A Malaysian's guide to backpacking from coast to coast in the US

  • Americas
  • Sunday, 20 Jan 2019

Reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. — Photos: A.R. MOHAMED

Before I retired, I had toyed with the idea of backpacking from coast to coast through the United States. My trip would start from San Francisco on the west coast, heading south to New Orleans (Louisiana) and San Antonio (Texas), and then north towards Washington DC and New York, before ending my trip in Boston, Massachusetts.

The plan became a reality in 2017 in a month-long road trip by trains and buses, as well as self-drive.

The starting point of my backpacking trip was the idyllic city of San Francisco which gave me a good introduction to the US. I savoured this beautiful city with renowned landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, and also visited Chinatown and Fishermen’s Wharf with its never ending street shows. I got the impression that nobody seemed to be working in San Francisco, but actually, this city is the most important financial and technological centre of the US.

Moving around the country was a breeze with the help of long distance express buses and trains. That’s how I travelled to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, St Bernardino, Phoenix and Santa Fe before going down south to San Antonio and New Orleans. I then drove all the way to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam from Las Vegas.

Street musicians at San Antonio, Texas.

Each of these cities is special in their own way. New Orleans, for example, started as a French city with colonial architecture. It is also where jazz music was born.

Washington DC, New York and Boston had so much to offer that the two weeks I spent in the three cities quickly flew by. There were so many nice museums to check out in Washington DC, and they were all free for the public.

Despite the extensive subway network serving the city, I still had to walk around a lot to see historical monuments like The Capitol, Lincoln Memorial and White House.

I spent a lot of time in front of the White House just looking at people demonstrating and expressing their opinions.

In New York, I went to Ground Zero and Times Square, and rode on the subway.

I also roamed about the Ivy League campuses of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard in Boston.

Fitness buffs at Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

I learned a lot about the US from my journey. I met so many interesting people and observed how they lived their lives. The US is a big country with so much diversity – in its people, culture, food and language. Folks in the west coast seemed more relaxed with strangers while east coast people were more reserved.

Overall, I learned that Americans are helpful and the country has high standards when it comes to customer service. Also, as a senior person, I was offered some privileges in public facilities and received lots of assistance from many people during my holiday there.

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