certificate, rating, type rating, or endorsement are. This is even more true because very shortly I wish to begin IFR training in earnest.