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Discovering the Grand Southern Roadtrip from Los Angeles to New York
By i.c Golina

I can’t believe that, it has been almost 13 years ago since I first visited America. I did a Grand Southern tour on a road trip from Los Angeles to New York. What a thrill it was to be part of that exciting adventure. 

“Life on the road can get a little one-dimensional. I didn’t want to reach 40 and have to say all I’d done was look out the window of a tour bus and get drunk” – Bruce Dickinson

I finally obliged to write about this trip that took me right across America on a coach. It is certain that when taking this road trip, life becomes a highway. It was tiring but in fact, it was the Great Way To See America. I can still remember seeing America for the first time and I made sure that I caught a glimpse of every places during my road journey years ago. I have been so obsess over it ever since and been a frequent visitor to USA almost every two years. It has given me a great insight about various places in America, from vibrant city lights to desert cities. As I begin to write this travel journey, my mind goes back to the very time, as a child growing up in a very remote village in Papua New Guinea – My childhood biggest dream was to visit America. I had no idea how and when I was going to fulfil that dream and it was just unimaginable. I never thought in a million years, that childhood dream would become a reality to me one day. Many years later down the track, the tide has changed and this childhood dream of mine was about to take an unexpected turn which I never expected it. I took my first flight out of Cairns, Australia with Continental Airlines to Guam, Hawaii and finally to my destination, Los Angeles. After getting myself through the customs, I made my way out of the LA international terminal and caught a cab to my motel in Anaheim, Orange County, which was very close to Disneyland and all its attractions. I arrived a few days earlier prior to my coach tour as I wanted to see and explore places around the area.                                                                                                                 

Coach Tour Begins

Finally, I was on a route from Los Angeles to New York. The evening before my tour began, I met with my brand new Contiki family at the motel’s bar for introduction: (1) To meet other travellers, (2) To meet our tour guide,  (3) To meet our driver and finally (4) To meet our room partners. To comply with the legalities of the tour agent, we had to surrender our passports to our tour guide and filled out few documents for traveling purposes. For those who were travelling together, shared the room together while majority of the single travellers had to share with others which were already randomly allocated by our tour guide. It was a great evening with lots of laughter and “get to know each other” atmosphere.

Ready for my Contiki tour
Inside Contiki coach

As the tour started at 7:30am, we had to pack our luggage and be out before 6am to load the coach. The routes are carefully chosen by the Contiki Tours which strictly caters for 18-35 years old only. These includes the best overnight accommodations, highlights and experiences with plenty of optional activities to choose from. The route we have taken, that took us right across the continent from Los Angeles to New York city. Along the way, we ventured from California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Memphis Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Washington DC, Philadelphia and finally New York.

Sights, Atmosphere and Activities

Taking this journey not only provided me with variety of optional activities to enjoy but given me great sights to see some of the America’s most iconic Buildings, Famous Movie Moments, Statues, Monuments, museums, Landmarks, Cities, Famous People and History. I couldn’t stop snapping myself in front of some of this iconic places. The atmosphere of travelling to all this various places was more than just exciting. 

Our first leg of the journey begun with a drive through Southern California and the vast Mojave desert and  the cactus-scattered deserts of Los Angeles before we headed onwards into Las Vegas, Nevada in style. I certainly indulged myself into “Vegas-lifestyle” and what Vegas does best for its visitors: to see the casinos, live shows, Downtown, Fremont Street and the night life. As they say, what happens in Las Vegas, Stays in Las Vegas. I had the chance to visit the downtown, Fremont street where it displayed its super impressive lights and laser show, see the Elvis impersonators for a wedding ceremony and many other attractions before hitting the town, sin city style. This was certainly a great way to kick off our grand US tour in style. 


From the Las Vegas bright lights and sights, we then went through the desert of Nevada and headed into Arizona’s high country. Here we got time on the coach to kickback, relax, enjoy and absorb the surroundings as we ride along. We then stopped at the famous Route 66 for souvenir hunt in the old historical town so Seligman. From here, we continued to famous Grand Canyon, where I wasn’t prepared of what I was about to see and expected. It was certainly a mind blowing encounter to see this unforgettable landscape of the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon is one of the location in the world that is most recognisable natural wonders and the pride of Arizona. While spending few nights there, I took time to step outside and marvel at the endless starry skies just gave me the chills and contemplating on life, existence and immense size of the this natural wonders of the world. It certainly gave me the comfort that tomorrow promises to be a day to remember. The next day, I had the opportunity to take a helicopter flight over Grand Canyon which was an amazing experience, looking down from above and gives you a totally different perspective. I also took time to hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and the feeling to be part of the wilderness. What an unforgettable experience and was beyond my imagination. I must say, by far, this was the most spine tingling experience I ever had.  


 I must say, for me, this was undoubtedly, the most difficult place to leave – Grand Canyon, even though, it was in the early stages of my trip but it was time to enter the wild, wild west. From breathtaking, Grand Canyon, we headed onto Utah’s Monument Valley – part of the Navajo Nation. Here we jumped on a jeep ride that took us through the iconic backdrop of the desert, home to countless western movies have been filmed. It was a bumpy ride but it was something that I and including everyone didn’t regret, especially once we learned the history of the native American Indian people and their way of life from our Navajo tribe guide. 


From here, we headed on to Colorado’s adventure capital – Durango, an old mining town, where terrain is rugged, the trees are abundant and it is a great place to head out and explore the places, especially sunset scene. Here, I took an adventurous rough jeep ride up the steep mountains and through the snows. Along the way, we were constantly greeted by the changing colours of native trees foliage. Certainly, Durango is the way of life for great outdoors – a place where you keep your adrenaline pumping and it certainly did worked on me.

After leaving Durango, we entered New Mexico, the state where it is famous for its sunbaked earthen brick buildings that stands out from the bright blue sky. We entered Albuquerque, New Mexico where it is not only known for old historic town and beautiful mountain landscapes but also home to the world famous international balloon fiesta. Every year, thousands or even millions of people across the world come to display and witness their hot-air balloons in different shapes, colours and sizes in the sky. I was fortunate enough go on one of them in the early hours of the morning before the breaking of the sun. In the early hours of the morning around 4:00am, we took a trip to Albuquerque International Hot-Air Balloon Fiesta ride and it was time to soar above Albuquerque. I was totally speechless from what I saw from the sky. What a sight to witness everything from above. What a thrill it was for me in the early hours of the morning as the sun starts to emerge over the mountains and shines it brightness onto your waiting face. It was just glorious feeling and a great joy in enjoying the views high above the city. 


From Albuquerque, we headed to Santa Fe, a town with unique characters with the influences from Mexico, Spain and Native American culture. Santa Fe, is truly a melting gold pot of culture. Taking time to walk around town to see all the interesting styles of architecture, markets and best of all was tasting different styles of regional food on offer. After leaving Santa Fe, we head to Amarillo, where we had the taste of true Americana style. This is the place where eternal glory awaits for anyone that can finish a Texas size steak (gigantic Texan steak) in an hour or less. In the early hours of the morning, we left Amarillo and hit the road to Dallas, Texas. Here I had the chance to see the Dallas Cowboys games undercover roof. The stadium was electrifying and just unbelievable. The next day I had the chance to visit the Sixth Floor Museum and took the very road that President Kennedy took on the motorcade when he was assassinated in 1963. It was spooky to me, I could feel the shivers running down my spine and bone-chilling moments which totally made me very uncomfortable. It was something about it and I thought, it was time to leave the place. From there we headed to Memphis, Tennessee via Kanas and Arkansa state. We crossed the Mississippi river and into the musical mecca and BBQ capital of Memphis. Here, I could feel the vibes of blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll music from every corner. I then had a tour of the Lorraine motel (now the Civil Rights Museum), where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in broad day light back in 1968. My day ended with a visit to the Mud Island, Gibson guitar factory, the Orpheum Theatre and Beale Street to name a few. 


The next day, I visited one of my childhood icon and late king of rock ‘n’ roll icon Elvis Presley. I visited his former home, Graceland where I had the chance to get up close and personal with his many gold records and suits he had worn during his decorated career in music industry. Again, just like any other uneasy feeling places where JFK and Martin Luther King Jr assassinated, I felt the same, seeing the final resting place for the king of rock ‘n’ roll with eternal flames still burning. It was truly is a place where many or even million of visitors take a journey to pay respect. I had witness, visitors dressed in Elvis Presley look alike costumes and shed tears. From what I have seen and witnessed, it was an unremarkable feeling that his presence was never gone.

From Memphis, Tennessee, we then headed to the New Orleans, Louisiana, where we had to experience the nightlife of French Quarter. Here we took a night cruise down the Mississippi river for dinning experience on the old river paddle boat – where jazz and blues music entwined. The next day, I hit Bourbon street to have the taste of live music and bar culture that New Orleans has to offer. With the Caribbean and European fusion food, live and non-stop Jazz music from every turn, it was time to turn up your volume, no matter which night. This truly creates a vibe that is never too easy to walk away from it. There was something going on for everyone. It was something to remember in my lifetime. 


After leaving New Orleans, we headed to Orlando, Florida which was once a farming town but it has gone through transformation where it is one of the most visited place in the state of Florida. It is home to Walt Disney World, Sea world and many more theme parks and the choice of visiting places is never ending. Whatever you decide to do, it will be a ripper of a day. Here, I decided to visit the Seaworld theme park and explored Kennedy Space Centre. The next day, I did a tour of the Kennedy Space Centre, the home of NASA, where you will be able to see the space shuttle launch pad, the gigantic buildings that make up the centre and all the astronauts gear you could dream of. Also, you had the chance to see and touch some of the old pieces of rockets that have launched are been assembled together and old robots that have sent into space.


Whale show at Seaworld
Up close with the what show at Seaworld
Photo with the guard before entering the space launching site

After visiting this unimaginable creation of human intelligence to visit outside planet earth, we headed to St Augustine, Savannah, Georgia, South Carolina, Raleigh (North Carolina’s capital), Virginia and Maryland before hitting the nation’s capital – Washington DC. This place is the very core of USA’s political world and it is packed with museums, monuments and some of the most important history in the country. Since I was there for few days, I spent most of my time visiting few museums, Capital house, Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the view of the white house. During those days, my days were filled with action packed activities, yet I didn’t get enough of it. It is truly a fascinating city with so much to see and do.     


One of the museum I visited
View of the Capitol Building

After spending exciting days in nation’s capital, it was time to leave the capital and headed to our final destination – New York City before making a short stop in Philadelphia. In Philly, we had the chance to visit the United States Mint Centre and had tour of the area to see the sights before we headed for the brights of the Big Apple – New York. After settling in the bright lights of New York, everyone headed to a restaurant for our final dinner before we parted our own ways. The next day, it was time to do it on my own. New york, as renowned for its hustle and bustle and the city that never sleeps, I decided to explore the place more in depth and have the real taste of what New York has to offer. I certainly got the real thrill and feel of the powerhouse that is NYC.  I managed to visit Central Park, Downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge to Statue of Liberty. Cruising the harbour and seen the harbour lights of this great city reminded me how different parts of the world is so unique in its own way. The world is so vast and we had to travel to experience this different places and at the same time, it broadens our mind on many things, on many different levels.


This action-packed American road adventure was and will definitely be an experience that I will never forget. It has given me a great insight of this great country and an opportunity to write something about my experience.

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