Vana Belle, A Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui
Who knows travel better than those who have dedicated their lives to it? In this series, 7travel talks travel & tips with industry experts. Learn the best travel tips, what mistakes not to make, and what destinations should be on your to-visit list.
In the travel market, the term once-in-a-lifetime trip gets tossed around with near reckless abandon. This time, we mean it: Andrew Gee, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Asia Pacific at Outrigger Resorts, took a once-in-a-lifetime USA road trip with his two sons. As someone who knows all the ins and outs of travel, Gee has an incomparable perspective on travel - how to do it, where to do it, and how to make the most of it. So when we heard about his epic road trip, we couldn’t wait to hear the story.
What’s your connection to the travel industry?
I always wanted to work in the travel industry! So in year 11 and 12 of high school, I would go to school each day then go to TAFE at night to study Travel & Tourism. Today marks 37 years in this amazing industry!
What keeps me going all these years later is my love of travel, taking in new destinations and embracing the various cultures. I live by the motto “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
A USA road trip is truly the trip of a lifetime. What inspired you to take it?
In 1988, I quit my job with Thomas Cook Travel and headed to the USA. I bought a “Brady Bunch” station wagon for USD$500 and drove the length and breadth of the US – it took me around 3 months, went for 10,000 kilometres and I loved it.
So in July 2018, I really wanted to show my two boys (Fletcher, 14 years, and Murphy, 12 years) what the “real USA” was like. Plus, as a single Dad, I wanted to spend real quality time with them doing something that we can look back on in years to come.
We flew on Qantas direct into Dallas and spent an amazing 15 days on the road taking in Dallas, Roswell, Albuquerque, Flagstaff (Grand Canyon – South and North rims), Las Vegas, Phoenix,ins Tucson, Tombstone, El Paso, San Antonio before driving back up to Dallas to fly out – just over 6,000 kilometres.
How did your sons feel before embarking on this journey?
My boys were so excited about this road trip – we had the old Rand McNally road atlas out on the dining room table for months in advance roughly planning our US adventure.
How did it feel to do a road trip instead of using other modes of transport?
I love that we were at our own destiny as to where we went and when. Some of the trip was pre-planned, but the last 8 days were adlib.
Once our car “Tex,” named by the boys on day 1, was packed, we were good to go. No waiting around for flights - it was wake up and go. A real sense of freedom. Plus the freeway systems are so good in the US that you can cover decent distances quite easily… not to mention, fuel was well under USD$3.00 per gallon on average.
While the USA is a similar physical size to Australia, there are many more states and regions. How did it feel going from one to the next?
It sure is a big place and the boys soon realised that! There is so much diversity in the natural scenery. We went from the plains of mid-Texas, to the mountain and canyon regions of New Mexico and Nevada to the amazing deserts of Arizona.
Were there any surprise cultural differences that you encountered along the way?
Visiting cities that had not been “Aussie-fied” in places like Roswell, Albuquerque, Tucson, El Paso and San Antonio – the boys (and I) experienced the “where are you from?!” question often and when they answered “Australia!” it created quite a reaction. The boys are accomplished travellers - a great perk of the fact that I opened Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort and worked at this resort for 13 years - so they know that manners when travelling is paramount.
Culturally, the American Indian cultures were very visible to us as we travelled around. As we were in the US over the 4th of July period, fireworks can be bought and as the boys had never let off fireworks before this was something of great novelty (luckily no burns!).
Tell us about you memorable exchanges with locals.
Meeting some of the locals in Roswell for Official UFO Festival Roswell was memorable. Those in town for this festival were so into their alien conspiracy theories that it did make us laugh. Meeting retired Airforce Pilots who then toured us around the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson was a highlight, too.
Overall, what were the highlights?
The biggest highlight for me was the 15 day bonding period with my 2 boys. Absolutely priceless.
Going to the Texas Rangers baseball stadium to watch a game on the 4th of July was really special and affordable – such US pride and passion on display. Experiencing the Grand Canyon (south and north rims), driving from Flagstaff to the North Rim of the canyon through the desert and being surrounded by canyon walls was amazing. Taking in the dazzle, lights, and sheer size of Las Vegas, driving through the Joshua Tree National Park in Arizona, the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson is an absolute must, the wild west town of Tombstone was great, Six Flags in San Antonio was brilliant, as were the canals of San Antonio plus of course the shopping – Ross Dress For Less, TJ Maxx, and the outlets.
We did love the American BBQ food of ribs, steak and the pulled pork – not to mention the awesome pizzas, too. The sheer volume of choices for dining is endless and affordable.
What ‘unteachable’ lessons did your sons learn?
Learning how to read a map and then being able to give me driving instructions as we went along was a big lesson learnt, especially when driving in more congested cities like Dallas, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. The areas that we covered driving from Dallas really opened their eyes to the vastness and beauty of the USA.
Do you have any tips or tricks for long haul travel?
On the long flights on the way to your destination, fly in comfortable and loose clothing.
Alert the children so that they know how far you’re travelling each day and how long each day will be.
Make a great playlist! Fletcher put together a 160 song playlist on Spotify so we could play this on shuffle through Tex’s bluetooth. It was 80 “Dad choice songs” (mainly 80’s and 90’s OZ Rock hits) and then the boys had 80 songs of their choice (rap music). The bonus for me was that most of my songs go for much longer!
Before starting the trip, go over a rough plan at home using maps and pre-warning the boys in advance that we are staying in roadside motels where they will be sharing a double bed each day, so there are no surprises about that when you get going.
Do you have any tips or tricks for packing?
It’s easy for a “boys road trip,” especially in summer. Pack several pairs of quick-dry board shorts (wash out at night and they are dry in the morning), generally dark coloured t-shirts because they don’t show stains, thongs, one pair of casual shoes each, one pair of jeans, etc. With value shopping like Ross Dress For Less throughout the US, you can add any clothing if you need it. For the three of us, our 3 bags leaving Sydney weighed less than 25 kgs in total, but on return with shopping, they were much more!
And if you’re travelling in summer, take Hydralyte satchels. Whilst we were there, it was 120F (49C) in Las Vegas!
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