My Beloved Brit and I love a good road trip. This summer it was America rather than England. It’s made me think about the many differences, and similarities, in traveling in the two countries.
At least from a road trip standpoint, Great Britain is the size of a postage stamp compared to the United States. In the UK, we can cover a great part of the country, east to west, north to south, in a relatively short period of time. The land mass of Great Britain almost covers the state of Florida with a bit of Georgia thrown in. England fits in New York State. Of course, this is a good thing, because the cost of English petrol compared to gas in the U.S. is more than twice as much (Bloomberg put the average American price per gallon at $3.69 compared to $8.25 per gallon UK in the second quarter of 2014)
This summer we drove across the Great Plains in the United Sates on our way west. The vastness of the grasslands driving for hours and hours is amazing. Not that we haven’t driven great distances through England, Scotland and Wales.
I have seen these open vistas in the Yorkshire Dales in England and on our way to Balmoral in Scotland, but never have I seen it go on for days and days like in the center of the United States.
Jet lag or car lag
The jet lag from the red-eye overnight to London from the U.S. is worse, I think, than the car-lag of driving through 3 time zones in 4 days. Although the car-lag is slower and more drawn out (and totally confusing on figuring out TV schedules each evening in a hotel room), I still prefer it to flying overnight in a seat the size of a high chair and waking up from an hour of sleep to start a new day.
But, still, it is pretty exciting coming in to Heathrow Airport as dawn breaks. It’s staying awake for the next 12 hours that’s the problem.
Hotels, pub rooms and inns
The many hotels we stay in while traveling in the United States tend to be of the chain variety. They are clean and predictable, if not a bit boring. My Beloved Brit likes it predictable with TV, internet and coffee maker in the room. And, of course, air-conditioning. Every once in a while I throw in a special, one of a kind hotel into our travel itinerary.
It’s always a risk. At Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park and Yellowstone at the Lake Inn it was a success. The Prince of Wales over the border in the Canada side of Glacier National Park, not so much. Although it was spectacular, the rooms were small and noisy with no amenities. Still, we saw a fox and a bear after dinner during our walk on the lawn, something you don’t often see at a Hampton Inn.
England is starting to catch up with this idea of predictable function, but the choices of standardized chains are less prevalent, so we tend to stay mostly at country inns and pubs when abroad.
Even in London, where you can now find some of the major American chains, they seem to have more of their own local neighborhood personality. And of course, as soon as we shy away from the metro areas in the UK, we are back to pubs and country inns.
Monumental vs. intimate
The trip this summer was all about the great sites of the northwest that we had never seen before…Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, the Badlands, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park.
The England we usually visit is more intimate in nature. Maybe it is just a size thing again, or what we tend to choose when we travel over there. But there seems to be a different sensibility.
Where the U.S. has rolling hills, massive mountains and sky that goes forever…
…I tend to think of England with winding paths, narrow roads edged by hedgerows and cozy cottages (once outside of London, of course).
But both countries seem to have large animals lazing in fields…
…and enough glorious scenery so that we never get bored with another road trip, no matter which country.
My Beloved Brit doesn’t call England “The Grey Country” for nothing.
In the United States, out west is known as Big Sky Country. The skies are HUGE and bright blue for the most part, at least on our trip.
Sometimes, but not often, those American skies were grey…
…but they soon brightened again.
Of course, the weather is always perfect to be out on the water, grey skies or not. My Beloved Brit can always find a boat for a swing around the pond whichever country we are in.
The Practical Points
Rest stops in America (except on the northeast corridor) all tend to follow a pattern with a state theme. In South Dakota it was teepees. In Wyoming, covered wagons.
And, at least out west, there were very few commercial rest stops like we see all the time in England.
The motor stops in England remind me more of what I used to see on the Northeast corridor of I-95 in the United States.
In either country, clothes get dirty, and there is no way you can pack enough for 4 weeks without doing wash. In the United States we are lucky enough to find coin operated laundry facilities in the chain hotels we stay at often enough that we don’t need to go out and hunt for a laundrette like we do in England. But laundry still gets done on the road. And in England, finding a laundrette in the village means getting to meet the residents and get a better sense of what the local culture is like.
As I mentioned before, the price of gas, although rising in the U.S., cannot compare to the high cost of petrol in England. Maybe it is because they don’t need to drive so far!
In both countries, something we notice over and over again, is that although there are cultural and regional idiosyncrasies peculiar to each local area…people are people. Certain areas do seem to have a population with their own personality traits that predominate and at times confound us. But really, we love meeting a variety of people on the road. And we are continually astounded by the diversity.
We still love traveling, and although at times, changing hotels every night and repacking luggage each morning can get tiresome, the positives still outweigh the negatives. And I am very happy that we can continue to explore both countries. It would be too hard to choose between the two.
So, happy summer and happy travels! I will take a brief holiday from the blog for the summer while I catch up on my painting in the studio.
Enjoy your holidays!