Going Abroad in Your Own Country
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.