Want to find yourself and change your life?
America's expansive network of highways and freeways is the perfect place to discover your purpose in the world.
If you're planning on driving from sea to shining sea, you'll be following in the footsteps of countless soul-searching vagabonds, from Jack Kerouac to Chris McCandless—and you'll probably stumble upon some strange sights and profound revelations in the process.
Of course, truly finding yourself might require losing yourself, which might first require confronting your demons and past. But if you stop at all these destinations, you might just wind up changed... forever.
1. Ouija Board Headstone: Baltimore, Maryland
Every journey of self-transformation has to start by confronting the ghosts of your past and the ghosts of those who traveled this way before you. You can literally do all this by visiting the grave of the man who created the Ouija board, Elijah Brown, in the Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore. This man patented the Ouija board in 1981, but it took until 2007 for someone to find his grave and paint it with his signature design.
You can ask the ghost of Elijah any questions you've been wanting to know, and then use his board to call your ancestors and figure out whether or not you were really an accident. This is the perfect way to begin your transformative road trip across the United States. You might even want to invite the ghosts you meet while in the graveyard—a 16th century milkmaid with dreams of being a burlesque dancer and a sensitive yet hilarious gay cave artist from the year 1 will be the perfect passengers to talk to once you start losing your mind somewhere around Arkansas.
2. Hell, Michigan
After your trip, wouldn't it be amazing to say that you've been to hell and back—literally? Don't miss the chance to pass through Hell, Michigan. Hell is decked out with year-round Halloween decorations, studded with themed restaurants and bars, and mostly made up of idyllic rural landscapes that resemble classic portraits of Heaven more than anything truly demonic. Maybe the devil we were taught to believe in was actually trying to save us from a tyrannical God, and God kicked the devil out because he was scared of losing his throne to someone who actually had humanity's best intentions in mind?
3. Georgia Guidestones: Elbert County, Georgia
As you take your road trip across America, which of course is really a soul-searching tour of the cornfields and kitschy roadside attractions that constitute the majority of your thoughts—even though you want to think you're more of a moonlit desert and mystical forest type of thinker—make sure to stop at the Georgia Guidestones. Comprised of 19 large white stones put together by a Georgia man in 1979, this peculiar sculpture is emblazoned with 10 apocalyptic messages written in eight different languages. These messages may just offer the wisdom you'll need to survive the end of the world slash climate change slash slash the end of who you used to be before your soul-searching trip.
4. The Gates of Guinee: New Orleans, Louisiana
Now, every journey towards enlightenment and transformation requires what's known as a "dark night of the soul." An American road trip offers many opportunities for this dark night, wherein you can confront your shadow-self and the demons of the underworld in one sweep. One perfect place to do this is the Gates of Guinee in Louisiana, a series of seven gates which are supposedly portals to the voodoo underworld. In the French Quarter of New Orleans, each portal will expose you to a negative aspect of yourself, which you'll have to defeat through a series of mental and physical tests that will leave you breathless and shaking but well-prepared to be totally reborn.
5. Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail: Weldon Spring, Missouri
While confronting your own demons, you'll also want to confront the demons of the land you're from. And if you're from or living in America, those demons will include a legacy of colonization, corruption, and—yes—nuclear warfare. Wade through the wreckage of this nation's pride and joy by climbing a mountain that contains the relics of the largest explosive factory in America, which shut down in 1960. After the factory closed, the EPA put all the contaminated rubble inside a spaceship-like tourist attraction. You can birdwatch, stargaze, or observe the ruins of civilization from atop the odd structure while contemplating your own complicity in systemic oppression and violence. Resolve to protest by attending one monthly meeting when you head back to Brooklyn, and move on.
6. The World's Largest Collection of Smallest Versions of Largest Things: Lucas, Kansas
As you approach Kansas, your perception of the world might start to shift and things might start looking topsy-turvy. This is part of the process; you're letting go of who you used to be, of everything you were told to be when you grew up in your cloistered suburban northeastern town, and you're learning to reevaluate your entire worldview. The World's Largest Collection of Smallest Versions of Largest Things will certainly resonate with your distorted but slowly transforming perception of the time-space continuum.
Erika Nelson, the owner of this mobile home, takes photos of all the "World's Largest" objects in the world and rebuilds tiny replicas of them, and you can see all of them in this museum. It's actually also the perfect metaphor for how every atom in our bodies is a perfect microcosm of the universe.
7. Spoon and Cherry: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Now that you've faced your demons and walked through the fire, it's time for some sweet rewards. Rediscover life's truest pleasures by visiting the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which features a gigantic spoon topped with a tremendous cherry on top. Sometimes the sweetest things in life are the littlest things, which are even sweeter when they're gigantic versions of the littlest things, so treasure every moment and use this visit to learn to live in the present, so that every moment expands instead of slipping away. Observe every detail—let the sun patterns dappling your dashboard, the dead insects piled underneath the windshield wipers, the coffee stains on your passenger seat, and the strange stain on your motel pillowcase that sort of resembles Jesus Christ grow heavy with symbolism. Magnificent, right?
Garden of One Thousand Buddhas: Arlee, Montana
Now that you've confronted the shadows of your past and your nation, and revamped your understanding of space and time, you can begin the process of seeking out enlightenment and changing your life and subsequently the world around you. Montana's Garden of One Thousand Buddhas is located in the Flatland Indian Reservation in Lake County, Montana, and is meant to be a pilgrimage location in the Western hemisphere, so it's perfect for your spiritual quest. The statues are arranged in a circular formation to represent the "wheel of dharma," which in turn represents the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that forms of the core of Buddhist cosmology. To escape the wheel, you'll need to actually become a Buddha, which takes many lifetimes and a great deal of meditation—but seeking out a shrine and downloading Headspace is a good place to start.
8. The Thing: Rotterdam, Arizona
As you drive through the desolate Arizona desert on Interstate 10, you might start seeing signs for something referred to only as "The Thing." What is The Thing? You'll have to take Exit 312 to find out… but unless you do, you'll be stuck with the endless mystery of life buzzing in your ear like a mosquito, filling your mind with unanswerable questions and unfathomable truths.
If you reach The Thing, you will discover that some questions will never be answered, by religion or by philosophy. Learning to make peace with this is a vital step on your journey. As you make your way to the mystery of the Thing, to that dark warehouse where the Thing that is Nothing resides, you'll learn to let go of your desire to know it all. Let go of the idea that you know anything or that you require physical evidence of meaning, your own or the universe's, and embrace the beauty of life's mystery.
9. The Fremont Troll: Seattle, Washington
The eighteen-foot Fremont Troll has been lurking under a bridge in Seattle since 1990, and it's always been shrouded in strange folklore and legends, making it a roadside destination popular with anyone seeking to tempt fate.
According to one legend, it was sculpted by the gods to bring protection to the area. According to another, once a villain pushed a Volkswagon off the bridge—and the troll caught it, and has held the Volkswagen in a parallel dimension beneath the bridge ever since. The Troll will most likely have some blessings and words of wisdom for you, so be sure to stop by before you reach your final destination. It may even teach you to laugh at yourself a bit, like the best of Trolls, and that may be the most important lesson of all.
10. Salvation Mountain: Imperial County, California
Once you've passed through the haunted pine barrens of New Jersey—and through winding, probably nonexistent liminal space of the midwest—and once you've at last fought through the searing depths of Death Valley—you'll find yourself rising out of the dust, nearing the sea, approaching Salvation. Mountain, that is. This California roadside attraction is proof that you've fought through Hell and are well on your way to redemption.
Created by a local named Leonard Knight, Salvation Mountain is a pastel-colored adobe pastiche located about 80 miles south of Palm Springs. It's the perfect place to mark the end of your journey and the beginning of your new life. Kneel before Christ and realize you're worthy of this new life and of salvation, and know that you will carry these lessons and this spark of hope and deep love with you for the rest of your days, until you, too, can become a ghost who visits young road trippers who stop to ask for advice at Elijah Brown's grave.
After your visit, you can make your way to the ocean, drive your rental car into the waves, and let the salt strip you clean of all the layers of dirt you and your vehicle have accumulated. Wave goodbye to all the ghostly friends you've made and let them rejoin the ocean waves and pass over to heaven (which was Hell all along). Then you can move back to New York, self-publish a memoir about how your trip changed you, and get on with your life.