Hello, it’s Yutaro.
I am an English learner. I am 30 now and started studying English at the age of 22.
The reason why I decided to learn English was because of today’s blog topic “I backpacked in the USA alone when I couldn’t even say a word in English” (aside from things like ‘hello’, ‘apples’, and ‘how are you?’).
I was 21 and reckless that I made the decision impulsively after I had heard some stories of my friends who had traveled all over the world.
In a nutshell, my smartphone got stolen, I had no one to talk to, and I was super homesick, so I decided to go back to Japan even though my journey wasn’t even halfway.
I know it sounds very lame and, indeed, I was ashamed and embarrassed, but without this experience, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
If you’re interested in this story, just go ahead and scroll down!
- Why Did I Decide to Backpack in the USA Alone without Knowing English!?
- The Story of My Backpacking in the USA
- This Trip Changed My Life
Why Did I Decide to Backpack in the USA Alone without Knowing English!?
The reason why I decided to do such a thing like this impulsively was that I was just influenced by my friends.
When I was working as a mover, I had many friends who were around my age. Most of them were university students or dreamers who were chasing something. The moving job pays you a great deal of money that only working on weekends allows you to save a lot of money even if you are a student. That’s why I had so many friends who had done traveling around the world or visited Thailand or India and stayed there for months.
I started this job when I was 18 and sometimes I had to work over 20 hours a day, 30 days straight. My life was literarily working and I was exhausted with my life.
Before the age of 21, I had never been that impulsive, but I always had this big urge to do something that I had never done. And when I talked to one of my friends, I just decided to do it.
Why the USA?
Because that was the only country I could think of for my first backpacking. Most of my friends had gone to Southeast Asia, so I wanted to do something different.
The Story of My Backpacking in the USA
Well, I decided to go backpacking in the USA but I didn’t know anything about it. I just told my boss that I would need 2 months off in August. I bought a 45 liters backpack, America and Canada travel books, a travel English phrasebook, and two plane tickets; one from Japan to Washington DC, the USA, and the other from Toronto, Canada to Japan.
The plan was to go to Washington, D.C. as the first destination, then, New York. But basically, I had no plans and just visit some of the other cities while I would go west for 45 days. I was also planning to enter Canada from Seattle and come back to Japan after Toronto.
I Cannot Go to Washington, D.C.!?
I wanted to arrive at Washington, D.C. airport in the morning, so I left Narita airport at 10 in the morning due to the flight hours and time difference between Japan and the USA. I was so excited that I ended up watching 3 English movies that I didn’t even understand.
After a long flight, I arrived at New York airport in order to change the flight going to Washington, D.C.. But, it was a very heavy rainy day and a storm was coming to Washington, D.C. that I was waiting at the departure gate in the New York airport for hours.
The departure time had been postponed so many times that even though I couldn’t understand the airport announcements, I knew it was not good and I was getting nervous and worried if the plan wouldn’t go as I had planned.
I probably was waiting for more than 3 hours at the gate and the crowd suddenly started buzzing after the last announcement. I saw the passenger information system and it said ‘Cancelled’. I had no idea what to do next, so I was just sitting and thinking…
I Decide to Go to New York Instead
I didn’t know how long I would wait before I’d leave for Washington, D.C., besides, I didn’t have any plans to do aside from looking at The White House, so I decided to get off at New York airport.
I was waiting in line at one of the counters to let them know that I would need to collect my luggage. When I got my turn, I tried to explain it with the phrasebook but the counter staff couldn’t understand anything.
I was just standing there for about a minute (tho I felt like an hour), a lady who was waiting in the different line raised her hand and said “I could speak Japanese”. She helped me to translate the message and my backpacking journey finally began. I still remember the scene vividly. She was in her late 20s or early 30s, Chinese-looking and she was so cool! Potentially, now that I think about it, she could be the reason why I wanted to learn English.
Sleep in a Park on My First Day!?
When I finally began my journey, it was already past 6 pm. I was looking for a cheap backpacker hostel for the first night in the USA.
Back in that time, the smartphone was not as smart as it is now, so I couldn’t use it without wifi. I was completely 100% relying on my America travel book since I couldn’t ask for a direction. In the book, there were quite a few hostels in Chelsea, Manhattan, so I was going for one of them. But I CANNOT find any of them.
I kept looking but it was already past 2 am. I was carrying a heavy backpack and walked over 30,000 steps. I gave up and decided to stay overnight in one of the parks in Manhattan, New York. My confidence was almost shattered.
While I was searching for the safest place in the park to sleep, I was told something by a scary-looking homeless. (He must have asked me for money but I couldn’t catch anything) I didn’t have credit cards and carried a bunch of cash for this adventure that I got this sudden overwhelming fear and started looking for a hostel again.
Get Rejected to Stay at a Hotel
I couldn’t afford to stay at a regular-class hotel during this trip because you never know what will happen, right!? Always, keep in mind to save money if you can. But I preferred to pay $300 on my first night, rather than being sacred surrounded by homeless people and unable to sleep on the bench.
The hotel was finally found, but I was rejected to stay because I had no credit cards with me. I was told to go to another hotel… That was unexpected because we, Japanese, rarely used credit cards in Japan, in fact, I had one credit card but I had never used it.
I was told the same thing in the next hotel but introduced to a hotel that would accept cash as a deposit. I arrived at the hotel at 3 in the morning and this front office lady was super kind. I wasn’t able to understand the authorization system but she used Google Translation and finally got my first good sleep after almost 2 days.
There are no 30-day passes
After my super hectic first day, everything went smooth and I enjoyed sightseeing in New York for the next 4 days. One thing I still regret is that I couldn’t have a chance to see a baseball game while Ichiro Suzuki was still in New York Yankees. I would’ve been in New York 5 days later if the storm hadn’t come to Washington, D.C., and could’ve made it to the game.
My second destination was Niagara Falls, so I was at the Greyhound bus terminal. I’d seen a 30-day pass for a very reasonable price in the America travel book, so I was going to buy it. But I was sent around among three counters for 3 hours due to my poor English proficiency. I was starting to feel anxious and uneasy that I was headed for Starbucks to use wifi. Unfortunately, I found out that the 30-day pass had been abandoned a few months before.
I just figured that I would have to save more money because all the ticket costs to Toronto from New York are 10 times more expensive than the 30-day pass.
By the way, Niagara falls were magnificent! If you have a chance, you definitely should go.
Atlanta is a Dangerous City
After I left Niagara falls, I was on a bus going to Atlanta. I was getting smooth with purchasing bus tickets already.
I arrived in Atlanta at midnight. Although I didn’t have any place to stay, I started walking to one of the motels I had found in the travel book. I was kind of getting some confidence back.
But this was a huge mistake. Shortly after I started walking, I was asked for something by a black man with one arm. I got scared and ran off. As soon as I escaped this man, another black man approached me and said something like this “Where do you wanna go? I will take you there in exchange for money” (I knew what he meant because he did some finger action). I ran off again but this dude kept following me for about 50 meters.
I was followed time after time being asked a similar question. But, somehow, I got to the motel and I enjoyed Atlanta. My takeaway here is not to wander around in Atlanta at midnight.
Half of My Butts is in the Air
I left Atlanta for Texas and this 10-hour bus trip was just hell.
Just because I was saving money on accommodation, I took a midnight bus that would arrive in Texas the next morning. In this way, I could not save only money but also more time for sightseeing, the only problem was not able to take shower.
I got on the bus and I was surprised when I saw a woman 3 times as big as me sitting in her and half of my seats. The bus was packed and there was nothing I could do but sit half of my ass in half of my seat.
That was fine the first half an hour, but the right side of my ass started hurting. I could stand the pain for another 2 hours, however, I was coming to an end. I almost stood up, then the bus stopped for the first toilet break, that saved my ass.
The fat lady went out for the bathroom. I, on the other hand, stayed since I couldn’t understand what that break was for and was afraid of the bus would leave me if I was in the bathroom. After about 10 minutes the fat lady came back with a big smile and two bags of Mcdonald’s in both hands. My journey of hell started again…
She was really nice to me even though I had absolutely zero idea what she was saying to me and she gave me a few fries. By the time my ass was hurting, she was starting to notice my suspicious activities such as standing up and comical movement of my ass.
After I suffered 3-hour pain in my ass, we were at the next gas station for the second toilet break. This time my bladder was having a little problem too, so I ran to the bathroom. When I came back to the bus quickly, I noticed that the fat lady was sitting on the other side of the bus seat and a little girl was sitting in my seat instead.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand what the fat lady had told me. But, apparently, the fat lady and the little girl are relatives and also there were a mother and a sister of the girl. The fat lady was holding a small girl on her lap so that they had made a space for a whole person for me.
I finally enjoyed my ride comfortably the last 3 hours and was thinking what a kind and amazing family they were. But now that I’m thinking about it, why didn’t they offer me the seat at the first toilet break, right!?
My Smartphone is Stolen and Decide to Go Home
I was heading to Las Vegas and arrived at Fenix station after midnight which is located approximately between Las Vegas and Texas. With my experience in Atlanta, I chose to sleep in the bus terminal with other backpackers.
There were many travelers with big backpacks who lay on the floor to take a rest. I was charging my phone right next to me and used my backpack as a pillow and slept just like the others.
The next morning when I woke up, my smartphone was gone. Someone must have taken it. I was shocked and my mind went blank for a while, but kind of relieved because now I had a reason to go home. I was super homesick and the next thing I knew, I was in a cab at the Fenix airport.
I had the return ticket from Toronto to Japan, but I couldn’t care less that I paid over $2,000 on one ticket to Japan. I got home on the same day and surprised my family. I lost about 10kg in just 15 days.
That is how this story ends.
This Trip Changed My Life
I skipped so many parts, but I have met so many people who were kind and caring. They asked me “where I came from” or “why I was doing this” in very slow English. I also came across some rude people, but I still don’t know what they said to me. (Although they sounded rude, they could’ve been nice people). I wished I had been able to speak or listen to their English. That’s why I made a decision to study English a little later. As well as I began thinking of hospitality as my career.
I regretted going to the USA without knowing English right after I’d come back to Japan. However, this failure made me want to learn English and led me to who I am today which I love more than me who was working 20 hours a day.
If you traveled somewhere, you would probably wish for “no troubles”. But When you look back, troubles are part of memory and fun to talk about. Just like me talking about my troubles.
No matter what I do, I tend to get into trouble regardless of traveling. I am not so sure if I should consider myself a lucky person or an unlucky person that I have so many stories where I got myself into trouble. I’d like to talk about them in upcoming posts.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the post. If you did, please take a moment and share this post with your friends. That means the world to me. Also, I would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment or send me DM on Twitter. https://twitter.com/learn_japanmore
Also, the Japanese version of this story is here. 海外一人旅を計画の方必見！－アメリカ横断バックパッカーを大失敗した話