Tag Archives: holiday

Dispelling the myths of solo travel: the Trek America trip that changed my life

29 Aug

I’d been living in South Carolina on my study abroad exchange year and was about to leave the East coast for the first time. I’d decided to end my year abroad in the familiar South with a Trek America trip exploring the West coast, and the time had finally come to start making preparations for my Western adventure

It was time to swap the life I'd made for myself in South Carolina for a plunge into the unknown...

It was time to swap the life I’d made for myself in South Carolina for a plunge into the unknown…

In the final days before I set off for California, Arizona and Nevada, I went into over-drive. I bought mini scissors, nail files and plasters. Antiseptic liquid, Savlon and a giant tub of painkillers. Not to mention travel-sickness pills, hay-fever tablets, Gaviscon, Dioralyte and Bongela. I bought snap hooks and bungee cords for my bag, a highly-necessary camping seat and almost every travel-sized item on sale at my local pharmacy.

I thought that stocking up for the travel apocalypse would prepare me for anything. Downsizing one thing and compartmentalising another was all part of managing the anxieties I had about travelling around the West Coast with a group of people I’d never met. 

On the first morning of the trip we gathered at 7am in our hotel lobby and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the overwhelming majority of the group had also booked the trip alone. I was about to start exploring Western America with a group of like-minded Brits, Danes, Swedes, Austrians and Koreans who wanted to see the world and learn about other cultures just as much as I did. 

We spent our first day riding bikes around San Diego

We spent our first day riding bikes around San Diego

Our first road trip from LA to San Diego was spent having enthusiastic and curious chats with each other about our respective home countries. By the time we arrived at Mission Beach, I’d learned about the trials of being a woman in the Danish military, what it’s like to slaughter a chicken for dinner in Kenya, the experience of being an Austrian au pair in Washington DC and how to say ‘Hello, my name is Eveie’ in Korean. The minivan was brimming with interesting conversation and stories from all over the world that made me buzz with anticipation for the two weeks ahead. 



The group only grew closer with every new experience we shared. By day two we were sharing supplies, by day three we all had nicknames for each other, by day six we were having singing sessions in the mini-van and by day eight we’d had our first hilariously blurry night out together in Vegas. Any cultural differences that set us apart were quickly overcome by the wealth of new experiences that we were discovering together each day.

It’s safe to say that when you cook, eat, sleep and travel with a group of people you’ve just met, you don’t remain strangers to each other for very long. It was a good job, too, because while we were road-tripping through the Arizona desert, I caught a vicious stomach bug that none of the medication I’d brought with me could have cured. 

6 hours of road, a plastic bag, and a bad case of gastroenteritis make for a toxic mix

6 hours of road, a plastic bag, and a bad case of gastroenteritis make for a toxic mix

After an entire afternoon launching myself out of the minibus to vomit on yet another helpless Joshua Tree, we arrived in Lake Havasu, Arizona. The sun was setting over the stunning lake and casting an orange glow around the campsite. Weak, exhausted, and pretty delirious, I got out the van and curled up in a ball on the grass. 

Eating that last fateful turkey sandwich with the group, before it all went downhill...

Eating that last fateful turkey sandwich with the group, before it all went downhill…

When I opened my eyes the group had put my sleeping bag over me, brought me a bottle of water and set up my tent. They’d set aside some food in case I got hungry and dug out the paracetamol from the bottom of my rucksack. I’d started to worry that they’d never come near me again after being sick in such a confined space all afternoon, but the gang went out of their way to put me at ease and look out for me when I found myself seriously ill so far away from home. 

I’m not sharing my run-in with gastroenteritis as a cautionary tale. Anyone can catch a stomach bug whether they’re at home, on the road, travelling alone or travelling with friends. I’m sharing my nauseating story because it’s a great example of the unspoken understanding that occurs between solo travellers. It’s a kind of team spirit and a commonality that says, ‘We’re all in this together.’


Playing beer bowling at the campsite in Yosemite National Park

By the end of the trip, we’d become so comfortable in each others’ company that my initial pre-departure anxieties seemed like a million miles away. We’d carried each others’ rucksacks when we got tired, we never moaned about camp duties and we’d created a new Facebook group to keep in touch before we said some painful goodbyes.  

Riding in the Party Bus in Vegas

Riding in the Party Bus in Vegas

American philosopher John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” It wasn’t until I returned home from my Trek America tour and began to reflect on my travels that I realised just how much the experience had changed me. 

On returning home I started to notice that my social habits had changed. Having learned new things about each of my Trekmates every day of the trip, I’ve come to realise that every person has a unique story sitting below the surface. I’ve become a more inquisitive conversationalist (and journalist) who loves meeting new people and learning about a different life perspective.

Cuddles with Penn & Teller

Cuddles with Penn & Teller

Spending 11 nights camping in American deserts and national parks has also made me less fussy. I’ve become less preoccupied with all the little, insignificant things like what to wear, whether to wear make-up and how many calories are in my food, and more bothered about the bigger things in life, like keeping in touch with old friends, making time for people and keeping my phone tucked away in my handbag when I go to dinner. It’s safe to say that being accepted by a group of people after I’d thrown up in front of them, multiple times, in the middle of the Arizona desert, gave me a kind of inner confidence to know that despite everything, I must be kind of okay… 

The best view I've ever seen in my life, in Yosemite

Enjoying the best view I’ve ever seen in my life, in Yosemite

Finally, being on a Trek tour has brought out a get-up-and-go approach to life that I never knew I had. Having travelled through three states in two weeks with 13 new people, I’ve realised that the best experiences in life are the ones that test you, challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone. I thought I’d be returning home yearning for familiar home comforts- but the Westerner 2 tour has left me feeling open to change and longing for yet more new experiences.

Travelling around some of America’s most renowned tourist destinations- the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National park and Las Vegas to name a few- is a huge excursion in itself. Committing to that trip with a bunch of strangers I’d never met felt even bigger. When it turned out to be straightforward, uncomplicated, safe, secure and of course, the trip of a lifetime, I was overjoyed. But I was utterly ecstatic that I’d departed for the West Coast expecting to gain new life experiences, and ended up gaining 13 hilarious, fun, and interesting new friends along the way. 

I arrived home after a year in America feeling accomplished and confident, with a million stories to tell

Tales from a Western adventure

24 Jun

I’ve recently returned from the Westerner 2 Trek America trip with the intention of writing about my travels. The problem is, I’ve come home with an entire journal full of urgent, inspired scribblings and over 500 photos, videos and of course, selfies to reflect upon. It’s safe to say that the diverse variation of things I’ve seen and done in the last month has left me wondering where to start. I’ve visited some of the nation’s most breath-taking national parks and explored some of the most cosmopolitan cities by day and by night (how lucky am I?!)- so how could I possibly know where to begin? Image

But that’s the beauty of the Westerner 2. Variety. The tour is a perfect combination of city sights and natural delights. Covering top destinations in California, Arizona and Nevada, I left the trip feeling as though I’d truly seen the best of the West.

I stood at the top of giant waterfalls in Yosemite, and looked down at the rainbows below us. I hiked the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon and I walked along the Golden Gate Bridge. I even caught some waves at a surfing lesson in San Diego. Image

Not only did I get around by surfboard, I rented a bike, caught the San Fran tram, and saw the early evening cityscape by cruise. Not to mention the good old minivan- the place where, in time, the group got to know each other, slept, ate, played Uno, and saw some of the most outrageous, quintessentially American sights we’d ever see while road-tripping through the Arizona desert. In travelling with a hilarious, adventurous and interesting group of people from the UK, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Korea and of course, America, the time spent on the road was never dull. Image

On day six, the birds woke me just in time for sunrise after sleeping in the depths of the Grand Canyon National Park. I’d been on the trip for almost a week and had really come to love the cosy, natural atmosphere of camping. As the light poured over the horizon and I looked across the gaping valley that surrounded me, I thought, “Will I really be in Vegas tomorrow?!” Image

That night, as we nursed our hiking-weary feet and reminisced over the mind-blowing sights of the day, we saw the stars. The brightest dots shining against a coal-black blanket. Little did I know that in a few days, I’d be seeing them again from the rock bed of some natural hot springs in Bishop, California. I even met some stars of a different kind in Sin City. When in Vegas… Image

All that sightseeing sure did work up an appetite. No wonder, then, that during my time on the trip I devoured a helping of a dozen honey-coated chicken wings, all-American pancakes for breakfast, shrimp tacos in LA’s Grand Central Market, local seafood from San Francisco’s Pier 39, and enough s’mores to make sure this Brit abroad will never utter the words, ‘What’s a Graham cracker?’ again. Image

As I return home to the UK, I find myself stealing pockets of time to indulge in daydreams about the events of those two weeks. The Westerner 2 has spoiled me. No history book will show me the past like standing in the isolation cells at Alcatraz did. No shower will ever compare to being soaked through by the mist of Yosemite falls. No car journey will ever match up to the limo ride through the bright streets of Vegas. Image

Nobody does itineraries like Trek America. If you’re considering booking a trip, keep in mind that the Westerner 2 should come with a warning: it will inspire an insatiable thirst for travelling that will stay with you long after you kick off your hiking boots.

For further information about the Westerner 2, follow this link: 
http://www.trekamerica.co.uk/tours/w2.html Image

17 #californiaproblems only tourists will understand

12 Jun

When travelling in California, you can be mistaken for thinking that you’ve wound up in paradise. San Fran, San Diego, Los Angeles, Yosemite- Cali has it all, from world-class stardom, to breath-taking national parks, to luscious beaches. Those lucky enough to enjoy California life will notice that during their time in the Golden State, all of life’s usual worries melt into a distant haze, to be replaced by a set of gloriously trivial #californiaproblems that make you ask- why don’t I live here again?

1. Lying on the beach for hours and suddenly realizing you can’t remember the last time you wore socks DSC03401

2. Having a nervous breakdown because you can’t sunbathe without sandflies hopping all over your body

3. Forgetting what day it is DSC02729

4. Agonising over what message to write in the sand for a super grainy new Instagram pic

5. Not being able to take said Instagram pic because the sun is too bright DSC03184

6. Being late for dinner because it took so long to peel your wetsuit offDSC02775

7. Comparing watch and flip-flop tan-lines with your friends at dinner

8. The overwhelming desire to abandon all forms of normal life and become a hippy in Haight Ashbury

9. Buying an inappropriate number of woven bracelets and never wearing them again once you’re home

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 21.55.25

10. Constantly bumping into fellow pedestrians because you’re taking pictures of everything. All the time. Especially on the Golden Gate bridge.


 11.  Buying trail mix that has a disproportionate nut to chocolate ratio. Let’s face it-you only bought it for the M&Ms.

12. The indescribable displeasure caused when you offer trail mix to other hikers and they cherry-pick all of the chocolate bits

13. Not being able to hear your music on the beach because the sound of the waves crashing on the shore is too loud #inconsiderate DSC02740

 14. Worrying about the increasing size of your calf muscles after walking around San Francisco DSC03299

 15. Spilling your complimentary wine on a San Francisco boat tour because the waves are too choppy DSC03243

16. Walking down Muscle Beach and forming the sudden urge to eat steak and workout


17. Coping with post-Cali traumatic withdrawal disorder DSC03386


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