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Trek America Atlantic Dream | My Tour Diary | Travel

August 5, 2019

Trek America Atlantic Dream | My Tour Diary | Travel

August 5, 2019

My trip with Trek America was discounted in return for content both during and after my tour. All views and opinions, however, are my own. 


As I sit here writing this post it has now been exactly two months since I was sat in the Newark Airport Hilton Hotel waiting to meet my Trek America group for the first time.

Even two months on I cannot explain just how incredible my Trek America trip was. I actually don’t think a day goes by where I don’t think about it at least once. Whether it’s remembering a place I visited or thinking about something I want to go back and see again, I know this trip is one I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.

Because of that, I already know that this is going to be one of the longest posts I have already written. I was originally going to split it up into smaller posts but I have decided that instead, I want to create a diary-style post with everything I remember from the trip. I’ll post my guides, tips and tricks and other informative posts at a later date.

So, onto my Trek America Diary.

Trek America Atlantic Dream

Day 1: New Jersey

Looking back, my first day of Trek seems as though it was years ago already. My brother and I had just spent two days exploring what we could of Hoboken and New York and we were feeling excited to join the rest of our group and head to our first destination.

After packing up all of our things and getting ready, we made our way down to the lobby to meet the rest of our Trek America. Luckily the big backpacks and suitcases gave them away and we were able to find them straight away. As a group, we found a place to sit and got comfortable as we waited for our Trek Leader to arrive.

Once our Trek leader, Jody, arrived we all started to get to know each other a little more. We did your standard introductions and filled out all of the paperwork required for the trip. Jody gave us a rundown of what we were going to be doing over the course of the two weeks, letting us know a little more about each of our campsites and the destinations we were visited.

After a quick Starbucks run and our first go at loading the van, we were on our way to our first destination – Philadelphia.

Before we could officially start our journey, however, we had to make the first of many stops at Walmart.

Day 1: Philadelphia

Our stop in Philadelphia was very brief as we only had a few hours to explore before we were back on the road. Our first landmark? The Rocky Steps!

Although I have never seen Rocky (sorry Internet), it was so fun to watch everyone else running to the top of the steps. The view of the skyline once you reached the top was amazing and although we didn’t have long, I could have sat by the water fountain for hours. After a quick photo with the Rocky statue, we were already back in the van.

This time our Trek America leader parked up as we spent some time exploring the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin’s Grave, The Betsy Ross House and the oldest street in the USA. We spent a good hour or so walking around some of the cities most popular landmarks before heading to Campo’s for lunch.

In case you hadn’t already guessed, Campo’s is the home to THE BEST* Philly Cheesesteak ever.

* May or may not be biased as it is one of two Philly Cheesesteaks I have tried. 

Upon recommendation from Jody, I ordered my cheesesteak with onions and cheese wiz and oh my gosh… it was heaven. Messy, but definitely heaven.

Once we’d eaten out cheesesteaks we made our way back to the van ready to drive to our first camp Cherry Hill Camp near Washington DC.

Our first night at camp was actually one of my favourites. We learnt how to unload the van and how to set up our tents, choosing the best spot for the next two nights. Once we had set up and got comfortable, team A started cooking our chicken fajitas whilst team C (ours) cleaned the van.

After dinner, we all pulled up a chair and sat around the campfire. We were quite far away from other campers so we turned up the music, grabbed some drinks and spent the evening getting to know each other a little better. Even though I got to experience so many incredible things during my time in America, sitting around the campfire was definitely one of the best things about my trip with Trek America. 

After a few drinks, I decided to go to bed, apparently just in time. I spent the rest of the night lying in bed listening to the sound of the rain on my tent.

Day 2: Washington DC

Our first morning at camp was spent having an early breakfast before jumping in the van to head into the city. We had a bike tour around the Washington monuments planned and although I was nervous about cycling, I was really looking forward to seeing everything.

I’m not going to lie, cycling was incredibly difficult. I have a condition in my knee which means after a while, my knee locks into place. After we had seen the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, I was ready to give up.

I cycled part way to the White House before saying to my tour leader that I needed to go back. I couldn’t cycle very well with a sore knee so I got off my bike and walked. After about 10 minutes, the pain had eased and I was ready to cycle again. As our route back took us quite close to the Lincoln Memorial, I decided that I didn’t want to give up and instead, I wanted to meet the rest of my group as they arrived.

Although we had about twenty minutes to wait for the rest of the group, sitting in the sun watching the Memorial Day festivities was great (even if I did have to top my suncream up approximately 1,000 times).

After we had met up with the rest of the group and cycled back to the rental place, it was definitely time to grab some lunch. With a food court downstairs I opted for my first, and definitely not last, Panda Express of the trip.

If you have been reading my blog for a while then you will know that I like to be as honest as I possibly can, especially when it comes to the bad. I have deliberated over whether or not I should share this but as it was part of the trip, I wanted to be sure you got the full picture. 

Whilst we were sitting eating our dinner, our Trek Leader came to let us know that our van had been broken into. We were parked on a busy street in the middle of Memorial Day Weekend and still, people were able to break in. Obviously, it was through no fault of Trek America and Jody did an incredible job ensuring everyone was kept calm and able to make a claim on their insurance.

Those that had stuff stolen (including my brother) spent most of their afternoon at the police station getting a police report. As I went with my brother, we were a little short on free time by the time we had finished.

With just an hour or so to spare, I took some time to myself to sit in a park outside the Washington Monument.

Our second night in Washington was similar to the first, hiding from the rain and enjoying drinks and music around the campfire.

Day 3: Shenandoah

Day 3 started with another early morning as we learnt how to load the van and trailer for the first time. We had a long day ahead of us, so we gave ourselves extra time to pack things away as it was our first attempt. Luckily, it didn’t take too long.

We made a quick stop at Walmart for food before starting the long journey to Tennessee.

Although we had a long day of driving ahead of us, we were lucky enough to be able to stop for lunch in Shenandoah National Park. Before we made our way to the lunch stop we stopped off at a number of the viewpoints, giving us an incredible view of the Appalachian Trail below.

For lunch, we used our new supplies to make sandwiches and wraps, something that definitely became familiar by the end of the trip.

After lunch, we spent another few hours on the road before arriving at our second campsite in Tennesee – the Kingsport KOA.

Out of all the campsites, the Kingsport KOA was definitely my least favourite. Luckily we didn’t have to spend too long here as we were continuing our drive to Ocoee in the morning. Our site was a little more rural than the others and after being spoilt at Cherry Hill, it was definitely a shock.

As soon as we got out of the van we had to form a line ready to be sprayed with bug spray because, as I learnt quickly, the bugs were out in full force in Tennessee. I spent most of the night trying to stop them from attacking me before finally giving up and accepting my fate.

The night was spent cooking a delicious spaghetti bolognese (it was out group this time) and enjoying drinks around the campfire. Unfortunately, the drinks were non-alcoholic as we were in a dry county. 

Day 4: Ocoee

The next morning we had a 4-hour drive ahead of us so we packed up the tents and trailer as quick as we can. The drive felt super quick and after a couple of stops along the way, we made it to our second Tennesee campsite – Adventures Unlimited in Ocoee.

Again, we were only spending one night here before making our way to the stop.

Once we arrived we served up lunch pretty quick, setting up our tents as fast as we could. Apart from me, the rest of the group were heading to the Ocoee River to take part in the white water rafting experience so I offered to tidy up a few of the bits after lunch was finished.

Although I would like to think I’m brave enough to go on the rapids, I was really worried about being able to lift myself back into the boat if I was to fall out. I don’t have any upper body strength and if the waters were rough, I’d have panicked and probably gotten stuck.

Instead, I decided to Facetime my Mum and Dad and spend the afternoon hiding from the bugs in my tent. Although my tent was a sauna, I was getting severely bitten being outside in the wooded area.

Once everyone arrived back from their rapids adventure, we started to get dinner on the go before heading to the bar for an evening of bluegrass music and moonshine.

I had no idea how much I would enjoy sitting at a bar that had been made out of a converted school bus, but it was definitely one of my favourite experiences from the whole trip. The live music was incredible, the cocktails came out of questionable barrels and I shotgun my first ever beer (and killed it, FYI). 

Once I finally got back to my tent I realised I’d accidentally let a firefly into my tent so I spent a good twenty minutes trying to get it back outside, without letting any other bugs in.

Day 5 and 6: Nashville

I think our morning in Ocoee was one of the earliest of the trips as we had an incredibly long drive ahead of us before we were to arrive in Nashville. After a heavy night, a long drive was exactly what we needed to get some extra rest. 

As 95% of our tour were 21, our tour leader organised an incredible stop off for us to help break up the journey. Although most people were still hanging from the night before, we made a quick detour to Lynchburg for The Jack Daniel’s Distillery tour.

Before we made our way to the Jack Daniel’s tour, we pulled up just outside of the gates to have lunch. As much as I don’t mind eating outside, I choose to spend most of our lunch stop sat inside the boiling hot van because I was being attacked by ALL of the bugs. My arms and back were starting to look incredibly sore and as I get really bad reactions to bites, I decided to play it safe and sit inside with my ham and cheese sandwich.

I’m going to write a whole blog post on my experience on the Jack Daniel’s tour because it was INCREDIBLE, so all I’m going to say here is that we had the best time learning about how the whiskey is made. We had a fun tour guide, lots of tasters and an incredibly fun afternoon.

After we had finished the Jack Daniels tour we made our way into Nashville, making a little detour to buy fried chicken from Hattie B’s. I choose chicken strips, fries, mac and cheese and coleslaw and after eating about a third I was done. IT WAS HUGE. The chicken was so delicious and spicy, even though I had the lowest possible spice. 

Not long after we arrived at my favourite campsite from the whole trip, KOA Nashville.

We had a little bit of time at the campsite before we were due to go out so I decided to put on my swimwear and go with the others to the pool. Although most campsites had a pool, this was definitely one of the best.

After a quick swim I heading to the AIR CONDITIONED showers to get ready for a night of beers and line dancing. As a big country music fan, I was excited to learn how to pop it, lock it and…. polka dot it? 

When we arrived at the Wild Horse Saloon we’d just missed a class, so we got to spend some time listening to the live country music that was on before it was our turn to dance.

We had an hour or so wait but before we knew it, it was time to get on the dance floor. When it came to the dancing I was… okay. I kept going left when I should have gone right, but I got there in the end. I think line dancing in Nashville was definitely one of the highlights of the trip as I had so much fun. The music was great, it was such a laugh and I think I’ll remember the dance we learnt for years to come.

Most of the group decided to stay out for a couple more drinks, but me and a few others made our way back to camp as we knew we had a big night ahead of us the next day.

Day two in Nashville was a free day, meaning we could absolutely anything we wanted. Our tour guide, Jody, took us to the I Believe In Nashville and #WhatLiftsYou murals before dropping us off in the city centre.

Most of us decided to start with the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Although I didn’t know all of the artists that were featured in the Country Music Hall of Fame, it was amazing seeing the history and belongings of some of the world’s most famous country musicians. There were lots of interactive displays and videos to watch, meaning we spent a good two hours walking around the whole museum. Of course, we had to go to the gift shop when we finished.

Unfortunately, once we finished walking around the museum I was struggling to walk. I had been stung by a wasp in Ocoee and it was starting to cause a bad reaction. Knowing that I was going out in the evening, I decided my best option would be to go back to camp to relax for a couple of hours.

When we got back to camp it was starting to feel INCREDIBLY warm, so my brother and I sat in the air-conditioned common room area. They had comfy sofa, a TV and checkers, so we were more than happy to sit there and wait for our Uber Eats Subway to arrive. We spend a good few hours relaxing after a busy few days and honestly, it was nice to spend some time doing nothing at all. 

After a few hours of relaxing, we all got ready to go to ACME Feed & Seed for the start of my brother’s birthday celebrations on Broadway. As he was turning 21, it meant it was going to be the first time he could drink during the trip.

As turning 21 is a huge deal in America, our tour leader also organised a few surprises for my brother. From decorating the van, stocking up on cupcakes and buying lots of merchandise that say 21, it was VERY clear he was celebrating his birthday.

ACME Feed & Seed was incredible and after a few drinks and some BBQ Brisket, we started working our way up Broadway. Our first stop was Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk.

As we first walked in there was a live band on playing country-versions of popular songs. They spotted my brother straight away and had the whole bar (both floors) sing happy birthday to him. I’d have wanted the ground to swallow me whole but he took it like a champ for sure. 

After a few drinks downstairs we went upstairs to enjoy the rooftop views of Broadway. Seeing all of the lights were incredible, making it one another one of the best experiences from the trip.

After Kid Rocks’ bar, things started to go a little downhill with Kareoke, cocktail buckets and god knows what else.

Day 7: Memphis

As we woke up the next morning there were definitely a few sore heads about, especially my brother who had a successful night celebrating until 4 am in the jacuzzi.

We were due to head to Memphis early and surprisingly, this was the quickest we packed all of our tents and camping equipment away. With such a jam-packed day ahead of us, Jody wanted to ensure we were leaving as soon as possible.

We made a quick stop at Walmart before starting the 3-hour drive into Memphis. Once we arrived we set our tents up in record time, rushing to get in the van and head to the midday tour at Sun Studios. Unfortunately, we just missed it, so we had around half an hour to wait until the next one started.

Again, I might write about the studio tour as a separate blog post as it was a lot of fun and very educational. Although short, I felt as though it was well worth the $12 we paid, especially as we got to see one of the last known microphones that Elvis used.

After the Sun Studio tour, I made the decision that I needed to see a doctor about my allergic reaction. I was in a lot of pain and it was becoming more and more difficult to walk. With the swelling taking up both my ankle and my leg, I definitely needed something to help with the pain. Jody kindly offered to take me to the Minute Clinic, so we dropped everyone off at either the Civil Rights Museum or Graceland before heading to CVS.

The silver lining, at least, was that dropping a couple of our group off at The Civil Rights Museum meant we got to see the Lorraine Motel and the balcony where Martin Luther King was shot.

It didn’t take long to be seen at the Minute Clinic and after a couple of minutes, I was done. Although I was offered steroids to help with my reaction, I decided it would be better to choose a steroid cream instead. Not only was it $90 cheaper, but I already knew that the steroids would probably make me feel worse than the reaction was.

As we were out and about, we decided to pick up some Memphis BBQ food before picking up the others from the Peabody Hotel and heading back to camp.

After we’d stuffed our faces with pulled pork sandwiches back at camp, our tour leader took us to the 10th largest pyramid in the world, right in the middle of Memphis. 

Okay, so it wasn’t a *real* pyramid but it was still pretty cool as it had been converted into a Bass Pro store.

Even after spending a couple of hours wandering around the store, I still have absolutely no idea how to explain it to you. It was honestly one of the wildest places I have ever been to. Let’s just say it was VERY southern and appealed to a specific market, that’s for sure.

Once we’d visited the pyramid we drove across the Mississippi River and into Arkansas – just to say we had been.

I got a very early night that night although I didn’t end up sleeping much because I kept hearing what sounded like INCREDIBLY low planes. It wasn’t until morning when I decided to check Google maps and realised we were right next to Memphis Airport. Ooops…

Day 8 and 9: New Orleans

The next morning we woke up bright and early, ready to start our long journey to New Orleans. We knew it was going to be a long day but knowing that we had two nights in a hotel made the long journey worth it.

All together I think we drove for around 7 hours, stopping off for a picnic-style lunch along the way.

Once we arrived we grabbed our suitcases and headed up to the hotel for a quick shower. As we were going out in the French Quarter that night, I decided that I’d finally do my hair and put a full face of makeup on to celebrate. It had been nice to forget about my hair and makeup whilst camping, but I definitely missed not looking like a potato the entire time.

After an hour or so to relax and get ready, we met in the lobby downstairs. In true New Orleans fashion, Jody handed us all us some beads to wear for the evening.

The French Quarter was just a short walk away and before long we were starting our walking bar crawl tour in Tropical Isle for Hand Grenades. Known as one of the strongest drinks in the USA, no one actually knows what is in a hand grenade other than alcohol and something pineapple-y. I decided to get my frozen, which was the best decision ever as it was delicious.

As we finished off our hand grenades we walked to the next bar – Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and Bar, the oldest bar in the US. Here we had Purple Voodoo, a frozen slushie that tasted like bitter Vimto. Again, I have no idea what was in it but it was GOOD.

As the cocktails in New Orleans are strong, I was definitely starting to feel it after just two. I’m not a lightweight either, which meant I knew they were lethal. Whilst finishing our Purple Voodoos we walked to the final bar on the tour – Pat O’Briens, home of the Hurricane. 

The Hurricane was my least favourite of the three, but I must have enjoyed it as I went back for more after we’d stopped for Gumbo a few buildings down. When in NOLA, right?

Although a few people stayed out, my brother and I decided to head back to the hotel to order dessert on Uber Eats. It was the perfect end to a drunken night. 

The next day my brother and I decided to take it a little slow. I had the best night sleep in the hotel and wanted to enjoy being in a real bed as long as I possibly could. We spent the morning doing our laundry before getting ready to head out.

As we wanted to see as much as we possibly could, we decided to go on the hop on hop off bus tour. What we didn’t realise, however, was that the last bus tour starts at 3 pm. As it was almost 3, the bus driver let us on for free knowing we wouldn’t be able to get off.

Knowing that we were going to be spending the next 2 hours sitting on a tour bus we decided to get comfortable. It was hot an sticky, so the breeze from the open-top bus was very welcome. We saw some of the famous NOLA cemeteries, Jackson Square, the French Markets, the Garden District and Canal Street. I wish we’d got there early enough to be able to get off, but at least the whistle-stop tour has shown me that I definitely want to go back. 

After our bus tour finished we went back to Jackson Square where we went to the famous Gumbo Shop for, you guessed it, gumbo. I choose the chicken and sausage gumbo and as much as I wanted to like it, it wasn’t as good as I was expecting. The beignets from Cafe Du Monde, however, were INCREDIBLE.

One thing we knew we wanted to do whilst in New Orleans was go on a VooDoo tour of the French Quarter. We did some shopping around looking for the best options, before finally booking ourselves onto a 5 in 1 tour that started at 7 pm. Just before the tour was due to start we went to the meeting point and patiently waited to find out some of the amazing histories of the city.

The first warning sign we should have had was that there were almost 100 people waiting to go on the tour with us. They split us into smaller groups of 25, which was still far too big for my liking.

Our first few stops included Faulkner’s old residence, the hotel that allegedly inspired The Shining and home to one of the biggest massacres in New Orleans. The stories were dull, the talking points were boring and our guide was very unengaging. When we got to the halfway point we decided to call it a day and leave.

I am absolutely gutted as New Orleans was one of the cities I was most excited to visit due to its incredible history. I wanted to hear tales of Marie Le Veau and Madame La Laurie but instead, I heard alleged stories that really didn’t interest me. I know it’s partly my fault for choosing the wrong tour, but still, I wouldn’t recommend it to every.

After a disappointing night, we went back to the room to catch up on sleep.

Day 10 and 11: Destin Beach

The next day we left our comfy hotel rooms and made our way back to the van for another long day of travelling. Thankfully, we had another fun stop along the way – the Louisiana Swamp Tour. 

Located just outside of NOLA was the Honey Island Cypress Swamp, a tract of bottomland timber lying between the East Pearl and West Pearl rivers. The tour was included in our Trek America trip and after a quick Walmart stop, we were on our way. Before long we were walking down to the boat for our hour and a half long tour of the Bayou.

The tour was not what I was expecting at all and I enjoyed it far more than I thought it would. Although I was a little scared of being on the boat and hitting the tree stumps in the shallow waters, I loved being able to see all of the incredible wildlife. The highlight, of course, was seeing all of the gators. Who knew they loved to eat marshmallows, huh?

The rest of the day was spent driving to Destin in Florida. Although it was a long drive, most of the group used the time to sleep away the two-day hangover.

Before we arrived in Florida we also had a quick stopover in Buc’ees Alabama for snacks, drinks and a toilet stop. I’ve never heard of a Buc’ees before but it was definitely one hell of an experience. I think the gas station was bigger than the ASDA Superstore in my hometown – it was incredible and definitely a little overwhelming. The highlight, however, was buying a DR PEPPER SLUSHIE.

As we arrived in Destin the sun was setting so we set up our tents and cooked one of the last campsite meals.

The next morning we had breakfast and split into two groups. Most of the group went straight to Destin beach whilst the rest of us went to Destin Boardwalk to explore. Although it was small, it was so nice to spend a bit of time wandering around. Destin is located on the Emerald Coast so looking out towards the emerald sea as we enjoyed our iced drinks was so relaxing. We played arcade games, looked at tacky souvenir shops and ate the world’s biggest nachos at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. It was such a relaxing morning and one of my favourites in Florida.

Once we got back to camp we grabbed some camp chairs and got the shuttle down to the beach. I probably could have walked it but it was peak hours for heat and the 35-degree temperatures were already killing me. The rest of the day was spent relaxing at the beach before heading back to camp for dinner.

Day 12 and 13: Orlando

Day 12 was our longest drive day of the trip, even though we were already in Florida.

We had approximately 8 hours in the van as we drove to Orlando, stopping off at travel centres and a rest stop for lunch along the way. As ridiculous as it sounds, I was actually really sad that it was our last drive day as I loved the atmosphere when we were in the van. Whether we were listening to Old Town Road or trying not to fall asleep first, van time is definitely something I miss. 

Once we arrived in Orlando we set up our tents and cooked our final camp dinner – fajitas. 

After dinner, we decided to head to Disney Springs to explore as most people were heading to Universal the next day. I loved walking around all of the stores and spent most of the time making a mental note of what I wanted to buy in Walt Disney World a few days later.

That night was one of the warmest yet, so it took FOREVER to finally get to sleep.

The next day we all had a free day so we were able to do whatever we wanted. Knowing that we were going to be visiting Walt Disney World a few days later, my brother and I decided to go to the Kennedy Space Center. Our tour leader drove us all the way there, making the transport so much easier.

I’m writing a whole post on my day at the Kennedy Space Center as not only was it a gifted experience, but it was one of the best experiences of the trip. I loved every second and would 100% go back to explore the things I missed, even though it’s a long drive from Orlando.

After our tour leader came to get us from KSC later that evening, we all drove to Orlando to meet at Universal City Walk for dinner. As we were deciding where to eat we experienced our first over Florida storm and oh my gosh, it was incredible. I’ve never seen thunder and lightening like it. As the rain started to get harder we realised that some of us had left our rain covers off our tents and that everything was going to be soaked. We were about twenty minutes from camp at this point, so there wasn’t a lot we could do.

Once we’d finished eating we rushed back to our campsite to deal with the wreckage of the camp, only to discover all of our covers were in fact on our tents. It wasn’t until I was walking to the toilets later that evening that one of the guys from a nearby RV came up to me to let me know that he’d seen the rain and rushed over to our camp to protect all of our stuff. He honestly saved all of my belongings, it only seemed fitting that his name was Gabriel.

Day 14: Goodbyes

The next morning we packed away all of our things for the final time. Jody inspected all of the camping gear before allowing us to load it into the van.

We wrote a card for Angel Gabriel and as we drove out of camp, Jody left it on his RV steps with a bottle of wine and some chocolates.

Although the rest of the group were driving to Miami for the evening, my brother and I decided to stay in Orlando to explore the parks a little more. Jody drove us to our hotel and we said our goodbyes to the amazing group of people we had spent the last two week’s getting to know.

I can honestly say that Trek America is one of the best experiences I have ever done. I loved absolutely everything about the trip and I’m already planning my next adventure with them. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before I’m back in another Trek van on the road again. 

I'M KIRSTY LEANNE

My mission is simple. I want to help change the way travel looks, showing both brands and society that plus size people really do travel too. In a community where plus size travellers are made to feel unwelcome, I want to inspire and advise people like me on how they can make the most out of their own incredible travel experiences.Join me as I share my own personal experiences, my best tips and tricks and all of the challenges I face along the way. It won’t always be an easy ride, but it sure as hell will be a fun one.

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