Currently a manager at Sbarro, Chris Strub is a self-described “normal guy” who wanted to spend at least one night in the lower 48 states. Here’s how he made it happen:
Introduce yourself and your quest.
I’m a 29-year-old native New Yorker currently living in Greenville, South Carolina. As I grew up, I was constantly told I could “be whatever I wanted to be.” I sat at my college graduation listening to successful people offering vague advice, rife with buzzwords. But I’d never pigeonholed my career goal. Even though I’d had great jobs, I felt like I still had an open book in front of me. I didn’t want to be defined by my vocations – I wanted to be defined by my dreams.
Pushing the limits of social media through travel was my calling. So I decided to take a 90-day solo road trip around the lower 48 states, staying a night in every state.
Can you describe what you mean by “pushing the limits of social media”?
I wanted to change the way that people approach social media – to not just see it as an extension of themselves, but as a way to experience lives beyond their own. I wanted people to live a 90-day journey of their own through my eyes and my social media channels. In doing so, I wanted to inspire people to take a risk and embark of journeys of their own.
How did you use social media on your quest? What impact did it have?
I started by networking. For example, I used to work with Doug Schneider at a local newspaper in Binghamton. Doug is now an enterprise reporter at the Press-Gazette in Green Bay. He heard about my project through social media and was able to take a day to chronicle my day in Wisconsin in the newspaper, which was awesome. This happened in Montana and Alabama too. Media coverage helped my trip pick up a little bit of a following, which was pretty cool.
I also found that using local hashtags on Instagram and Twitter got me involved in conversations. For example, Greenville is well-known for the hashtag #yeahTHATgreenville, which I’ve come to love. Many businesses are socially savvy, so by interacting directly with businesses, I’d pick up followers through shout-outs and conversation.
Finally, I used my own hashtag, #TeamStrub, which I painted all over my car. Strangers shared photos of me just driving, and I gained followers that way.
What was it like to have support from so many strangers?
It feels awesome to have strangers cheering me on. That was maybe the best part of the whole trip. I set out with a goal of inspiring people and interacting with them, and in many ways, I achieved that goal.
What made you decide you were actually going to embark on this quest?
My “Okay, all in!” moment was Dec. 31, 2011, on my couch, alone, watching Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin with a bottle of champagne. My girlfriend and I had just broken up. With my future plans suddenly changed, rather than wallow in misery as I had during previous heartbreak, I wanted to go the complete opposite direction: I saw freedom and opportunity.
The trip became certain in the spring. My best friend convinced me to register for three half-marathons in Kentucky, Colorado, and Oregon, which would bookmark my trip around the country. Then, I finally got the courage to quit my job. Telling my boss was the single hardest part of preparing to leave. I was happy, respected, and I enjoyed my job—but I also knew I just had to go.
What were the costs associated with traveling to all lower 48 states?
I budgeted $13,500, and wound up spending $13,287. Here’s the breakdown:
$4,227 on lodging.
$2,077 on fuel (Las Vegas having the most expensive, Greenville the cheapest).
$2,685 on food.
The rest was spent on parking (metro areas are pricey!) and experiences. I wanted to experience once-in-a-lifetime things on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. I paid for a good seat at Wrigley Field. I paid to tee off on the Robert T. Jones golf trail in Alabama. I paid to participate in a wild pub crawl in Seattle — and then again in San Francisco. I did not want to regret missing out on something.
What memorable encounter stuck with you?
After a tough day and long drive, I found a cheap motel off the highway in Lincoln, Nebraska. I trudged to one of those pubs that accompanies a hotel, where the food was bad but the bartender was a sparkplug with an easygoing attitude who made great conversation.
An older woman sat down next to me, and told me she was from Thermopolis, Wyoming. She read the back of my t-shirt, where I had listed my stops like concert tour dates, and critiqued my travel plans: “How can you visit Wyoming without going to Yellowstone?” It was some of the best advice I’d received all summer, and a couple weeks later I ended up at the national park.
The woman left, and two Englishmen took her place. This piqued my interest: what the heck were they doing at a cheap hotel bar in Lincoln? The story unfolded over a couple drinks, as I hit it off with the English road-trippers.
For their first USA experience, they’d flown to LA and were driving to Chicago. As it turned out, one of the travelers was Joe White, aka MrFlyingPigHD, a passionate soccer fan with a significant YouTube following. We spoke a lot about the differences between football and football, dug into why we were each on our respective journeys, and compared cultures from our individual perspectives.
What surprised you on your quest?
Wyoming. Every state out west has great stories to tell, but Wyoming seemed to do the best job of expressing itself to travelers. I adored the Ames Monument, and arriving there was liberating. Literally out in the middle of nowhere, it is a monument dedicated to two brothers who were instrumental in completing the transcontinental railroad.
Plus, the towns I visited in Wyoming just felt like the perfect embodiment of America. I came across a block party in downtown Rawlins, which was a fundraiser for improvements to Rawlins High School. (I bought a RWS koozie to support the cause.) I met a naïve entrepreneur in Laramie who started his own adult-themed arcade, right on the main drag. He didn’t know much about business or finances, but he’d always dreamed of starting an arcade and so he did it. There was even “Little America,” a picturesque truck stop in Green River.
I think people’s perception of Wyoming needs to change. It’s in no way a “flyover” state.
What did we miss?
Don’t lose sight of the things that make you happy and healthy. I went through a ton of water in 90 days. Travel means you’re exposed to opportunities to eat, drink and be merry… everywhere. Every day felt like a Friday night, and it was near impossible to avoid overindulging when there was so much cool stuff around. Social media actually exacerbated those pressures: What do you mean you’re in (XXX) and you’re not eating (XXX)? people tweeted at me.
As terrific as it was to experience everything, I had to keep an eye on the bigger picture of my health. Signing up for the half-marathons throughout the trip was a great idea because it kept me accountable to my body — I couldn’t “let myself go,” per se.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start a quest of their own?
Once you do it, you’ll realize it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever done. Don’t miss out on that.
I want to go around the country again. One, or even seven, days in a state is not enough to get the full experience. I always felt like I was missing so much of what there was to see. Plus, I didn’t get to Alaska or Hawaii. I have unfinished business.