#IAmEmirati: With his pick-up truck, 23-year-old drove Emirati culture across US

Filed on October 30, 2020

Supplied photo

Supplied photo

The experience of carrying the UAE flag across the US has been nothing short of life-changing for the young Emirati.

Meet Ali Alghfeli, the Emirati computer science and robotics professional who took his UAE-registered pick-up truck to 48 states across the US.

While the ‘great American road trip’ is a classic journey usually taken by the young and the restless, 23-year-old Ali made the most of the opportunity to have an authentic dialogue about Emirati culture and tolerance with Americans.

“The UAE is a country of tolerance. The best way a person represents his or her culture is by being authentic about the way he shows tolerance towards people,” Ali told Khaleej Times.

“When I was driving through Arkansas, I realised we have a lot in common with Americans in the South, with respect to Southern hospitality. We have similar mannerisms.”

The experience of carrying the UAE flag across the US has been nothing short of life-changing for the young Emirati. But more than anything, the whole adventure was essentially about meeting people, he said.

In Arizona, Kentucky, and South Dakota, he stayed with strangers who welcomed him into their homes.

“I was invited into the homes of random people because they were curious about Emirati culture and not once did I suffer a racial attack. People are generally really nice; I think they are a lot nicer than the media portrayals.”

The great American road trip

Ali’s journey began in September 2019 when he was a student of the University of Washington. He had initially planned to set out on this classic road trip hoping to travel to all 50 states of the US.

Unfortunately, because of Covid-triggered restrictions and some technical difficulties, he wasn’t able to make it to Alaska and the island-state of Hawaii.

The first phase of his trip took place from September 2019 to October 2019, and the second phase was from mid- January to the end of February this year.

“I moved to the States in 2014 to study. I began planning this trip when I was working in New York City in 2019. I shipped in the car from the UAE and officially began the trip on September 16,” he said.

After soaking in the sights of the bustling Manhattan, Times Square, in New York city, he took the car to Maine, a state bordering with Canada.

Breathtaking views and heart-warming experiences

From Maine, Ali travelled south to Miami and left for Seattle. Then he drove across the eastern south to Louisiana and Texas, then north through Colorado, Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton Mountains, followed by Montana, Idaho and Washington. By October, he completed the first leg of the journey.

“In the beginning of this year, after graduating university, I did the second phase of the trip. I went to Oregon, California, and Arizona. I came back to the UAE for a vacation, and I was about to go back to the States to work and that’s when Covid-19 hit,” said Ali.

The road trip was no walk in the park. There was a day when he had to drive for 10 to 11 hours, but he carried on, meeting and making friends along the way.

“I would sleep in the car sometimes when I got tired.” He documented his entire journey on his Instagram account (ali_alghfeli).

Though he admits that this kind of road trip is not for everyone, Ali advised: “Anyone who wants to represent their country and culture, do it in the way you love. Be humble and avoid reinforcing stereotypes.”


Throughout his road trip Ali Alghfeli couldn’t ask for a better companion than his 2014 Land Cruiser pick-up truck named Shaheen.

“This is my old car and it is special for me. I still drive this car now that I am back. It was a bit cheaper than renting a car in the US.”

Shaheen attracted a lot of attention from the Americans during his cross-country drive, he said. “They don’t make this car in the US.”

Another thing that made the SUV stood out in the US was its number plate. “I remember, a couple of people recognised the UAE number plate right in the middle of Times Square. They are UAE citizens and expatriates,” he said. With the adventure that Ali and Shaheen did together, many people recognise both of them now that they’re back on the UAE’s roads.


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