As someone who has been road tripping to National Parks around the country since before I can remember, I’m always a little surprised when someone tells me that they’ve never been east (or west) of the Mississippi River. If you’re an American reading this right now, you should know that you live in one of the most beautiful, diverse, and accessible countries in the world! There’s a reason why you’ll run into so many foreign tourists in our cities and national parks: America is pretty freakin’ awesome!
I won’t pretend that by driving back and forth across the country three times in the past decade that I’ve seen everything America has to offer, but I have caught glimpses of life all along the way. I’ve seen enough to know that if you’re staying in your corner of the country, you’re missing out on a lot. It’s not even that you’re just missing out on seeing new places and meeting new people, you can always fly to a new city to do that. Road tripping itself is an experience. An experience that everyone should try at least once in their lifetime.
For me the greatest thing about this kind of travel has been watching the landscapes change gradually, forests giving way to plains and mountains sinking into deserts. Each trip capped off with the sound of waves crashing on some distant, but beautiful beach. The other wonderful aspect, the truly American Dream part of the road trip, is the freedom you have when behind the wheel. You have the power to decide when and where you want to stop or detour. No schedules, no tours, just you and a car. (Hopefully also a map, communication device, clothing, and someone to take pictures of you and keep you awake- I can tell you from multiple personal experiences that falling asleep at the wheel is NOT a fun or recommended road trip adventure.)
You can make a plan of where you want to go and what you want to see, but you never truly know until you get there if it will be a place you want to spend much time. You may also meet travelers along the way who will suggest wonderful spots that you had never even heard of. Recently I stopped at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX and found it so crawling with people that I was ready to move on after a quick photo op. Roswell, NM proved to be a let down for my group as we were hoping to find lots of alien-themed kitsch and restaurants only to find out that the last two such restaurants had closed during the last recession. Both times we were very glad that we had a car and could quickly continue on our way. Arkansas, on the other hand, proved to be a wonderfully unexpected detour (read more about that trip at Accidentally Arkansas). And I’ll never forget the tips we got in Yellowstone from fellow campers on where to find the best swimming holes.
The point is, you’ll never know unless you go, so go! Take your car or rent one and start exploring your amazing backyard. Millions of people are spending a lot of time and money to come visit America and all you have to do is get in your car, for a weekend or a week, and drive. Just drive.
“Life is a journey and not a destination”- Lynn H. Hough (often misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson)
And if you absolutely can’t take the time for a road trip, here’s our most recent 6 day journey from Arizona to North Carolina condensed into 75 seconds: Cross-Country Time Lapse