Driving Across the USA
We made it home!
Eleven days ago we set out from Los Angeles. 4,000 miles later and I’m sitting on the couch in my childhood home in Ohio, sipping a beer and playing with the dog. In between was a vast array of sights, sounds, and smells; diverse yet connected. We stood on cliffs perched above ocean waves, visited cities, each with their own points of pride, drank in bars where we clearly stood out as the only out-of-towners, and marveled at monuments both natural and man-made.
We quickly fell into a daily routine. We’d try to wake up early, around 8 or 9 in the morning, so that we could see a bit of the city we’d spent the night in during the daylight hours. One day in each place wasn’t enough time to see everything, not by a long shot, so we tried to figure out what each city’s claim to fame was and use our limited free time exploring that. Often, this revolved around food, so a fair few of our mornings were spent sampling the local fare. In Portland, we got breakfast and donuts, in Seattle we ate our way through the Pike Place Market, in Minneapolis we explored the gargantuan Mall of America, and in Chicago we ate deep-dish pizza and Italian Beef. After satisfying both our curiosities and our stomachs, we’d drive.
We drove a lot. It wasn’t just a part of our day, it was the day. For those two weeks we essentially lived on the road, stopping only to eat, stretch, refuel, and sleep. Despite that, the driving itself never felt like a chore; it wasn’t something we had to do each day, it was just… what we did. The miles blurred, the cliffs and shores of the west coast giving way to mountains of the pacific northwest, which in turn flattened, eventually turning into the great plains of Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota.
I fully believe that a road trip is the best way to see the country. Sure, you can fly from city to city and enjoy plenty of diversity and culture, but there’s a feeling of connectedness that comes only from watching each and every mile pass. You can see how mountains pull on the ground around it, creating valleys, and you can watch the foliage transform slowly, each piece changing gradually, but eventually forming into an unrecognizably different landscape. The mountains flatten out into hills, and eventually plains, where you can gaze across fields and ranches bigger than some countries. The sheer size of the country is something else I don’t think you can truly appreciate until you have to traverse every mile, one at a time.
Eventually, we’d make our way to our destination for that day, usually rolling in long after the sun had set. Our first order of business was, again, food, so we’d usually grab a bite and then check into our room. We stayed in a mixture of hostels and Airbnb rooms, each offering a slightly different experience. Hostels are incredibly social; we stayed in dorm-style beds, sharing the room with a few other people. They feature amenities such as common rooms for socializing (coughdrinkingcough) and watching TV, full kitchens so you can cook and store your own meals, saving money, and they usually organize events and tours such as pub crawls at night or excursions to local points of interest during the day. In addition, the clientele tends to be very diverse; hostels are extremely common outside of the US so you’ll meet people from all over the world, making for a more interesting experience. Airbnb rooms are generally a spare room up for rent in someone’s house; you get your own private retreat while usually sharing the space with the owner or other tenants. While not quite as social as hostels, you get a great deal more privacy as well as the benefit of a true local to give you recommendations on the area. They also tend to be off the tourist track, so you can get a better feel for the true everyday areas of town. Both hostels and Airbnb are significantly cheaper than a hotel room, so they tend to be a good way to keep the budget tight while traveling.
My only regret was that we didn’t have more time; a day in each city is barely enough to pick one or two highlights from each. While each place has a unique initial impression, we certainly didn’t have enough time to get to know any of the destinations particularly well, and I would have liked the opportunity to explore some of the surrounding areas as well through day or weekend trips. Somewhere down the line I’d love to do a proper cross-country trip, taking six months or so to wander around, settling in each place to our heart’s content. In the meantime, I fully enjoyed our whirlwind tour; if nothing else, it provided a number of places to go back to!