Dark orange car in front of orange rocky landscape
Landscape,  Sunday Stills,  USA

Road Trippin’ USA: a Brit’s perspective

Road trippin’ with my two favorite allies

Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies

It’s time to leave this town, it’s time to steal away

Let’s go get lost anywhere in the USA

Let’s go get lost, let’s go get lost

Red Hot Chilli Peppers

One of my favourite types of holiday is a road trip in the US. To someone from a small island, the huge empty spaces and relatively quiet roads there evoke a sense of freedom and opportunity. Anything could happen here; anything could be just around the next corner.

Our first US road trip, in California, was a fabulous adventure and we were eager for more. Less than a year later we were back, this time to explore Florida. And over the following decade, the 1990s, we alternated US road trips with our other holidays. The frequency of our visits dropped after a while. This wasn’t because we had lost our enthusiasm, or run out of possibilities, but because there were so many other places we wanted to visit too. But still we went back to the US from time to time, and no doubt will do so again.

For Terri’s Sunday Stills challenge this week I’ve dug around in my deepest archives to find some photos from those early road trips, as well as some from rather more recent ones. The difference in quality will no doubt be obvious. And I should also perhaps apologise for the awful perm in some of them!

Where it all began: California, 1991

A two week trip starting and ending in Los Angeles. Our route took us up Highway 1 to San Francisco, inland to the Gold Country and Yosemite, across the Sierra Nevada and south to Joshua Tree and Palm Springs, before returning to the coast in San Diego and back up to LA.

Returning for more: Florida, 1992

We were hooked, as I said above, and couldn’t wait to return. Our second road trip was in February so we chose one of the warmer states, the Brit’s favourite of Florida. But not for Disneyworld! Our highlights were Key West and the Everglades and the must-see Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral); we were children of the space race after all!)

We can’t stay away: Arizona and Utah, 1993

Florida had been fun but we were feeling the lure of the American West, as so many had done before us. So our next trip was to Arizona and Utah, to visit some of the great National Parks. It was on that trip I became enamoured of the US parks system, and we’ve tried to include some on most of our subsequent trips. This was probably the trip where we tried to do too much, and I’d love to go back to Utah in particular to spend longer in the parks. But we managed a couple of nights on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, a briefer visit to the South and at least a bit of time in Utah’s wonderful parks, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion.

East coast discoveries: New England, 1995

We were aware that the New England states are favourites among visiting Brits so they were next on our list. But while we enjoyed the trip and found a few special places, this was possibly our least favourite tour. We’ve learned over the years that with the exception of New York City we tend to prefer the West and West Coast states. Still, we had a fun time here as everywhere. Highlights included Provincetown on Cape Cod, a detour to see Niagara Falls (I had been there decades ago on a memorable school trip and wanted to share the wonders with Chris) and a stay in Bar Harbor, exploring Acadia National Park. I was also thrilled to visit Louisa May Alcott’s home in Concord.

Back west: Oregon, 1997

Our next trip took us back out west to explore the state of Oregon with its spectacular coastline. We flew to Portland and drove down the coast, spending a night in several of the towns along the way. Other highlights were Crater Lake and a detour into northern California where we visited Lassen Volcanic NP and spent a memorable evening at a July 4th party thrown by our B&B host, with a ringside view of the town’s fireworks. We explored some of inland Oregon and finished by following the Columbia River Gorge back to Portland.

And then east again: North Carolina and Virginia, 2000

Another chance for the East Coast to show us what it had! We found we preferred these more southern states to New England. We loved the Blue Mountains and enjoyed the engaging way in which history was presented at Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg. Seeing Kitty Hawke was another highlight but our best few days were spent staying in Ocracoke, an appealing little town at the southern tip of the barrier islands.

The Wild West: Wyoming, 2006

Time for more national parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone. And this time we did them justice with a stay of several nights in each. We also stayed on a ranch near Cody and in a fabulous B&B in the Big Horn Mountains, visited the Devil’s Tower, and detoured into South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. You will notice that I have plenty of decent digital photos from this and later road trips.

The state that had it (almost) all: New Mexico, 2011

This has to be one of our favourite road trips because of the sheer variety in this state. It truly has something for everyone! We loved the landscapes, the pueblos, the art scene in Santa Fe and Taos, the old adobe churches, the alien encounters in Roswell! You can tell how much I loved it by the number of times I’ve posted about it.

Our most recent US adventure: Washington State, 2017

Our most recent road trip was another I’ve posted about extensively already, but I couldn’t leave it out. It was a chance to explore more national parks (Olympia, Mount Rainier, North Cascades) and enjoy the beautiful coastline and the offshore islands of the San Juans. We also enjoyed our time in Seattle.   

Thank you Terri for the excuse to wallow in the nostalgic memories of past US road trips. We’re talking about the possibility of another one next year, so watch this space!

59 Comments

  • rkrontheroad

    All great choices! There are so many interesting places for a U.S. road trip if you return. Southern Utah has spectacular national parks, great for hiking and photography. And of course, I’m partial to the Colorado mountains. It was a choice to live here. If you have enough time, you could do both on the same trip.

  • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter

    We did this too for about 10 years, 3 weeks every year in the US or Canada. Always centred around one or more NP. we didn’t try to go too far though, staying at least two or three, and often more nights, in each place so that we saw more and didn’t have too many long driving days. The very best has to be Southern Utah, with so many parks both state and National. I would love to go back there, but with all that is going on in the US I feel reluctant to visit and if we cross the Atlantic again it will probably be to Canada.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I know what you mean about the US but I think we’ll probably go back regardless, although I’d also like to do the Maritime Provinces in Canada. I assume you’ve been to British Columbia? If not, highly recommended!

      • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter

        Yes, BC was the very first place we ever went in Canada. I’d like to go back to explore more of Vancouver Island, thanks to several bloggers based there describing it so wonderfully (we only went for the day to visit Butchart Gardens). In the Maritimes we’ve been to Nova Scotia and enjoyed it (also a bit of PEI to satisfy the Anne of Green Gables fan, but not yet New Brunswick). I would also like to visit Newfoundland and Labrador sometime.

        • Sarah Wilkie

          Yes, Vancouver Island is wonderful and deserves a week if you do go back that way. I loved seeing the orcas from Telegraph Cove and Grey Whales from Tofino. PEI and Green Gables would be a must for me if we manage to get to that area!

  • leightontravels

    A fantastic collection of memories, Sarah. A US road trip is sadly something we will (most likely) be unable to do as neither one us drives. Unless we find someone willing to ferry us around. If I were able to do it, however, California would be top of my list. Then, Utah and Arizona. US national parks must be glorious. All of my visits and I’ve never visited a national park. One of my fondest memories is touring the bridges of Madison County.

  • Amy

    Fabulous trips, Sarah! Thanks for sharing your travel memories. How cool to travel around the US, these are great places to visit. I bet it’s fun to choose from your archives.

  • Teresa

    Wow, you have been so many times! I have just been to the LA side of the US, you inspired me to plan on going to the other places.

  • Tracey

    Great collection! We are planning a similar CA road trip for this fall. Loved seeing the old photos. You know, those “Mom shorts” and t-shirts are back in style again (I think/hope! So practical and comfy for travel).

  • rosalieann37

    I love a good road trip, but with someone else driving so I can take photos. After we retired, we cruised on our boat for a couple of years and then we would leave home and drove south each winter. I was trying to see where our paths might have crossed, but we were in California and Key West in the 60s and Boston in 1970. You spent more time in Arizona and New Mexico than I did although I went to Carlsbad in 1948. In 1994 I had a work trip to Seattle. In 2010 I took a grandson to Yellowstone. I have not yet been able to get to Oregon and I’ve never been to Niagra Falls. The closest I came was NC in 2000 – we started down the intercoastal in our boat for the first time in November 2000. But I think your trip was in the summer. We visited some of the places in your photos on our honeymoon in 1959.and we went to Williamsburg when we lived in Norfolk in 1962-63. We didn’t go to Ocracoke until 2004.

  • margaret21

    Wow, road tripping is probably the way to go in America – my son and daughter-in-law would agree with you. I struggle to see why sitting in a car for hours on end would be fun, though I can see that the possibility to stop off where and when you want could be a motivation.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      It’s really the ONLY way to see America, outside of the cities. But we never sit in the car for hours on end! I reckon we rarely do so for more than one hour, as there’s always something to stop and photograph. We try to alternate a mainly driving day, with plenty of stops (typically a longer one morning and afternoon, plus those brief photo stops) and a mainly not driving day, sightseeing in a particular area. We average about 150 miles a day – many days shorter and a few longer ones but almost never over 200!

  • maristravels

    Forgot to say, loved the perm, thought it suited you. One of these days I’ll show you my ‘Gypsy boy’ haircut and my Keven Keegan perm – which came first, I’m not sure. And enjoy Chicago, one of my favourite cities even if they tried to downplay the gangster/mobster past when I was there and we had trouble finding the site of the Valentine’s Day Massace!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Haha, I think we all had some ‘interesting’ hairdos back in the day! Chicago is going to be fun. One of my VT friends who lives there is hosting and he has some great plans already. It should have happened in 2020 so we’ve had three years to look forward to it!

  • maristravels

    Hi Sarah, Lovely to catch up with you after such a long time, my fault I know, as I’ve been AWL. However, I may manage to creep back from next week as family visits have ended for the time being and the weather is cooler (but my need for deep reading hasn’t gone away, in fact it’s increased as I’ve given in to it for many a week now). Great to read of your road adventures. I haven’t travelled much in the USA, we spent the 80’s and 90’s mostly in Asia but didn’t drive there so ‘road-trips’ aren’t part of my travelling past. We did a fair bit in Canada but haven’t got the images to back the travels up. I’ll catch up again soon, now that I’m putting a foot back into WP.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Lovely to hear from you Mari, and no need to apologise 😘 We all have lives to lead outside blogging! Glad to see you back though – I always enjoy your posts, as you know. We’ve always alternated the US with other long haul destinations, and the frequency of our US trips has reduced as we’ve added more Asian, South (and Central) American and a few African places into the mix. We do like to mix it up as much as possible, while we still can!

  • wetanddustyroads

    But Sarah … you forgot to mention that a perm was one of the best styles a woman could have in the 80’s and 90’s 😄.
    I agree, road trips are probably one of our most fun holidays experiences … looking at your beautiful photos, I hope we can some day also experience such a trip in the USA (I love their National Parks and the open road). It’s fun to look back on such great holidays – thanks that you shared your memories from way back to recent years.

  • Anna

    I love looking at old photos… just so much nostalgia! Loved your boofy hair back then! Lol. My mum had the same style! Imagine if we wore our hair like that now? Lol

  • Heyjude

    Wow! You have certainly travelled a lot in the US. I agree that it has a lot to offer and the parks are amazing. Not sure I’ll ever do another road trip there unless I can persuade my daughter to do one with me in a year or so! Another BIG country which is fun to drive in is Australia.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Jude – I hope you can persuade your daughter to accompany you as road tripping there is such fun! We’ve driven a bit in Australia too, in the Northern Territory and around the Blue Mountains. We enjoyed it and it was good to be on the right, i.e. left, side of the road 😆 We also had a fantastic road trip in British Columbia – I was tempted to stretch the boundary I’d set myself here and include it, but I already had more than enough material!

      • Heyjude

        I’ve driven around BC too in the Vancouver area and Island. Loved it and I never minded driving on the right. Road trips are my favourite kind of holiday, even in the UK.

          • thehungrytravellers.blog

            Well you know where we stand on this one, having just made our USA road trip debut and had a fabulous time. Then again, we usually (as you know) stay on the move while on a trip and try and see as much as possible. California was fantastic (though eye watering expensive) and we will definitely be back for more American experiences. We may well come to you for advice when planning the next one.

          • Sarah Wilkie

            Yes, I was so pleased to see what a great time you had in California as we’d loved it there so much 🙂 Happy to advise about possible future itineraries at any time 😉

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Our early trips were just two weeks as that was all we could afford (and we had work-related time constraints too). Our two most recent ones, NM and WA, were three weeks, which was much better. It’s a dream to take even longer one day and drive Route 66, but we keep hesitating as we’ve seen quite long stretches of that route already, in AZ and NM. I’m coming to Chicago next year for a meeting of my Virtual Tourist travel friends, and we’re toying with the idea of tacking something on to that. Maybe that would be Rte 66 or maybe head south via Memphis to New Orleans? Or I might fly to meet up with my husband elsewhere in the country, maybe San Francisco to ‘do’ northern CA?

      • Mike and Kellye Hefner

        Yes, work and time constraints have been our problem too. Now if I could just get Mike to retire! Sounds like you have lots of choices for next year. We’ve also done parts of Route 66, but we’re doing the route from St. Louis to Amarillo in September. It will be a few hard days of off and on interstate driving but should be fun. Northern California was our plan for this year, but gasoline prices – over $7.00 per gallon – and other inflated costs prompted us to say on the ground and head east instead.

        • Sarah Wilkie

          Well that sounds like a great choice too! Is gas dearer in Northern California than around your way, or was it the cost of getting over there that was putting you off? Your prices now sound similar to the UK whereas they used to be much lower!

  • Rose

    Sarah, this was so nostalgic for me as I’ve been to these same places, but I live in the USA. It’s so neat how often you’ve been to the US. You wrote about many of my favorites – National Parks, space coast, canyons, Niagara Falls… I’ve put ‘looking over my old travel photos’ on my fun to-do list. 😊

    If you haven’t already seen them, The Giant Redwoods are inspiring. I agree with the other suggestions, if you liked North Carolina, you’ll like West Virginia.

    And if I may be so bold as to make a plea for my state – Minnesota is not often high on visitors lists, but the last few weeks here the weather has been utterly gorgeous. Things to see in Minneapolis/St. Paul include Minnehaha Falls/Walker Art Center/The Sculpture Gardens/The Conservatory/The Arboretum/The Science Museum/Tour the Capitol…, Duluth/Canal Park/Great Lakes Aquarium/North Shore Drive/Gooseberry Falls State Park/Grand Portage State Park…, Ely/The International Wolf Center/North American Bear Center, the middle of the state has tons of lakes, rivers, woods, state and local parks, history, farmland, and cute little towns with small tourist shops… And we’re right next to The Great Lakes, and Fabulous Canada. 😊

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Rose. Funny you should mention the giant redwoods – northern California is definitely on the short-list for our next road trip, filling in the gap between San Francisco and Oregon and spending more time in the former than we managed first time around. I’ve been enjoying your series of posts about your own state, as you know, and your long list of attractions above is food for thought 🙂

  • CliffClaven

    I was thinking that you had seen far more of the USA than I have, and yet every couple of paragraphs I was reminded of somewhere I had been. My first road trip was in Florida back in the 1970s, when Hertz gave me a car which – at first sight – looked as big as a London bus. The best trips were when the children were young: New England and Quebec one summer and, the best of all, a lazy spin around the Southwest from Albuquerque via Santa Fe, southern Colorado, Grand Canyon North Rim, Saint George UT and Las Vegas (perhaps surprisingly, a very kid-friendly destination) to Los Angeles. I like driving in the USA. Heck, I even like driving in New York City – it’s like driving in a movie!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      That Southwest trip sounds right up our street Michael, but without kids in tow 😆 We loved all of those places with the exception of Colorado which we’re yet to visit. Albuquerque made a particularly good impression on me, it seemed a very liveable city.

  • Terri Webster Schrandt

    Sarah, I LOVED wallowing with you in your archived road-trips! Your early adventures to Yosemite and through the backroads of Hwy 395 brought back years of find memories for me! I always loved the town of Bishop and Lee Vining is quaint too. Those gas prices, wow…long ago and far away! I just read Anne’s comment about W Virginia–definitely a place I would love to go, too! I’m glad you took back roads and visited the not-so-popular areas, like the grand Canyon’s north rim, Monument Valley, again as Anne said not the NYC and Vegas tourist traps! You are one smart traveler and road-tripper, Sarah! Next time to come to the PNW, visit Spokane and we’ll host you for a few days! Always a pleasure to see your stunning photos, perms and all 😉

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Terri 😊 I’m so glad you liked this! And if ever we’re near Spokane I’ll take you up on that offer, it would be so nice to meet up with you 🙂

  • Annie Berger

    VERY impressed at how often you’ve traveled to the US and also the depth to which you explored this vast country. I can’t tell you the number of times Steven and I encourage Europeans to get off the NYC, LA and Las Vegas bandwagon and especially recommend Utah, a state few Brits seem to know much if anything about. Not even sure if most Americans know there are more national parks in that one comparatively small state than anywhere else in the nation. As I’ve mentioned before, though we live in neighboring Colorado, New Mexico is not yet a state we’ve explored in depth. Is it because it’s so close and we can leave it to another time? Possibly. IF you’re looking for another ‘undiscovered’ state, my recommendation would be West Virginia. We were absolutely blown away by our visits there in 2020 and 2021. Hope to visit Alaska, our 50th state, in the next year.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Haha, your attitude to New Mexico is much the same as ours to the UK. We always said we’d leave that until we were too old to travel far, but Covid forced us to have a rethink! But we’re keen now to get back to exploring further afield as much as possible, and that will definitely at some point include the US. Alaska is on my wish-list for sure, and I’ll be coming to Chicago next September I hope, but that’s not a road trip – however we may tack something on! Thanks for the West Virginia suggestion, I’ll bear it in mind 🙂

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