For a long time I read, saw and listened with envy as my friends and colleagues traveled the world with nothing but their backpacks. The idea of this left me intrigued, and curious as to whether I’d be brave enough to do something like that.
I’m someone who gets a lot of ideas, but up until the age of 25 didn’t really take any risks. I’m not quite sure what changed, but I started to think long term and think what sort of legacy I would leave behind. The idea of not having any worthwhile stories scared me, so I made a decision to stop waiting for cool things to happen to me and to pursue the sorts of things I’d previously rendered unrealistic.
Having heard countless stories of trips to the usual places of South East Asia, Australia and South America.. I had a long think, about 6 months worth, and came to the conclusion that I want to spend some time in a place which I had a genuine interest in, and not doing it because everyone else was doing it. I always looked at America as a dream, from a young age being obsessed with culture, traditions and lifestyles portrayed on TV. I’d visited the likes of Las Vegas, Boston and New York in the last couple of years, but was mainly through work so the social aspect was limited. I was desperate to have an unadulterated experience of the American people, and started developing a list of states and cities that I wanted to visit. By October 2015 I finalised my list, and by January 2016 I had booked my dream trip of backpacking through America for a month. April could not come soon enough!
Me and my huge backpack set off on a Saturday morning, my first destination; San Francisco, California. It was a weird and wonderful place, I tried to roll with as many locals as I could and see what it’s like to live there. Weather was great, the city was beautiful, the food was awesome, and it was my first glimpse of people being obsessed with my English accent. My first night can only be described as epic.. I had a 12 hour flight to get over but the guys and girls at the hostel were adamant to drag me out to Polk St (full of bars) till 3am and then to an after party till 5am which was a bout 1pm the next day for me, oh man did I have a good sleep after that! I spent some time doing touristy things like Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf and of course Alcatraz, which blew me away, I had no idea about the sorts of prisoners and escape attempts there were, great history lesson! I made sure that I also spent time in local coffee shops, bars, parks and just taking the city in. All in all my first few days of my tour and hostel living was positive. I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, which was stunning, in my convertible Ford Mustang (Tourist alert) and approached Los Angeles. Expectations were huge, this was Hollywood, this was were the pretty people from TV lived, this is where Friends was shot! In my short few days, I was quite disappointed. LA was huge, it wasn’t the cleanest and after wandering down some questionable streets (not quite Compton) I was almost glad to be leaving soon. The more I integrated with the locals and the more I spent time in the “nicer” areas of LA like Beverley Hills, Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, Sunset Blvd, it started to grow on me. I definitely need to give it another go, but I have to say I loved my next stop in California, San Diego! It was like LA but not as big, not as congested and was clean! It seemed like quite a life style here and I was gutted to be leaving after only 2 days. Finishing off my West Coast tour, I visited sin city, Las Vegas, for a second time to do nothing but party with my buddy Prab who flew out just for this! We watched the boxing at the T-Mobile Arena (Canelo KOing Amir Khan), partied at Hakkasan in MGM, XS in Wynn Hotel (IMO not quite as good as Surrender in Encore hotel) and then went to a shooting range, was an eventful 3 days! And a trip to Vegas wouldn’t be complete without gambling; be careful with the amount of oxygen they pump into the casino and free drinks they give you, saw plenty of people leave with considerably lighter wallets! Next up I visited the intriguing Salt Lake City; to meet up with my friend Megan and get a glimpse of the beautiful architecture, mountains and get a history lesson in Mormonism. By the end of it I had a glowing golden tan, had a slight American twang in my speech, and after only 2 weeks in the states at this point, started to feel at home.
Leaving the West Coast, I was pleasantly surprised at my next two destinations. I stopped off in Dallas, Texas for a few days to visit my old buddy John. I didn’t do any site seeing here, but simply lived like a local. John was kind enough to let me stay in his beautiful house with his wonderful family. We drank beer, went shooting (skeptical at first but was so much fun), drove pick-up trucks, had a BBQ, went to watch a Rangers game (baseball), topped off with the best, and biggest, steak of my life. A proper Texas trip! Reluctantly leaving after only a few days, next up was “the windy city”Chicago, Illinois. Again I was pleasantly surprised, it looked kinda like New York City but cleaner and, dare I say it, nicer. I didn’t meet anyone social in the hostel here (quite rare but it happens) so found some locals who couldn’t wait to show me how awesome their city was (As my trip went on I became more confident about approaching people and making friends, vital life skills in my opinion!). We had Chicago town pizza, went to the parks, museums, saw the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and hit the town. Again I had a bit of attention due to the accent, which was great since back home it’s obviously not a big deal. Was nice being the centre of attention, not that I’d ever use it for evil.. Along with San Diego, I had a genuine moment of thinking “I could actually live in this city”.
Next up was the East Coast, making a brief stop at DC to see the sights of Lincoln Memorial, White House, Washington Monument etc, and Philly to see the Rocky steps, and indulge in the famous Philly Cheese-steak, where I learned to order a “One,Wiz,Wit” which apparently is Philly speak that translates to One Sandwich, Wiz Cheese, and With Onions, it lived up to the hype! Started to miss home a little in these few days, mainly because I was in hotels and not hostels surrounded by people. I assumed a few days by myself would be nice (being an introvert and all) but I did miss being the circus fun of hostels, have I grown..?
Last but certainly not least, I made my way to “the big apple”. New York City, my home away from home, was something I was looking forward to for a long time. I’d visited NYC on numerous occasions, visited all of the main tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty, Roc A Fella Centre, 5th Avenue etc, but now I had the chance to just walk, and take in the city for 5 whole days, with no agenda, something I dreamed of doing for a long time! I arrived on a Friday night and didn’t have any intention of hitting the nightlife, but the beauty of hostels kicked in when I met some great people and tagged along to the hostel-organised night out. We went to a comedy show (hosted by comedian Usama Siddiquee who was incredible, check him out), had the best pizza in town (you’ll hear that a lot) and hit the village to check out some bars. All-in-all, epic first night.. though I think I’d say that for every city I hit in this trip 🙂 The next few days I spent walking around West Village, Central Park, Brooklyn and Staten Island which was a nice way to get a proper feel of New York. It wasn’t all new faces, having dinner with another old friend was a welcome break from introducing myself and explaining who I am and where I come from (had this down to a t by the end of my trip). As I walked down Broadway on the Upper West Side, as I’ve done so many times, for a second I forgot that I was visiting NYC and felt like I actually lived and belonged here! It’s still my favourite city (other than London of course) and I am desperate to find a way to make this more than a holiday destination! Then came the morning where I realised I have to pack up my stuff, and head home in a few hours..
The experience of taking flights, trains and buses alone, staying in hotels, hostels and motels and being thrown into an environment where I was out of my comfort zone with nothing but strangers was quite a challenge; but I honestly loved every second of it and found myself quickly adapting (didn’t know I could do that). The experience was great, and my answer to the question “Which was your favourite city?” is that I loved all of them, but I had a particularly great time in first visits to San Diego and Chicago.
There are so many memories and stories I have from this trip, and I’m so glad I stepped up and did it. If you’ve met me you know that the thing I emphasize and care about the most is having a good story to tell, and the only way to have a cool story to tell is to do cool sh*t! After such an epic trip, there’s only one thing left on my mind: