Final reflections on Jackie & Alfie’s American Adventure

It is 5 months since Alfie the Wonderdog and I returned from the USA002 050and it seems to have taken me nearly all that time to ‘catch up’ with myself. I am posting a random selection of pictures of my trip along with these reflections and, hopefully, some interesting information for people contemplating a similar journey.080

Arriving home was a shock to the system – I had some complicated paperwork to deal with, which was stressful; although I was very lucky because Belinda kept an eye on my post, popping into my house to collect it and e mail me about any significant issues. I also felt quite low in mood as I missed New York (and still do).  061

030This was the journey of a lifetime that went relatively smoothly and has whetted my appetite to spend more time in the US. New York remains my favourite destination, followed by California but Alfie and I experienced places that we could not have even dreamed of, like Wallowa County. It is so important to follow your nose and be open to adventure.048

Having said that, I probably could have done more research, more planning and more reading-up before I left. The ‘planning’ that I did in advance was mainly ensuring that Alfie had all his necessary health checks and medication. I also ensured my vaccinations were up-to-date: my tetanus was long overdue!

060033Packing: I took 80% too much of everything. Never again!! I could have just bought 2 pairs of the thick stretch black leggings I had and worn them every day… Next time I shall be very economical with my packing. Coming back, we had loads of unnecessary luggage but a hire car from the ship to home sorted that out.

038We travelled to New York on Cunard’s Queen Mary and Alfie hated it. Enough said. Those in authority were not very pleasant but the more ‘lowly’ staff were very sweet.  In future, we will fly.

035Anyone doing a trip as long as mine (5 months) should definitely consider keeping a blog because it is a lovely reminder of the trip and is a great way for people to keep up to date with what you are doing. At the same time, it takes a LOT of time and energy to keep a blog going.

216031On the very good advice of a man I met on the Queen Mary, I hired the car through Virgin Holidays who deal directly with Alamo. It was a ‘belt and braces’ hire – in other words I was covered for 3rd party, uninsured driver, collision damage waiver and 24-hour breakdown. This gave me a lot of confidence and in the event I didn’t have any mishaps at all.

196Having reserved a Kia I was given a Jeep Cherokee – a brilliant car to travel in. I borrowed several blankets, pillows and a small duvet from Debbie in New York, along with a dog bed that she insisted I took, so the back seat was Alfie’s domaine and I kept his dog food and water in the foot wells and refreshed the water in our water bottles at every opportunity.

056I considered getting a camper van but that just announces the fact you are sleeping in a vehicle, whereas of the 14 weeks we were on the road, Alfie and I slept about 14 nights in the car. There is an art to this – you look for a suburb and park the car amongst others on a quiet road, tucked by the side of a hedge or a wall.

104615Failing that, look for a car park that has quite a number of cars in it and park in the middle. My car had tinted windows and I suspended some scarves around the front windows, flattened the front seat and made myself a cosy nest. We slept in the car when I was en route somewhere or arrived too late to make a hotel worthwhile. And you certainly appreciate a lovely comfy bed when you have slept the night before in the car!!

065I kept snack food for myself in the car so that when I arrived in a place too late for a restaurant I could at least stave off my hunger. Many of the places I arrived in had restaurants that closed on or before 9.30 p.m.

053Whilst travelling I stayed with friends, with people I knew, with people I met, in hotels, motels, ‘rustic’ accommodation, Air BnB and a campsite. Whilst in New York I ordered a 3-person tent and a self-inflating roll that I used when I camped at Lake Casitas. I expected to use it elsewhere but it didn’t work out. I found it frustrating that the campgrounds seemed to have only one price – so 8 people would pay the same price, divided between them, as I had to pay. 004This meant staying in an Air BnB or a motel was only marginally more expensive for me.

012Sue & Jackie-OptimizedBefore going, I had a romantic image of going from radio station to radio station telling my story and gathering information about the community. The 2 half-hearted attempts I made to contact different stations produced no results at all. Here in Bristol where I live most of the time, I am a regular on BCfM and I know as a station we would happily accept guests with a story to tell. It doesn’t appear to be the same in the U.S.

031I couldn’t get insurance for Alfie and so was extra careful with him. He had an upset tummy twice but otherwise was as healthy as he could be and was amazing in the way he took everything in his stride. He let me know he didn’t want to get back in the car when we were on long journies, but then reluctantly got back in. Coming out of Wallowa County, a very windy road, he discretely brought his breakfast up on the back seat but made no fuss, bless him.004

People often called me ‘brave’ for doing the trip. I didn’t feel brave – I just had to get on with it. I felt afraid only twice, and both at Service stations between Florida and New Orleans when I had to leave the Highway to find petrol. I also recall wanting to be ‘beamed up’ back to my home whilst driving on a 5-lane Highway into Houston, but I soon got over myself!

184One of the major events of my journey was to spend time in ‘Cicely, Alaska’ aka Roslyn, Washington State. Since returning home I have been re-running my Northern Exposure box-set and enjoying recognising the main street and other features.

095007A place I didn’t have time to visit because I had a deadline is the Olympic Peninsula West of Seattle. I shall definitely go back on another trip.

106When I arrived in New York via Upstate New York I was so happy to be ‘home’ – New York really is a special place and Alfie and I love walking in the parks and meeting new people and their dogs.

I arrived home to a very overgrown garden and a fairly grubby house. It took weeks to sort that out but is the price you pay when you go away.

037All in all, I can thoroughly recommend having an adventure like mine and I am happy to offer advice to people who may wish to do a similar trip.

One final reflection: there is a Buddhist saying (and the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn) ‘Wherever you go, there you are’. Yes, I took my mind with me on the trip. As a Mindfulness teacher I was grateful for my exercises and meditations when I felt low in mood, as happened from time to time. It takes a lot of effort to haul yourself 12,300 miles around a country you don’t normally live in, being on your own with your dog most of the time! I would not have done this trip without my precious Alfie.

008I shall be on a rather different (and more glamorous) trip to Los Angeles from 31 October to 8 November, without Alfie (I cannot be away from him for more than 10 days). And next April I intend to travel back to New York with him for 10 weeks.