I realized that Southern Hospitality was more than a Ludacris song the minute I stepped into the Atlanta international airport. After driving through Georgia and Tennessee for a week and meeting and interviewing Southern natives and transplants, it was confirmed:
The South is the friendliest region in America, and potentially one of the kindest in the world.
A California native and full-time traveler who spends extensive time overseas, this year has marked my first time diving into the home of the brave and land of the free. Admittedly, I left Los Angeles because I wanted more. A bustling city of dreamers, it can be transactional, fake, and cold — a culture shock for a girl raised in a smaller town outside of the city with the kindest parents in the world (although, some peeps in la la land are awesome).
Living in Los Angeles, I started to think that my family was unique. I learned the hard way that not all people are kind. Then I went to the South, and realized a whole lot of people have a whole lot of love.
In the South, people won’t necessarily welcome you with a glass of champagne, but with a broken smile and a warm batch of cookies (I’m not joking, I stayed at the Country Inn and Suites in both Atlanta and Cookeville, and they literally offer cookies on arrival).
I met dozens of Southerners as I traveled solo and met people through social media. I asked them the same question:
“What does the South mean to you? Why should people #DoMoreCountry?”
Without fail, each person in each city addressed the South’s unique culture of hospitality.
“People come to Nashville chasing their dreams, but never leave.” Nashville-born Eric told me before treating a friend and I to pizza and a night of swing dancing.
“People can be warm and fuzzy, and there is no motive. People are nice just to be nice.” –Eryn Eddy, an Atlanta native with a trendy, punk pixy haircut giggled as she connected people through her You Are Worthy t-shirt brand.
“The South is hospitality, and people are just real nice. I feel like people think there is racism in the South, but I haven’t experienced that. I think pretty much everyone is nice.” – Regine Jackson, an Alabama student with dark rich skin offered as we crossed a bridge. Visiting Nashville with her aunt, they said hello just because.
“It’s a homey vibe. The South is just home.” – Jeremiah Cowan, an Atlanta native and photographer commented.
“It’s sitting with family on the porch and drinking a cold drink on a hot summer night,” Avi, Atlanta raised and visiting the South while living in San Francisco told me as we cruised on a boat through Percy Pierce Lake sharing sandwiches, cliff diving, and tubing.
This was not how I pictured “the South.”
“I’m Southern by choice, from New Jersey. The South means great hospitality and great drinks.” Tim Lampe, a respected photographer told me over a cup of coffee.
“The South is feeling like home. There is no one stepping on your toes.” Elliot explained as I practiced shooting long exposure. He was willing to meet up for just a quick half hour after a long day of shooting Atlanta’s popular rappers because I was in town visiting and needed someone to show me where to shoot. Nice guy.
“What the South means to me is sitting on my porch, saying hi to both my neighbors, playing with a baby, and throwing a ball to the dogs,” Nashville local Kevin reviewed his daily routine.
“Country means barn and cows,” my new friend and photographer Ryan Hague, who spends a lot of time in larger metropolitan cities joked. Tattooed with a typical PNW beard, he looked a little rough, but had a gentle heart and fantastic eye for photography.
He also made a valid point. Too many fellow Americans and international travelers have a deep misunderstanding of the South.
“Living life in the South has a little bit of a slower pace. You’ve probably heard that Southern people are really nice; well, it’s true. People are warm and hospitable.[However,] people in the South have a chip on their shoulder — like they feel like they have something to prove to the New Yorks, and the San Franciscos, and the Chicagos of the world. Southerners are hyper-aware of how the rest of the country looks at them. Like they think that they’re buck-back-woods. My experience has been totally different. The South has a lot to offer, including really amazing people. The food culture in Atlanta is amazing — on par with a lot of sophisticated cities…
Don’t equate this Southern slow pace of life with being inferior, it’s just not true.”
– Tyson Wheatley, a travel media legend currently based in Atlanta who has lived around the world in cosmopolitan cities such as Hong Kong and San Francisco, explained.
As an outsider to the South experiencing it properly for the first time, I knew exactly what he meant.
It’s easy to wrongfully pin America’s “bible belt” to cowboy hats and fried chicken.
When you think of power cities like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and Miami who boast international reputations, it’s easy to lose sight of the South’s worth.
There is more to the South than its kindness.
What #DoMoreCountry means to me is taking the hospitable culture of the South, the opening of car doors and open arms, and applying the small town love to big city growth.
#DoMoreCountry is seeing beyond stereotypes and embracing the many subcultures of the South that allow people to be themselves. Whether you’re a hipster, a sucker for trap music, cowboy boots, or prefer a polo shirt — you are country when you are kind.
With a growing tech community, an active art scene, and food and entertainment, the South is complex and cool.
But what all of these people, places, and communities have in common is one simple thing: they’re always kind.
And that is what #DoMoreCountry means to me. Do more kindness.
Thank you friends for welcoming me into your homes, boats, and hearts. I want to #DoMoreCountry too.
Heck, I might even date a country boy when I stop traveling. Don’t tell those #PNW folks.
And if you stuck with me through this longer post, check out our photos from my road trip around the South.
I literally met people through Instagram and Facebook. We got in cars, and we took some photos. There was some great food, drinks, and conversations in between.
Burgess Falls State Park, Cookeville, Tennessee
Photo of me by Elliot Liss @ElliotLiss
Photos of me by @RyanHague
Atlanta based model @TwoSpiritedd let’s me explore my creative side. I swear I’m a photographer guys.
Photo collab with @TwoSpiritedd … she’s not so bad behind the camera either :)
Big thank you to @Bear_Caldwell for showing me Nashville and the near-by outdoors.
Another thank you to Country Inn and Suites…
For partnering with me, and inviting me to the explore the South for the very first time. I needed that little reminder that giving all the love we have is never a bad idea. Only those that don’t understand it are missing out.
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