It was 4:30 in the morning when I was jostled out of bed, scooped up into strong arms and placed in the back of a van, on to brown crushed velour seats that had been folded down to make a palette. I was disoriented and less than pleased, until the sun’s rising coaxed me from my slumber and I felt the whirring of movement below me that helped me recognize where I was: on the open road.
Growing up, we didn’t take exotic international trips as a family. In fact, I didn’t leave the country until I was 20 years old, when I went to Europe for the first time and backpacked for a couple of months with friends, none of us really knowing what we were doing—only knowing that we were supposed to be there, having that experience. A lot of people look at my life now and my love for travel and naturally assume that I must have been taken abroad quite often when I was younger. I’ve been to over 40 countries at this point, but I’ve only been traveling outside of the U.S. for just about one third of my life.
My family did go on great All-American road trips, and those adventures really birthed a sense of exploration and curiosity in my heart for new places, experiences and people. I have a deep-rooted love for travel within the United States, as we live in a country with an abundance of things to see in terms of landscapes, city dynamics, and cultures. Going from New Orleans, Louisiana to San Francisco, California requires about the same amount of time and distance as a trip from Lisbon, Portugal to Bucharest, Romania; one of the trips keeps you in the same country for the entire duration and the other itinerary takes you through nine. My point is this: America is a huge country with so much to explore, so if you want to get started with traveling, the U.S. is a beautiful place to start.
I didn’t necessarily set out to go to all 50 states by a certain age. A couple of years ago, I was looking at a map of the United States and just started realizing that I had been to nearly all of them—all but seven, at that time. Although I’ve eaten a potato in Idaho and been to a cheese-making farm in Wisconsin, it certainly doesn’t mean I’ve ‘seen it all.’ Even at this point, I’ve been in nearly every state in the U.S. but feel as if I’ve barely scratched the surface of the abundance of gems to uncover within our beautiful country.
Which, brings me to Michigan. I had wanted to get to this northern state for a long time now, and it so happens that it falls as my 49th state. The only one remaining now is Alaska. There was always a draw in my heart for Michigan—I knew it was on the Great Lakes, which have fascinated me with their size and splendor. Did you know that Lake Superior is bigger than Great Britain? I’ve also been curious to visit Michigan because I’ve recently been reading some amazing AFAR highlights about all of the young, vibrant growth occurring there, following the strained years that the state has gone through with our country’s economic difficulties. I feel inspired by the resilience of the human spirit there and wanted to see and experience it for myself.
So, I jumped at the opportunity to visit, and what I found is a state that has the friendliness of Texas, the beauty of Northern California and the emerging food scene of Portland. Michigan is steeped in nature, history and culture. You don’t have to go to the Cape of Good Hope to find shipwrecks: Thunderhead Bay, for example, has one of the biggest concentration of shipwrecks in the world, with over 45 in a small area of Lake Huron. Because the lake is extremely clear, you can see the wrecks as clear as day like we did on our glass-bottom boat tour.
I had no idea just how integral Michigan has been not only in the auto industry, but in the formation of our country with its logging, mining and shipping. Michigan helped to build America in to the nation that it is, and I absolutely loved my week there.
Sometimes, when I speak with people who haven’t traveled much (or at all) internationally, they seem to feel a bit badly about it. I recently met a young man on a plane who was 25 and hadn’t ever been out of the country—circumstances just hadn’t allowed it for him yet, with getting himself through school by working two jobs, getting a job out of college to take care of himself and getting in to the daily grind. But, he did have the desire—and, that’s where it all starts.
Travel isn’t just about the places you have- or, haven’t- been to. It’s about having a curiosity for life and a thirst to go to new places and be in foreign environments because they expand your horizons and stretch you as a person.
This is one of the reasons I adore traveling: it shifts your perspectives as a human. When you talk to people who are different from you, it opens you up as a person and helps you to realize that we’re really just all in this thing called ‘life’ together.
In the June/July 2013 issue of AFAR Magazine, AFAR’s founder Greg Sullivan, says:
“…. It surprised me when I told a friend about a trip I’m planning to Redwood National Park this summer and she said, ‘That doesn’t sound very AFAR.’ I realize there is a far in AFAR, and we do cover a lot of international destinations, but AFAR is not about the distance you travel. It’s about curiosity. It’s about exploring and taking it all in. It’s that spirit my mom instilled in me by showing us so many sides of our country. It’s a mind-set you carry with you when you walk out your front door. You might have slept at a beautiful hotel, in a sleeping bag under the stars, or in your own bed. It doesn’t matter. There are no rules….”
He is absolutely right. We’re all on our own journey. My encouragement to you is to do something that stretches you and takes you out of your version of normal for a time. For you, that could mean traveling to a new state, or even to a place within your own state that you’ve never experienced and have always wanted to go to. Or, it possibly could mean getting a passport for the first time, leaving the country and going to explore a place that you’ve wanted to discover since you were fifteen years old.
It doesn’t matter — there are no rules to this thing. The only thing that counts is that you’re living. Life is short. Really, really short. Collect experiences over things and start pushing yourself to new limits. When you reach the end of your life, you’ll be thankful that you actually went out and did the things that you wanted to do instead of deferring them for a later time.