Saturday, 10 March 2012

Getting ready to camp in the US Southwest National Parks

For years we never thought of going to the USA, in fact Lindsay didn't want to come, so he told me after we had left home! Luckily he loved it so much he wants to go back. I found photography workshops that showed me photographs of the South West National Parks that whet my appetite. And after reconnecting with an old school friend, who encourage us, we started planning...

We went to the consulate to organise a six month visa and they offered us a five year one. The idea for this trip was to travel for six months in a similar fashion as to how we travel in Australia, so we needed a way of getting around and somewhere to live. But of course the USA is not Australia and things are very different there. We spent a lot of time researching what to get and how to do it.

There was a van for sale in the town we were staying in that could be converted, we pulled out the spare seats and made up a frame for our bed. We had already bought a number of things before we came over such as an Engel fridge, camping chairs, table and stove. When we camp at home, you can get things that you use everyday, but we had to start from scratch - kitchen utensils, bedding, camping gear.... We registered it to our friends address and took out insurance.

home for the next six months
Being handy with your hands helps, so Lindsay made up the bed out of plywood and we bought a good mattress from Camping World. When you are sleeping on a camp bed for six months an air mattress just isn't good enough, you want something comfortable. When we arrived it was so warm we were in shorts and t-shirts for the first couple of weeks, then out of the blue it snowed.

fridge is in, seats are out, pods are being made
Organising fitting out a car and getting your camping gear from scratch is harder than you might think. Not having a social security number or a US driver’s licence makes it very hard to hire tools, rent a storage unit etc - it all has to do with homeland security. Buying things with an Australian credit card can be difficult online as they pick up that it’s not American and won't accept it; the way around this is to ring them directly and pay over the phone. If you have goods delivered from another state - you don't pay sales tax, so if they don't charge a delivery fee, then you are usually better off, you just need an address which can be a problem when you are travelling. Nearly everything here is so much cheaper here than Australia. Probably the only things that aren't are health insurance, council rates, mobile plans and internet plans. The fact that the city of LA has a larger population than the whole of Australia gives you an idea of their buying power.

I was really annoyed that my iPhone 4 wouldn’t work with any carrier. So we ended up buying a new phone and signed up with AT&T as they were supposed to have the best coverage, but I'm not so sure now, we see lots of people talking on their mobiles when we have no coverage. We ended up getting a new Samsung smartphone as we wanted to have GPS when we were walking around. It has been invaluable for finding just about anything - propane (LPG) gas refills, the best petrol prices, stores etc. In America, both parties pay for a mobile call or SMS. To tether your laptop/ipod to your mobile you will need to take out the highest Gb plan whether you use that much or not, or they can cut you off. It turned out that Apple had been locked my iPhone when I got a replacement and they hadn't transferred the profile.

Americans can’t understand our accent a lot of the time. Lindsay more than me. We don’t realize that we drop our “r’s” and call things different names such as pumpkin/squash, pen/biro or just have sayings that are just completely foreign to them.

Unlike Australia, we couldn't just travel from one area to another as they appear on the map, as you have to take into account the altitudes. It might be the best time to go to Death Valley, but not to Yosemite even though they are close, as Death Valley can be below sea level and Yosemite is a higher altitude. Which means we had to do a lot of zig zagging and return trips to areas to visit places, not so much the best time, but the coolest time.

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