Thirteen years ago, my family moved from South Korea to the United States to live in Utah for three years. During our stay, we traveled around 46 states in the United States and five Canadian provinces through 17 trips — from day trips to trips as long as 26 days — driving in our SUV and sleeping at local camping sites.
Although it was long ago, these trips are a part of me; they are core memories I cherish from my childhood. Seeing various cities and constructions, hiking unique landforms and trails, experiencing wildlife and the outdoors and being stuck in the backseat of the car for long hours with nothing but my siblings, my dog and a view out of the windows were experiences that helped me grow. These trips exposed me to diverse environments, teaching me that there is often no one “right” way. Various climates and landscapes made me stronger and led me to appreciate the beauty of nature and culture.
I have important memories of several highlights from our trips: hiking the curvy trails of the Little Wild Horse Canyon in Utah; sliding down the White Sands in New Mexico; collecting junior ranger badges and stamps from each national park; grilling frog legs and alligator meat in Florida and steaming lobsters in Maine; taking shelter in our tent at Antelope Island because a herd of buffalo was passing through; arriving at a campsite but cooking and sleeping in our car because of pouring rain and bear warning signs; buying a huge tuna near the Oregon Sand Dunes that became our meal for the next few days; and driving three hours through Kentucky just to eat KFC, only to find out that the original KFC was located right in Utah, a 15-minute drive away from our home.
Through these trips, my family developed a routine for camping. After checking in at a campsite, my dad would be in charge of making the fire, my mom would prepare the meal and my sisters and I would assemble the tent after leashing our chihuahua to a water spigot. My sisters and I also came up with creative ways to spend time in the car — we sang along to the “Annie” soundtrack in three-part harmony while chewing on peach rings, played games such as “20 questions” and “I spy” and competing with one other on who was the “first” to arrive at a new state by extending a limb out as far as possible to the front of the car. (Eventually, I would give up and celebrate being the last to remain in a state.)
Compared to our home country, the United States was unbelievably huge — Utah alone was more than twice the size of South Korea, and each state had its own climate and characteristics as if they could each be their own countries. My family was awed by every state’s beautiful scenery, unique culture and friendly strangers.
To be honest, I don’t know how my parents did it, driving around to explore 46 states and parts of Canada as foreigners, something that not even a few locals attempt. I would love to one day complete 50 states by visiting Ohio, West Virginia, Hawaii and Alaska (although not by road) with my family, and it would also be amazing to relive the trips we went on with older, more mature perspectives. Regardless, road tripping through 46 states with my family was an unforgettable experience that I will take with me wherever I go.
Contact Eunkyo Jo at [email protected].