After more than 160 days travelling through the USA (we’re gonna get out before Day 180 – we don’t want a new and improved TSA pat-down on our next visit), we’ve come up with a few observations from nearly half a year travelling through 22 states on a range of topics that might interest any would-be traveller to America. Here they are:
Top 3 Places That Pleasantly Surprised Us
- Mississippi. Knowing a little bit about US history, we weren’t sure what we’d encounter in the Deep South, particularly an area with a tumultuous past. Instead, we discovered a state on the upswing – both economically and intellectually. Mississippi seems to have acknowledged some of its shortcomings and is working to better the situation: education is improving, there’s innovative job growth and overall, there seemed to be a positive sense among Mississippians. Is there still racism, poverty and crime? Sure, it isn’t all going to be cured overnight. But the state appears to be going in the right direction and we often said to ourselves that Mississippi seemed like the ‘new Tennessee’ (Louisiana, you should really take a lesson from your next-door neighbour). For us, we experienced wonderful hospitality, good state parks and an easy pace of life which all added up to a terrific visit. Best thing: the historic Natchez Trace Parkway.
- Graceland. Elvis’ home is undoubtedly a tourist trap but like many such attractions in the US, it’s definitely worth a visit. The mansion, grounds and associated exhibits were excellent and really told the story of the King of Rock and Roll. In our case, it was a great sanctuary to spend an uplifting day just hours after Trump was elected.
- Tied: White Sands National Monument, New Mexico and Joshua Tree National Park, California. White Sands NM was incredible – it was exactly like being in snow at a ski resort, except it was sand and 70F. The Bear loved running up and sliding down the dunes, as did we, and the nearby sunset was absolutely spectacular. Joshua Tree NP was also a special place. We’d been in the desert for over 6 weeks when we arrived at JT so weren’t expecting anything much different, but it really was. The huge boulders, unique rock formations and fields of Joshua Trees (agave, not cacti family) made for a very cool setting. It was definitely the most unique campground we had on our trip.
Top 3 Things Right with America
- BBQ. There’s no where else on earth that knows how to cook pork and beef with the perfect intensity of wood-fired heat, the proper amount of spices or marinade and the belly-busting serving size than America. Memphis takes top honours.
- Booze. The wine from California has been exceptional for a long time but America has finally caught up to Canada, Australia and the UK in terms of producing decent beer. There’s been a craft beer explosion in the US and most of it is really good. For cocktails, it’s also nice to be able to buy affordable (low-tax) liquor, although the price has been creeping up on the name brands. Best non-craft beer: Texas’ Shiner Bock.
- Trader Joe’s. Without exception, going to Trader Joe’s was always our most fun shopping experience (for both of us – Mama Bear loved shoe shopping too). They carry all sorts of wonderful groceries and beverages, it’s small enough to find everything without walking around in circles, it never has long line-ups (like Costco), they have good free samples and the staff is universally friendly and helpful. We spent a ton of money at TJ’s and it’ll be the place we miss the most when we‘re back in Canada. Our only complaint, the parking lots were really tight for the RV, particularly in San Diego.
Top 3 Things Wrong with America
You’d probably expect us to say: 1) Trump, 2) healthcare and 3) gun control. Those are obvious – here are some lesser-known deficiencies:
- Bad flour. If you’ve followed our blog all the way along, you’ll know our opinion that more than half the country uses crappy flour. Initially, we couldn’t figure out why bread and baked goods were all so terrible until we ran out of Canadian flour and started using the US equivalent, discovering that our creations – bread, scones, pancakes, waffles – all tasted substandard. Even biscuits and gravy, a southern specialty, and Beignets in New Orleans were lousy. Sorry, it’s the truth. It wasn’t until we finally got to California that the bread started to taste good again. We’re not sure why somebody hasn’t figured this out yet but it should be high on the list of things to fix. This would truly ‘Make America Great Again!’
- Pet Restrictions in National Parks. This was a huge inconvenience that drove us crazy. If you travel with a dog and enjoy the outdoors, forget about having a full and fun experience in US National Parks. Almost all of them prohibit dogs from trails and exhibit areas unless they’re a service animal. We used the Bear’s certified service-dog status (or broke the rules) on numerous occasions but it was always a pain. Park Staff sometimes explained that the restrictions were to protect wildlife or for the dog’s safety but their rationale was always dubious. Canada’s National Parks have at least as much wildlife and hazards and there’s no full restriction. We also encountered several state parks (especially in Texas), in close proximity to National Parks that would allow dogs on trails so the reasoning was flawed. For the next 4 years, US tourism is likely going to suffer so they better figure out ways to attract more visitors. This is an easy one.
- Weird Weather. From the time we crossed into the US, it was unusually bizarre weather. Hurricanes, hailstorms, tornados, windstorms, and record cold temperatures seemed to be dogging us all along. Locals would say that its been the coldest, wettest and/or stormiest year ever. We picked a good winter to be away from Vancouver (with record rain and snow) but a lousy year for travelling through the south. And now that US environmental regulations are being eased or rolled back, the wild weather in the US is only going to get worse. Unlike the President, we believe in science and understand the impact of climate change. Talk about a disaster…
Top 3 Memories
- Live Music in Tennessee. Whether it was the honky-tonk bars of downtown Nashville, mountain music along the Blue Ridge Parkway or jam sessions at Breweries, Tennessee boasts the most incredible free live music in the country. And it ain’t all C&W – but it’s the best kind. [Note: Luckenbach, TX also gets honourable mention.]
- Free Wine Tasting. We were lucky to have friends that provided us special access to upscale California wineries in Paso Robles and Napa. The downside is we now have a taste for really good wine and will have to factor that into our monthly budget.
- Meeting Interesting People. It was a fascinating time to be travelling in the US and as expected, we met lots of interesting people along the way. We crossed the border into Maine in early October, the Presidential election occurred on November 9 and through to the inauguration on January 20 and beyond, we met loads of weird and wonderful people all across the States. Talk about a sociological experiment. We’ll probably never encounter such a wide range of opinions and thoughts again. Canada is relatively boring compared to the US, which is a good and bad thing. For us, America is truly a great place to visit, but we prefer to reside among the more humdrum…
That’s it. We’re currently held up on the rainy Oregon coast, waiting for the weather to break. It’s now less than 2 weeks until we get back home, wherever that is…