The Perfect U.S. Road Trip: 11,645 Miles Later
One day I was looking through Facebook, as I often do, and someone had shared an article with the headline: “This is The Perfect U.S. Road Trip According to Scientists.” I clicked the link, and within 10 minutes decided I had to do it. Though I’d done quite a bit of international travel, I realized I’d only been to 5 states in my home country.
The route crosses through each of the 48 contiguous United States and 50 national landmarks, parks, and monuments. A grad student who wanted to find the most efficient route possible without doing any backtracking mapped it out. He recommended two to three months to complete the drive, and I settled on giving myself 72 days.
My departure didn’t happen right away. The idea lingered in the back of my mind for months. Then I started slowly bringing it up to people… and I got mixed reactions. You’re going alone? How will you make money? You’re planning to be gone for how long? Even I was doubtful as to whether or not it was safe for a 29 year-old female traveler to hit the road solo. But in my opinion, the best philosophy is when in doubt, just do it anyway.
I can’t recommend solo travel enough. For some, it seems scary. “Oh, I could never do that by myself,” people say. But the human spirit is incredibly adaptable, and we are capable of much more than we know. Solo traveling is my favorite way to explore. There is no one else’s schedule but your own; the agenda is completely in your hands. Time to think, reflect, and sit in silence. Not only that, but it fosters a unique kind of independence. Each time I travel alone, I gain confidence in my ability to figure things out on my own and take on the world.
I left Los Angeles on April 17th. One of my first stops was the south rim of the Grand Canyon. When I first stepped onto the overlook at Mather Point, I felt tears in my eyes. I was so overwhelmed by the vastness and the color palette and the fact that I was actually making this adventure happen.
Going back to the official route mapped out by Randy Olson, the grad student. It passes through everything, from the Toltec Mounds of Arkansas to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota to the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania. About 2 weeks in, I started tweaking the route I originally set out to complete. I realized there were stops I wasn’t too excited about, and I was rushed. So I left behind the rigid road map and embraced a bit of flexibility and openness to a new plan. I decided to see less cities and states, and instead spend more time in each one.
Photography made this trip infinitely better for me. I documented almost every place I visited and posted the pictures on my blog so that family and friends back home could follow along. Finding the beauty in all situations and looking for unique details in every scene has always come easily to me. I’m a discerning observer and I love noticing what makes people and places interesting and beautiful.
As I look back at the hundreds of images, they trigger memories of the rainy rose garden in Portland; the amazing blend of old and new architecture in Chicago; the overwhelming allure of Yellowstone; the bustling music scene in New Orleans; the fried pickle food truck in Austin; the morning light streaming through the coastal redwoods in Humboldt; and the moss-covered everything at Mt. Rainer.
There are the obvious sights that many consider to be “must-sees.” But I was pleasantly surprised by a few hidden gems that the United States has to offer. For instance, I had a splendid time riding a bike through Madison, Wisconsin, and enjoying ice cream on the Memorial Union Terrace. Though I’d been before, Ithaca is a very underrated town with more restaurants per capita than New York City. And who even knew Custer National Park was brimming with more wildlife than I’d ever seen in my life.
As I finally rolled back through Southern California after 74 days on the road, I’d driven for nearly 200 hours and covered 11,645 miles with an estimated $1,998 spent on gas. From my experience, 72 days is actually not enough time to hit up all 48 states. I ended up visiting 29 and briefly drove through several more. The United States is a truly gorgeous, friendly, diverse, and expansive country.
One thing I was not expecting from this trip was how good it felt to return to the place I started. Wendy Wunder writes in her book The Probability of Miracles, “The magic thing about home is that it feels good to leave, but it feels even better to come back.”
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About The Author
Kate is a redheaded photographer specializing in photojournalism, based out of Ventura County, California. She believes in printing photographs to hold onto tangible memories. You can view more of her incredible work by visiting her website and Instagram.