What I Learned From Traveling the US in Just 30 Days

I love cities and I love people. I never listened to my Mom when she told me not to talk to strangers. Strangers are the only ones who fascinate me. Except for that one guy in Starbucks two years ago that was listening in on my conversation with a friend talking about the West Coast. This guy walks right over to my table and says in a voice that had smoked one-too-many cigarettes in his life:

“Ya know, Amtrak does this deal where you can pay six-hunda-dollas to travel the US for 30 days. Wherever Amtrak goes you can just hop on and off, I thought about doing it myself but then.. blah blah blah”

Whatever dude, I thought. Until a year later I really looked into it. That guy was right, and I did it. Bought the ticket shortly after I graduated school. I always wanted to see the rest of the country before I had to conform to the rest of capitalist America and inevitably “get a job.” I bought Amtrak’s USA RAIL pass and decided I wanted to see all of America’s major cities. Coming from Philadelphia, I’ve got a good idea of what cities and city-people are like.. Boy was I wrong. 9 Cities, 30 days. 

jess travel 3

Here’s a reflection of what I learned and what I found most inspiring:

1) The Internet is actually safer than most tend to think.
Out of the 9 cities I stayed overnight in, I only knew about 3 people in 3 cities. The other six- not a clue. I used the site to find people in each city that looked amusing (enough). Telling my family and friends this, I was scolded at- ‘Wait, so you’re gonna stay with a stranger?’ >> Damn right I did, six times.. And each and every one of those locals welcomed me with open arms into their household. Sometimes I got a couch, sometimes I got an air mattress, sometimes I was happy with just the floor (Also, one time I got a breakfast burrito – that ruled). I met so many new friends doing this, and I learned a lot more about each city and the people that live there by staying with the locals.  Hotels are for the birds.. the rich and boring love birds.

jess travel 2

2) Cities were made for hustlers
Each city had its own flare, but there is something I found in every city that seemed to be the same: No matter one’s economic class, job, title, or situation.. Everyone hustles to get what they want – In any way possible, every day. That’s what makes this country go round and I find that most inspiring. Never stop hustlin’ America.

3) Life is about people, places, connections, and relationships.
If you were to ask me what the purpose of Life was 20 years ago, I would have said: Barney, Sugar, and My Mommy. Being the age that I am and after this trip I realized the purpose of life is something not many people embrace or think about. Meaningful relationships are unforgettable no matter who those relationships are with. Relationships with people dear to you, or random people you meet in different places. We never forget these relationships and we either choose to build on them or leave them where they may be. The people I’ve met from all over the world make me feel alive. No, seriously – It’s the connections of people that make this world go round. The places you can go + the people you meet, mixed with the quality relationships you make can take you anywhere in life, really. 

4) There is never a demand in the world for people who are high-maintenance. 
Really, get over yourself. I wore the same articles of clothing for a month – nobody cared to notice. Hell, I even dried myself after a shower with a wash-cloth because I had no towel. Life goes on.

jess travel friends

5) People are beautiful, but their passions in life are much more attractive.

The people that I met were great, but listening to their stories of how they ended up in each city because of their passions and dreams that brought them there is what I found most uplifting.

6) Amtrak is crazy (The most broad word I could use to describe)
The food is terrible, but the Bloody Mary’s got me by. Also, the people are one of a kind. You might find yourself sitting next to an Amish person, or maybe a lady who won’t shut up about the Bible. But be extra thankful because there may be a time you might be forced to sit next to a crying 2-year old (That was nauseating).

7) Money isn’t important.
Before this trip I would say that I can never have enough money. But after this trip I realized, ‘Hey, if I have enough for a burrito – everything in life is fine by me.’ 

8) Talk to as many strangers as you can.
Everyone has something to teach you – even the weird ones.

9) The best donuts are in Austin, Texas. Gourdough’s Donut Truck. Just do it.

Funky-Monkey-sRGB1    Miss-Shortcake-sRGB2Flying-Pig-sRGB11

10) Live somewhere where learning is infinite
In the most crime-filled city of my trip, New Orleans, a girl still had something nice to say: She had just moved to New Orleans from Philadelphia, and Florida before that. I was confused as to why she wanted to live here (besides the fact that she was an alcoholic). She said simply, “I just like living here because I never stop learning. Every day, someone always teaches me something new in this city.”


11) Don’t ask for directions. Just go and find cool things, they’ll lead you somewhere.

jess travel 1


12) Thank God for Smart-phones. But I worship the Devil for my phone-carrier’s data plan.


13) Then again, Screw Smart-phones!
Sometimes things are so beautiful in life and in nature and just throughout the world.. So much so that it kinda sucks having a camera ready on your phone at all times. We try so hard to capture things that we don’t actually stop to appreciate the actual BEAUTY that surrounds us.    ….(Meanwhile, halfway through writing this in my journal I stopped to pull out my smart-phone to take a picture of a California sunset)

14) Other cities have every intention of being nice to one another.
Strange, right? Everyone has something they can offer you, and if they can’t offer you anything, they can offer you a nice Hello. I found this to be true in a lot of cities – and those cities were the ones who didn’t have as much hatred or crime. I now want to say Hello to everyone I encounter. Imagine what that can do for your community..



No doubt about it.


Don't be selfish.. Share!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on Reddit

One Comment

  • David

    Scrolling through the facebook last September I discovered that a friend had finally buckled to family pressure and purchased an automobile. D. lives downtown, works downtown, has three bicycles, and does not have a dedicated parking spot – but she grew up in Detroit and dad insisted that she needed a car. She announced a roadtrip to Portland and I asked if her Escape would enjoy proving its name a transitive verb for me and my 19 year old son – known and liked by D. and also enjoying a calendar free of pesky employment demands.
    Thus the late-summer adventure started as a pretty standard roadtrip, camping on public lands, walking to beautiful places, riding in a car with two known souls. But then D.’s plans changed, taking her and the Ford to the coast for many more days than we’d anticipated. The options for J. and I were the bus, the train, or the thumb. Before the trip I heard John Water’s interviewed about his new book, “Carsick”, and thought if this 66 year old eccentric can do it – surely we can.
    We left Hood River, Oregon with our backpacks loaded enough to keep us self-sufficient (and, it turns out – looking like trustworthy outdoor types rather than just vagabonds). We walked several hours up through orchards and beside streams before giving our thumbs a chance to request more speedy transport. And it worked. Strangers were more than happy to take us as far as they could, each and every one commenting on how you never see anybody hitchhike any more. We got rides from older couples in nice SUV’s. A young veteran driving back to his new wife from a weekend of climbing. Young women with small dogs. Old men with old dogs. We weren’t in a terrific hurry but the trip back took only 6 days across the middle of the American West – lonely Highway 50. Many strangers met, trusted, enjoyed – and who receive regular post-cards from current trip destinations.
    This September’s travel adventure had to be different because a daughter’s journey to college requires more space than a backpack allows. I took out the seats from the minivan, save one. I was disappointed that nowhere on the 4000+ mile journey did I spot a single hitchhiker and was unable to pay forward the generosity encountered the prior year. I regret that this manner of travel has largely left our culture, that the myth of Dangerous Strangers has completely overtaken simply trusting our neighbors. I was pleased to discover, though, that there are enough of us still happy to help and converse with a stranger.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *