In recent years I’ve spent a lot more time traveling around my own country and, for the most part, it’s been wonderful. The experiences I’ve enjoyed most times truly surprised me and I’ve learned how to better appreciate the full width and breadth of the U.S. In an effort to encourage other people, American or not, to experience more of what makes the country so much fun to explore, today I want to share some of my own personal experiences that I think best portray what the nation is all about.
This epic drive was near the top of my bucket list for years, and the actual experience of tackling Route 66 was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Steinbeck once called it The Mother Road and from the Dust Bowl to the American Renaissance in the 1950s, this road has held a special place not only in the hearts of Americans, but of people around the world. It hearkens back to an era when anything seemed possible, when taking to the open road was an adventure and the fun truly was in the getting there. While Route 66 technically doesn’t exist anymore, it’s still possible of course to drive huge parts of it as you meander from Chicago to the pier in Santa Monica, California. Along the way are quirky roadside attractions, strange motels and national wonders that rank amongst the top in the world. Yes, I wanted to see and experience all of those things but I also wanted to reconnect with my own country, one I love dearly and of which I am fiercely proud. Just as people did in the 1950s and 60s, I wanted to experience a great American road trip and to discover aspects to the American experience that I never knew existed.
Our nation’s capital, all of the important monuments and memorials are found here, many of which line the beautiful National Mall. Also along the Mall are some of the best museums in the world, the always free to enter Smithsonian Institution museums that cover everything from American History to Air and Space and some smaller, more unusual ones as well. But we’re not just about museums and monuments, in recent years the city has seen a shift in demographics and old neighborhoods have come back to life. Explore new restaurants and bars in Barracks Row or head to Georgetown to do some high-end shopping. DC is also well located, an easy drive, bus or train ride from Philadelphia and New York so there’s really no excuse NOT to visit the capital city region.
The state doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves and now ranks as one of my favorite destinations on the planet. It has everything I love: it’s a little remote, it’s incredibly gorgeous and interesting in a way that is very unique. While I’d love to visit and do a land-based journey, cruising is the perfect way to experience as much as possible in a short time frame. Alaska is immense and seeing it from a ship enables visitors to experience a variety of different towns and remote outposts. Ultimately though, I wasn’t prepared for what the reality of sailing in the waters of Alaska is really like. It’s far from being a run of the mill cruise. No, in fact it reminded me much more of those expedition style experiences I’ve enjoyed in remote parts of the planet. The ports were great, but what really impressed me was the time spent sailing and admiring the views. All together, that makes cruising around Alaska the ideal first introduction to the state.
I love Hawaii and have long ached to see some other Pacific possessions, many of which most Americans don’t even realize are (sort of) part of the country. The territories in the Pacific include: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands as well as many other reefs, islands and atolls that are dependent areas. The problem so far is that these places are all far away, small, hard to reach and expensive to do so. Still, I’m very curious about them, their cultures and how being (sort of) a part of the US has affected them – or not. This is a long-term goal, but one I hope to someday achieve.
Regional Food Favorites
My own country too often is the subject of culinary derision around the world, which is a shame. Those who call the US home understand best our complex and delicious culinary history, but visitors to our fair land don’t see the same landscape. Instead they opt to believe often-repeated stereotypes, many of which are completely baseless. That’s a recurring theme actually and something I’ve found throughout my travels. We all have stereotypes about every place we visit, and this extends to the food culture as well. So most times we seek out those dishes that are the most iconic, even though they may not be the best bites. Instead when you visit the US, be sure to match the regions you visit. It may be heavy, but in the South please do try BBQ obtained from a small shack, preferably one without a sign. Aside from that stereotype, the South is also home to some of the most innovative chefs in the nation, preparing intricately prepared meals with an expert touch. But more than anything, when you visit the US please look at the country with a fresh set of eyes. If all you expect is heavy foods served in huge quantities, then that is all you will find. Instead look beyond those misconceptions and you’ll find the real heart and soul of modern American cuisine.
I’m proud to say that America started the modern conservation movement in the 19th century when it created the first National Park. Since then we have added 58 more and many other national monuments and sites forming a vast web of areas so important, that we have deemed they must be forever protected. The so-called North American model of conservation is now the norm around the world, but to really appreciate its importance a visit to a few American parks is in order. From Yellowstone to Yosemite and Glacier to the Great Smoky Mountains, we have a lot of options and no one should ever miss the opportunity to visit a few.
I personally think that the most exciting places to be in the US right now are our so-called secondary cities. Most, if not all, have gone through a lot of changes in the last decade, creating fun environments full of creative entrepreneurs with new restaurants, cafes, shops, museums and more. They’re fun places to be and you’re also more likely to learn more about America in these spots than in our largest metropolitan expanses. Nashville, Austin, Cleveland and St. Louis come to mind, but so does Detroit to be honest. In recent years, Detroit has become famous around the world as the city that went bankrupt. The city where entire neighborhoods were left in ruin, neglected and teeming with blight. That’s honestly all I knew about the Motor City before my first visit, and that’s part of the problem. Almost everything we see on the news, in magazines or even on travel blogs is obsessed with Detroit’s so-called ruin porn. Sharing the photos of these houses and city blocks that have been left to rot has been all the rage. Because of that, not many people know the real story of Detroit. That no, the city is not a burning pile of rubble. That Detroit is actually a great place to visit and I imagine to live, and that fact more than anything else surprised me the most. Great museums, delicious food and other fun diversions all come together to make Detroit a fun and, I think, an important city to visit.