These last few days have been incredible stressful and emotional for many Americans, so to hear what Alexander Miles, an Australian, had to say about this country was balm to my soul. To see the beauty of the land that this nation was built on and to hear the affirming insights from a foreign traveler was a refresher for the love and hope I hold for America.
Enjoy a glimpse of Alexander and Lana's Great American Roadtrip where these two traveled, explored, and photographed the grand natural landscapes of the West.
Where are you from:
I was born in Sydney, Australia.
I've spent just as much time in Melbourne, Australia.
Where do you live:
I live in East London.
From someone on the outside what is the appeal of visiting America?
As a kid, I always thought the USA was like the wild-west. Fame, fortune, wild people and wild nature. Most of the media we consumed in Australia - especially growing up - has been centred on America. We are spoon-fed doses of Americana all our lives. As an adult, and having spent a lot of time in the USA, I realise that its part true and part fallacy. America is stunningly beautiful, complex and surprising. Anyone i've ever spoken to that've taken a trip in the states comes out of it enlightened and humbled by the people and the beauty of the nature.
What are the most iconic ideas/places/landmarks/narratives of "America" to the foreigner?
The great American Road Trip is something that almost every person I ever speak to states as the thing that they want to do. A rolling landscape of the road, dotted with weird and wonderful Americana. A lashing of the kitsch and miles of tired, weather-beaten signs advertising cheap gas or rooms.
I keep going back to the desert. There is a bleakness, a tiredness which I find really compelling. You can drive for days and at the end of your journey you can end up somewhere like Zion and you feel like you've landed on another planet. Incredibly rewarding as a foreigner to have the interplay of bleakness and the grand scale of the natural sights.
Also, not to be discounted are the people and places - those roadside truck stops with funny 'attractions' and museums. Diners always about the diners.
Where did you go on this trip?
We flew from NYC straight to Vegas. Picked up a convertible Mustang and hit the road - it is totally cliched, but we're from Australia, so we figured we had to do it. From there we drove through the deserts to Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Moab, finishing in the refreshingly green Colorado Rockies for a week.
Where all have you visited in the past?
Lots of California, highlights being Yosemite, Death Valley. Nevada, Utah, Colorado. A little bit of the east coast, NYC and Boston, basically. For me it seems like the bigger attractions are always more in the west.
What are some tips for navigating America if you aren't American?
Hire a car. There is no other way to see the USA other than by using a car. We were intimidated by the idea of driving on the 'wrong side' of the road, but it's a cinch and having the mobility meant we saw so much more.
Get out of the cities. For me the charm of the USA is in the nature, the small towns and the people who live out there.
Plan your trip and give yourself more time than you think you need. The place is damn big, and most great landmarks, national parks etc would need more than a single night to do it justice. We didn't do that last time. Lesson learned.
Try pretty much everything you can get your hands on - the variety of food you've got is staggering. S'mores! What a thing!
Biggest pet peeve about America:
Honestly? There isn't much. I'm trying to think of something?
Oh! Ah! I've got it! Outside of NYC more often than not you'll find the worst coffee in the universe. It's totally butchered. For the record, to be fair, any coffee is better than no coffee, but for an Australian it's always a bit of an adjustment to get used to the heavily filtered coffee. Or, worse yet, Starbucks!
Let's just chalk that down to cultural differences.
Biggest thrill of America:
The feeling of anticipation when arriving somewhere extremely grand like Yosemite, Death Valley or Monument Valley knowing that it's going to be good and then it's so much better (and bigger) than you expected. When you sit there, looking at these amazing sights, jaw hanging, quietly just taking it in. It's probably not the thrill you'd expect, but it is the one that sticks with you.
What makes America, America?
America has had a bad wrap for a long time and a lot of people still judge it harshly and unfairly today. It's a beautiful country, full of great people who are just finding their place in the world. It's far from perfect, but nowhere is.
I always think about a very sarcastic quote from a good friend of mine in LA who said when I mocked him and the USA prior to ever having visited: "You only hate us because we're number one!" I never really had much of a comeback for that and after having travelled through much of the USA, it was really apparent to me what he meant.
It's a damn good country.
To me, America being a country of 'more'. You want something? Well you can have more of whatever that thing is. You want a canyon? Well here's the biggest damn canyon in the world. You like steak? Well how about a huge, table sized t-bone? You want to buy absolutely everything organic shop in a vegan-friendly packaging with a soy latte and a kale salad? Welcome to WholeFoods!
You guys live large in pretty much every way, and it's pretty hard to fault the pleasure and charm of that way of life.
I'm inclined to agree with Alexander. America is a damn good country. Let's continue to uphold, appreciate, and fight for the beauty & values of America the Great.
You can catch more of Alexander and Lana's travels on Instagram.
Sit in awe as you watch their breathtaking timelapse of their journey through the desert.