I consider myself a world traveler, with countries like Brazil, Peru, Nicaragua, and Thailand gracing my well-worn passport. Yet, the United States, the country I was born in an lived most of my life, was a country I had done very little exploring within.
I have lived in many places in the U.S., from Oregon to California, and Florida to New York City, yet I hadn’t considered this to be a place for me to ‘travel’ around.
This all changed when me, my partner, and our 11 year old rescue dog traveled coast to coast in a 200 square foot tiny home on wheels for 5 months, visiting 14 states and 25 cities.
A girl can learn a lot about both her inner and outer world on a trip like that. Things like…
What it feels like to re-acquaint yourself with parts of your inner world that you thought were ‘handled.’ Like that part of you that unleashes when you feel your world is spiraling out of control. That part of you that knows rage, intimately.
How accents from the deep south make you smile because they sound like smooth honey. And you never knew honey had a sound, until you spent time talking to folk from Southern Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Since returning, I’ve been asked over and over again, “How was it? What was your favorite place? What did you learn along the way?”
Here’s what I tell them…
How was it?
It was harder than I thought. And yet, I persevered.
It was messier than I thought. And yet, I could still see the marvelousness in it all. It was more humbling than I thought. And I am grateful for that.
It was more beautiful than I thought. And I am forever changed for that.
And lastly, It wasn’t easy…but it was worth it. What was your favorite place?
Georgia swooned me
New Mexico enraptured me, Texas enlivened me, Louisiana woke me
Florida held me
In other words, this question can not be answered with a single location. Each place holds its own richness and tenderness that was in of itself, a gift to witness.
At times, you can tell when you’ve crossed a state border, as the terrain immediately begins to fade into its own unique fingerprint. Along the road, I would look up from my book I was reading at that time, and say to my partner, “hm, we must be in a new state?” And he would say, “yep. Just crossed the border 5 minutes ago.”
Arizona looks like a planet of its own, with spirals of burnt amber and apricot colored mountains cascading along a sunrise so bright, it could blind you. The magnificence of this land is forever imprinted in my head and my heart. And I’m certain that if aliens inhabit this planet, disguised as humans, they are living in Arizona.
New Mexico is a vast land of clay-colored buildings and terra-cotta earth to the north. To the south, there are long stretches of nothing but tumbleweeds and towns full of native Americans and Mexicans wearing cowboy hats. It’s one of the most interesting and friendly states we explored.
Louisiana is a forest under murky water within cities and towns of Creole cottages, historic mansions, and colorful balconies. There is so much poverty here and so. much. culture. This place and its people have music in their souls and damn good food.
What did you learn along the way?
I learned that the America I live in, the United States, is a country longing to connect – to feel whole and undivided. Every state, every city, no matter the political views, no matter the race, no matter the economic situation…what I witnessed was open minds, open hearts, and sincere curiosity. A deep desire to talk and to talk openly, without fear of being shamed for using the ‘wrong’ words or expressing the ‘wrong’ views. A willingness to speak, without the need to defend one’s perspective, and to listen, without the need to convince others of our ‘righteousness.’
Maybe it’s that people feel safer with travelers, letting their walls down, leaning into encounters and conversations that they would otherwise steer clear from. Or maybe it’s that when you are the traveler, you let your walls down and you lean into encounters and conversations that you would otherwise steer clear from. Either way, what I discovered is that this curious and compassionate leaning in, gives us and others permission to show up as we really are, rather than the person we think they think we are.
This trip revealed to me my own judgments and misconceptions I held about the differences within my country and how I let the story of ‘us versus them’ influence me. The polarizing that disintegrates individual people into nothing more than a stereotype. New York City mentality vs. west coast mentality vs. middle America mentality. The crazy liberals of California vs. the crazy conservatives of Florida.
Early on in the trip, my partner and I befriended a couple from Florida. Two weeks into our friendship we found out they were conservatives and had voted for Trump. I had an immediate gut reaction of disconnect from them. Then, later that night we all sat around a fire and talked, peacefully, about politics. There was no anger or resentment or trying to get the other party to ‘see it our way.’ There was only heartfelt wonder and a profound willingness to find where we united. And of course, there were many points and perspectives in which we united, much more so then the places in which we did not.
What I learned is that the ‘stranger’ standing behind me in line at the grocery store or living 1000 miles away from me, isn’t so different from me or you. Because despite our political views, race, or economic status, we all seem to long for the same thing.
We are a country, a people, longing to be united.