Since August 30, I’ve traversed more than 1,000 miles of United States highway.
The trip has been long and winding, and at times utterly exhausting. I’ve watched as the landscape changed from lushly forested areas to the driest desert and back again. I’ve passed through New Orleans, Austin, El Paso, Phoenix, Flagstaff, Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree National Park, and find myself now in Calexico, less than a mile from the Mexican border.
Earlier today, I crossed the border on foot. My first sight of Mexico reminded me largely of small towns in Vietnam; dirty streets, street vendors, beautifully weathered signs. For the first time in more than a year, my ears were bathed completely in a foreign language.
There’s something about that feeling that ignites a sense of wanderlust like nothing else. You suddenly feel like a child again: entirely ignorant of the customs, the language, even the money.
Try to think back to the time before you could read. A book contained endless mystery; aside from the cover, you knew nothing of it. The letters were no different than runic symbols. That’s what foreign travel feels like.
Signs are incomprehensible. Menus devolve into point-and-hope efforts. And it’s absolutely glorious.
That said, traveling through a country where everyone speaks the same language as you is a challenge in and of itself, especially one as diverse as America. I’ve seen landscapes I had no idea existed, visited cities that previously existed only as part of some nebulous cultural consciousness.
The challenge lies in not taking the familiar for granted. Middle-of-nowhere America is known for its kitschy roadside attractions, and these are all too easy to dismiss as silly or a waste of time. These attractions, no matter how ridiculous they may be, make up a part of the Americana culture.
Viewing your own country through the eyes of someone who finds it all new and fascinating is difficult, but worthwhile.