What we’ve learnt.

89 Days

25 Hotels

Over 20 Places

1 Country

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I was slightly hesitant about going away on our three month trip to America, for many reasons such as work and money, but, mainly because I’m backpacking with my three year old! Would we be safe? How would Faye cope? How will I cope!?!

Once we got there, those worries soon went straight out the window. I remember the first day we set out exploring. We left our youth hostel in Boston late one afternoon and went for a walk around the neighbourhood and I instantly felt happy and calm. The houses and streets were beautiful and Faye was running up and down, laughing away.

Don’t underestimate the hard work that goes into organising a trip like this, it takes a long time, and foolishly I planned mine whilst completing my final year of my degree, which got very stressful, BUT, it paid off as things went pretty smoothly once we were away.

Yes we backpacked, but very organised backpacking, I had pre-booked all our accommodation and transport before we left the UK, this is partly because I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night if I didn’t know where I was going to stay from one week to the next, and also, i’m with a young child, I wanted suitable places for her. Ultimately I know I would not have enjoyed it as much as I did if I was spending time trying to find accommodation. Another bonus to it, is that its cheaper. If you can book hotels, train tickets, car hire at least a few months in advance you can get things quite a bit cheaper.

So we stayed in 25 hotels during the trip. I initially set my budget at £50 per night for accommodation and the average worked out at £51.25, so I thought that worked out pretty well. Obviously depending on the area you are in, a hotel can be £30 a night and others can be £100 plus, but, you’ve just got to keep on top of your budget the whole time. Its also nice to spend a few nights in an average hotel to save some money and then have one night in a nice one. Hotels on average in America are way, WAY, better than what you would receive in England. Most places we stayed, had two large double beds, fridge, microwave, hi speed Wi-Fi, satellite TV, kettles, free parking and breakfast – for £50. When researching my hotels I used hotels.com as you get one free night for every ten you book through them, but its also worth going direct to the hotel for a price. I used Tripadvisor for everything, but you have to take it with a pinch of salt, people on there seem to moan about anything and everything. My main priorities were, does the lock on the door work and is the bed clean, any extras I’m over the moon. We were very fortunate with ALL our hotel, everyone was more than adequate for us two and I always felt safe.

I was advised by STA travel agents when initially discussing my trip that I would need £1000 per person, per month, in America as everyday spending money for food and activities etc. I took half that amount of money as that’s all I had. We had £39 per day, around $68, dependant on the exchange rate. Obviously some places are twice as expensive as others, so any opportunity I could find to save cash I would. We didn’t go out for three meals everyday because I just couldn’t afford it. We made use of the fridge and microwave in our hotels and always tried to get the free breakfasts. I also always carried snacks for Faye so instead of stopping for a meal she could graze through until dinner time. I have come home with a small credit card bill, due to the clothes shopping during the end, but that was to be expected. However, on average I did manage to keep to my budget, the best way to do that I found was to spend as little as possible during the start of the trip to make sure you know you have enough to last the duration.

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The trip has done a lot for Faye’s social skills, before we came away she was not particularly confident doing physical tasks, and wasn’t keen on having conversations with new people, which is fine as she’s only three, but since being away she’s thrown herself into pretty much all the activities, she’s much more confident and she’ll even order her own food in a restaurant! When you ask her about the trip, she will mainly tell you about Disney, but she has really enjoyed all the other places. Things like the US Mint in Philadelphia, I found slightly dull looking at coin after coin, but Faye loved it! She found it really interesting looking at the factory and identifying what different coins were. Giving her her own digital camera was one of the best things to keep her entertained, she loves to take photos and did so throughout the whole trip. People passing by would often smile when they saw Faye taking pictures of me, and would offer to take a photo, but Faye (being a very independent child) would say ‘no thank you, I’m good at taking pictures’.

Don’t get me wrong it’s not always easy being in each others pockets for three months, when we are at home in England, I work and Faye has Preschool so we have time apart, which I believe everyone needs, so there was numerous times I could of strangled her, and I’m sure she could me. It doesn’t help that when Faye’s asleep she still doesn’t stop talking or fidgeting! There’s not much that can be done about it really, just go the bathroom, count to ten and think at least I’m not at work!

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Neither of us wanted to return home, we could of easily stayed away for another few months, but unfortunately the VISA and the money ran out. In the airport on the way home we were reading travel books for where we would like to go next. We like Mexico, Thailand and central America – to be honest, I’ll go anywhere! Faye starts primary school in September 2014 which will be quite an obstacle but I won’t let it stop me. I am aware taking children out of school is very difficult these days, however the knowledge Faye has developed on this trip for her age has been immense and its never ending. She’s practiced her hand writing when sending postcards, she’s been identifying all her numbers when finding hotel rooms and using elevators. She can now identify different flags and countries. She’s learnt about pounds and dollars as well as different cultures and some of the history behind the United States of America. She’s been educated on looking after the environment and pollution of the sea. She has seen a whole variety of wildlife in their natural habitats. She’s used so many modes of transport and tried different foods. The best thing is, that I am not having to teach her these things, we are learning them together and enjoying it at the same time. We are both incredibly fortunate to have been on this adventure.

So the plan now is to work hard, save up and play the lottery to fund the next trip!

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Amtrak.

Okay so we made our way to New York on Wednesday and we got here via the Amtrak train.

We are using the Amtrak three times on our trip – Boston to New York, New York to Washington and Washington to Philadelphia. We booked our tickets around January time, so well in advance. I did this because you can get some great discounts. We paid $199 altogether for both of us. Faye as a child gets a half price fare (when accompanied by an adult). The only disadvantage to this is you need to pick the exact train to go on and if you miss it or want to change it, you can end up paying the most expensive last minute rate for it. The trains are often fully booked by the day of departure so it’s not advisable to turn up hoping to get a seat. If booking in advance online you get emailed your ticket which you print out so when it comes to boarding the train you hop straight on and the ticket guy checks it once the train has left.

The tickets are for unreserved seating so it’s best to get there early to sit together with family/friends. The seating is two on the left and two on the right with the aisle in between.

Boston to New York took just short of four hours and the train was efficient and on time with good announcements of all the stations along the way. There was plenty of leg room and there is tray tables in front of you. Each window seat has two plug sockets so you can take chargers for phones, cameras and games consoles which is handy. It also has free Wifi which worked with no problem all the way. As well as a food cart half way down for snacks.

They are quite strict on baggage, two bags per person, no heavier than 50lbs. Bags have to be put on shelves or in overhead lockers so make sure you can lift them or ask someone to help, people are pretty friendly here towards parents with young children.

I had looked into flying but it was much more expensive and with the faff of checking bags in it would of taken just as long as the Amtrak. There are also Greyhound buses which are a cheaper option but they can take a long time. I felt the Amtrak was good value for money (so far, I still have two trips to do and may hate it by then) and its also another mode of transport for children to explore and Faye found it quite exciting doing something new. Just make sure you pack snacks and activities to do on board.

Cape Cod – Who Knew Ice Cream Came in so Many Flavours!

We have been fortunate enough to spend the last three days in Cape Cod!

When planning mine and Faye’s trip to America my Mum contacted a close friend of hers from high school, Vickie, who lives in the Boston area. Vickie kindly offered to look after us for a few days and show us the sights of Cape Cod. Her main house is in a place called Shrewsbury which is around 45 minutes west of Boston which we came to visit first as her son had his senior prom on Saturday night. We then got up on Sunday morning and drove to her other house in Cape Cod which is just short of two hours.

Unfortunately whilst at the Cape the weather wasn’t the best, however, as we are from England we are somewhat used to wind and rain so we found the mild temperatures quite nice! Vickie’s house is part of a beach association and so they have a private beach, Faye was the only one on the beach to brave the waters and she seemed to enjoy it! Vickie’s husband Mark did some fantastic cooking for us whilst we were there and it was nice to have home cooked comfort food!

Each night we went out for ice cream which was a real treat. In England the choice is mainly Vanilla, Chocolate or Strawberry, well over here there were hundreds! SO far I’ve sampled, Cake Batter, Chocolate Chip Cookie and Milky Way. You ALSO get a choice of cone or bowl and the cones come in all sorts of flavour. I would advise to buy a ‘small’ as a small is actually huge so i imagine a large is gigantic! I’m glad we were with friends as Vickie had to explain all this to me!

Going to Cape Cod is slightly off the beaten track with backpacking around the USA and we were very lucky to have friends that could take us. I would recommend it to anyone, the area and the people were fantastic.

Faye has unfortunately developed a cold since we’ve been away and luckily we had plenty of Calpol but i forgot to bring cough medicine so i popped to the Chemist to buy some so i would recommend parents to bring medicine as it is always handy.Cape Cod

Cape Cod

Tomorrow morning we are getting the Amtrak to New York so we are turning in early tonight to prepare.

Boston – The Beginning.

So, we spent three days here in Boston.

We stayed in a hostel called 40 Berkeley, near to the Back Bay region. Don’t be put off the word hostel, as you may initially think they attract youngsters, this one was suited to all ages. We had a private room and the use of a shared bathroom between around 20 rooms. We barely encountered anyone here, we never had to wait for the bathroom, the only time we saw people was in the mornings in the breakfast room. We paid around $60 a night for the hostel, as opposed to around $200 per night for a hotel in the same area. The price included free breakfast, which was superb and had everything you could want, also free Wifi was available in all guestrooms, as well as pool tables, a movie room and the use of kettles and a microwave in the lobby. The staff were so helpful here and loved having my daughter around. If you needed directions, taxi’s or anything they would do their best to help you out. A whole variety of people stayed in the hostel from families to older single travelers. The hostel operates a quiet policy after 10pm, so if you do have young children there is no noise to worry about. My daughter Faye was so tired each night that she went to sleep around 8pm with no problems at all. The rooms were small and we shared a double bed, which was interesting and will take some getting used to. Faye is not ideal to share a bed with, she tosses and turns all night, and if shes not kicking me, shes strangling me or cuddling me so hard i can barely breathe – luckily most of our future reservations have given us twin beds! Faye had two jobs at the hostel, she was in charge of the room key and finding a good table at breakfast, she loved being in charge of something which helps to give her more confidence. I couldn’t recommend this hostel highly enough, no it is not five star and glamorous but it is clean and safe which is what i was after.

The day we arrived we got in early afternoon, so we unpacked and went to explore the area a little to keep ourselves awake, i just wanted to get an idea of where we were so we did not waste time the next day, we ended finding a little park which Faye played in for the rest of the afternoon. The next day (Thursday) we went off to explore, the hostel provided maps and we headed off towards Boston Common. We went on the Swan Boats in the Public Gardens which was $4.50 for both of us, a cheap but nice activity for children. We then explored up to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market which we both loved. This is all free and part of the famous Boston Freedom Trail. Quincy Market has loads of different foods to try and Faye loved all the market stalls. We had to really limit ourselves with the shopping as we are backpacking and the bag is busting full already so our plan is to make up a box and ship it back to England. After Quincy Market we walked up to the North End of Boston to eat in a restaurant called Al Dente – the restaurant was lovely, reasonably priced, friendly staff and huge portions in which we both took home a doggy bag with our leftovers.

On Friday (our last full day in Boston) the weather was very grey and miserable so we went over to the Boston Children Museum. This museum was recommended to us by a friend and is definitely worth a visit. It is $14 per person, cheaper for under 1s and is open all day. On Friday nights 5-9pm it is sponsored by Target in which admission is $1 each, so if you are on a budget, it is a huge saving! It is very busy on these nights. The museum is great for all ages and is really hands on. It has climbing frames, a mini theater which puts on shows throughout the day, a bubble room, a gravity room, a construction room and so on. I would recommend this place to anyone with children, it provides entertainment all day long and also a great way for parents and children to learn together.

Unfortunately we ran out of time, but i would also recommend the Boston Duck Tours which are car/boats which go on the land and in the water as a way of seeing the City, they looked like good fun!

Whilst we are away I have invested in a camera for Faye which she loves, letting her take her own photos has kept her entertained, however, most of them are of drains, trash cans, ducks and trees, but its her way of having fun, so why not!

She has also written postcards which is another good thing for children to do, and can be a relatively cheap activity to do one evening and it helps with her writing and we talk about countries and addresses.

An interesting observation I have made is the difference of the toilets over here in the USA. Most toilets flush automatically. Faye obviously is not used to this, and everytime it flushes it scares her and makes her cry, which i did find quite amusing, cruel i know, but she’ll get used to it!!

We are now getting collected by some friends to go and stay at their holiday house in Cape Cod for a few days – hard life!

Faye posting her postcards outside 40 Berkeley Hostel

Departures.

We arrived in Boston yesterday afternoon after a 7 hour flight. We flew from London Heathrow to Boston Logan International with Delta Airlines. The flight went smoothly as we both had out own entertainment systems and my daughter Faye said at the end of the flight said she wasn’t ready to get off as her film hasn’t finished! I’d packed loads if snacks and games to keep her occupied but luckily did not need any of it.

On arrival we grabbed our bags and went through customs which is always interesting in the USA. I have been to America before so I was prepared but it is quite a daunting experience if your going through for the first time. This time I was quizzed on why I wanted to be in America for three months, how I could afford it and whether Faye’s father knew I had taken her away!! I felt like saying ‘what business is it of yours’ but he’d probably of put me on the next plane back to England!

Once through we grabbed our bags and were away. We hopped in a cab to our hostel, 40 Berkeley. As you’ll see from our photo (if I manage to upload it successfully) we ‘tried’ to travel light with a large backpack for me and a small one for Faye. I’ve also a pushchair as well, but I imagine that will get thrown away somewhere along the route.

Unfortunately I couldn’t post this yesterday as we both had a wild first night in Boston and were fast asleep by 7.30pm.

I have to go now as Faye needs a wee, apologies, but she needs one every ten minutes – one of the more trying aspects of backpacking with a 3 year-old!

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