Posted in America, Travel

My First Solo Trip With Trek America: Days 9 & 10, Death Valley to LA

Since writing and publishing my most recent post about my first time with Trek America, they have very sadly announced that they will no longer be running any future trips. I could probably write a whole other post about how genuinely sad this makes me. However, in the interest of preserving the memory of my beloved Trek, I’m just here to finish off the tale of my first solo trip with them instead. So… hop in the van and buckle up, it’s the last leg of the tour! Check out my previous post here.

The next morning was Christmas Eve, so again, we were all buzzing with excitement. I was embarrassed about facing “C” again, following my drunken antics, but he was just as lovely as the rest of the group had been. Typically though, it was my turn to ride shotgun and play DJ, so we had a good chat and I made it clear how mortified I was, and that I’d never been in that state before! He gave me a little bit of stick about being a lightweight but then kindly took us all back to the Vegas sign, as I’d missed it. Then everyone moved on and the next topic of conversation was… Presents!

We decided to do secret Santa so all picked a name out of a hat, set a budget and headed to Walmart to choose our gifts. I remember buying a sock monkey for my recipient, one of the Korean girls, and it ended up becoming a bit of a mascot on the last day!

We tried to keep the gifts as secret as possible, read to wrap up at our final destination – Death Valley. It wasn’t a particularly long drive , so we all enjoyed the second to last ride in the van and chatter excitedly amongst ourselves.

When we arrived, we set up camp in a quiet little area in Furnace Creek – again, this would have been much busier in summer so it was a nice time of year to go!

Then it was time to explore before our last dinner as a camp… I was definitely starting to feel really sad about having to come home by this point and really didn’t want the trip to be over!

We headed to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. We all took lots of photos and enjoyed the last full day together. There’s a hilarious photo of the group “playing dead” at the Death Valley National park sign but as with any group photos, I feel like I can’t include them as I’m not in contact with everyone in them.

I will however include this photo of the back of our heads, me with my Santa hat on, looking out at the view. I made this the last photo in my photo album for this trip because it just ends it all so nicely!

You’d think that the last night at camp would be quite raucous but to be honest, the group wasn’t quite like that… and I think my Vegas antics made up for it anyway. It was a sedate last night round the camp fire.

I had to keep going off to the toilet to give my tattoo a clean. Which was interesting as the night got darker… there were no lights at all so I had to keep wandering over to the (very basic) toilet, which also had no light, to give the fresh wound a little clean and moisturise. I’d been told by another tattoo artist before the guy in Vegas, to clean it with water and put on fresh cream every hour on the day after a new tattoo. That was the only aftercare advice I had to go by, because in Vegas I barely got a grunt from the guy once it was done!

It didn’t help that in Death Valley, there’s sand everywhere. So in a bid to keep it clean for that last night, “C” suggested bandaging it up. I’d been previously told not to do that but also didn’t want sand getting all over it, seeing as a healing tattoo is itchy enough as it is. It ended up healing to look fine but there’s definite lumps under the skin but I’m just thankful it didn’t get really gross and infected!

Freshly done!

“C” took me in to the van to help bandage up my leg. We were alone. Remember when I said no more guy drama at the start of the trip? …I hadn’t found him attractive in the beginning, but when he then confessed that he was interested in me and was disappointed that he hadn’t had an opportunity to spend time alone with me in Vegas… I suddenly found myself mentally planning to run away and spend my life touring the US with him, which of course was never going to happen!

Our moment of just us two was soon interrupted as one of the others had come to see where we’d got to. We went back to camp, my leg all wrapped up, and all chatted around the camp fire until yet again, it was too cold to stay out.

“C” sat with me all evening and asked me to go back to his hotel room after the trip ended, also promising to show me more of LA before I went home.

The next morning was Christmas Day! It didn’t feel unusual to me at all not to be home. I was too wrapped up in the little bubble of Trek life. “C” cooked us pancakes and bacon and then we all exchanged secret Santa gifts.

As it turned out, mine was from “C”. He got me a tattoo magazine that I kept for years after.

Once camp was packed up for the last time, we were LA bound for a tour around the city before getting dropped back off at the gateway hotel.

LA was not what I expected at all. In fact, I was quite disappointed! Bearing in mind it was Christmas Day… the place was heaving. You could hardly see the stars on the walk of fame, we sat in traffic for most of the time and what’s more, the Hollywood sign is TINY, and you can’t get anywhere near it. It’s nothing like the movies, which is funny because for all the other American cities I have visited, I always explain that it’s exactly like the movies. It was an experience nonetheless and I’d probably still go back in order to not have to rush about, as I think that was the main reason it ended up a disappointment.

Back at the gateway hotel, saying goodbye to the rest of the group was gut wrenching. I felt like I’d made lifelong friends. As I said, sadly were not all in contact anymore but in fairness it’s now been 8 years and life happens like that when you don’t get to see each other often. Nonetheless, saying goodbye was very sad!

“S” came with me to my room for a while, as she had time to kill before her flight home that night. I ordered room service and chilled out with her until she was due to leave. I always forget that tax isn’t included in American prices so imagine how mortified I was when I told them to keep the change upon delivering my room service (spaghetti and meatballs if you’re interested) …for them to turn round and say, no you haven’t paid enough. It was the most expensive spaghetti I have ever had and I ended up using all of my remaining cash to pay for it, but hey ho!

After “S” left, I went to find “C”. One of others was there and we all chilled out for a while. I hadn’t had much chance to talk to her one on one and was surprised to discover that she was a lesbian and had only just come out to all her friends and family. It suddenly made sense because she had also spent a lot of time with “c” and I’d been very slightly jealous.

She went to catch her flight and once again “C” and I were alone. We started drinking so that I could prove I wasn’t always a complete lightweight. We chatted all night about travelling and he showed me photos from previous trips he’d been on until I became infatuated. We talked about music and traded our favourite songs. I stayed the night and he promised to take me to one of his favourite spots for breakfast the next day.

I woke up on a Boxing Day sure that he’d go back on his word but we spent the morning together, got breakfast and went for a walk along Venice Beach. LA was much quieter and if the previous day had been more like that, then I would have perhaps not written LA off completely!

I naively thought at the time that it might go somewhere with “C” but of course that wasn’t the case. When it was time for me to get to the airport, we said a very quick goodbye and off I went.

There was a problem once I was on the plane, I can’t remember what, but takeoff was delayed for quite some time. The guy next to me on this leg of the journey was an American off to London for the first time, full of excitement. I felt really sad at that point and was not in the mood for his small talk. However, he did offer for me to tag on to his WiFi from his phone. I used it to find “C” on Facebook. We were delayed for so long that I started to convince myself we’d have to get off the plane and rebook the flight. I can see now that I’m looking back, just how silly that was. I messaged “C” in the hopes that if I had to get off the plane I could go back and see him. I didn’t hear back and the plane took off.

The flight was uneventful and I tried to sleep for most of it to avoid the over enthusiastic American guy next to me. He was far too keen to befriend me and I had done enough befriending strangers to last me a lifetime… which isn’t actually the case, seeing as I have since gone in to make many travelling pals!

When we landed, my mum was waiting for me with a huge balloon. I burst in to tears as soon as I saw her, in absolute shock at what I had achieved. I’d left her at near enough the same spot, less than two weeks before, a nervous wreck and almost didn’t even get on the plane. Now here I was… trip completed.

I told her all about it in the journey home and immediately ordered the latest brochure from Trek. I booked my second trip not long after and have never looked back!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and much as I have enjoyed reliving the memories. Even though Trek America is to be no more, I still have lots of memories to share of my second trip. If you’d like to read some more of my travelling antics then let me know in the comments! Spoiler alert; after the age of 21, I suddenly became a lot more adventurous!

Posted in America, Travel

My First Solo Trip With Trek America: Days 5 & 6 – The Grand Canyon

Welcome back to my Trek America series! Please do go and check out my previous post if you haven’t already, which covers the first half of my trip and some tips on what to expect on your first trip with Trek America. We’re going to pick up where we left off – The Grand Canyon!

There are links on this post but none are affliate, all views are my own and I’ve received no form of payment for this post, I just do it for fun!

Before we headed to the hotel and our Grand Canyon helicopter ride, we stopped off for another photo op at Montezuma Castle.

Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle is a national monument, there is a small museum and trail so that you can wander past and admire the structure buried in the hillside. We took the short stroll, with a guide, and were soon on our way. I have to be honest, I only took this one photo and paid much less attention than I should have! I think it was the nerves of the impending helicopter ride, but it was an interesting stop off nonetheless.

The group had all really meshed and settled together by the time we arrived at our hotel for the next couple of nights. If you’re planning a trip with Trek America and worried about making friends, take it from me that there really is nothing to worry about. Everyone bonds so quickly, plus if I can do it… anyone can!

We were due to stay in twin rooms and so I stuck with my camp mate to share a room with – everyone was so thrilled to be sleeping in a real bed again! It had only been a few nights of camping so far, but let’s all admit that sleeping on the ground isn’t all that comfortable. In fact, I’d highly recommend taking your own sleeping mat, if you’re a light sleeper like me. Trek provide them, but they’re nothing fancy and you could easily take your own if you want something a bit more comfy. I’d also recommend a decent travel pillow, I’d bought one at the airport by chance and it bought me much more comfort when it came to sleeping in the tents.

We stayed at Red Feather Lodge and had some time to unpack there before heading to Maverick Helipcopters for those of us that opted in for the ride. I was really excited but SO nervous too, as I really didn’t know what to expect. I’m also terrified of flying but didn’t want to miss out either.

There was thick snow all around, which made for a very different experience. “C” explained that we were here at a good time of year, as it’s much quieter in the winter. He mocked me, as the only Brit of the group, and said that “as the Brits would say, it’s usually heaving” in the summer.

Most of us were doing the helicopter ride and so we were split in to two groups and weighed, to determine who should sit where. I was much lighter than I am now, so I got to ride shotgun – I wasn’t sure if this would help my nerves or not, but it was really happening now. There was a quick safety briefing before we then met the pilot, and of course had a group photo. (I’ve chosen not to include any of the group photos as I know not everyone would have been comfortable with them being on here.)

We were all given a headset so that we could all communicate and then we were off!

They film each ride from below the helicopter, and include all the music that your pilot played, as well as the chatter amongst the group. You can then buy the DVD at the end for a personalised film of your experience. I enjoyed it all so much that I decided to buy it… only to get home to show my family and find I’d been given the wrong one. Our two groups went up at the same time and they gave me the other group by mistake. I was so disappointed but they did almost an identical flight so at least I could sort of show my family what it was like at least! (I’m still gutted about it to this day, at the time I didn’t really think there was anything I could do… luckily I took countless photos!)

It was an absolutely breathtaking couple of hours. Being in the air is always scary to me, but I found that it wasn’t as bad in a helicopter as it is in a plane, as it was much smoother and of course, you don’t go quite so high. There was one real stomach drop moment though, as you come over the edge of the canyon and the ground suddenly drops away beneath you. Other than that, it was actually too awe inspiring to be scary! I cannot recommend the experience enough.

From there, we went to see The Grand Canyon from the ground. The North Rim was closed, due to the weather (another good reason to do the helicopter ride, as we got to see it from above instead!), but we headed to the South Rim to catch a glimpse while the sun was setting. We didn’t stay too long, as we were coming back early in the morning to watch the sunrise and also needed some food – Pizza Hut was on the menu that night!

We had a lovely, chilled out dinner, followed by a spot of bowling. It was a lovely evening out, and that was when it really started to feel like we were all in our own bubble. You spend so much time with the same people, it becomes really odd when they’re not with you 24/7!

VERY early the next morning, we headed to Mather Point for another unforgettable experience that photos just don’t do justice (I’m sure it doesn’t help that I was taking photos on a digital camera from 2012!). It was definitely worth the super early wake up call, especially as the sunrise was then followed by glorious pancakes and gift shoping browsing.

After that, we had some more free time to explore, so “C” pointed us in the direction of a hiking trail which was supposed to be super easy. However, we managed to take a wrong turning and ended up near enough scaling the edge of the canyon – I’m possibly over exaggerating slightly but I was terrified and scrambled back up as soon as I could find an opportune moment.

Once we were back on stable land and back to the van, we took a drive and saw some elk. It might not sound too exciting but it was very novel for me!

We then headed back to the Maverick gift shop, as I’d mentioned regretting not getting a hoody and so “C” said he’d take me back to grab it. It ended up being FAR too big, but I still wore it to death for years after.

Dinner that night was McDonald’s, which I know many people will roll their eyes at me for but I really think it had to be done! We were told it was known to be one of the most expensive McDonald’s and for some reason to me, that meant I needed to see for myself. You may or may not be suprised to learn… it was incredibly disappointing! I had a strawberry milkshake, which was honestly still one of the worst I’ve ever tasted – but hey, it’s all an experience right?!

My photography skills were really not great back then…

The next morning we were Vegas bound and all absolutely buzzing!

Come back for the next installment to find out what NOT to do in Vegas…

Posted in America, Travel

My First Solo Trip With Trek America: Days 1 to 4 – LA to The Grand Canyon

Welcome back to my Trek America series! We’re going to dive back in to the first half of my trip, which covers things to know about travelling with Trek and my highlights of the West! Please do go and check out my previous post if you haven’t already, otherwise, let’s get to it.

There are links on this post but none are affliate, all views are my own and I’ve received no form of payment for this post, I just do it for fun!

If you haven’t travelled with Trek America before, then something for you to know is that there is a food kitty on the camping trips. Everyone in the group chips in $10 a day, then every day there’s stop for food shopping.

For me at 20 years old, American supermarkets were a huge novelty and to be honest, doing the food shops were just as fun as any other activity. So, the first stop once the group was introducted… Walmart! Now is the time to stock up on snacks for the road and for the group to get food ready for the next few days. There was a box of group snacks in the bus – I’ll never forget how obsessed the Korean girls in the group were with Nutrigrain bars, we got through so many!

We also stocked up on cereals, fruit and things for sandwhichs, as there’s often a picnic lunch stop – another thing that sticks with me is how everyone else pronouned Nutella. I can only assume it’s becuase they learnt English from Americans and so the accent ends up distorted, so they kept saying NOOT-ella, which (as a huge NUTella fan) really botered me, so finally one day I had to explain why they were saying it wrong, but they still didn’t get it! You can also buy anything you want for yourself of course, so it’s safe to say that no one ever has to go hungry.

Ordinarily on the camping trips with Trek, the group is split up in to teams so that cooking, washing up and cleaning the van can all be shared out. Perhaps it’s just my memory but on this trip we didn’t really do that, to my relief. I had been so nervous about needing to cook with a group of strangers as I cannot cook at all, let alone under such pressure and all with camping equipment. I also used to be really fussy about food, I guess that’s why I never really learnt to cook properly, but also it meant I was really worried about not liking any of the food. Luckily, “C” was happy to do most of the cooking and everyone just chipped in where they could and we all took turns to clean up after. It worked well doing it this way, only being a short trip – I’ve since been on a longer adventure with Trek America so I can see why being split into Teams works!

San Diego

We left LA after not seeing much at all, but knew we would do a day of sightseeing at the end of the trip so it wasn’t a big deal. If I was doing the trip now then I would want an extra day or 2 to see more of LA and hit a few bars, however I was only 20 at the time and certainly not brave enough to have tagged on any extra time alone.

Anyway, after the food shop was done, we headed to our first stop – San Diego! I sat with “S” on the bus and we also agreed to be camping buddies. I was very grateful to have met “S” prior to the trip as this was another thing that really worried me, a bit like being picked for teams at school, all I had thought before the trip was “what if no one wants to share a tent with me?!” However, everyone generally gravitates towards someone early on and it’s amazing how quickly you all bond with each other anyway.

Of course, things are slightly awkward in the group for the first part of the drive… who do you talk to? What do you say? Part of the Leader’s job though is to get you all talking and before you know it, snacks are being passed around and you’re on the way to making lifelong friends. Whoever sits in front also gets to be DJ and I find that music is another thing to get people talking. “C” was also very knowledgable and told us all about what to expect on our trip as well lots of information about our surroundings – you could definitely tell he was a seasoned traveller and we all listened intently.

After a 120 mile drive, we arrived at our first campsite of the trip – Campland on the Bay – and it was nothing like I had imagined. I’d completely expected to be dumped in a field somewhere with no toilets but I was wrong! Not only were there normal toilets, there were showers, laundry facilities and even a pool, although of course this was mid-winter and so there was no intention of using that. There were proper little areas available to set up camp and lots of RVs about – in case you can’t tell, I hadn’t had a lot of camping experience and hadn’t been to a proper campsite like this before! It turns out though, the vast majority of the camp sites on these trips have plenty of amenities available and if “wilderness” type camping isn’t for you, then you probably don’t need to worry. In fact, looking back now, I have stayed in much worse hostels and budget hotels than any of the campsites I’ve visited with Trek!

Now it was time for the fun part – putting up tents. Not pop up tents, proper tents. Another good thing to know if you’ve never travelled with Trek America before is that all the camping equipment is provided, with the exception of a sleeping bag, so I bought one especially for the trip. I had begrudgingly spent a fortune on an all weather fancy type of sleeping bag that packed up in a tiny little bag, however it was just as well as it turned out to be extremely cold at night, in a tent, in December! (Plus I’ve used it countless times since)

The tents each have a name, so you know you’ll have the same one each night. “S” and I went with Kermit and “C” gave us all a quick tutorial on putting the tents up and then the race was on. To my surprise, “S” and I were the first to get our tent up – lifetime achievement right there!

Of course… I took a photo!

After the rest of the camp was set up, we headed back out for a wander round and explore in San Diego.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t exactly on our side as it was quite grey and drizzly. However, we took a walk down Mission Beach anyway and I distinctly remember seeing a HUGE St Bernard I’m someone’s garden, which made my day. We then went for a wander round Belmont Park when it brightened up a bit. Myself, “S” and the token male of the trip, “M”, sat and got some drinks, and food to share, and watched people on the wave machine but none of us went on any rides.

After that, the group all went to Coronado Island for a spectacular view of the bridge, i.e. photo opportunity – the first of many to come. I’ll be completely honest, all I remember was that it was a really big bridge!

All in all, it was a very sedate first day of exploring. I’m not sure if it was the weather, time of year, first day nerves, or perhaps I just don’t remember it very well, but that first day really doesn’t stick out in my mind and I actually feel like I didn’t really get to experience San Diego. I’m certain though that if we had gone later in the trip, it would have been much more eventuful. So a tip for you if you’re thinking about booking with Trek America in future: the first day really is about getting to know each other and not a lot of exploring (in my personal experience of both trips I’ve done) so in that case, I would make sure that your first stop isn’t the one place you’re desperate to explore, just in case you end up disappointed. This isn’t to say that I was actually disappointed at all, because I wasn’t! For me, it was a lot to take in with being away from home with a group of total strangers, so the slow and easy pace of day one was perfect.

We headed back to camp for our first meal together – “C” cooked us tamales, which went down a treat. I’d worried that I wouldn’t like any food with being a fussy eater at the time, as well as a lack of appetite when I was nervous! I didn’t even know what tamales were before that day but I needn’t have been concerned as I certainly didn’t go hungry during the trip.

The first evening was lovely. We all chatted and got to know each other more, whilst eating our dinner. Then everyone helped clean up together and we basically just chatted until it got too cold to stay out.

Waking up in the tent for the first time, next to a relative stranger, was surreal. Even now, I really don’t like staying at other people’s houses and much prefer my own bed. I often have restless nights and wake up early, so I don’t know what to do with myelf if I’ve stayed at someone else’s house. Luckily, “S” and I seemed very in sync from the start and we were both early risers, which meant we could just get up for breakfast and get ready for the day ahead. There’s plenty of breakfast options available in the camp but I opted for a simple bowl of cereal most mornings. You may want to know that there are plently of early starts with Trek anyway, but it’s always worth it.

Today, it was a choice of San Diego Zoo or SeaWorld. My mind was made up way before the trip had even started, it HAD to be the Zoo. My favourite animal (non-pet) is a panda and this was going to be my first chance to see them in real life so I was unbelievably excited. The vast majority of the group opted to go to SeaWorld – I feel I should mention that this was pre-Blackfish and looking at the Trek America website now, it doesn’t seem to be mentioned anymore as an optional activity.

I had been a bit worried (a common theme here, don’t you think?) about wanting to be the only one that would want to go to the Zoo and didn’t want to miss out, but luckily “S” and “M” both opted to go, so it was the 3 of us again. I actually felt like a little bit of a third wheel by this point as I had a suspicion that “M” might have like “S” a little more than she liked him! Regardless, we went off to explore the zoo and I prewarned them both that I was VERY excited to see the pandas, especially as they had just had cubs!

The Zoo itself was as you’d expect really and a good day out if that’s what you like to do. We saw Gorrillas, Giraffes, Hippos… I do generally feel quite guilty going to any zoo, looking at the beautiful animals in their enclosures. However, San Diego is also a conservation organisation and so I hope that supporting them does all the right things.

Finally it was time to see my beloved pandas, but typically we were too early to see the cubs, they wouldn’t be out for the public to see until a couple of week later. However, there was one of those funny photo things before you go through, so we got a cute group photo of us all “holding” the cubs. I bought it in a little frame and I still have it to this day.

I was utterly thrilled see the pandas in real life but you’ll be pleased to know that I did manage to contain myself and did not cry. “M” and “S” were both happy enough to sit there for a while and it wasn’t completlely overrun with tourists as I had expected it to ne – bonus!

No trip to the Zoo is complete without a visit to the gift shop and seeing as I’d saved months for this trip, I went all out with the souvenirs along the way. I bought a Christmas zoo hoody, that I still have tucked away somewhere, and a cuddly panda to accompany me for the rest of the trip.

“C” picked us up after our day of wandering and the full group was reunited. From there we went for a wander round the Gaslamp Quarter, but as a few of us were under 21 and we had another early start, we called it a night after a leisurely stroll and opted for a chilled evening again back at camp.

The following morning, we dismantled camp for the first time, cleaning up and sweeping out the tents as we went – it’s all about team work!

Sanoran Desert

Our next destination was a spot along the Colorado River, a 370 mile drive away. Along the way, we stopped off at the Imperial Sand Dunes in the Sanoran Desert, the filming location for Tattooine in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

Trek America is all about the photo ops and there was plenty to be had here. Group photos are encouraged at every stop and if you want a cool photo of yourself, it means you need to ask your new campmates, so it’s a quick way to get everyone bonding!

From there, we then arrived at the next campsite at Picacho Peak, which was honestly beautiful. We set up our tents right next to the river and it seemed like we were in for a peaceful evening… until the rain came.

It absolutely POURED it down, then thunder and lightning came too. Some of us hid in our tents, which had been plunged in to darkness at this point, “S” and I included! A few others braved the weather and stood under the shelter of the shower block in order to cook us dinner. We all ate huddled up together under said shelter, then called it another early night!

The next day was due to be an exciting one and by this point, I couldn’t believe how quick the trip was going.

Lake Pleasant

If you’ve done any research in to Trek America before now, you may have already heard about Betty and Rusty’s cowboy camp. The overnight stay here is exclusive to Trek and a firm “fan favourite”, and as soon as we arrived I could see why.

It’s set out in the middle of nowehere, and the only stop on our trip where there was no running water or electricity, but it didn’t matter. Even having to walk to the portaloo in the pitch black if you need a wee in the night is totally worth it for this completely unique stay.

We got acquainted with our hosts, who then matched us all up to a horse, ready for a 2 hour ride through the desert. I had little experience on a horse so was apprehensive about doing a long ride like this, but of course I wasn’t the only one and the guys at the camp, as well as the horses, do the trip daily and they all know exactly what they’re doing and where they’re going.

The ride was pure bliss, the only exception being the moment that my horse got too close to the one in front. This caused the horse in front to buck, then mine to rear, throwing me off! Luckily, I wasn’t hurt other than a bit of a bruised bum, so I laughed it off and got back on. It was just embarrassing more than anything, but everyone else was lovely and made sure I was ok. We were then also all highly amused as we had failed to notice that the horse that had bucked had managed to throw the girl forward slightly, her name can be “MJ”, so she wasn’t actually in the saddle anymore. We were a very obvious bunch of amateurs!

When we got back to camp, my legs had totally stiffened up and I had a bit of a cowboy walk going on, if you know what I mean!

A huge camp fire was set up and our lovely hosts cooked us a steak dinner, which was actually my first and it was delicious. We gathered round the fire for the evening, with hot coals under our seats to keep us warm. There were several dogs roaming round camp to keep us all company and I had this sudden feeling that I was on a real adventure, it was one of the best days of the entire trip. We went to be with full bellies and achey cheeks from all the laughs, with a promise of a real cowboy breakfast in the morning!

If the steak dinner was delicious, then I don’t even have a word for how good the breakfast was, I still actually think of it as one of the best meals of my life. We were served traditional biscuits and gravy, with egg and potatoes. It was so simple but honestly amazing – regardless of how strange it sounds to my English ears, as it definitely wasn’t my version of biscuits and gravy!

I’d go back just for this meal!

There were no showers at the camp, so we all left a little bit stinky but we were heading towards the luxury of a hotel for our first night at the Grand Canyon. Going to the hotel also meant the first bit of WiFi on the trip, so it was a chance to catch up with friends and family – I think the Facebook status I posted speaks for itself.

Just as a little FYI if you’re thinking about booking a tour with Trek in future, there is now WiFi on the buses but there wasn’t on this trip.

By now, I realised that my life had changed. I know that sounds ridiculously cheesy but it’s honestly the truth. I already knew before then that I wanted to travel but now it seemed like an acheivable passion, rather than a silly daydream of an anxious kid.

Stay tuned for the next instalment, including what NOT to do in Vegas, Christmas day in Death Valley, and finally seeing the sights of LA.

Posted in America, Anxiety, Life, Travel

My First Solo Trip With Trek America: Arriving in LA

This post contains links to outside websites but these are not affiliate. All views are my own, I’ve not received any type of payment for this post – but if Trek America wants to hit me up then I’m down!

For someone who has always wanted to travel the world, I’m not particularly comfortable on any mode of transport. To be honest, that’s putting it mildy. I hate to drive anywhere new, especially if the roads are busy, I also hate being a passenger when someone else is driving. Flying is completely mind-boggling and utterly terrifying, and I generally won’t even consider getting on most types of boat. I have done it, but I don’t like it. Trains are about the only thing I don’t mind for some reason.

All that being said, I’ve always understood that to get anywhere I’ve always wanted to go… I usually need some kind of transport to get me there, probably a plane. The fear never goes away but I try not to let it stop me.

You can imagine though, with flying already on my long list of fears, going it alone makes it even more terrifying.

A young couple were sat next to me on the 11 hours or so flight from London to LA. They made polite small talk when we first boarded and then cuddled up together, while I kept to myself and tried to relax. I’d been having nightmares for weeks about the journey, but a short while in to the flight, I managed to doze off – still clutching my drink. Luckily, this was before my coffee drinking days and it was only a glass of water, as I ended up throwing the whole thing all over the poor guy next to me. I must have been having another one of my said nightmates, as I jolted myself awake, of course holding on to my cup of water… I was mortified and it certainly didn’t help with all the anxiety bubbling up inside me, but the couple were very sweet and made sure I was ok. Plus, I suppose it’s quite funny looking back on it!

Other than that, the flight was thankfully uneventful and there was no need to put the safety instructions I’d memorised to any use – not that I’d be any good if there was an emergency, as I’m sure I’d full on panic and do nothing. I imagine I watched a few films, although I don’t remember that detail now. I just remember landing in LAX some time in the evening, relieved to get off the plane, but still filled with the terror of what I was embarking on. Things were about to go downhill too.

The Trek America trips start at various “gateway” hotels in the departing cities and when you book the trip, there’s an option to stay there the night before the trip starts, as they tend to start early in the morning. Trek America can even pair you up with another solo traveller, either on the same trip, or another trip, to keep the cost of the room down – damn single supplements!

The gateway hotel in LA at the time of my trip was called The Hacienda. From what I gather this doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, although I could be wrong. The hotel was only a couple of minutes drive from LAX, with a free shuttle service to and from the hotel. You’d think this would have been super easy to use and yet, I managed to make a total hash of it…

I went to the information desk, who call the hotel and request the shuttle to make a collection from the terminal. Then I waited outside as instructed, assuming the shuttle would simply stop… it didn’t. I went back in and told them at the information desk, who tried again for me. It didn’t stop again. I went back inside… you need to wave it down, they told me. Ok, sure, I’ve waved down a bus at home before. I went back outside, waved the shuttle down, and guess what? It drove past me again. Short of standing in the middle of the road, I didn’t understand what more I was supposed to do and by this point I’d been waiting for easily over an hour, beginning to despair. The trip was off to a total disaster and it hadn’t really started yet. This clearly was an awful idea, I should just pay for a flight home now, I thought to myself, close to tears.

I approached a couple of taxi drivers, desperate to get to the hotel and willing to pay anything they requested… no one wanted to take me, which I still find surprising because I was practically begging them to take my money. I got the impression they didn’t want to rip me off as they kept saying I was better to take the free shuttle, so I guess it was kind but I was desperate to get out of the damn airport.

The hotel was close, but it wasn’t walkable. The roads were busy and several lanes wide, and this is before we all had google maps readily available on our phones. In fact, I barely had wifi for the entire trip – hasn’t technology come far in just 8 years?!

So, I stood outside in utter panic. I’m never going to get there, I kept thinking to myself. Then, by pure stroke of luck, I overheard a family discussing the hotel they were staying at… it was the same as mine! They were waiting for some more family members to arrive and then jumping on the shuttle, hallelujah! It’s so unlike me to approach a group of total strangers, but I was honestly desperate by this point. Plus, they seemed friendly. I explained my tale of woe, and asked if I could wait with them. Of course, they said, but they were going to be waiting for another couple of hours. I honestly didn’t care, knowing that the shuttle wouldn’t drive past a much larger group. The hotel can’t have been popular as there were no other shuttles in the time I waited with the family, who were a chatty Eastern European bunch. When the rest of their party arrived at the terminal, someone requested a shuttle, which arrived and actually stopped. I was finally on my way, completely exhausted after the journey and slightly passed caring enough to be nervous anymore.

The drive to the hotel was so quick, I couldn’t beleive it, I’d waited so unbearably long for a 2 minute or less drive. I was SO grateful to that family and for fate to bring me a group going to the same place, or perhaps I’d still be trapped at LAX to this day.

Upon arriving, I checked in straight away and was informed that my room mate was already there. My stomach twisted. I wondered who it would be, what would they be like, what if they’re really annoyed about me arriving so late… Mainly I hoped it was someone due to be on the same trip as me, and friendly enough that I could stick with for at least the start of the trip.

For the sake of anonymity, I won’t use full names. The girl in the hotel room was “S”, a young German girl and very sweet, thankfully. She’d put the lock on door so when I first rocked up, I couldn’t get in, but she’d stayed awake waiting for me and jumped up to let me in. She greeted me with a huge grin and was chatty straight away, automatically putting me at ease. I was so relieved, this is all going to be fine now, I thought. I never actually told her how much she really did calm me down that first night and how much I appreciated it, I wasn’t particularly open about my anxiety then.

“S” had been an au pair and was doing a bit of travelling in America, I can’t remember why she wasn’t going home for Christmas but there must have been a reason – I really should have kept a journal so I could remember these smaller details. (If you’re thinking on booking a solo adventure like this, I implore you to keep a journal.) I do remember saying up chatting for a short while, before FINALLY calling it a night, now full of excitement for the trip to begin.

My memory of how the next morning exactly played out is obviously quite hazy but we were up early, as we had to join the trip for 7.30am. I was sorting my suitcase and found a card from my mum. She’d snuck it in there without me realising and had written to me about how proud she was, I was close to tears reading it but I took a deep breath and gave myself a minute to appreciate how far I’d come. I still have the card to this day.

S and I went downstairs and met the rest of the group together. Besides the tour leader, there was just one guy out of the whole group, we’ll call him Dutch, because he was. There were another 2 German girls, a Canadian, an older Japanese woman, I was the only Brit and the rest of the group were Koreans. I was suprised to be the only Brit, having been told it’s common to have mainly Brits in the groups, but I wasn’t bothered. Everyone was baffled that I’d chosen to be away from home for Christmas, as they were all studying in the States, or already doing some kind of travelling and wouldn’t have been home anyway.

The tour leader, “C”, was a guy in his later 20s and exactly what I’d imagined. He had perfect teeth and a wide smile, enthusiastic and wearing a baseball cap. I distinctly remember being relieved that I didn’t find him attractive, because I was NOT ready for anymore guy drama. I’d left behind my worries of the guy who ghosted me for Australia, as well as an on/off ex that had crept back in to my life somewhere along the way. Say it with me: no more guy drama!

The group was briefly acquainted and there were formalties such as recording travel insurance info, then “C” handed us our itineraries. It was in that moment that I knew this was about to be the time of my life.

Screenshot of my FB post, having just received the itinerary – the last bit of WiFi for a few days!
Posted in America, Anxiety, Life, Travel

Booking My First Solo Trip With Trek America

This post contains links to outside websites but all views are my own and I’ve not received any form of payment for this post – however if Trek America wants to hit me up then I’m down!

In 2012, I travelled alone for the first time. I cannot explain how much of a big deal this was for me.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve spend most of my days crippled with anxiety and yet with a yearning to see the world, for a carefree life. I’d stumbled upon the Trek America site a couple of years before and when I told my Mum she was as flippant as always, “yes it sounds lovely, but you won’t even go to the shop round the corner alone”, or words to that affect. She wasn’t wrong. We’d played this game many times before, me telling her I was going to do something wild and outrageous, travelling solo somewhere, anywhere. She’d nod along for the most part and then bring me crashing back down to reality, reminding me of the panic attacks I was having day to day just going about my mundane life. This went on for a considerable amount of time, all throughout my teens and in to my early twenties, when I then started seeing a guy who was planning a one way trip to Australia. To my suprise and glee, he asked me to go with him,

I’d been saving money anyway for my own daydream life of a travelling Wonder Woman, so I didn’t need to scrimp much more together. As the trip approached though, I needed just a bit more time to save and so I asked this guy, could we delay for a month or two? I don’t remember exactly what was said but he wasn’t particularly impressed. Looking back now, I can see why his reaction wasn’t what I expected, however he esentially turned quite nasty, before ghosting me altogether and leaving for Australia without much of a trace. I’d had my share of heartbreak already but this was quite a sting and honestly that fiasco could be a whole other blog post.

Not long after though, as I dusted myself off and prepared to just get over it, it dawned on me that I never really wanted to go with him anyway. Australia wasn’t really high on my bucket list at this point – America was the place I wanted to explore the most, after a taster with a school trip to Washington DC in 2010 and then a family trip to San Francisco in 2011. Plus, we’d not been seeing each other that long and I knew deep dwn it would have all gone tits up quite quickly anyway. I pondered all this for some time while going about life as usual. I can’t remember exactly when I ended up back on the Trek America site, or my exact process of getting to the point of booking, but after trawling the site and memorising all the itineraries, I landed on a short 10 day trip over Christmas, as that was the easiest time to get off work. Plus it wasn’t too long that I might freak out and not go, but long enough that it still seemed enough of a break and adventure.

Wild West.

Looking online now, the exact trip doesn’t seem to exist anymore but it started and ended in LA, and included two nights in San Diego, a visit to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, a night in a cowboy camp, Route 66 and Christmas waking up in Death Valley. Incredible right?

I remember the moment that I clicked the final button and the trip was definitely booked, I felt like there should be some kind of ceremony and fireworks, but nothing happened. The world kept spinning, and yet something for me felt like it was going to change forever. At the same time, nothing really felt real yet, I carried on at work like normal for the next for the next few months, saving up every penny for the time of my life and telling everyone all about this adventure I was embarking on. Everyone was encouraging, although I think most people couldn’t grasp the fact that I was going away for Christmas but for me that wasn’t an issue at all. I was ecstatic and the time of year wasn’t even a factor. Most people I told were also amazed at how brave I was to go alone, although honestly it really niggled at me as, being hard on myself as ever, it felt like this was merely a tiny stepping stone to some real travelling.

The tour was due to depart in LA on an early morning and so I flew out the day before. Not before getting absolutely wasted on a night out with some friends though, dressed in American flat patterened clothes, as a mini send off!

That night out kept me sane, I’d have only sat up all night talking myself out of the trip if I’d been at home.

I remember distinctly arriving at Heathrow Airport, almost sick to the stomach with fear. My Mum and Aunty had come to see me off, my Mum still tells the story to this day – she knew how nervous I was because she bought me a Krispy Kreme doughnut and I couldn’t eat it. Funnily enough though, and what we didn’t know at the time, was that a coffee and a doughnut would become something of a ritual whenever my Mum and I were at the start of some kind of journey together. Sadly, my Aunty is no longer with us and this little send off is just something that makes us feel like she’s coming on the adventure too.

Time ticked on and I had to go through security… alone. It was impossible for my Mum to come any further with me and it was at this point that I nearly didn’t go.

My eyes welled up, my heart jumped in to my throat and nausea swept over me. My mum help me tightly and said I had to do this now, or I never will. She knew how devasted and broken I would be if I let my panic control me, yet again. The disappointment in myself would have been completely unbearable. She promised me that I would have an amazing time and she’d be meeting me back at the airport soon to hear all about it, it would be over before I knew it so I needed to go and enjoy it. Take one step at a time, something of a mantra for her and I.

I took some deep breaths and thought of all the times I’d had a panic attack and not gone through with something. All the upset and disappointment over the years, how I’d come so far by even just booking the trip and turning up at the airport. I thought of how I would have to tell all my friends and family that yet again, I didn’t do it.

Shaking and holding back the tears, I did it, I went through security. Another step closer and no one had yelled at me, no one had died. I wandered around the shops on the other side to keep myself busy. I bought a travel pillow in the shape of a dog that looked like mine that had not long been put down. Hot tears pricked behind my eyes that I waited.

I waited.

Then, on Saturday 15th December, 2012, I boarded a plane alone, for the first time.

The plane took off and I couldn’t turn back. Mum told me later on that she’d waited in the car until she knew the plane had actually left, as she was sure I’d come running back out and not go. Secretly, I think part of the reason I didn’t do that is because… how do you even get back out of the airport once you’d passed security? I’d surely have to find someone to speak to, which would cause more stress, may as well just get on the plane by that point!

I settled in for the 11 hour flight as the panic of what I was doing slowly lifted. The first obstacle had been overcome and my adventure was about to begin.

To be continued…