This time last year, I was in Denver, visiting my cousin and his family. I stayed with them for twelve days before heading to Pennsylvania, Boston and finally meeting up with my boyfriend in New York before coming back home. It was a whirlwind of a time, a roller coaster of emotions and saturated with lessons. I think I learned more about myself in those 19 days in America than I have in the rest of my life. However, recently I feel as though I have been sidetracked and almost reverted back to the person I was before I went to America, so I would like to recap on my time in the USA to refresh those lessons.
Packing… what more do I say? Packing for a near-three week winter holiday in the US is a pretty tricky thing. With only a 20kg weight allowance and lots of woolly jumpers, thermal clothes and jeans meant I really struggled to not only get everything into my suitcase but also keep it under the weight limit. As it happens, I actually don’t think I was under the weight limit though I managed to get away with it without paying anything extra.
On 7th January, my step-dad drove me from the West Midlands down to Heathrow. We left quite early – I said goodbye (and Happy Birthday) to my mum at her workplace before dropping my boyfriend off in town, shedding a tear (or twenty) as I said goodbye to him and left him for nearly two weeks. Saying goodbye to my grandparents wasn’t too tough but I think I was just preoccupied with thoughts of my boyfriend.
The drive to Heathrow wasn’t so bad and when we got to the hotel, we had a walk around while we looked for a place to eat. It took us a while to find somewhere to eat but eventually we found a small, and quite extortionately priced, pub. I had wanted my usual – a steak – but it was about £20 and while my step-dad said he didn’t mind paying that much, I couldn’t ask that of him so I settled on two things I had never had before: homemade chicken nuggets and a jacket potato. Yep, I had never had a jacket potato before last January. I actually quite enjoyed the meal, despite the gloom of loneliness hanging over my head.
After the food, my step-dad and I walked back to the hotel. We said our goodbyes and he left, though I managed to hold my tears back until I got to my room. Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly excited for my adventure but my emotions did get to me at the thought of being alone and not seeing anyone from my immediate family for two weeks.
When I got to my room, still had a couple of hours to kill before having an early night so after having a bath, I settled down with one of my numerous Kindle books and also spent some time messaging my family. I was up at 4:30 the following morning as I had a 9am flight to JFK and I have to say that even though there was a bus service running from outside the hotel and to the airport, I was so proud that I managed to make it in time and check in all by myself.
Despite having quite a few books on the Kindle app on my iPad, I was concerned about the battery lasting for my day of travelling so bought three books: two Alex Cross books (Cross My Heart and Alex Cross, Run) and one book by Cecelia Ahern, How to Fall In Love. I started reading Alex Cross, Run first as it comes before Cross My Heart in the series and spent the time before the flight getting stuck into the book and messaging my family when possible.
When it came to boarding the plane, I was quite surprised (in a good way) to realise that everyone was given a blanket and pillow and also that we had our own miniature TV in the back of the seat in front of us.
I stayed awake for the take-off but ended up sleeping throughout pretty much the entire flight. I suppose that is what a 4:30am wake-up call does for you! When I arrived to JFK, I had to go through the customs and immigration. The lines were so long, I waited for about two hours before finally being seen. Unfortunately, I had an apple in my bag as a snack to help me stay awake but it was taken off me before I was let into the airport.
After customs, I made my way through to baggage claim. Now, I know what you’re thinking ‘but you said you went to Denver!’ and I did. Because of the structure of my journey and the fact that it is exceptionally cheaper to buy a return ticket than it is to buy multiple one-way tickets, I bought a series of returns for my flight. On this particular day, I used my return from Heathrow to JFK and then one from JFK to Denver.
Unfortunately, due to the times of the flights, I had to wait 7 hours at JFK before my flight to Denver. 7 hours. I did feel quite proud of myself as I asked the lovely gentleman at check-in if there was an earlier flight I might be able to take but there wasn’t. I went through airport check-in for the second time that day and found a McDonald’s in the middle part of the departure lounges – it was really surprising to me that they didn’t do an adult 6 nugget meal but instead I got the 10 nugget meal and polished that off perfectly, iMessaging my nan on the Wi-Fi that was so weak, I couldn’t even send a Facebook message.
I had a look around the departure lounge, completely in awe that they had an actual Hershey’s shop (even though I had never had Hershey’s chocolate at this point) and I found a shop that sold neck pillows, which I ended up buying as my neck had hurt a bit on my LHR-JFK flight.
It was only when I went to find my boarding gate that I realised they had comfortable chairs next to the gates, as opposed to the hard, wooden chairs I had been sitting on outside the McDonald’s area. I made it on to the aeroplane fine but not long after everyone had settled down, we found out there was something wrong and the plane would be delayed for a while. I can’t really remember much about this time as I was completely shattered so I fell asleep and when I woke, we were in the air. I fell asleep again but the next time I woke, we had just landed.
I dashed off the plane, eager to get to a bed to sleep properly, and met with my cousin as I waited at the baggage claim. Luckily, my bag was one of the first to come out before the baggage claim broke so we headed off to his home, where he gave me a quick tour and told me where my room would be. Being honest, I was a little tired, as I had been travelling for 27 hours straight. Combining the tiredness with my feelings of homesickness and missing my family and boyfriend, I had a little cry before passing out from exhaustion at 12:30am, local time.
But I made it to Denver and was incredibly proud of myself for a series of reasons:
- I had booked the entire holiday by myself
- I tried a jacket potato and homemade chicken nuggets
- I managed to get from the hotel to the airport with plenty of time to spare
- I checked in at the airport without any problems (well done to me for keeping all of my documentation together and in an easily accessible place)
- I made it through customs without anyone to help me, and then managed to claim my bag at JFK and check in again
- I asked the check-in guy if there was an earlier flight
- I spent 7 hours alone in an airport and then managed to get on my second flight of the day despite already being jet-lagged and exhausted
- Most importantly: I made it to Denver in one piece!
Don’t forget to check back in a couple of weeks for the next instalment!