The Paranormal: A Brief Introduction To The Weird Stuff I Have Seen

We don’t necessarily have to understand and explain a phenomenon to know that it is real.”

- Stephen Braude

With the 21st century’s love of horror movies, it would appear that the majority of individuals have a curiosity for the unknown. However, i have found that having a strong fascination into this subject is either developed naturally from a young age or routed from a personal, highly unusual experience.

For myself, it was a little mixture of both. As a child i had a strong fascination with myths, legends and spooky tales. My grandmother owned a hardback dog-earred Readers Digest book which contained the legends and spooky stories from all over the country. I can recall sitting in her living room and reading these over and over again.

Although i had a bit of a “weird kid” label throughout secondary school, this interest took a backseat during the awkward teenage phase. Unfortunately, after the introduction of boys and alcohol, came the turbulent relationships and university years where i battled a whole bunch of personal problems. Yet despite turning my back on the supernatural, it still managed to keep a grasp on my curiosity. Even when i was so immersed in my own issues, in the  mundane daily routines, it still managed to get through to me. It was only when i received my own personal proof of an afterlife (it was either that or a 1 in a billion coincidence) that i made my way back to being the “weird kid” again.

Still from Beetlejuice (1988)

After graduating with a 2.1 in Religious Studies, clearly a very useful degree, i managed to secure a job with the local museum service. Part of my job required working solo in the museum – which just so happened to be a 13th century city gate. The possibility that this building could be haunted had not really entered my mind. I think i was still in shock that they were actually allowing me to look after one of the town’s historical landmarks. Nevertheless, something happened that sparked it all up again.

It was a Sunday morning around 9 o’clock and i was sweeping the floor below the stained glassed windows. These windows faced down towards the high street and underneath was a simple wooden bench. As i was sweeping underneath this bench, what i can only describe as “a ball of grey mist”, materialised out of thin air and shot towards me. It came to a halt about two feet away from me and was roughly at knee height. It hovered for a second and then shot off to the left and disappeared. Sounds pretty crazy doesn’t it?

The rational, skeptical person would say that it was my imagination. I will agree that my imagination is rather vivid, but it has never created anything on this level before. “Perhaps it was a bird? Or a rat? Or maybe it was a car light reflecting off the window onto the floor?…” Now i know that the majority of paranormal experiences tend to be easily explained, but this has been one incident that has never sat right with me. It was a sunny morning, i was relaxed and i certainly wasn’t looking to having a face-to-face encounter with anything other than a member of the public. The most peculiar aspect of the event was that i shrugged it off. Even as someone who is open to the idea of the paranormal, i still ignored the whole situation. It was almost as if i couldn’t register it into a category and just dismissed it entirely.

I don’t think i really thought about the “ghost ball” again until we picked up some strange anomalies in some photos to market our Halloween event. The first few photos were perfectly normal and then this shadow appeared. The cameraman didn’t say anything at this point and continued to shoot further images. It was only when the shadow seemed to cover my whole side (excuse the poor modelling skills) that he mentioned the anomaly. He said that he had never seen his camera do this before and attempted to re-create the photo, but to no avail. With the museum’s bright spot lights and overhead lighting, we couldn’t find an explanation for this. Although it is possible that it could have been something on the lens, it did remind me of the “entity” that i had seen a few weeks back.

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Ghost? Or maybe something on the lens and some awkward posing

It was this experience that led to me to contact a local paranormal investigation team. As a shy 21 year old, this was a pretty daunting experience but it was probably one of the best decisions i have ever made besides going travelling. Attending the investigations has allowed me to see and experience all sorts of phenomena, but it has unfortunately left me with more questions than what i started with. The team have now broken up, but the paranormal occurrences have not ceased. As mentioned in a previous post, activity seems to have increased within my family home. One particular, rather dramatic event caused me to nearly flee my house in fear. I genuinely thought i had a physical intruder in my house and luckily my friends came to rescue me at 4am – a sign of true friendship! This is one story that i will definitely have to leave for a future post.

I have barely touched upon the surface of the experiences i have had. Pro actively investigating the paranormal is possibly one of the most time consuming, least gratifying and frustrating interests to have. It has rather unsociable hours, everyone presumes you’re a massive weirdo and anything you do capture ends up being scrutinised and claimed as “fake”. Despite all this, it is definitely a labour of love. Where other hobbies have entered and left my fickle mind, Ghost Hunting is here to stay. Maybe one day, one of us will finally capture the Holy Grail of evidence. But until then i will just continue my cursing when i realise that my camera was pointing in the wrong direction…yet again.

 

A New Direction

“I never want to stop travelling!”

- Myself, early 2013 (probably before the bedbugs)

I am in England.

I haven’t left the country for a year.

It did help that the UK looked like this last summer. Taken in Salcombe, Devon

It did help that the UK looked like this last summer. Taken in Salcombe, Devon

So, what has changed? Well, first of all i got a full time job in my hometown. My intention was to save up as much money as possible in order to fly off again at the first chance that presented itself. The position was even a fixed term contract – perfect! However, my move-to-Canada-and-work-on-a-ranch plans were promptly launched out the window by a 6ft 4 male species that i met at my new workplace. Yep, it happened. I met someone and i actually couldn’t be happier. I also learnt to drive (finally), got myself a contract iPhone (FINALLY) and all of this before Christmas. Oh, and the fixed term contract job? I ended up getting a promotion. Basically, these are all variables that will prevent an individual from gallivanting round the world.

Before my travels, i spent a large amount of my time researching places to visit, costs, journey times…symptoms of various exotic diseases (just in case). Now that i have no desire to escape this rainy island for the foreseeable future, i have been focusing on my other interests. It is because of this change of heart, that my blog will also take a similar direction. You can’t really write about travel when you’re quite happy to mooch around the town you were born in.

However, there is one interest that rivals my love of travelling. It is also an interest that has inspired me to journey across the world to visit certain historical places – The Paranormal. Are you a skeptic or believer? Either way, everyone has a  natural curiosity for this subject which makes for one hell of a dinner party conversation. This innate curiosity eventually developed into a firm obsession, through the assistance of some strange esoteric encounters. After graduating from university in 2010 i joined my local investigation team and have been lucky enough to visit some incredible historical locations.

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Leap Castle, Ireland – One of my favourite investigation locations

Although the supernatural  is now firmly nestled within popular culture (cheers, Ghost Hunters! *cough*mosthauntednearlyruinedeverything*cough*) investigating haunted locations is still one of the more unusual weekend activities for a 20-something. I am more likely to be found clutching a night vision camera than a drink in an overcrowded bar. I had always planned to write about my interest in the paranormal but as the weird events in my life increase, i am inclined  to start documenting these on a regular basis. These will include my past experiences, my formal investigations with my local team and the main inspiration for this blog – my house. Even as i am writing this, the landing light just turned itself on. 

The activity in this household tends to wax and wane. Lights being turned on and off is small in comparison to what i have experience here. Believe me, it can kick off in a spectacular fashion. I will state now that i am  a believer in paranormal activity but what is causing these events, remains a mystery to me. I will always look for the rational explanation but i have learnt that there are certain occasions where happenings cannot easily be explained. For arguments sake i call them “ghosts” but i am not quite able to say that these are definitely “spirits of the dead”. For all we know, these could be demons, a serious mental condition (lets hope not), a natural phenomenon or even a glimpse into a parallel universe. We just don’t know and that both terrifies and fascinates us.

So, expect some weird stories and videos on here soon.

Any questions, ideas, theories or even explainations – let me know. I love a good debunk.

Australia: Vegemite > Marmite

Australia 

“I’m never going to Australia. They have too many things that can kill you!”

– An Idiot (It was me); circa 1989-2012

For the longest time, i vowed never to go to Australia and this was not a decision that was grounded in any rational thought. The reason was purely for my perceived health and safety. When i go abroad, i appear to attract nature. And what happens when a substantial amount of a country’s wildlife is said to be venomous? Amy is mortally wounded. I was terrified for such a long time and i begun to have night terrors about Huntsmen spiders during the lead up to the trip. But as it turns out (and as most Aussie’s will inform you) the wildlife steers pretty clear of humans and the encounters that i did have were not as horrific as i had imagined.

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Nope. Full of nope.

Australia is that destination that everyone wants to visit but not many will venture. This is especially true of friends and family here in the United Kingdom. Flights are expensive, Australia itself is pricey and over 40 hours of flight time does not sound appealing for a two week holiday. Therefore, it is one of the major stops on a round the world/gap year itinerary.

One aspect i did not plan for was the impending emotional roller coaster it proved to be. I will elaborate on this further but first of all, here are some of my favourite places in The Great Southern Land.

Let me make this clear – Australia is big. After mapping out some itineraries on Google-maps, we decided it would be best to take the Greyhound Bus from place to place. We started our trip off in Cairns for New Years Eve and made our way down the East Coast, ending up in Sydney by the end of January. Even a month of travel pushed our itinerary to the limit, even with a few overnight 10+ hour bus rides. It is mind blowing to see first hand, just how vast this country is and how far away the towns are from each other. Whilst in Agnes Water, i browsed through some real estate brochures and one of the positives of the properties was “Only 2 hours from Gladstone and 3 hours from Bundaberg!”

Whitehaven Beach

Ain’t got nothing on Bournemouth beach.

With all this space and countryside, there was a lot of room for some truly incredible places. Australia’s coastline is the most spectacular that i have ever seen. Whilst sailing the Whitsundays and sitting on the pure white sand of Whitehaven Beach, i suddenly found myself in the most beautiful place i had ever been visited. This was beyond postcard worthy and it is one of those places that you have to see for yourself. We sailed from Airlie beach with Cruise Whitsundays on their big purple catamaran. The day included snorkeling as well as free drinks and an all you can eat BBQ, aka a backpacker’s dream. Unfortunately, no other beach will ever compare to Whitehaven, which is especially true of the English Channel and its chilly neighbours. But at least there’s no jellyfish here, just pale skinned Brits and overpriced beach huts.

Fraser Island

Fraser Island 4×4 Tour. Drive fast and try not to crash into dingoes.

After a night in Agnes Water, we took a 4 hour drive south to Rainbow beach, which is another area of spectacular coastline. It was here that my phobia of dangerous wildlife was to be tested, as we were about to spend three days on Fraser Island – and we were going to be camping. We stayed with Dingos Resort and had an incredible but exhausting few days. Fraser Island is a World Heritage Site, Queensland’s largest island and a place that should be on every Australia itinerary. During our stay we explored inland lakes, drove jeeps on the beach, hiked to incredible beauty spots and all with the most horrendous hangovers in 40°c heat. I won’t give too much away here as i intend to give Fraser Island a page of its own. It really deserves it.

There was also a lot of spiders. This seems to be a running theme in my travels.

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Sydney skyline from Taronga Zoo.

Oh, Sydney. I loved you.

I arrived in the iconic city after a 13 hour overnight bus ride from Byron Bay. It was 46°C, i was carrying a massive backpack and naturally, i got lost. This was also my first experience of travelling solo in a city. As you may know, i had been travelling with one of my good friends up until Brisbane. Unfortunately she had to return back to the UK and my trip changed dramatically. I no longer had the safety net of having another person with me. It was initially terrifying and i spent all my nights in Byron Bay crying into my pillow whilst my dorm mates explored the night life. I will also admit that i watched a lot of Eat Pray Love during that time. It was turbulent, i was a bit of a drama queen and i think it definitely impacted on my Oz experience. After a week of crying to Julia Roberts and wishing that i could find a handsome Brazilian man in the hostel kitchen, i pulled myself together and explored Sydney.

I finally had a taste of what solo travelling is all about. I had been told that you meet more people when you travel on your own and it is definitely true. You can be sat eating ramen noodles all alone on a sofa somewhere and within a few minutes have an invitation to a night out. I visited the Blue Mountains with an English girl who i had met the night before, spent the day at Taronga Zoo with an American guy i met on the ferry and we even met up at the airport the next day as we had similar flight times. That just doesn’t happen in everyday life! Travelling makes you more social, it forces you out of your comfort zone and you can benefit greatly from that. One of the best solo travel experiences i had was in Sydney, and although it sounds a little odd, it was actually very liberating – I went to see The Hobbit on my own at the IMAX. I had a great time and i didn’t even have to share my overpriced popcorn.

Now, lets finish this post up with a lovely Australian wildlife collage.

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New Zealand: Can I Come Back Now?

New Zealand

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to Middle Earth. ”

- George R.R. Martin

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Christmas Eve Sunset – Queenstown, New Zealand

After 13 time zones, a string of bad on-flight movies and a short stop in Singapore, we finally arrived in Auckland, New Zealand. There are various ways of exploring these two islands, but for this trip we chose to go with Kiwi Experience – a decision that was largely made on my lack of driving ability. The big green bus is notorious for its parties and is favored by the young backpackers on the travelling circuits. I was a little concerned that i was going to be spending the next four weeks, hungover and surrounded by immature teenagers. In reality, i was hungover (naturally) but surrounded by friends of all ages. Travelling with Kiwi was definitely the best option for us as we were only staying for a month but ended up seeing a lot in this short time. We purchased the “Rangi” pass and traveled along the following route during December 2012:-  Auckland – Paihia (Bay of Islands) – Cathedral Cove – Waitomo – Rotorua – Taupo – River Valley – Wellington – Kaiteriteri – Westport – Lake Mahinapua – Franz Josef – Wanaka – Queenstown.

The most famous attribute of New Zealand is its landscape. At the risk of sounding like every other travel writer, you really do feel like you have fallen into Middle Earth, Narnia or some other fantastical land. Many tourists that visit this spectacular country will join the specialised set tours, visit The Weta Cave in Wellington or trek out to more remote places such as Mt Potts Station, known to Ring fans as Edoras

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Left: Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island. Right: Taranaki Falls, Tongariro National Park, North Island.

But for some reason, this Lord of the Rings buff never quite made it onto any of the movie sets or location tours. Its just another excuse to return to this wonderful country. I did get to talk to a rather unique gentlemen about his Tolkien experiences over a game of beer pong in Auckland. He informed me that he was able to sneak into Hobbiton via a 2 hour hike in the middle of the night, where he proceeded to break into Bilbo’s house to take ridiculous photos. Although i never did get to see the evidence, i do hope this tale was true. Even so, the scenery is so breathtaking here that there is really no need for a movie tour, Middle Earth is everywhere you look.

On the North Island we drove past fields in the Waikato region that resembled the rolling hills of the Shire and hiked Tongariro National Park, the backdrop for Mordor. Just as i thought New Zealand couldn’t get anymore stunning, we set foot on the South Island. It is here that the geography really stands out from anywhere else i have ever visited. I explored the beautiful pristine coastline of the Abel Tasman park in the north, saw glaciers in the middle of rainforests and kayaked across a lake at the foot of the Misty Mountains (aka Mount Cook).

If you aren’t pretending you’re a Hobbit, then you will probably find yourself tied to a cord and about to jump off a high ledge. New Zealand really is the land of the adrenaline junkie and it did not disappoint. There are plenty of activities to keep the thrills going and even the smaller towns seem to have their own bungy or skydiving center.

Rafting at River Valley - not in the river.

Rafting at River Valley – not in the river.

And here we are in the river.

Rafting at River Valley – In the river.

One of our first big stop offs was in Waitomo to visit the famous Black Water Rafting Company. These guys have been going since 1987, so you know you’re in knowledgeable hands. The activities here consist of a variety of packages which take you into the surrounding caves, through rivers, tight spaces and you can even try your hand at abseiling and technical rope work. I went for the Labyrinth option, a tubing adventure through Ruakuri cave where we got to float past glowworms and jump off waterfalls. It was very cold, very wet and it was definitely worth the exhaustion! We were even rewarded with a chocolate fish halfway through – an unexpected but much needed sugary boost in a subterranean river.

The “lets be cold and wet” theme continued down through the North Island. The Kiwi Experience buses stop at a place called River Valley, an adventure lodge located in Taihape of the Rangitikei district. Nestled between the hills, the lodge is in the middle of nowhere and after your overnight stay you can choose from the morning activities; riding or rafting. As i ride at home, i opted to hit the river with the majority of my fellow Kiwi-ers and even our bus driver came with us on his kayak. I had been rafting once before in Tennessee on my Trek America trip but this rafting trip was a completely different experience. We hit grade 5 rapids, people fell out, we flipped the boat, we jumped off cliffs, i nearly drowned (twice) and it was incredible! I’m now planning to go rafting in Wales this summer and even have my eyes set on the Zambezi river challenge.

Lisa's rather impressive dive. Much better than my flop off the edge.

Lisa’s rather impressive dive. Much better than my flop off the edge.

It is said that a trip to the land of the long white cloud, is not complete without throwing yourself off a ledge. There are bungys everywhere across the country but the majority of our bus left this activity till one of our last stops – Queenstown. Queenstown is known as the hub of the adrenaline seekers and everywhere you go in the town you are continually reminded of bungys, canyon swings, snowboarding, mountain biking, jet boating – its unmissable. There are three to choose from in the Queenstown area; Kawarua Bridge (world’s first bungy), The Nevis (New Zealand’s highest – which has “nope nope nope” written all over it) and The Ledge Bungy. The Ledge seemed the least terrifying but we found out that it is actually the one that people back out of most. This is a little different to the standard bungy jump too. Instead of having your feet attached to the bungy cord, you are attached by a chest and waist harness. So instead of jumping from a standing position, you have the freedom of a runway. This allows you to dive, somersault or even handstand off the edge. Or in my case, just sort offlop off very ungracefully. Whilst it was the scariest moment of my entire 23.5 years, i am so happy that i managed it. I also had a raging hangover at the time and it appears that stomach churning fear is the perfect cure.

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Sunset in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Out of all the places that i visited, it was Queenstown that really stood out to me and i could have spent a lot more time there. It is quite a small town compared to Christchurch and Auckland but it offers a lot to locals and tourists alike. I was fortunate enough to spend my Christmas day in 30ºC temperatures on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. We jumped off the pier, drank champagne on the pebble beach and watched the sun set over the mountains. We even made it into a stuff.nz article and it’s definitely one Christmas i will never forget. I believe everyone should spend the holidays away from home at least once in their lifetime – its a memorable experience but it really makes you value friends, family and the comforts of home. Although having a hot Christmas was something that had to be done, i’m not sure i could ever trade it for my northern hemisphere festivities. There’s something not right about wearing a Santa hat and a bikini at the same time.

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Frolicking in the lake on Christmas Day. Little bit chilly.

Overall, New Zealand completely won me over and ended up being my favourite country of the trip.

I have vowed to return one day and next time, i’ll be doing The Nevis. Maybe

The Round The World Trip

The Round The World Trip

“If travel has momentum and wants to stay in motion, then adventure has the gravitational pull of a black hole. The more you do it, the more you find a way to keep doing it.” -  Josh Gates

As you can probably guess from previous posts, my trip with Trek America gave me the travelling bug. For the first time i was feeling an overwhelming need to travel and i was plotting my next trip from the departures lounge of LAX. I suddenly realised that i was capable of travelling solo and i decided that a big trip was in order to try and satiate my wander-lusting.

Over the years i had specific places in mind that i wanted to visit, but i never thought that i could manage to backpack my way around them. As embarrassing as this is to admit, i could barely catch the train to London by myself when i was 18. As a shy, timid teenager, the thought of negotiating the UK rail system was terrifying. Now i have turned into a wander-lusting monstrosity who barely bats an eyelid at the thought of a 16 hour journey through Asian border crossings. So, if you are in that mindset where that travel itch has begun but you are unsure of how you will cope, as cliche as this soundsif i can do it – you definitely can.

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Chilling out in the Chiang Mai countryside.

The journey itself began from a conversation that was sparked over a Starbucks coffee with my Trek Buddy, Lisa. This meeting was only about a month after we had returned from our America trip but the planning didn’t start until early 2012. The trip was hashed out over frequent Facebook messages, a plan that was altered many times over the following months. These alterations were mostly due to financial costings whilst we attempted to calculate the price of flights, travel insurance, gear etc. But there were also other factors to take into account such as weather and the cost of daily living.

I am aware that some travelers choose not to prepare trips, but we didn’t fancy getting caught short in a monsoon or risk missing out on something spectacular along the way. There seem to be two main types of backpackers on the road; there is the traveler that plans and scrutinizes their itinerary and the other that buys a plane ticket and makes it up as she/he goes along. I began as the first type but once i got going, i naturally fell into the latter. The itinerary we had carefully planned was promptly screwed up and left in a Base hostel somewhere on New Zealand’s North Island.

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Clockwise from Top Left: Paihia, New Zealand,;Chiang Mai, Thailand; Maheno Shipwreck, Fraser Island, Australia; Ta Phrom, Angkor, Cambodia.

However, we did have a basic plan. Our trip was to run from the end of November to May, or whenever our finances dried up (which ended up being a lot sooner than expected) We were to spend a definite month in New Zealand, a month in Australia and the rest of the time exploring the cheaper countries of South East Asia. The flights were booked in June with STA Travel and for the last few months before our departure, we scrounged as many pennies out of our paychecks as possible. In no time at all, it was November 29th and it was time to leave the comforts of home. I do not have the literary capacity to express what i felt on the lead up to that day. The anxiety and the sheer excitement was a lot more concentrated than my Trek America trip, despite going alone. This time i was travelling with a friend, but we no longer had that comfort of a group tour or guide. It was up to us and it was an entirely different experience.

Overall it was the greatest three months of my life. I learnt a lot, met some amazing people and saw some unforgettable places. There is a sense of freedom being able to carry your possessions on your back and head off to another new destination at a moments notice. Initially this can be rather challenging and physically demanding but it soon becomes a way of life. And its a pretty good life!  I mean, just look at this beach!

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Whitehaven Beach, Australia

But as any world traveler will tell you, things do not necessarily go to plan, but that’s all part of the fun. You will encounter difficulties, your plans will change and you may even find yourself in potentially dangerous situations. The biggest change in the trip was that my travel bud decided to go home half way through our month in Australia. The prospect of being on my own was initially terrifying and all these backpacking fears resurfaced. Yet it turns out that you are never really on your own, especially when you stay in hostels. There is always someone to talk to and i actually met a lot more people this way. Well, either that or i was just forcing my friendship upon unsuspecting victims. So now i have seen both sides of travelling; with and without a travel partner. Both have their positives and their negatives and i’m still not sure which one i prefer as they are two completely different journeys.

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Successfully smiling through the fear.

The other problem that i ran into was my finances. It turns out that i had too much of a good time and six months turned into three months. I was home by March instead of May. Believe me, i did hours of research on costs and spending, but you can never really have an accurate idea until you reach your destination. Budgets will vary from person to person; what i spend in a day, may be double what another individual would spend. I could have ate ramen noodles for the entire duration of the trip, but i probably would not have enjoyed the trip as much. I just like food too much! I also ended up doing activities that i had not planned for but ended up doing anyway, such as my bungy jump. Although i am VERY glad i got persuaded into doing that one!

Despite all these challenges i faced, i would not have changed anything about the trip. It was a roller coaster at times, but it was an incredible journey that has given more than just memories. If you are currently thinking about going travelling, i cannot stress enough just how much you should just take the plunge and go for it. The saving and sacrifices are hard work but they will be worth it. The new games console or expensive dress you couldn’t afford will not matter once you are on that beach sipping cocktails under a palm tree. A Facebook status from my friend summed up travelling for me, it simply said;

“Experiences > Things”

 And i completely agree.

15 Tips for Trek America Trips

Top 15 Tips for a Trek America Trip

As a spontaneously booked trip – i went into this adventure rather blind. I had no idea what to expect. I  scoured the internet to try and read about other people’s experiences but to no avail. Hence, this blog was born. Now i get to educate all of you lucky Trekkies-to-be, before you set out on your own American adventure. Below are a list of things i feel may help you. If you are looking for a more specialised list of what you should take. hop on over to my other pages “Trek America Tips – Part One” and “Trek America Tips – The Girly Section” for all things tent and luggage related.

1. Scout out areas for setting up your tent. Why? Well first of all you do not want to be sleeping on a slope or in a patch of mud, but most importantly its for bug avoidance. We actually put our tent on a spiders nest on our first night, luckily these were of  the nicer, non-venomous type! Nice, flat grassy areas are a winner, avoid the edges of wooded areas and make sure there are no ants before you plonk your ground sheet down. They are the worst.

An accurate photo of the spider tent

2. Keep the tent shut at all times. And i mean as soon as you step outside. This is a massive hassle but you really do not want any unexpected intruders.  I recently spoke to a friend of mine who had camped in the Grand Canyon and ended up getting stung by a scorpion which had crawled into his sleeping bag. Turns out its not the most fun of experiences and the venom will actually make your skeleton hurt. Yes, you read that correctly – your skeleton.

3. Mosquito repellent is a necessity - I traveled from New York to LA between late June and July, and got eaten alive  from Washington until San Antonio. You can buy own brand (Superdrug/Boots etc) repellent which is a lot cheaper than the others on the market. Just make sure you have a high percentage of Deet in whichever one you go for. Don’t rely on the natural products, they will probably just make you smell tastier.

4. Louboutins will not be necessary -  Hush, girls. You are now travelers and we have no space for such trinkets in our packs. However, i do suggest bringing some less casual, going out type clothes. We ended up going out to bars a lot more than i thought we would. However, six inch shoes are not recommended, especially as you will probably be staying in a tent.

5. Go photo crazy – I took around 400 photos and i still feel this wasn’t enough. Perfect profile picture moments were missed out on, as were hilarious video moments. Embrace your inner tourist and take as many as possible. You will need something to look back and reminisce on.

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Hundreds of photos like these? Okay.

6. Budgeting for the Small Things - You will have a food kitty to pay into and a large section of your budget will be for the daily activities. However, there were a few other things that my credit card took a pounding from; tipping, VAT and snacks. Waiters/waitresses and bar staff live off the tips they get, so be generous when you are being served. VAT is a little strange here as America have decided that its a good idea to add this on when you go to pay rather than on the actual price tag. And as for snacks, i think i bought something at every single gas station stop and it did add up … onto my budget and my waistline.

7. Shower Gauntlet – Try and get up earlier than everyone else so you can get to the showers first. This is especially true when you are at a campsite with other trek groups. Guys, you don’t need to worry about this part. Girls, prepare yourselves! If in doubt, dry shampoo it.

8. Stay Connected - Make sure you all swap numbers on the FIRST day. We all added each other on Facebook but never got round to exchanging digits. You aren’t going to need to make lengthy calls to your new friend, but one or two texts wont hurt. This is especially important once you reach those unfamiliar cities, and find yourself completely lost.

9. Medical Supplies – Bring plasters for flip flop and/or shoe related blisters. Your Trek Leader will have a first aid kit but plan ahead for small injuries or cuts, you may end up having a few.

10. Comfortable (Ugly) Footwear – Invest in some Teva’s, Karrimor Sandals or something similar. Yes, i am aware that they can be ugly, Jesus -sandals, but they are also very comfy! They can also be quite expensive, although mine have now been around the world with me – two years and still going! Plan ahead, see them as an investment for future travel.

11. Be Odd – Being weird is totally acceptable behaviour, just be yourself! I became so much more confident and outgoing after this trip. Throwing yourself out of your comfort zone once in a while is very good for you.

Elvis Travis down in the Grand Canyon

12. Select A Mascot – You will need a van mascot. Ours was a blow up alien and he went everywhere with us – from the Grand Canyon to crazy nights out. He even got his own Facebook page.

13. Mingle - If you are travelling alongside another van (which happens quite often with the Southern Sun trip) make sure you get to know them as they will become your extended Trek family. I find that 80% of travelling is making new friends. And the other 20% is spent getting drunk with them.

14. Confrontation avoidance – There may be times when you want to throw another individual into a canyon. Be patient, its an intense three weeks, there are a lot of personalities and there are bound to be conflicts at some point. Trust me, they do blow over.

15. Enjoy Yourself - Finally, be super positive and enjoy every single moment. It will all be over before you know it.

Sunrise at the Canyon

Trek America Tips – The Girly Section

Trek America Tips - The Girly Section

Whilst i was writing this post, i found that my section devoted to all things female related was getting rather lengthy. Therefore, i have created a post of its own. Yay. Whee.

New Orleans, fourth of July. It was all downhill from here.

1. “What about my hair?!”

Let us first address this topic of great importance. Girls…you can breathe a sigh of relief, for your straightners can come with you. The campsites are pretty decent and can accomodate our beauty regimes. But do not forgot to bring plug adaptors! These are essential if you want to put on your hot girl disguises. I have unruly hair and managed to straighten it whenever i wanted to – just make sure you get up early enough. There’s nothing worse than fighting for plug space in your PJs.

Along with your straighteners, the beloved hair dryers can also make an appearance on your trip. However, do be aware that blasting hot air on your face, whilst in the middle of Texas is not an enjoyable experience. Your hair will probably dry as soon as you step outside anyway.

If you have purchased a travel hair dryer, you will need to change the wattage settings which is usually done by switching a button on the dryer itself. We failed to notice this until the end of the trip when it finally starting working at full capacity. Oh and don’t forget to switch back when you get home, or you could have a dead hairdryer and a possible electrical fire on your hands.

A shower gauntlet commences.

2. The Shower Gauntlet

The shower gauntlet is the early morning challenge that each one of us came to dread. When it comes to showering during the trip, it may feel like you are living with 20+ women with one bathroom. This was magnified tenfold when it came to sharing the campsites with other trek groups, including vans full of hot Norwegian teenagers. It was utter chaos.

The only lie-ins you will get on your trip, will be on the days that you are in a town for more than a single night. Even then you will be up at sunrise, unless you feel like baking in your tent. When we had a long drive of more than 5 hours (aka. quality van time) you could find yourself back in the van by as early as 7:30am.

My tips for surviving such a gruelling task:-

  • Set your alarm early.  Try and remember to turn off the snooze before you head for the shower block too. It infuriates the sleeping boys.
  • Get organised. Countless times we made the walk to the showers, only to forget our towels or something equally as essential.
  • A healthy dose of patience.

Having male trek leaders may also complicate the shower gauntlets (not that i would have traded them for anyone else!) With all guys, your leader may not understand the concept of getting ready or its ritualistic properties. You may even have to put on your transformations within half an hour. Take this opportunity to embrace the natural look, for you are beautiful and do not need to slap layers of crap onto your face. This also means more time for campsite pre-gaming! Priorities.

3. Standards Will Slip

At first your standards are high. There are people you don’t know, there may be guys and you will want to make a good first impression. Yeah, well…that doesn’t last, give it a good three days of living in tents and outdoorsy activities for this to occur. At times you will be dirty, sweaty and looking disheveled but you are all in the same boat van. You will make a fool of yourself when you are drunk and you will also embarrass yourself when you are completely sober. These end up being your fondest memories!

As for your makeup regime, remember that foundation in 30c+ temperatures is grim and one way to look extra shiny for your photos. Save it for the nights out if you can. Despite all of this talk of going au-naturale, im sure taking extra girly equipment won’t hurt your baggage allowance.

Why make an effort? You'll just end up looking like this.

 4. Trek Attire

I can imagine that any guys reading this will be rolling their eyes at this section (if they haven’t done so already/are still reading this) This is important for us!

What you take will depend on your trip and the time of year that you travel. I opted for the southern states during mid summer, therefore it was hothothot and i was wearing as little as possible.

A plentiful amount of T-shirts and vest tops were all in my luggage. Shorts, skirts, a dress and pair of jeans for the colder evenings. You will probably live in your flip flops for the majority of the trip but i also had a nice pair of flats, trainers for hiking and some Teva sandals. Tevas are those ugly looking sports sandals that are usually worn by old people and teamed with socks. Yet, despite their appearance they were useful after my flip flops gave me a nice cut that became infected. For hiking the canyons i took my trainers and they served their purpose well. I would probably not bother with hiking boots as they tend to be heavy and unnecessary for a trip like this. As for evening activities, we ended up going out a lot more than i had anticipated and i wish i had taken some nicer clothes with me. As for heels, mine stayed at home and i didn’t miss them. The only place you would probably wear them would be Vegas and although it is one big ol’ party town, you will be doing a lot of walking. But if your heart is set on hitting the clubs, then go for it if you have room in your luggage. Another very important item to pack for Vegas is a nice dress – anything that has your boobs and/or legs out will be perfect!

Remember that you will be travelling across America, not Central Asia. So. if you forget something, it won’t be the end of the world. I’m sure you will be able to buy a replacement with relative ease at a Walmart store. Oh god and bikinis – don’t forget them! I’m looking at you, tent bud. 

Vegas Dress - boobs out, legs out.

Trek America – Trek Tips (Part One)

Tips For Your First Trek America Trip

(Part One)

Let me start off by saying that i am by no means an expert on this. This is just some friendly advice from one Trekkie to another. If you do have any other questions, just email me and i will be happy to answer these! Click HERE (TBC!) for more tips about your Stateside adventure.

Before the trip i spent hours scouring the internet in search of information about my upcoming adventure. This was to be my first solo trip abroad, and although being driven across America is a little different to backpacking, i was nervous none the less! Now and then, i return to the Trek America Facebook page to give advice to the newbies and to tell them how amazing their trip (whilst i try to hide my jealousy!)

As i have mentioned, i am no expert on these trips. You would probably be better off asking Trek America themselves or an ex-Trek Leader but hopefully this information will help someone…somehow. I have only been on one trip with Trek – Southern Sun NY to LA in the Summer of 2011 but im sure this information can be used for other tours.

Starting Out

If you are reading this you are probably thinking about one of these trips, or have already booked yourself on one. If you are still pondering over your decision i have only one thing to say – Click Here and go book it! It will be the best decision you will ever make, i assure you! If you have reserved and/or handed over your hard-earned cash – congratulations! (…take me with you…)

After booking your trip you will be directed to “Trek America Live“, which is a live forum hosted on TA’s website. This is a good place to start looking for your fellow passengers. About four weeks before your trip is due to start you will be able to find out who is on your trip through this feature (as long as they have also signed up) Another place that i managed to find people on my trip was on the Facebook group, “Join Team Trek America” Post a comment about what trip and date you will be going on and just wait for your new buds to come find you! Here begins the awkward, “Should i add them to facebook!?” whilst hoping that they request friendship first. These guys will be your weird, international family for the next few weeks.

Early morning in Tennessee

To Take With You

If you are on one of the BLT trips, then overlook the next section, as this will be about camping. I had serious reservations about spending the majority of the trip in a tent, but it  turns out that staying in tents is actually a lot of fun! This section is just covering some important items, obviously you will need to take a lot more with you…

Sleeping Bags – If you have one at home that you don’t mind taking, then brilliant – that’s one thing you can tick off your list. But be warned, they may get damaged after a couple of weeks in the southern heat. I ended up buying one from my leader on the first day, in an attempt to save room in my luggage. If you do choose this option, make sure you phone up Trek America and let them know BEFORE your trip begins. If you are heading down South to the hotter states, it may be worth getting a sleeping bag liner to use. It was unbearably hot at times and i was glad to be able to lie on top of my sleeping bag without the fear of having something…crawl over my legs whilst i slept. A pillow is also worth getting during a Walmart stop,  for both night time and van snoozing.

Camping mats – A debated topic, as there is the option to borrow a mat from the van equipment. However, when i booked my trip i was underweight and decided that i would need some extra padding. Don’t bother with proper air beds or inflatable mattresses, they will only turn you into a raging beast when it comes to packing up your tent in the blazing sun. I went with a Base180 self inflating mat for £30 from www.alpkit.com. It rolls up neatly and only needs a few puffs of air to be fully inflated. I was very grateful for a bit of comfort after those long days of hiking through canyons.

Torches – You will be camping, so you will definitely need some form of light. A headlamp would be an even better purchase. Imagine this – its 11pm at night, you are slightly inebriated from beer pong and there are two of you rummaging through your luggage trying to find various items. You will need all available limbs for this task and it is here that a headlamp comes in handy.

Bags – This was the most researched aspect of my trip. I decided to leave the suitcase at home and bought a holdall with wheels and a handle. Having something that opens along the length of your luggage is great for finding those items when you are in a hurry. Unless you are combining a Trek trip with travelling, i would avoid the large backpacks as you end up having to re-pack it each time. Along with your luggage, you will also need a day bag. This should be big enough to fit wallets/purses in, phones, mp3 players, books or anything for the van, with extra space for snacks and a drinks bottle. I took a medium sized satchel bag but should probably have just stuck with a generic backpack.

Chargers – I’m sure you will, but DO remember to bring all your chargers with you and adaptors to use in American sockets. It may also be worth buying an adaptor to use in the van lighter sockets. This is useful if you forget to charge your camera battery and are enroute to some exciting destinations. The front of the van is usually covered in wires about 90% of the driving time. I found a cheap one on Ebay for about £3.

This is where all your stuff goes!

The Girly Section

Guys, look away now. Girls, read more here as I had to make a separate post as it got rather lengthy. Plus, I wouldn’t want to inflict our female troubles on any males reading this.

Somewhere along Bourbon Street i was robbed :(

Money Factors

One cost i did not factor into my budget was snacks. I literally bought something from each gas station stop and it does add up. Another thing i forgot about was VAT and tipping. VAT is not added to the price of some items, such as clothing etc. This extra cost will get added on at the till. So, put away the $20 note, because that $19.99 top will actually cost you something completely different. As for tipping, 15-20% is usually the standard for bars, restaurants, guides or for anyone that gives you a service. One important tip that you need to factor in is for your Trek Leader. We all collected this on the last day and its all done anonymously – but don’t be a tight ass, these guys deserve a tip after hauling you foreigners around!

Be cautious with your finances. Let me direct you to a previous post so you can learn what NOT to do during your stateside adventure. Its worth splitting your money/cards up, so that if you have a back up if something does go missing. I managed to lose everything including my debit cards, cash, travellers card and even my Boots Advantage Card (why i brought that one along, i’ll never know) For travellers cards, i went with www.fairfx.com which is used like a top up card. Adding funds was easy, hassle free, and could be done online or by text. If possible, tell your debit/credit card company that you are  going abroad  to avoid having it blocked at an inconvinent time. If this does happen, you should be able to phone an international number to reverse it, this is usually located on the back of the card itself.

So overall how much did i spend? Including flights, the price of Trek, an extra day in New York, an additional 4 days in LA and spending money – approximately £3000. Although i am probably not the best person to ask as i ended up losing track of my finances after having my purse stolen. It may seem like a lot of money but it was worth every single penny!


Tearful Trekkie Goodbyes in L.A

Trek Diary: Day Twenty Three (19th July)

I have been avoiding writing this post. This was the final day of our three week long trip and it seemed like it was only yesterday that we were standing in the lobby back in New Jersey.

After a night of broken slumber thanks to the horrendous 4am alarm, we collected our belongings and set off in the van for one last time. After a Wendy’s burger for breakfast, the girls piled in the front whilst the boys caught up on some much needed sleep. As we started our journey, i could feel the tears welling up already. This was to be the saddest drive of my life. I probably shouldn’t have wasted it feeling sorry for myself but i was dreading having to say goodbye to everyone. It is amazing how close you become to the people you travel with. You start off as strangers, become friends and then end up as family.

There is not a great deal to see on the drive between Vegas and Los Angeles, but Steve still found us some odd roadside attractions. We made a pit stop in Baker to stretch our legs and to see the biggest thermometer in the world (which was broken). Nearby was a store selling “Alien Jerky” which was home to a large animatronic UFO that we let our mascot Elvis Travis ride. Other than that, its just desert for miles and miles!

Alien paraphernalia. Everywhere.

We also stopped off at a town called Barstow for lunch. This place is a typical stop off for the highway travelers and in one bus station (“Its a great family destination!”) there were a variety of fast food chains, shops and tacky souvenirs, all crammed under one roof. You can even eat your Big Mac in a McDonalds themed train – wonderful!

By late afternoon we had reached Los Angeles and spent some time driving around the city. We managed to see Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, the UCLA area and even had a quick stop at the Chinese Theater. (There will be more on L.A in a further post)

It All Ends

Fitting image for the last day!

We had a last Trek dinner together, where we drank plenty of Long Island iced tea (the new love in my life) and then it was back to our hotel to say our goodbyes. After three weeks with my strange family, it was now time for all of us to go our separate ways. Back to our home countries and for some of us, on to more adventures. I will admit, it all got a bit emotional.

Rooftop Jager Shots

The final group photo

I booked Trek America as a three week holiday and i had absolutely no idea that the trip would be so utterly life changing. Although we were not doing the independent backpacking experience – this trip still made a significant impact on me for many reasons. I wish i could do it all again with the knowledge of what i would learn from it and the impact each of these individuals would have on me. The gin-induced, spontaneous decision turned out to be the best choice i have ever made.

To each and every one of you on my trip – thank you!

Ughh, that all got a bit soppy. What a muschi.

xxx