North America summary

We are now over five months into our trip (can’t believe it’s gone so quickly) and have just left the USA for French Polynesia.

So after a total of nearly eleven weeks in the USA (58 days) and Canada (17 days), here is a summary of our time in this vast and varied continent:

Destination highlights

  • Miami was exactly what we were hoping for; cool, multicultural and with a beautiful white sand beach juxtaposed with the neon glow of the city by night.

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  • The Canadian Rockies were stunning, especially the turquoise alpine lakes surrounded by spruce trees.

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  • Portland was a buzzing foodie hotspot and we loved imbibing from the varied food trucks all around the city.

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  • Yellowstone’s geothermal activity defied belief and made us realise what was below the earths surface.

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  • Staying with friends in LA was really nice (although it made us a bit homesick…)

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  • Death Valley was exactly how you imagine, especially when staying in a campsite called Furnace Creek. It was so hot and felt like you were on another planet most of the time.

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  • Monument Valley was a special place. Perhaps due to the fact it is a sacred site for the indigenous people, or perhaps because it felt familiar from Western films we have seen.

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  • As we crawled into the steep crevice of Lower Antelope Canyon we didn’t really know what to expect. Suffice to say it was super impressive (and photogenic)…. 

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General highlights

  • Having wheels for most of the eleven weeks was a new experience for us. We loved the freedom to modify our plans on a whim.

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  • We particularly loved our campervan and being able to sleep wildly in beautiful and remote settings such as in a redwood forest and amongst sand dunes. We loved having a camp fire and eating and drinking around it whilst watching the sunset. It was also pretty social and we enjoyed meeting interesting people (not just fellow backpackers) as we drunk wine and gazed at the amazing stars.

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  • The National Parks are really impressive and well organised. We went to countless free ranger talks, walks and exhibitions and all for $80 (the price of an annual pass). This covers all 58 parks across the country.
A ranger explains
A ranger explains

Lowlights

  • Realising we had messed up our visa and having to leave America two weeks after arriving was a massive fail. It was particularly nerve-wracking when trying to re-enter the US especially as we were yet to do our big road trip and were really excited about it.
  • We overdosed on cities and as a result didn’t enjoy some of them as much as we hoped. We were particularly looking forward to San Francisco but had no energy to do much sightseeing by the time we arrived.
  • As fast food is the cheapest grub in expensive countries (on a backpacker budget) we ended up eating a lot of it and putting on weight as a result.
  • We stayed in numerous horrible and really overpriced hotels and hostels, some even reaching £150 for a grotty motel room near Yellowstone.
  • Spending lots of money. Most of our travels to date have been to cheap countries so it was a bit of a shock to have to spend so much money every day and watch our savings dwindle. We also felt like we couldn’t afford to do some of the sights.
  • We didn’t like Vancouver at all. We were looking forward to this forward thinking outdoorsy city but were unimpressed by its sights and didn’t really find its raved about spirit. And the homelessness was really sad (see Observations). 
  • We found the famous Big Sur a bit disappointing. Maybe it was because it was overhyped or maybe we are just spoilt but we had to nod along mutely as everyone waxed lyrical about this part of California throughout the trip.
  • We also got a bit sick of red rocks. Again, there were times we didn’t give it the time or enthusiasm it deserved.

Observations

  • Americans struggled to understand us. We felt like we were better understood in Latin America than in America . Perhaps it’s because after five months in, we are mumbling incoherently to each other (quite likely).
  • Having said that, everyone loves the English accent and they are very interested in Brits in general (lots of questions about Brexit). 
  • Public transport is terrible, you really do need your own wheels. Having said that Uber and Lyft are amazing and pretty cheap.
  • The landscape is so diverse. In a matter of hours we drove from a built up city to lush forest to alpine scenery and then to arid desert.
  • The cliches seem to be true: dogs being carried in LA, Trump supporters in the sticks, cowboys in the small towns, ‘I love gun’ stickers, glitzy Vegas and so on.
  • This includes the food portion size. It is as big as people say and we left countless restaurants with leftovers.
  • There really is a Starbucks on every corner, we went to most for free fast internet, 50c refills and to use the toilets when we were wild camping!
  • Homelessness is a huge problem in the cities, particularly Vancouver. We were really surprised by this. There was a particular area in the downtown with hundreds of homeless people living on the streets, seemingly out of their minds on drugs. We saw people injecting, talking to themselves and walking around naked. Lots of people were unable to walk properly and were in wheelchairs. Apparently because the climate on this coast of North America is much more forgiving this is where they tend to gather. It was sad. 
  • Tax and service charges are crazy. We were regularly prompted to add a 25% tip on top of taxes (c.10%) and it was generally unacceptable to add less than 20% gratuity.
  • Spanish was heard more frequently than I expected and there were signs in the language everywhere.
  • Individual states have laws that are not enforced across the country. For example, eight states have legalised cannabis for recreation use.
  • People are much more used to driving long distances and think nothing of a six hour road trip. For this reason you see signs saying ‘Next McDonald’s: two hour drive’.

Food and drink highlights

  • Amazing coffee in Seattle and Portland.
  • Craft beer also in Seattle and Portland:

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  • Biscuits and gravy in Portland was surprisingly delicious:

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  • Food trucks were all over Portland and the highlight was a delicious Chinese wrap.
  • Delicious salads all over California.
  • Dim sum in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
  • Shopping in Trader Joes to stock up our campervan.
  • Drinking wine and honey whiskey around the campfire:

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  • Homecooking was a treat after not doing it much for the last five months:

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  • Asian food everywhere; we enjoyed lots of Thai, Chinese and Indian.
  • American BBQ with mounds of slow cooked pork and beef ribs covered in sweet spicy barbecue sauce:
...and we ate some meat
…and we ate some meat

Some favourite photos

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Rockies, Canada
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Rockies, Canada
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Rockies, Canada
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Yellowstone NP, USA
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Yellowstone NP, USA
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Los Angeles, USA
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Near Lake Tahoe, USA
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Yosemite NP, USA
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Death Valley NP, USA
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Zion NP, USA
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Monument Valley, USA
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Grand Canyon NP, USA
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Arizona, USA
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Joshua Tree NP, USA

Next continent: Oceania (French Polynesia, Cook Islands, New Zealand and Australia)

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. Ali T says:

    You guys should definitely look into publishing a book about your travels… the North America Summary was my favourite post so far :) xx

    1. Jack Solesbury says:

      I’m impressed you are still reading it! At least we know we could sell at least one copy…

  2. Alice says:

    Brill summary! Interesting read and ever so lovely photos! My aim in life is to feature in the Thailand blog… fingers crossed!

    1. Jack Solesbury says:

      Maybe you could write it as a guest post? How about that?

      1. Alice says:

        Just saw this! She only gone and done it…

  3. Zoe says:

    Well Done you two……… really enjoying hearing all about your adventures… ( & jealous !!). Great photos too…. ! Zoe xx

    1. Jack Solesbury says:

      Thanks Zoe, hope you and the family are well. x

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