California to New York in 6 Weeks - Travel Review

Updated: Mar 23

I never thought I would travel. I never thought I would have enough money or time or courage to travel.

However, regular readers of my blog – if there are any – will know that my most recent posts have been short but sweet snippets centered around the six week trip my husband and I just spent travelling across America, with a quick stop off in Canada.

We’ve been home for a little while now, and the time has come for me to expand on those little blogs I was posting whilst we were out there.


Preparation

  1. Planning and Saving

  2. Flights etc

  3. Packing

Where Did We Go?

  1. San Francisco

  2. Los Angeles

  3. San Antonio

  4. Dallas

  5. New Orleans

  6. Chicago

  7. Maryland and Washington DC

  8. Canada

  9. New York

Back To Reality

  1. Thoughts On America

  2. Coming home

I will try to not to go into too much detail about the things we did whilst we were there, as I think that might spoil it for some people. However, keep an eye out for further blogs, where I’ll be talking about my favorite thing that I did in each place we went to!


Planning and Saving

A few years ago, we decided we wanted to travel together. We had each been on many holidays together both with and without each other, and my husband had actually spent some time travelling Asia. It was time for something a bit different, something special!

At some point we decided we wanted to go to America. I had been to Los Angeles twice and I had loved it, but he had never been. Of course, it’s such a huge country, it’s hard to decide where to go. I wanted to go back to L.A, but we wanted to see so much more!

So with that we had decided – we would travel America!

From there, we had to figure out when we would go. At first we thought the winter of 2014 would be a good idea, that way we would get to see America around the holiday season. I was worried that first of all we wouldn’t have enough time to save, but also that if the weather was bad we might get stuck somewhere.

2015 was the year for us! Except it wouldn’t be, but for a great reason! Christmas 2014, my husband proposed to me! I knew that we would never be able to save for a wedding and save to go travelling in 2015. His solution – let’s get married in 2015, and go to America in 2016 for our honeymoon! Perfect!

We wanted to go for six weeks, we thought that was the perfect amount of time for us to be away. The only problem would be getting time off work. My husband put in a special request in at work to take 3 weeks prior to the end of the holiday year, and 3 weeks straight after the start of the holiday year, meaning we would be gone 14th of March till the 21st of April. His request was granted. I would deal with work a bit closer to the time.


First things first – I bought a new notebook and a Lonely Planet Guide. The one I bought was the “USA and Canada on a Shoestring Budget” book. It was really cheap, but it’s a bit outdated, making a bit unreliable as far as prices go. However, it helped with some basic planning such as deciding where to go. Once we got a new copy – “USA Travel Guide” – as a wedding present, we found out just how handy these guides are. Some of the tips are really great, they offer prices and some of them have special sections that focus on different things such as National Parks, and some of them have pull out maps. I really recommend getting one. Of course there is the internet which is also really useful when doing research, but it can be hard to pinpoint specific things, and you end up with lots of conflicting opinions and information. It’s useful for cross referencing, getting reviews and double checking things like opening times.


There was a lot to do, so I set about making a list of things to do. I love a good list, and this one here is just one of many that I made! You don’t need to go off it, but there are definitely some things to consider here –

  1. Confirm dates

  2. Figure out a budget

  3. Transport

  4. Route

  5. Confirm destinations

  6. Make list of things to do in each place

Figuring out budgets can be difficult, especially when one of you works full time, and earns more than the one that works part time. However, we have a pretty good system, which we also used for our wedding. You figure out how much the lowest earner can put away each month, and the higher earner matches that. Then set up a couple of change pots – we have two for just loose change, and one for pound coins and up. This might seem a bit extreme, but every penny really does count! We didn’t have a definitive budget, because we also planned to ask for contributions to our honeymoon fund, instead of wedding gifts so we didn’t know exactly how much we would have, plus when you add in any birthday or Christmas money – I even canceled my Graze boxes – but we could figure out a base budget.

Really it depends on how lavish you want your trip to be, but we were planning on making it as shoestring as possible! Anyway, we feel the above method is an easy, fair way to save money - you might have a different way!


Figuring out transport and route would come a bit at a time, but we needed to decide on our destinations first. This took months. In theory, we could have just chosen a start and end point, but I’m a bit too organised for that, and didn’t like that idea of trying to figure out where our next destination would be whilst we were already out there. I guess I’m not really that adventurous! Our original destination list had about 27 places on it, so it took a while to cut it down. Eventually, we had 7 confirmed places. (I know, there is more listed above, I’ll get to those later) We thought it best to narrow it down a bit!


Eventually, the time came for me to put my request in at work. I asked for three weeks holiday, and three weeks unpaid leave. The request was rejected on the grounds that they had no guarantee we would return from the States. I found this a bit ridiculous because I wouldn’t be allowed to stay longer than the 90 days on my visa. What choice did I have? I handed my notice in, and worked right up until two days before we left!


Just a quick note on transportation and activity planning. There are lots of different ways to get around a country – flights, trains, buses, cars, RVs… our original plan had been to drive but that was going to be way to expensive for us. We could have flown all the way round, internal flights aren’t that bad, but we would miss out on all of the scenery. Trains and buses can be expensive, but a great way to see the country. So in the end, we decided on a combination of flights, trains and buses. As for activity planning, we had a list a mile long of free stuff, but when it comes down to the pricey activities, we thought it best to try to limit those. It can be hard when there is more than one of you, but we seemed pretty agreeable on most things. We had maybe one main activity per place, then a few smaller ones. Again, it depends on how much you want to spend, but there is so much you can do for free or with special offers! As it turns out though, you can’t buy American Groupons without an American phone number, so don’t spend weeks looking for good deals like I did!


Flights Etc

We got married in October, which gave us five months to finish planning, saving, pack and book anything that needed book before we left.

My birthday is in November so my husband kindly bought me a Vango Freedom travel back pack -60 liter with a 20 liter day pack attached – and some new walking shoes. The backpack is brilliant, it has everything you need space wise! The little pack detaches and again, it fits loads in and has space for water bottle on it. You can clip things to them such a tote bags, and they have waist and back support on them. Perfect! Then when Christmas came, we decided to buy our flights as our Christmas present. For this we took the money out of our savings, but then paid it back in before we went.

My husband mostly dealt with flight buying and hotel booking, and those types of things. Not that I’m not capable, but I did the list making and research, he did the practical stuff. Also, that way if anything went wrong, it wasn’t my fault! He will be writing a guest blog about our trip too, so I’ll post that when it’s done.

He found some pretty great flights on SkyScanner which were with British Airways. To book them through Expedia – instead of the unknown site that we had found previously – it would be about £20 extra, but the timing was better. Plus, we felt more comfortable doing this instead of on a site that we had never heard of, that had really bad reviews.

For around £850, we got a flight from Newcastle to London Heathrow first thing in the morning, then a flight from London into San Francisco. Then our return flights came out from JFK (New York) to London first thing in the morning, then London back to Newcastle. They were such great flights, that we checked and re-checked the terms and conditions before we booked. We couldn’t believe our luck! Also, British Airways is great because among other things, the baggage allowance is huge! We each had 23kg each for our checked bags, and we could each take two pieces of carry on, in my case a back pack and a handbag. So we booked them!

After that, we had to book our first hotel because we needed an address when we applied for our visas. Before leaving, we would also need to book our last hotel but we would wait until just before we left to do that. For a lot of our hotels, we used Priceline. It’s just another hotel search site, but it’s supposed to show you the best deals. I do think that there are better sites out there, but this one served it’s purpose quite well!

For our first hotel, we actually booked a hostel. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but we were trying to be really frugal. It was more like a hotel crossed with a hostel. For our last one, we decided to go for luxury! I will go into this more later on in the post.

One really important thing that had to be done, was getting our visas! I was so worried about getting the wrong one, but for a trip like ours, you get an ESTA, which  allows you to travel for 90 days. There are so many websites out there with different bits of information, most of them are forums and they all conflict. I found it best to just follow the guidelines on the Gov Website. It was easier than I thought, and it was so cheap that it didn’t have to come out of our savings! Just make sure that your passport is up to date well in advance, and you’ll be fine!


Packing

I hate packing, so instead of preparing to do so, I wrote and rewrote lists of what things we could do and things we needed to buy before we left. Eventually, I had to ask my sister – who is really good at packing – to come round and help me do a run through, showing me how to save space and how to make a wardrobe for six weeks, out of just a few pieces of clothing.

Here is a rough idea of what to pack:

Big Pack –

Essentials that I packed and would take with me again* –

  1. 1-2 pairs of shorts (1 pair)

  2. Walking trousers – essential

  3. 1-2  dresses, one casual, one nicer

  4. 3 t-shirts

  5. 4 vests – 3 nice, 1 plain to go underneath

  6. PJs – Lightweight, but suitable to be worn going to and from bathrooms, and might keep you warm if need be

  7. Underwear – 9 pairs should do, more if you don’t think you will have regular access to washing facilities

  8. Socks – I took too many pairs, thinking I might need some thicker pairs, but I didn’t, although it is always a good idea to have spare!

  9. Plimsoles – Extremely comfortable, the brand is Dunlop

  10. Sandals – Good for if you’re going out,  and they don’t take up much room

  11. Perfume – take samples packs not a full big bottle (An actual bottle)

  12. deodorant and body spray – I just took normal so I wouldn’t have to buy more whilst we were away (Just deodorant)

  13. Shampoo and conditioner – even though some hotels provide it, I took my own because I have a certain hair type and I wanted to use what I knew would work

  14. Toothbrush and toothpaste – we did actually receive travel packs on the plain, which we think might have been honeymoon freebies. This included toothbrushes and travel toothpaste. The toothpastes wouldn’t have last the six weeks, and we didn’t know about it either but hey-ho. (Would buy when we got there)

  15. Face wipes – Baby wipes are the best, because you can also use them when you travelling long distance and don’t have access to a shower. (Flannel)

  16. Face cream

  17. Aloe vera gel – You can use it as aftersun and put it on cuts and grazes

  18. Razor

  19. Cotton buds, cold sore patches (just in case), plasters, vitamins and supplements (enough to take them every other day in my case, because I take a lot), and any other medicinal things you might need. If there is anything in particular that you are worried they won’t have over there, a quick google search will tell you if they do, or if they have an alternative.

  20. Washing sack – It’s really lightweight but it’s also breathable so your clothes don’t start to stink when they need washing. Don’t use a plastic bag. Buy a specific one

  21. Any chargers, plugs or adapters

  22. Waterproof jacket – this seemed like a waste of space for a lot of the time but trust me, it was worth it!

What I took but wished I hadn’t –

  1. 3 extra t-shirts – which I packed because I had the space to do so, but then I didn’t end up wearing them

  2. Swim stuff – We never had to opportunity to swim

  3. Black ballet pumps – I left these somewhere because I only wore them once, and they gave me a blister.

  4. Mouthwash – With hindsight, we probably could have done without the mouthwash, but dental hygiene is important!

  5. Toothbrush – obviously this is essential, but on the plane going we were given a travel kit that had a little toothbrush in. We didn’t know that this would happen, but I think it was because we were on our honeymoon because no one else got one.

  6. Shower gel – Just about every hotel we went to supplied shower gel, shampoo, soap and some even have little grooming kits with cotton buds and shower caps in. I wouldn’t bother taking shower gel.

  7. Body lotion – I took some samples which was great, but most hotels had some with the toiletries so I didn’t really need it.

Carry on (divided between a large handbag, and my day pack) (With hindsight I might not have taken a handbag but I'm not sure on this point) –

  1. Spare clothes – a vest, some socks and underwear just in case something happens to your checked baggage

  2. Travel pillow

  3. jewelry – I took more than I needed, and with hindsight, I should have just worn what I would wanted to take. I didn’t know what to expect though.

  4. Hair brush

  5. Tablet

  6. Notebook and Diary

  7. Water bottle – empty. We bought Water to-GO bottles but they leaked. So don’t get those ones.

  8. Kindle

  9. Purse

  10. Phone

  11. Totebag

  12. Ipod and headphones

  13. Pen

  14. Sunglasses

  15. Scarf that doubles over as a blanket

I traveled in my jeans, walking shoes (which were essential) and comfortable t-shirt, and a hoody. I recommend wearing sports bra too. I didn’t going but I was so uncomfortable so I did for any long distance travelling and walking for the rest of the trip.

We didn’t take sun cream, thinking we would buy some as soon as we got there. We actually struggled to find anywhere until we were burnt. It took us a day or so to figure out where best to buy such things, but we actually discovered the likes of CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens Pharmacy sell just about everything!

Obviously this is just my list, you will have own ideas for what you want to take. I just feel that this is a good guide. My husbands packing list was very different and I think he left more as we made our way around the country. I didn’t take a hair dryer or anything like that. Most places had them, but it was hot enough for it to dry naturally. I also didn’t take a guidebook, because in most places you can use the internet or go to tourist information.

When packing, put heavier stuff in the bottom, like shoes, and stuff your socks and underwear into them. Roll your clothes tightly together – I learned on the trip to roll things together – and pack every thing in as close as possible!

So with that, we were planned, packed, and prepared, and we were on our way!


San Francisco, California

Arrived: 14/03/2016 Departed: 18/03/2016

IMG_6795

Golden Gate Bridge. Photo Credit – Ashleigh Nicole


Getting to America unfortunately wasn’t a breeze. The morning we left, we were up at 4.45am – early but worth it in the end – and picked up by my in-laws to be taken to the airport. It was foggy and cold, but we got there fine. After a quick sandwich at Gregg’s, we got through customs with enough time for a beer before boarding.

We were sitting on the plane for quite sometime before they announced it was too foggy to take off. Fair enough, the pilot needs to see. They waited about ten minutes or so to see if it cleared, when they discovered a steering fault! Another ten minutes or so, and the engineers arrived. That was also fine though, after all you want the plane to work properly!

We had originally boarded the plane at 7.40am, and we were meant to take of at 7.50am. We didn’t leave the airport till 9.15am. Despite being delayed, we weren’t worried because our connecting flight wasn’t until 11.05am, with the gate closing at 10.45am.  We would be cutting it fine, but we felt sure we would make it. It was also a short flight, but as we got to the airport, we couldn’t land! It was at this point that I started to panic, although my other half managed to keep his cool. When we eventually landed, the plane couldn’t park in it’s spot! Whilst the cabin crew frantically tried to answer the many questions that were being thrown at them, I realized we were weren’t going to make it. We had just minutes till the gate would close. By the time we got off the plane, we had missed our flight by a minute.


I was furious. After planning for so long, things were going wrong before we’d even left the country! I quickly came round however. After all, it would have been worse if they had just taken off, unable to see and with faults on the plane!

Next, we waited in a long line full of annoyed people, trying to stay positive.We were told we could get on to a flight at 1.33pm, with American Airlines instead. This wasn’t too bad, the next flight after this one wasn’t till much later. After a lot of security questions, we were slowly issued new boarding passes, and some vouchers to be used in the terminal. With these we bought some plane snacks, and some prosecco!

Finally on the plane, my husband informed the stewardess that we were on our honeymoon. They were thrilled! We got A LOT of free champagne, not in plastic cups either. We also got a travel kit each.


It’s a long flight to California, about 13 hours but the flight was actually pretty good. It was smooth, we got a snack, lunch and dinner, all of which were very tasty. I particularly enjoyed the ginger and honey ice cream that came with dinner! 

I have no idea what time we actually landed, but it was sometime in the afternoon. It took a while to get through security. After a few quick questions about our visit to the US, and a stamp in our passports, we went to collect out bags. They were actually waiting for us, lying on the floor next the one of the luggage belts!

To get as close to the hotel as possible, without spending a fortune we got the BART system. It was a great choice, fast, easy to navigate and cheap!  We got it to the Union Square area, which cost around $8 each, and too