Great Southern Journey from L.A to New York

Along the way, you get to taste the incredible scenes of USA from cities to deserts plains and from coast to high lands.

A taste of US: Los Angeles to New York

I can’t believe that it has been over a decade since I first visited America. When you think of blockbuster movies, famous country singers, actors and actress, America comes into mind. Known as one of the most powerful and greatest country in the world, makes America one of those countries you want to visit. My childhood dream was to visit America one day to some of the famous iconic places: – Hollywood Walk of Fame, New York, Disneyland, Graceland, Elvis Presley’s hometown and many more.

It was early in September 2005, I set off for my first summer trip and I chose to spend three weeks exploring America on a road trip from Los Angeles to New York. I took a Grand Southern tour road trip from Los Angeles to New York with Contiki. Contiki is a specialist tour company that caters from 18-35 age group only. Since visiting America for the first time, I went on this three weeks tour to see America as much as possible in that short period of time. I must admit, what a thrill it was to be part of that exciting adventure. It was fun, exciting and loved every minute of it.

“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.

After much preparation and not knowing what to expect, I boarded my flight out of Cairns, Australia just after midnight to Los Angeles with short stop-over in Guam and Hawaii. We  landed in Los Angeles in the early hours of the morning. I never been to Los Angeles, America. It was all new to me. I thought to myself, I am going to enjoy exploring America on this tour.

After landing in Los Angeles and going through normal custom process, I was hit hard as soon as I stepped out of the terminal. My first real taste of what big cities are like in America. I began to feel the nerves running through my spine. I was totally blown away with everything around me. I was in a different country, with so many people. It was crowded, busy and hectic with different road rules and directions. I felt like I was watching a movie in an outdoor theatre. After absorbing everything around me, I eventually got a taxi to my accommodation, located in Anaheim, Orange County not far from Disneyland and other attractions. I went three days earlier prior to my road trip tour to see and explore few places around the area.

Aboard the Coach

The evening before the beginning of the tour, I met with my brand new Contiki family for the next three weeks at the motel’s bar for introduction. Here, I met my other travellers, room mate, tour guide and driver. To comply with the legalities of the tour agent, I had to surrender my passport to my tour guide and filled out few documents for traveling purposes. It was a great evening with lots of laughter and “get to know each other” atmosphere.

Finally, I boarded the coach on my anticipated three weeks road trip starting from Los Angeles and ending in New York, known as the Big Apple. Yes, over the course of 21 days, we began our trip in Orange County, Los Angeles venturing across America covering over twenty States and finishing up my journey in New York. I spend five days alone there after the tour before flying back to Los Angeles for another five days before flying home to Australia. With so much to do and see during the trip, it was a bit overwhelming but it was a wonderful tour filled with beauty and adventure. This journey, not only provided me with variety of optional activities to enjoy but given me great sights to see some of the American’s most iconic buildings, monuments, landmarks, cities, famous people and history. The atmosphere of travelling to all this various places was more than just exciting.

On 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. What a thrilling welcome to Las Vegas. I certainly indulged myself into “vegas-lifestyle” and what Vegas does best for its visitors. Las Vegas is place where they want their visitors to stay longer and spend more. They have endless places to entertain their visitors from choices of casinos, live shows, water-display, downtown entertainment, Fremont Street light shows and the night life. As the locals say, what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas. You can’t leave Vegas without visiting some of the major attractions in the area. I had the chance of visiting the downtown and my favourite place – Fremont Street, where it displayed its super impressive lights and laser show. Took time to see the Elvis Presley impersonators for a wedding ceremony and many other attractions before hitting the town and many times called the sin-city style. This was certainly my first taste of real California lifestyle and what a great way to kick of my grand tour of USA in style.

Grand Canyon: Helicopter Flight and Hike

From the bright lights and impressive sights of Las Vegas, we then went across the desert of Nevada and headed into Arizona’s high country, where I had time to recuperate on the coach, just kicking back, relaxing and absorbing the surroundings as I enjoyed the ride along the way. We then stopped at the famous Route 66 for souvenir hunt in this old historical town and Selgiman. You may know Route 66 from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” but this 2,400 mile stretch of road from Chicago to Santa Monica isn’t just one of American’s oldest and most famous highways. It is an adventure down memory lane, transporting its visitors to a bygone era of drive-ins and neon lights. From there, we continued our journey to famous Grand Canyon, arriving just before dark and in time to check into our cabin. The following day, I wasn’t prepared of what I was about to see and expected. It was certainly a mind blowing encounter to see this incredible and stunning landscape of the Grand Canyon. This place is one of the world’s 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 this natural wonders of the world. It certainly gave me the comfort that tomorrow promises to be a day to remember. Without hesitation, I took a helicopter flight over Grand Canyon. It is truly an amazing experience, looking down at this greatest natural landscape formation from above totally gave me a different perspective. To make this place more memorable to me, I hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and the feeling to be part of the wilderness will always linger. What an unforgettable experience and was beyond my imagination. I must say, by far, this was the spot spine tingling experience I ever had.

Navajo Nation: Monument Valley

Grand Canyon was undoubtedly, one of the most difficult place to leave, even though I was in the early stages of my road trip but it was time to enter the wild, wild west. From the breathtaking views of Grand Canyon, we headed northwest to Utah’s Monument Valley – part of the Navajo Nation. What an another amazing place this is. Monument Valley is probably the most iconic destination in the American Southwest, after the Grand Canyon. It is perhaps the most famous example of the classic American West landscape. In the Navajo Nation on the border of Arizona and Utah, the valley has been the backdrop for many movies and advertisements, ranging from Marlboro cigarette ads to the films of John Ford to Back to the Future 3 and Forrest Gump. The best part for me was driving in Monument Valley. It was one of my all-time favourite adventures in the American Southwest. It was interesting to learn the history of the native American Indian people and their way of life from the Navajo tribe.

Durango: Jeep Ride

From Navajo Nation, we continued west to the state of Colorado and into Colorado’s adventure capital – Durango. Durango, is an old mining town, where terrain is rugged, the trees are abundant and it is a great place to head out and explore the place, especially the sunset scene. Adventure travel always been part of my travels as I find it more exciting and fun. Here in Durango, I took an adventurous rough jeep ride up the steep mountains and along the way, we were constantly greeted by the ever changing colours of the native trees foliage. I found Durango is the way of life for great outdoors, a place where you keep your adrenaline pumping. It certainly worked for me.

Albuquerque: Hot-Air Balloon Ride

We left the state of Colorado the following day and headed south to the state capital of New Mexico, Albuquerque. This state is famous for its sunbaked earthen brick buildings that stands out from the bright blue sky and also known for old historic town and beautiful mountain landscape. I have learnt that also it is home to the world famous international balloon fiesta. Each year, thousands or even millions of hot-air balloon enthusiastic come across the world to display their hot-air balloons with different shapes, colours and sizes that fills the sky. The scene was quite spectacular to witness. To join in the fun, I had to sacrifice myself to be out of before 4am and taken to the Albuquerque International Hot-Air Balloon Fiesta ride. Yes, it was time to soar high above Albuquerque and was totally speechless and what an incredible sight it was to witness from above. The most stunning part was witnessing the sunrise as it emerges over the mountains and shines it brightness onto our waiting faces. It was just glorious feeling and a great joy in enjoying the views. 

View from high above Hot-Air Balloon

Santa Fe, Amarillo and Dallas

After this thrilling experience, it was time to leave as we headed north-west 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 the town to see all the interesting styles of architecture and markets. The best of all was food-tasting, I get to taste different styles of regional food on offer. We continued our journey from Santa Fe to Amarillo, in the states of Texas. This is where I had the real taste of true Americana style, a place where eternal glory awaits for anyone that can finish a Texas size steak (gigantic Texan steak) in an hour or less. Just before sunrise, we left Amarillo early hours of the morning before sunrise and hit the road again to Dallas, Texas. Dallas is one of the places I wanted to see not only of the sporting icon Dallas Cowboys but where President Kennedy was killed. Whilst I was in the area, I had the chance to see the Dallas Cowboys games undercover rook. The stadium was electrifying and just unbelievable, an eye opener for me and probably I was watching what was around the stadium than watching the game. The following 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. The very place as I set my foot on, it was spooky and I could feel the shivers running down my spine and bone-chilling moments which totally made me very uncomfortable. It was thrilling to feel that you still feel the presence of what happened in the past even in present moments.

Memphis: Graceland and Martin Luther King site

The following day, we headed to Memphis, Tennessee passing through the states of Kanas and Arkansa. 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. The next day, I went on 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 following day, I visited one of my childhood idol, the late king of rock ‘n’ roll – 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 is truly a place where many or even million of visitors take a journey to pay respect. I had witnessed, 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.

New Orleans: French Quarter

The following day, we continued our road trip leaving the state of Tennessee, crossing the state of Mississippi and headed south to New Orleans in the state of Louisiana. When people think of New Orleans, French Quarter comes to mind. This place is where you experience the nightlife and it seems like there is no end to it. It is an amazing and exciting place where you never want to leave and enjoy the nightlife 24 hours a day. With a touch of luxury, I 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 the 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 my volume, no matter which night and enjoyed the night away. This is where I truly feel the real taste of New Orleans lifestyle and 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. 

From the exotic nightlife of French Quarter in New Orleans, we headed further to the west coast to Orlando, in the state of Florida. Orlando, 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 and now known as the Theme Park Capital of the World. The choice of visiting various attractions and activities to do is endless. Whatever you decide to do, it will be a ripper of a day. Whilst here visiting the place, I decided to spend most of my day visiting various theme parks from seaworld to animal world. What a thrill it was be having fun and never had a single day resting.

St Augustine and Savannah

After the action-pack and adrenaline rush moments in Orlando, the following day, we continued our journey up north along the west coast to the city of St Augustine. we spent two days there but sadly, I wasn’t feeling the best and spent most of the time in my hotel room. With the help of antibiotics, I felt much better, in time to explore the city of Savannah in the state of Georgia. This city sometimes referred to as “The Hostess City of the South”, Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia and has a long colourful history that attracts millions of visitors each year. Without too much strenuous activities I spent time doing lazy activities and exploring the parks which were absolutely beautiful.  

Savannah Parks

The following day, we continued our drive further north up the west coast where we spent a night Charleston in the state of South Carolina and a night in Raleigh in the state of North Carolina. After leaving Raleigh, we drove through the state of 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, Capitol Building, Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the view of the white house. During those days, my days were filled with action packed activities of education, yet I didn’t get enough of it. It was truly a fascinating city with so much to see and do.     

Washington DC

After spending an educational tour of the nation’s capital, it was time to leave the capital and headed to our final destination – New York City before making a stopover in Philadelphia, in the state of Pennsylvania and New Jersey . In Philly, we had the chance to visit the United States Mint Centre and had a 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, we all 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, a 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 took time to visit Central Park, Downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge to the 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.

New York

This action-packed road adventure that took me right across America was and will definitely be an experience that I will never forget. It has given me a great insight of this great country and taking this road trip meant life becomes a highway. It was tiring, hectic and many times exhausting, yet great way to see America.

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Papua New Guinean living in Cairns, Australia. Weekend getaway adventurer and Free-Independent-Traveller (FIT). Lover of unique and exotic travel experiences with a touch of luxury. Follow me to my travel world, brining you closer to your destination.

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