Days on the road: 426
Number of beds: 9
Countries visited: Russia, US – states: NY, CT, OH, MI, IL, MO, TN.
Postcards sent: 0
This entire month, save for the first five days, we’ve been back in the States. Which means that we have surpassed our intended plan of one year voyage into the big unknown world; in fact, we clocked in at just over 13 months of continuous adventures abroad – leaving JFK airport on 12 August 2013 and returning to the very same place on 17 September 2014. And here’s something else: 19 countries and 14 months later we are still traveling – sort of.
Although we are both very eager, maybe even anxious, to get back to our house and our cat in Washington D.C., we knew that we had another amazing opportunity in front of us: travel the USA. We had two weddings to attend and many friends and family to catch up with. Since we are this point still unemployed, we could afford to take a more leisurely approach to our travel by driving to all of the destinations on our list. Plus in between all of these celebrations, visits and catch up sessions we were looking forward to getting to know America better. We’ve traveled far and wide outside of the US, but haven’t had the opportunity to explore on the home front. Financially, we probably are better off crashing on friends’ and relatives’ couches than paying our mortgage and utilities in DC. All of this made sense, and we were SOLD.
So here it goes – some thoughts on being back in America and on hitting the open road (again? Or never leaving it?)
First few days were definitely a little weird. Not good or bad, just disorienting -distance in miles, temperature in Fahrenheit, and fancy bread loaves for $6. Since we spent our respective childhoods in Russia, once we left the US last summer, it was easy for us to slip back into metric system, and assumption that good bread is an essential food staple that should not cost over a dollar.
Let’s see what else – cars! So much driving – and so fast. We can now cover the same distance in 2.5 hours in a car that used to require a full day of riding our bike in the mountains of Laos. But even more jarring is the fact that almost everyone has a car, and uses it every day to drive on a five-lane highway. And you know what? Distance is told in hours instead of miles – “Oh, it’s 2.5 hours away.”
We had packed a duffle bag with clothes that was waiting for us on our return – but the thing is, we couldn’t quite figure out what to do with all of these new outfit choices. In fact, we weren’t sure whether we even wanted to be making these choices. Still pondering this one.
Conspicuous consumption is definitely a thing, and we both found it hard to go into stores at first. Farmer’s market in Hudson, NY freaked Jenia out. Also, paying with cash and change gets you weird looks. Although we’ve switched back to plastic within a first week, leaving cash existence was a rediscovered novelty.
Food portions, yes it’s true – restaurant servings tend to be enormous, especially approaching the Midwest. We’ve made a mistake of ordering two servings of brunch (so, one each) on our first Saturday morning eating out. Ever since then, we’ve been splitting portions and have walked away perfectly satiated. We still get our own bloody mary.
Speaking of sustenance – there are some delicious eats here in the States. We talked about missing home cooking, and while we still aren’t doing much of that, we’ve been filling up on hot dogs, burgers, bbq this, bbq that, mac and cheese, chili, and it’s been sooo good. And it wouldn’t be right to leave out the delicious IPAs – we just can’t get enough of them these days.
So there you go – reverse culture shock was real for us. But we got over it pretty fast – maybe two-three weeks? We don’t know what it will be like to return to our physical home, but we are certainly looking forward to that moment (maybe even fantasizing about it…)
Gene and Jane in Hudson, New York.
Road trip has been balls to the wall amazing. And how could it not be?
USA + fall + country roads + open highways + NPR + friends & family = one.epic.adventure.
We’ve noticed that many countries have the perfect mode of transport for covering ground – in Russia it’s train, in Vietnam it’s motorbike, and in the US it’s definitely a car. Road trips is where it’s at when it comes to seeing this country – the small towns, big cities, the miles of open road with America’s favorite fast food restaurants – there is no better way to do it. For us there is also something so comforting about long car rides – playing license plate games, singing, and having long talks about everything and anything – its the same cozy feeling as snuggling under a blanket to watch a favorite movie on a rainy Sunday night.
Even though we’ve covered a lot of ground on this trip across the USA, it feels a world away from our adventures in Asia and Europe. Opportunity to spend time with family, to see good friends – some of whom we haven’t seen in many years – is definitely the focus and the highlight of this trip. We are doing a lot more hanging out, going to happy hours (finally!) and catching up, with breaks for sight seeing, rather than the reverse.
Beyond the familiar faces and the comforts of our vehicle, we did find something new and unexpected on this trip. Namely, that America is a beautiful country, with wonderful culture and fascinating history. Of course, we were well aware of this before we left on our trip last August. But knowing something and actually feeling it, fully taking it in and appreciating the fact – turns out those are two different concepts.
Coming back after more than a year of sightseeing, it was like someone handed us a new pair of glasses – we’ve seen the light! Cool stuff – from incredible country roads in central New York to gorgeous historic homes in Missouri to the world class museums in Tennessee – all exist in America. It’s probably more like over the last year we’ve gotten pretty good at noticing cool bits here and neat pieces there. It’s a new appreciation of things one took for granted. We learned how to view familiar through an unfamiliar lens, whether it’s murals, info plaque, or a museum. We definitely didn’t anticipate this – how cool!
A special shout out to American cities – y’alls are cool. Living in Washington DC we’ve heard, and witnessed, urban revivalism. Turns out, its happening across a whole bunch of US cities – from Cleveland, to Detroit and Memphis. Festivals, art galleries, cafes, pubs, and public parks full of people hanging out. Yes, cars still dominate, but to us it seemed like there was a whole lot of people walking and biking the streets. Man, American cities are vibrant and cool places to explore. We were impressed, and as committed urbanites, very, very happy.
There you have it, we are back in the States, but are not yet home. And we are still on the road, and certainly haven’t yet returned to an everyday routine, or our own bed. A soft landing, if you will, from traveling the world. Next month we plan to publish our last monthly roundup, coming to you from our comfortable home in Washington D.C.
Onwards and upwards.
Photo by Mia of us on second day in the US, Hudson, New York.