It All Comes Down to This...

Los Angeles Travel Blog

 › entry 113 of 113 › view all entries
Here it is, The End. Of this chapter of my life, anyway. Of bouncing from one city to another. From plane to bus. From couch to couch. The end of wearing the same clothes day in and out, until I can't take it anymore and buy a new shirt that I eventually wear to an equal point of loathing. The end of carrying my life on my back. Of sleeping in hostels and sharing bathrooms. Of last-minute road trips and open agendas. The end of my life as a backpacker.

For the moment, anyway.

I arrived in Los Angeles four hours before I left Sydney. Time zones will do that to a person. The passenger load was light, allowing me a row all to myself and making it one of the easiest 13 hour trips I've ever done. After three meals, three movies and whatever sleep I could squeeze in, we landed. I filed through immigration, baggage claim and customs with an ease awarded to returning citizens. Then, with what could be mistaken for a vague smile and mumbled "Welcome home," from the customs officer, I was back in the U.S. Just like that.

In America and surrounded by Americans. The latter drawing the bigger culture shock. In my time abroad, fellow Americans were few and far between. Usually by chance. Sometimes, when those available were just a little too loud and cliché, by choice.

For reasons still unbeknownst to me, we're just not out there to the degree that other countries are sending forth their youth. The rest of the world thinks we hide in our tour buses and resorts and avoid the unblazed trails. They say we don't want to leave our country in the egotistical opinion that there's no need to.

I try to correct these opinions when I think they've been unfair. When others can't comprehend that most Americans aren't bursting with money or vacation time. That there's a strong desire, but the reality seems out of reach. But as much as I made it my goal, while abroad, to show people that not all americans are the loud, gun-toting, ignorant stereotypes that can't locate the U.S. on a map, it's going to equally be my objective at home to show my fellow countrymen that it's not a big scary world out there, after all, and money is but a minor detail.

Americans may have been few, but American culture is nearly impossible to escape. Television, music, news. With the exception of Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch and raspberry vinaigrette dressing, there weren't really even any foods that I missed throughout the year, for the simple reason that I could usually find them. And I may have missed out on the full ridiculousness of Palin, the definition of "ShamWOW" or what exactly happened between Jon, Kate and their eight, but very few of the big stories of 2008-09 came as a shock upon my return.

The presidential election dominated foreign news channels. American bands get overplayed in other countries before they've even hit it big back home. I watched more episodes of "Friends" in Asia than I have in my whole life combined. And everywhere you turn, in every country and culture, there's a McDonald's, Wal-Mart or 7-11.

It's hard to feel exotic when everyone else seems to know so much about us. Sometimes all of that in-your-face knowledge leaves a bad taste in their mouths. But that's where it's up to us, as individuals to prove their stereotypes are as ignorant as us believing all French are rude and every Australian has a pet kangaroo. So whether it was beating a Parisian in a European geography quiz, lending out my computer to strangers in their time of need, or simply traveling alone without a schedule or guidebook, I tried to show the world we're not so bad after all.

And through all of my experiences, I learned a thing or two: about the world, about other people, about myself. Here are a few of those thoughts, if I may...

• Humans can be horrible to each other and history repeats itself (Nazis, Soviet Bloc/KGB, Northern Ireland, Cambodia Killing Fields, Vietnam War...) BUT...the people you meet while traveling, in every culture, prove there are many good people in the world, as well, that are willing to help strangers just because.

• Any nationality--if in a large and drunk enough group--can be the obnoxious tourist stereotype.

• The world is set up for english speakers. Which leads to the unfortunate fact that...All native english speakers (not just Americans) are terrible about knowing other languages because we don't have to. Which still isn't a good enough excuse.

• I want to be fluent at a second language.

• A bicycle is my new favorite mode of transportation.

• I love accordions on street corners and saxophones in subway tunnels.

• No country is perfect.

• I don't miss winter.

• Even passport control officers can occasionally have a sense of humor.

• I love traveling, but don't like being a tourist.

• The more I travel, the longer my list gets of places I want to see.

• Parks in a city are a necessity.

• If I can cross the street alone in Cairo, I can do anything.

• I like traveling alone.

• On the road, you're never alone for long.

• Everyone should travel alone (at least) once in their life and be the minority in a room, bus or country.

• Having supportive parents makes every bit of difference.

• Even when you're positive you're not overpacking, you're still overpacking.

• The best fruit shakes in the world are in Luang Prabang, Lao.

• Given enough time and urgency, squatting over holes in the ground, using hoses instead of toilet paper and a bucket of water to flush becomes commonplace and no big deal.

• Humor can breach cultural and linguistic boundaries.

• A haircut from someone that doesn't speak your language is usually not a good idea. Even if only costs $3. Or maybe especially because it only costs $3.

• I will never be done traveling.

So what happens now? From LA, I fly to Iowa. From Iowa to Texas. And after Texas, it'll be back to Seattle and the reality from which I politely excused myself for a year. And after that? Well, I haven't planned that far ahead yet.

But you can believe I have some ideas...
Eric says:
I had similar feelings of "reverse" culture shock when I came back to the US after studying abroad in Rome. Nice summary of your trip and experiences!
Posted on: Aug 10, 2009
dothoin says:
Wow cool blog ...even for an American :-) do you have any favourite country you'd like to go back to or even live in besides the good ol' US of A? Speaking of knowledge of geography or lack thereof. When I checked into my Vegas hotel the clerk saw my Irish passport and said 'Well we'd better take care of you as we don't want your Queen coming over and giving us a hard time' I thought this was so quaint.
Posted on: Aug 10, 2009
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