Having finished my final year at Manchester, and now getting ready for my graduation next month, it is unbelievable that it is over a year since I returned from my year abroad at Arizona State University. Reflecting back on this time it is impossible to ignore the ways that studying abroad has had a positive impact on my final year, as well as looking into the future, the next steps after graduating.
By Doris Ngai, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA
This time last month, summer vacation officially began for me when most of my friends at Manchester are still revising for their end of May and early June exams. I went to Orlando Universal Studios and Disneyland with my significant other that I met during my semester abroad at Umass. I think the best things in life really do happen to us so unexpectedly.
Before leaving to go to America, the prospective exchange students were made to go to a meeting titled ‘it won’t happen to me’, where we had to sit through a PowerPoint of horrific incidences which previous exchange students had been involved in, e.g. being caught up in natural disasters or deported for underage drinking. The aim of the PowerPoint was to encourage us students to be vigilant whilst on exchange and consequently, I completely ignored any advice that was given. ‘Nothing like that is going to happen to me’, came my irritatingly annoying thoughts, ‘nothing like that ever happens to me’. When I saw the price of health insurance for one semester ($1200) I very nearly refused to get it, purely as a matter of principal. Thankfully though, I was eventually persuaded, and I cannot begin to articulate how thankful I am for that.
Its Friday afternoon and I am sat in a coffee shop on Hillsborough street. Nothing particularly interesting is happening, I am just catching up with my friend, organising my life and doing a bit of homework. But it just hit me how comfortable I am here in Raleigh, how at home I feel with the day to day life here. My life in England feels so far away and in some ways it is! Its been 5 months since I left the UK and whilst I definitely do miss it, and miss the people there, it really hasn’t been on my mind as much as I thought it would. I’ve really settled into my life here at NC State, to the point where I can’t quite believe that I am going to have to leave here in 4 months, leaving behind everything that has been my entire life for the past 5 months. It is such a bittersweet feeling, it makes me sad that I am going to have to leave but also makes me feel incredibly lucky to have had this experience in the first place. So in the light of this realisation, I decided it was time to reflect on my first semester here at NC State and share some of the things which helped make it such a great semester.
Firstly, I loved having the opportunity to work as part of a group in one of my classes. It was for the Physics Lab module I had to take and I worked with two Americans on a group project for the whole semester. The reason I loved it so much is that I formed such a close relationship with both of the guys because we were spending so much time together. I learnt so much about America from them and we would regularly discuss different issues, comparing the average British view on the topic to the average American view. It was such a fun environment to work in and I left every class feeling as though I had learnt something new about America. It really made me feel as though I was having a true exchange experience because I was sharing my culture with people who were very interested in it and they were sharing theirs with me. It felt like I was getting an authentic insight into America and what it is like for the average person. So I would recommend to everyone that they try and take a class that involves group work. It is the best way to meet different people you might not otherwise come into contact with and it is the best way to learn a lot about the country you are studying in.
Secondly, one thing that I learnt last semester is that it is very important to get a good work-life balance, even more so than in Manchester. Being on exchange is like being on a holiday that never stops, people are always up to travel, experience new things, hang-out, the list is endless, but one thing for certain is that it never stops! Therefore, it can be overwhelming to try and manage uni work when everyone seems to be constantly socialising and the fear of missing out is real. It is also made harder when your year abroad counts towards your final degree and most other exchange students are just on pass/fail. This is something I found particularly difficult because I actually had to try with my classes, whilst all my other friends were cruising through them doing as little work as possible because it didn’t matter too much. It took me a while to get to grips with this lifestyle but once I worked it out it didn’t feel too bad. One thing that definitely made it easier was that over here people love studying together, which meant that having to stay up late studying could be turned into something social. I often find myself going with a group of people for a study session at the library, which makes it feel not as bad. You can work for a couple of hours, then take a break together before getting back to studying. You kill two birds with one stone; you are productive but surrounded by friends which is great!
Thirdly, one of my greatest realisations after being here for a year is just how small the world is. It sounds ridiculous but it is true and it haws already had such a positive impact on my life. Since being here and loving living abroad, I have applied for a research internship in Germany this summer. This is not something I had thought about before and if I hadn’t studied abroad I am not sure I would have decided to apply. But living in the US for the past semester gave me the confidence to apply because I now have the mindset that no matter where you are in the world you will never feel that far away from home. Facetime and social media mean that no matter where you are in the world you will always feel connected to home. I facetime my family once a week and this regular contact with them makes me feel as though I am not really missing anything and that I am still a part of a home life. Also having met international students from all over the world helps make the world feel smaller, because there is a comforting face in so many places. Australia no longer seems alien, I know people from Ecuador, India is now in my top three places to visit and South Africa seems like a viable travel destination. I am now so excited to explore and having contacts all over the world means that this desire to discover the world is a much more achievable dream. The world feels like my oyster and I just want to take every opportunity I can to discover it, because I know that I will never be too far away from home.
“Take a step out of your comfort zone they say, that’s where the magic happens…”
I remember a girl that went abroad before me once came up to me and said : “ The best memories you will have of Manchester are the times when you are not in Manchester”, I will never forget those words because she could not be more right about it, but then again, my views are very subjective as the experiences and memories that I make at Umass does not mean that everyones is going to feel and experience the same things as I do. I wake up each morning in Umass feeling beyond lucky to have this opportunity from Manchester University, and I am also proud of myself to have chosen to take this path of studying abroad. Although it has only been my second week at Umass Amherst, I genuinely feel as though I have been studying here for more than two years already. For the past one week at Umass, I attended a few organisation meetings, made a few local American friends during class room discussions and during spring rush , but also met a few exchange students from my hometown Hong Kong during the international coffee hours at Blue Wall which is held once every two weeks for international students to gather and chat amongst one another. If you do not know where Amherst is, it is basically where the famous American poet Emily Dickinson is born. If you do not read literature, fear not, Amherst is a really safe and cosy time located on the east-coast in a small town 20 minutes away from Northampton MA and a 2 and a half hours bus journey to downtown Boston (south station). I would suggest you taking the Peter Pan bus from Haigis mall which only costs about 40 dollars and is located on campus so it is very convenient. I spent last weekend auditioning for one of Umass’s Acapella group and also attended spring rush for a sorority called Delta Xi Phi multicultural sorotity. I find that greek life is such a big part of American college life here in the States, where the main philanthropy and focus of this group is doing active community services and helping out in homeless shelters which is something I am extremely passionate about. A few days ago there was also the famous Superbowl game night which is one of the biggest American football game in the nation and the two teams that competed against each other was the patriots and Los Angeles Rams (Tom Brady yay). You also have the riots after the games which were pretty intense and insane. Some people climb trees, you see toilet rolls flying across mid-air, chanting, dancing, police officers, the whole experience was really something wild and never in my life have I encountered such an event in my life before. The residential area that I am staying in is called Southwest, and it is basically the equivalent of Fallowfield in Manchester. If you don’t know how serious American’s take football (no I don’t mean football as the English would call it, but American football thank you very much) no but seriously, they take it very seriously! SO GO PATRIOTS! ! !
Blog I written on the plane before I got to the US
14th of January (The day of departure from Hong Kong International Airport )
Hello, readers of my blog, today is the 14th of January, I just hoped on flight CX812 to Boston, 15 hours direct flight from HK to Boston Airport… Just woke up from an incredibly odd dream but hey at least I fell asleep for a bit on the plane to regain my energy when I land in Boston. It is currently 9:22pm in Boston, slightly jet-lagged but I am incredibly excited to finally arrive to the States. The flight attendant had just announced that we will be starting a descent into Boston Logan international airport in approximately 20 minutes, despite the delay we faced earlier. This will be the first time in a long time since I have been to the US, the last time I came here to the United States was when I was 12, joined a summer school program in San Diego. Having to spend the next 5 months in Amherst Massachusetts will be a whole new chapter and a brand new experience for me.
On arrival thoughts and first impression
1. Look to your left first not to your right before you cross, the direction is different over here
2. Spanish is common
3. The PTVA buses in Amherst are free, you can also take the bus to Northampton which is very close to Walmart and target via the public transportation if you show them your student ID
4. Tipping! (Say no more)
5. The bigger, the better, all the portions, especially with the food here, are huge! But you can’t go wrong with Umass dining food because it has been voted the best college dining experience in the nation
6. It can go from 3 degrees to -20 degrees in just one night, so be prepared and geared up for the chilly cold winters during January and February (Gloves and hats are essential! ) btw, keep in mind that the temperature is measured here using fahrenheit not celcius
7. Get yourself an unlimited meal-plan (especially for someone like me who isn’t really big into cooking or is no where near close to being good at cooking, I find that it is really convenient here that the university provides dinning hall food for us so I can finally say no to takeaways from Archies, and a massive YES to Hampshire Dining hall. I would say the top two dining halls are Hampshire and Franklin, but if you have dining dollars, why not go for a nice meal at the Campus center and splurge on some baby berk burgers and fresh smoothies?
8. Go to the activities fair and join in as many clubs and organisations as you possibly can (I am going to the spring rush event for two sororities to see what this greek life is about!
9. Weekdays are reserved for school work and studying. Weekends on the other-hand are when the people go out to frat parties. Unlike in the UK where people go out on most nights, here, people work hard on the weekdays and play REALLY hard on the weekends. If you have instagram, go check out : zoomass to get the latest tea on what students here are up to on the weekends. The work load I would say is pretty manageable but you definitely get more work here from your professors than you normally would over in Manchester, as I have to submit a discussion post every week and actively participate in in class discussions.
10. Active participation and in class participation counts as 15% of the overall grade ! You really get a sense of closeness with the professors and tutors here. Plus Americans really do emphasise on individualism and personal achievement, so go ahead and put yourself out there during lessons, do your daily readings and stay focused!
Basically, as unbelievable as it sounds, I think I really found myself in the US. Anyways, I will talk to you guys and keep you guys updated very soon so this is all I have to say for now, see you all in a few weeks time!
When people find out that I am an exchange student, their first question is always: so why did you choose to come to North Carolina? My reply is that I wanted to be somewhere which was well placed within the United States, so that I would have ample opportunity to travel. I also wanted to be somewhere which had a diverse range of scenery and North Carolina is perfect for that! With a beautiful coastline to the east and then the Smokey Mountains to the west, you can really experience the best of both worlds! It even gets better in the fact that NC State, which is located in Raleigh, is equidistant from the mountains and the beach, so both are really accessible.
Therefore, when I arrived in Raleigh in August I was already jumping to go and explore North Carolina and the surrounding states. I was excited to see what North Carolina had to offer and also see how North Carolina compared to the states it bordered. Four months on from when I arrived and I have now visited both the Smokey Mountains and the Atlantic coast and even ticked off six new states! It is really easy to travel here and there are a lot of really cool places, which are driving distance from Raleigh, making them great for an easy weekend away. Since most people are interested in travelling during the time abroad, I thought I would share with you my top three destinations which are within driving distance from Raleigh and are great to visit for a short break.
1. Asheville, NC
First up on the list is Asheville, which is located in the south west of North Carolina close to the start of the Smokey Mountains. Asheville is a great place to visit in the sense that it is very different to most American towns. It has a very relaxed, quirky vibe and is a very liberal city with a large artistic flair. It has lots of very nice places to eat and is a haven for vegetarians, making it noticeably unlike everywhere else in Southern America, where the only thing on the menu is chicken! It is also known for its chocolate shops, which sell everything from ice-cream to giant slabs of chocolate, to truffles and hot chocolate.
Asides from the charming little centre of downtown, Asheville is a great base for going up into the mountains and exploring the countryside. There are multiple trails which start close to Asheville and I would definitely recommend going for a hike because the scenery is BREATHTAKING! I have been twice, once in August – when it was all luscious and green, and then again in the Autumn, when everything was turning a golden orange. Both times were gorgeous and I was really glad I got to experience it in two different seasons because it almost felt like two different places! Asheville is also close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is one of the most scenic drives in the United States, especially in the Autumn when all the leaves are colouring.
2. Charleston, SC
Second on the list of best places to visit is Charleston, South Carolina. It is a quaint, historic town situated about a four hour drive away from Raleigh and boasts both beautiful beaches and a boojie downtown, with lots of independent boutique that are great for window shopping! I spent three days in Charleston over the MLK day weekend, and I would say that this is the perfect amount of time for visiting the city. On the first day you can explore the historic downtown, weaving your way through the streets lined with palms and funky coloured houses. On the second day you can visit the beach and enjoy being by the sea, making sure you stay to watch the gorgeous sunsets that can be seen there. We visited Folly Beach, which is a 20 minute drive from the downtown and is a little beach town in itself, with lots of souvenir shops, cafes and an old wooden pier, which really adds to the aesthetic! The highlight of my trip was definitely watching the sunset over the pier because it was the most gorgeous blend of purple through to yellow, and was definitely up there with my top 10 sunsets!
3. Washington DC
Finally, third on the list is DC, which is definitely more well-known than the other two, but an equally great place to visit. It is only 4 and a half hours away from Raleigh by car and is also easily accessible by both train and bus – so there is no excuse not to visit! Exploring DC is very easy, since it has a metro which is easy to use and most of the main sites are concentrated around the National Mall so everything worth seeing is pretty much within walking distance. Another bonus is that most of the things worth seeing are free, with the majority of the museums having free entry and all the main monuments being outside and so easy to explore.
DC is definitely done best across a few days. Take one day to stroll down the National Mall, starting at the Capitol Building, passing the White House and the Washington Monument, before reaching the World War II memorial and finally the most impressive of them all – the Lincoln memorial. This ticks off all the main monuments and memorials to see as well as the two most important buildings in DC – the Capitol Building and the White House. Then on day two, choose a couple of museums to explore, which won’t be difficult as DC has museums for everything, from art to natural history, a holocaust museum and a museum of African American History. Another great thing to do is visit the Capitol building, which is completely free and comes with a guided tour and a chance to visit the Senate and the House of Representatives! This was without a doubt the best thing I did in DC, because it provided such an education into American politics and the building was beautiful, just be sure to book in advance!
It has now been exactly two months since I arrived at NC State on the 14th of August. We have had eight weeks of teaching, though very few of these weeks have consisted of a full week of teaching what with national holidays, Hurricane Florence and Fall Break! The midterms for all my classes have now been completed and so I wanted to reflect on the changes I have had to make to my daily schedule, study style and expectations of the classes.
Firstly, something that I had to adapt to was how my daily schedule here was going to be different to my daily schedule in Manchester. I wasn’t going to be able to cling onto the routine I had become accustomed to in my first two years back home, instead I was going to have to readjust my schedule to fit with the norms of college life in the US. Mainly what this meant was that I was going to have to get used to working much later! Students here tend to work late most nights of the week, which is something I prefer to avoid in Manchester. At home I tend to travel into uni for my first lecture and then stay until around 7pm, or later if I have work due, and then go home, eat and relax. I do all my work before I head home and so when I get home I know that I can relax, I rarely work at home or late at night.
However, in the US most people take a break from around 5pm until 8pm, during which they go to the gym, socialise and eat. Then they resume studying in the evening and work from 8pm until 12pm most evenings. This is something I had to really adapt to because I had tried so hard to get all my work done during the day in Manchester and leave eating dinner as the last activity of the day so that I could spend my evenings unwinding. However, I quickly had to move my average time for dinner earlier by about 2 hours from around 8 or 9pm at home to 6 or 7pm here. I then had to mentally readjust to the idea that the late evening was for work and the early evening was for socialising. This complete flip is something I feel that I have only just about got used to.
My favourite study spot in the library, with big windows for good sunlight and a nice view of the Brickyard below.
View of the Brickyard below from the 6th floor of the library.
Secondly, I had to rethink my study style, in particular my attitude towards the weekly homework assignments I am set here. At NCSU, like in Manchester, I am set weekly problem sheets for my physics classes, however the big difference is that at NCSU the weekly problem sheets are graded. Since the assignments are so similar, it took me a while to shift my attitude and start taking the homework problems more seriously. My attitude had to shift from just trying my best and then revising anything I didn’t understand in the tutorial, to aiming to get everything right. Part of this shift in attitude was realising that I needed much more time to complete the homework properly and then giving myself this time. I feel like this is something that is very common across all disciplines; the need to adapt to the fact that everything that is set as homework is linked to a grade. Even reading, which you may feel you can get away with not doing for seminars at home, you have be vigilant with here since there is often a small quiz based on the reading, which counts as part of your grade. Everything is important because everything counts and because of that people tend to work consistently throughout the week.
However, it is not all bad! Whilst I do feel that you have to stay on top of your work and work most evenings, I think that if you work into the late evening during the weekdays you don’t have to work that much on the weekends. I haven’t felt as though I have had to work too much during the weekend. I sometimes spend Sundays working but I have also already had four weekends away and it hasn’t hindered me too much! Second positive is that studying is a much more social activity here than it is in Manchester, at least in my experience. Therefore, whilst you might be studying later rather than hanging out with friends at the pub during the week, you are probably going to the library with friends, so you aren’t spending the evening alone. This also helps with the fact that all the homework is graded – people love to study together so you can work with them to complete your homework as long as the final write-up is yours.
Finally, the third thing I had to change was my expectations of the classes. They are much more informal, and it is true that the Professor has much more control over the course logistics and content. In one of my classes, we were set to have an exam and some of the students in my class asked if it could be changed because they had another exam the day after and he just agreed to move it to the week after! The classes are much more interactive which creates a more informal atmosphere, similar to that of an A-level class rather than a uni lecture theatre. My exam expectations were also something that had to be changed – they are very very different to Manchester exams, mostly due the informality of them. This is partly because there are so many exams, which makes them a lot more familiar, and partly because they are taken in the classroom without any invigilators or long announcements. However, they are still important because they typically count as 20-25% of your grade, but the frequency of them means that people typically only revise in the few days leading up to the exam.
By Amy Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
It has been just over a year since I left to study at UNC, and I can honestly say I wish I was there now – well maybe not right now due to the hurricane! It’s a bit difficult to compare student life in America to student life here at Manchester as there are ups and downs to both campuses. At Manchester I felt it was a lot easier for me to get involved in things – the freshers fair was easy to navigate, and I joined a campus hockey team and orchestra. UNC did offer these things, but I felt they were harder to find, even at fall fest (their version of freshers fair). I also didn’t take my saxophone and hockey stick abroad, I did only have one suitcase! Still, UNC was a lovely open campus, not in a city, with plenty of places to sit outside and eat, and whilst Manchester does have these things, UNC doesn’t have the rain.
I knew it would be deflating to say the least when I came home from my semester in the States, but I honestly felt a bit lost. During the semester, I always had the reassurance that I’d be coming back to something – family, friends and life in Manchester. But the excitement of being back in the UK started to be replaced by the sadness of missing my new friends and an exciting life across the pond.
So, I tried to change my outlook over the Summer. Here’s my three main pieces of advice for adjusting to life back at home when it seems really tough:
1. Plan for the future
One of the best reasons for making friends across the world is that you always have a reason to visit somewhere new or exciting. Similarly, you could introduce the glory of Greggs’ sausage rolls to a foreign friend, or become their personal tour guide. The possibilities are endless, and it gives you a reason to spice up your calendar.
I also used my summer to mentally prepare myself for the final year of my degree. Now that I’ve tried a completely different learning style, I can appreciate what works for me in terms of studying. For example, I found studying more often, in smaller work sessions, really improves my memory of difficult materials. Think about getting the most out of your degree in Manchester.
2. Read everything!
Spending three weeks road tripping left absolutely no free time for reading. When I got home, however, I got back into the habit of reading everything around me. Book series are a great way to get lost in another world, whilst newspapers help you connect better to the real world around you. Instead of spending hours mindlessly scrolling through exotic Instagram accounts, try picking up a book and seeing what you can learn from it.
3. Be the support you seek from others
Finally, reaching out to people who care about you is the most important advice I could give. I can still relive memories with friends I made at NC State online, but I also now have time to catch up with home friends and family in person. Make sure that you spend time learning about any life changes your friends and relatives may have gone through while you’ve been away. Everyone needs support at some point or another, so being there for each other makes it easier to talk about any issues or struggles.
With the start of uni rapidly approaching, I’m excited (and admittedly terrified) to see what my final year brings. But I also feel re-energised and inspired to bring elements of my American experience to my degree. No one will ever have the same study abroad experience as someone else, it is entirely individual and unique and it doesn’t suit everyone. But I’d encourage anyone interested to just throw yourself into it and see what opportunities jump back.
I have now been at NC State for just over a week and so I thought I’d share with you some of the things I have learnt about living on campus!
I am living in Alexander Residence Hall which is part of the Global Village. It is a fantastic place to live as it is so central, on the one side is the gym and the other the student union and the welcoming atmosphere of all the residents has made the beginning of my semester a great one! I am loving living on campus in a shared room, my roommate is lovely and the environment of living on a corridor with about 50 other people is exciting and great for meeting new people!
However, before I arrived there was one thing that seemed daunting and a bit strange to me, the rooms were shared! I know that sharing a room is the norm here in the US but I had never had to share a room before, let alone with a stranger. The thought of having a roommate seemed very personal, unmanageable and there was always the question, ‘what if we don’t get on?’ So naturally I was nervous at the thought of sharing a room, but as it turns out there is little to be worried about! My two biggest worries about sharing a room actually turned out to be nothing at all.
Worry 1: I will have no personal space.
Having a roommate is far less invasive than you would imagine! Firstly, you don’t actually spend that much time in your room, or at least I haven’t so far, you are busy going to classes, having food and socialising. Secondly, even when you are in your room it is quite likely your roommate won’t be because you’ll probably have different schedules, do different extracurricular activities and have some different friends. Therefore, there is plenty of time in between to spend chilling in your own space if you want to.
Worry 2: We won’t get on.
This is natural worry for most people but I think a lot of work actually goes into pairing roommates. For Alexander Hall we had to fill out a preferences questionnaire and people were paired based on their responses to the questionnaire. Obviously not everyone is going to end up living with someone who matched all their answers but you at least know that your roommate will share some similarities with you, which is definitely reassuring. They will be more like you than you think! And even if you aren’t alike, there are lots of other people on your corridor whose rooms you can hang out in and in each residence hall there is usually a big social space which you can relax in.
So as it turns out having a roommate is not as scary as it seems and it is likely that you will end up loving your shared room, Another cool thing that I learned was that you have a lot of freedom over how your room is customised. You can move the furniture around, move your bed up and down and personalise your space much more than you can at home!
Finally, I just thought I would as mention some of the other really cool benefits of living at NC State:
FREE LAUNDRY!!! In Alexander Hall you can do your washing for free which seems like such a blessing after having to pay a lot to do washing in our hall at home
FREE gym, pool, sauna and exercise classes . This is such a great perk, everything within the Carmichael gym complex is free for students to use and the facilities are extensive. Another bonus is that it is just across the road from Alexander Hall.
For $5 you can use all the buses in the Raleigh and Triangle area for free, which means you wont need to spend any money on transportation whilst you are here.
I have now been home for over 3 months and I thought I would write about my thoughts on leaving Case Western and my road trip around California.
The last few weeks of term were extremely stressful with trying to pack up my belongings, say my goodbyes, plan a road trip and submit all my final work. Luckily, I did not have any finals to take and I decided to leave the campus early and meet up with friends from Manchester to travel around the East Coast. But this did mean that saying goodbye to all the great people I had met felt very rushed.
As I am writing this post it is orientation week at Case Western. It feels so surreal to see everyone enjoying themselves on campus and me no longer being there. I think it has finally hit me that year abroad is over – all be it 3 months later.
One of the highlights of my year abroad was all the travelling I did and for the final trip I packed in as much as possible. Starting in Santa Barbara I travelled to LA, San Francisco, Monterey Bay, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.
It is nearly impossible to capture all these incredible places and moments but I did manage to record some of the best ones on my phone. Although I have practically no skills in video editing, here is a video of my travels:
Amy Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Obviously, studying abroad so I could travel after wasn’t the reason I chose the exchange year course, but I’m not going to lie, it was a perk. Considering a lot of people do this, I figured I’d write down some things I learnt about planning travelling, and actually travelling.
Plan, plan, plan. You can’t plan too much. There are times where you might want to leave things to fate as it were, but other times things need to be booked in advance. A lot of things like hotels and flights are cheaper when booked in advance, which I’m sure you know. It also means that you’ve looked in advance for things to do in the places you’re going to, and so know what to book in advance, and what to leave to the day etc. It also means that you’re more likely to stick to your budget.
BUDGET! If you have saved up and have plenty of money, you will be fine, but I’d still suggest having a budget. You never know, you may wander into a Sephora (or another shop you like). Don’t forget to add suitcase expenses to your budget. I made an excel spreadsheet, with the rows of the places I was going, and then columns of hotel, airplane, food, tours, cash. You can do your own, but it’s a basic one. It might seem a bit too far, but it meant I knew I wasn’t going to get stranded in the middle of America with no money. It also means you know how much you’ve spent, and don’t have to check your bank account a lot, or carry around a lot of receipts with you.
Make a quick list for family. It can be very simple – just the place you are, where you are staying, and the dates you are there for. Gives them peace of mind, and means someone will always know where you are.
Hotels vs. hostels vs. Airbnb. Saving money vs. decent living. In some places you are limited by where you can stay. I went to Yellowstone, and I really didn’t want to camp, it was airbnb. There were some hotels, but in this case they were more expensive, especially as they were closer to the car. If you use money saving websites to book hotels, then set your rating of cleanliness to a decent level, that way you can hopefully find a cheap but acceptable place to stay.
Arguments. People do differ, but as a person who needs time to themselves to recharge, I knew being with the same person for 5 weeks was going to be difficult. My advice would be get it out. If something annoys you, or they do something you dislike, say something fairly quickly, That way, when you get tired, you’re less likely to have a massive argument where everything spills out. Also make sure you agree on most things, and compromise when you can’t. A larger group can make this difficult, but at least you’ve tried to include everyone in the planning.
Lastly, a few more singular things I’ve learnt, mainly for America:
Car hire for under 25’s means an additional charge is added on top of the original car hire
If you go to New Orleans, have one day where you do very little, that way you can really experience the night out before, the heat is terrible when you don’t have a hangover, so I wouldn’t try it with one
When are you coming back? So try it whilst you’re there
Pack as lightly as possible – souvenirs
Travel with old towels – you can give them away before you fly home
Share toiletries, and have small bottles that you can refill rather than big ones that don’t run out
If you want to see moose in Yellowstone, they’re most active at sunrise so it might mean a very early start
You can never drink too much water in Vegas, or at the Grand Canyon
America is bigger than you think it is…
I’m sure I’ll think of other tips once I’ve posted this, but as a quick list I travelled to: Nashville, Orlando, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Yellowstone, Seattle, Vancouver. If you go to any of these places, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.