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 Music, Travel

Top 10 Road Trip Songs

There is nothing that completes a road trip more than a good playlist. The music you have on during a long journey can really either make or break trip.

Of course, everyone has different tastes and therefore different opinions on what constitutes an awesome playlist, but these are my personal top tracks and the reasons behind them.

In no particular order:

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody

Okay, come on, we ALL know the words to this one right?! This song is totally infectious and an undeniable classic. One of my favourite road trip moments was driving through the Lake District with a car full of friends – after a VERY long day sat in Bank Holiday traffic. We were having a bit of Queen run on the playlist and this came on, we turned it up full blast and all belted it out word for word, all the while passing by the beautiful scenary, head banging away. It was pure brilliance.

Maroon 5 – Moves Like Jagger

This song brings back memories for me of a family trip to San Francisco, rather than an actual road trip, but it’s a great song and so I thought I’d still include it. The trip was around the time that this first came out and I was totally obsessed. My mum and I were stood in a tacky souvenir shop when it came on over the speakers, I danced along without a care in the world and from then on my mum always tells me how it’s my song. It makes us both think of each other now, which I think is sweet so when I am on a trip away from home listening to it… I’m reminded of family.

John Denver – Take Me Home, Country Roads

“Almost heaven, West Virginia…”

The lyrics and mellow beat to this song really make me reflect on days on the road, and how bloody lucky I am to have seen some of the places that I have. It’s almost a sad song really I think, but I have so many treasured memories that this conjures up, that it’s impossible not to belt it out! West Virginia is definitely one of my favourites and oh the memories from there… including moonshine tasting, which is mentioned in the song! If you’d like to hear more about my West Virginia stories then well, you’ll need to follow my blog.

Whitesnake – Here I Go Again

The ultimate solo travel song! Listening to this now makes me feel like I’m gazing out of an aeroplane window, off on another adventure, all alone. I might now know what’s to come, but I sure know where I’ve been! Plus, it’s an absolute classic tune, so what could be better? Sing it with me… “Like a drifter I was born to walk alone.” If you’re ever travelling alone and feeling a little lost, like you’ve made a terrible decision to go it alone, or just generally a bit lonely (let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen) this is the song for you. You’ve got this.

Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way

This song gives me similar vibes to “Here I Go Again”. Sometimes you just need a reminder that you’re on the right path and sometimes that can mean leaving people behind too. This song to me always felt like letting those people go, knowing I’ll be just fine, but also a reminder to yourself to go your own damn way. Another “you’ve got this” tune. It’s got me through some tough times for sure but it’s also an absolute jam for a road trip.

Frank Sinatra – Theme From New York, New York

I’ve been lucky enough to visit New York City not once, but twice. There really is no city like it. You know how it is in the movies? It’s literally like that, you really do feel like you could be in a movie whilst walking the streets there (or maybe it’s just me and my overactive imagination). Frank Sinatra describes the feeling to a tee in this classic tune. The first time I was there, I’d been staying in Newark and got the train in, where the station exit then takes you right in to Times Square. It was a Saturday night, so you can imagine the hustle and bustle, I felt like I should be in my own video montage, with this song blaring in the background. It was an increcible feeling and I’ve never felt like that arriving in to any other city.

Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run

I’m sure this song has featured on many road trip playlists, as it is yet another classic. The words “born to run” really hone in on the feeling of wanderlust, like you are literally born to be on the move and always exploring. For a long time this song really resonated with me, as I felt I’d never be able to settle and nowhere ever really felt like home… this has changed for me now, but it’s still a good jam!

AC/DC – Highway To Hell

AC/DC are the absolute best band, and I dare you to try and fight me on that! No kind of playlist is complete without at least one of their tracks. Our tour guide played this to us as we entered Las Vegas and it was one of those awesome moments of togetherness, and sheer excitement to be somewhere so special… before the carnage ensued! Hell of course is a good place in this context, no one wants to feel like they’re in actual Hell when on a road trip.

Rusted Root – Send Me On My Way

One of the purest and most memorable moments while travelling in New Zealand for me wasn’t any kind of adventurous activity, in fact I don’t even remember where I was when it happened. I was on a hop on/off tour bus and this song started playing. The whole bus, or at least everyone in my vicinity, lit up and sang and danced along. It was such a moment of joy for me and it’s really stayed with me, it really summed up travelling and meeting new friends, just feeling carefree – it’s a memory and feeling that I’ll definitely treasure.

Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes – Time Of My Life

To be honest, I think this one goes without saying. There’s no specific reason behind this other than I’ve had the absolute time of my life on many road trips and hopefully many more to come! Plus, I think you’d be lying if you say you don’t know all the words… Forget wanderlust, this could be love!

Bonus Tracks! Sorry, there’s just too many good songs… let me know in the comments if I should do another post like this!

SIX60 – White Lines

I’ll forgive you if you don’t know this one, but I would urge you to listen to SIX60 on repeat as soon as you’ve finished reading this post. I was introduced to SIX60 a few days before New Year’s Eve whilst travelling the South Island in New Zealand. There was a lot of talk about how to spend New Years and where the best place to be was. I was due to be in Wanaka and had NO idea what to do, to the point that I considered rearranging and heading to Queenstown. I felt like it needed to be epic so when I was told there was a music festival near Wanaka, I was quite interested. There’s this Kiwi band ringing in the new year, you should definitely check it out, I was told. It wasn’t pricey at all and so a few of us that had met along the way went for it – there’s a whole other story to this but I will say, it was SO worth it and I’m glad I didn’t change my plans. The midnight fireworks went off, we did the countdown (yep, the wrong way round) and then this song played. Now I’m always reminded of the amazing times I had in New Zealand and to be honest, I can’t do any journey without giving it a listen!

The Bellamy Brothers – Let Your Love Flow

I don’t have a story behind this song really, it’s just a pure feel good song that I wanted to end the post with!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my picks for the ultimate road trip playlist, you can listen to all the tracks below. See you again soon, happy travels! xo

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!