Tag Archives: Summer Camp

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.

‘On the Road’, on the road

I’m unsure as to whether I can really call reading On the Road while stationed and working in one place ‘on the road’, but I was away from home so I’m going to claim that it counts.

It was funny; while I was reading it, I didn’t think On the Road had had any effect on me other than providing some enjoyment and making me feel frustrated with Sal (just get away from Dean, for God’s sake Paradise!) But following the end of camp I spent two weeks on a road trip and, bizarrely, I started wanting to experience the thrills Sal Paradise had travelling with Dean Moriarty. I wanted to experience that kind of wild thrill, that electric excitement, that’s possible only when your with someone who’s on another plane of energy and is willing to live life freely, be damned the consequences.

Feeling so American #usbling #ontheroad #usliterature #kerouac

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Dean is a character I loved to hate. In the book he came off as so insincere, for me at least. I didn’t believe in how he could feel life the way he did, feeding off the jazz and the excitement of being selfish; it was a show, a cry for attention. Any time Sal got back together with him I groaned for this naive individual who couldn’t see that his idol was so selfish and unthinking and shallow. However, some time after reading the book – and I’m talking months after – Dean starts to seem like someone you would maybe follow, even if only for a day or two. It could be almost automatic. Because even if his love for life is fake it must be amazing to be around someone who just let’s go and doesn’t care, when usually there is so much to do and think about.

It is a book that lures you out of your everyday life, making you want to travel crazily just as they did. You want to rent a car and do their crazy route across America. When I was doing my two week road trip I felt slightly disgusted and disappointed in myself that I couldn’t drive for 24-hours straight like Dean could.

Maybe that’s the true latch of On the Road. Despite knowing that Dean’s crazy and will leave you dying at the side of the road (or in Mexico) if the circumstances suited, we all want to be a bit crazier, a little more selfish. We want to be able to throw off everything and do stupid stuff just like Dean, in spite of the fact that being an accomplice – Sal’s role – can be so very dangerous.

(Sidenote: A book that I really read while actually on the road was All the President’s Men, which some may know from the screen adaptation starring Robert Redford and Dennis Hoffman. It’s about two journalists journey uncovering the Watergate scandal and coverup and it really is a very good read and highly recommended. I also reread Catch-22. Damn. That book is even better than I remember it.)

Leaving Los Angeles

So. After almost three months I am saying goodbye to sunny California and heading to Chicago (on the train if anyone’s wondering). It was a bit anti-climatic, especially seeing as I had already technically left – I did a two week road trip through Californian national parks, Las Vegas and to the Grand Canyon. After 3 months though, you do definitely get a feel of a place.

Finally (finally!) went to Hollywood. #hollywood #hollywoodland #hollywoodsign #touristy #USA

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Its safe to say that LA wasn’t my favourite city (congrats Berlin) but nor was it my least loved (hello Krakow). Instead it falls into a category that is definitely… middling. I still don’t quite know how I feel about LA. Thinking hard there aren’t honestly that many things that I could say to people that I liked apart from the weather, though that makes it sound awful. It wasn’t.

Naples. No not Italy, but fancy USA. #longbeach #LA #USA #sunset #nofilter #prettypretty

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Perhaps part of the problem was that so many people from LA seemed to detest LA. I had a variety of people tell me they couldn’t wait to leave, that they hated their own city, with one person remarking that, “So many people want to leave, they just don’t have the means”. Dislike for the place that you live is usually feigned – many people may joke about hating where they live, especially in Britain – but there was some real loathing of LA from some of the residents. If everyone hates where they live it makes it difficult to love the place when you’re merely visiting.

There is also, I felt, a lack of character in LA. I had never been somewhere where all the buildings lacked… something. They missed a special element, whether that is a lack of older buildings – a difficult feat for such a new city to have had accomplished – or unusual buildings. Even artwork – in most cities there is street art that gives a city a definitive feature. I love Birmingham but it isn’t the most character filled place on earth (not in a good way, anyway). But even Birmingham has the Bull Ring bull! LA was just so bare. It was depressing.

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I did, however, adore the weather. It’s so nice to be able to plan something weeks in advance and not having to have a contingency plan for if it rains. And I loved In and Out, which may seem like a strange thing to pick out of all the other things LA has to offer, but In and Out was like a camp ritual, and it represents so much more than simply a fast food joint for me.

Camp treasures #secretpal #calilife #mykidsknowmysenseofstylesowell #mufasa #dreamcatches

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I think that’s what I’ll take away from LA more than anything else – all the great memories I have of this place. Despite not liking where they lived, the people I met were incredible. If it wasn’t such a hassle what with visas and flights (and the pay for internationals was better) I would definitely have returned next year. As it is, instead I will be saying bon voyage to LA and California for the foreseeable future. I will remember you fondly (though not as fondly as Berlin).

The Essentials: Those Camp Essentials Though

Working at a camp for over a month has been such a fun experience. I’m so happy that I was placed in California – I’m sure New England would have been great but the prospect of travelling cross country across America is so exciting. Before that month long journey begins, however, I have to finish my 10 week contract. I’m in no way complaining. Spending all day at the ropes course, belaying children and coaxing them to the top of the wall or to the leap of faith is unbelievably fun and rewarding, especially since my camp is for underprivileged kids who don’t have much chance for this sort of experience during the rest of the year.

I am one of thousands of Brits that each year leave the UK for the summer to work at an American summer camp. Here are some of the things I think are essential for such a role and an amazing summer.

A Water bottle
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Now, this may be because I’m in the sweltering heat of California, but my water bottle is with me all day, every day, and I honestly rank this as my most important possession on camp. I’m even now of the opinion that you should have a water bottle with you every where (we’ll see how well that mantra holds when I’ve returned to Britain though). Being dehydrated will make you want to strangle your children, aid you in developing a nasty cold (or some other diseases), and cause you to be tired all the time (the desire to harm your kids is the emotion you most want to avoid by the way). This thing is a literal lifesaver, and it cost me $10 from Target. Make the investment yourself.

Shorts
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This is all I wear, 24/7. I really underestimated how many pairs of shorts I would need before I got here. Remember – I’m in California, in the summer. There is dust everywhere and my black sports shorts start to show the dirt about 10 seconds after taking them out of the wash. Despite packing light, I still over packed in terms of pyjamas and tops. I ended up having to buy another pair of shorts from Target (where else!?) so take note potential camp employees.

(Just FYI: I need 3 pairs of shorts for a 5 day session. Other, more fashionable people, need more.)

A Smart Phone
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I know that nowadays most people have smart phones, but for those weary about taking the jump a phone that can connect to the internet is truly essential. Some requirements for said phone: make sure it has a front facing camera for Skyping home, otherwise that’s just awkward; Facebook Messenger, because if you don’t have an American sim card What’s Apping can be interesting, while everyone has Facebook; and either lots of memory space or a Dropbox (or the like) account for the millions of photos you will take. Seriously – the only access to the internet (and WordPress) I can usually get is through my phone, and I’d really miss it if it was gone.

My Kobo eReader
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More technology! For those book lovers this is so important. I could arguably just read from the Kobo app on my phone, but I much prefer the lack of glare and artificial light that is allowed on the paper-like screens of eReaders. I was weary at first about the idea of abandoning hardcopy books in exchange for the electronic version, but when the option is between trying to fit 7 paperbacks in your precious luggage space, contributing to a weight that needs to be as low as possible, and one eReader there’s no competition. Because I can’t forget hard copies all together I try to make a balance of buying a combination. When on the road, however, a little device such as this is indispesible, especially if there is a 6 hour bus ride coming your way.

Other tips:
– Buy a sleeping bag instead of bedsheets and duvets. They’re much easier to move and set up when your moving from cabin to cabin between sessions.
– Buy your toiletries out there as it saves weight in your luggage allowance, and generally is cheaper.
– I find having a rucksack (or backpack) is really helpful just for carrying the random bits and pieces needed in the day around camp.
– Also, it may sound corny but a sense of humour and bucket-loads of patience are absolutely necessary – if this is your first time working with kids and you think it will be easy, think again; they will drive you crazy if you let them.
– Finally, if you are planning on travelling after camp you don’t want to be hauling a 23kg bag around with you. I know its the luggage allowance, but you are probably not going to wear that shiny top or fancy shoes enough to warrant bringing them with you. Pack light and save yourself some trouble later on.

What do you think then? Any essentials that I’ve missed? Let me know below.

Image credit: magazineluiza

My Fourth of July

As you may be aware I am currently in America for the summer, near Los Angeles to be more precise. I’m working at one of the many American summer camps and loving every second – it is an opportunity that has allowed me to see different facets of American life and culture (take note visa moderators) and meet some awesome people. Fourth of July was for me the pinnacle in this experience so far – I got to hang out with great new friends and enjoy the most American of American days.

4th of July carnival with the best firework display I've seen. Fantastic day

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I started the day at camp avoiding going to the beach. There was a mass exodus of staff heading for the ocean and I didn’t want to be dragged along for a day that would consist only of drinking and maybe going into the water. This left approximately 6 people who stayed behind. I actually really appreciate camp when it’s practically empty as it was on the Fourth – it’s so peaceful. It also means you can do things you wouldn’t usually be able (read: allowed) to do. This time, we got to drive the mule.

It is important to understand that only the most important people get to drive the mule. A little Kawasaki, driving this go-cart is a sign of prestige and a position of power. On the Fourth of July it was all ours. We drove around camp hyped up on adrenaline. We took it to the horses and got to feed and play with them. We visited the baby bunnies at ranch (taking many, many selfies). Half the day was spent revelling in our new found power.

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The afternoon brought a trip to Target. I have been in the US for over a month, working for 6 weeks, meaning 6 weekends off. Last weekend was my first in which I didn’t visit Target. I went on the Fourth for my favourite snack America has been able to offer me, Pretzel M&Ms … and to my horror they were no longer being sold! Why am I telling you this? So if you know of somewhere (anywhere) in the Los Angeles area that sells these incredible sweets, please let me know. I’m in withdrawal and I’m getting desperate.

My favourite food in America #m&ms #pretzel #usfood #USA #campfood

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The evening brought my favourite bit of the day. Some friends and I headed to a school carnival paying $5 for admission; it was worth every penny (or cent, whichever. Still struggling with some language issues!) One Brit, one Aussie and 3 Americans: the Yanks helped us foreigners manage some dangerous terrain – what to eat. We eventually chose nachos and it was an inspired choice.

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The admission ticket essentially paid for one of the best firework displays I have seen that hasn’t been televised: seriously, for a primary school it was really very impressive. Half an hour long and always awe-inspiring it was well worth the five bucks. We were also allowed to witness some brave employees of the sheriff department jump out of an aeroplane, one with a gay pride flag and another with (what else?) an American flag trailing behind them. It was awesome.

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Speaking of the American flag, I think the Fourth of July may be one of the reasons America (at least on the surface) is so patriotic. After a day of fireworks, American anthems and classic tunes, and even a visit from a Californian congressman, even I was starting to feel a sense of American pride. There was a great energy and a sensation of national pride generated by the day that I have rarely felt in the UK outside of sports matches and the London Olympics. This is a day solely about America and this day (and the atmosphere) is duplicated every year. Speakers at the carnival repeated that America is the home of the best, the most incredible nation on earth, and you start to believe it. None of this is a criticism, just an observation. Either way, I truly enjoyed my first Fourth of July.

Edit: just a note to apologise about the formatting. I’m not sure how it looks for those with computers but on my phone it looks messy. Yet another reason I miss my laptop at camp – I have no idea how to work the WordPress app on my phone!