Open TicketGo West, Young (Wo)Man!Stephanie Spitler

In case you were wondering why there was no Open Ticket last week, it’s because I was out hitting the open road (well, technically I was flying over some Plains states and then hitting the open road). I was following my own advice and taking a much-anticipated trip out west.

I’d been feeling very connected lately, and not in a good way. I realized that the better parts of my days were spent staring at some sort of screen (computer, phone, television), and I was obsessed with checking email and checking in online. I needed to get away from everything, including myself. To quote the Dixie Chicks, I needed wide open spaces. And that’s exactly what I got when I traded my Great Lake for some Rocky Mountains.

As I was packing, I started listing out the states I’ve been to, and realized my domestic travel has been very heavily East Coast: Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Nevada. So, I’ve been up and down the eastern seaboard, and out to Las Vegas, but I’ve never seen the “real” West. You know the one I mean, with buffalo and cowboys and grizzled old prospectors panning for gold. I wanted ghost towns and tumbleweed and that big sky I’d heard so much about.

From the time I saw my first western (or maybe it was watching all those Little House on the Prairie reruns. I know the show was set in Minnesota, but those were California hills those Ingalls girls were running down), I felt drawn to the West. Most of it was because of what I’d seen in movies and tv shows, sure, but the beautiful ruggedness of the landscape has always appealed to me. So, you may be wondering, how did the reality stack up to my romantic imaginings?

It was different from what I expected, but places always are. Some of it was better than I’d imagined. Hiking in the Rockies was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had; it combined all my favorite things about traveling. I was outside, in a different landscape than I’d ever seen before. I was in it, not just viewing it out of a window or on a screen. I could smell it and hear the wind rush through the trees in a sound that, oddly enough, reminded me of the ocean. I could feel my lungs gasping for air as I learned that hiking at 10,000 feet is very different from my normal sea-level walks. I saw trees for miles and sky forever.

But it wasn’t all communing with nature. I strolled down pedestrian malls and got a look at where some future Olympians train. I saw bicycles everywhere, on the street and in shops and raced a few feet in front of me by professionals usually found zipping along European roads. And I learned how to ring a mean cowbell. I found out that while it wasn’t quite culture shock, you could experience culture surprise right here in your very own country (no passport required).

The best part was that I unplugged for a week. No emails or blog checking. Aside from a few texts, I left my phone tucked away in my purse or suitcase. It’s nice to remind myself that my happiness doesn’t depend on instantly reading every status update or tweet.

But it’s also nice to plug back in and share my trip with you guys.

Where would you like to go to unplug?

Image via Shutterstock

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