Through the Viewfinder
And What Alice Found There
Most of you by now (if you pay any attention to my blog posts and/or Instagram page) will know that travel is an important part of my life. Travelling the world is something I’ve dreamed of for a very long time, and slowly but surely I’m working towards making that dream a reality. When I graduated from uni last July I had an important decision to make – save up to finally move out, or go travelling first? To be honest, it wasn’t a difficult question for me and travelling immediately became the answer! Although the idea of leaving for 6 months on a crazy trip across the continents was very appealing, it was way too expensive for me at the time and I had only just got a full time job – I couldn’t just leave straight away to go travelling! Instead I have decided to conquer the world bit by bit, spreading out the adventures over the years because why would I want to get it all over with in one go anyway? Then there’s nothing left to look forward to!
Anyway, once the decision to go somewhere was made, the next question was where to go? I didn’t want a week-long holiday somewhere, I wanted an adventure. Somewhere neither me or Greg had been before. Somewhere we were dying to visit. And the chosen destination was…the USA!
There were so many places both me and Greg wanted to visit in the USA but we both only had 4 weeks booked off work, so we chose the most important places to us and came up with a suitable itinerary. When I say itinerary, we didn’t stick to it religiously. We were happy to be flexible and it makes things more fun if there’s the option to change things up a bit, so we booked flights to New York and flights back from San Francisco and to start with that was all we did! After a while we booked a couple of places to stay to make sure we got in (Yosemite and Grand Canyon campsites sell out well in advance!) and we also booked our rental car which was a job in itself!
After hours of searching online for an even remotely affordable rental car company we finally discovered US Rent A Car. They offer a variety of different vehicles, from small run-abouts to convertibles and huge 4x4’s! They also have an amazing Young Drivers Package which was the best thing we could have discovered! The problem with other rental sites was that we were both going to be under the age of 25 on the trip – this greatly increased the price for us and some quotes we got were just ridiculous (over £2000). The Young Driver Package from US Rent A Car gave us a discounted price including taxes and fees and also allowed up to 4 drivers under 25 to be on the policy at no extra cost – perfect! This meant we had the option to share the driving now which was great as we’d be covering massive distances each day.
Once the car was sorted we decided to leave things for a bit and focus on saving up for our spending money. We had the flights sorted, we had the car booked, and we had a couple of places to stay lined up and paid for too. When it finally became time to buy our dollars we opted for the Pre-Paid Currency Card from Asda Travel Money. At first glance this seemed ideal – we were going to be away for a long time and didn’t want to be carrying loads of cash everywhere. Equally we didn’t want to use our normal debit or credit cards out there because of the high foreign purchase fees on them. The Asda Currency Card allows you to load up your dollars (or whatever currency you need) onto a card with a pin number, and then you can use it just like any other card. You can buy online with it, use it in store and take money out from an ATM with no foreign purchase fees or exchange rates to worry about.
However, we soon discovered Greg’s card wasn’t working (luckily we found this out before going away!) and from then on it was a bit of a downward spiral. We tried to contact the card customer service team who passed us on to Asda, who passed us on to Mastercard, who proved impossible to get hold of, so back to Asda….and basically we went around in circles with nobody offering any help or explanation as to why the card wasn’t working. As a last resort, we took the money off Greg’s card and put it onto mine (as we knew mine worked) but due to the huge difference in exchange rate on the day we ended up losing out on $500 of our original spending money. Naturally, we were both angry but even more so when Asda told us there was nothing they could do. Once again, nobody could offer us any help and to be honest, the customer service we received was disgusting. Finally, the day before we flew, my mum kindly offered to go back to Asda one final time to try and sort things while me and Greg were at work, and luckily she got a helpful member of staff who passed everything onto the manager who would get in touch with us regarding a refund. One month later – still no refund! But that is a whole different story now so we’ll leave it at that. One word of advice though – DO NOT BUY A CURRENCY CARD FROM ASDA/TRAVELEX!
Once the disaster with the currency card was under control (sort of) the next big task was packing. Packing for long trips can either be really easy or really difficult. The last time I went away for a similar length of time was when I travelled to Peru for 5 weeks. Although packing for over a month away from home sounds daunting, it was really simple. We were trekking and camping in the jungle, with no connections to the outside world so we literally packed the basics. I’m talking as basic as 2 outfits for the entire 5 weeks (one for daytime and one to sleep in with a few extra tops for the journey back to England), no luxuries like toiletries/makeup/perfume – not even our phones were packed! However, the difference this time was I knew I could take more stuff with me – I didn’t have to carry it all on my back and we would actually be staying in civilisation so ideally I wanted a few luxuries so I didn’t smell all the time! This resulted in me over packing by a long shot and I actually ended up taking out about half the things I originally packed! The most important things for me really were clothes for both warm and cool weather, my camera, money, phone (with a USA sim card) chargers and plug adaptors, any travel documents (passports, ESTA, booking confirmations, boarding passes) and most other things were luxuries, so whatever else I could fit in while being under the weight limit was fine.
Finally, after 10 months of preparation and planning, the evening of the 5th April rolled around. The bags were packed, the flights were booked, the dollars had been bought…now all that was left to do was try and get as much sleep as possible before beginning the journey the next morning!
To be continued…