The summer of 2012. My journey through the U.S. National Parks honed my intuition as a traveler.
Initially, this trip seemed unattainable.
Back in 2012, I was living my dream. I worked in the music industry, which had been my childhood dream and had a comfortable life with great friends. However, I knew I needed to take a break from my career, even though I loved my job.
It’s a long story, but let’s just say it was the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
After I made my decision to leave my job, I had dinner with my friend and her boss, who ran an indie record label in Japan. I had been helping them occasionally as a graphic and web designer.
When I told them about my plans to quit my job, they invited me to join them at Warped Tour* in California. *The largest punk rock festival in the U.S., held annually from 1995 to 2019.
As a person who often trusts my intuition, I immediately said “Yes!”, then I bought my flight tickets a few days later.
I thought, “Since I’m going to California, I might want to explore the Grand Circle (U.S. national parks in Arizona and Utah), too!”
So, I booked my return flight for one week later, even though I didn’t have any concrete plans yet.
I’ve visited 36 states now, so I’m a bit familiar with the U.S., but back then I had never visited the U.S. mainland. My only “American” experiences were in Hawaii and Guam. So basically, I didn’t know anything about the U.S. at the time.
My driver’s license was only used as an ID. Who needs to drive a car in Tokyo? We have the best public transportation in the world! (Yep, self-defense mode is on! Sorry!)
If you’ve never driven in your home country, how are you supposed to drive in the U.S.?
Today, you can find many resources for travel research using social media, Google, or even AI. However, back in 2012, the situation was a bit different. You had to call or write an email to contact businesses through their websites, which were often 20 years old and never updated. You also had to wonder if the businesses were still in business.
I did my research and sent emails to some local travel agencies and shuttle services in my poor English.
“Hello, I’d like to travel around the Grand Circle alone, but I can’t drive. I’m wondering if I can use your shuttle service or hire a driver for a week, and how much it would cost. Thank you.”
Within a few days, I received responses from five companies.
Three of them said “Unfortunately, we can’t help you with your request.” The other two offered me expensive estimates that were not realistic for me.
Just as I was starting to think that “Okay… I guess my idea was unfeasible. Maybe I’ll just stay in LA for the rest of the week,” I attended a party with a friend.
When we arrived at the venue, there were over 50 people there, and it was so crowded that we could barely walk around.
We finally made it to the drink counter, grabbed a drink, and started talking to someone next to us.
The person said, “I’m traveling to the U.S. next month for my summer vacation! Have you ever heard of the Grand Circle?”
I was surprised and said, “Wait, did you say next month? When exactly?” and explained that I had almost given up on my plan.
Then the person explained their plans, which they had been planning for months.
The plans sounded great because they covered all the places I wanted to visit. Surprisingly, the dates were almost the same as mine, too.
I was shocked and speechless. I thought to myself “What is going on here?”.
Then the person said, “I’ve already booked the rental car and hotels. If you’re interested, would you like to join me? I’ll drive, so you can relax and enjoy the view. It would also help me out, since we can split the travel costs!”
My intuition told me to say “Yes!”, but I had only talked to the person for 10 minutes and knew nothing about them.
They were a complete stranger to me, and I was a complete stranger to them.
We were just two strangers who wanted to travel to the same place at the same time and happened to meet at a party.
That was all the information I had to make a decision about whether or not to join them on a week-long road trip around the U.S. national parks.
Usually I trust my intuition, but I couldn’t decide on that day.
A few days later, I had lunch with the person, and we got to know each other better. We revealed our backgrounds, and we decided to become Grand Circle travel buddies for a week.
We were from different countries, races, and genders, we were complete strangers, but we were now travel partners.
We had one shared purpose: to explore the Grand Circle. Besides that, we seemed to have almost nothing in common.
It will be an unknown journey, but it could also be an exciting one.
To be continued…