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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Returning Home.

We have arrived back home in England last week, after a LONG day of travelling. I’m so disappointed its all over and it seems to of flown by! We have both had an amazing trip and done so many things.

Our journey home was pretty straight forward, we travelled through the night. Faye slept around three hours of the seven hour flight, but I didn’t manage to sleep at all. It was all going smoothly until reaching boarder control at Heathrow airport where I was questioned as to the relationship between Faye and I. As Faye has a different surname to me, due to her Father and I not being married, apparently I cannot prove she is my child. The lady asked for Faye’s birth certificate, which I had in my suitcase, not my carry on luggage, which she told me was no good. She then said she would need to speak with the child’s Father, so I got my mobile phone out but she then said don’t bother. What aggravated me was how indecisive she was as to what she was going to do, so in the end I said to her, if you’re going to stop me, do it, if your not just let me go through and so she just let me walk off. I never encountered anything like this in the USA which was why I was so annoyed to go through it back in England. So from now on I will always have to carry Faye’s birth certificate when travelling, which is fine, OR marry her Father, which is not fine, but it makes me feel slightly put out as if I am in the wrong for not having the same name as my daughter.

So eventually we were through boarder control and were surprised by a group of our closest friends and family which was a really nice gesture. Perhaps not so surprisingly it was raining when we left the airport and we got stuck in traffic on the M25 – a traditional English welcome!

Once back at our house Faye was high as a kite getting all her old toys out as if they were new again, and I on the other hand could not keep my eyes open. As soon as Faye stepped through the door, she ran up to her room and all I heard was ‘SIIIMMMBBAAAA!!!! Have you missed me?!’ – this is the cuddly toy that’s bigger than she is which she wanted to bring with her in her backpack. I’m cruel to not let her I know, but don’t worry we did Skype him at least 3 times!

We both went to bed around 9pm and slept like logs all the way through the night. Faye didn’t wake up until 1pm the next afternoon, but we paid the price for that as the next night she just could not get to sleep, she laid in bed reading until 3am. So to get her back into a normal routine and re-adjust from the time difference, for the next few days I made sure she was up reasonably early so she was worn out by 8pm, and since that she has been sleeping fine through the night again.

Since being home, Faye has spent the week at home catching up with her toys and family (priority in that order) and I have started back at work. Faye has another two weeks before returning to Preschool and her Child-minder, so it’s nice for her to have some chill out time before the madness starts again in September with school, dance class and swimming lessons!

 

welcome home

 

Shopping in the USA.

I tried to leave the shopping as late as I could because I wouldn’t be able to carry it all, but we ended up buying a second case for our final flight back to London.

Faye had saved and been kindly given her own spending money for the trip of which most got spent at Disney – SHOCK. Luckily for us her Father was visiting for that section so he took her bits home for us.

Out here it is hard not to shop to be honest. Miami was my favorite place as I had a car at that point so could travel out to malls easy enough. In Miami the Dolphin Mall is an indoor outlet shopping mall, it’s pretty big and packed with plenty of shops and a Cheesecake Factory!

If you’re in the States to shop you want to find the nearby Premium Outlets. There are plenty all over the country, I think I’ve been to 8 or so in the last month! They all have similar shops in, but you can get most things. Over half of the ones I’ve been to have had a children’s play park which has provided a nice break for Faye. I’ve been to both regular malls and outlet malls and I would definitely advice to start with the outlet ones first.

Items that I’ve picked up a lot cheaper in America than England are;
– Levi Jeans
– Ugg boots
– OPI nail varnish
– Chicco stroller
– Ralph Lauren clothes
– Michael Kors bags and watches
– Pandora
– Suncream
– Disney toys and clothes
– Clark’s shoes for children
– Nike running trainers
– Sports apparel

This probably explains why the extra suitcase was needed!

I’m bringing home about ten bottles of sunscreen because in America they do these great spray on creams which I haven’t seen in England which are great for Faye as they’re light and dry in seconds as well as being waterproof. You can also get Suncream up to factor 70 which is good for Faye as she has very fair skin. As its now mid August all the supermarkets in Minnesota have their sunscreen on sale so they were $4 a bottle, when I pay around £12 for one in England.

Whilst on the subject of toiletries, Something I’ve picked up upon in the States is that you cannot easily buy spray deodorant, all I’ve found is roll on! Very random I know, but I thought that was weird!

I’ve already looked at when I can get the cheapest flight to Florida to take an empty suitcase and fill it with shopping – I better buy a lottery ticket as soon as I get home!

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