Travel 101: Culture Shock in the USA

Stephen F. Dennstedt

So after an absence of five years I finally returned to the United States on March 22nd. Catching an early flight out of Merida, Yucatan I arrived in San Diego via Houston at about 2 p.m. local time. I don’t quite know how to describe my feelings upon arrival—emotionally charged might be the best description (and I don’t consider myself to be an overly emotional man). My son and granddaughter met me at the airport and there were plenty of tears and hugs to go around.

Public displays of emotion is not my style but I didn’t give a damn. It was so darned nice to see my son and granddaughter again. My son looked the same, though a little shopworn—he had a really tough year in 2016. Checkout his blog post about 2016. Jaimee my granddaughter was just an eleven year old kid when I left and is now a beautiful, mature (well pretty much) sixteen year-old young lady.

I knew I had missed them but I didn’t fully appreciate the depth of my feeling on seeing them again. I’ve spent the last five years trekking through Latin America: Cuba, Mexico, Central America and South America. In all that time I have been craving real Mexican food—the Mexican food I grew up with in San Diego. Food in Southern Mexico (like Yucatan and Chiapas), Central America and South America does not resemble the Northern Mexican cuisine found in Southern California (and it’s also different from TexMex). So our first stop after leaving the airport was to visit one of my favorite Mexican restaurants (La Piñata) in Old Town.

It was amazing: two shredded beef crispy tacos (they’re soft tacos in Yucatan), rice & beans and an ice-cold beer. And of course the ubiquitous chips & salsa. We started catching up during our meal and I don’t think any of us really believed we were together again. Its been four days now and I still don’t think we believe we’re back together. After Latin America San Diego feels crowded and fast paced and expensive. My first hamburger since coming back cost me $15 USD but by God it was a real hamburger. Yesterday we had breakfast at McDonalds and it cost almost $7 USD: Sausage Egg McMuffin with Egg, Hash Browns and Orange Juice. I could swear that same meal cost me $3.5o USD before I left the States.

I will be living cheap with my son in Murrieta (about an hour’s drive north of San Diego proper) and we will be eating most of our meals at home. This should be a budget-friendly visit although I have to refresh most of my travel gear: clothes, new glasses, a new backpack and photography gear. My son is retiring from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department (after twenty-four years on the job) on April 1st (April Fool’s Day). The timing is perfect because we will be able to spend all-day everyday together. I will get to see my granddaughter Jaimee every week and my other granddaughter Lianne when she’s home on break from her University studies in Northern Arizona (she’s on the Dean’s List BTW).

I anticipate that my visit in the States will last three to five months before embarking on Phase II of my world adventure. The exciting thing is that my son will probably join me in my travels in about eighteen months. He will be retired and both of my granddaughters will be over eighteen and at University. He will have the time and financial freedom to travel around the world. I haven’t got an itinerary yet but some bucket-list destinations include: Iceland, Scotland, Germany (my ancestral home), Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Greece, India, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and Tasmania.

Well you get the idea—if I can manage to fit Africa in (for the wildlife photography) that would be great too. Lots of cool places to see but I am getting older everyday (in body not in spirit). For the time being I am going to thoroughly enjoy my time back in San Diego, catching up with family and old friends. This visit will be a good time to refresh my travel budget, my travel gear and to renew valuable friendships. And to make plans (with my son) for our future travels together. I feel far removed from the culture and politics that now dominate the USA but I once again feel very connected to my family and close friends. I returned with some trepidation and anxiety but I am determined to make the most of my time here.

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10 responses to “Travel 101: Culture Shock in the USA

    • I’ve been in & out of Seoul a few times while transiting Vietnam but haven’t really explored Korea. My daughter spent over a year there as a teacher and really liked it.

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