Adios USA: Things I learnt

I am currently writing this in JFK International Airport. Not shockingly, I am waiting to board my flight (home, not to another interesting destination). I have spent 3 months away from home, visited 8 states, have spent almost a week travelling on trains, explored 4 national parks and had one experience with Enterprise Road-Side Assistance following a car crash. It’s been awesome.

As often happens to people following long trips, I have come to certain realisations. I’ll skip the self probing discoveries about myself and instead focus on some broader ones about travelling in general. The most important is one that is said a lot, but which I never really took seriously until my road trip: know who you’re travelling with, and know them well!

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After finishing camp and before taking a two-week train trip spanning the US I spent a fortnight with three former coworkers, on a road trip to different national parks and Las Vegas. I had heard and read about the importance of knowing who you’re going to travel with in the past, but dismissed it. Nonsense, I had thought. I have travelled with other people before – friends, family – and had no problems. I’m no longer going to be so cavalier.

Please don’t misunderstand: I really enjoyed that two week trip. However, travelling with people you’ve known for years, sometimes your whole life, and people who you met 2 months before are two very different experiences. I felt restrained in doing what I wanted, worried about boring them or that I was wasting their time. I realised I needed time alone, not because of them but because that’s just who I am, but felt bad saying no to them when they asked if I wanted to explore Vegas with them. One of the members of our group had a really hard time compromising which could sour the atmosphere. Also, realising on day four that none of them had very much camping experience meant that I had to explain how to put up the tent properly, but I did in in an aggravated way because I was tired.

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Being tired was a major problem. Maybe even bigger, however, was money. When you’re with other people your budget is not your own, and as a budget traveller this was probably my biggest issue. It was especially an issue after the car crash (I hadn’t been in the car) when my friend who had been worst affected needed to sleep in motel beds rather than camping. In a crash that should have killed her this was a very small price to pay but it hit my purse all the same.

My new found wariness about travelling with people even affected me in hostels, where I tried to avoid going anywhere with people. At night I felt better, because there was less I wanted to do at night other than experience the city after dark. But in the day this was now my time, and I didn’t want to have to pay for anything I wasn’t comfortable with.

Our car crash brings me to insurance. Here I am going to be a hypocrite: I am going to recommend insurance, say I am sold on it, and yet have spent this last week travelling the US without health coverage (and am currently hoping JFK’s roof doesn’t fall on my head to teach me a lesson). Let’s say, then, that I am sold for sure on insurance, and despite my protestations in Vegas that I don’t like to gamble, when it could save me money I have a bit of a problem (it is something that should probably be worked on).

Finally I discovered that while some people can just rock up in a city, having bought the ticket for the bus in 5 hours before, simply to wander around to see where they can stay, I am not one of those people. Maybe I could do this in South East Asia, or South America, where everything is cheaper even booking on the day, but in the US – and being on a budget – this was just not an option I considered (this was not true when camping however, but there were 4 of us and we had a car that we could – and did – sleep in when times got tough).

So, in the future, unless I know the other person I’m travelling with extremely well, and we’re on the same budget (I can’t explain how important that is for me) then I will travel alone. Total control over travel is not something trifling or small, and it stops full blown arguments because someone hasn’t helped to cook for the fourth day in a row. I will get travel insurance, and I will continue to book at least the travel in and hostel I’m staying in before I arrive. Honestly, these are things that just make me feel more comfortable as a traveller, and when you are on the road feeling comfortable and safe is so important.

Update: Just so you know guys, the roof of JFK didn’t fall on me. Yay!

Do you have any travel tips? Are you an insurance gambler? Let me know.

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