TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek: niagara falls and lake erie

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - niagara falls and lake erieAfter a chilled first day, I woke up at 5am to the sound of bullfrogs and trains. Ahh, the camping life…

As I headed to the toilet, dodging every bullfrog I that I couldn’t see, I looked across the lake and saw the most beautiful sunrise with some mist eerily creeping along it. That was the moment I thought, wow I’m actually in America…

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - sunrisesunrise at finger lakes
linebreakNoisy bullfrogs and sunrises aside, today was the day I could tick off something else on my bucket list – Niagara Falls! Once everyone had swiftly packed up their tents (me and Polly woke up first so we didn’t have to take ours down, score!), and had breakfast, we packed up all our stuff and got into the van for a long drive to the Falls. Along the way we discovered that we would be in small groups and would have chores to do on the trip such as DJing, van cleaning, cooking and washing up. I was paired with Matty and Marc. We also handed over our food kitty money for the first half of the trip – it was so much easier handing it over in one go, rather than dishing out $10 a day!

travel - trekamericas grand trek - niagara falls view of toronto

travel - trekamericas grand trek - niagara falls rainbowtop: toronto, bottom: rainbow on the falls
linebreakWith Luke Bryan’s Country Girl blasting out (soon to become a trek favourite), we all seemed a lot chattier today and couldn’t wait to arrive at Niagara! As soon as we got there Steve took us to Horseshoe Falls before having some lunch. Then it was onto the Maid of the Mist cruise (with some elegant big blue ponchos to match). The views up close on the cruise were incredible, and it was amazing to see the Canadian side of the Falls – all of the buildings looked so futuristic and so different from New York!

travel - trekamerica tour tips- girls at niagara fallsthe girls after the maid in the mist cruise
linebreakAfter getting a tad wet on the cruise (which I would really recommend), we then all walked up to the observation pier, where we took plenty of selfies and got to see the Falls from a different angle.

travel - trekamericas grand trek - up close to niagara fallscloser view of the falls
linebreakOnce we were all selfied out, we said goodbye to Niagara Falls and headed to Walmart. Ahh Walmart… You could literally get lost in that store and possibly never find a way out for days. Me, Marc and Matty were the first one’s chosen to cook so we decided on something simple – fajitas! After we picked up everything that we needed, we then headed to our next campsite, Geneva State Park in Lake Erie!

That night was another quiet and chilled one – we all had some gorgeous teriyaki burgers and tried to light a fire for smores. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going our way so we decided to go to bed, all excited for tomorrow where we would hit Cedar Point!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek: finger lakes

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakesAfter two months of waiting and preparing, the day has finally come…

Today was our first day of the trekamerica’s Grand Trek. We all met in the Hotel’s lounge after breakfast where we were introduced to our tour leader for the next 21 days – Steve. (Who later become known as Beer Steve, but more on that later.) After filling out some paperwork and a quick round of introductions, we all packed our luggage into the van and headed to our first stop of the tour – Finger Lakes. I’m not going to lie, the first couple of hours were painfully silent. Maybe we all had a case of pre-trek nerves? (This however, was soon going to change in a couple of days time where the van would be filled with Kirsty’s snoring, the odd dance move and plenty of pranking.)

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - delaware water gapdelaware water gap
linebreakPossibly sensing the deafening silence, Steve made a quick pit stop at Delaware Water Gap for lunch (provided by him, whatta guy.) It was a nice break from the busy streets of New York and to just to sit there and get to know one another. Feeling a little bit better acquainted we all got back into the van and headed to our first campsite – Watkins KOA.

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - camp tentmine and polly’s tent – nantawald
linebreakI was actually really surprised at how fancy this campsite was (I envisioned a festival sort of moment with toilet drops and dodgy showers) – but it even had a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi! After a dishing out of the tents (me and my tent buddy Polly picked Nantawold – oh how we will come to miss that tent in 21 days’ time…) and a demonstration from Steve, we tried our hand at pitching them before heading to winery Pompous Ass.

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - pompous ass wine tastingpompous ass winery
linebreakIf there’s one way to break the ice, it’s wine tasting. We all got to sample a variety of different flavours, and if you liked a particular wine you could buy it with a special one-off price, so naturally me and Polly picked the Riesling. (Es war seht gut!)

After pretending to be top wine connoisseurs, Steve had planned for us to go to the beach and walk near the falls, but unfortunately due to bad weather they were off limits. Instead, sensing that we were beginning to open up with one another after being plied with alcohol, he took us to a liquor store. Me and Polly decided to buy some gin (America’s first fyi – which did last us about 35 out of 43 days of the trip – maybe it lasted so long because it tasted like America’s first gin) before heading back to the campsite.

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - camp life

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - camp foodtop: our first family meal, bottom: bbq chicken with asparagus & salad
linebreakAs Steve was cooking tea (a yummy bbq with asparagus – this was the start of healthy cooked meals we had the entire trip), all of the girls decided to have a bounce around on a giant inflatable pillow (yes, you read that correctly) before chilling in the pool. Once we all had tea, we then played a few drinking games before heading to bed.

It was such a good first night of the trip! And everyone seemed so excited to head to our next destination – Niagara Falls and Lake Erie!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek: before the trek – new york city

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - before the trek new york cityYou may be aware that this summer I travelled around America with tour company trekamerica. Here is a photo diary of what I got up to in New York before the trek started!

Flying on my own to New York was quite scary, I’m not usually a plane person but flying with Delta Airlines definitely helped! It was all plane sailing (ahahah) until I landed at Newark Airport, where our plane was met with the Port Authority Police. Apparently there had been a bomb threat to our plane. Luckily they had found nothing too suspicious! Glad to be alive and well, I headed to the Crowne Plaza Hotel Newark to check-in, where I met Polly and Matty – my fellow Grand Trekkers. After an initial hello, we all got on the train to New York Penn Station (after a mini tour of Terminal P4 courtesy of me and my bad directions), where we were greeted with the hustle and bustle of New York City.

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city - madison square garden

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city - hooterstop: madison square gardens, middle: the city, bottom: hooters
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travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city - bryant park 3bryant park
linebreakWe ticked off quite a few areas that afternoon – Madison Square Garden (which was conveniently placed outside Penn Station), Macy’s, Broadway, Bryant Park and of course Times Square. It didn’t seem real that we were in New York, which was quite strange as it has been on my travel bucket list for ages! Maybe it was the fact that I had been awake for almost 24 hours? After many selfies were taken, we were all feeling a bit peckish, so after spending ages trying to find somewhere to eat, we headed to a pizza place for a slice of New York’s finest pizza. One thing which I love about America is the generous portion sizes, and that pizza slice was just a taste of what was to come on the trip food-wise.

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city - pizza

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city - usa flag times squaretop: hawaiian pizza slice, bottom: times square
linebreakAfter a long day, it was time to head back to the hotel, where I met my roommate Holly, who was also joining us on the trek – and to get ready for bed as tomorrow would be an early start – 7.30am eeek!

Look out for my next post where I meet the rest of my trek group and we travel to our first stop – Finger Lakes!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – trek america tour tips

travel - trekamerica tour tipsYou may be aware that I spent the past two months travelling around America with trekamerica, and I cannot recommend them enough! Here are my top tips if you’re considering or have already booked yourself onto a tour.

1) Take a suitcase.  You might want to live the stereotypical ‘traveller/backpacker’ dream, but give your back a break (trust me, it will get a workout if you’re hiking) and invest in a suitcase! You can not only fit more clothes in it, you will also have more room for the inevitable souvenirs that you will buy! I personally took a hardshell suitcase which definitely came in handy when there were torrential downpours and some of the tents got flooded!

2) Take insect repellant with at least 50% DEET. Believe it or not, mosquitoes and ticks live in America. And they just love your skin. When you arrive at camp, DEET. When you just come out of the shower, DEET. When you’re in Lafayette, DEET. (I forgot to DEET in Lafayette, and my legs are still recovering now). Just remember to DEET.

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3) Buy a pillow when you get there. If you’re camping, invest in a $2 pillow from Walmart when you arrive. You already have to sleep on the ground, why make it more uncomfortable without a cheap fluffy pillow?

4) Take a head torch (and batteries). You never know when you might need to put your tent up in the dark (as we found out in Jackson, Wyoming). Luckily for me and Polly, we had built our tent about 15 times before then and mastered the art of tent erecting in the dark perfectly. But a head torch does help. It also helps for late night trips to the toilets too…

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5) Invest in a good waterproof jacket. If the rain curse decides to follow you on your tour (like it did ours), a waterproof jacket is a must-have!

6) Take hiking boots. These guys will especially come in handy if you’re visiting any of the National Parks. I bought these waterproof Gelert high top boots from Sports Direct, and they were great not only for walking, but for when you’re cooking in ankle deep water! (as we discovered in Cedar Point, Ohio!)

7) It will get cold. Cold you say!? Yup, it does get cold in America, especially at night! So make sure you pack yourself a comfy hoodie (this will be your campsite and van drive essential) and some fluffy cosy socks to keep those tootsies warm!

linebreaktravel - trekamerica tour tips - the trek family at mount washburn yellowstonethe trek family at mt. washburn, yellowstonelinebreak

8) Flip flops are a must! At first, you will use them for when you visit the showers, but as the trip goes on, they literally become your footwear staple (aside from hiking boots) and you will wear them everywhere! You can thank me for this tidbit later…

9) Be prepared to tip! The American minimum wage is $2.13p/h. Without tips, the amazing waiter who served you your beautiful food won’t be able to pay their rent or even buy food of their own. So don’t forget to tip your waiters (between 15-20%), and to also tip a $1 to the bartender per drink. (Tipping bartenders also ensures you’ll get their attention first and maybe a little stronger tipple in your drink the next time you head to the bar)

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10) If you’re gonna start a prank war, make sure you execute your ideas perfectly! As me and Polly learnt on our Northern Trail trip! After a triumphant first round taking the tarp off the boys’ tent, our pranking then went down hill. (Note to self: Flip flops and giggles will give the game away)

11) You will make friends! Most of the people on your tour will be solo travellers and will be in the same boat as you. But after the first van ride, you will become so close (you’re literally spending 24/7 with them), that you will get on with somebody! One conversation starter is: ‘what place are you looking forward to visiting the most?’

There you go! I hope this helps anyone who is considering or has already booked a trekamerica tour! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek instagram snaps week seven

travel - grand trek insta snaps week 7It’s the last week of the trip! After six weeks of travelling around America, it’s finally coming to an end!

washinton - flags at washington monument and the white houseWashington: Washington Monument / The White House

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philidelphia - liberty bell and rocky stepsPhiladelphia: Liberty Bell / on top of the famous Rocky steps

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new york - statue of liberty and flight homeNew York: Statue of Liberty / View from the plane ride home

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The last three places on my trekamerica trip were the wonderful Washington, Philadelphia and New York. We had two days in Washington, where we had a day time bike tour, ate breakfast at the famous IHOP and explored museums. It was then time for our farewell dinner in Georgetown. It was safe to say that we were all ready to head home after such a long trip! But it was lovely to have a chilled last family night. Philadelphia was next, and was a quick pit-stop where we visited the Liberty Bell, posed on the Rocky steps and tried the famous Philli cheese steaks (one word: delicious!). Afterwards it was a short drive to our gateway hotel in Newark, where we all said goodbye! Me, Matty and Polly then checked in and headed straight to New York where we saw the sun set on top of the Empire State Building. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen! The next day, me and Matty literally trekked around the city to try and see as much as we could – we visited the Statue of Liberty, walked the High Line, chilled in Central Park and saw the 9/11 memorial. It was then time to say goodbye and head home!

These past two months have literally been the best two months of my life – it’s such a cliche thing to say, but, when you do travel you learn a lot about yourself, and on this trip I surprised myself and did things I never thought I would do. Despite the few downs (Cedar Point I’m looking at you), I would definitely do it again, and it’s definitely fuelled my passion for travel!

Stay tuned for in-depth photo diaries of my American adventure!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek instagram snaps week five

travel - grand trek insta snaps week five

Week five and after our amazing stay in Monument Valley (and seeing a beautiful sunrise), it’s time to hit New Mexico and Texas!

santa fe - cocktails and townSanta Fe: cocktails / the town centre

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amarillo - spray painting cadillacs and dinner at a texan steakhouseAmarillo: spray painting at a Cadillac ranch / Dinner at the Big Texan Steakhouse

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austin - greetings from austin and texas state capitolAustin: Greetings from Austin art / Texas State Capitol

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On the way to our campsite at Santa Fe, our trek leader Morgan took us see the beautiful badlands to have our lunch. It was a pretty cool sight – and so different to Badlands National Park which we saw on the Northern Trail! Afterwards, we arrived at the campsite, set up our tents and headed to the Plaza! Santa Fe is such a beautiful city (it’s meant to be one of the oldest cities in America), and it was such a shame that we didn’t have a lot of time there. But not to fret, as the next stop was the USA’s biggest state – Texas! We were on our way to Amarillo, home of the Big Texan Steakhouse (and a 72oz steak), where we had an amazing steak dinner. We also stopped off at a Cadillac ranch to graffiti some Cadillacs – safe to say we definitely left our mark! Then it was onto Austin – the home of live music and great nightlife! Me and a few others went to see Jurassic World Park at a very old school cinema (hello tables and service!), before having a night on the town! Despite a thunderstorm in Amarillo (yep, the rain’s still following us), I have had so much fun so far! New Orleans, here I come!

Stay up to date with all the latest goings-on with my USA trip on instagram – @sazwatson.

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek instagram snaps week four

travel - grand trek insta snaps week four

It’s the fourth week of our trip and that officially marks the end of our Northern Trail tour!

travel - grand trek - trek family and universal studios hollywood The Northern Trail family / Universal Studios, LA

linebreaktravel - grand trek - downtown vegas and angels landing Downtown Vegas / On top of Angels Landing, Zion

linebreaktravel - grand trek - grand canyon and monument valley Sat on top of the Grand Canyon / Sunrise at Monument Valley

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After three weeks of rain, pranking and hiking, the Northern Trail finally came to an end in LA. We spent the last couple of days there at a baseball game (let’s go Dodgers, let’s go!) and on our free day; a few of us went to Universal Studios, whilst the rest hit Venice Beach. It was so sad the next morning saying goodbye to our friends but we had one thing to keep us going – Viva Las Vegas! What can I say? Vegas was incredible! The Bellagio Fountains were just as I imagined (amazing!) and it’s safe to say, we all had a good time there! We then conquered Angel’s Landing in Zion – one of the most strenuous and dangerous trails in America’s national park system – something of which I am incredibly proud of! The next couple of days were spent at the Grand Canyon, where most of us pretty much chilled out and took in the views. (And did the last and final hike of the trip, yay!) The week ended on a high at Monument Valley, which was one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced! We slept under the stars, had a traditional Navajo dinner, danced and did a jeep tour of the valley. The first week of the Southern Sun tour has been amazing so far, and I cannot wait for the next few stops to come – Austin, New Orleans and Nashville! 

Stay up to date with all the latest goings-on with my USA trip on instagram – @sazwatson.

sigyhl

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