Oasis Overland: A Day in the Life

For this post I’m going to detail a day on the road of an Overland Tour. Road days always start early and generally follow the same pattern. Obviously free days differ in how your day plays out dependent on any optional activities you have booked on to or independent plans you have with or without your tour friends.

Again, this post is based on my tour with Oasis Overland through Africa.

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05:45 – Cook group wakes to prepare breakfast. Boil water for hot drinks, fill washing up bowls and sets out bread, cereal and condiments. Not forgetting to make up the powdered milk.

06.30 – Everyone else should be up by now and busy taking down and packing away tents. Then help yourself to breakfast. Everyone generally should lend a hand to pack away breakfast stuff.

07:15 – Truck departure should have been at 07:00 but the usual suspect keeps you all waiting. All on board, quick briefing by tour leader, head count and off you go with one side of the flaps rolled up for some fresh air.

07:15 – 09:00 – On the road. Passengers use the first two hours to nap. You will find two or three up on the beach, two or three spread out on the floor and the rest trying to tag two seats to lie down. At 09:00 the truck pulls off the road away from any buildings and hopefully somewhere with a nice dense clump of trees and bushes. It’s time for our first bush pee of the day! It’s easier than you think ladies.

09:00 – 11:00 –  Climb back on board, roll up the flaps on the other side and you’ll ask how long until lunch. Your tour leader will say about 11:00. Then the stereo goes on, some folk will drag a cool box out and play card games across the central aisle. Up front, our driver is carefully speeding his or her way towards our lunch destination… your hoping, without much hope, for a town with a Shoprite.

11:00 – Ring the bell for another pee stop. Ask your tour leader how much longer until lunch. Another 45 minutes? Ok. Pull out some salted crackers from your stash for a quick snack to keep any hanger at bay.

11:30 – Climb onto your seat and watch as you drive past villages after villages that will definitely not have a Shoprite.

12:15 – The truck pulls off at a disused gas station. You’re hank marvin’ and just want to sink your teeth into a chicken leg. No shops in sight. Your tour leader points you in the direction of the local market so you and 20 others descend on the busy stalls. Some of your truck mates pick up bananas, mangoes and an un-ripe avocado for under $3. You however, go looking for something more substantial.

12:30 – You meet some locals hanging around outside what looks like a shop. You buy a bottle of coke from them that went out of date last month. It’s cold so you drink it anyway. One of them offers to show you where you can get chips. You and your friend follow him to a vendor cooking up Chips Mayai. Basically, a chip omelette. He wants to charge you $3 for it. You say $1. He settles on $2.

12:45 – Three others from the truck join you and order the same. They are sent off to pick up plates and cutlery from the truck since the vendor only has two plates. You eat your chip omelette with a toothpick and thank the vendor for your lunch. The local man who showed you the way asks for a tip. You give him the equivalent of $2.

13:00 – It’s departure time for the truck, however when you got back from your Chips Mayai adventure some of your truck mates decide they want some too, so off they go laden with a plate and fork each.

13:15 – Everyone is back on the truck and asking the tour leader for a pee stop. Head count and off we go, 15 minutes late.

13:30 – Truck pulls off the road away from the town for the third bush pee of the day. I promise it gets easier every time.

13:45 – Suns out so we ding the bell to roll up the sun roof over the beach. The Sun Goddesses move like lightning to get onto the beach. Tops off, sunscreen on.

14:00 – Some passengers will put in their earphones and glue themselves to their phone screen to watch a couple episodes of whatever they have downloaded. Black Mirror and Peaky Blinders were talked about a lot. You read a little of your book or climb back up on your seat to gaze out the windows.

14:15 – Drive into rain. Truck stops to roll up the sun roof.

14:30 – It starts lashing down and water is running onto the headrests. Truck stops again to roll down the flaps. It gets a big sticky inside without the natural air con.

15:00 – After just thirty minutes we get to the other side, suns out. Truck stops again to roll up the sun roof and window flaps, and some jump out for a bush pee.

15:00 – 17:00 – In the back of the truck the mood is getting low. You’ve listened to the same persons music for the last four hours but nobody pipes up to get it changed. The sun goddesses have been up on the beach for nearly three hours but again, nobody wants to pipe up to swap around. You start a game of two truths one lie and things get a bit morbid when someone mentions suicide and graveyards. Another bush pee stop at 17:00.

17:30- Truck pulls off the road. There’s a few stalls on the other side selling fresh fruit and vegetables. Your tour leader tells cook group to go buy what they need for dinner tonight. He hands you the cash. You and your three cook group mates have planned spaghetti bolognaise, but there’s no meat seller in sight. Time for the unplanned Plan B. Your male cook buddy is swarmed by all the vendors while you and your two female buddies end up to one side. You go and choose two watermelons to make breakfast a little more exciting and hope the others manage to get tomatoes, green peppers and onions in all the madness. Our African Cook Group staples.

17:40 – Shopping complete we pack it all onto the trucks outer lockers, climb in and it’s pedal to the metal to get to camp before dark. From experience you know it’s best to get dinner started at 18:00 so your more likely to eat before 20:00.

18:30 – You finally arrive at camp and jump out straight into setting up the kitchen and getting dinner on. You tell your tent buddy you’ll do the tent when the chopping’s done. It’s dark already and it takes 45 minutes to chop all the vegetables, the onions are the worst because their tiny and need peeling!

19:30 – All the vegetables are in the pot with tinned tomatoes, dried garlic granules, stock cubes and a bunch of random herbs and spices. Three of you go and get tents done while one watches the pot. The Slap-Dash Chef is in your group and decides to pop some chick peas and kidney beans into the pot. You lament the fact you had a vision for a bean free dinner that night.

20:00 – Dinner is ready! Everyone serves themselves and cook group eat last. Chow down on something hot that fills your belly, improves your mood and listen to your tour leaders briefing for the following day. After dinner get stuck into cleaning up, safe in the knowledge you won’t have to do the cook group thing again for at least another five days.

21:00 –  Cleaning done and the following days truck lunch is semi prepared. Leftover pasta and salad, standard fare. You can now go and join your truck mates at the campsite bar, get a shower, steal a wifi code from your friend or just get straight to bed for your 06:30 departure the next day. It’s a border crossing day so you know it will be another long one.

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I wish you all safe and happy travels future Overlanders.

Oasis Overland: Packing for an Overland Trip in Africa

This post is created based on my 75 days spent on an overland tour with Oasis Overland, during the ‘short’ rain season (November to January), travelling from Kenya to South Africa, and where the majority of those nights were spent camping with limited facilities.

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Equipment Tips

The main place to spend a little more cash, and time, is in choosing your sleeping equipment. A comfortable nights sleep, and quick pack up in the morning is crucial. My tips are to look for a sleeping bag that weighs under 1 Kilogram, is described as being compact, comes with a stuff sack and has a rating of 3 or 4 seasons. Use the same weight and temperature rules in searching for a sleeping pad.

My recommendations: The Terra Nova Elite 250. It did really well except the one night I slept outside the tent in Namibia – it was a little chilly. The warmer version, the 350, would have been better for my night under the stars. Expect to spend approximately £200 for a very good bag. In any case I highly recommend down filling over synthetic. For a sleeping pad I went for a self inflating Thermarest. I was kindly gifted it as a birthday present from my family and I have full confidence in the brand.

For your luggage do not be lulled into the backpacker frenzy of requiring a bells and whistles backpack (unless you’re actually doing some independent travelling before or after your overland trip). Your big bag will be stored in the on board lockers and you’ll generally just dive in each evening and grab whatever you need for the night. Whatever weight your filled bag ends up being, it won’t matter, as it’s never being carried much further than a few yards.

My recommendation: A top loading holdall and use packing cubes to organise your belongings. Also a good idea is to take a large canvas shopper to put all your sleeping gear into, so making it easier to lift it all out the locker in one go.

Next, there is the question of whether to take hiking boots or not. I was glad I had them for hiking to see the Gorillas and for Rhino tracking in Zimbabwe, however, a pair of trail shoes would have sufficed on all occasions. Trail shoes are lighter in weight, more compact and look like trainers with a very sturdy tread. I can’t recommend a particular pair but they are definitely the way to go.

When it comes to catching photos you will want to have more than just your mobile phone camera but this doesn’t mean spending thousands on a bells and whistles bit of kit. If you’ve never used an action camera, or a massive telephoto lens before then don’t bother buying one.

My recommendation: Get yourself a decent compact digital camera with a 40x zoom. I bought the Nikon Coolpix S7000 for my US trip way back in 2016 and it did the job for both adventures. It was perfect for both landscapes and zooming in on wandering wildlife during game drives, with the clarity and depth of colour of the pictures much better than my phone pictures, and it only cost £150.

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Clothing Tips

The biggest clothing tips I can give you, and the most important,  are these: Do not invest is a whole wardrobe of technical gear as worn by Bear Grylls. Do not invest in a whole wardrobe of fashionable beach wear as worn by your favourite fashion blogger. You will end up spending loads of money on items of clothing you won’t need or want to wear. There are a couple of exceptions to these tips, find them below.

You will need a waterproof rain coat and it is sensible to spend a little more cash here to ensure you find a completely waterproof, but also highly breathable, compact coat. Big brand names like North Face, Columbia, Berghaus and Patagonia all offer quality waterproof coats and expect to pay over £150. You could pick up any cheap waterproof jacket from outdoor stores and still remain dry from the rain, but you’ll end up uncomfortably damp from sweat and condensation on the inside of the coat. I do not recommend those pac-a-mac things from Primark.

Those ugly walking sandals you see travellers wearing… those are the best kind of footwear you can wear. Most people on the truck stuck to Havaiana flip flops, but in all honesty they are awful for your feet. Get the sturdy sandals and enjoy the confidence of knowing you won’t have sore feet, stubbed toes or thorns pricking you. I can recommend Teva, Keen, Salomon, Kathmandu and Karrimor. Teva sandals tend to look more stylish but don’t go for the ones with the foam sole, that’s the same as wearing a flip flop.

You won’t necessarily need a pair of hiking trousers, you can certainly get by without them. I do however recommend nabbing a pair if you can get them on sale under £20. I ordered a pair of Craghoppers most basic women’s walking trousers from their January sale, an absolute bargain at only £15, and they came in super handy. I wore them a whole lot more than I expected… mostly due to the rain.

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Tips for Choosing what Clothing to Pack

The trick to dressing for any day on an overland tour is to be comfortable rather than stylish, so below is a general idea of the things we all tended to wear. I tend to pack one outfit for each day of one week, allowing me to mix and match up to 20 days if you can wear each item two or three times.

Everyone had a fleece or hoody, one pair of jeans and one long sleeved button down shirt. These items along with a raincoat made up our ‘warm’ clothing. I wore all of those items more than expected and was very happy to have them.

I highly recommend one or two pairs of three quarter length bottoms. I took a pair of plain black exercise pants and a pair of hareem style joggers. I also wore both of these many many times, and is a good example of the kind of things my fellow female overlanders would wear.

I always tend to prefer to take mostly vest tops in a mixture of solids and patterns, and a couple of plain basic t-shirts. Others on tour, well some liked the racer back active wear style, others preferred camisoles, some guys wore vests others only wore t-shirts or button downs. It’s all down to what your most comfortable in.

Lot’s of underwear. I took two weeks worth and still ended up panic washing. Maybe I should have done laundry more regularly but who really wants to be doing that?

Remember, if you would never wear tiny shorts, fringed kimonos and bralets at home, don’t take them overlanding. Be yourself, not a fashion bloggers lemming.

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Accessories You Need

Sunglasses – Two pairs of cheapest brand. The best are the ones without the nose bridge bits so they won’t snag your hair when you shove them up on your head.

Lightweight scarf – I used mine as a headscarf, as a mini sarong, as a towel when I forgot my actual towel and as a wrap when I was chilly on truck days. It also worked as a sleep mask.

Travel towel – You can buy these all over the place now. Their more compact and weigh less than an actual towel, and their meant to dry quicker and not smell as bad. I actually recommend taking two. One for showering and one for beach/pool activities.

Syncwire – Search for it on Amazon. It costs £15 and it’s brilliant for charging all your gadgets in one go.

Power bank – My EasyAcc from Amazon lasted for 4 months of overland travel between the US and Africa. There are many brands to choose from.

A laundry bag – There will be a local lady at many campsites along the way who will do your laundry for around $5 a bag, but you’ll also want this if you do your own laundry to prevent dropping your freshly washed clothes in the sand/mud.

Things You Don’t Need

Platypus/ bladder/ water reservoir – Just take a refillable 1 litre water bottle.

White clothing of any description – It’ll end up yellow, trust me.

3 in 1 travel soap – You’re not carrying your gear on your back so just buy the big shampoo and shower gel bottles, and soap powder for your laundry.

Make up and hair styling stuff – Um.. cakey sweaty face and wind blown hair anyone? Literally don’t waste your time doing hair and make up in the morning. It looks awful within 30 minutes on the road.

Shewee/ Peeing aids for women – Seriously they are a waste of money. You will drop your pants, squat and pee. I promise you, it is OK!

Tourist Money Belts – A couple of people had them. They looked ridiculous. You do need something to put all your excess cash into to place in the safe if that is how you want to roll. I used a brightly patterned flat pencil case I had from college.

I took a baseball cap and never wore it. I hate sun hats in general so.. it’s your choice if you want to take one. I probably should have worn mine as I had a red face for most of the trip.

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So that’s a wrap. The following photos all show us overlander’s in our best day to day overlanding outfits.

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Oasis Overland: The 15 Personalities on an Overland Trip

On an overland trip you will travel with up to 23 other passengers, so here for your pleasure is a cheeky list of the personalities you will encounter.

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  1. The Seat Tagger. Your tour leader tells you to change seats every morning, the Seat Tagger disregards this and tags the best seat in the house managing to keep up a 70 day streak.
  2. The Princess. It’s time to pitch in and load up the truck for departure, everyone else has done their bit but the Princess is in their seat bedding down for a truck nap or painting their toe nails.
  3. The Stereo Hogger. It’s the sixth day in a row you’ve had to listen to Cher, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion and your ready to kill the Stereo Hogger.
  4. The Slap-Dash Chef. Every cook groups worst nightmare as recipes go out the window in favour of chucking in some Worcestershire sauce, cumin and tonnes of cayenne chili pepper.
  5. The Hipster Couple. A solid pairing and they become almost leader like within the group, but you just don’t really know what to talk to them about… bar their fashionable life in the City.
  6. The Anti-Social Traveller.  The worst kind, not one to socialise with the group and will prefer to source excursions independently, usually causing chaos to everyone else. Also known for their irrational and angry outbursts.
  7.   The ‘Ive been everywhere’ Traveller. Found in hostel common rooms across the backpacker circuit, overlanding is no stranger to the traveller who has been everywhere and happy to remind everyone of this multiple times a day.
  8. The Ditzy One. Their directions are useless, their blonde moments are famous, for a highly educated person you’ll be surprised how clueless they really are.
  9. The Talker. This one comes with an endless stream of inane chatter that will go in one ear and out the other, and teach you nothing about them as a person. While most are enjoying a truck nap this ones motor mouth just doesn’t stop.
  10. The Disapproving Traveller. This one comes from the older set and disapproves of all other traveller’s under the age of 30. They’ve been everywhere and seen everything however they won’t remind you of it every day, and they will most likely win the award for teamwork.
  11. The Baby. The youngest traveller in any group automatically becomes the baby and is looked out for by all, and also gets away with anything because he or she is ‘only eighteen’.
  12. The Tour Leader. This one has been on at least one previous overland trip. Most likely to pitch in with the running of the tour and befriends the actual tour leaders, but also most likely to moan when people or things don’t run the way they should.
  13. The Eco-Warrior. Always the first to ask where the recycling is, hopefully only a vegetarian, but you’re up shits creek if their vegan or gluten free. Will talk at length about how we shouldn’t handle animals but will jump at the chance to pet a Cheetah.
  14. The Bickering Couple. Separately their interesting to talk to and come across as sensible adults, but together they just love to bicker and act like two teenagers on a caravan holiday to Wales.
  15. The Pro Photographer. Not really a professional they just come with two cameras and 1 million lenses. Their photos are quite good, but it remains to be seen whether that is due to their skills or the expensive equipment.

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Oasis Overland: The Cost of the 75 Day Grand Adventurer

The question on everyone’s mind when planning a big trip is the cost. This post shows you the almost exact costs of this particular trip* based on my booking in 2017.

Upfront Costs

The upfront costs are easy to find or work out, they are any costs you have to pay to join the trip and get home afterwards.

Trip Cost: £1975
Local Payment: £810 ($1115)
Flights: £578
Travel Insurance: £150
Pre tour accommodation: £14 (one night)
Post tour accommodation: £45 (two nights)

Total: £3572

As you can see right away that’s 3.5K needed to save for the trip. Certainly very do-able, even on a part timer wage like I was.

Additional Costs

This is where things get a little trickier and can really only be worked out by you depending on your spending habits. Your additional costs covers spending money, which I always break down into Optional Activity budget and a Daily Budget. So this is what I got together for my own trip;

Optional Activity Budget: £2100
Daily Budget: £1500
Vaccinations: £69
Medications: £29

Total: £3699

*Tour Leader Tip: Up to you, see notes.

Oasis include a price list of all the optional activities you can take part in so just calculate how much you will need to save to do everything you want to do. My daily budget I chose to go for £20 per day. (Definitely can be done 50% cheaper if you don’t eat out as much as I did). I decided against getting all the recommended vaccinations, and only got the Yellow Fever one from my local travel health clinic. I ordered my anti-malarials online from a reputable pharmacy, and actually ended up not using them.

*Oasis recommends a tip of $1 per day per staff member, so for 75 days it’s best to budget $150 as you will have two staff on this type of trip. I forgot to budget this before I left so I couldn’t tip as much as I would have liked.

Personal Costs 

Personal costs are any cost incurred in buying clothing, equipment and toiletries for the trip. Although I cannot give you a figure for this, I will be providing tips on what to pack, what is worth spending a little more on and what you can spend less on in a future post. I definitely spent way more than I needed to on the advice of professional travel bloggers telling me I needed all these silly travel gadgets and technical clothing to do this kind of trip. My post on what you need and tips will be completely honest as I reap no reward from my recommendations. So keep an eye out for it!

 

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*This trip is no longer offered as a 75 day trip, it has now been extended to include the Garden Route in South Africa bringing it to a 90-odd day adventure.

 

Overlanding with Oasis Overland

Overlanding is a word used to describe a land only journey. Any land vehicle is your mode of transport, and in the business world of Overlanding… those vehicles are awesome!

Why I chose Oasis Overland

In all honesty the decision was made with price in mind together with length of trip. Also observed in my considerations was the included and optional activities, the quality of pre-trip information, and blogger stories. These all persuaded me to hit the ‘book trip’ button. When you know where you want to go, what you want to see and do, and what you can afford, then it’s pretty simple to compare companies online.

The Trip

In early March 2017 I booked my space on Oasis Overland’s Grand Adventurer 75 day trip from Nairobi to Cape Town. It would take in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and back to Kenya. Then we would head back through Tanzania, stopping for four days on Zanzibar, next on to Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. If 75 days is too long, Oasis does offer shorter trips taking in portions of the route. An example being the first 19 day East Africa loop which is called Gorillas and Gameparks, or the Savannah Dawn tour which is Nairobi (south) to Harare.

Oasis Overland also offer optional Gorilla Trekking permits for those on the East Africa loop, which all but one of our group added on at the time of booking. Gorilla Trekking is incredibly popular, and a once in a lifetime type activity so I highly recommend doing it if available. The permits are set to get more and more expensive each year.

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The Truck

Exactly it, if your overlanding with a company on a published itinerary you’ll be travelling on a truck. Oasis Overland trucks are yellow. There are other companies out there that follow the similar concept. On my recent trip I came across a few of them. There was the purple one that is more like a bus, the orange and white one that is similar in style to Oasis, the white ones that look like milk floats and the red ones with sleeping coffins attached at the back… definitely the worst! There are a fair number of overland companies, but not all are created equal.

Our truck was massive. Perfectly kitted out for our group of 24 passengers, tonnes of space for all we brought with us and everything we would need to camp and cook, and live on the road self sufficiently. Also to note… very much the safest mode of transport in Africa. I was always very comfortable with the way our safety was prioritised by our tour leaders, so much so that by half way through the trip I got lazy with leaving my handbag in the back of the truck… on the seat… and available for anyone to steal should they decide to. It happens.

Oasis Overland trucks are unique in their seating arrangement. You will have read about it elsewhere… that it encourages people to socialise and means everyone gets a good view. Well that is very true. On the first month of the trip we socialised a lot and looked out the ‘windows’ a lot. Then the socialising started to die off as we all decided we liked to enjoy a good truck nap to while away the long drives, or to plug earphones in so we didn’t have to listen to loud conversations we didn’t want to hear. My favourite thing though, was the beach. Get up there early in the morning as you’re just setting off and you have a comfy place to catch some more sleep. Later on when the top comes off, it’s a sun trap for sunbathing.

Here is a picture of the inside of the truck. This is us on a hot long drive day after just one beer. The great thing about Oasis… it’s ok to drink and party in the back.

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What’s Next

Hey there, it’s been almost exactly a year since I posted last so here is a quick update.

If you have read my previous blog posts you will know that in the summer of 2016 I spent five weeks on a camping roadtrip from New York to Los Angeles with a company called Trek America. I had an amazing trip and personally, grew a lot in confidence.

On return, I decided I wanted to ditch my plans for University, and continue travelling. Problem was, I didn’t have quite enough cash in the bank to book onto the trip I wanted to do. So, I had to stay home and work. Sadly, I couldn’t manage to get a second part time job, or even one full time job, which meant I was attempting to save £5k on a part time minimum wage job.

I got home from the US on the 8th of August 2016, and didn’t leave for my next trip until 5th of November 2017. That was one hell of a long and draggy 15 months of waiting and saving, and sacrificing a social life… again.

My next blog posts will be all about this great trip I took from early November 2017 to late January 2018. Once again solo and joining a group tour. Once again having an absolutely incredible time and pushing my boundaries. Once again trying new food, new activities, making new friends and tonnes of new memories.

 

This next journey, was Africa.

 

And it all happened thanks to a company called Oasis Overland.

 

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Trek America Blog: How to Save

Hi all. In my last post I set out how much my 33 day Coast to Coast South trip with Trek America cost me personally. That figure is over £6000. You may be wondering how I saved that and I’m very happy to share it with you.

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1. Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.
Ok, so maybe not quite as strict as that, but yes, for two years out of the three I saved for, I worked two part time jobs. I worked at a well known high street bakers from early in the morning until around 1pm, then from around 5pm till 11/12pm I would be bar tending at my local golf club. After a year at the bakers I quit and replaced it with childminding. There were times when I ended up working 14 days straight without a day off depending on how the rotas worked out, but this meant I had no time to spend money on socialising. Also, being paid weekly meant I had a hell of a lot more control over my finances.

2. Live with your parents.
This isn’t always an option for many people but choosing not to move out as an adult has kept me able to spend my hard earned cash on experiences over property and bills, bills, bills. Of course, I don’t live for free at my parents home. I pay them a percentage of all my wages, buy my own necessities, treat them to the occasional dinner or lunch out, and help out around the house. If you look at the average monthly rental price of a one bedroom place in Glasgow, around the £500 mark, you’re definitely better off with living at home. I personally don’t see myself ever renting a place as the costs are ridiculous, and I would much rather live at home as long as I need to, until I can afford my own mortgage.

3. Spend money on quality, instead of quantity.
This goes for every aspect of spending. Whether it’s cutting back on the number of nights out you have each month, to the number of jumpers you buy every winter. I really reigned in what I was spending my money on. I cut back on socialising so I was having a mate date once a fortnight, instead of trying to see three different friend groups each week. I cut in half the amount I was spending on each night out by getting public transport there and back again, instead of taxis. Also, instead of opting for 12 cheap vodka mixes on a night out, I’d have 4 of the good stuff and really savour it. When it came to buying clothes, I stopped pretty much cold turkey and utilised what I already had in my already over stuffed wardrobe.

4. Cut out the small everyday spends.
Ok, so this idea is on every ‘how to save money’ blog, but they all tell you to transfer your daily coffee money into your savings account. WRONG!!! For me that’s not worth it, I like to deposit a sizable amount at a time. The way I save money from daily spends is to take it out of the ATM in cash, put it in an envelope, and when I’ve accrued a couple of weeks worth, I spend it on kit, clothing or equipment I need for the trip. This way I’m not touching the money I’m saving for the trip cost, but still getting the bits and pieces I need to actually go on the trip. It also means I’m not doing a last minute crazed shopping trip in the month before I depart when prices are higher.

5. Save your Student Loan.
This one is obviously dependent on you living at home as your student loan would be used for rent payments if you don’t. I had a one year student loan whilst saving for Trek America as I was attending college. I gave my parents a percentage of it for rent/digs/housekeeping, whatever you want to call it, and saved almost all the rest. The year I was at college full time was the year I was also juggling bar tending and childminding, so I had a very healthy income and my savings pot grew strong. It also meant I was able to take four short trips, one of which took me on my first solo trip abroad, to Amsterdam.

So there you have it, my secrets to saving a lot of money in a short space of time. Hard work and compromise.

Oh, and really lovely supportive parents.

Trek America Blog: Let’s Talk Money

Hey guys, let’s talk money for a second.

So in planning your big trip with Trek America the biggest thing you need to think about first is money. How much does it cost for the trip, the flights and how much spending money will you probably need. In this post, I’m going to set out what my 33 day Coast to Coast South trip cost me personally, and how I went about working out the budgets.

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1. The trip at time of booking cost £2795 including four nights total pre and post tour accommodation. I booked in January 2016, there was a sale on, and the money I saved off the trip cost was spent on the pre and post tour accommodation.

2. My return ‘multi-city’ flights booked through the STA Travel website cost £668. A ‘multi-city’ flight allows you to fly into one city, and out from another. I booked in January 2016, 5 months before departure.

3. Trek America runs a food kitty on all camping trips. It amounts to $10 per day, so 33 x 10 = $330 for the food kitty to be paid directly to the tour leader, in cash, on the first day of the tour. When I bought my dollars the exchange rate was 1.42USD to 1GBP, so $330 works out about £230. We all actually got $59 back at the end of the trip from the food kitty!

4. My travel insurance was booked independently online. It cost £57 and I can’t remember which insurer I went with. I used the ‘compare the market’ and ‘money supermarket’ websites to check quotes and went with the cheapest one.

5. For British Passport holders you can apply for an electronic visa. It was $14. So roughly £9.

Add all the above costs and you get a total of;

£3759

That total works out at £101 per day of travel. Bearing in mind that daily cost includes a tour guide, van and trailer, fuel, accommodation for every night, the majority of your food, some seriously awe inspiring landscapes and activities, flights covering at least 6000 miles, and overland travel of at least 3000 miles. I am personally really quite happy to pay that considering what I got in return.

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Once you know your base costs for the trip, the next thing you need to figure out is how much spending money to save up. Spending money is a deeply personal thing. You need to ask yourself a few questions when trying to formulate your spending money budget.

1. If you’re the type that just loves to shop and buy ‘things’ whilst on holiday then you need to think about the things you want to buy in the US and budget accordingly. I bought 24 fridge magnets, one from each place we visited, and it cost around $115 to buy them. Expect to spend around $4 per magnet, however, a magnet bought in Times Square will cost you over $9! Create yourself a shopping budget for things you want to buy, and don’t buy anything in the US that you can get at home, even if you think it’s cheaper in America.

2. If you’re the type that wants to get on all the optional tours all you need to do is add up the list price provided by Trek America in the pre-departure information. However, add an extra $200 onto that budget if your tour takes in the Orlando theme parks. Our dual park ticket to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure was over $300, instead of the $120 that was listed on the Trek info.

3. Remember to factor in additional food costs. You need to budget for all meals when your not camping. Out of 32 nights, 11 of ours were spent in non-camping accommodation so we had to fend for ourselves food wise. Expect to pay around $30 per person for a main course with an alcoholic drink in a sit down restaurant (including tax and tip). It sounds a lot, but actually, it works out the same as the UK. If your spending budget is tight, then there’s fast food restaurants, street food style places and grocery shops all over the place. You can pick yourself up a grocery store salad, sushi or sandwich for under $6. A full on cooked breakfast is around $12 if it’s a sit in cafe, or IHOP.

4. You’ll also want around $8 per driving day for on the road snacks and water/soda. I actually only bought snacks a handful of times as I found I had very little appetite due to the heat, and because I had usually just stumbled out the van at the gas stations still half asleep from my van nap. If your not a junk food fan, well, get yourself ready for some mind altering arrays of fruit and veg type stuff in most supermarkets and big chain gas stations.
Yum Yum!

5. Alcohol. I’m not going to lie, in places like Miami, Vegas and New Orleans, the prices for a drink at bars and clubs can be ridiculous. For example, I paid $37 for four bottles of corona in a ‘secret’ club in Miami… not including tip. Shocking right? Always be on the hunt for ‘dive’ bars as their cheaper…as in $5 for a rum and coke. Sixth Street in Austin was the cheapest place at $3 for a four spirit cocktail concoction. Remember that in the US they use the Free Pour method, as in, they don’t measure their spirits. So, to budget for alcohol I recommend you figure out how many drinks it takes for you to get drunk then times that number by $7, then times that number by however many city nights are on your tour. You won’t go out drinking EVERY night your in a city, but if you budget that way then you’ll have some extra dollar left over for a hangover breakfast the next day. See, I got you covered pal.

6. Cigarettes. Yes, I know. People aren’t meant to smoke anymore, but people do. So, if you like a wee smoke now and again, or all day long as some people do, expect to pay around the $6 mark for a 20 pack of cigarettes. The cheapest was somewhere in Texas at just shy of $5, and the most expensive was at Bryce Canyon, at over $9. Oh and by the way, don’t ask for “20 Marlboro please” as the assistant will pass you 20 packs of Marlboro. You should ask for “a pack of Marlboro please”, and always be ready with your ID, their very strict over there.

7. Remember also to budget for tipping wait staff, bartenders, taxi drivers and any tour guide or activity guide throughout your trip, including your Trek America tour leader. I wasn’t particularly happy with the way some of my fellow trek mates seemed to vanish when it came to tipping but that is a rant for another day. Just be the decent human and show your appreciation for the people or person who did a good job for you. As a side note there are a couple of ways you can decide how much a good tip for your tour leader is. You can either go with the Trek America recommendation of $5 to $7 per day of the tour, or you can go with 15% of the tour price that you personally paid. I calculated both and tipped my tour leader a nice round number somewhere in between the two values.

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In the end, after doing all those calculations, I gave up and just decided to take $3,500 as my spending money. It was a nice round number, it worked out at $95 per day and even though I knew I wouldn’t spend that every day, I knew there was a lot of pricey things I would be doing during my trip so it should all balance out somehow. I even had an additional £500 in my home bank account for any ‘just in-case’ scenarios, which I was very thankful for as I reached Vegas with only $100 left. I used the spare £500 to enjoy Vegas and Los Angeles, tip my tour leader and pick up a couple of souvenirs for the kids I babysit back home.

For a total spend, we take the cost of the trip and add on our spending money, and the total now comes to;
£6729

So there it is. The total money you will expect to need to go on the 33 day Coast to Coast South trip with Trek America. Yes, it’s a lot, but don’t let that stop you or stress you out. Money is actually fairly easy to come by if you’re willing to work hard and compromise for a short time. Also, I spent money fairly freely. I am the type of person that if I have a load of money in my bank that is earmarked as spending money for a holiday, then I just spend it. I never aim to come home with any of that money left over.

Also, you can definitely do this trip with probably $1000 less in spending money. Don’t smoke, don’t drink out so much, eat in the cheapest places, only do the optional activities you’ve really got your heart set on, and don’t bother with the dual park Orlando theme park ticket or Grand Canyon helicopter ride. Those are the most expensive activities and will save you around $450 if you don’t do them.

Thanks for reading all, I’ll be back again soon with some ‘how to save up’ tips and my Trek America diaries will be Coming Soon! Any questions about Trek America please leave them in a comment and I’ll get back to you.

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Trek America Blog: Where and When to Buy Your Kit

If like me, it’s been a decade since you last left the cooler climate of the UK, then you’re unlikely to have a stocked summer wardrobe. In this post, I’m going to give you all the tips on where to buy, and most importantly, when to buy your clothing and kit for a camping roadtrip around the US in the summer.

1. Aim for the Sale months. Every retailer has particular months where they discount their stock, and if you’re a savvy shopper like me, you’ll notice those months are the same every year. The best time to buy your summer clothing is the months between October and January. All your usual high street clothing retailers are online, so search to your hearts content. The optimal time for outdoors equipment and sports gear to go on sale is October. In this month you can buy your sleeping bag, camping mat, head torch, water bottle and any active/sports clothing you feel you want or need. Links to my favourite outdoors suppliers are at the end of this post. Again, the best time to buy your luggage is December to January. Don’t be lulled into the Black Friday/Boxing Day frenzy. Stay away from ordering on these days as you will get a much better deal outside of these weeks.

2. Sign up to all the online retailers for additional discounts. Eighteen months before my departure I ordered a few bits and pieces online from Mountain Warehouse. A few months later I got a small catalogue of their sale items through the door and a code for an additional 20% off all items, including sale items. Of course I then went and bought up a couple other things. The same thing happened again the following year. Retailers are creatures of habit, if you get a code through one year, you can almost guarantee it will come through at the same time next year. Also, if you buy a few bits one year, and don’t buy anything else for over 6 months, you may get a voucher through to entice you to come back and spend.

3. Cross check prices on alternative websites. If you fall in love with a branded item, not own brand, then search for it on google. You can be assured it is likely stocked on a competitors website at a smaller cost. Check Amazon and Ebay also, you never know what gems they will bring up.

4. Have a search through your wardrobe and write up a packing list based on what you have, and what you need to buy, before you start shopping. Don’t be lulled into buying a whole new wardrobe of clothes just because your ‘going on holiday’. I spent a fair amount of money buying stuff I thought would make me look trendy and ended up donating it when the time came to pack my bag, as a lot of it wasn’t functional. Flash back to the white fringed kimono that I wore once and carried home stained yellow, with the fringes all tangled beyond fixing.

5. If this is the only long duration travel experience you plan on doing ever, don’t worry about buying the big brand stuff, the budget products will do for this one trip. Conversely, if you have an inkling that you want to do more long duration travel, then do research the quality, functionality and durability of products, and do expect to spend more on the product which will last a number of trips. This will mean you don’t then need to fork out again for the next trip.

6. My biggest tip for buying your kit is to search for a lightweight and compact 4 season sleeping bag. Regardless of whether you plan on doing further travel after Trek America, this is the one item to invest in. You won’t sleep inside your sleeping bag much during July in the Southern states of America as it’s way too hot, but when your in Colorado and the canyons you will, and be very pleased you went for the warmest bag. A lightweight bag should be no more than 1kg and ultra compactable. Mine was just a touch over 2kg and took up so much space…like, two footballs worth of space. I’m now having to buy a whole new bag for my backpacking trip around Africa to save space and weight.

UK Retailers:
https://www.mountainwarehouse.com/

https://www.decathlon.co.uk/

http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/

http://www.cotswoldoutdoor.com/

http://www.blacks.co.uk/

Popular in the US is:
https://www.rei.com/

Thanks for reading, I hope this has been helpful in planning your trip. Come back for more Trek America tips, and the ‘coming soon’ Trek America Blog: The Diary Series.

Trek America Blog: Packing Tips

Instead of providing a full packing list for Trek America, I’ve decided to go with tips on what you need to pack, as I feel like this will be more valuable to you since I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to tell you to take underwear and socks…

(These tips are informed by my July Coast to Coast Trek through the southern states of America when the weather was intensely hot).

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1. Take a soft sided holdall with one main compartment as your luggage. Mine was a sandwich style 110L holdall, (it wasn’t the biggest on tour) and it was such a pain having to un-sandwich it every morning to get at my stuff. One compartment would be so much easier to dive into. Your main luggage will be stowed on the trailer for pretty much the entirety of the trip, so pack big if you want to.

2. Leave your white clothes at home. Sunscreen, soil, sand, sweat and food stains will turn your trendy white clothes into limp yellow rags. Don’t risk the heartbreak, leave it at home.

3. Take more evening wear options than you think you’ll need. Plan for 10 nights out and just take a different outfit for each night. Don’t try to do the whole ‘8 outfits from 3 key pieces’ thing. You will be bored by night out number 2.

4. Also, just take the goddamn heels with you. It will save you a mad dash to the Mall. For any man types reading this, if you want to go out in Vegas, you’ll need a shirt. With a collar. And a pair of dress shoes. Don’t be the guy who thinks he can wear a t-shirt and trainers.

5. Take a pair of lightweight, slouchy trousers such as hareem pants. The air con can be polar cold in the van and, if like me, you’re not a huge fan of shorts to start with packing a pair of 3/4 length hareem pants was a stroke of genius. Plus, when your body swells up unexpectedly from the heat you’ll be glad of the stretchy waist and slouchy fit.

6. Take a pair of lycra yoga pants. You’ll be glad you packed them for the bike tour of Washington D.C., and for hiking in Colorado, Moab and the Grand Canyon. I hiked in Colorado in a pair of ill-fitting gym shorts from Wal-Mart, they rode up in the front and back every 60 seconds and I hated every minute of it. I ended up paying $35 for a pair of yoga pants on the last morning in Moab, and wore them basically every day until we got to Vegas.

7. Take lot’s of tops, but mostly vests and camisoles.
I took eight tops in total and it wasn’t enough. I got bored of wearing the same stuff day in, day out. Plus, I was too hot to wear the t-shirts most of the time. I recommend only taking two loose plain t-shirts and taking eight vests or camisole type tops.
(Take a couple of fancier ones to make you feel sassy).

8. Take only one jumper type item and leave your jacket at home. I recommend a zip front hoody as it’s easy to take on and off. Spare the space in your luggage and fill it with more day/evening wear clothes.

9. You absolutely will not need hiking boots for this trip, trainers are totally fine. Take flip flops with you, you will wear them more than any other piece of footwear. Remember your one pair of sassy night out footwear.

10. You will absolutely need to take a pack away/pack small/pac a mac waterproof jacket type thing. Even at the height of summer it rained in New York, Washington D.C., Orlando, New Orleans, Laffayette, Chacos Cultural Park, at Bryce Canyon and at the Grand Canyon.

11. I recommend taking your own sunscreen lotion from your home country. I did not like the US sunscreen as it was very chemically and dried out my skin, and also felt fairly expensive in comparison to the UK. For all other toiletries, buy them when you get to the US… except maybe toothpaste, you will want that as soon as you check into your pre-departure hotel.

12. You will need a good deodorant. I recommend Mitchum roll on, it kept me fresh and sweat free the whole time.

13. Take a super absorbent, and ultra light, microfiber travel towel with you and buy a beach towel when you get there. Wal-Mart do beach towels for under $5.

14. Moisturise your whole body every night. Be religious about this. Your skin will crack open in the dry heat in the most disabling of places if you don’t. Be vigilant about doing the underside of all your body parts too, feet especially.

15. You will not need diarrhea medication. All you need in your first aid kit is blister plasters, pain killers and insect bite relief. Oh, and condoms.

16. Ditch the massive make up bag and all your hair products. The heat will leave you sweating off your make up in no time and your hair will frizz. Embrace the minimalist face and the french braid. The only product I recommend is dry shampoo, but you can just buy it in the US.

17. A three season sleeping bag is perfect. You probably won’t sleep inside it very often due to the heat, but you’ll definitely thank yourself for it on the few nights it gets much cooler, I’m looking at you Colorado and Bryce Canyon. I highly recommend you do some research and buy a bag that is under 1kg in weight, and has a comfort rating of around 5C. Expect to pay over £120 for a good bag, but I wouldn’t bother paying over £200.

18. A head torch is a good idea, don’t bother paying more than £10 for it as it will probably get battered about a bit. Mine stopped working half way through the trip so I used my phone torch.

19. A portable, re-chargeable external battery pack is extremely necessary. I bought the EasyAcc from Amazon after it was recommended by a few other Trek America bloggers. It came in handy!

20. Last but not least, I bought a Syncwire. It’s a super handy plug adapter with four USB ports and inter-changeable socket types. I could charge my phone and camera at the same time, whilst allowing two other devices to charge as well (usually my trek mates phones). Search for it on Amazon.

So that’s all my packing and trek tips. I hope they are of use to you as you plan your amazing trip. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section. Next post will be about all things money related – spending money, tipping, and UK vs USA prices.