America is a huge place so if you want to travel, you don’t even need to leave the country. Every state is it’s own world and every city it’s own kingdom.
Being in college, it isn’t easy to just pack your bags and hop on a plane. What you can do though, is load up the car and hit the road for a few days. Joining a club is a great way to get involved with cultural activities while you’re in college, and sometimes they can even give you the opportunity to travel.
I am a part of the American Indian and Indigenous Students Association at Cal Poly. This spring, we were able to take the group to the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Road trips are the perfect way to experience the beautifully diverse landscapes and communities of America.
If you decide to go on a road trip, the first step is to make sure you have a plan. Personally, I love to wander– so sometimes it feels like planning takes the spontaneity out of a trip. A plan really is necessary though, if you want to avoid unexpected and often unpleasant surprises.
Driving from California to New Mexico, we didn’t have a solid plan. After waking up at 5AM and driving for 17 hours, we finally got to Albuquerque around 1AM the next day.
When we pulled up to our hotel exhausted, the woman at the desk said, “We have one room ready for you.”
Panic. We had thought we booked two rooms, but somehow the reservation wasn’t confirmed. There was no way we could squeeze seven people in one room. She told us, “There’s a huge event going on so all our rooms are booked. All the hotels around are booked too.”
Worn out and miserable, we had to scramble to call every hotel and motel in an unfamiliar place. Christina Tlatilpa, one of the officers of the club, stepped up to help. If you are ever in a room crisis, her advice can save you hours of stress and anxiety. Tlatilpa said,
“We should call the closest Hyatt or Marriott. Most of the huge chains have reservation services. If they don’t have a room for us, they’ll personally call around to find another hotel with an open room to put us through to their reservations.”
We finally got a shabby room at the Roadside Inn with a dirty shower and a noisy couple next door who wouldn’t quit banging all night.
Spontaneity has it’s perks, but maybe if we’d planned a little. we could’ve actually gotten some sleep.
Rain clouds over a soaked parking lot in Arizona.
One of the best parts of a road trip is the stops. Finding landmarks, views, cafes and restaurants to stop at along the way are a great way to explore while making the drive more relaxing.
Along the drive from California to New Mexico, we passed abundant forests, wildlife preserves, national parks, deserts and mountains. We ate burritos at the original Del Taco in Barstow, had a snowball fight in Flagstaff, and saw a meteor crater in the blazing New Mexico desert– all in one day.
You know those people who collect random facts? They’re the best road trip buddies. Monuments and landscapes are obvious to everyone, but there are a lot of things that you can look at without really knowing what they are. Sarah La Mar was in our car and we’re lucky she was because she seemed to know a random fact about every little thing we passed.
“That’s where James Dean crashed and died,” she pointed out a Texaco on our way down to LA. The tower-sized cardboard cutout of Dean confirmed she wasn’t just making stuff up.
Pointing at a corner in Winslow, Arizona she said, “That’s the corner from the Eagles song.” Sure enough, there’s a bronze statue of a man holding a guitar with a sing above him that reads “Standin’ on the Corner.”
Passing a bunch of abandoned, dilapidated homes in New Mexico she told us, “When a Navajo person dies inside a home, the spirit never leaves, so the family abandons the house. That’s what my Navajo teacher told me.”
Having someone in your car who knows the significance of spots along the way or even looking them up yourself, can make the drive more relaxing and memorable. Plus, discovering new spots is a great way to make plans for your next trip. Stopping in the Mojave Desert, I knew I would have to return soon to camp out for a few days to truly enjoy the beauty of the area. Sometimes a quick stop just doesn’t cut it.