Going Abroad in Your Own Country

8 Ways to Bring Another Country Home With You

I have to admit it.

I’ve been living a lie.

I’m a travel writer whose list of adventures would be an embarrassment to even beginner travelers. Sure I have some cool experiences under my belt. My bachelorette party in Las Vegas, trips to Florida to visit my in-laws, and a road trip through Nashville and Atlanta that I still consider to be two of the best days of my life. But I still need more. Something bigger.

Like many others, the desire to travel has always been there, but it never seemed to work out. My family never went anywhere when I was growing up. And since then, money, school, work, and the craziness of life always seemed to get in the way. But some day I would have the opportunity to see the world.

Wait a second. I’m not about to wait until some day, because some day might never come. I’ve never been one to care what other people think or feel like I have to follow the paved path of finish college, live in a cubicle 50 hours a week, and live for my weekends where the dread of returning to work on Monday haunts every smile Friday through Sunday. Hadn’t I already gone back to school to pursue a dream of being a writer? Hadn’t I already quit my job to do what made my happy despite those closest to me thinking I was nuts? Yes I had. So nine months ago, I made a decision.

I was going to travel. I’d backpack Europe. Or maybe I’d try to teach English in another country. Or do a type of RTW trip that I’ve read so much about.

I want to have a fantastic, life changing experience. I want to meet new people, see places that will take my breath away, and eat new, exotic foods. I want to hear different languages, see how other people live, and do as the locals do. I want to be outside of my comfort zone. I want to learn about myself and figure out what’s next for me. I want an adventure I’ll remember for ever. Wait a second. Couldn’t I do all of that here, in my own country of America?

I had completely ruled out the idea that I could have that same unforgettable experience in my own country. Which is exactly why, next month, I am setting out on a road trip to visit every state in the US.  There is no doubt that I’m going to visit other countries and possibly even live abroad some day. But how can I truly appreciate other countries if I haven’t properly explored my own?

Experience a new way of life.

Just because it’s my home country doesn’t mean everyone lives like me. It’s far from it actually. I’ve lived most of my life in the fast paced city of Chicago, where 2.7 million people also call it home. So for me, a small town and a slower pace will feel like a new world. Every area has their own unique way of life – from the jobs people work, to the way they dress, the things they do for fun, and even their accents. The architecture of buildings, the plants and animals, and the climate vary from place to place. I’m excited to leave my city street to see homes in the desert, cabins in the woods, and those who call the ocean their backyard.

Read Why You Should Forgo the American Dream and Let Travel Transform Your Life

Eat exotic food.

Food from another country is exotic, it’s new, and hopefully, it’s really good. But everything that makes that food so interesting to try is the same here. America is a melting pot of races, cultures, and nationalities carrying down recipes and traditions from their history. Traces of African culture in the South, Cuban in Florida, French Creole in New Orleans, Asian in California, and Spanish in the southwest are just a sprinkle of the culinary adventure before us. To me, things like snapping turtle soup, baked raccoon, and roast squirrel sound a little strange, but they’re here and being eaten everyday. I’ll be discovering people who hunt, catch, and grow the food that feeds their families as well each place’s unique crops and ingredients. Even well-known staples that we’ve all heard of like cheese steaks in Philadelphia, New York pizza, and beef bBrisket in Texas has a story and a reason why they’re that place’s hometown dish.

Read 10 Bizarre Desserts that Shouldn’t Taste So Good

Have an adventure.

White water rafting in the Colorado River, parasailing off the coasts of Florida, biking through Yosemite National Park, skiing down mountains in Jacksonhole, Wyoming: these are just a few of the activities that would satisfy any adventurous thrill seeker. While I plan to go on a zipline adventure through the forests of Washington, take a hot air balloon ride in Albuquerque, and hike Yellowstone National Forest, I believe these are just a few of the adventures I’ll have because the truth is, adventure is whatever you want it to be. I’m looking forward to my culinary adventures, too, like traveling legendary highways and areas like Route 66.

Check out our adventure trips in the United States

Meet new people.

Anytime I have to go downtown for work, I’m sitting on the train staring at my phone, avoiding eye contact with people, and secretly hoping no one takes the seat next to me so I can use it for my oversized bag. This is horrible. And what is even more horrible is that I don’t feel that bad admitting it because it’s the same thing that the thousands of other people are doing daily.  So whenever I talk to my friends who have traveled abroad, I’m fascinated by their stories of the meaningful connections they made. They had become teachers, fellow travelers, lovers, or fast but lasting friends. Even if it’s just a simple conversation, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to talk with people to learn a little more about them and where they’re from.

Read 6 Online Tools to Help Enrich Your Offline Travel Experiences

Get off-the-beaten path.

American travel is often associated with a cookie-cutter predictability that just isn’t true. Sure, Disney Land and the Vegas Strip are fantastic, but there is so much more to Florida and Nevada. When I look at my home city of Chicago, I think about what a visitor may be compelled to see: Navy Pier,  super thick pizza, the Sears Tower. But I’d love to tell them to stop by a Polish bakery for a delightful breakfast, visit all of Chicago’s very eclectic, ethnic neighborhoods, and grab an Italian beef sandwich with giardenera. Every place has a road less traveled.

Read 12 Less Visited Countries and Why You Should Go There Now

Live like a local.

Taking the off-the-beaten path and living like a local go hand in hand. Doing as the locals do ensures you’ll have an authentic experience of the place you’re visiting. For me, I’m visiting as many local breweries I can and guzzling down the beers they only offer at their brewery or regionally. Eating locally will give you the freshest ingredients. It can all start by asking simple questions.   “What do you do for fun around here?”

“Where’s a great place to get lunch?”

Taking 30 seconds to ask a local a question can be your pathway away from touristy areas to great local finds.

Read How to Be an Indie Traveler Anywhere You Go

Learn.

I always looked forward to going abroad to get a learning experience, but during my research for my road trip, I realized any travel can be a learning experience if you let it be. What ever city or state I’ll find myself in, there will be a  history to hear about and an individual culture to explore. I’m eager to learn so much about our nation’s story in Washington D.C. and throughout Boston.  I’ll come home with a better knowledge of nature and the environment from many different climates. Since I’m moving around a lot, I won’t have the opportunity to learn a language, but it definitely exists here. English may be the native tongue, but there are plenty of areas where an alternative language is more popular. Spanish speaking areas are common and not to be left out, more than 2 million people speak Chinese, and more than 2 million people speak either French or German.

Read Lessons from Around the World: 11 Skills to Learn on Your RTW Trip

Travel on the cheap.

I’ve always heard and read about travelers abroad spending so little on their travels. So when I decided I wanted to visit every state in America, I hoped to find that same inexpensive travel opportunity here. I pondered why my other vacations had been so expensive, and it’s simply because I attempted to jam a bunch of activities, high priced hotels, overpriced meals, and unneeded keepsakes in. This time around, it’s different. Instead of tourist trapped activities, I’m going to enjoy the scenery and surroundings. Instead of high priced hotels, I’ll be camping, staying with friends and family, and even staying in hostels which I didn’t even realize existed in America.

Book a hostel in the United States

Gain a new perspective.

A fantastic and common phrase I’ve heard from travelers coming home from a trip abroad is that they’ve gained a new perspective. Perhaps being somewhere so different, seeing a completely different way of life, and having a new appreciation for the little things we take for granted has a part to play in this new outlook. I’ve been fortunate to experience enough  trials and tribulations in my short existence to already realize the things that are important to me.  The people and experiences are what truly matter to me, and I’m sure I’ll come home with many more.

Read 11 Reasons to Stop Dreaming and Start Planning Your Round the World Trip

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Leave a Comment

  • Lori Marois said at 2012-05-07T13:28:18+0000: For a fun, free way to learn about our history or a free canoe trip through a mangrove forest check out our National Parks. Ranger guided activities and tours are always free and can include climbing lighthouses, canoeing Congaree in South Carolina or gliding up next to baby alligators at Big Cypress in Florida....bicycle tours in the Everglades, seining in North Carolina's sound waters and I had no idea America had so many caves underneath these mountains majesty. I've hit every state, often either visiting parks or seeing a baseball game played at a ballpark that's new to me (next week will be my 18th) so good luck and I look forward to reading about your adventures!
  • Phil Chiem said at 2012-05-08T02:00:15+0000: My friend and I are doing the same thing starting in mid June. We have been planning this since last year and cannot wait to leave this routine everyone calls life.
  • Dani Blanchette said at 2012-05-21T20:14:55+0000: I love this. I've traveled around many of the USA states while I was a freelance roadie, and there is still so much I want to see. I'm in Colombia now, and planning on doing a roadtrip next spring with my Colombian boyfriend who has never been to the USA...and we also want to hit the central 48 states...and see everything! (he even told me about places he wanted to see in the USA that I didn't even know existed).I cant wait to read about your roadtrip. I will def be following your trip as I plan ours. :)
  • Toni Parks said at 2012-05-16T15:13:12+0000: You are on the right track my friend! My husband and I survive those times between international travel by seeing new things we haven't seen in our own country. We have lived in 3 states so that has given us plenty of opportunity for weekend drive-able trips like to Tombstone and a fishing trip to Valdez. Although it is more costly, on occasion we take a flight and rent a car for the weekend just to be able to explore another part of the country. There are so many things to see here but don't give up on international travel. Some countries, if you avoid the tourist traps like you mentioned, are far less expensive to travel in than the U.S. The airfare to get there is the hard part. In the meantime, don't forget to visit the national and state parks. They have some pretty amazing sites to offer.
  • traveljunkies said at 2012-05-17T13:45:57+0000: Nothing at all wrong with exploring your own country, and this ideal for many, especially those with limited means or limited outlook, but you're still in America and it's nothing like exploring the real world. Visiting places with history far beyond the US, seeing life that's thousands of years old and meeting other travellers who aren't just doing the same thing as you. Because small groups speak Chinese or French or German doesn't mean they live, work and think like their counterparts back home. Whatever you may think, little India is nothing like the real India.