An 18 Year Trip Around the U.S.
A look into a few major U.S. cities through the lens of a childhood spent moving around.
November 27, 2022
Imagine you could move to any town, any city—any place you wanted—and live there. Imagine that before you entered this world, you could design your ideal childhood by choosing the place you grew up in. Some people spend 18 years in the house they were born in, while others spend theirs moving around, each of which comes with its own set of challenges and influences who they become in different ways. While your childhood and where it is spent make you who you are, it is not oftentimes something we get to choose. Personally, mine was one of constant movement which taught me to adapt to new experiences and challenge my viewpoint as I learned from and befriended many different people.
Paradise. I think that one word perfectly sums up the place where I was born. The weather is perfect year-round, which seemed to boost the mood of all of its inhabitants. As someone who has since lived in colder climates, I’ve learned that darkness and low temperatures get into your head. My mother also tells me that my brother and I never got sick as children while living here. I only lived in this city when I was very young, but I got the chance to visit it for a soccer tournament when I was 13, which brought back some memories I didn’t even know I had. The beaches are incredible, and though many people would disagree, I found them to be even better than the Hawaii beaches I visited a year later. The sand of my childhood hometown was a light shade of tan, the bottom of the ocean by the shore was smooth and easy to walk on and the waves were the perfect height for diving under or floating over. San Diego, California is a gem, and it was the perfect place for me to start my life. While a city by the beach is not where I envision myself settling down, I hope that I get the chance to go back there to visit soon.
At the beginning of elementary school, things got chilly for the first time—but only in terms of the weather. I headed towards the Northeast to the city (or rather, a small town outside of the city) where I would spend my elementary school years. The winters were quite cold, but I have some of the best memories playing in the snow with my friends, and discovered that the holiday season is so much more magical with snow. Despite contrasting stereotypes, in my experience, everyone was welcoming, and I was lucky enough to evade traditional elementary school cliqueness. The small town created a strong sense of community, and I became very close to the people in my grade. The people that I met and the friendships that I formed in this city were truly unforgettable. My love of soccer grew when I played for the town team, and my coaches boosted my confidence in my abilities. Not only were the people in my school great, but I was also fortunate enough to receive a very strong education, as this city is known for valuing schooling. My teachers were very passionate, and I still remember how my fifth-grade teacher instilled assertiveness in me when she encouraged my quiet elementary-school self to “be bold.” This education gave me a solid foundation that I feel still benefits me to this day.
I miss some of the people in the places I used to call home, but they are only one phone call away. I have met lots of wonderful people, had lots of practice adjusting to new environments and experienced the excitement of moving to a new place and almost starting a new life. ”
Though I lived in a rural area, I visited downtown frequently, and I have fond memories of sightseeing in the city. I remember taking my first bite of clam chowder at a seafood restaurant and petting stingrays at the aquarium. It is a very historical area, so a lot of the houses are quite old but charming. I remember going on a field trip to the Rocky Woods where my class dressed as pilgrims, and we lived like them for a day. I can still recall the taste of the delicious food that we made, and I remember my first fishing experience. Spending a good portion of my childhood in Boston, Massachusetts allowed me to develop my first close friendships and learn about the history of the United States in the place where it occurred, but during the summer before sixth grade, it was time for a change.
Sixth grade was not an easy year. It seems most people look back on this time and laugh at their embarrassing middle-school self. But one year later, I met some of my favorite people, and I am still very close with many of them today. Rainy weather is a common occurrence here, and I attended many soccer practices where the downpour served as an ice cold shower which kept me cool while I was running. I enjoyed many nights curled up on my couch listening to the sound of rain hitting my windowsill. I spent many days downtown exploring the farmer’s markets and quirky coffee shops for which the city is well-known. I love road trips, and I found that I could drive to nearly anywhere in the state and enjoy a beautiful trip. I remember one time when I drove to the coast with one of my closest friends. We jammed out to Olivia Rodrigo songs the entire way, passing rolling hills, corn fields with cows and horses, heavily wooded green forests with deer and many different kinds of birds, and sparkling rivers. The nature and animal lover part of me fell in love with Portland, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, and I would like to live there again one day.
The summer after I finished high school, it was time to crank the heat up from rainy 60-degree weather to the humid 90s. In this new city, people seemed friendlier: everyone smiled more and held the door open. I received more compliments from strangers than ever before, and can tell you there is something so comforting about an old southern woman calling you “doll.” Though the southern hospitality was apparent, making friends here was more difficult than other places I’ve lived. While this is partly because I needed to come out of my shell more, and I was still trying to develop my personality, I think that the location did contribute to the difficulty a bit. I felt like friend groups were already established and I didn’t have much in common with my peers, who had all mostly grown up in the Austin area. The overall vibe and culture of the city is very different from Portland, from the way the roads are designed—you would never find cars racing past an 85 mile-per-hour speed limit sign in Portland, but speeding is quite common in this southern city—to the kind of food you’re most likely to find. I didn’t need friends to enjoy the best homemade tortillas I have ever had (the ones in Portland or Boston did not compare).
My 6-year-old eyes saw this scorching city first, but because I was fairly young, the memories from my first time living here aren’t too clear in my mind. I do, however, have very clear memories from when I was there last at the age of 19. Most clear are those of climbing into my car and burning my hands on the metal gear shift, learning my lesson that parking in the shade is an absolute must in Austin, Texas.
I am currently residing in Nashville, home to Vanderbilt. Of all the places I have lived in, Nashville has the best downtown, in my opinion. I love the look of the city and the excitement I feel while walking through it, and I don’t think that any pictures or description could ever do it justice. I enjoy the sound of little-known artists singing country music when I walk down Broadway. I could spend hours in the Gulch just admiring the architecture. When I’m downtown with friends, I find myself saying “I want to go in there” or “that looks so fun” about nearly every building that I pass. Also, after living in places where leaves were either green or dead, and temperatures stayed more consistent throughout the year, I appreciate the fact that Nashville has four beautiful seasons. I love the variety that different seasons bring, and watching the leaves change colors on the trees is magical. Though it doesn’t snow too often, it still gets cold in the winter, so I can wear sweaters and drink hot chocolate. I haven’t been here too long, but Nashville already feels like home.
While sometimes I wish I had spent my whole life in the same town with the same people, I am happy that I had these experiences. I miss some of the people in the places I used to call home, but they are only one phone call away. I have met lots of wonderful people, had lots of practice adjusting to new environments and experienced the excitement of moving to a new place and almost starting a new life.
If I were to pick a favorite place, I think I’d really be picking a favorite time in my life. I feel connected to the places where I have previously lived when I look back at pictures and am reminded of memories each is associated with. I feel nostalgic for Boston because it reminds me of when I was young and less in-tune with the harsh realities of life. When I think about Portland, I think about my friends: meeting each one of them for the first time and making many perfect moments with them. Austin reminds me of my family and my dog, who still live there today, and having blissful reunions with them after being away at college. Austin was too hot, Boston was too cold, and Portland was just right (for me at least). Whether you spent 18 years in the same community or in 18 different places, I hope that you learn from your experiences and take away all that you can. I know that if I ever move again, away from Nashville, I’ll be prepared, excited and ready to make that change.