As a child, I remember piling into the car with my sisters and hitting the road from Toronto all the way to Florida. Walking into a Waffle House in South Carolina and being served the biggest pile of pancakes my little Canadian eyes had ever seen was just one of memories I’ll never forget. The sense of adventure you feel on the road has always stayed with me, so when my friend Kristina suggested a roadtrip through the Western states, I jumped at the chance.
Our two week adventure started in San Francisco and ended in Los Angeles, which included stops at Yosemite National Park, The Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Vegas. It was an incredible experience, and throughout the journey we learned a lot about each other, and this beautiful, crazy place that is the United States.
1. Natural Wonders Are Beautiful and Humbling.
When you find yourself surrounded by nature, there is an overwhelming sense of your own miniature scale in the world. I’m not a religious person, but I felt a truly profound spiritual connection to nature and an appreciation for its wonder. There is no way to for me to explain the awe you feel staring out into the vast, cavernous space of the Grand Canyon at sunset. Or the silent moment you share with a deer standing among the massive sequoia trees in Yosemite. I am not a hippy dippy treehugger by any stretch of the imagination, but, man, I had to pinch myself over the brilliance of everything surrounding me.
2. Human Connections Make the Best Memories.
On the road you bond with the people you travel with and the strangers you meet along the way. It’s those encounters that can sometimes change the entire feel of a day or place. I remember a very long day hiking through the Grand Canyon, and feeling totally exhausted and wanting to give up. We then crossed paths with an older man, by himself, lost along the route. Turns out he was from Quebec, and the next thing you know we’re speaking broken French and laughing at the absurdity of two Canadians running into each other in a random place. After our little chat, I felt energized. Finishing the hike was suddenly easy, and I did so with a big smile on my face. These human connections stay with you when you travel.
3. Make a Plan, But Then Go Rogue.
Maybe it’s the geek in me, but part of what I love about travel is the research you do in advance. Yes, yes, that sounds a little lame. But having a list of what to see, and where to go, makes me a happy person. The benefit of pre-planning is obvious; you save loads of time on site instead of wandering around trying to figure out what to do. The drawback of having a plan, is that you may not spend a random afternoon at an outdoor wildlife centre called Bearizona, and have your car surrounded by wolves. It was one of the scariest, yet exhilarating, moments of my life. Had we stuck to the itinerary, it would have never happened. Sometimes you have to just go with the flow. Sure, get a list going, but don’t be afraid to put it away and see where the Travel Gods take you.
4. A Good Playlist Can Fix Almost Anything.
On a roadtrip, music is that extra passenger that fills the quiet spaces and can set the perfect mood to match your surroundings. Is it cheesy to throw on “Luck Be A Lady Tonight” as you pass by the Bellagio Hotel fountains, or to blast “California Love” as you barrel down the highway into downtown Los Angeles? Yes. Yes, it is. Did we do it? Of course! No shame in that. When you’re stuck in a car for hours on end, you’ll have conversations about everything and anything. But sometimes you need a break from all the chatter. That’s where the perfect soundtrack can be a lifesaver.
5. You Don’t Have to Go Far to Feel Transported.
There’s a misconception that leaving your country to experience a new culture is what travelling is all about. But this trip really opened my mind to the cultural nuances you can learn by popping over to a neighbouring state. Another element is being present with what you’re doing. The first few days I had my camera and phone out constantly, taking pictures, trying to record everything for posterity. Putting all the technology away and interacting with the people and surroundings was a little thing, but it reaped huge rewards. At the Grand Canyon there’s a sign that reads, “One minute. Don’t read. Don’t talk. No photos. Just look … and see,” which became a sort of personal mantra during the trip. Just look. And see. Sometimes we need a little reminding.
Photography by Nora Artinian