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 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!