7 Things I Learnt Whilst Driving Across the United States

So after 5000 miles travelling West to East Coast I was home at the end of July. 
Sucks I know. I had fallen head over heels in love with the United States and am already wishing to go back for more. It is definitely an underrated destination. 

Travelling cross-country felt more like visiting micro-countries, each with their own distinct culture, identity, cuisine, geography and accent. 
Driving through the dry desert lands in Arizona was the polar opposite to the hustle and bustle of the traffic jams and sky scrapper jungle that is New York. 

It gave me such a wider appreciate for this country and can relate to how people may get offended if you mistake someone from a certain state or refer to everyone as a collective. Its too big for that! Its the same in the UK, just on a much much much smaller scale; being Welsh it is a pet-hate of mine to be called English. I'm not. 

The United States is huge 
Anyone can see that from looking at a map. But to actually be there, driving 7 hours and to still only be in the same state is crazy! A road trip across the states isn't a quick weekend job. It is a big country! We travelled coast to coast in 24 days which was impressive and managed to get a taster of loads of amazing cities and states along the way. Enough to know where I would definitely want to return to and explore more. The vastness of the country is pretty overwhelming and some of the landscapes we drove through were out of this world.

When its hot its hot
I don't know why but I never really gave the temperature or humidity much thought before the trip. I assumed the hottest places for obvious reasons would be Death Valley (which we didn't actually go to because, well, it was too hot ha) and after that it'd be you know mid-20s (Celsius), maybe into a 30 if we were lucky. 
It was hot, basically everywhere we went! We burnt so badly the first 2 days in San Francisco when it was low 20s and cloud cover. The more South we got the hotter and more humid it got. The worst and most unbearable places were New Orleans and Memphis. You would get out of the shower and within 10 minutes you'd need another one to cool off. And the fact we were stuck on a mini bus for hours at a time during travel days the air-con just wouldn't make a different in the southern regions; I've honestly never sweated so much in my life from just sitting down doing nothing.

America loves its country music
I go through phases with music. Before the trip I was all into EDM and the odd Celine Dion ha. But being on a bus for hours listening to other peoples music and pre-made playlists for specific states and cities opened my ears to this great music. So much country! 
In Nashville we went to a few bars and live bands would play and the cool twang was so upbeat and inviting you just couldn't help dance long. & who's going to say no to a hoedown thrown down!?

Food glorious food
You can literally crave any type of cuisine from anywhere in the world and you will find it, and in big portions too! From the pizzas in New York City, the fresh seafood along the West coast, the spicy tacos in New Mexico to the home-cooked southern Cajun dishes in New Orleans. These are all locals dishes to each city or state. What I was most surprised is how good their world food is; Chinese food better than in China, Italian dishes, Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican and so on. You probably can't find so much diversity anywhere else in the world. 
One of my favourite foods I tried whilst over in the states has to be the alligator sausage in New Orleans. I had two. It was delicious. I ate a lot of shrimp too, in San Francisco & in Louisiana.

People are friendly and happy to help
I suppose you find this wherever you go, you either have a really good experience with the locals or not. I found that the people were super friendly and so eager to help out especially when they heard we'd travelled over from Wales (and all over the world in our group) and doing a cross-country trip. In supermarkets or shops staff were keen to point you in the right direction as they could tell on our faces we had no idea where anything was. It made the trip less daunting and feel safe and comfortable knowing people were happy to help us. Even in New York City where everyone seems to be in a rush to be somewhere, we found people in the subway who helped us with our tickets and getting through the barriers with all our bags because we didn't know how to.  

The national parks are one of a kind
I prefer parks to cities. And this trip has reinstated that fact. The United States is beautiful without a doubt and all of the national parks were phenomenal in their own right.
Yosemite NP had some of the most amazing waterfalls I've ever seen and the panoramic views from Glacial Point and the Sentinel Dome were breathtaking. I really loved the hike a group of us chose to do, it was tough and nearly killed us in the heat but was so worth it! 
Grand Canyon was a special one for me. I got a little emotional and speechless at our first view of the Canyon. I have never seen something so beautiful in my life. The mix of colours and shapes of the rocks were incredible. As a geography graduate even I can't fathom how a flowing river could create something so spectacular. A few of us opted for a helicopter ride through the canyon from South to North rim and I would encourage everyone to do the same - it was mind blowing. 
Monument Valley was fantastic. Being able to drive through the valley in a Jeep with a Navajo guide showing us all the buttes and their names was amazing. We had such a culture shock visiting there and the landscape was like nothing I'd ever seen. Being able to sleep under the stars in this park was a highlight - although the sky wasn't that clear the lightning storm in the distance lit up the sky was beautiful to watch.

The architecture is on point
It actually surprised me how many buildings or bridges I fell in love with. Simply by their design. You find in major cities there is always a desire to have the biggest or tallest or longest of something and the skyline is constantly changing. 
Take New York City for example, only just before going on my trip I had read about the One World Trade / Freedom Tower - I had never seen or heard about it before and had thought that the Empire State was still the tallest building in New York. When we arrived I was obsessed with the One Trade building. The shape and colour of it was incredible. I am fascinated to see how the skyline of New York will change and grow over time and what heights will be possible in years to come. 
The memorial buildings in Washington DC were very impressive too. I didn't think I'd ever be that interested into going to Washington DC but then the more I researched about it the more keen I became and when we were there it was fantastic. I would love love love to go back and spend even more time exploring the different memorials and museums. 

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Top 5 Burgers in the USA

I'm a burger lover ok
So it would be rude not to have a post dedicated to all the fabulously-filthy burgers I ate on my recent trip!

Now I didn't want to have a burger in every place, I wanted to sample some more local dishes here & there but when the burger section of the menu was just screaming out to me I had to cave.
I actually only had 5 burgers on the trip, so this is me literally just ranking those.
Im pretty sure there's hundreds of more amazing burgers! 

#5 Denny's in Las Vegas; Baconslamburger. Now this was just disappointing tbh. First off, there was no bacon so that to me is a major issue already. It was 11pm in the evening in Vegas and we were pretty hungry but the only place we could see in Fremont St was a Denny's so we settled. It was edible but definitely not the best burger I've ever had. The fries were nice though.

#4 Snow Cap, Seligman Route 66; Choink. This was a great burger. Such a fun little place in Seligman. The staff are all so friendly and pulling pranks on the customers. The choink was a cheeseburger with bacon. All the burgers come with 'everything' like sauces, lettuce, various toppings but I'm never interested in any of that stuff so asked for without. Just meat, cheese & bacon & the odd lettuce leaf pls. They also do some good shakes here too! 

#3 In-N-Out, Las Vegas; Double double. Im all about the double. And this was defo an improvement from McDonalds double cheese burg. So much love for In-N-Out! Juicy, loads of cheese; it was heaven. This was pre-vegas party bus so a fantastic job of lining the stomach.

#2 Shake Shack, JFK Airport; Roadside Shack. This is a limited edition burger people so get it while you can.  And feel free to export them to the UK for me thanks! This juicy bit of goodness was a single (double also available) burg topped with caramelised onions simmered in beer and bacon. I'm actually dribbling just thinking about it again. It was so good!! I had heard alot of people rave about Shake Shack so we were in the airport about to leave the US so this was my last opportunity to try one. Thank for the Lord I did - it was amazing. The cheese fries are also pretty awesome. So much cheese! 

#1 Cowgirl BBQ, Sante Fe; Buffalo Burg. Just look at it. Ohmy. Life-changing burger. I added Monterrey cheese and bacon to this, obv, and it was sensational. The buffalo meat was so lean and just generally orgasmic. It was huge as well so amazing value for money. I was worried I wasn't going to finish, pfft, how naive of me. Of course I finished!! Quite alot of people went for different burgers from here and all raved about them! Really cool place just to drink as well. 

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I miss you America. 
I've said it before but I will say it again; I fell in love with this country. 
It totally helps that I had an amazing tour group & guides and we went to some incredible places. Without them the trip would have been completely different.

I miss camping. I know that might be a weird one but I do. The whole 'community' vibe of our camp. Who would get the best spot for their tent, who could put up their tent the quickest, group effort doing the cooking & dishes, bonding around the campfire, playing music, singing, trips to the river. In hotels you don't get that, everyone is in different rooms and during free time people went off and did their own thing. At least at the camp grounds if people went off for a swim they'd be back at dinner and everyone could play games and share a few beers. I guess I'm just needy and liked when the group was together ha.

I miss the views. Some of the views are ones that I am never going to forget. Whether it be the changing landscape from state to state just looking out the bus window, or the beautiful national parks during hikes, or the impressive city skylines. The diversity of the views is what made it so special.  

I miss Walmart. Why is there no Walmart in Colwyn Bay please? I miss walking in and seeing the weird and wonderful people who shop there. I miss that everything comes in either sizes massive or extra-massive and that its all super cheap. 

I miss Chips Ahoy. Ohmygod. I am not coping without these. I found 2 flavours since being home. Both the hard cookies - I only like the soft ones. The birthday frosting flavour was to die for and the brownie & the fudge. Oh god. Emily looked into importing them into the UK. £60 for 2 packets??!! 

I miss their business hours: Another weird one but bare with me. If I was out for the day and come 11pm wanted a sit down meal, I'd be lucky to find a restaurant still open, never mind still serving food. In San Francisco we stumbled across the godsend that is Cheesecake Factory that closes at 12:30am. So a sitdown meal of spaghetti meatballs at 11:30 it was. I appreciated that very much!  

I miss feeling 100% happy. Work is a bitch and everyone goes through the depressing stages of hating work. That's me like everyday. I found like 2 grey hairs earlier this year because I let work get to me and stress me out so much. This trip was literally therapy. I can't remember the last time I felt so happy and content with nothing stressing me out. Its amazing how therapeutic travelling can be. To some it might be a nightmare but on a pre-organised trip it was smooth sailing and meant we could relax and take everything in and let our guides do all the amazing hard work they did! 

I miss my new friends. We were so lucky. We had such an amazing group of people from all over the world. Everyone was so friendly and funny. We had a group of 14 plus 2 fantastic guides who we just saw as part of the group and everyone got on so well. It wouldn't be a trip without a few heated discussions but that's expected when you are thrown in with strangers and living and sharing a bus with them for 3 weeks, but it was nothing that couldn't be resolved and we all departed happy families. I miss the private jokes we had and all the great bus singalongs, some of the activities we did and memories we'll share together. I hope I can see all of these people again and will no doubt get needy soon and request a visit to somewhere. 
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Empire State of Mind

Day 25; New York City; 27th July

Well its safe to say we woke with mixed feelings; excitement for the day ahead of sight-seeing, but sadness because we were flying home that evening.
Up early to pack up our masses of belongings & souvs we went down to reception to check-out and book our taxi for that evening to the airport.
Took advantage of the free muffins for breakfast and set off for our first attraction of the day;
Now it was my turn to ask Emily a stupid question
"So can you see Central Park from the top of the Empire State"
She just laughed.

We were staying just a couple of blocks away so was just a short walk before we were in the shadows looking up at the glorious tower!
Literally no queue so we walked through the building winding through all the levels to get to the lift to the 86th floor.
I'm shit-scared of heights but I wanted to say i've been up the Empire State so I had to suck it up!
& boy am I glad I did
The views are something else!
Literally a concrete jungle where dreams are made of ;) 
We stayed up there for a while and I can confirm that YES, you can indeed see Central Park, and the whole of Manhattan & beyond!

It was time for a visit to the souvenir shop (obv) ... I forgot to mention that the night before as I was getting money out, my travel card had said I had more money than I had a few days earlier which I thought was odd because I knew I didn't have that much money left.
So anyway we're in the shop and i'm grabbing all the neccesary items and I say to Em
"Wouldn't it be funny if I got declined"
I actually did.
Turns out my travel card had played tricks on me.
Luckily I had a bit of cash & so did Emily to pay for the souvenirs.
Now I know what you're thinking, surely you'd leave the $40 souvenirs and use the cash you do have for emergencies like food and taxi to the airport incase you've got no money left.
Hahahaha - no don't be silly.
We head for a cash point to try and see what the situation is and typical that as we're walking down the roads we pass tons of souvenir shops with the best deals ever
Find a bank and we both go in to check our travel cards, both weren't working.
Uh ow.
Try my debit card, so does Emily
Not working.
Oh dear.
So we're panicking slightly now.
But we assume it might be something wrong with the bank, so we trek on to find a new one.
Still won't work or show our balances.
Thank the lord though our debit & credit cards start working again so we were able to withdraw money to last us the day.

Feeling better about life we stroll around in the direction of the Rockefeller centre before getting on the bus for the 2nd day of our bustour - this time uptown!
Now as we get on we have to sit downstairs because upstairs is full. We sit in wet seats though and as I jump to get out of the seat I turn and my shorts catch on  piece of metal on the window and rip a hole open in my shorts - right on my bum cheek.
It actually really hurt but I was more worried about the whole of New York seeing my arse cheeks so I had to wrap my jacket round my waist the entire day.
(Update: on further inspection to this injury when I got home it had actually cut and bruised my bum really badly.)
Eventually we got to sit upstairs but tbh the uptown route was a bit boring.
It took a while which was ok but the stops weren't very interesting.

After a lap of Central Park we decided to get off at the Guggenheim Museum and start to walk through the park and get some lunch - pretzels mmm.

It took us a while to walk through the park and it was such a nice park!
So many pretty lakes, open areas, a zoo!
Oh and basically everyone from our trip.
Walking down a path we casually bump into Elle, Nicola & Michael.
More goodbyes and we walk on.
5 minutes down the park and who do we see next .. Sarah!!
Everyone loves the park today!
We end up at the boating pond used in Stuart Little & we head off to see more of the city.
A LONG stroll down 5th Avenue we pass all the pretty & pretty expensive shops.
Oh to be rich.
A quick stop at Grand Central station we tick off another food item off our bucket list; cakes from Magnolia Bakery! So yummy!!
As we're walking down 5th Ave we find those amazing souvenir shops so I spend a good 20 minutes picking 50 postcards, all for $1!
Pinch me surely im dreaming :)

We have some time to kill & 2 things left we want to do, both very important!
1. Eat pizza
2. Visit the DASH store
It just so happens that to get to the DASH store we had to walk 8km straight down through Manhattan!
Dedication for Kim K!
Sadly no Kardashians in the store that day, but we got a few items just to say and show we'd been in!
Now our hunt for pizza began, when we struck gold and found a cute little pizza cafe.
1 massive slice each we ate up and started to worry that we were not 8km from our hotel and not much time to get back in time for the taxi!
We end up hailing down a cab and make it back with time to spare to eat our cupcakes!
Finally got to change out of my holey shorts.

Into our taxi and it was goodbye to the city and on route to JFK.
Check-in was fine & turns out even after getting rid of all my toiletries, towels, loads of clothes I still had 8kg+ weight in my bag! So many souvs!
We have alot of time to walk round the airport and as we do we have one final group encounter.
He's annoyed because his flight has been delayed so we sit with him while he goes to get some food.
Now. me & Em also got food and it was amazing!
What is life.
It was sensational
So much love for this burger! SO MUCH!

Eventually we had to say our final final goodbyes to Alan & New York & the US as we were called for our flight.
10pm and we're leaving our dream holiday back to Wales :(
I can't remember for the life of me what films I watched on the flight but I do remember 2 things:
1. Thomas Cook owe me £5! Yes I remember you swines. "Oh we're just short of change, we'll bring it to you after" Yeah yeah, never saw them again did I! Thieves!
2. Thomas Cook owe me a snack pack meal! You get a meal on the flight. Hadn't even started eating it yet and I fell asleep and they took it and threw it away! THIEVES!


Hello Colwyn Bay
Sleeping on a plane is never comfortable (well I suppose if you've got those fancy beds in 1st class but we were stuck in economy soz.) so by time we land in the UK we're knackered.
Big Steve (my dad) came to pick us up, late might I add, and we were back in the cold, grey, wet, UK. :/

Back at home I decided to show off all my wonderful souvenirs and attempt to stay awake to try and adjust to UK time. Nope. Asleep on the sofa with my favourite boy keeping my company.
Goodbye USA. I miss you. 
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Spot the Tourists

Day 24; New York City; 26th July 

Waking up wasn't pleasant. 
We had to pack our shit, throw loads away and sort ourselves out ready for our 8am departure for breakfast. 
Not just any breakfast might I add ....iHop breakfast!
We met Maho & Colin for one final excursion to the iHop 'down the road', me & Emily lugging all our bags with us. 
iHop was just great, I panic ordered though and do regret opting for the chocolate pancakes because there was just too much chocolate; I know theres no such thing but seriously my blood was turning into chocolate. 

Bellys full we had more goodbyes and started our journey via tube across into Manhattan.
I never want to go on a tube in New York again.
We had a right mare just trying to get through the barrier, which led to a backlog of busy and frustrated New Yorkers trying to get their tubes to work. Oops
It was a stressful start to the day and realised we'd gotten on the wrong tube in a panic so had to do a quick change to get us on the right track towards our hotel; The Wolcott Hotel. 
We stepped out of the tube station and I burst
Scaring a man walking past, Emily laughed. She had already been to New York so was just excited to see my reaction to everything. 
We checked in and dumped our stuff in our room ready for our first day of New York adventure. 

We chose to do a 2 day bus pass with BigBus and today was designated 'Downtown' route. 
First stop was Chinatown. 
It was still very early so wasn't very busy but we had a wonder round and then found ourselves in Little Italy. 
Now as mentioned I love postcards.
Walking past a shop I noticed a sign which I had to do a double take;
18 postcards ... for $1
Wait, what?! 
I give $1 and I get 18 glorious postcards??!!

So im stocking up on 18 postcards, and we notice Statue of Liberty foam crown hats inside; we had already booked the tour for today so it would be rude not to buy hats!
It was turning into a wonderful day already!
I also bought the obligatory I <3 NY shirt. 
Back on the bus we head down Broadway and get off close to the One Trade Centre.
Oh my. 
Oh my oh my.
What a building.
It was so pretty! 
If, no. When I return to New York I will make sure I go to the top of that building! 

We wondered round and visited Ground Zero and the two towers memorials.
They were so simple and so beautiful its hard to imagine 2 giant sky scrapers once standing there. 
The memorial area itself was perfect and wasn't OTT. 

Down to Wall St to visit the wolf ;) 
& see the New York Stock Exchange.
All the buildings were very grand & even though you were in the middle of tons of tall sky scrapers there wasn't actually much shade to avoid the heat. 
We soon found the breeze as we popped out at the tip of Manhattan through battery park as we made our way to collect our Statue of Liberty tickets. 
We still had a while to wait before our boat so we made a start on ticking off the New York food on our bucket list; pretzels & hot dogs for lunch (Y). 

Onto the boat and we set sail for Liberty Island. 
The views of the New York skyline were amazing. 
Onto the island we had a quick toilet break where I was able to shove on my I <3 NY tshirt and foam hats ready for the perfect tourist photos! 
Feast your eyes of these babies! 

We hadn't just booked to see the statue, oh no. We'd booked to climb up the steps into the crown of Lady Liberty herself!
It sounded great. 
Sounded :/
We had a fair few flights of steps to climb, up and up we went and it was fine.
Until you had to climb the last set of stairs into the crown.
Oh my god. 
It was the smallest little spiral staircase I've ever seen. 
You basically had to crawl up on your hands and feet.
It was horrible, I absolutely hated it and thought it was going to burst into a panic attack any moment. 
I had Emily shouting encouragement from above so we eventually made it. 

The crown itself its actually very small and not the easiest to take great selfies in to prove you're in the crown!
If you want to say you've done it then yeah pay the extra to do the tour but once you've done it, for me anyway, I don't need to do it again.
& frankly you couldn't pay me to make me go in that spiral staircase again!!
Endless snaps back outside and it was time to head back to the city.

The spiral staircase of doom. 

We're in the crown I swear!

Back on the bus we headed back uptown. 
There was a bit of a drive before the next stop at Times Square so naturally we both started nodding off. 
Could not stay awake! 
We arrived at Times Square and it was magical!
So many people everywhere and all those flashing billboards and lights.
Emily's friend from Uni was actually in New York as well so we arranged to meet him and our hotel later on so we could go out for dinner and some drinks! 

We walked for blocks and blocks before deciding where to eat and settled on a Chinese restaurant. 
We got a taxi to Greenwich and found a cute bar and had our first real New York Cosmopolitans
I enjoyed. 
More drinks later and we decided to head back uptown to Times Square to see it at night.
So many more flashing lights! 
We even made it onto the screen! 

We called it a night and headed back to the Wolcott to get a good night sleep ready for our final day in New York & the US :( 

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The Last Leg

Day 23; Philadelphia & New York; 26th July

So I actually stopped writing in my diary from here & its 2 months later so what I type next might be a complete lie and didn't happen or it'll happen in the wrong order. 

After a very drunk farewell to camping party it was time to pack up out tents for the very last time :( 
But we were heading North to the big bad city of New York; with a few key stops on the way ;)

Into Maryland & through Baltimore we drove through some of the roughest areas in the states; all I had in my head was
"Goodmorning Baltimooooreee, everyday like an open door"
You know the one from Hairspray, great film! 

A new hour, a new state; Hello Delaware, Goodbye Delaware.
Fun fact Adrian gave us: Delaware is the only state that doesn't have a National Park. 
Moving on, and into .... PENNSYLVANIA
Home of the sacred Phili cheese steaks! 
We parked up and strolled through the streets in search of the 'King of Steaks' - Pat's. 
The menu was very complicated in the sense you had to say weird words if you wanted onions or no onions and what cheese you wanted. I was panicking, I knew I would end up saying the wrong thing and probably just ask for an onion sandwich.
Alas I did ask for the wrong thing, stupid onions, but at least it came with the steak & cheese!

Take a minute just to look at the picture below. 
It. was. beautiful. 
I need one right now. 

After our delicious lunch we drove into the centre and had a chance to pose with the state of Rocky & run up the famous Rocky Steps. 
I had a race with Alan & Matt, tbf I was in flip flops and not wearing a sports bra but I came 2nd so i'll take the silver medal with pride! 
Lots of fun group shots later & it was time to get back on the road. 

Get your guns out for the lads!

Across another state border we found ourselves in New Jersey, just one away from New York!
But first we had a short stop off in Princeton, where Adrian grew up to meet his parents and to have a wonder round the town & see the university. 
Straight off the bus, me, Emily & Colin head for the Princeton University gift shop.
Oh my. 
Literally found myself in this shop.
I need to go to Princeton.
Purely so I can fork out $3894893 on all the fun clothes and stuff they have in that shop! 
Naturally I bought a Princeton tshirt and various souvenirs. 
We wondered round trying to find a famous ice cream shop, when we realised none of us actually wanted ice cream. 
We had 15 minutes left before supposed to meet up with the group so Emily headed off to see the University and me & Colin found a bar & some alcohol!
"Small white wine please"

Princeton University <3
We downed our drinks and met up outside with everyone to meet Adrians mum :) 
A brief walk through the University campus I started to see myself here in my Princeton gear. 

On we drove and soon we started to get caught up in traffic jams and knew we had made it to New York.
Our first view of the skyline was great and we even caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. 
We were staying in Brooklyn so headed to our hotel for the night. 
Here we unloaded our stuff for the last time and it was farewell to our beloved Griffin :'( 
Miss you Griffin. 

We had dinner reservations at a vietnamese restaurant so had some time to freshen up and get dressed before heading out for the final time with the group. 
The food was delicious! So so tasty & the drinks were flowing. 
Dinner done, we headed over to a bar for final drinks before people started heading off and saying final goodbyes. 

I told myself I wasn't going to drink much because we had a super early start tomorrow because me & Em had to get a tube over into Manhattan to find our hotel before our busy 2 days of sight seeing. 
I drew the line after tequila shots and we all wondered back to the hotel. 
Lots of goodbyes later and a group of us found ourselves outside in the courtyard drinking until the early hours, oops.
"We'll only stay for like 30 minutes" I told Emily
Me, Emily, Sarah, Kayla, & Colin stayed up playing "i've never".
Alllll the stories came out then ;)
But they cannot leave the circle of trust! 
Emily headed to bed, I said i'd be up in a minute.
More drink and secrets later and we all called it a night. 

More goodbyes & I crept into our room and set my alarm for 6am. 
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