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Learning about America – Coast to Coast

July 30, 2012

By: Catt Stearns, Work & Travel Assistant

When it comes to traveling America, it’s probably a bit easy to become a little overwhelmed by all there is to see and do. From coast to coast, in between mountain ranges, and across the deserts and plains, the hardest thing about traveling around this great country is figuring out where to start.

CCI recently chatted with Whitney Rush, a tour leader for Trek America—a company that offers budget friendly road trips and adventure tours ranging between 3 to 64 days that cover all of the United States and parts of Canada.  Traveling the U.S. is not just a hobby for Whitney, it’s her job. So we thought she would be an ideal person to turn to when it comes to figuring out how to best experience this country and its culture.

The Trek America team in the Grand Canyon.

So what made you decide to do this job?

I lived in China for a year teaching English. While traveling around, I had realized I had seen more of China than I had of my own country, and that was really unfortunate. There was still so much I wanted to see and learn about the US. When I found out about this job, I couldn’t believe it was a job. So I applied and the rest is history!

So who travels on Trek America trips?

The age range for the trips is between 18 and 38, so it focuses on people in their 20s—a good portion being international students. So obviously they are budget and student/young adult friendly trips.

And where have you traveled so far? Or is better to ask where haven’t you been?

I actually just wrote down all the states I’ve been to recently. I have NOT been to Arkansas, West Virginia, Missouri, Alaska…and that’s all.

That is impressive. So, since you’ve basically seen 90% of America, I’m going to give you a list of superlatives I want you say your top choices.

Most beautiful: This is a tough one. I’m going to have to go with Antelope Canyon in Arizona

Most bizarre: Rachel, NV. It’s a town where they truly believe in aliens… and it has a population of about 7 people.

Best City: San Francisco

Best National Park: Glacier National Park in Montana

City/Region with the best food: New Orleans

Best State:  Colorado. It’s my home so that may be a biased answer.

Place you would visit time and time again: Bryce Canyon in Utah

So know that we know your favorite sights of the country, what advice would you give to international students wanting to explore America?

To definitely be open. As the saying goes, an open mind is probably the best thing you could pack. I stole that saying from another leader, so I can’t take credit but I do endorse it. I always encourage people to try and get off the beaten path, to explore areas that maybe aren’t always in your guidebook.

And what about some tips for traveling on a budget?

Try to buy and make our own food as eating out can get expensive.  Definitely look at alternate accommodations, whether it’s hostels, or camping in National Parks. If you have the time, take a bus or train instead of flying as it enables you to see parts of the country you wouldn’t normally see. But at the same time, don’t skimp on the things you truly want to do though since you’ll probably only have one chance to do it.

What are foreigners usually surprised by when traveling around America?

The comment I’ve heard the most times is that Americans are so friendly. When we stop in small road side towns and even gas stations, people always comment on how nice people are. Besides for being nice, I also just learned today that the yellow school bus is incredibly iconic to America. For some reason I always just thought everyone’s school bus was yellow. There are always small cultural things like that which always take me by surprise, especially when someone from my tour teaches me about what is truly “American”.

Besides for learning about what color our school buses are, what do you think are some of the best ways to learn more about the United States and American culture?

I feel you can only learn so much about a culture by just traveling through a place. I would suggest always going out of your way to meet Americans. Apparently, we’re really nice! So this could just be chatting with someone on the bus, at a restaurant, your tour guide if you’re on a guided tour, and so on. When you talk with Americans, they can teach you about America from their point of view.

And what have you personally learned about the world and other cultures through the job that you do?

Just that no matter where people are coming from, they still appreciate the same things. Everyone appreciates beautiful scenery (there’s never going to be anyone who isn’t awestruck by the Grand Canyon), good food, learning something new… Even when I have a tour group of 13 people who hail from 5 different countries, sometimes the similarities between them are going to be more apparent than the differences. But at the same time, even if cultures seem similar, like Australia and England, there’s still going to be those minute details that make each culture unique.

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