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Grand Trek

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4.9 out of 5
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Simon Jago
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Grand Trek

Probably the best experience I'll ever have!

Reviewed January 2018

Overall Review:

This is THE best trip I have ever done and possibly ever will do. I thoroughly recommend people to go ahead and book one if you’re in the position to do so, the longer the trip the better!

Solo/travelling with friends:

Whether you’re a solo traveller or going with friends, this trip will be great either way!
I was one of many solo travellers in my group of 13 people (2 couples and the rest solo). Do bear in mind, you are with these people pretty much all day everyday throughout the trek so if you’re lucky enough like I was, you will have a great group of people and have a great time! Of course, you won’t get on with everyone, that’s only natural! You get to know each other very quickly and probably a little more intimately than you may wish to think!

Budget:

Personally, I had planned to do the majority of the additional activities listed by Trek America so I had saved quite a bit of money. Things to consider for your budget should be tipping. For anyone who hasn’t been to the US before, tipping is a huge part of the service industry compared to the UK. You should tip EVERYONE who is providing a service to you (guides, bartenders/waiters, taxi drivers, street performers, the lot!) this does add up very quickly if you don’t plan it into your spending money. Also, don’t forget the Trek Leaders need tipping too for the outstanding service they are providing. Overall I roughly spent around £4000 over the 2.5 month trip (not including the flights and trek itself etc). This covered everything from optional activities, tips, drink and food, general shopping etc. You could certainly do it for less and also a hell of a lot more if you wanted to!

Food and meals:

The food kitty system worked really well for our group. You pay the money to your leader at the start of the trip and they note how much is spent on the food shops etc for the meals. For all the days there was ample food for 3 meals and more for everyone. Some nights you eat out too which if there’s money available, can be used from the food kitty but this does depend or what the Trek leader advises. We also got some money back each from what was unspent which was a small bonus. I would advise learning a special dish that you can cook for everyone because when you get a good meal it certainly makes the everyone happy!

Optional Activities:

As previously stated, I had saved up with the intention of doing as many of the optional activities as possible. The ones I would recommend for definite are:

• Cedar Point Amusement Park – Great rides but to be honest the Trek leader also agreed, should be an included activity because there isn’t anything else in Sandusky to do apart from this.
• Helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon – No explanation necessary but it is one of the most expensive optional activities but thoroughly worth it! How often will you be going to the Grand Canyon?
• Swamp Tour in Louisiana – See the gators and other wildlife in their habitat!
• Alcatraz Tour – Book in advance! A really, really good tour with an audio guide included.
• Willis Tower – Worth going up to the top for a stunning view over Chicago, long queues though however!
• Night time cycle tour in Chicago – It’s such a good way to see this incredible city and see the sunset. If you’re lucky enough to get ‘Gabe’ as your cycle tour guide he is excellent!
• Not so much an optional activity but definitely don’t turn down the option to do a bit of ‘cowboy camping’ in Navaho. You will get to see THE most spectacular night sky!! There are more stars, shooting stars and satellites in the sky than there is darkness. One of my fondest memories of the trip and I could have sat and gazed at that sky for months on end and never get bored of it.

Van Appreciation Days/Driving:

It goes without saying, the US is massive!! So inevitably you will be spending a fair amount of time in the van. Take a book, headphones etc to keep you entertained if you don’t fancy being sociable 24/7 and want to just shut off for a bit. If you’re like me, I was more than happy just watching the world go by out the window and seeing the various parts of America without having a care or worry in the world. No work to worry about, no phone calls from customers… bliss! There are always various stop points on the journeys for bathroom breaks and refreshments. I think the longest drive we had in a day was around 8 hours, didn’t seem to take that long really! One thing to point out, it says on the trek site that wifi and charging ports are available. I don’t think we used the wifi once because it either didn’t have a strong enough signal and for the fact they have a daily/weekly usage limit so it tends to only be used for emergencies etc. With regards to the charging ports, there was about 4 available on our bus which were constantly used for everybody’s devices so I’d recommend taking some portable power packs with you to use instead.

What to pack:

The Trek list they have on the website of what to pack is pretty much all you need, some extras I found particularly useful/worthwhile were:

• Buy some cheap pillows at a Walmart, it makes night times so much comfier and also to sleep on the van as well if you fancy a nap! Rather than a hot window or an unwilling trek companion! Leave the pillows at the end and they either get re-used for other trekkers or given to homeless shelters.
• Camping mat – Trek do supply a camping mat but in all honesty they aren’t worth the room in the trailer! Again, if you’re on a trip like mine where the majority is camping, it makes sleeping a lot more enjoyable and less achy the next day! The same outcome applies with leaving it with the Trek leader at the end of the trip.
• Portable Battery packs – A life saver really to keep your phone and any other devices charged and when on the move. If you have a decent internet allowance then using your phone maps to find out what’s around you and directions to places is handy!
• Warm clothing – Despite going in the warm season still, some night time temperatures were below 0c, so definitely take some warm clothes to wrap up in!
• Comfy trainers/walking boots – You’re on your feet a lot, so really make sure you take something you find comfy and can walk/hike in all day. Breathable and waterproof another bonus.
• Microfibre towel – Don’t take up valuable space with a big towel, get a microfibre one that takes up hardly any space/weight and also dries quickly!
• If you’ve got a decent camera, take it or invest in one! There’s so many picturesque moments throughout the trip and it’s the best way to keep the memories of it all if you can capture it forever.
• Luggage – I personally took a suitcase as opposed to a rucksack. It was easier to keep things organised and accessible. You don’t have far to take luggage anywhere on the trip either so a suitcase worked well. Take a backpack for the hikes.

Trek Leaders/free time:

I think I may have had a bit of extra luck with the 2 Trek Leaders we had for our tours (1 for the Northern Trail and 1 for the Southern Sun). They were both absolutely outstanding. Excellent knowledge of places to go/not to go, good fun and really helped make the trip the best it could be. Of course, it is still a job so they have their own time to themselves which is usually when you also get free time to go and explore or do things you wanted to that aren’t on the itinerary but they are always there if required.

Fitness:

The trip does involve a certain amount of personal fitness required to partake in. The hikes have various levels of difficulty to cater for everyone but the conditions are normally hot which if you’re unfit, will not be helping you on a hike! As with most things in life, the best things are hard earned! This works the same way with the hikes, if you can push yourself to get to the highest point or hardest trail then do so, the rewards far outweigh the little bit grit it takes getting there!

My Top 5 Places:

Of all the places visited, these would be my top 5 in no particular order:

• Nashville
• Chicago
• New Orleans
• Monument Valley
• Yellowstone

JAYNE G.
Grand Trek

Best thing I've ever done

Reviewed October 2017

Amazing, there was so much to do and see, the hikes where alot harder than a thought but after a couple of weeks you're body gets use to being active, I had the best group and leaders to get me through the whole of the trip, would definitely book again.

Past Trekkers Review
Grand Trek

A good way to see the USA's 'Greatest Hits'

Reviewed July 2016

I had a list of places to see such as Niagra Falls, Las Vegas, Chicago and the Grand Canyon. This seemed the best trip to cover everything. Most places I can definitely now say 'been there, done that'.

Time.
My concern at the start was the amount of time we had at each place. Niagra Falls, Mount Rushmore definately dont need anymore than a day. A couple of days at the National Parks seems about right for most people (though these where my fave stops so an extra day in some would have been nice). The only places that really lose out are the citys. I would have liked an extra day in Chicago, Austin Memphis and Nashville. I left these places feeling I hadn't seen much of them.

Camping.
Pros:
Definitely a good option if you don't have a huge budget. You need to be prepared to shop and cook food (in a team) for the group every 3/4 days but this works out sooo much cheaper than eating out all the time which I was told the BLT tours do. (around $10 rather than $20 a day)
Also, there is teamwork involved in buying/cooking food and building tents. This is a good way to mix and bond with the group, as well as being around the camp fire making Smores.
Overall the campsites where very good. The KOA chain sites have particularly good standards.

Cons:
Rain sucks when you camp. We mostly had lovely sun but there was rain on about 3/4 occasions. For various reasons this means the tent can get wet inside (e.g setting up in the rain). Our tent was never soaking wet inside but enough for it to be a bit unpleasant.
Campsite locations are annoying at times. Particularly in Memphis, Nashville and DC, our campsite was a bit of a journey into the citys. You are reliant on your guide to drive you there. This is generally fine but if you want a night out you'll want a full taxi because it will be pricey.
Having to cook might seem a chore sometimes after a long day.

Guides:
We had 2 as the Grand Trek is split in 2 halves, 1 guide for each half. Our first guide had a few years experience, the second was in their first year. I liked both of them but the first was definitely more enthusiastic, organised and made the overall experience easier and more enjoyable. This was their career/passion rather than a summer job. That said, both kept a reasonable standard.

Under 21's:
I don't recommend this for under 21's. If you're 20, I'd definitely suggest waiting a year and save up in that time. If you want to go to clubs and bars this is very difficult for under 21s, even if you don't drink. It proved easier for girls at times but some places just ID everyone on entry.
That being said, the under 21s on our trip still really enjoyed the trip. If you don't think you'll get the opportunity to go after you reach 21 then you can still have an enjoyable trip. There is still lots to do and see. You just don't quite get the full experience.

Grand Treck Notes:
Pros,
You see so much. Its really cool travelling from one places and arriving somewhere completely different. There's a great variety of scenery.
Its handy starting and finishing in the same place. It was nice coming back to somewhere familiar and booking/catching flights was just easier with the same location.

Cons,
6 weeks is a long time. Its great being able to see so much but I was feeling tired/drained during the final week. Having limited time in each place means you want to make the most of it and hard to take time out and chill. Even with the long times sat in the van, I found myself still craving some time out.
Naturally, being a large area, there is a lot of driving. Somedays will be purely for driving. Some stops are purely there as a break between A + B.

Overall:
I loved the trip. Memories I will hold forever. There are lots of 'cons' in this review are a sort of 'heads up'. In hind sight with these in mind I think I would have done a shorter trip. Perhaps 2/3 shorter ones over a few years.

Past Trekkers Review
Grand Trek

Great, a must if you have the time and money.

Reviewed July 2016

Our two tour leaders during the 43 days were great people and so was the rest of the group. I had a lot of fun and it made me uncover a hunger for camping. It is a great way to get a taste of the USA as a whole.

Past Trekkers Review
Grand Trek

A fun, entertaining and cultural experience full of laughs and great people.

Reviewed July 2016

I am so glad that I did this trek. It is by far the best thing I have done. Over the 6 weeks I have made some great friends and have seen places I would have never gone to on my own. Each day was different and you get to see so much in a short space of time. There was a good mix of cities and national parks so we got close to nature and the city hostel nights were a welcome break from the tent. The group bonded really well around the campfire and through the long drives. I can't pick a favourite place as there are so many great places however I you want to see Alcatraz get tickets early. I would definitely do this trip again as it something for everyone. You will make some great friends, experience a lot of culture and make some amazing memories. Book it today as it is a trip not to be missed.

Past Trekkers Review
Grand Trek

10 words isn't enough for a summary of the amazingness

Reviewed October 2015

I had so much fun. Got along with most of my group and both guides were amazing. Too many things to love like the night bike ride though Chicago, amazing views in Zion or the Cadillac Ranch in Texas. Some inclusions were pricy but most worth it.

Past Trekkers Review
Grand Trek

Best time ever with the best people ever

Reviewed March 2015

So I went last year, end of April to beginning of June. I've always loved America so I knew this experience was going to be good no matter what. I was not ready for it. The people that I meet on the trip were amazing, I seriously hit the jackpot. We all still talk regularly and meeting up quite soon. I went on my own which I was a little bit nervous about but I was quickly but at ease as many others also came alone. The activities we did the places we have seen the stories we have I cannot repeat on here but it was the most amazing thing I will ever experience and properly could never re-create ever again. If your thinking about going, do it! Don't hesitate or you will defiantly miss out. I'm thinking about going again real soon. Also i bought way to much junk out there lol so don't forget about your luggage weight on the way back. oops!

Past Trekkers Review
Grand Trek

Worth every single penny, experience of a lifetime!!

Reviewed January 2015

Im going to try my best to sum this experience up in words but its difficult. This trip makes you so grateful to be privileged enough to partake in such an incredible experience. to see so much of America in such short space. Something that most Americans won't even get the chance to do in their lifetime. Please if you're considering it, take out that loan book it and go. Worry about the consequences after, I promise you its worth every single penny.

Past Trekkers Review
Grand Trek

Surreal, mind-blowing and unforgettable

Reviewed October 2014

Just unbelievable from start to finish. The thought of the long drives was a concern but in truth they're all part of the fun. Have met friends for life, seen places I will never forget and have had an unforgettable time

Also a special mention to our first tour leader, Ryan Martin. Was faultless throughout the trip, continually going that extra mile and always positive when situations dictated otherwise