Backpacking through the United States is an experience unlike anything else in the world. For starters, there is something uniquely different about a country that was originally formed in a spirit of rebellion and independence – a spirit that is still fiercely alive in the hearts and minds of many of her citizens. However, heed just one piece of advice before you go: leave your politics at home and just enjoy the people you meet and places you see.
From a geographic standpoint, the United States encompasses the second-largest portion of North America at just over 3.7 million square miles. Nevertheless, keep in mind the country is divided into the contiguous and non-contiguous states. The 48 contiguous states span a landmass that runs east and west from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, and north and south between the Canadian and Mexican borders. Alaska and Hawaii compose the two non-contiguous states.
Most Europeans who travel to the US are astounded by the sheer size of the country. For example, where a typical Brit can drive from one end of the UK to the next in a day, it can take a week to drive from New York to California. And in between all of the cities and towns are plenty of wide-open spaces backpackers absolutely love.
The other thing to consider is the climate. The size of the United States means there are several different climates to think of. In the north-east for example, you'll experience a humid continental climate that features cool summers and cold winters. Down in the Deep South, you will experience a combination of subtropical and tropical climates with plenty of sunshine, high humidity, and violent summer storms. In the Midwest, a semiarid climate rules.
You could conceivably cover each of the four time zones in the US and experience six different climates along the way. Make sure to bring clothing appropriate to the regions you'll be visiting. If you want to pack as lightly as possible, plan to make your trip during the summer months between July and late September.
Meeting the People
One of the best things about backpacking across any country is meeting the people who live there. It is certainly no different in the States. As we mentioned in the first part of this series, many Europeans have false impressions of North Americans based solely media exposure. However, average Americans living in small mid-western towns are nothing like Hollywood celebrities.
You are likely to find people in the north-east and north-west regions to be very similar to Europeans, in terms of their overall outlook on life. However, in the southern and central parts of the country people are very different. You'll find that Americans are mostly welcoming to Europeans, always ready to engage in a pleasant conversation.
In part four of this series, we will talk about some of the things to see in your trip through the US. Stay tuned, fellow backpackers.