For as long as I can remember, the USA has always occupied a little part of my heart. From the youngest of ages, American pop culture is so deeply embedded in our brains as a society, it means we are all, on some level, conditioned to feel a little bit at home there. But, for me, it felt as though it had been genetically installed.
When I first visited the States as a kid, I don’t remember much about it other than being shouted at by a man at an internet cafe (remember those things??) and that my parents and I were only really on that trip because we got a great deal on an NYC break shortly after 9/11..
I holidayed there a few times growing up but, the first real trip I took was to Los Angeles when I was 20. It was my first time abroad with a friend and without chaperones. It was only a short trip with no real substance to it, but, looking back, it was the trip that kick-started it all. I remember lying on the beach at Santa Monica thinking about how normal it felt to just be there, by the shore, feeling the heat of the sun on my skin and surrounded by the tones of an accent I’d only really been familiar with via a TV screen.
A year later, I moved to Orlando for the Summer, sending me down the most unexpected turn I could ever imagine. I think as both an expat and a tourist, it is clear you have fallen in love with a place when you relish in the most simplest and mundane of tasks. In this instance, my first trip to Walmart (on my 21st birthday..), my daily walk to work attempting to cross an 8-lane road in the most un-pedestrian friendly place in the country, and 2am visits to IHOP filled me with a joy that is quite literally insane.
Before I knew it, four months had passed and I was sitting in Las Vegas airport waiting to board my dreaded flight home. Usually when I’m on holidays, even when I’m having fun, I still feel very ready to leave by the end of it. But, not here. For the first time, I was feeling more like I was leaving home than returning to it, and not once since then have I ever left America without that same airport feeling.
As I contemplate a trip back to the States for my 2018 holiday plans, I ask myself, what is it about this country that draws me back, time and time again? Shouldn’t I be discovering new parts of the world I haven’t yet been to?
The truth is, I still to this day cannot pinpoint why it is is my favourite country to visit. There are lots of parallels between there and my own country. Both are filled with vast countryside and vibrant cities. But that can’t be it? Is it that I’ve just been programmed so strongly through pop culture to believe I belong there? I don’t know. But, I do know that I’m not the only Brit who feels this way. Almost everyone I have met seems unable to help themselves go back for more.
Of all the places I have travelled, even now, the excitement I have boarding a flight across the Atlantic still fills my heart like no other. I have a growing pride in stepping off the plane, walking through customs and presenting my passport filled with my old J1 permit and a multitude of short-stay entry stamps, excitedly preparing my explanation to the agent’s inevitable question of “so, you used to be a work abroad student here, Rebecca?”
What used to feel like an impossible trip to take, now feels as though every few months I unknowingly just find myself there – in Orlando, walking down the street of my ‘home’, in Austin, staying with my long-distance best friend or hanging out in New York, Seattle, Chicago.. They have all had a familiarity when I’ve arrived, despite having never been there. Each trip feels like I’m coming home to where I last left my heart.
Unlike a lot of countries I have visited, I have never once been led to the States as a last resort for a trip. For example, I found myself in Australia so I could easily access a working holiday visa, and then in Thailand as an excuse to get out of Australia.. But never once has America felt like anything but a first choice.
Now, I don’t plan to ever stay in the US forever. I love living in Manchester. I have a job I enjoy, friends and family who love me and essentially almost everything I really ‘need’. But sometimes, when I think of the warmth in my heart that I feel as I touch down on that foreign soil, I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like if I did..