Coming to America

The American dollar has taken a nosedive. As I walked around New York City in the last few months I heard more European languages than English. Hell, if I could get stuff at half price, I’d come too!

During my travels, I met many foreigners that have traveled to America or are planning to do so. I get rather excited to show off my home country to people so I am always interested in learning about where they plan to travel to in the States. I’m not sure why I ask as the answers are always the same and I tend to be disappointed by their choices. The standard answer is a variation of two or three of these cities: New York City, Las Vegas, L.A., and San Francisco.

Rural America

You may wonder why I’m disappointed by this considering I have lived in two of these cities (NYC and San Francisco) and love those cities dearly. My disappointment lies in the fact that travel to me should be about experiencing the culture of a country; these visiting travelers aren’t really seeing America. The Americans that really epitomize our culture are not found in the big glitzy cities.Instead, they are seeing the same stuff they’ve been seeing on television, in movies and in magazines now for years; big cities with a flair for showing you just how much Americans can consume. It’s these same foreign friends that also stare at me in disbelief asking me how in the world the US could have elected George Bush to a second term in office (as if I voted for him — don’t blame me). The answer is that the Americans that did re-elect Bush and the Americans that really epitomize our culture are not found in the big glitzy cities — they are found in middle America, where people seldom visit. No, and I’m not talking about Chicago … I’m talking about small towns that thrive on a sense of community and national pride. You really can’t begin to see or understand America if you just stick to the concrete jungles.

For the 80% of you who are visiting America and taking advantage of the weak dollar, here are the big-city tips you are looking for:

NYC:

Food tours, Central Park free walks, lunch in Bryant Park Monday-Friday to see all the bustling corporate Americans, and the Tenement Museum. Check for cheap New York hotels.

Las Vegas:

Stay on the strip, go to a Cirque de Soleil show of your choice, see the fountains at Bellagio, people-watch in an old casino with a lounge band.

L.A.:

Don’t even bother. You’ve seen the HOLLYWOOD sign a million times already.

San Francisco:

Definitely the better choice when it comes to California cities. Walk on the Coastal trail between the Golden Gate Bridge and Ocean Beach — it’s stunning. Have a burrito in the Mission District, and go to a Giants game at the stadium on the Bay.

Country Roads at Indie Travel PodcastIf on the other hand, you don’t want to be like everyone else and instead you want to forge new ground, then be brave and experience American culture. Get out and see something different, see the Midwest, the South, or the Southwest. Rent a car and drive on highways, not interstates, stopping at small towns along the way. Visit a national park. Have dinner at local establishments, frequent the local watering holes, go to the town baseball game or sporting event. Go to a church service on Sunday (heck, you visit temples all the time while you travel the world — why not stop in at a Sunday service?). It’s these places where you will find the culture of America. Find out when and where local festivals are in small towns. I once went to a festival in a small town in Nebraska where you paid a dollar to bet which numbered square a cow was going to shit on: kind of like shit bingo. I still remember it as one of the best times I’ve had meeting locals and participating in the festivities.

As you drive the country roads you will see an abundance of American flags flying proudly out in people’s yards, you’ll see plenty of bumper stickers that state “Support our Troops” most likely because they actually know people that are in the Middle East serving in the military. In the big cities you tend to hear about these families on CNN, but you seldom come into contact with them.
American Farm on The Indie Travel PodcastYou’ll come face to face with some of the nicest people in the country, but you will also come face to face with the statistic of 73% of Americans that don’t have a passport. Many of you world travelers laugh at this sad American fact, but if you want to see why it is the way it is — then come to middle America and get out of the “international American cities”. You may begin to understand how George Bush was re-elected, and why most people don’t have passports. But you will also discover that the people you meet in the more rural areas and small towns are fascinated to meet you and they will drool over your “cool” accent.

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10 Responses to “Coming to America”

  1. Nomadic Matt July 2, 2008 at 10:52 pm #

    great article sherry! Going to middle america is the way to see why bush is in power. It is in many ways a through back to 1920. nice people though.

  2. Patricia July 5, 2008 at 4:34 pm #

    The fact that most foreign visitors visit only the big three or four is really no different than the typical North American (lumping us Canadians in there) visitor to Europe. You have only a short vacation time (one or two weeks) so you don’t have the luxury to visit outside the main cities. My first Eurail pass and backpack trip to Europe was no different. I hade 6 weeks and while I did get to a few rural areas in France I mainly visited the bigger cities (London, Paris, Amsterdam, etc).

    I was lucky to live in Germany for two years on the border of France and Germany and really got to know the local villages and the people in those villages. Since then I tend to travel slower and try to stay longer in places when possible. I consider myself lucky that I have been able to get off the beaten path but unfortunately that is not the case with so many travelers.

  3. Sherry Ott July 5, 2008 at 7:52 pm #

    You are right Patricia – some people don’t have enough time. However, it also depends on what your travel goals are. If you want to shop, go to museums, etc – then go to the big cities, they are great in many ways and that’s why I like to live in them! However – when I travel, I like to go to the places less visited. When I travel through middle America, I often feel as if I have entered another country as it can be so vastly different from the coasts. Different pace, different foods, different values, different home life…it’s great to see if you can swing it!

  4. Jessica July 12, 2008 at 8:19 pm #

    I have to disagree with your assessment of Los Angeles! I don’t live there much anymore and I’m glad I don’t but if I were visiting the US I wouldn’t dismiss it.

    Here’s what I recommend:

    – Get cheap tickets to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl and take a bottle of wine and a picnic dinner.
    – Go see the filming of a sit-com. Even if the show is crappy it’s interesting to see. (Los Angeles also has lots of great little theatres, especially in the Culver City area).
    – Take a surfing lesson in Venice Beach.
    – Check out the La Brea Tar Pits and have lunch at the nearby farmer’s market. (There’s other museums nearby too.)
    – Check out the Getty Museum in Westwood or the Getty Villa in Malibu.
    – Take the ferry to Catalina Island for some hiking and see the bison.

  5. Sherry July 13, 2008 at 6:01 am #

    Jessica you make LA sound better than I remember! Thanks for your input – I figured that I’d probably piss some LA’ers off, but I still prefer San Francisco to LA! The great thing is that you’ve shared a good looking travel list for people…thanks for your input!

  6. Jessica July 21, 2008 at 7:22 pm #

    Of course I’ve lived in LA County for 8 years and have done all these things how many times? I never seem to take advantage of the things that are nearby.

  7. Patricia September 19, 2008 at 8:09 pm #

    I lived in LA for my first 21 years of life and it wasn’t until I went back for my high school 30th reunion that I finally went to a sit com taping for the first time! We never seem to really explore the cities we live in.
    Growing up the main tourist attractions that we took in were DisneyLand and Knotts Berry Farm, primarily because we had lots of reletives coming to visit us from Canada during those years.
    Last time I was in LA (for the afore mentioned reunion 2 years ago) I was determined to do things I had never done before, Alas, the only thing I managed to do was the studio taping. One of these days I’ll come back to LA and just play tourist.

  8. SingaporeCarRental October 9, 2009 at 3:56 pm #

    I love San Francisco! Especially the visitor zones of Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, tour boat to Alcatraz, the sheer breadth of its neighborhoods and its distinct pockets of ever-more-local culture.

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  10. Brad Pilon January 12, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    Great post!! I loved new york, los angeles anda san francisco for me it´s the most beautiful cities in the all world.

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