As a child, mom and dad dragged me all over the United States as part of their “see the US first” campaign. They threw my sister and me in to the back of the car du jour, and we drove from A to B to A over a two-week break in the summer at least three times. We complained. They fought. None the less, I saw 37 states from the passenger-side of the back seat of our car before venturing elsewhere in the world. I learned many things too.
First, I learned how to read a map and how to navigate. I learned how to anticipate the next town, estimate distances, and even how to figure out cost per mile. I became aware of gas prices, miles per gallon, and how to spot a good gas station with good bathrooms. I learned how to overcome boredom by reading bill boards and travel books and to be a responsible member of our traveling family by suggesting things to do, food to eat, and places to stay. As children, motels with pools trumped free breakfasts.
I also learned the value of reading, getting an education and staying in school. Learning to read started with identifying Texaco gas stations and American Express signs. Loving school started with appreciating the travel service personnel, such as maids and waitresses, and deciding I’d rather own the hotel than work in one. School prepared me to ask the questions I’d uncover as we found live history and American culture.
Soon, I learned all the state capitols, not from memorizing them, but from visiting them. By 8, I could alphabetically list all the states and could tell you a unique feature from each one that I had visited. I knew what “west of the Mississippi meant” in relation to food distribution such as Stuckey’s, Coors, and See’s candy. Regions sparked understandings about why eating grits only happened in the south and poutine in the north. Going east, tacos disappeared.
But most of all, I learned that millions of people spend billions of dollars to come to our United States to enjoy our natural resources, among many things. We have world-class, internationally favored icons right here in our back yard that we can get to freely. Not freely economically, but freely because we live here and have access. And, by seeing our own country first, we have true perspective when we travel. That perspective opens minds, invites friendships, and allows for a genuine appreciation of all the U.S. has to offer.
So as you plan your next big adventure “over there,” don’t forget “right here.” Every state in the USA has something to offer–go out and find these treasures. And see the U.S. first. It’s worth it.