What we’ve learnt.

89 Days

25 Hotels

Over 20 Places

1 Country

IMG_0268

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.

IMG_0860

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!

IMG_0302

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!

DRCPhoto_0008 DSC05781 DSCF2714   IMG_0315 IMG_0775  IMG_3514

Philly.

We’re just about finishing up here in Philadelphia and packing to fly to Orlando early in the morning.

We’ve had a much more chilled out week in Philadelphia, both catching up on some much needed sleep.

The hotels been perfect, The Cromwell Inn. Everything you need and helpful staff. A light breakfast each morning until 10am, aircon, wifi, huge comfortable bed. Two minute walk to a shop and a brisk five minute walk to nearest subway line and bus stops. The hotel is located on Temple university campus and can be booked out quite far in advance around times like graduation. Again, we paid around £80 per night. The earlier you book, the better the rate.

SEPTA is the transport system. You buy tokens to use it. It’s something like $3.10 for two tokens (a return journey). You can buy day and family passes If you’re going to do a lot of travelling. The SEPTA map is quite confusing as it involves, underground, trollies, regional rail and buses. I felt it was very complicated to use and did not feel comfortable. Something like one in three stations are wheelchair accessible (meaning there’s lifts for pushchairs and wider ticket gates) on stations that aren’t wheelchair friendly there are a lot of steps and I had to lift the pushchair up over my head to get through the ticket barriers, with the ticket lady telling me I shouldn’t be using that station – but why should I walk two more blocks just because I have a child?! Compared to Washington’s Metro system which was clean and easy to use, the SEPTA system was a major downgrade. It smelt of urine, often had homeless people everywhere and the trains are incredibly noisy. On a more positive note was the Philly Phlash, a purple trolley that has around 19 stops in downtown Philadelphia. It stops at all the tourist attractions or very nearby and loops round all day. It is not supposed to be a tour bus, but if you get a good driver he points out all the sights. You can buy tickets on the bus or at one of the visitor centres. It costs $2 a ride so is very cheap. I would use that rather than paying $30 for a sightseeing bus. Children under 4 ride free.

On your first day of exploring go to the Independence Visitors Centre which is next to Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. It sells tickets to most attractions in Philly, has maps, leaflets, gift shop, cafe and toilets. Most buses, the Phlash and a subway line are right next to it. Liberty Bell is free and Independence Hall is free, you just need to get a ticket with an entry time from the visitors centre. City Hall is a few blocks up and also has a visitors centre and next to that is Love Park/JFK Plaza which is good to hang out at on a nice day.

The Please Touch Museum is Philadelphia’s children’s museum. $16 per person, under 1 goes free. It was smaller than the Boston one and can be done in a morning or afternoon does not take all day. There’s a cafe there with a variety of hot and cold food. Cost me $14 for our lunch. I take water everywhere with me to save buying drinks, so that helps to keep the cost down. Faye had a wonderful time here, it is set up to let children have ago and doing all things that adults do in the small city of Philadelphia they have recreated. Things like driving a bus, working in a supermarket, putting petrol into a car, working in a hospital, shoe shop and so on. There is also an Alice in Wonderland section for children to explore as well as a big water play section full of rubber ducks. The museum is well worth a visit and can be reached via the Phlash bus.

We also visited the US Mint which Is opened 9-4.30 for free tours. We had a ten minute queue here as you have to show ID. Once inside its a self guided tour to explore the history and the factory where they make the coins. Only took around an hour but Faye surprisingly enjoyed watching the factory making the coins which was nice.

Franklin Square is a good spot for children. Open 7 days a week, from around 10-9 most days. There is a carousel – $2.50 a ride, mini golf – $7 and a large playground as well as a fountain. There is also a well known cafe called Square Burger that serves all sorts of hot and cold snacks and shakes at very reasonable prices.

Smiths Memorial Playground is another spot I wanted to take Faye, however both days I tried to go it was shut due to bad weather. It is a free in and outdoor park that from the outside looks great.

I also had my first run in with a police officer in Philly. Faye wanted me to take a picture of her in front of Independence Hall but it is right on a road so to get her and the Hall in the shot I had to take it from the other side of the road. So, I crossed Faye over the narrow one way road, told her where to stand then I popped back across the road and turned round to take the photo when a Police Officer came running over shouting at me for abandoning my child. He grabbed Faye by the shoulder and called me stupid so I crossed back across the road and he shouted at me calling me a ‘stupid girl’ for abandoning Faye, when I tried to explain what I was doing he kept shouting so then I got mad and shouted back at him as I didn’t appreciate him calling me stupid repeatedly, he then called the other officers in the area on his radio and gave my description before telling me I was banned from the park surrounding Independence Hall and so I just walked away with him still shouting – and after all that I didn’t even get the photo! So just a word of warning don’t take photos of children in front of Independence Hall!!

The Cromwell Inn

20130613-211512.jpg

20130613-211522.jpg

20130613-211531.jpg

Arriving in Philadelphia.

We arrived in Philadelphia this afternoon on our last time of using the Amtrak. Leaving Washington was quite tricky as the train left on a low platform so I had to get Faye, the bags and buggy up onto the train, that was a challenge.

We got a taxi from Philadelphia 30th St Station to our hotel The Cromwell Inn which is situated on the Temple University campus. It was $13 for about a ten minute drive.

We got checked in and unpacked and went out for a wander to see what was around. There is a 7 Eleven shop just around the corner so we stocked up on goodies and came back to the hotel.

We popped out for a quick dinner at Qdoba, which was a 5 minute walk away. Qdoba is like Subway but with Mexican food – but it was surprisingly tasty and only cost 12 bucks.

The hotel is lovely and rated well on trip advisor but at the moment I am unsure on the area. We are slightly outside the city centre but only a five minute walk from the train so it should be easy to access.

We’re now tucking into our 7.30 feast.

Night!

20130609-225956.jpg

Washington DC.

I’m not going to lie when I arrived I was worried. I was doing so well on the Amtrak, I got off there and even navigated our way through the Metro system with Faye, the pushchair and the rucksack to where the hotel directions told me to get off BUT once I got off the Metro could I find the hotel, NO! The hotel had given me directions for something like an 8 minute walk but I got so confused, walked around for 45 minutes and then gave up an resulted in getting a taxi which embarrassingly took about 4 minutes. It turns out I came out the wrong side of the Metro station AND there are two N Nash Streets and I followed the wrong one – how confusing is that!?

Major differences I noted instantly from New York are; the air – it’s SO clean, it feels so quiet as there’s half as many people and its got a few killer hills whereas New York was flat!

Anyway, this hotel is The Virginian Suites, Arlington. Arlington is famous for its cemetery and is ten minutes from Washington. We paid £80 per night here for five nights. The suite is huge, it has a full kitchen, then bedroom/lounge, a walk in wardrobe, a bathroom and a dressing room. Faye loves it and it is nice to have a bit of space. The hotel also has a gym, sauna and outside swimming pool which we’ve used everyday. As we have a kitchen, the day we arrived I went to the supermarket and got food for the week. I wanted to use this time to save money by eating in when possible. The hotel is a ten minute walk to the nearest Metro station, Rosslyn, and supermarket, Safeway. The hotel runs a continual shuttle to and from the Metro during week days between 7am and 7pm which has been very reliable. The wifi has been a bit dodgy here in the room but we are up on the top floor so that may be why, but there are also four computers free to use in the lobby.

We mainly used the metro as a way of getting around. I purchased a ‘Smart Trip’ card which is like an Oyster card. The card is $10 of which $5 can be redeemed as travel credit. I also put in another $20 for the rest of the week and didn’t have to put anymore money on. Children under 5 travel free. If you don’t buy a SmartTrip card you have to pay an extra dollar on top of your fare for a paper ticket so purchasing the card is much more cost effective if you’re going to be travelling everyday.

We didn’t dine out at all whilst here in Washington as we had our own kitchen and I wanted to save some money. But we grabbed some snacks in one of the cafes that are located by all the major memorials (i.e Lincoln, Jefferson) which sold souvenirs and light lunches – they were good value and easy to find. We also ate in a ‘Fro-zen-yo’ which is a self serve frozen yoghurt bar. We both loved it. They have like 20 flavours and you fill up your pot and add toppings with are either fruit or sweets/chocolate. The payment is calculated by weight. I paid $7 for both of ours and neither of us could finish them! It was located right outside the Smithsonian Zoo.

The first day we were here we went to see the Pentagon and the Pentagon memorial which was a really beautiful place. You are actually not allowed to take photos of the Pentagon and security was very tight so I didn’t dare try! That evening we went to a baseball game. The following day we went on a DC Duck tour. That cost $68 for the both of us. Faye wanted to do that as opposed to an ordinary bus tour. It was around 90mins and really informative. Faye enjoyed the fact it went on land and in the water. They’re more enjoyable for children I think. We then spent the rest of that day and the following day finding all the memorials and statues up an down The Mall. Theres so many things to see along the way and Faye enjoyed photographing them all. It has to be said there is a lot more walking to do here than in the other cities we’ve visited so far and for Faye it was a necessity to have a pushchair.

I would of liked to of had a few more days in Washington as there is so much to see and do. Some days i was walking from 9am to 6pm and pushing Faye in the pushchair which was quite challenging on my own, so if i had a few more days i could of taken my time a little more.

The Smithsonian Institute is a collection of around 18 museums and exhibits as well as a zoo, all of which is owned by the government and is all free to enter. We managed to spend an afternoon at the zoo which was fab, but didn’t get much chance to get to any of the others. I would highly recommend the zoo, always one to please the children and its FREE. Head straight for the Giant Pandas as they’re a huge hit and queues can sometimes build there. When it gets hot they have mist showers along the pathway which are nice and refreshing. Wear comfortable shoes as there’s a fair amount of uphill walking and allow a good few hours to get around it.

We are up and onto Philadelphia tomorrow. It’s going way too quickly!

20130608-224736.jpg

On the Amtrak Again.

We’ve just got on the Amtrak again to go from New York to Washington. It was a mad rush from New York Penn Station and people are pushing you left, right and centre but i just drove the pushchair into them and they soon moved! It seems the trains are used by a lot of business people to go between Boston and Washington. This train, like our other one is fully booked so getting to the station early is important. Also even though it is very hot here you need to bring a jumper as the trains are fully air conditioned and can get a little chilly.

I just thought I’d upload some pictures so you could see what it’s like…

20130604-103948.jpg

20130604-103958.jpg

Apologies the quality of photos is quite grainy. The lighting is very dingy down here.