At the end of June, my husband and I set out for a 3 week road trip that covered 7,300 miles, 15 states, and 9 national parks across the American west and southwest. We traveled from Chicago to Portland, Portland to L.A., L.A. back to Chicago, witnessing the beauty of Redwood National Forest, Sequoia National Forest, The Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and the Badlands—to name a few!
Along the way, we learned many things about each other, America, Americans, and life itself.
1) There are good people in this country. On our second day of travel from Chicago to Oregon, we spent about 10 hours in North Dakota. At a Bismark gas station, my husband and I stopped for a bathroom/gas break. When we were finished, we hopped in the car and didn’t stop again until we hit Teddy Roosevelt National Park, 134 miles west. It also happened to be a stormy day with wind gusts up to 60 miles an hour, so it took us 3 hours to get there. As we exited the car to gaze in awe at the beautiful landscape, my husband realized he didn’t have his wallet. Where did he leave it? The gas station bathroom 134 miles east of us. He called the gas station, and lucky for us, it was had been returned by a good Samaritan — all of our money intact.
2) All you need are the basics. We stayed in 5 star resorts that cost $400/night, an Airstream RV, dingy motels, a teepee, and our own tent. And even though those 5 star resorts were nice—the king sized bed, room service, Jacuzzi--all we really needed was a warm bed, a healthy meal, a hot cup of coffee, and a beautiful view (not to mention each other’s company). Camping at the Grand Canyon and enjoying a glass of wine while watching the sunset was far more satisfying than Vegas’s world-renowned nightclubs.
3) We are small and insignificant. Driving across the open prairies of the west, down the windy roads through the redwoods, and the vast deserts of the southwest, it’s easy to see how big the world is and how much you don’t matter. There’s a reason the redwoods are called “trees of mystery”: they’ve been around for thousands of years and evoke a mystical feeling as you admire them from below. Staring into the Grand Canyon’s abyss, watching bison wade through Yellowstone’s waters, listening to wolves howl at the super moon only yards from your tent—it all becomes so clear: I am but an infinitesimal part of this world. I am just part of the ecosystem, and my job is simply to survive. It might sound depressing, but it actually takes a lot of pressure off of me. All I really have to do is carry on the human race and make the world a slightly better place. I’ll never make something as beautiful as the sequoias or the badlands. So, I can stop putting so much pressure on myself to achieve.
4) We matter and all of our actions are significant. Although each of us is a microscopic member of this world, dwarfed by all that surrounds us, we do matter and all of our actions are significant. So, while I could never create something as awesome as the rock formations at Arches National Park in Utah, if I step on a plant there I could destroy an entire ecosystem. I have the ability to create or destroy with every step I take. Every moment of my day can be used to improve or ruin my environment. I choose to improve.
5) There’s no place like home. When you’re on a road trip, every day you experience something new—a new landscape, an unfamiliar accent, foreign food. That’s why traveling is fun—being constantly inundated with new things rarely gets boring. However, there comes a point when you want something familiar like your own bed, your mom’s home cooking, or the view of the sunrise from your bedroom window. And truly, there’s no place like home. Sometimes we can get too wrapped up in the idea that something better awaits us, or where we are isn’t good enough. At the end of the day, it’s the people with whom you share your experiences that truly make life worth living. That’s why settlers settled. Eventually, you just want to be home with those you love. Traveling reminds you that the grass is greenest where you water it.