20,000 miles and 25 states.
That’s the area I covered this summer leading tours for AmeriCan Adventures. To put that into perspective, that’s equal to driving 83% of the Earth’s circumference.
And many leaders covered much more ground than that.
A lot of time was spent inside “AbraVan Lincoln”, and a 300 mile drive is now a cakewalk. Split up between music, conversation, podcasts and just being in a meditative state of thought while cruising the interstate, I actually really enjoyed the driving.
Even my solo cross country journey from San Fransisco to New Jersey wasn’t awful. It took me 5 days, and while sometimes I was bored out of my mind (I’m looking at you Nebraska & Iowa!), long distance driving really isn’t difficult if you can get in the groove.
Sure I never saw my life to take the route of commercial driver. Luckily, this job was more than just that. I became my passenger’s sole source for cultural information, tips, activities and many times, I also just felt like a friend.
Get people on a long enough drive and you know the conversations are going to take a turn for the bizarre!
I would also never have been able to do it without the people behind the scenes. I went through a month of training, and then had a small army of people at AmeriCan Adventures taking care of the vehicle maintenance, emergencies, logistics and paperwork.
Sure, you might not be leading a tour, but a road trip is a road trip. Before this job I had mostly only explored the West Coast, so 75% of the places I visited were completely new to me!
Here’s what I learned and what you might need to know, if you are planning a U.S. road trip.
To see the real U.S. you need to get off the interstate
If you need to make a long distance haul on a short time frame, I suppose you have no other option than the interstate. If you can manage though, get off it!
You see nothing from the interstate. Nothing. Through most of the United States, all you see is the same tree-lined lanes dotted by meaningless exits.
See a scenic route on the map? (One reason an atlas is a good purchase!). Take it. See Google maps taking you down a really windy road? TAKE IT.
Some of my favorite drives were when my passengers all thought we were lost.
We’d cruise through small towns in Kentucky where tractors trotted along beside us. We’d count Confederate flags in West Virginia on the small, rural houses. We’d blast country music while soaring past corn fields– all just to make us feel a bit like we belonged.
East Coast driving is so different than West Coast driving
Driving from Newark, New Jersey, through Philadelphia and onto D.C. on my first day leading a trip in the East Coast was hell.
It was absolutely terrifying, stressful and chaotic.
Given the majority of the population lives in this area, the busy highways criss-cross like mad. Also, everywhere is congested.
Compared to the West Coast, the road signs are different. Toll roads are everywhere. Parkways…what are those?
Even the parking signs made no sense to me! I’d stand in front of them with a blank stare feeling like I was deciphering some type of code.
In Newark, (luckily without passengers) I drove around in circles trying just trying to exit without getting on a new freeway so many times that it almost drove me to tears.
Sorry, San Francisco took that honor. SF’s parking situation is so horrible on Sundays in the summer that it did in fact lead to a meltdown.
Also, have you ever driven around D.C.? Well if you haven’t let me tell you that the first time it will be horrible. Even locals were sympathizing with my stress saying it frustrated and confused them too.
While some places can be a true pain to drive around, especially with a large vehicle, luckily I ended up adapting pretty quickly. By the end of the summer I felt like I could tackle anything.
You will gain weight, unless you really focus on good habits
Almost everyone on the road seems to gain weight. The passengers especially, but luckily for them they are only on the road for a few weeks rather than a few months.
With the extensive sitting and horrible quality of inexpensive food around the U.S., it’s bound to happen.
Surprisingly for me, I didn’t gain any weight, and because I ended my season being drastically sick with no appetite for a week+, I actually lost some.
I did engage in a few strategies in hopes to avoid that tour leader chub:
Firstly, I said no to snacks (well, most of the time). Every gas station stop meant a van full of people bringing back snacks. Unless I was actually starving I wouldn’t allow them to pass any to me. Mindless or bored eating was the easiest way to gain a few extra pounds.
Second, we cooked most of our meals. Being on 95% camping trips, this allowed me to have a bit of control into what was going into my body.
I’d start the day with yogurt, granola, berries and chia seeds. For lunch I’d have a turkey wrap with hummus (sriracha mayo was my weakness though). For dinner the passengers would rotate cooking. I made it a point that even if it was going to be somewhat unhealthy, at least we’d have to have an assortment of vegetables or salad.
Lastly, I made myself go on every hike possible. This meant at least once or twice a week I got a strenuous workout for a few hours.
Hopefully next season I’ll be able to keep up the same habits.
The U.S. is weird and fascinating, even if you’re American
I had no interest in exploring my own country for a long time. I studied Latin America in college, then moved to Asia and after that to Europe. It’s taken some time for the U.S. to spark any interest in me.
I started this job feeling like I had explored this country the least of all my new co-workers. I hadn’t hiked Zion, I hadn’t been to D.C., I hadn’t even been to Yosemite which is in my home state!
Once I got on the road I realized how immensely beautiful the U.S. is, and I had just failed to previously realize. Having visited many national parks around the world, the U.S. has some of the best.
I mean, we better! We created the national park system to goodness sake!
Utah is an other-wordly national park. California offers every type of landscape all within a few hours drive. It even has the lowest and highest point in the continental United States, along with the oldest trees and largest trees in the world.
Cue nerding out on fun facts!
Of course, the country is so much more diverse than I knew. Yes, East Coasters really are different then us West Coasters. And yes, West Virginia really is hick central. New Orleans really is that amazing, and so are gator bites. Yummm. Also, Chicago is probably one of the most beautiful cities at night!
There are so many beautiful places to be discovered
While on my cross-country solo drive, I was thirsting for some new scenery. There’s only so much of the interstate one person can take (like mentioned above). I’ve always wanted to visit Wyoming but sadly the I-80 was offering anything special. I took out my atlas, found a national forest with a scenic drive and took the detour.
I was mind-blown.
Medicine Bow National Forest
Cut off from cell service, cruising down winding mountain roads past glacial lakes and granite cliffs I never expected was exhilarating. I stopped at a random town and window shopped all the cowboy gear. I took photos of horses running through wide open pastures.
Sometimes I didn’t see one other person for miles.
These are the kinds of feelings and experiences I only ever thought I’d find traveling outside my home country. Surprisingly to me, this country has so much beauty and diversity to offer.
I can’t wait to get back out there again!