My first solo trip abroad was, like many of my travels, unconventional.
To start with – I was leaving my partner at home to work in the USA over the summer. After working, I’d be exploring New York City, my first time in a city by myself, before hitting up Canada and staying with a friend for a few days. This would be followed by a coast-to-coast trip across the States from NYC to LA.
I was also leaving my comfort zone completely by working with children on a Christian camp in New England. I had no idea how to get there, I’ve never really considered myself a “kid” person, and although I was brought up in a Catholic background, religion wasn’t really part of my life.
I’d be working with horses too, setting up the newly built barn, assisting in activities and literally anything else that came my way. I was nervous, but I loved it.
Then there’s the fact the trip almost didn’t happen. I applied through Camp America, an agency that sets you up with a camp and helps with the visas, pays for the flights, and takes meticulous precautions to make sure you’re suitable. Most camps will ONLY employ you if you’re going through Camp America or CCUSA because of the checks that they require. However, it was nearing the end of April and I still hadn’t had an offer from a camp. I was beginning to resign myself to the fact it wasn’t going to happen.
So when I did finally receive an email asking if I’d be interested in working in New Hampshire, a state I’d never even heard of, I had six weeks to get my visa appointment, visa acceptance, and passport returned.
Working at a camp was a GREAT experience and I look back with nothing but fond memories. It’s been seven years since camp, and I still have most of the friends I made there on Facebook (a fairly new thing back then!). I even met with one of them last year on our trip to Orlando, and I have plans to meet several more next year.
I’ll post about camp another time, but possibly the best part of my trip (though it’s a very, very close call), was the travel afterwards. I fell head-over-heels in love with NYC, I took overnight buses to Toronto and got the back row all to myself (leading to being woken up at customs to find them sifting through my belongings!), and I embarked on an incredible 21-day journey with TrekAmerica with twelve strangers, many of whom have become friends for life.
I absolutely adored this tour.
I did the Southern Sun tour, taking in Washington D.C., Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Vegas and LA. It’s their most popular tour, and for very, very good reason.
New Orleans was on the itinerary, but due to Hurricane Gustav we were diverted to Memphis and wound up with an extra day, which we used to visit Mesa Verde in Colorado.
Every night we camped in tents, except for in Austin, Texas, where we stayed in rustic cabins, and Vegas in a hotel. We all put in for a food kitty and took turns in teams in cooking food for everyone (I was even worse back then than I am now so the people in my team loved me. We even joked about it one day and I proceeded to tear open a pack of macaroni, spilling it everywhere).
Here are just some of the highlights of this amazing tour.
This wasn’t supposed to be on our tour, but after a hurricane warning in New Orleans, we were diverted and decided to spend an extra night in Tennessee instead.
We stayed on a campsite next to Graceland, where everything was Elvis themed including the parking signs and “road” signs. Two friends and I took a visit to the Rock n Soul Museum and I got approached by a very dodgy-looking guy outside. The cute guy behind the museum ticket desk came out to make sure I was okay. It’s funny the things you remember!!
I also wish that I’d been able to visit the Gibson guitar factory, but I knew my friends wouldn’t have been so interested in that. It’s my number one reason to return to Memphis, which is a bit sad, isn’t it?!
We also had a great night out at a blues bar. One girl got up on stage to shake her booty, and another girl woke up the next morning asking if any of us had seen her underwear… (again, funny what you remember!)
Grand Canyon, Arizona
I LOVED the Grand Canyon! By this point on our trip, I was pretty exhausted and wanted some down time. I didn’t do any hiking, but I did take a helicopter tour over the canyon which was absolutely incredible.
Plus you can’t beat a Grand Canyon sunset. (bonus picture here)
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
This place is just stunning. Our tour guide stopped here as we were passing, but the view itself is set quite a way from the road so I’d never have known it was there. If I have one piece of advice for you, it’s to take water. It’s not a far walk, but I forgot my bottle and almost passed out on the walk back because it was so hot!
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is like visiting another country. It’s not that I was a *huge* fan of the place as such, though we only spent a day there, but it was so different that it’s always a place that sticks out in my mind. Just look at the buildings.
Clearly something is going on in the above picture, though I couldn’t tell you what!
San Antonio, Texas
I’m not going to lie. When I saw that we’d be spending four days of the tour in Texas, it was the part I was least looking forward to. I mean the 13 hour drives were less than spectacular, but I ended up LOVING this part of the state. We took a day trip from Austin to see the Alamo, and afterwards took a stroll along the beautiful river walk.
It’s so pretty, and we stopped off for our first experience of “Dirty Dick’s” – a restaurant where the waiters insult you! I actually had to write down some of the quotes because they were hilarious (they’re in my travel diary back home so I’ll get back to you on that) and they tied balloons to one girl’s ponytail with “air head” written on it.
Monument Valley, Utah
The ABSOLUTE highlight. Not many things will ever beat this in my life. TrekAmerica arrange for their tours to ride on a Jeep through Monument Valley with a Navajo Indian tour guide, before taking a sunset trip to a cave where you can play a flute with him. We were then treated to dinner and a traditional dance with the Navajo’s before settling in for the night in a hogan mud hut.
I could literally do a photo essay on this experience (and I probably will).
Easily one of the best things I have EVER done. If you have the chance, DO IT!!
Other highlights included white water rafting in Tennessee, riding horses at a very dodgy ranch in Texas, getting a party bus with a pole in Vegas (I drank a LOT, see Vegas picture above for evidence – I’m on the floor!), keeping a truck honk tally, and a bin bag barn party at a horse ranch in Utah. In case you’re wondering what on earth a bin bag barn party is, it’s a party in a barn where you dress up in bin bags. We actually made quite nice dresses out of ours!!
Plus there was the time my friend and I did a hike in Zion national park, and as we were walking along a slightly precarious edge, I heard her scream behind me. I whipped round, terrified. She’s looking back at me, equally terrified. “IT’S A FUCKING TARANTULA!!!!!!” she screams, pointing to the ground between us. Jesus Christ. It actually was.
Let’s not forget either, the fact that seven years on, our picture is STILL making its way into TrekAmerica brochures!
I’m third from the left! :)
I’m not normally one to go on organised tours. But TrekAmerica offers some really incredible ones – their groups are never more than 12 people, and they offer you experiences that you wouldn’t have otherwise. I 100% recommend them, especially for national parks.
I had a GREAT time on this tour, and it will probably always be one of the best travel experiences I’ve had!