Welcome to the United States! With these words at the Cincinnati International Airport in the summer of 2008, my journey in the US started. My inner explorer was thrilled realizing that it would be a long venture to know new cultures, meet new people and explore new terrains. I settled in Lansing, Michigan and started my job assignment I was sent for. Like a curious kid, I began interacting with people trying to understand how best I could explore this huge country. And, the answer came the very first week from a gentleman I was talking to in a bar: hit the road.
It was an outset of a 80,000+ mile journey to know America. A road trip to Chicago was the kickoff of a series of road trips, solo as well in groups, that would follow in the next 8-9 years. It was the Florida trip in 2009 that boosted my inner explorer to go on. By the time I started my MBA in Pittsburgh in 2011, I had traveled to 7 states mostly in Midwest. Things got interesting and accelerated when I was joined by new folks in this adventure. A 12 hour drive from Pittsburgh to Atlanta with a bunch of my friends, crossing multiple state lines and Great Smoky Mountains, removed my doubts to a large extent that if it was possible to travel to all 50 US states and DC by road. The question was how long would it take given that I had to finish my grad school and do a full-time job after graduation. More road trips, more states and towns covered after I moved to New Jersey to start my post MBA career in 2013. The goal of doing 50+DC was still distant.
My idea was not to just touch state lines to checkoff states in the list, but to drive at least 200 miles in each state and stay at least 2 nights. I picked a spot in each state to take a picture of me for the US travel diary.
I moved to Texas in 2015, and suddenly the goal looked achievable, at faster pace. 45 flights to and from almost all major airports, and more than 80,000 miles of driving on almost all major interstate highways got me closer my goal. By December 2017, I had done 49+DC before I decided, for some reasons, to take a career break and move back to India to travel in India and Southeast Asia. I wanted to do Hawaii, the last state in my list, before my move; but it did not materialize, however hard I tried. Maybe the timing was not right. It has to wait for some good reason.
So, what I learned about America after leaving such a big carbon footprint? A lot, if not everything! It is beautiful, huge and easy to travel, with almost all kinds of landscapes to experience. Beaches are serene, mountains are calm, deserts are beautiful, grasslands are majestic, lakes are adorable, forests are peaceful….the list is endless.
I hiked cold mountains, camped in open grasslands, slept in thick forests, walked on inhabitant beaches, drove on frozen lakes and boarded dusty sand dunes….and, most importantly, partied in almost every major city. My journey across the country took me through hundreds of national/ state parks and monuments, creating a vivid memory and picturesque album. It was sort of a cultural and history classroom for me while traveling through small towns and historic places.
The best part of this venture was the people I met everywhere. The hotel staff, park rangers, flight crews, bar tenders, police officers, doctors & nurses and fellow travelers; they all are a part of this story.
Questions often asked to me are ” which are your favorite states?”, ” places you loved the most?”, “Was it all easy or did everything go well?”
It mostly went smooth except for a few incidents or close shaves:
- Two flat tire incidents in Arkansas and New Mexico. Got stuck for hours until helped showed up.
- Slept behind the wheels once in Wyoming, woke up with the car wobbling in opposite lanes and my side lanes. Fortunately, nothing happened!
- Lightning struck on a tree just 4-5 meters away while stuck on the highway due to a tornado in Oklahoma. Fire and burning smell. Watched the show unfold.
- A horse suddenly crossed the road in the dark while I was cruising at 70 mph in Colorado. His tail hit the headlight. Both were fine!
It was all worth taking a bit of risk to witness some of the breathtaking moments. Three moments stood out:
- Awe-inspiring Aurora Borealis after crossing the Arctic Circle
- Vast Grand Canyon
- Frozen Niagara Falls.
All 49 states and places I visited are beautiful. The list below is based on my own experience. Maybe the list would need updated once I visit Hawaii:
Top 5 states
Top 5 places
- Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
- Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- Upper Peninsula, Michigan
- Grand Canyon, Arizona
- White Sand Dunes National Monument, New Mexico
Top 5 towns/ cities
- Santa Fe, New Mexico
- Savannah, Georgia
- Sedona, Arizona
- Burlington, Vermont
- Ann Arbor, Michigan
Top big cities
- Chicago, IL
- Nashville, TN
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Denver, CO
- San Diego, CA
The story is not complete yet. Three things are in line:
- Amtrak (Boston- Chicago- LA route)
- Drive from Toronto to Mexico City