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How Traveling Out West Blew the Mind of an East Coaster

A petition to travel more...

By: Matt Van Swol + Save to a List

I’m not a great photographer, I’m an even worse writer, but my heart loves to travel, take pictures, and tell people about it - so here it goes.

I’ve lived my entire life east of the Mississippi. All 22 years I’ve grown up with grassy green fields, abundant trees, mountains covered in beautiful evergreens. I’ve seen a hundred southern farms surrounded by ponds, rivers, and lakes. Forests so vast you could easily get lost in them and never find your way back. These sorts of sights are commonplace to all of us that have lived on this side of The Great River, yet to many Americans these places only exist in pictures.

That’s how my wanderlust started. I kept seeing these pictures of “open roads” that seemed as if they were going off into nowhere for hundreds and hundreds of miles with no cars in sight. I used to think these sorts of pictures were photo-shopped somehow…the cars were somehow edited out, the roads elongated, the scenery copy-and-pasted from some foreign land into this one. I was wrong. They exist.

I hopped on a plane to Arizona for the first time three weeks ago. I had seen the pictures, but as we all know, pictures never do justice to the feelings that grow while being present in a new place. I landed. It was overwhelming. Enormous mountains. Desert landscapes. No trees. No green grass. Huge rocks. Rolling dirt hills. No humidity. 100 degrees. I’ve traveled all over Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Canada, but Arizona felt like a different country. It felt like a new place, more so than all the other countries I’ve visited. It’s so different from what we East Coasters are used to, it’s almost overpowering. I distinctly remember walking to the parking garage after landing in Phoenix and being able to see, literally, hundreds of miles in every direction. There are too many trees, bushes, and buildings to be able to see like that over here. 

So for those of you who haven’t gone, you need to go. It’s a $200 roundtrip flight from ATL to Phoenix, less than that if you fly Frontier Airlines like I do. Get off work a little early on a Friday and GO. Don’t go out to eat, cut back on buying phone cases, games, beauty products, and go. I promise it will be worth it. You’ll look back on the pictures you took and you’ll remember reading this article that some random dude posted on the internet trying to get you to do something you already wanted to do (but needed a bit more motivation), and then you’ll thank yourself. Why? Because guess what? You have a story to tell. An adventure to share. Memories you will NEVER forget. Memories that didn’t exist before you went. Think about that…think about the trips you’ve taken, the mountains you stood on, the oceans you’ve swum in. NONE of those memories would exist if you hadn’t have gone. At most you’ve got 80 years left, maybe 90 if you’re lucky. Are you REALLY going to spend it in front of a computer screen? Are you REALLY going to spend it watching Netflix every day? Are you REALLY going to let other people and technology control your joy, your life, your attention?

In the words of my hero, Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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