Ever realised you’ve set out on a trip with dangerously high expectations? Just a few weeks ago, I realised I did.
My boyfriend and I recently took the leap and bought a road tripping van. The plan is to take it anywhere in North America we’ve ever dreamed of going: Monument Valley, The Grand Canyon, Banff, the works! Bundled up in the van is a mattress, lots of camping gear, a basketball we inherited and my hopes for experiencing the open road.
We set out on our first test run to Bellingham and Seattle a few weeks ago and as much as I was excited, I also started getting a bit nervous. I realised I had pretty high hopes for my trip and began to wonder if I was going to be let down. Because it’s a bit of a contradiction isn’t it, having things you want to experience on a road trip. To have visions for the unexpected.
But I did have visions for my trip (and be warned, clichés are coming up ahead). I wanted to discover small towns with giant personalities and eat in diners from another era. I wanted to see spectacular natural wonders and enjoy tiny highway stops that were famous for nothing at all. Because isn’t that the beauty of a road trip; the journeying into the unknown and all the unexpected things you find on the way. The only question was could my trip to Bellingham and Seattle deliver?
Bellingham has about 80,000 people and, with its short distance from the US/Canada border, a surprising amount of retail. When you mention Bellingham to people in Vancouver, shopping is the first (and only) thing most of them know about the city. And Bellingham definitely delivers. On the way into town we drove past more Costcos, factory outlets and strip malls than I’ve ever seen.
That doesn’t sound particularly enticing does it? Do not let it’s reputation for Canadian border shopping fool you; Bellingham has much more to offer. You just have to go a little further in. The town’s centre has lots of cute, locally owned businesses and cafes. My favourites were Mallard Ice Cream (which had a delicious avocado ice cream, definitely a must) and NW Handspun Yarns (great service and very reasonable prices for quality wool). There was more than enough small town personality to meet even my inflated expectations.
Also if you are planning a stop in Bellingham, I’d also recommend visiting the Tourist Information Centre. We went in knowing we wanted to do some hiking, but not much else. The volunteer tourist guide spent over half an hour going through all the different local hikes we could do, the easiest routes to get there and where the best sandwiches were along the way. He was an older gentleman who’d spent his entire life in Bellingham and volunteered so he could share the things he loved about his town with visitors. Right there and then, I knew that I wasn’t going to be disappointed. Isn’t that exactly what you want when you visit a new place, locals excited to share it with you?
Hiking is another reason to visit Bellingham and North Washington State in general. We decided to do a shorter hike in Snoqualmie National Park that was famous for its view of Mt Baker. Just driving to the start was a lot of fun. The area is a mix of picturesque farmland and beautiful forests. The trees are unimaginably tall, the path well marked and when we reached the clearing the view of Mt Baker was truly worth it.
Overall, I’m happy to say that my first road trip was exactly what I was looking for. Lots of small town fun, mixed in with scenic nature and wide open spaces (and that was only half the first half, Seattle was still to come). If this is what I can expect from North America, then I can’t wait for more!