The Guaranteed Formula to Getting the Most Out of America (or Anywhere Else You Travel)
You’ve done it! You saved up enough to finally take that dream trip. You booked your tickets and spent hours on Pinterest imagining yourself in the middle of those travel photos. You’ve made endless lists and bought fancy new gear. So how do you squeeze every last drop of all that the dream destination has to offer? Well, kids, the answer is simple: do a little bit of everything.
Vagabondish is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Read our disclosure.
It’s easier said than done, this elusive and vague ‘do a little bit of everything’. During a three-month road trip across the United States, the biggest advantage we had was a long and flexible schedule. We found enough time to indulge our specific interests: the outdoors, the museums, the food. But we also made sure we experienced a little bit of everything else, and we did it with The Super-Awesome Secret Formula, or as we like to call it – SASF. (It sounded cooler in our heads!)
Here it is:
Outdoors + City life + Food and drink + Music + Art and museums + People
There are almost four million square miles of land in America. And that means acres and acres of stunning landscapes to see.
What I love about the American national parks, apart from being admirably organized and looked after, is the diversity. You have dramatic mountainscapes in Colorado, ancient rock formations in Utah, prehistoric looking canyons in well, the Grand Canyon, and green pastoral settings in the Smoky Mountains.
Living in the outdoors is one of my favorite ways to learn about a new place, because there’s nothing that bonds you better to the land than actually sleeping on it. When you’re sprawled out under the stars, foraged for fallen twigs for bonfires, hiked up steep hills to catch a glimpse of the horizon, and grilled hot dogs in the cold, you’ve truly gotten to know the land you’re travelling through.
Outdoors recommendation: Head to Arches National Park in Utah to see naturally-formed rock arches in surreal settings.
It’s not all about being outdoors, though. The cities are a buzzing, vibrant reflection of how far the land and its people have come. And while there’s no denying that many cities around the world have started looking the same — with their fast food chains and big department stores — there’s still a unique flavor to most cities.
Take a walk through pulsating New York and you’ll see it really is the centre of the world. Take a tram ride down the steep slopes of San Francisco and wonder at its quaint beauty. And New Orleans, with its elaborately trellised balconies and unique food is reminiscent of the many cultures that have passed through it. It’s also nice to sleep in a proper bed sometimes!
City life recommendation: San Francisco is fantastic because it has the most unique architecture, and the most wonderful bars and restaurants.
Food + Drink? Oh Yes, Check!
We have a whole folder of pictures we took of the meals we ate during our trip – they were just that bright and beautiful and different! Experiment with falling-off-the-bone barbequed meat in the South, massive burgers oozing with melting cheese in the cities, overloaded po’boys in New Orleans, authentic tortilla chips and salsa in New Mexico, and peach or apple pie anywhere.
If you don’t find poetry in the flavors and see the influence of history in a bowl of jambalaya, take another bite.
Food and drink recommendation: New Orleans if you like sea food, and Philadelphia if you’re more of a steak kinda person.
Talented street dancers b-boying to their own music, rappers ‘spittin the truth’ on street corners, jazz musicians riffing in smoky clubs, and classical music performances in parks – there’s no shortage of music in America.
We spent some of the best hours of our trip sitting on the curb in Memphis with a bottle of beer, listening to a freelance jazz band till it was time to go home. And yes, even if you’re on a tight budget, try to drop a little something into the collection box.
Music recommendation: Definitely Nashville – they have entire streets lined with bars spilling live music until all hours of the night.
Art + Museums? Check!
The Metropolitan in New York is a must-see, but you can find the most beautiful art in artist communities, in architectural wonders all over the country, and even in graffiti on the walls sometimes. The rugged landscape in New Mexico inspired master painter Georgia O’Keefe, and revolutionary photographer Ansel Adams headed to Yosemite National Park to find his muse in Mother Nature.
Art and museum recommendation: Charming Santa Fe, New Mexico is a thriving artist colony and there’s plenty of ground-breaking art coming from there.
If there’s only one element of this formula you choose to make your trip richer, let it be people.
If there’s only one element of this formula you choose to make your trip richer, let it be people. The most enduring memories of our travels are the people we met. We made friends with fellow campers, travellers who were on the same flight as us, and owners of restaurants we ate at. And now, months later, we still remember something insightful or funny they said, or the way they looked at life.
People recommendation: Choose the one sitting alone at the bar, or the couple sitting around the bonfire next to yours – it doesn’t matter because they all have a story to tell.