Over the last two days I drove with my dog from the sunny, warm Tampa, Florida to the cold and wintery Binghamton in upstate New York, and I’ll be making the same drive back in three days time — it’s approximately 18 hours each way without accounting for stops. Just over Thanksgiving, I made a trip from Tampa to Northwest Arkansas and eventually eastern Kansas, and back again a few days later. I’ve driven clear across the country several times, using all sorts of routes. I’ve cut across the middle, from Arkansas to Oregon and back again a month later. I’ve driven from San Francisco to Tampa, stopping at a motel only once, while hauling a U-Haul and towing my car with my friend. I’m not sure how many miles in how many cars I’ve sat through across the United States, but I’m sure the number is high.
I didn’t grow up in the U.S. While I was born in on a small Air Force base in eastern Michigan, my family moved away when I was three years old. I lived in Pakistan for nine years, came back to the U.S. for six months, then went to Thailand to finish out my remaining five years of school — my parents still live in Thailand.
While it was relatively easy in the 90s (before 9/11) for a young boy like me, Pakistan was still not an easy place to live. Thailand, on the other hand, was easy. There was a freedom there that was unlike any place I had lived in the past — as a teenager I could rent a motorcycle, take a weekend with my friends and explore the northern areas of the country. We would hit the Golden Triangle, the mountains of a hippie town called Pai, or find the various temples (called “wats”) to explore and admire.
Whenever my family visited the United States we often traveled, but I was young and the traveling was decided upon by my parents and it was generally for work. I liked it well enough, but the sheer size of the country and its immeasurable freedom of maneuver was completely lost on me until I moved here for good.
Thailand, for all its freedoms and excitement, is still a pretty small place, relatively speaking. If I were to travel west and hit Burma, I would need my passport. I would deal with foreign authorities and it would (quite reasonably) warrant a visa of some kind. If I were to travel north or east, I would his Laos. Again — foreign authorities with different rules and laws, and an expiration date on my visit there. Same thing if I were to hop on over to Vietnam, or even to take a drive a little south-east and hit Cambodia.
In the U.S.? You can drive and drive and drive until you can’t drive anymore, exploring new worlds — the snow that I’ve currently found myself in, or the deserts of the west. The mountains of Colorado or the endless, sweeping and domineering wilderness of Montana. How about the swamps and world-class beaches of Florida? Or the stretches of corn and pastures that blanket the state of Kansas? And the immense sky that covers it all.
You don’t need a passport. You don’t need to talk to anyone to go from one state to the other, to explore these mini-cultures and countries within the United States. All you need is a full tank of gas and maybe a trusty doggo at your side, and that is something to be taken advantage of.
Images provided by the author.