• Monica Smit

I lived in a minivan for a year

I am interviewing a woman who's telling me a story through her tears about her husband who had a heart attack minutes before a category 5 hurricane. While her and her two sons fight for their lives in the hallway, her beloved man lay lifeless on the kitchen floor. It took three days for his body to be moved due to the devastation. She found strength in herself she didn't know was there. She learnt the virtue of patience. She found a silver-lining. If she can...we all can!

In a typical American diner, I'm sipping my 4th cup of coffee. It smells like eggs, bacon, cinnamon and waffles. In front of me is a war hero, a politician, a husband and an incredible story. Not many men can say they've sent countless men to certain death out of necessity. He is road tripping on a motorbike with a tiny tent and a fresh footlong subway in his pocket everyday. He can afford a different experience...but this is what he loves.

In a tiny seaside village in Newfoundland, I am laughing over coffee and cake with a 96 year old woman, who's wit and mind is half her age. She's always lived here, she's never left and she doesn't regret it one bit. She tells me how the town has changed, how she used to walk 3 hours to go to the school dance. She tells me the good things in her life and the hard things. These stories let me see the past through the eyes of someone who truly knows. This is priceless.

I'm sitting in a board room filled with hospital directors and politicians, united to fight the opioid epidemic that has taken more lives than the Vietnam War. They are taking instructions from ME. I look around the room while butterflies inhabit my stomach...'how am I here, doing this?', 'can they tell I'm an amateur?', 'can they tell I'm nervous', 'Monica, put on your confident face...they don't know'. Me, little old me, gets to learn from people like this...how did I get so lucky?

These are the stories a traveling independent journalist who lives in a minivan gets to tell the world. I have hundreds of stories to share. My ears are open, my eyes are curious and my camera is on. North America, you have taught me so much.

I’ve been to over 20 National Parks. I’ve seen the earth twist, turn and flow into shapes that defy logic. I’ve seen trees bigger than my wildest dreams and root systems the size of houses. I’ve seen dramatic coastlines that took my breath away and roads that made me stop blinking...this is the life of a Aussie road tripping North America.

Me, the road, and my Kia minivan named Stella.

North America is an expensive place to travel. Hostels aren’t common and everything is far apart. There’s really only one way to do North American any justice without spending your inheritance. Buy a car, make it your home and hit the road.

On top of that, buy a gym membership to take showers…no.1 tip!

I started in Vancouver, Canada, went East to Newfoundland, South to Florida, West to California and finished up North to Seattle. I did a complete circle.

North America is the ONLY place where the climates can completely change 4 times within ONE hour of driving. I’m not kidding, there are places in Oregon and California you can drive through a slideshow of changing scenery.

I did the rim-to-rim hike in the Grand Canyon, which I call a ‘designer walk’. I was spoilt with rainbows and waterfalls in Yosemite, dramatic scenes in Zion, red valleys in Kings Canyon, ridiculous rock formations in Arches and Canyonlands. I drove through redwoods and overpasses with life-threatening drop-offs. I was intimidated by Mt Hood and stunned by the Pacific Coast sunsets.

I do have a favourite park though…Bryce. The paths are so well maintained, the rocks look like a fairy-tale book and the weather is erratic, giving you views of storms and lightning in the distance.

However, my favourite place overall is Newfoundland, Canada. If you have a chance to ever go there, please do. It’s like you’re in a completely different country and continent. Accents are charming, history is unique and the landscape is absolutely like nothing I’ve seen…and I’ve seen a lot.

The unique thing about USA is that every state has similarities in culture, but the differences are extreme also.

Maine is like a country of its own. I like their accents, which are completely different to the rest of USA. They give off a 'gentle Grandfather' vibe, probably because everyone there is old haha.

New Yorker will change your personality because you have to be pushy to get anywhere.

I loved driving South and being called ‘Ma’am’ and having the door opened for me. Australia is going to be a shock without these southern drawl gentlemen around. They love their guns. They’d sooner start a civil war than give them up. Members of the defence force, young and old, have my respect. All the ones I met had an air of respect and honour about them, and so did their families.

Florida is an enigma. On one hand, its very liberal but on the other, it's extremely conservative. Florida's most profitable industry is not tourist like one might think...it's criminals. They have the most prisons in Florida than any other state. They get paid to house prisoners from all over the country. I find it sad...when your economy depends on people making mistakes and being penalised, feels like bad karma to me.

New Mexican’s feel forgotten. Their natural beauty is underrated, and I agree. If you’re a history-buff, New Mexico is your destination.

Californian’s have an air of arrogance, they know their home is one of the nicest places in the country. They get ridiculed for their politics all over the country, but they don’t care. They’ll die before agreeing with a southerner about anything. They are proud of their bathrooms being multi-gender, but I don't see the big deal. They are separate bathrooms with their own mirror and sink...they aren't actual multi-gender bathroom stalls. However, they love them, so don't say anything.

Portland is progressive, but in a louder way. Everyone, at the same time, is on a mission to be completely unique which can come across as ‘try-hard’. I paid $20 USD for a small breakfast because it was in a trendy place. Far out…they smoke a lot of weed! They love their state so much; every stranger would willingly be my personal tour guide and remind me that Oregon has it ALL…beaches, rainforest, mountains and deserts…oh and lots of pot!

America has a bad reputation for being dangerous. I have been traveling solo as a 31-year-old female and I haven’t felt unsafe once. My only negative experience was when my car got broken into. Men have been really respectful and not forceful or sleazy. Women have been friendly and non-judgemental, and guess what…I didn’t get shot! If you stay away from the cities as much as possible and don’t be reckless, America is a very safe place.

I’ve loved my trip, but there are some things about North America I don’t admire. You might think the president and congress control this country, you’d be wrong!

This country is controlled by big industries; food, the FDA, law firms and insurance companies. They indirectly support each other in their heartless coup. They force-feed you the chemical-ridden food that makes you sick, sell you the drugs to fix the sickness, then sell you more drugs to fix the first drug’s side-affects. If pain persists, you can hire a lawyer to sue them, and then their insurance premium will go up. It’s a vicious cycle, and every American is involuntarily part of it.

Lawyers bait you with advertisements saying you could be a millionaire...it’s easy, just have an accident. People sue their neighbours trying to get 'easy' money. It has created an ambience of mistrust in the American community. When there are too many law suits, insurances go up and small businesses can’t afford to stay open. ‘Ma and Pa’ shops are almost a historic site here.

To stay healthy, you need will-power made of titanium. Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn, there’s an abundance of sugary, salty, deliciously-deadly snacks. Everyone knows type 2 diabetes is an epidemic created by unhealthy lifestyles. We all know it, but nothing changes. Sugar threatens your every bite, even when you try to beat it. Kids suffer the most from the poisonous invasion, they are purposefully uneducated. Remember, their business model depends entirely on keeping you and your kids sick!

In a country where water is more expensive than Coca-Cola, and fruit is more expensive than chocolate…there’s a problem!

I don’t think this is what the ‘American dream’ was meant to look like.

This is slow-acting, sugary, salty…MASS-MURDER!

On a softer note, I will say that I’m going to miss refill coffees. I’ll miss unlimited soup and salad at Olive Garden. I would stay there for hours charging everything and eating. I’ll miss the salad bars in the grocery stores and the high-priced items at Wholefoods.

Now my trip is coming to an end and I’m selling my car with everything included. I've written an article and made videos to promote it. You can see it here - https://www.monicasmit.com/post/2008-kia-sedona-road-trip-car-for-sale

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