11 Quirky, Enlightening Cross-Country Road Trip Stops

If you make all these stops on your next soul-searching road trip, you're guaranteed to come out changed forever.

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

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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.

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It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!


So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—Workaway.info.

Workaway Workaway

Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).

Workaway WoIsango.com

You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway

Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker