How to Take a Road Trip Across the U.S. Without Leaving Your Couch
"It is the Great American Road Trip, done virtually."
Back in 2017, Matthew Muspratt decided to go on a great American road trip. There was only one drawback: He was working in Kigali, Rwanda. So, Muspratt took a road less traveled by clicking on Google Street View to explore the U.S.
According to his story in The Boston Globe, he began in the easternmost states, starting in West Quoddy Head, Maine, and worked west across the mainland, click by click, in continuous, unbroken movement.
“Petabytes of Google imagery later, I found myself halfway across the country with a journal full of small-town historical anecdotes and screenshots of the open road. It is the Great American Road Trip, done virtually,” Muspratt wrote.
Muspratt wrote that his project, Across the USA on 1 Gigabyte A Day, was inspired by some “mild homesickness.” He was working as a lawyer on microfinance and legal aid projects, and he had grown dissatisfied with random video calls home and clips from American news cycles.
“I needed doses of the America I hoped still existed, of less angst, more commonality,” he wrote.
In order to make his trip worthwhile, Muspratt set one big rule for himself. First, he couldn’t breeze through the "fly-over states." His trip, all in all, covered some 3,700 miles, so he discovered some interesting facts about the country that many people may not realize.
“One thing I found in abundance: self-storage facilities...certainly no other structure type — rows and rows of gray units with bright, metal roll-up doors — repeats more often on my laptop,” he wrote. He also used Wikipedia to supplement some of his travels, learning a little more about what he saw in Street View than just what was presented in front of him.
“Even the smallest towns in the most middle America often betray something larger. Swedish flags in Bishop Hill, Illinois, tipped me off to a significant early Scandinavian immigrant colony,” he wrote.
But he also saw parts of America that were less pleasant. “Vacant and derelict buildings are endemic; inequality runs visibly rampant. From rural Maine to the Rust Belt’s heartland and west, I cannot click but minutes without encountering an abandoned home or gutted Main Street,” wrote Muspratt. He read books to gain a deeper understanding of this “Trump-American” landscape, as he called it.
“I would never argue Street View travel is 'just like being there' or as eye-opening as engaging real humans of opposite political and geo-economic circumstance. But I have never read or streamed anything online that did a better job of showing me America with nuance and perspective,” he wrote.
On his project website, Muspratt has more writings on what he saw, from the country’s oldest movie theater to the unexpected natural wonders of Wyoming. Each of his blogs touches on fascinating small-town anecdotes and reflects on national truths, both good and bad. Muspratt said, in the end, his “trip” taught him that in an age of angst-driven news cycles and divisive social media, the internet can still deliver nuance and perspective.
Muspratt’s entire trip is documented on his project website, Across the USA on 1 Gigabyte A Day.