The following is the fourth article in a recurring series featuring Kevin Lu and Joe D’Amelio’s cross country roadtrip, #RoundaboutUSA. Previous articles can be found at

The Bean. (Photo Credit: Joe D'Amelio)
The Bean. (Photo Credit: Joe D’Amelio)


When Kevin and I were in Chicago, I called my mother to tell her how beautiful the city was. I described the buildings and the “Bean” and asked if she had ever visited the city before. “No,” she replied, “but one day I would love to go.  I sure am glad that you’re there, Joey.”

Our days on the road went by quickly and slowly all at the same time. Traveling was difficult, or at least it was the way we were going about it. I wanted to see everything, but because of our limited time and budget, we had no choice but hurry through each beautiful state. A bigger challenge, though, was being away from our families.

To be honest, I felt I needed a little break from my family.  As the youngest of 4 siblings (and the only boy) in a traditional Italian home, I was constantly spoiled, babied and smothered. Because of that – and despite the fact that I love my family very much – I always dreamed of being free; of having my own, independent experience. This trip was a perfect opportunity.

There were times, though, when I would feel guilty for not having included them in this journey.

Oregon. (Photo credit: Joe D'Amelio)
Oregon. (Photo credit: Joe D’Amelio)

In Oregon, Kevin and I spent one of coldest nights of the trip sleeping on the top of a cabin out in the woods. There were more stars than I had ever seen before, and I watched them drift from one side of the sky to the other. I felt like I was on top of the world and I wished, in that moment, that my mother was there with me so that she could experience that beauty too.

In the redwoods. (Photo credit: Kevin Lu)
In the redwoods. (Photo credit: Kevin Lu)

In California, Kevin and I stared up at the giant Redwood trees. Again, I called my mother to share some of what I was seeing with her and, again, she said: “I sure am glad that you’re seeing it, Joey.”  “Have you ever seen the Redwoods mom?” I asked. “No, I’ve never been out to California.”  I made a promise to her in that moment that one day she would get to see the West Coast and the Redwoods too.

When Kevin and I first headed out, I rarely thought about being far from home. My sisters called frequently, as did my parents and girlfriend, so I never felt alone.  Kevin, however, seemed to have a tougher time adjusting.  There were days where he really struggled with being away from his mother.  I think that he hated that she was alone in their apartment. On occasion, he would break down. “You don’t understand Joe,” he once said. “You have all these people calling you, making sure you’re alright and happy. I only have my mom.”  

I reflected on those words often as we drove from state to state, thinking about how true they were and how fortunate I was. It amazed me that I rarely recognized how good I had it. I thought about my mother’s smile, my sisters’ hugs, my father’s jokes, and my girlfriends warm, loving embrace.  I am who I am – and I am doing what I am doing – because of all those things. My family who supported my decision to venture out and explore the country. Yet, they themselves remained back home in New Jersey.

In that moment, I came to realize that I had a responsibility to take advantage of every moment of the trip because it wasn’t just mine – it was theirs as well.


Our time on the road was full of surprises. On top of the beautiful landscapes we were able to see along the way, the most unexpected element had to be the incredible welcome we received from folks we met through Instagram. From time to time, people would open their doors to us or let us camp out in their backyards. I will never forget the nights we put up our tents on Renee’s (@smilinginside2) and Eric’s (@littlecoal) lawn in Ohio. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would invite two random guys from the Internet to their home. The idea of hosting us, feeding us, and showing us around – all for nothing in return – baffled me.  I had not envisioned the trip to go in that direction at all, and Renee and Eric’s unbelievable generosity and hospitality changed my expectations.

Joe and I kept getting passed on from one Instagrammer to the next. Eric linked us up with Dave (@kewiki) in Indiana. We were then connected to some of the most creative and influential Instagrammers in Chicago, including Jason (@jasonmpeterson). The folks from @igerschicago even put together an “Instameet” when we arrived. Everyone was so welcoming and encouraging and their enthusiasm always gave me a burst of energy.

Chicago. (Photo Credit: Kevin Lu)
Chicago. (Photo Credit: Kevin Lu)

I was energized by another activity in Chicago as well – skydiving.

As we left downtown Chicago, the kind folks at Skydive Chicago offered Joe and me a free skydiving session. Skydiving was not something I had ever dreamed of doing and at first I thought the idea of jumping off a plane at 13,000 feet and freefalling for 10 seconds was completely insane. Joe was very excited about the opportunity, though, and was adamant that we do it. Turns out, he had skydived once before and he reassured me over and over again that I would be fine. After much internal debate, I decided to join Joe on the plane and decided that for the rest of the trip I would not object to any opportunity to try something new.