Nebraska.

I talk to a lot of European people.  That’s not really a shocking surprise given my lifestyle.  After all, I live in Europe and it probably has the highest concentration of Europeans of anywhere on the planet.

Sidney, Nebraska from the car.

One of the first things European people usually want to know about me is where I have visited in their country.  This is always my opportunity to look like a cultured adventurer or an ignorant fool.  There’s probably a middle ground between these two, but I threw that opportunity out the window when I started telling people that traveling is my number one hobby.  I’ve gotten a lot of credibility by having been to lesser known places, and really baffled some people by liking “unknown” spots.  On the other hand, I’ve looked like a complete moron for not visiting something completely “must-see.”

Now, let me get back to my point.  The conversation often turns to discussing whether that person has visited my country.

Typically, there are two possible answers:

  1. Yes, they have.
  2. No, they haven’t.

Once we pass that terrifying boundary, we can narrow that conversation.  Most who have been want to talk about their trip(s), and most who haven’t want to talk about where they’d like to visit.  I can only recall ever meeting one person who hadn’t been and said she didn’t want to go.  She was a chain smoking Austrian who, after a significant amount of beer, said she had learned smoking indoors is banned in many American establishments and therefore has no desire to ever step foot in the country.  Shortly after this exchange, Hungary banned smoking indoors and I never had to speak with her (or go home with smoky smelling clothes) again.

Travel allows you to see terrible catastrophes.

But, everyone else tends to have the same destinations that they went to, or want to go to.  Topping the list are New York City and Los Angeles.  These are followed by other hot spots such as Las Vegas, San Francisco, Miami, the Grand Canyon, and Route 66.

I don’t give any argument that these aren’t incredible places, but when someone spends a week or two in New York or L.A., I don’t really believe that they’ve actually experienced the USA.  I’m not alone in this sort of thinking, either.  I once met an Irish guy who asked if I’d ever been to Ireland, and after I told him I’d been to Dublin he replied, “Ok, so you haven’t.”

You might wonder where I’m going with all of this… Well, so am I.

I’m trying to prove a point.  After the major city conversation, I always tell people that the best way to see the US is to rent a car and drive around.  I tell them that it doesn’t even really matter where you go, just get out of the big cities and see how the rest of the country lives.

Throughout my life, I’ve driven around much of my country.  In my mind, it’s the wide open spaces and spread out towns that make it up – not the large cities known throughout the world.  I like (some of) those cities, but I don’t think they accurately show what the country is.

Sidney, Nebraska from the car.

But, it’s been a few years since I’ve gone on any big road trip.  I always get lazy when I come home to visit, and I typically save my travel energy for when I’m in Europe.

So, last week I went to Nebraska (it’s okay, I’ll pause so you can look it up on your map).  The drive was only a few hours, but I was traveling with two crazy dogs, so it felt like a lot longer.

I spent a few days in a small town with my parents (and, of course, the two crazy dogs), and it was pretty enjoyable.  It’s the kind of town where everyone seems to know each other.  Every time I was at a shop or a restaurant, customers and workers would be happily chatting away about personal matters – the kind of relationships that you don’t find as often in cities.

The speed limits were slow on the roads, and the local police seemed to have little else to do than give speeding tickets, so the cars puttered along like snails.  Random people would wave on less busy streets.  Everyone smiled and no one seemed to be in a hurry.

It was the Small Town American as seen in 1950’s television.

I had a lot of really good food (maybe not the healthiest…), and enjoyed wandering around.  Then, the weather changed and I didn’t have enough warm clothes with me.  At that point, I had to stay inside.  That’s where I started to miss the city life, because there weren’t enough cafes to just go hang out at.  I started to get cabin fever, but I watched a lot of TV, got a lot of reading done, and had some pretty epic battles over the sofa with a  dog (I usually won).

A great travel companion (except when she barks in the middle of the night).

Overall, the trip made me miss some of those long road trips I love so much.  Whenever a European makes a comment about Americans only speaking English, I remind them that I can drive for days in any direction and never encounter another language (and then remind them that they started the conversation with:  “You’re American? Great, I can practice my English!”).

So I have two main points that I’m trying to make through all this rambling:

  1. If you really want to see the United States, don’t limit yourself to New York.  Yeah, it’s awesome and worth visiting, but it’s very different from the rest of the country.  Most likely, you’re going to have some really enjoyable experiences once you let yourself enjoy the freedom of the wide open roads and endless towns.
  2. If you go to Nebraska in January, bring some good books.

Such thinking requires a reward.