You know in some regards, sorting out this trip has been too easy. Going into STA travel last Tuesday and booking everything, it felt like the only thing that I did was put in my pin number into the machine (to pay). And then, BAM. I have my around the world flights, 18 months of travel insurance and my visa waiver for the US, amongst other things… I went home afterwards, stumbling in disbelief that I’d finally taken the plunge and spent a small fortune on pursuing my dream and so on… and I came online. So as you already know, my plan is to backpack across the USA for two months first. In my years of travel research, I’ve never really come across much information on this or first-hand accounts of people doing it. I merely assumed I hadn’t been looking in the right place or something. So that was one of the first things I googled; “backpacking across America”. And the results were a little… um, discouraging.
In fact, the advice people were giving was so doom-and-gloom I just immediately didn’t believe them. I know things are different from Europe; there are vast distances between cities, a limited and expensive train network, not so much of a backpacker scene and relatively pricey accommodation even at the low end of the range. But these people were so pessimistic, so incredulous that someone was thinking of doing it, it kind of pissed me off and made me want to prove them wrong. They suggested backpacking in India or South America cus it would be “easier”, that there was no culture worth seeing in the states, and that it would be crazy to visit without your own car. Well I guess that just means I’m insane then!! But whatever. I’ll figure out a way of getting around.
Accommodation in the USA: sleazy motels and strangers’ couches
A few weeks ago, my friend James and I spent a couple days researching the possibility of finding a workaway in Sweden. Workaway.info is a great website where you sign up, make a profile for yourself and then contact hosts who require some volunteer work on their property, and in exchange, feed you and let you sleep at their place for free. We’ve since decided not to go ahead with Sweden, but this wasn’t before I paid the £18 fee (membership lasts 2 years) and made a profile for myself. I hadn’t checked the website in a week or two until I looked yesterday which was when I saw that I’d received an invitation from a host in the USA!
Although it’s going to require some organising, and a Skype call, I may potentially stay with Steve in Charlottesville, Virginia for a week or so in November. It works out pretty well for me as it’s very close to Washington DC, and bridges the awkward gap between the capital and Columbia, South Carolina, where my mum’s cousin lives with his family. I also sent them a message yesterday and I’ve already received an invitation to visit them!
My friend Alex that lives and works in DC says I can stay at his when I’m there, and may even ask some of his friends who are scattered across all four corners of the US and ask them if they wouldn’t mind hosting a helpless British backpacker for a few nights (which is super awesome and generous of him, in case he reads this)! Asides from these avenues, I’m planning to use couchsurfing.com to find places to stay, and even more importantly, some people to show me around!
Getting about: hitchhiking and carjacking
I have four ideas for crossing the USA overland. The first is Greyhound buses. I’ve heard many adjectives from various people to describe them, ranging from nightmarish to adequate. They link the major cities it seems, and I’m sure they can’t be any worse than the overnight bus I took from Istanbul to Bulgaria, or the “sleeper train” I took from Transylvania to Budapest (I say “sleeper” because I did not, in fact, sleep at all. Two people, strangers to each other, discussing world affairs loudly in Romanian for 6 hours straight ensured that). These buses seem fairly inexpensive if booked in advance, and I’m used to murderous discomfort so I’m sure it’ll be fine.
Another option (whilst on the East and West coasts) are the trains. I’ve heard that they’re slower and more expensive than buses but I feel like it might be a cool experience regardless…
I’m thinking of taking a domestic flight from Texas straight to California. I know there are some great places in between, but without a car it’s gonna be pretty difficult to see them, and also I don’t think I’ll have enough time. Sorry Arizona.
And lastly, I’m going to sign up to a few carsharing websites. They’re pretty popular in America and if I’m sticking to closely located large cities I’m sure I’ll be able to get pretty convenient lifts between places. It’s a ton safer than hitching and hopefully I’ll meet some interesting people in the process!
Anyway, this is all well and good, but I should probably be dedicating more time to sorting out my 3 week trip to Europe, which I leave for on Friday. More on that next time!