Post Camp America Travel

*This is a blog post relating to a past trip. The trip was undertaken in the summer of 2015 (6 years ago at the time of writing). Therefore, details are going to be a little foggy, but I have written it for completeness of the blog to capture everywhere I have been.

After 9 weeks at camp, my time in America was far from over (read about my camp experience here). I still had 4 weeks worth of travelling around the US, my first real solo travel experience. I had actually planned most of my post camp travels before even leaving for the states. I remember my Dad had brought me a Lonely Planet Guide to the US and I had been looking over all the highlights and things I wanted to do from this book. I had a plan all laid out and even a flight booked before I even left the UK. I’ve always been a planner and still am, but looking back I should have just made travel plans with everyone when I was at camp as opposed to planning it all before I even set foot in the country. But travelling is all about learning and I learnt a lot from my first little solo adventure. I would still get the chance to meet up and travel with lots of my friends from camp and although I wasn’t as flexible as some I still linked my plans with those I had become close to.   

From camp, I caught a lift with some of the other staff to Philadelphia which was about a 3 hours drive. We had even driven there on one of our days off for a party at someone’s parent’s house (the police even showed up due to a noise complaint). About 6 of us ended up staying at Sage’s house, an American who lived in Philly with his parents and had worked at camp. The family was very welcoming and we all found spots to sleep for the night on the living room floor or sofa.

Group of friends, taking a selfie at the love sign in love park, Philadelphia
The gang at Love Park in Philly

After that first night at Sage’s, I then moved to a YHA in Philly for a few nights but still met up with most of the crew who had travelled to Sage’s to explore the city. We walked around all the main attractions in the city centre, going from Chinatown, to Love Park and then all the way to the art museum home to the iconic Rocky Steps. Famous from the movies as the stairs Rocky runs up during his training. I even reenacted the famous scene as many around me were also doing. We also toured around the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall the location where the declaration of independence was signed by the founding fathers back in 1776. Other highlights from my time in Philly included an obligatory Philly Cheese Steak, plus other culinary delights exploring Reading Terminal Market. One of my final stops before leaving the city was also the infamous East State Penitentiary. Once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious lawbreakers, including “Slick Willie” Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone. It was a really interesting place to wander around for a few hours contemplating what the place must have been like in its prime.  

Rocky Statue in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum
Rocky Statue

After a few days in Philly, I took the Greyhound bus down to the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. Once again Staying at a YHA, in fact, everywhere I stayed I booked into one of these having done most of my research and buying a membership before leaving England, also not too aware of Hostelworld at this point in my life. This was really my first taste of hostel life full stop. But every YHA was of a great standard and location so it wasn’t detrimental to the trip that I only stayed in these. Again in Washington as in Philly, there were loads of people from camp to explore with and although we weren’t staying in the same place we still met up many times. I also explored a little on my own and with an English friend I had made at the hostel, seem to remember him being called Sam. There was so much to see and do in D.C from all the monuments and memorials around the National Mall, then, of course, you have the White House and Capitol building as well as loads of museums. D.C quickly became one of my favourite cities to explore as a tourist. Day 1 I spent walking around the National Mall, taking in the WWII memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument, the Martin Luther King Jr memorial, the Korean and Vietnam War Memorials and finally the Franklin Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson Memorials. They were all such beautiful buildings, sculptures and murals and spending the day walking around reflecting, admiring and taking in the historical significance of the various sites was special. The following days I ventured into some of the free museums, firstly the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which to this day is still one of the most powerful and moving Museums I have been to. As well as the more upbeat Air and Space Museum and National Museum of Natural History, all free! I took a tour around the US Capitol Building, which sadly was covered in scaffolding during my visit, and also gazed at the White House from afar. I headed out to the Arlington National Cemetery which again is an incredibly moving place seeing all the perfectly maintained white headstones in perfect order no matter what direction you appear to be looking at them. As well as witnessing the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier also kept found here. I caught a Washington Nationals Baseball game with Sam one evening plus explored Georgetown University and the surrounding district. I even managed to get into a bar using my mates ID for a few beers in the city (19 at the time). Although we were a little harassed by a couple of adolescents riding bikes on the way back to my friend’s hotel. My hostel was a further 1km down the road, so instead of going alone, I took a taxi back the rest of the way just to be safe. Looking back now it’s actually crazy how much there is to do in the city and it’s easy to see why it’s still one of my favourites after all these years. The highlight however has to be a trip up the Washington Monument itself which offers amazing panoramic views across the city, National Mall and Whitehouse. I was also lucky enough to witness Barrack Obama fly overhead in the Presidential Helicopter and land at the Whitehouse. Totally unexpected when I was just wandering around the Washington Monument itself. 

After an action-packed few days in D.C, I then flew to Boston. Again a city steeped in history and character. A city that also doesn’t use the conventional grid layout as most US cities do. My YHA was just outside of Boston Common which was a lovely city park to but also became home to a few homeless people at night. I took the time to explore the various sites along the Freedom Trail, which takes you via foot to numerous historically significant sites in the city before enjoying Boston’s iconic dish of clam chowder in a bread bun, way better than it sounds. Another day I took the time to explore two of the worlds most famous and prestigious universities, MIT (Massachusetts Institution of Technology) and Harvard. It was just before the start of the semester so both places were a little dead, but just walking around these institutes regarded in such high esteem was really interesting for me, especially having just finished my first year of university back home. I even brought myself a Harvard T-shirt. I also managed to catch up with Sage again, who went to a third university in the city, BU (Boston University) as he had just moved back to start the school year. First, we made our way to the infamous Fenway Park Baseball Stadium, home to the Boston Red Sox. Whom just so happened to be playing the New York Yankees and is often described as the biggest rivalry in baseball. So it was an honour to not only visit the stadium but be in attendance for such a prominent fixture. I will admit though, baseball just isn’t a sport I fell in love with. I went to several games in the states, but in all honesty, I just find it a little bit boring. I think I’d go more for the social aspect of having a few beers with friends watching the game as opposed to paying too close attention to the game itself. After the game, I spent the night chilling with Sage and his friends before we tried to find a bit of a party somewhere but sadly we were a little too early in the year and all the real college pirates had yet to commence. I did, however, spend the night in his college dorm bathtub which I think for the remainder of the year was called Calum’s Tub, due to there being nowhere else to sleep. 

From Boston, I then took a ferry to Province Town, right on the northern tip of Cape Cod Peninsula. I spent about 5 days making my way down the Peninsular and then over to Martha Vineyard for a few days. This was certainly an idea I got from the book my dad gave me, and while the place was stunning, plus provided an opportunity to chill, with summer having ended everywhere was a bit dead. My first hostel was just outside Truro right on the beachfront about an hours walk from the main road and even longer from any real civilisation. I was lucky enough to get a lift to the hostel from the main road by a family passing by, and then once at the hostel made friends with really the only other person staying there, a 50-year-old bloke named Steve who might of well have been my dad haha. As everything was a drive away, Steve would drive me and him each night to go and get food at a restaurant nearby, while during the day I’d just chill on the beach, spotting seals just offshore. I’m worried that Steve comes across as a little creepy but it was anything but, he was just a nice man helping me out and it was a chance to chat about life with someone much further through it than me. The highlight of Cape Cod was the Whale Watching Tour which left from Provincetown. It was the perfect time of year as humpback whales come to the waters to feed and I have never seen so many whales in such a short space of time. 360 degrees around the whole boat you could see whales spouting water from their blowholes and coming up to feed. At one point 4 whales all rose to the surface mouths gaping wide 30 m or so from the boat. It honestly brought me to tears and was such an awe-inspiring moment. After a few days at the YHA on Cape Cod, I then took a bus, followed by a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard which is also the filming location of Jaws. I stayed on the island for a few nights, but again it was absolutely dead. I passed away my time exploring the island lighthouses and beaches, one even happened to be a nudist beach which came as a bit of a shock while I strolled along fully clothed. It’s also the place that put me off carbonara for life. I had decided to cook myself dinner a few nights, so brought some pasta and a carbonara sauce, enough for two meals. The first night I cooked and started to eat and the sauce ended up tasting horrendous, honestly like sick. However, there was nothing within walking distance of the hostel and I was hungry so had to force it down. To make matters worse, the following night for some outrageous reason I decided I didn’t want to get something else so had the second portion knowing full well it tasted awful. Even writing this now is making me gag a little just thinking about it. Enough with the shit jar sauce though. Looking back the decision to go to Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard was a little odd. While beautiful, it’s a place that 60-year-old Americans go on vacation to their second home. Hardly the hustle and bustle place for a 19-year-old. It also would have been better in the height of summer but I was a bit too late. I should have gone to Chicago with some of my camp friends instead. But you live and you learn and the whole trip in America taught me many lessons which helped me in my future travels. Travel is like any other skill, you have to learn and make mistakes to get better at it and that’s also part of the appeal. 

After my week chilling out and being a little bit bored, it was time for my final destination which was anything but chilled out, New York. The Big Apple was where I had landed 3 months prior and was also the place I would spend my final 5 days in the states before flying home. Again there was a good crowd of people from camp in town so I would spend time catching up with these, but also got impatient waiting for them so would also head off and do my own thing. Like D.C there was so much to fit in and see. I ticked off all the major tourist attractions, Times Square, the Rockefeller Centre, going right to the top at day and also night time, which offered amazing views of Manhattan, Central Park, The Empire State Building and even as far down One World Trade Centre. I walked around Wall Street and explored Central Park on foot. I took the subway over to Brooklyn as I wanted to walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge, but ended up getting a little lost and walked back over the Manhattan Bridge instead, which does offer great views of the Brooklyn Bridge, but evidently, isn’t the Brooklyn bridge. Meaning once back in Manhattan I then walked to the actual Brooklyn Bridge to then correctly stroll halfway across it and back. Another cool thing I did was walk the High Line which is a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail created on a former New York Central Railroad spur. It offers some unique and amazing views of the city from above. I also happened to be in town on the 14th anniversary of the Twin Towers terrorist attack which was also a sobering experience and the memorial which is now present in place of the two towers is a deeply moving memorial to all those who lost their lives during the horrific event. New York was a crazy city though, and seeing all the famous landmarks just didn’t feel real at times, the yellow cabs passing by, Madison Square Gardens, Grand Central Station as well as all the other landmarks I’d already listed. I took a boat tour which passed under the Brooklyn Bridge and also went out toward the Statue of Liberty again having to pinch yourself that you’re witnessing with your own eyes something you’ve seen countless times on a screen. I had the same sensation when I first saw the Opera house in Sydney. I had to end my amazing solo summer in style and opted to take a helicopter over the city as my parents had done many years earlier when they too visited NYC. Sadly times have changed since their experience as helicopters are now only permitted to follow the Hudson river, whereas previously they darted above the city itself. But regardless it was still amazing. I was lucky to be sat upfront with the pilot so my first helicopter flight was around the great city itself, flying out and over the Statue of Liberty before turning back to face the city and roaring up the Hudson River to the George Washington bridge. The whole flight was around 20 to 30 minutes but it was the best way to end the trip. I spent my last dollar which I earned from camp in the airport before flying home having lived the American dream for 3 months. 

If Costa Rica was the start of Events Adventures, America is where it matured. I had an amazing summer meeting like-minded individuals from across the world. I had learnt so much about what it was to travel and also better ways to do so. It was a great learning experience for me, and while I likely would have changed a few things now, that’s the beauty of hindsight. Even so, it doesn’t change what a fantastic time I had, I’m just being critical now. It’s also the first trip I made a video from. My parents had brought me a GoPro Hero 3 for Christmas after I had to borrow my Dad’s Camera for my Costa Rica Trip. It hadn’t even been in my mind to make a video until a friend at camp showed me his edit from the previous summer and I thought it was a great way to be able to look back on my experience in the years to come. I’d never really thought much about video editing or taking photos before the trip but looking back now it’s really where it all began for me. The video itself is pretty basic, I basically just chuck all my photos and video footage together, but it was the foundation for every video I’ve done since. In fact, I’ve just watched my USA video writing this, for the first time in probably over 3 years. And I can’t stop smiling, even if basic it’s just such a great visual reminder to myself of the time I had and all I did. The videos I make will probably never be watched or go viral, but I don’t make them for that reason, honestly not in the slightest, same with this blog. I do it because I enjoy the process of putting them together and enjoy more watching them again years after the trip. I’ll randomly chuck one of my videos on for 5 minutes which transports me back to all those amazing times I’ve lived through and can now live through, again and again, thanks to my photos and videos. 

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