So here it is, you guys: the beginning of the America trip, in all its glory. Neither me nor my boyf had ever even been on a long haul flight before, yet there we were, planning three months in America without much of an idea of a route other than that we were starting in Los Angeles and finishing in New York. The whole thing was a series of rollercoaster rides, but let’s kick things off with rollercoaster ride number one: entry to the New World. Aka, America. You know what I’m saying. Our feelings about leaving England were possibly not too dissimilar to those lovely folks who set sail on the Mayflower back in the day- possibly but not probably. The one key difference is that we travelled by plane as opposed to massive giant ship. We were excited, we were nervous, it was INTENSE.
Helped with the medium of smileys, here is a blow-by-blow account of our journey across the pond.
Packing had been quite a conundrum. We both had giant backpacks- my (borrowed) one being roughly the same size as me. But despite the gargantuousness of these, when you’re packing for three months space quickly becomes an issue. I’d decided on taking roughly seven days-worth of clothes, based on the assumption that although we were on a budget- therefore staying mainly in hostels- washing facilities would be available. (Americans in general seem like a pretty clean bunch to me, and let’s face it- the USA is quite possibly the tamest of countries to plan an epic journey across. It’s unlikely that we’d end up washing our clothes in the Hudson River or the swamps of Louisiana) My bf went for the same approach to packing as me, plus a few extras, namely a magnifying glass and a compass, in case of emergencies, obviously. We’d recently watched 127 Hours together so although we weren’t planning on trekking into the Utah desert and becoming entrapped by a giant boulder, it’s good to know that we were nevertheless prepared for all eventualities.
The drive to Heathrow was pretty full on intense. I was a bit choked up to tell the truth, with a sort of weird nervous adrenaline excitement kind of nervousness. We booked our flights over six months prior to the day of departure but it still hadn’t quite sunk in. Don’t get me wrong…we were both excited…but at that moment in time I think also a little stunned at the fact we were about to wing it across an unknown country by ourselves. I mean, neither of us had ever stepped foot outside of Europe, for goodness’ sake! America was off the scale of my normality.
Under normal circumstances I’m more of an easyJet/RyanAir kind of a girl, so the idea of sitting on a long haul flight which not only had legspace and unlimited movies, but on which the food was included FREE OF CHARGE was incredible. I really like free stuff, so I didn’t care that the food was sort of mushy. It also hit me at the exact moment the flight attendant handed me my chicken-y pasta-ish dish with cheese and biscuits, that I didn’t have to go to work for THREE WHOLE ENTIRE MONTHS. Hallelujah, praise the Lord! (I’m not religious but I do like to say praise the Lord a lot) One other thing I particularly appreciated was being able to check our location on the screens…it’s through this amazing piece of technology that I discovered there’s a place called the Labrador Sea. Who knew!? I imagined it to be swimming with aquatic, amphibious Labradors, but we were too high above it for me to clearly see. The crazy excitement vibes had clearly reduced me to a crazy MESS, getting overly excited about free pasta mush and dogs in the sea.
After eight hours we arrived in snow-covered Minneapolis, where we had a connecting flight to LAX. (Minneapolis Border Control is a barrel of laughs, I’ll tell you that for free.)
We were called to the desk together to have a little chat with the Border Control man about why we were venturing onto American soil. Thank goodness I’d already heard the horror stories about entering the country and was therefore fully expecting the Spanish Inquisition and a lack of manners, that’s all I’m saying! I had to point out our return flights in black and white print on our itinerary at least five times before he finally stopped telling me that I clearly had no return flights booked. I mean, they were right there! On the paper! And he kept informing me that I was wrong!? What a funny chap.
After strongly denying the heavily-moustached Border Control Agent’s allegations that my bf and I were planning to get married in America and continue to live there illegally, we were eventually granted permission to enter the country. What a relief. The moustached man then warned us that LA is an extremely dangerous place and wished us well on our way. We were officially in. THANK GOD.
By the time we got onto the connecting flight from Minneapolis, it was dark again and the excitement of free pasta mush and no work had been overtaken by extreme tiredness. This plane was a lot smaller than the first one and a lot emptier too…and as it was a shorter flight, there wasn’t even free mush to ease the pain of sleep-deprivation, alas. We mostly had chocolate and water to ease our weariness, and by the time we got into LA it felt like my muscles and bones had fused into one fixed position, whilst simultaneously being in desperate need of a shower and a bed!
Let me tell you something: LAX Airport is a strange and mysterious place. Stepping from the dimly-lit bubble of the plane into the harsh glare of the airport which was jam-packed with people and kind of grimy-feeling was quite a shock. My bf was convinced he even spotted Tinie Tempah casually reclining in a corner, but that was possibly a hallucination- we couldn’t be too sure by that late stage in the journey, know what I’m saying!?
Here was a shocker: people couldn’t understand my accent. Not good! We had booked a room at a nearby Travelodge (glamorous) as we were arriving so late, so had to call them to arrange our shuttle pick-up from outside. I approached a lady who worked at the airport to ask where I could find a phone, but to my confusion she couldn’t understand a word that was coming from my mouth.
“Woah hun….what!? Slow down, I’m havin’ difficulty understandin’ you!?”
My accent seemed to have taken on a mind of it’s own and grew increasingly ‘proper’ with each repetition, which I doubt helped in anyway at all. How awkward. But she was a nice lass and offered me her cell phone to call from, so eventually we made our way outside into the cold and misty LA air to await the promised shuttle. It actually was really cold and misty, probably not what you’d expect for your first arrival in California. I was shivering. And palm trees look quite spooky in that kind of atmosphere, let me tell you.
When we finally reached our strongly-cleaning-product-scented room at the hotel I was so happy I could’ve cried. But I didn’t. I slept, for bloody ages. It was glorious I tell you. Full on glorious.
- If you’re only going to be spending three months or less in the USA and are also from a country which is part of the Visa Waiver Program, you can apply to travel on an ESTA, which is much simpler to get hold of than an old school US visa. This is because they just do an online background check and off you go, without the rigmarole of trekking up to the American embassy for an interview.
- When applying for your ESTA, do it through the actual US government ESTA site, otherwise you could end up needlessly paying a massive fee to have an agency do it on your behalf. Ain’t nobody got time(or money) for that.
- We booked our flights with STA, which saved us a fortune. I mean don’t get me wrong- we were lucky we were under 26 at the time, as the flights are cheaper for youngsters, but they’re still a great company worth going to for flights further afield.
- When you go through Border Control into the US, have your itinerary available to show them that you are planning on returning to your homeland. Even if they refuse to read it like our lovely Minneapolis Man, at least you can comfort yourself with the fact that you do have physical proof of your intentions to eventually leave America.