An opportunity to tour the US is one that no traveler should pass up. From New York skyscrapers to small town southern charm; from white-capped Rocky Mountains to the west coast’s sparkling shores, America is positively teeming with potential for great trips.
When approached with a certain mentality, however, US travel could offer something of a limited experience–especially for Americans who have never ventured beyond their own borders. The goal here, then, is to suggest another way of framing a trip across the US, from the lens of an American who appreciates the effort involved in making the most of a European journey.
Many travelers view their trips as an opportunity for expanding one’s cultural horizons. In the case of Europe, part of that expansion involves mastering the basic expressions and cultural norms of a particular country.
From afar, America seems to have a cultural uniformity not present in Europe, but such a conclusion is only skin deep. Most Americans can verify that our culture varies dramatically between locations in terms of values, pastimes, cuisine and even language. Exploring the differences between a Louisiana bayou town and upper Manhattan, for example, will reveal cultures and lifestyles adapted to unique (natural and man-made) environments.
When we travel out-of-state for vacation, many of us prefer to take the vacationer’s mindset: we tune-out to our surroundings, cast aside life’s worries, and focus on relaxation. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, especially if having a pleasurable time is all you expect from travel. However, those seeking to maximize their experience might consider–at least temporarily–discarding this “getaway” mentality.
Americans who carry such an attitude throughout their travels in Europe may be the reason that years ago, the term “Ugly American” arose. This unfortunate stereotype refers to the ethnocentrist pleasure seeker, who acts with little respect or regard for native culture. Such a traveler might complain about small inconveniences, or denigrate customs they don’t understand.They make little effort to communicate with local people and often move in packs, so as to be shielded from anything too unusual.
Things like the general lack of a language barrier, and a relatively uniform set of norms for body language make it easier for Americans vacationing in the US to focus purely on pleasure without coming across as rude. Most Americans can travel out-of-state and have their needs fulfilled, no local cultural familiarity required. The same cannot be said for many places in Europe, where natives expect American visitors to show at least a modicum of investment in their customs, language and heritage.
Generally, Americans on a US trip usually won’t have to manage the hurdle of foreign language and culture; that is, unless they make the effort to do so. I believe that the advantages gained by delving into a culture are enormous, no matter where one happens to travel. Differences are always present, and learning why they exist grants a greater appreciation for our core, human similarities. By maintaining a mindset of discovery and cultural openness, it’s possible to turn even an interstate trip into a growth experience.
If you’ve been on this planet for very long, chances are you’ve at some point gazed up into the starry night, and wondered what it might be like to visit a galaxy far, far away. Would everything seem maddeningly bizarre, you might’ve asked. Would air sink and water float? Would branches grow from leaves? Would natural structures bulge from the ground in shapes and colors unimaginable?
We’ll likely not see those precise examples of imagination, but luckily, the curious among us don’t have to wait for the invention of interstellar travel to explore nature’s greatest real oddities. Anyone seeking imagination-defying sights can find them–right here on planet Earth–you just have to know where to look.
Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
Tucked away in the Bolivian mountains lies Salar De Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. Once a prehistoric lake, the flat’s water dried up long ago, leaving a 4,000 square-foot basin coated with several feet of salt. When it rains, the basin turns from a bone-white desert into a mirror of brine. Traveling the flat at this time feels like walking among the clouds, as its reflective surface blends into the sky.
Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland
Vatnajökull is a massive glacier–Europe’s largest–covering over 8% of Iceland. In the summer, melting water carves a web of hollow halls through the ice. When the winter freeze arrives, visitors can tour winding, cavernous paths formed of water trapped in motion. Sunlight refracts through the ice’s curves and contours, creating an aquamarine illusion of frothy, flowing currents overhead.
Caño Cristales, Colombia
Known as the “Liquid Rainbow,” Caño Cristales is among the world’s most spectacular streams. From July to December, its waters take on an array of vibrant colors. Cool blues, vibrant greens and shades of red shimmer beneath the river’s surface. Its brilliant spectrum appears during the bloom of the Macarenia clavigera, an aquatic flower that grows only within Caño Cristales’ riverbeds.
Yuanyang Rice Terraces, China
2,500 years ago, the Hani people of China molded the Yuanyang countryside into a marvel of beauty and ingenuity. The mountainous environment made rice farming difficult, so the Hani sculpted thousands of terraced rice paddies out of the hills. Row upon row of small, pool-like paddies gently slope downward. Seen from afar, Yuanyang resembles a colossal, curvy staircase winding into the distance.
Socotra boasts perhaps the most alien environment known to humankind. Home to over 700 native species, the four-island archipelago is located 240 miles off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Socotra’s ecosystem has produced some of nature’s most striking creations. Chief among them is the dragon’s blood tree, which looks less like a tree than a combination cactus, mushroom, and sea anemone. The tree was named for its blood-red sap, which is prized by locals for its usefulness as a dye, as well as its medicinal purposes.
It’s possible that many of the universe’s amazing sights are closer to home than we may assume–so close, in fact, that all it takes to reach them is a plane ticket and a sense of adventure.
With more places abroad facilitating eco-friendly practices than ever before, traveling green has never been more doable. Nevertheless, when it comes to sustainability, not all locations are created equal. If you want to minimize your environmental footprint, support sustainable communities, and have the trip of a lifetime, it’s practical to keep several key factors in mind during your search for the perfect destination.
If you’re planning on thoroughly exploring a city while sparing the environmental cost of driving or taking a cab, you’ll want to do some background research on available methods of public transportation. Many cities offer relevant info through municipal websites, and travel forums can also shed light on possible options. Those feeling up to a bit of exercise might consider renting a bike or walking more than they otherwise might.
Luckily for green travelers, the cheapest places to stay are often the most eco-friendly. Camping is always a good choice, especially when the weather is mild. Hostels are also usually less impactful than full-fledged hotels. If all else fails, certain hotels emphasize sustainable energy and environmental standards.
Picturesque parks, clear lakes, or a few nice hiking trails make for ideal scenery, and great entertainment. Few things are more enjoyable than a summer morning swim, followed by a hike past rolling hills, ice-capped mountains, or gorgeous greenery. If you’re crazy about the outdoors, look for a place with plentiful choices for green recreation.
Some towns are spread out wide, making walking between accommodations and attractions difficult. In these cases, it may be best to find lodgings in an area where activities of interest are as concentrated as possible, as walking is an effective way to lower overall impact.
Supporting the local economy is a core component of green travel. Doing so could be difficult in cities with chains such as McDonalds or Subway far outnumbering unique restaurants, grocers, and local shops. Getting in touch with the culture of the area involves stepping beyond the familiar, so places where fast food isn’t the dominant food option are usually preferable.
Plastic continues to pile high in landfills across the globe; thankfully, recycling is also being adopted on a widespread scale. Many villages and small towns have implemented recycling programs. If you do end up somewhere with no recycling policy, bringing along reusable items can cut down on waste.
Green travel is about more than just packing light, or taking the bus when you can. Spending some time absorbed in the culture of an area is essentially what going green is all about; lessening your environmental impact is simply a way of preserving the beauty that surrounds a culture, and opening yourself to situations in which you may need to leave your comfortable bubble.
About Peter Jutro
Peter Jutro has a passion for travel and exploration, as well as cartography and the history of maps. Having traveled extensively over the past 50 years, Peter has had the opportunity to learn a great deal about people and the world as a whole. He is a firm believer in his wife Ellen’s adage that “the more you travel, the bigger the world gets.”
Whether traveling for business or pleasure, Peter Jutro is always excited about the opportunities that a new place and culture have to offer. Some of his fondest memories include his honeymoon in Switzerland, a country that has felt like a second home to his family, as well as a research trip to Central Siberia where he had the exciting opportunity to work with the Russians on environmental issues.
An intently curious individual, Peter Jutro is continually looking to explore what exists around the world. While he may be learning about a culture’s history, studying its environmental concerns, or he and his wife might be hiking and scuba diving in one of a number of countries for pleasure, Peter always appreciates how travel serves as a catalyst for education, personal growth, and developing friendships.
Biodiversity In The Florida Keys
Peter Jutro is currently in the process of writing a book about Lignumvitae Key, an island in the Florida Keys. He has been involved in research and in the preservation of this area since the early 1970’s. Dr. Jutro finds it an incredibly fascinating place for historical, political, and biological reasons. The Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve encompasses 7,000 acres of seagrass meadows, deep water channels, hard bottom communities, and mangrove wetlands. The island itself includes the last pristine lowland tropical forest remaining in the United States.
Berlin: A Family Connection
Of German-Jewish descent, Peter Jutro has an extremely personal connection to Berlin, the city from which his family emigrated to the United States. Just prior to World War II, his late father spent several months as a concentration camp prisoner in a Berlin suburb. Recently, Peter was excited to find a journal among his family’s historical documents; This journal had been written in by his father in 1939, and detailed life in the concentration camp. This inside look at the concentration camp, as well as the close personal connection with the author, makes this find a unique historical document. Peter is currently in the process of transcribing and translating the manuscript into English so that his father’s experiences can be broadly shared.
Peter Jutro dedicated more than 35 years to Federal service, serving in a variety of positions involved with Environmental Policy and National Security. Most recently, Dr. Jutro was Acting Associate EPA Administrator for Homeland Security. Before that, he was Deputy Director for Science and Policy and Director of the Washington office of EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center. This group is responsible for the research needed to provide the science and technology behind the EPA’s disaster mandates, which fall primarily in the areas of decontamination, water protection, risk assessment, and resilience. His earlier work in academia, on Congressional Staff, and with Federal Agencies, dealt largely with risk assessment, global climate change and biological diversity.