Lost in the Land of the Free: My Wild Drive Across America

Lost in the Land of the Free: My Wild Drive Across America

The Journey Begins
Back in 96, I was living and working in Egypt as a designer for a large-scale manufacturer. The company I designed for were catering to British High Street stores, so they hired a bunch of international designers to ensure the quality and fit were up to Western standard.
Living in Egypt was no walk in the park for a young gal like me, and I had just finished off a grueling year of working my butt off and not really having any form of social life. I had itchy feet and the travel bug was officially biting again, so when a friend from high school told me about her great plans to check out the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta in the good ol’ US of A, I just knew I had to tag along. I was young and adventurous, so without a second thought, I quit my job, packed my bags, and hopped on the next plane to meet her in the Big Apple!
Empire State Building
New York City was a blast! We did all the touristy stuff, like catching a show on Broadway.  We saw “The King and I”, so that was quite a while ago, I will never forget the feast for the eyes that it was - oh the costuming was incredible.  While in NYC we explored all over the Empire State Building, Strolling around Central Park, took the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and of course ventured around The Fashion District. We even mastered the art of subway navigation!!
After our NYC adventures, my friend Jill flew to Atlanta. But me? I was always on a tight budget, so I hopped on the Greyhound bus and stopped in Washington DC on the way so I could see Capital Hill, and The White House.
Washington DC
Atlanta Olympics
I had just the BEST time at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics!! Picture this: a bunch of us young Aussies crammed into our friend's tiny studio apartment. It was like a slumber party on steroids - people crashed everywhere, even on the kitchen floor! We'd come home after nights out, going to night sports events, and partying, just to pass out from all the “excitement”.
Oh, and let me tell you about the crazy atmosphere in Atlanta during the Olympics… We snagged volunteer gigs at Centennial Park, (the very same place where that bomb incident happened - you can imagine my Mums stress levels when she turned on the morning news in Australia). We volunteered at night, helping out wherever we could, so that during the day, we could soak up every opportunity to check out all the different events happening around town. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime experience full of laughter and unforgettable memories!
1996 Atlanta Olympics
Planning the Road Trip Across America
You would think that planning a road trip across a vast country like America would require meticulous preparation. With so many breathtaking destinations to explore, I would surely first narrow down my itinerary, create a list of must-visit locations, buy a few lonely planet guides, Google the best routes (oh wait, no Google maps back then!)… But not for this young and irresponsible Aussie girl!
Once the Olympics were done and dusted, we all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. As for me, I Greyhound Bussed down to Miami, where I first chilled out at South Beach and then went on a quick trip down to Key West. That’s where I discovered the “Drive-away Car” concept.
Southbeach Miami Florida
Now, let me break it down for you because I don’t think the concept exists anymore… A driveaway car is like a DIY moving service for those who want to transport their vehicles across state lines without breaking the bank. It's perfect for people who don't fancy driving all the way themselves or shelling out for a pricey truck. So, I found myself in the driver's seat, tasked with delivering a car from sunny Miami, Florida, all the way to beautiful Eureka, in northern California, in just 10 days. No pressure, right?
Embracing the Adventure
I was on an extremely tight budget during my travels, which meant no fancy hotels for me (especially since they charged per room and I was flying solo, making it even more expensive). Some nights, I opted to crash in my car, but only in places where I felt safe. Other nights, I bunked up with a bunch of fellow travelers in youth hostels.
So, after leaving Miami, I hit the road north and then made my way west through the panhandle, passing by Mississippi,Louisiana and finally into Texas. I even swung by Houston for a quick visit. From there, I continued my journey northwest, cutting across Texas diagonally.
Texas Roadtrip
Next stop: New Mexico. I crossed the state, into Colorado, Utah, ventured through Nevada, before finally reaching Northern California.
Exploring American Landmarks
Oh my goodness, New Orleans was absolutely amazing! I had the best time with my friend, Jill. We explored the vibrant streets, danced to live jazz music, and indulged in delicious Cajun cuisine. The city was filled with such unique energy and charm that we couldn't help but be swept away by the lively atmosphere. Although it was not Mardi Gras when we were there, the vibrance was captivating and as was the historic French Quarter… Every corner of New Orleans was bursting with excitement. Jill and I laughed and made unforgettable memories together, whether it was wandering through the enchanting Garden District or savoring beignets at Café du Monde.
New Orleans
I made a pitstop at NASA in Texas, and let me tell you, it was absolutely mind-blowing! Stepping foot into this renowned space center was like entering a whole new world of discovery and innovation. The sheer magnitude of the place left me in awe. From the massive rockets towering over me to the cutting-edge technologies on display, my favourite memory there was getting to touch an actual moon rock! I couldn't believe that I was standing in the same place where some of the greatest scientific achievements had taken place.
I paid my respects at the gravesite of Billy The Kid in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, which was so cool! I love all things historical but I didn't know much about the “wild west”;  it was pretty cool to be standing in front of the final resting place of one of the most notorious outlaws in American history. Billy was -- probably -- killed on July 14, 1881, then carried a couple hundred yards to the Fort's old cemetery and buried with two of his gang members, who'd been killed only a few months earlier. The Kid's early wooden tombstones were subsequently stolen or destroyed, and the cemetery then flooded in 1889 and 1904, washing away all the headstones and probably redistributing all the bones. Apparently, not everyone believes that Billy the Kid was shot dead and buried in Fort Sumner, New Mexico -- but enough people do to make his grave one of the most visited of all Wild West burial plots.
I stopped over in Lubbock, Texas, which was hometown to the legendary Buddy Holly. It was so fun to step foot in the place that shaped his early years and inspired his iconic music. From the moment I arrived, I could feel the electric energy in the air, knowing that this was where Buddy Holly's musical journey began. I saw his childhood home and explored the local landmarks that influenced his music, and I left with a newfound appreciation for his incredible talent and the impact he had on the music industry.
Buddy Holly Lubbock Texas
I had the most incredible experience driving around Lake Tahoe. The crystal clear blue waters of the lake shimmered under the bright sunlight, creating such breathtaking scenery. As I drove along the winding roads, the towering mountains surrounding the lake provided a stunning backdrop, making the whole experience even more magical.
If you have ever been to Arches National Park in Utah, you will know how absolutely breathtaking it is! From the moment I entered the park, I was greeted by a stunning landscape filled with towering red rock formations and, of course, the famous arches that give the park its name. The sheer beauty and grandeur of this place left me in awe. The natural beauty of Arches National Park is truly a sight to behold, and I feel so lucky to have experienced it firsthand during this cross continent adventure.
Arches National Park
Driving through beautiful Colorado was an absolute dream come true! The scenery was absolutely breathtaking and unlike anything I had ever seen before.  I was there in Fall, so it was all oranges, yellows, golds and reds, SO pretty. As I made my way through the winding mountain roads, I couldn't help but be in awe of the majestic peaks and lush green forests that surrounded me. The clear blue skies and the sparkling rivers added to the overall beauty of the landscape. Every turn brought a new and stunning view, leaving me completely mesmerised. Colorado truly is a paradise for nature lovers, and I feel incredibly lucky to have these memories!
But one of the biggest joys that I experienced on this road trip across America was the opportunity to discover hidden gems that often go unnoticed by tourists. From stopping on the side of the road in New Mexico where a group of Native American men were putting up some traditional tipi's.  It was right on sunset and the photos were spectacular.  They came over to talk to me, and were so worried about me - what are you doing out here on your own?  Isn't your Mom worried sick?  Then they started up the generators so that they could turn on the lights to illuminate the tipi's so I could get a better photo.   The little roadside cafe’s where I was greeted with so much warmth and hospitality, to coming across completely unexpected waterfalls, each stop on my journey offered a unique and unforgettable experience.
Navigating the Challenges
No road trip is without its challenges, and mine was no exception. I was driving across Nevada and it was, to be honest, boring driving 😂. But then, as I was driving out of Salt Lake City, the landscape changed and reminded me a lot of the Dead Sea in Israel. The Salt Lake sends out a pinkish haze, which is incredibly pretty and with the jagged mountains as a backdrop, it was absolutely stunning! At around 2pm, I was doing around 65mph and noticed chunks of rubber flying off my tire. I pulled over to find that the tyre was literally falling apart... I panicked!! I was in the middle of nowhere with about 15 miles to the nearest town. What are my options? A) change it myself but I will be slow and some weirdo might stop to harrass me (I'd already been harrassed by a man in Utah, so was feeling a bit scared). Or b) drive really slowly to the town of Golconda. I went with option b and thankfully made it to a tiny "gas station".
I walked in and it was your typical midwest dark bar, illuminated only by a neon Budweiser sign and patroned by half a dozen scary looking truckers. I told the bar waitress of my predicament and of course the whole bar went quiet to listen to the strange sounding Australian girl talk. A lovely lady volunteered her son to change the tire (phew!) but the spare was a tiny temporary tire that looked like the perfect size for a bicycle, not a car! I bought the guy a bud and continued on my journey slowly for the 14-mile journey to the next larger town of Winemucca. I tracked down a tire shop and had to fork out 50 bucks for a new one, hoping that the car owner would reimburse me when I made it to California. Finally, I had the tyre fixed and drove on through Reno desperate to get out of Nevada... I gave 3 cheers when I crossed the border into California... Yay, I'd almost made it! And what was even sweeter? Gas in Cali was only $1.09 per gallon! What a steal!
The People I Met Along the Way
One of the most heartwarming aspects of my road trip across America was the incredible people I encountered. Strangers became friends, sharing stories and traditions that left a lasting impact on my journey. Whether it was a local guide sharing secret spots or a family inviting me into their home for a home-cooked meal, their kindness reminded me of the true spirit of America. There’s nothing quite like good ol’ American hospitality.
One particular encounter stands out in my memory: After 10 days of driving and sightseeing across America with only one minor breakdown, I arrived in Eureka California. As it turned out, the car that I was driving belonged to a girl who was about the same age as me and she had moved home to her hometown from Miami, FL. The girl's Mom was so happy to see me arrive safely that she welcomed me into their home and cooked me a family meal. They were all so grateful for me bringing the car all that way across USA safely and they were just so super hospitable. I had an amazing meal with them, had a shower and they dropped me off at the Greyhound station for my next overnight bus trip adventure.
Lessons Learned
This road trip across America was not only an adventure for my body but also for my soul. Along the way, I learned to embrace uncertainty and step even further out of my comfort zone than I had before. After such a busy and often loud year in Egypt, these 10-days of solitude and quietness were truly transformative. I discovered hidden strengths within myself, as I endured hours and hours of concentration and navigated unfamiliar territories.
The road trip also taught me the importance of living in the present moment and I still to this day try to channel these lessons. In a world filled with distractions, being on the open road allowed me to fully immerse myself in the beauty of nature. It reminded me to slow down, appreciate the simple joys, and find beauty in the little things. Come to think of it, just writing this blog has been the friendly reminder to be present that I needed.
The Transformative Power of a Road Trip Across America
As I reached the end of my road trip across America, I was exhausted but also so incredibly grateful for the experience! The transformative power of this journey went beyond the miles I traveled. It shaped my perspective, broadened my horizons, and solidified my lifelong love for exploration.
If you are ever yearning for an adventure that will awaken your senses and ignite your spirit, you should consider embarking on a road trip across America. Pack your West Indies Wear into a cute RV and hit the road! Embrace the unknown, connect with strangers who will become friends, and allow the mesmerizing landscapes to leave an indelible mark on your soul.
The land of the free awaits your exploration.
One Love,
Kim Van Loo
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Kim, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog. This could be a book or even a movie! 😎

Terri Ellsworth

What a brave adventurous journey!!! Twice we’ve driven from Ohio out through the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Wymoning into Colorado, it was an amazing trip! My sister lives in Utah now and we love visitng all the National Parks near her!!
Sometime we forget what is in our own backyard:)
Love your stories Kim !!

Carol S Gienger

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog about your road trip across America. I absolutely love to travel, seeing new places and enjoying new experiences. I wish I would have had the mind to set off at a young age on adventures, like you did. Wonderful stories! And, I love West Indies Wear!

Rebecca Riffe

People still drive other people’s cars around. Going from the Northeast to Florida in the winter for “Snowbirds” still goes on- and the reverse come May! Yes, it is a big place here!

Cathy Hackert

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