Visiting the United States of America for the first time? Make sure you experience the heart of the US and not just New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Miami. Here’s a post that bursts popular myths about the US and explains why the US is such a great nation.
The United States is...
World Power Centre
Cloud piercing Skyscrapers
Star Studded Hollywood
Sparkling city life
Art in nature
…and a lot more.
These were some of the responses I got when I asked Americans to describe the United States in one or two words. I admit my initial perception about United States was myopic and I related only few of the adjectives listed above with the most powerful nation in the world. However, I knew the States is much more than glossy unidimensional picture Hollywood, sitcoms or media paints. So, I decided to explore it for myself.
About my trip
I wanted to see the side of the United States, which most of the foreign tourists often miss. So instead of doing the usual New York – Los Angles – San Francisco - Chicago – Miami loop, I consulted my blogger friend Mike Shubic of MikesRoadTrip to suggest me places that are unique and can showcase the diversity of this mega nation. He was the driving force behind my visit to the popular and offbeat places of California, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama and New York state.
From April to May 2017, I covered the four regions of the United States of America - North East Coast, West Coast, South East and South West. To get the pulse of the great nation, I traveled the way locals do - using all modes of transport – Planes, trains, cars, ships and of course walking. It was mostly a solo trip but at few places my friends joined in.
While one lifetime is not enough to get into the skin of the US, I tried to sample as many things as I could - adventure, nature, wildlife, culture, art, food, history, architecture, technology and shopping among others.
Also, I was lucky to experience different seasons in one season across different regions – cold and rainy Northern California, white snow carpeted New Mexico, hot and humid central Arizona, sandstorm swept North Arizona, melting hot Alabama, spring infused Niagara Falls, grey clouds enveloped wild Adirondacks and sun kissed upbeat New York.
My USA travel experience has been one EPIC trip and I have many stories to share in my upcoming posts. However, I’ll begin with sharing my first impressions about this great nation.
3 things that make the United States of America a great nation
While every state has its unique charm and appeal, three things stood out strongly for me:
The United States personifies the word BIG. The land is big. Cars are big. People are big. Food is big. Buildings are big. Homes are big. It’s just big! And when Americans travel, they travel with entire paraphernalia. I was on a five day road trip with Mike in Arizona and I felt he carried his entire home in his Truck. With the amount of stuff he was carrying for a 5-day trip I could have very easily opened a grocery store in India. No kidding!
Besides India, if there’s any nation that embodies diversity, it is the US. All fifty States are as different as chalk and cheese. Everything from food to culture to topography to dialect; changes as you move from one state to another.
The United States is a land of opportunities where immigrants have arrived for centuries (and are still coming) in search of an American Dream. A land that not only gives you the freedom to clinch opportunities without distinction but is also an idea incubator. Freedom to follow your heart is what has made America great.
10 Myths about the US that got shattered during my travel
Myth: The US is a homogenous land with hardly any regional differences
Fact: It is not one state but the United States of America made by fifty states
The US is big - 3.8 million square miles big - divided into 50 states. There are six time zones in the US and it takes same time whether you fly from New York to Los Angeles or London. Regional differences across the US extend to accents, food, drink, architecture, culture, people, laws and politics.
Tip: Try and visit at least two distinct regions to embrace the diversity of the US.
Myth: The US is all about Skyscrapers and bustling city life
Fact: The heart of the US lies in its spectacular 59 National Parks
A land as diverse as the US is bound to offer diversity, therefore, associating just skyscrapers with the US is a crime. The diversity among its 59 National parks covering 84 million acres across every state is astonishing – on one hand you can see the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (Death Valley California); one the other hand you can also trek to the highest point in North America (Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska); you can traverse through the longest cave system in the world (Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky); and also marvel the largest gypsum sand dunes in the world (White Sands National Monument, New Mexico). National Parks are the true treasures of the USA, which should not be missed at any cost.
Related: Best Places to visit in Utah
Tip: Take the annual pass. It’s cheap (costs only 80$) and is a complete value for money
Myth: Americans are arrogant and cocky
Fact: Americans are very friendly and helpful
Before arriving in the US, I was afraid how people will treat me. To my surprise, not only did they treat me well but went out of their way to make me feel at home. How often do you see the head of a Tourism Board receives you at an airport? Not too often. But perhaps, that’s the reason why Santa Fe is called 'the city different.' And it wasn’t just Santa Fe, my experience with other CVBs was equally phenomenal.
People, in general, are very kind in the US. Yes, even to strangers. I had gone to Priceless Rent-A-Car at Lake Placid to return my car and was waiting for my train shuttle to arrive. I was hungry but didn’t want to leave the place in fear of missing my shuttle. The employee at the station got the whiff of it and without me even asking, he got food for me. Now isn’t that a rare kind of generosity seen these days? But that’s how America can surprise you.
Tip: Smile, talk slow and ask something about themselves.
Myth: Americans are born with silver spoon
Fact: Americans are relentlessly hard working
Will Smith showed the hard working side of Americans in 'The Pursuit of Happyness'. And not much has changed since then. Most of the people I met were doing multiple jobs at a time – working in a regular 9-5 job during the day and taking up flexible jobs after office hours like driving an Uber/Lyft or serving at restaurants. This is what a young girl from Lake Sarnac had to say,
People outside of the US think we get everything on platter. But we really work very hard. One job is not enough to sustain oneself. During the week I work as a nurse at a hospital and over the weekend I work as a server at a restaurant.
Also, minimum wages in the hospitality industry are too low to sustain a life. Therefore, tipping is almost a mandatory custom whether you dine at a hotel or take a tour or get a car valet service.
Tip: Unofficially 15% to 20% of the bill is the tipping norm.
Myth: American engine runs on the Fast-food gas
Fact: Fast-food is complemented by the gourmet soul food
Although fast food still dominates large tracts of the culinary landscape, now the US also excels at wildly innovative, gourmet cuisine. San Francisco and New York regularly show up on the top lists for a number of Michelin stars, and celebrity chefs rival Hollywood royalty, with big names like Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain and Rachael Ray spawning multi media empires, with dozens of restaurants, books, TV shows, films and more.
On one hand, you can get a large size wrap for a five dollar at a food truck in New York, on the other hand, you can dine at an Award winning FnB restaurant in Scottsdale where gourmet cuisine menu changes every week and where every dish is handcrafted by the chef-turned-entrepreneur couple. I am a vegetarian and I must say the US spoiled me with food options. I didn’t have a bad meal even once.
Tip: Experiment with local cuisines like you cannot not have dishes without chilies in New Mexico
Myth: Unhealthy lifestyle is synonymous with American lifestyle
Fact: Being health conscious is no more an option but a way of life
My initial image of an average American was a McCheese Burger eating baseball wearing GOT binge viewing snapchatting bloke. While this kind of stereotype does exist but that isn’t how everyone in the US is. Whether you are walking the streets of New York or driving on Highway 103 on Pacific coast; you’ll come across people indulging in physical and wellness activities. Being outdoors is an important part of Americans lifestyle. City parks are filled with joggers, cyclists and yoga enthusiasts.
And healthy living is not limited to physical exercise but even food and lifestyle plays an important role. Aisles of shopping malls are filled with healthy and organic foods. Kale is the new queen of food.
For a spa aficionado who is always on the hunt for the unusual, Phoenix was Nirvana for me. The city is becoming the spa capital of the country. You can find the city’s finest spa treatments, from Sonoran Desert-inspired indulgences to Native American healing traditions.
Tip: Don’t forget to carry your jogging shoes and adventure spirit
Myth: Traditions have taken a backseat in the American culture
Fact: Diverse ethnicities and cultures are celebrated with aplomb
While America is relatively a toddler when it comes to history, it is very proud of all the ethnicities that made America their home. It is melting pot, where all religions, traditions, and festivals are celebrated with same fervor. So, while San Francisco celebrates the diversity of the city through Annual Carnaval San Francisco; Albuquerque celebrates POW WOW - the world’s largest gathering of the nations. It is a festival of one of its kind. You have to see it to believe its magnanimity.
America is the land of wonderful and weird festivals, from the Chainsaw Carving Festival (Pennsylvania) to the Testicle Festival (Montana). The state fairs are even more fun and weird at times.
Tip: Before booking a trip do look for local festivals
Myth: There’s no room for Art and Culture in a technology-first America
Fact: Art and culture thrives as much as technology
There’s a reason why so many artists have the US as their address. Art and culture are a thriving business in the US. Cities like Santa Fe have become a cultural melting pot for artists where art is not a prop but lies at the heart of the city. With over 240 art galleries and 14 museums, Santa Fe is a visual feast for art lovers of all sorts. A place where you won’t be hounded by pesky salesmen to purchase an art piece just because you entered his gallery.
The city of Adobe homes is an art city where artists like Georgia O-Keeffe, George R.R. Martin (author of Game of Thrones) and likes have moved to find inspiration from nature and pursue their creative side. Art is not restricted to galleries here. Sunsets are a show every evening here, and the night sky is just unbelievable. Santa Fe is a place that can change not only one’s external life but also one’s inner, spiritual life.
And New Mexico isn’t the only one supporting the right brain. The rocket city of Huntsville is as passionate about art as it is about rocket science. Lowe Mill has studios of some of the best artists in the country.
Tip: Buy the city pass, which usually covers many renowned city art attractions.
Myth: Breaking rules is the middle name of the Americans
Fact: Punctuality and professionalism are the unsaid rules in the United States
In the United States, being punctual is not a courtesy but a norm. Time is money and nobody squanders it. In American culture, the commitment to spend time with someone is more important than anything else that might happen.
Also, being a marketing haven, professionalism is the core of survival in America. It is not acceptable to over promise and under deliver. Therefore, everyone follows rules and delivers on time. There is no aberration when it comes to following rules. Titles don’t matter. Rules do. I was on a press trip to Monterey & Carmel with Tower Tours. Our pickup time was 2:30 pm. I was two minutes late and the bus left without me. Although, after few calls, the driver did come to fetch me. I learned an important lesson that day. Hats off to the company for their professionalism. Their service was top notch.
Myth: The United States is extremely racist
Fact: America is a lot of things; racist isn’t one of them.
Before landing in States, I was warned about an increase in racist attacks. However, statistics paint a different picture. But rather than trusting stats we believe on “proof by example,” where we take one event as an evidence of a trend — a dog attacked my friend, therefore all dogs are vicious and should be put down. Proof by example is a logical illusion. But logic is officially an endangered species in today’s hyper-partisan political environment.
The truth is 99 percent of the 300-plus million Americans peacefully coexist with members of all races day in and day out. Rotten eggs are found everywhere. It's up to us what we want to absorb. Here’s what I experienced:
I was on a Press Trip to Birmingham in Alabama, a place where civil rights movement started. Leaving the past behind, Birmingham has moved on. It doesn’t matter whether you are a black or white, everyone is treated equally. During my trip, I experienced something worth sharing - my Afro-American tour guide historian and teacher Barry McNealy complimented my extremely humble white host Pamela McDonald on her charm bracelet and told her how his wife wanted a similar one. Without blinking an eyelid, Pamela gifted her bracelet to Barry as a gift for his wife.
That didn’t look racist to me. That was unadulterated love and care for each other. But media never picks up on the positive stories as it’s easier to sell negativity than positivity. And that's where we need to do our job. Spread positivity to make this world a better place to live and grow together.
Tip: Don’t believe everything media says. Make your own opinion. Talk to people.
So, these were some of the experiences I had during my US travel. Your experience will be determined greatly by where you go. Just to reiterate: No two people in different locales in the US will have the same — or maybe even similar – experiences. So, before you go anywhere, do yourself a favor and choose more than one spot. It’s the only way to get a better, more accurate, detailed, genuine experience out of this large, diverse country that has so much to offer.
Have you ever traveled to the US? How was your experience? I would love to hear your thoughts or feedback on this article. Please remember your one comment could be the reason for a writer to keep going.
And, if you are looking at food ideas in Birmingham then do check out this awesome article by Family Focus Blog
If you liked the story, please don’t forget to share it on your social media. Happiness grows when shared.
In my upcoming posts, I’ll be sharing more detailed and in-depth stories about the individual experiences I had at each place I visited. Do stay tuned for some unheard of stories.
- I was hosted by San Francisco, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Flagstaff, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Huntsville, Birmingham, Adirondacks, Niagara Falls and New York City in the United States but all the views expressed above and pictures shared are solely mines.
- Please don’t copy or republish anything without my written permission.