I`ve been off the road now for around a week and it still hasn`t really sunk in. I feel like I am in limbo, with the joy of my travels on one side and the precipice of real life before me.
My journey took me through 44 states/districts, including 36 brand new ones that I`d not seen. They were: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, through Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. On separate occasions I have also visited Nevada and North and South Carolina several times each.
America is easily the most beautiful and varied country in the world, certainly of the many I have been to. It has absolutely everything a traveler could want, from beaches to mountains, deserts to lakes, prairies to forests; and has some of the coolest cities too. I have therefore been taught very well on this trip to go easy on those Americans who`ve never left their own country: so long as they are well-traveled within the US they should not be ridiculed for having no passport.
I have done some once-in-a-lifetime things and seen some stunning places, so beautiful that I am unlikely to see anything like them again. Certainly sleeping on the beach of the Colorado river at the bottom of the Grand Canyon was among the highlights, as were the hikes to Angel`s Landing (Zion) and Yosemite Point. A day at Niagara Falls also stands out. It`s hard to say which is the most beautiful state, as they are all so different. I think a good way to decide which is the most impressive is by how frequently one has to pull over to take a photo of the next amazing vista as each corner is turned. In this mode, Utah wins hands-down.
There are some world-class cities in America and I have visited all of them: the alphas are New York, Los Angeles and Chicago; the beta San Francisco; and the gammas Boston, Dallas, Washington, Atlanta and Minneapolis. Each of these has its own character and, with the exception of Los Angeles and Dallas, a lot of charm. For me Boston and Washington were the most enjoyable, and LA and NYC the most over-rated (if I want to see nuts and dirt I could follow a squirrel to its cache). The newer mid-size cities, such as those in the same league as Wichita, are forgettable. A mid-size city on the east coast, however, will always be stunning and fascinating.
I surfed for around 48 nights, camped 16, hosteled 41 nights, and motelled/hotelled for just 5 nights, sometimes when I was stuck or sometimes when I simply needed a decent night`s sleep. Couch surfing in cities allowed me to see and do things that an `ordinary` tourist would possibly not have seen, or in some cases certainly never have seen: going to clubs with locals, to house parties, to after-parties, to the beach without worrying about one`s stuff, to the best restaurants and the seediest bars. Surfing was definitely exhausting, partly because of all the partying, partly because of the basic sleeping arrangements, but also because of the sheer nervous energy expended meeting so many interesting people day after day.
Hosteling was also a lot of fun. I didn`t know there were quite so many hostels in the US, as it`s a common belief that there are, in fact, none. Again meeting people, like-minded outward-bound people specifically, was awesome. You`ll never find a "do y`all speak English in England?" idiot in a hostel, nor one of those freaks who has never left their own home state. The Americans one meets are the type who want to meet outsiders, to hear about others` views on their country and its foreign policy, and to simply hang-out with cool folk regardless of nationality. One never meets the flag-waving, chest-beating, Bush-voting, Fox-watching idiots you find at Republican conventions. No, only the best people stay in hostels.
Americans - those who fit into the above groups at least - are easily the nicest and most hospitable people in the world. Nowhere else would such trust and generosity have been shown to me. People would take me into their home and even take me out for dinner and drinks just to hang out with a traveler, and a foreign one at that. People took pride in showing me their home city, at one point a host`s eyes filled with tears as she had an "I love this city" moment while we were out. Americans do not deserve the stereotypes that the rest of the world places upon them. Not only on this trip but in my entire 2.5 years in the US I have busted the various myths. Americans are among the most beautiful people, inside and out. If the American people ran the world, rather than the American politicians, it could be a far better planet.
The National Park service is a wonderful concept. I`ve been to around 60 national parks, national monuments, national historical monuments, national cemeteries, national seashores, national rivers, national these, national those.... The best are in the Four Corners area, there are half a dozen within a few hours, all of them the Big Guns. In fact I have been to all the Big Gun-class national parks, of which Bryce or Arches was my favourite.
My budget was $100 per day for 60 days, but I ended up traveling for 115 days. My total expenditure was $6,900, of which $2,200 was on petrol, $1500 on food, $1000 on sights, and $1400 on accommodation. All in all that is a pretty cheap way to live for the best part of 4 months.
American food is particularly bad anywhere outside of a restaurant, where the quality and value is superb. It annoys me that British food gets such a bad rap when it`s actually very good, especially compared to what is seen in US supermarkets: genetically-modified everything (apples the size of your head), meat that is impregnated with hormones and "rib-meat", bread that is made of air and cheese that has never been near a cow. I therefore tried to avoid these as much as possible, and my lunch was often a loaf of decent bread or a tin of (cold) soup. I have therefore lost 20lb in 4 months, which represents 12% of my body mass... without trying and while still indulging in burger and fries at least once a week. This simply proves what most people have known for a long time, but which is overpowered on American TV by the "it`s not your fault you`re fat; here, these pills will help" attitude. The maxim is simple: eat less, do more.
There`s something I would like to bring to your attention. It`s some of the comments left for me by surfers as references. Many use lots of positive adjectives about how great a guest I am, which I will not be so big-headed to list here, but I will show only those that demonstrate a point I have been trying to make for 2.5 years. In describing me: "kind, respectful, perfect guest"; "courteous with a penchant for humor"; "very considerate, courteous, and respectful"; " very respectable and respectful"; "very polite.... and considerate"; "considerate.... and he busted my American-made politeness meter". The reason I focus on these is because I finally have proof that, to those whom I like, I am not rude, not disrespectful, and not discouteous. To those who considered me rude.... well, what can I say?! Link: http://www.couchsurfing.com/people/dc197
I extend my thanks to everyone who helped me on this trip, particularly to the Couch Surfing community, to those who showed me hospitality outside of CS such as Peter, Liz, James and Lisa; to Laura and Nick for putting me up before and after my trip, and everyone who read and posted on the blog.
I`ve not worked, nor have I slept properly, for four months. It will be strange to return to the real world and to be back on a dull 9-5 routine, knowing exactly where I will be at any given time or day, without the thrill - and stress - of taking life one 12-hour stretch at a time. Having seen and done such amazing things, life in Cubicle City is going to see me day dreaming nostalgically every day. I warn you in advance, my dear friends, that for the rest of our lives you must brace yourself for my starting every other sentence with "when I was traveling America....". I implore you to be patient with me..... and to Get Jealous.