Sorry for not posting this sooner – been frantically planning and sort stuff out for before I leave! More on that later this week.
This is a continuation of My First Solo Trip Pt 1, although this can stand alone.
Prior to travelling to Mexico, I decided that as I was on the other side of the Atlantic, I might as well stick around for a little bit.
I planned to go to the U.S.A. on a Trek America trip and to stay in New York City for a little bit. But first, I stayed in Mexico for a little pool time…
Following our farewell at the children’s home, our group went to the airport so that the majority could fly back home. Their time in Mexico had come to a close and they had a long journey back to England. My heart was already in a sensitive state after saying goodbye to the kids, but now I had to say goodbye to people who had become my close friends.
Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.
When I returned to the hostel that had been my home for the past four weeks, it was so quiet. But this eerie silence was just the beginning of my first step out as a solo traveller.
I had booked a hostel near the town centre of Puerto Vallarta (PV) for a couple of days. This hostel was the ideal location for most backpackers – walking distance to the clubs that this area was known for, but far enough away that we were safe from the noise or the hooligans.
Here, I arrived with my backpack and found my way to my room. My first encounter was a solo traveller was a Mexican man called José – he was in the bunk beneath me. Sadly, my Key Stage 3 Spanish eluded me and I forgot how to respond to ¿Dondé vives? (where are you from?).
Solo fail #1.
In the handful of days which I spent at this hostel, I met some travellers from across the globe. An Englishwoman, a French Canadian lady who was somewhat of a polyglot and a German guy with a unique stance on environmentalism (a topic which I have an interest in). But more importantly, this hostel had a pool!
That first dip in that pool after 28 days in 35+ heat was a sensation – it also helped with the hangovers which naturally came with the hostel life.
The fondest memory I have of these few days was one night when we’d decided to go out, but we had decided too late and none of us 6 was drunk. Sadly, in this district, to purchase alcohol from a convenience store (we were on a budget after all) past 11 pm was illegal. We scoured the few stores which were still open for a drink – as getting drunk in a bar would have cost 20x as much.
Thankfully we found a place which was known to the locals, and we ended up sitting on the beach, looking out to the thunderstorms raging in the Pacific, drinking triple strength vodka and pop from polystyrene cups.
This is one of those stories which would never have arisen without the hostel environment of inviting others to dinner.
Due to visa restrictions, I had to leave Mexico two days after this evening.
I had booked a flight months before, from PV to Chicago O’Hare then onwards to Newark. My layover in Chicago was 14 hours, overnight.
I did my research and I decided not to travel out of the airport at this time. In hindsight, this wasn’t the best idea – I should have gone out just for a Chicago-style pizza pie. #RIPizza.
The dinosaur was pretty cool though!
So, here I was, 31 days in the tropics of Mexico, now staying in an airport overnight, with no phone (it had died). One thing I hadn’t counted on was the A/C. The A/C in O’Hare seemed to be set on absolute zero at night as if to help all travellers coming in from the American Summer cool off. For me, it was like stepping into a cryogenic freezer. I had travelled for 14 hours and I needed sleep.
When I landed at Newark and got to baggage reclaim, disaster struck.
My bag wasn’t there.
My bag, with unique [for them] Mexican presents for my family and all my clothes [par one set which I always pack in my hand luggage] had disappeared.
But I held back the panic.
I found my way to the baggage problem desk, which seemed miles away, and informed them of my problem. They didn’t seem engaged at all. I was met with blank faces. They told me to go check again, although I had already waited and all of the baggage had come through.
Back I went, my bag was still vacant.
I returned to the blank faces at the desk.
I was starting to freak out. I had booked to go on a 7-day tour of North East USA the next day, I wouldn’t have a permanent location for more than a week. Even if they did find my bag, how could they return it to me?
A lady at the desk saw the anxiety grow in my eyes and stepped forward to help. She asked me to describe my bag and said that it could have been placed in the Special Baggage Area due to its size.
After 5 minutes of rummaging through, she found it!
I made my way to the hotel.
Having little travel experience, I thought I’d let someone else do the planning for my first trip. As such I booked onto the Freedom Trail Trek America tour which was a minibus tour with destinations including
These famous locations were definitely a highlight of the “trek”. Each location exceeded my expectations – seeing places that I had seen on television and in films left me kind of starstruck.
Our tour guide, John, was a hilarious strawberry-blonde American who had been working at Disney World Florida for a couple of years. He was a great guy to travel with, definitely when the rest of our tour group was less forthcoming with enthusiasm as the week wore on. It also helped that we had similar interests and he never took anything too seriously – something I try to involve in my days since.
This week was filled with great times, a few were
Getting a fresh hot Philly cheesesteak – I miss that cheese every day
Running up the Rocky steps
Seeing the Lincoln Monument in DC
Going to the Jettison cemetery and seeing all of the unnamed graves
Visiting an Amish Town, to then realise it was just an open-air museum.
But a goat walked on me so it wasn’t so bad!
Following this, we visited a Cracker Barrel and had fresh American biscuits ❤
Visiting WalMart and Targets (a lame goal, but I liked it!)
Staying in the only hostel in Boston (HI-Boston) and meeting up with a friend from Mexico
We stayed in national parks for most of the journey, in tents, which was a great way to get away from the busy cities we visited during the day
Being offered drugs 3 times in the half an hour I spent in Boston Green. I was more interested in my 32oz Big Gulp I got a 7/Eleven
Buying the shoes below at a random thrift store
Getting Canadian WiFi from Buffalo, NY
Following that, a personal highlight was when we just came off the Maid of the Mist at Buffalo. We were singing Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off [the (un)official song of the trek as it was released the day we started] **** whilst queuing for a lift. The unique part of this story is we were actually with a lady who had played Jasmine at Disney, she was a good laugh and nearly had a breakdown when we approached the Canadian border ‘cos she didn’t have her passport.
Like all good things, this trek had to finish, and John dropped us off at that first hotel in Newark. From here, I made my way to a hostel in Brooklyn – not without having a night-time sighting of the Empire State Building, which was immense.
I had booked this hostel back in England, mostly because it was the cheapest option. I mentioned this to a guy on my trek and his face dropped. He said that he’d stayed at this hostel before coming on the trek, and it wasn’t in a nice area. He then went on to explain the time that he got off the Subway (which was 60m from the hostel), but went the wrong way when off the train and had to be escorted by the Police back in the right direction.
A lovely thing to hear when you’ll be staying at this place for the next 5 nights.
The next 5 days were both a blur and a struggle. I had so much planned and was able to do everything I wanted to do, but I hadn’t expected to be ready to go home when I was in a city I had wanted to visit for so long. The 5/6 weeks away had started to take it out of me, I felt emotionally drained.
When I was back in Mexico, Elle Seaver (the founder of TSF) put it this way, and I still think about this now,
It’s like you’ve got a big pot of love. And by giving and volunteering to these kids, you’re using up your pot. Without those you love and your close friends to replenish the pot, you soon feel less drained.
Using this analogy, I had used up my current pot of exploration. I needed to go home to see my friends.
But I carried on. I didn’t get stabbed outside my hostel, which was nice, but it wasn’t the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. I didn’t find it very social and being under-21, I couldn’t partake in much even if it was. (Also the bathrooms had this weird frosted glass in, so you could see who was on the toilet or in the shower)
I’m glad to say that as a solo traveller, I did a lot of stuff in NYC. So much to say that I do not need to return as a tourist (although I probably will)
During my 4 days there, after meticulous planning, I was able to
Go to the Top of the Rock to see the Empire State Building
My ears popping in the elevator was unusual
Walk around Central Park
Visit the toy store from up
Go see the 9/11 memorial
Go on all 5 Grey Line bus tours (I bought a 2-day pass, which included 1-hour bike rental)
Cycled across the Brooklyn Bridge
Walked Wall Street
Had Chinese in China Town
Went to Trader Joes and bought some food
Walked the Highline
Which had a free food/art/music festival at the end
Accidently took a water taxi to Ikea in Brooklyn
See the Statue of Liberty
The highlight of this part of my journey and my favourite place in the world is Jane’s Carousel.
This hidden gem below the Brooklyn Bridge is a gentrified area of Brooklyn with hipster shops, restaurants and, of course, a carousel.
I didn’t go on the carousel but I found serenity just sitting up against it, with the New York skyline in the distance, reading a book or listening to some music.