After 24,000 miles by road: What I’ve learned exploring the USA (so far)


My observations after seeing a lot of the country — over 24,000 miles by road

It is very hard to build an understanding of a country unless you have spent some quality time exploring it. Yet I have met so many people who have strong opinions of the USA who have not even been there! So I wanted to share some observations from my many experiences in the USA to date.

I truly am thankful to have experienced and seen so much of this country. I have been able to travel to all of the 50 contiguous states by land via a total of five months of road trips and weekends during work. I have also been fortunate to study in North Carolina for five months, and work in the North East of the country for over four years.

Thankful to have seen and experienced so much

In 2008 I came to the USA to visit some friends who lived on different sides of the country. After mapping out the cities I wanted to see, I then worked out the best way to see them all and try to get a dose of the real USA (on the ground, breathing the air and seeing the people rather than squinting through the windows above the clouds at 30,000ft). I ended up buying a Greyhound bus pass with unlimited travel — and I most definitely made the most of it, traveling in total a close to 14,000 miles. I completed a massive clockwise loop from/to San Francisco.

On my second big road trip and challenge ( in 2016), over a 3 month period I drove 9500 miles and camped through the interior of the country, and had a focus on National Parks. I completed the challenge of seeing all contiguous states. At this point, I need to commend the USA for the massive amounts of land that have been set aside as National Parks or National Forests. Here are my blogs from trips longer than a week around the US:

So, what did I observe and learn about the USA and its people?

  1. The USA has a uniquely rich diverse cultural tapestry
    It is unique in the mix of European powers which have all made their impact overtime (i.e. Spanish, English, French, Dutch, Germans, and many other countries all had made a large impact on the culture in the early years of this country)**. Most other countries that were colonized by European powers are more homogeneous in their culture (take for example my country of birth Australia). Much of the diversity from the early days of the USA has become the fabric of the culture, enabling it to absorb and continue to grow richer from the cultural influences from other areas of the world, as has been seen with the influence of Asian, Latin American and African cultures more predominantly since the 1800s.
  2. Americans are passionate and open with their political views
    I have been struck by how open and forthcoming people have been with their political views. Although in other countries it might be rude to bring up or discuss political views with people you have just met, in the USA this didn’t appear to be case in any of the states. Considering this, I think it is a bit of a paradox that the USA has a relatively low voter turnout in its elections.
  3. Overwhelmingly very friendly and positive people
    The friendliness is much more than skin deep, and it across the whole country (although expressed differently). I originally had some trepidation traveling around the USA and in particular some states that seem to have a reputation as either being hostile (especially to non-white looking people) or dangerous (it seems hardly a day goes by without another mass shooting or violent crime is on the news). But this trepidation was misplaced. Right across the country, people were friendly and welcoming. Of course there were some idiosyncrasies local to some areas, but everywhere I felt safe and welcomed as a visitor. Although people can often be a bit baffled by where they think I’m from (I’m mixed race) as soon as they hear and recognize the Australia accent, curiosity transforms into overt friendliness.
  4. The USA is a VERY big and diverse country
    I know this is stating the obvious — but when you have been around it on land — you can appreciate the strength of that statement even more. From the bone dry, extremely remote and sparsely populated deserts in the south west, to the thick, beautiful mountains in the north west which still have a new civilization feel to them, to the massive cities, world leading universities and long heavy history of the east and all between. When flying across the Country at night time, you can almost always see the the clump of lights of a major city nearby, this is stark contrast to say Australia, where you will mostly see a vast darkness. I remember seeing a statistic showing how low the overseas travel rates are for people from the USA, but after seeing the country itself, I can understand more as to why this might be the case.
  5. Understanding the diversity in individual states histories, can add helpful context to current political debates
    The civil war was a major historic event in the formation of the present day USA. I would argue that the remnants of factors leading to this war, are still being played out in the USA today especially in politics. I would also argue that the opposition to the ‘centralized government’ is still a leading driver behind the right to guns movement. Additionally, to under the USA, it can be helpful to learn how diverse the histories behind some of the states are. For example — California was purchased from Mexico, Louisiana from France, mid western states were simply created over the top of indigenous Indians, and other states had been heavily influenced by particular industries, or immigration from particular European countries. Then there have been conflicts between states, and conflicts between centralized vs non-centralized government. All of these historic factors lead to challenges in rolling out nationwide initiatives such as Obamacare. Compare this to other western countries, there are simply fewer states, or the histories of the states maybe relatively more homogeneous.

Final thoughts

I love the USA and the people that live there. Americans are a friendly, welcoming and diverse collection of people living in a beautiful large country. The states are diverse, and the Country is greater than the sum of its parts. If you have not been there and have the chance to go, I’m sure you will have great experience!

Notes:

* In this blog, I used the term ‘Americans’ as simply a shorthand for the ‘people in the USA’. I know there are many Americans outside the USA (I’m acutely aware of this, having traveled extensively through Central and South America).

** Here I don’t mean to gloss over or ignore the horrendous way the indigenous people were repeatedly lied to and mistreated in the past. But that isn’t the focus of this article.