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Between our junior and senior years of college, my roommate Angie and I struck out across the country in a white rented sedan. We camped, maybe stayed in a motel or two, slept on a floor or two, and stayed in one really nice hotel (in New Orleans), while we took three weeks to loop the country. It was a great trip, and an even better life experience. We lived through a serious tornado, camped next to a man Angie insisted was a murderer, visited the museums and monuments in each state claiming Abraham Lincoln as their native son, slept right next to fields of corn that went on forever, and attended Sunday Mass in other parts of the country, confirming that no matter the region, Catholics always dress casually to church and on average, give $1 during collection. During that trip, which was 10 years before I'd have a child, I knew what my dream trip would be: a family RV tour of the U.S.
My plan for myself was to visit all 50 states before traveling abroad. As I got older, I realized it was ridiculous to pass up opportunities to visit other countries because I hadn't yet visited North Dakota, but I still believed in my overall premise, which was that one should really know their own culture before comparing it to others. As an adult, if I were to fly into, say Houston, I'd experience a much different Houston than I did as a college student, not only because time has passed, but because we were on the ground during our college tour. Now, I'd probably fly in, stay in a nice, air conditioned hotel, and go out to nicer restaurants. That's not the Houston we saw from the KOA during the heat of summer. We met more locals than one would imagine at the KOA, who had checked in (if that's the word for a campsite) because it had a swimming pool. We all crammed into the small, kidney shaped pool, standing with only our heads above water, to survive the heat and humidity. We learned more about the locals than we would have any other way. While it was at times uncomfortably hot and dirty, it's the experience I want for my kids.
I'd love to take a semester (instead of Semester at Sea, I'd call it Semester on RV) to drive the kids from place to place, stopping in each state, seeing the big, well known attractions, but also the tiny museums or sights advertised by old billboards on the side of the highway. We'd eat at diners or other small restaurants. Sure, we'd homeschool along the way, but the education from the road would be so much richer than anything read from a book. It would be an immersion course, taught by living.
The United States is becoming more homogenized - with Starbucks and Targets dotting the national landscape - but local flavor and customs remain. There is as much beauty to be found in Louisiana as there is in Italy. You just have to look.
I wouldn't try to drive to Alaska, even though that was my plan after my college cross country trip. We'd fly to Alaska, then end the dream trip with a long vacation in Hawaii. Even though we've been to Hawaii as a family, after a few months on the road, I'll need some time on the beach with tropical drinks.
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