Q & A

Trek Van

Are you going on Westerner 2 and want to know if the vicious sun managed to crisp this ginger? Fancy finding out just how many calories I consumed over fourteen careless days? Yes to question 1. Over thirty thousand to question 2.

Here’s where you’ll find all the questions I asked myself and my greasy laptop screen before I embarked on my very first trek. I wrote the original Q & A straight after I completed Westerner 2, so I’ve updated it with mentions of Best of the East AND I’ll add anything from Mountain Trail after August 2015.

If you have any questions that I haven’t answered here, send me a message and I’ll try my best to help!

This Q & A is just to give you an idea of what my Trek America experience was like. I hope it may be of some use, but feel free to totally do it your own way!

Some of the questions are Trek specific, so I’ve put some wee headings for when that happens. W2 = Westerner 2 and BEAST = Best of the East.

How Much Money Did You Take?

moneytake

W2: I took roughly $1700 that was spread out in three ways. $300 in cash, then the rest ($1400) was split equally over two travel cards. I used Caxton and Fairfx because I found these to be the best for what I needed them for.

Fairfx – These guys had the best exchange rate at the time, so I got more bang for my buck!

Caxton – This card, unlike Fairfx, didn’t charge me for taking cash out of an ATM in the USA. I found myself using this card for topping up my cash, then Fairfx for chip and pinning my way through gas stations and coffee shops.

I found $1700 was more than enough to last the whole trek. BUT KEEP IN MIND – A Trek will only ever be as expensive as you make it. I could have spent so much more (not because I had the funds, but because I sometimes lack self-control and I’m an idiot) and bought things like new clothes, or perhaps take part in a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. But, I can honestly say that I came back home with no regrets wishing I had taken more money.

Also, would you believe that I came home with almost $500? Because I did! Woo! Next Trek deposit much?

BEAST: I came back from Westerner 2 with $500. Therefore, I initially aimed for the same amount for BEAST but I planned on coming back with nothing! I also decided to book an extra few nights in New York to explore the city post-trek, so my budget for BEAST was still $1700, but I added extra for the NYC nights. Make sense?

I ended up taking $1900 to last the 14 days on BEAST and the two nights/three days in NYC. I went with just the Fairfx card on this trip (because I lost my Caxton!) and took $400 in cash, $1500 on Fairfx.

I spent the bloody lot.

What Did You Take With You?

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Apart from my ginger hair, I tried to fly as light as I could for both W2 and BEAST.

W2: I borrowed a medium-sized suitcase from a friend. It was a nice size to stuff clothes in and also bring home treats. However, I noticed that other Trekkers had bigger suitcases, despite the Trek website saying to bring medium-sized ones. The bigger suitcases weren’t a problem at all, so I wouldn’t feel worried if you only have a large suitcase. If you can fit in it then it’s too big!

Here’s a list of things I packed for W2:

1) A Wash bag that included:

* Toothbrush

* Soap

* Small Shower Gel

* Small Shampoo & Conditioner

* Insect Repellant Band

* Electric Shaver

I took small shower gels and whatnot because we stopped at gas stations and food stores along the way, so buying extras on the road was pretty much guaranteed.

2) Backpack

I think that the backpack is essential when doing a trek. It really comes in handy when you’re hiking or walking around cities. I used it to carry spare clothes, food, water, camera, documents and my hopes and dreams. It was also where I stored my passport, so knowing it was with me at all times made me less worried about losing it.

Here’s a quick pro tip: do not take a crappy backpack! I bought a cheap £15 one and it broke three days in! Invest in a lovely, rugged backpack that doesn’t hate you like mine did.

3) Journal

Nearly everyone had one and I’m glad I took one, although I lost it when I came back! You do so much in one single day and it was just too much for my small head to think about.

There will be plenty of time travelling in the minibus or sat around the camp to jot down your thoughts and experiences of the day. Sure, you could keep a log of what you’ve been up to on social media and make your mates jealous. However, having it all written down in detail is such a great way to remember the finer details of an unforgettable trip.

The journal’s also great for writing contact details of your new Trek mates, or even music that you discover on the road.

4) Camera

Okay, so I know it’s 2015 and most new mobiles have amazing cameras built-in already. But, back in 2010 for W2, the best I could afford was an iPhone with a measly 2 megapixel camera. Therefore, I invested in a lovely point-and-shoot with an 18x zoom lens. This small son-of-a-pixel did me proud, and I’d recommend anyone going on a Trek to take a small, dedicated camera and not just rely on your mobile. I’d especially recommend a camera with a large, optical zoom lens. This came in handy for places like Yosemite. We were driving along the road and there was a bear minding his own business and doing bear stuff, as bears do. Thanks to my zoom camera, I was able to take a really great pic. *high fives*

If you take your photography as serious as I take my coffee, then you could also take a professional camera, such as a DSLR, if you don’t mind carrying it around.

On BEAST, I borrowed my brother’s DSLR.

PRO: Better Quality Photos

CON: Carrying the thing around

Camera choice is totally up to you when you go on a Trek. Just take into consideration the type of Trek you’re doing.

You may also want to take a large memory card with you, as I ended up with just over 1000 photos from 14 days. Not bad!

If you’re not too bothered about camera quality, you could just do what our Australian friend did on W2. He brought a couple of disposables with him and only used them. What a trooper!

5) Clothes

W2: I packed only one pair of jeans, two shorts, five t-shirts/shirts, a jacket and a nice shirt. I also took one pair of sandal/flip flop things and hiking trainers.

What you take should be based on what time of year you’re going, how long you’re going for and where you are visiting. For example, five shirts for 14 days was enough as I could wear some shirts two days in a row (hey, don’t judge!), wash them every few days or buy new clothes out there. Same with jeans – we went in June, which was hot, so I rarely wore jeans (I think I only put them on in Vegas). All you have to do is think sensibly about where you’re going. If you’re going on a 7 day trek to Alaska, I wouldn’t just take a vest and shorts. If your trek involves National Parks or hiking, then obviously take some decent hiking shoes and attire.

Another thing worth noting. Some Treks go through such a mad assortment of environments. Make sure you do your research on the places you’re going to so you can be better prepared.

Note: WASHING

In one campsite on W2, we were blessed with both a washing machine and a dryer at our Grand Canyon stay, so clothes were cleaned and ready within an hour or two. This wasn’t the case with every campsite. I found that if I had the chance to wash clothes, I took it. Except for one time at the rodeo…

Pro tip: I bought really cheap socks for both Treks with the intention of binning them on the last day. This freed my suitcase up so I could take back treats.

6) Entertainment 

Visiting so many places in such a short time means that I was going to be doing a fair bit of travelling. With this in mind, I took some things to entertain myself during those long drives.

On both W2 and BEAST, I took a book, my iPhone and a journal to keep me distracted. However, I rarely used these because there was always someone to talk to or scenery to admire.

The Trek van had an AUX cable so we all took it in turns to be the van DJ. This was probably the most enjoyable part of travelling as I love discovering new music. It also made the time pass quicker.

7) Sleeping Bags + Extras

Again, the type of sleeping bag depends on what time of year you are going. If I was going somewhere cold at winter time, then I would pack a thick and warm sleeping bag #captainobvious

W2 included temperatures of 98 Fahrenheit (sun cream city), I was therefore glad I took a thin and light sleeping bag. It costs me £5.99!

That’s the other reason I took a thin sleeping bag – ’cause it was cheap. This meant on the last day of Trek, I could throw it away and have more room in my suitcase to take presents home.

My Beef With Travel Pillows

W2: I purchased two small travel pillows and thought they would be great. They weren’t. Sleeping on them was a pain and getting them into the suitcase again was also annoying. I decided to give my mate the pillows and I bought a huge one from a passing Target store. A few other Trekkers did this and we stored them in the trailer instead of our individual suitcases. BEST. IDEA. EVER. I slept like a baby each night after buying the proper pillows, and would recommend you take the same action as me and buy a pillow in America. I think it was only around $10, so it’s not much to pay for an awesome night sleep! At the end of the trek, I simply binned it.

Sleeping Arrangements On The Trek?

tent_Fotor

These camping treks were spent mostly at campsites (saaaay whaaaaa?!).

W2: We had two nights in a San Fran hotel, two in a Vegas hotel and two in a hostel. The rest were spent camping.

We were assigned a tent with a partner (I travelled with a friend, so we always shared a tent) and we were also are given a thin, foam mat to sleep on.

BEAST: I didn’t get on with the thin mats on W2, so this time I came prepared with an inflatable single bed. It didn’t take up too much room in my case. However, it was quite weighty. My plan was to inflate and deflate it after every campsite visit. Turns out, our tour leader was happy with me placing it on top of the entire luggage in the trailer. This saved me having to blow it up every night. Woo!

Food? Tell Me About It!

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For both W2 and BEAST, we chipped in $10 per day for the food kitty. This was great as it covered both our breakfast and an evening meal. However, some nights we didn’t have an evening meal at camp. This was for various reasons such as the evening might have been a hotel stay or we all went out as a group for dinner. When we were in Vegas, San Fran and San Diego (the non-camping nights), we ate out, so food kitty wasn’t used. The great thing was that we received any unused money back at the end of the Trek, so the daily $10 didn’t go to waste.

When we were at campsites, our tour leader would keep all food bought from a food store in big, plastic boxes and a cooler. We also had a separate cooler for the beer.

The Trek group was spilt into different groups (A,B,C,D) and a rota was made that decided which group would cook each night. We were given the option to decide what to cook a few days prior, so we could ask everyone what they fancied, and anyone with special diets could make specific requests (such as vegetarian options). One group made chicken fajitas with a fresh salad spread, which was by far the best meal of the Trek (with the exception of our tour leader’s Sloppy Joes!).

Our tour leader for W2 liked to keep food healthy and fresh. She favoured local produce or markets over superstores. This was refreshing and welcomed as I was worried I’d be eating rubbish. Because I can’t help myself. I have a ridiculous metabolism. And I love food. I need help.

Did You Travel Alone?

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I went with my friend for W2, then travelled with Liz on W2 and Mountain Trail.

What helped was meeting Trekkers on Facebook or Trek America Live before departure. I found a few Trekkers this way and it made it easier to recognise them at the gateway hotel. This was great because it wasn’t overwhelming as we met the rest of the guys on our Trek.

What Happened On The First Morning Of Your Trek?

yosemitehalf

W2: We were told to meet at 7:30am on the day of departure in the hotel lobby. As we waited for our tour leader to come, we started greeting our fellow trekkers.

After we confirmed travel insurance details and were given a briefing, we all put our bags inside the trailer and were on our way! We were also given a detailed itinerary.

Now, this part is important. I learned this the hard way. I recommend going to the toilet before you meet at the lobby. I didn’t and ended up grabbing the last seat – the front passenger seat. Now, it was cool because I got to talk to the tour leader first and get to know her, and I even got to put my own songs on for the Trekkers to listen to. What I regret, however, is not sitting in the back. Reason being, I couldn’t talk to anyone properly while sitting in the front, so as everyone got friendly with everyone, I was sat on my (almost) lonesome in the front.

What is Travelling in the Van Like?

trekvan_Fotor

The van was air conditioned so there was never a time when I felt hot and stuffy. It was also just big enough for my weird, long legs.

Travelling time in the van varied.

W2: We probably travelled for 3-4 hours a time. Sometimes we stayed at a campsite for two days, so we did get a decent break from the van. We did have a long road day which was a little bit challenging. As we left the cowboy ranch to go to San Diego, we were on the road for 6-7 hours.

It isn’t all that bad though, because you can either catch up on some sleep if you stayed up late the night before, or just chat to other Trekkers and have a laugh.

The way I see it, time spent in the van is part of the experience!

How Did You Charge Your Phone/Camera?

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The Trek van had a cigarette lighter so we could charge stuff that way, or most campsites were fitted with electrical power points. The only downside was most sites only had one or two points, so charging was taken in turns.

On W2, one campsite didn’t actually have a power point, so I was sat in the toilet in Sierra, Nevada for about an hour trying to charge my phone. Nice.

For Mountain Trail, I intend to take a pocket-sized USB charging pack. It was given to me for Christmas and it’s the best thing ever. I never worry about my phone dying when I’m on long journeys because it just charges it all the way up. Ideal for Trek!