Top 7 Country Music Crossovers…

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while but didn’t want to interrupt the flow of my travel pieces. However, since Wednesday is the 52nd Country Music Awards I thought now was as good a time as ever to write this. For those that know me this won’t come as a surprise but for those that don’t, I’m a lover of all things country. You name it, I love it. Films with cowboys (anyone seen The Longest Ride?), cowboy boots, hats and plaid shirts (yes I own all three), the classic country lifestyle and that Southern charm but most of all, country music.  The lyrics are such heartfelt stories it’s impossible not fall in love with them. I listen to it so much I think my family are even coming round to it.

Country music has never been very popular in the UK, perhaps it’s even been laughed at, but over the past couple of years and the last year in particular it’s really taking a hold. There are numerous country music events across the UK throughout the year; whether it be concerts from artists such as Lady Antebellum, Old Dominion or Kacey Musgraves, country music festivals like Long Road festival, Nashville meets London, Country to Country (the biggest country event in the UK) or Nashville Nights, a country music nightclub experience. Mainstream radio station BBC Radio 2 has a country music show every Thursday from 7-8pm which I’m sure has been a huge help in showcasing the best in the genre, often featuring interviews from big names like Little Big Town, Zac Brown Band and the one and only Tim McGraw, as well as helping up and coming artists reach the spotlight. There’s also Chris Country, a smaller radio station that is currently broadcast in Manchester, Portsmouth, Cambridge and Greater London with growing traction all the time, and available to listen to anywhere from the app. There are a number of UK country acts now, Catherine McGrath, The Shires and Ward Thomas to name a few. The hit ABC show “Nashville” even featured a British country singer as one of the title characters and I’d highly recommend watching if you haven’t already.

This past year there have been a number of pop-country collaborations in the Billboard charts and doubt many people know they’re partly by country artists.

So without further ado, here’s my list of the most recent/most popular country crossover collaborations…

  1. “Meant to Be” – Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line

The duo from Nashville Tennessee hold the record for the best selling digital country song of all time with their debut song “Cruise”. They’ve also collaborated with The Chainsmokers back in 2017. “Meant To Be” is nominated for 3 CMA’s this year, watch the video for it below.

2. “The Middle” – Zedd, Grey ft. Maren Morris

Maren Morris, from Texas is a Grammy Award winning country artist that spent many years writing for other performers including Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson. “The Middle” peaked at number 5 on the Billboard top 100 chart. I’d highly recommend giving her record a listen, my personal favourites are “Rich”, “My Church” and “I Could Use a Love Song”. Morris is nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year as well as Musical Event of the Year for “Dear Hate” which she released with Vince Gill after the 2017 Las Vegas Strip Shooting.

3. “Seeing Blind” – Niall Horan ft. Maren Morris

4. “Say Something” – Justin Timberlake ft. Chris Stapleton

Initially this pair were writing together until Stapleton was asked to sing on the record. It peaked at number 9 on the US Billboard chart, number one in Slovakia and Slovenia as well as the top 10 in 11 other countries including the UK. Along with country, the song encompasses rock, gospel, pop, acoustic soul and jazz elements. Stapleton is up for 5 CMA’s including Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year.

5. “Keeping Score” – Dan & Shay ft. Kelly Clarkson

Clarkson has made a couple of appearances in the country charts before, dueting with Reba McEntire in 2007 which reached number 2, as well as collaborating with Jason Aldean in 2011 which got to number 1. Dan & Shay are nominated for Vocal Duo of the Year, Single of the Year and Song of the Year at this weeks award ceremony.

6. “Polaroid” – Jonas Blue, Liam Payne, Lennon Stella

Stella, who found fame starring in Nashville with her sister Maisie, has released a couple of her own singles recently, including this which peaked at number 2 on the British iTunes chart. Her songs “Fortress”, “Bad” and acoustic number “Like Everybody Else” are available to stream or download now.

7. “This Feeling” – The Chainsmokers ft. Kelsea Ballerini

Twenty five year old Ballerini, from Mascot, Tennessee has had four number ones from her second album “Unapologetically” as well as winning a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in back in 2017. After being influenced by the likes of Taylor Swift and Shania Twain her style is quite pop-country with my favourites from her album being “Legends”, “Unapologetically” and “I Hate Love Songs”. Ballerini is nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year.

 

Some other artists with recent country music influences are listed below

  1. “Shelby ’68” – Kylie Minogue
  2. “Hunt You Down” – Ke$ha
  3. Una Healy – Originally from pop group The Saturdays, her album “The Waiting Game” has a very country feel and was promoted whilst supporting Maddie & Tae on their UK tour back in 2016. The album features “Stay My Love” a duet with Sam Palladio, the aforementioned Brit from ABC’s Nashville. Having only sold 12,000 copies of her album my favourites are “Please Don’t Tell Me”, “Staring at the Moon” as well as “Stay My Love” – I’d give it a listen if you like chill country vibes.

Now, it wouldn’t be an article about pop-country crossovers without mentioning Kacey Musgraves. Since her first album “Same Trailer Different Park” which featured songs “Merry Go Round” and “Follow Your Arrow” she has always paved her own way within the genre of country music with her witty, humorous lyrics along with her big hair and multitude of rhinestones. Her most recent album “Golden Hour” which is nominated for CMA Album of the Year is even more different than the last. Like her albums before, she doesn’t shy away from the typically “un-country” topics of drugs or LGBTQ rights but mixes them with themes of family, with reference to her mother and grandmother, as well as singing about small town life. The album is like a psychedelic kaleidoscope, country mixed with everything else making it a standout country crossover record. It’s hard to pick a favourite 3 from this album but “Wonder Woman”, “Velvet Elvis” and “Oh, What A World” are definitely up there. Listen to “Velvet Elvis” below and see for yourself.

Musgraves also supported Harry Styles on the American leg of his tour last year, during which they sang the Shania Twain classic “You’re Still The One” which has some of the prettiest harmonies, I only wish they’d produce a studio version. Watch the video below but skip to about a minute in to avoid the screaming crowds.

The CMA’S are being aired live from Bridgestone Arena, Nashville on Wednesday 14th on ABC at 8/7c, hopefully there’s a way the UK can watch too.

 

 

 

Making our way into the desert…

Having recently been asked for some hints and tips on my recent travels I thought now would be a good time to get back into the flow of writing about last years adventures. My last post spoke about San Angelo, Carlsbad and Santa Fe with the strange alien-centric town but next up is one of my highlights of the whole trip, Monument Valley. That six hour drive from Santa Fe was so surreal, it felt like we were in a movie (to be honest the whole trip felt like a movie) and the views were just insane. I was one of the only people in our group that stayed awake for almost every drive and although we were going through the desert, which looked for same for pretty much the entire six hours, I still couldn’t help but stare out the window at just how vast it was. There’s nothing like it.

As we passed through Utah on the way to Arizona we stopped off at Moki Dugway, a “graded dirt switchback road” that’s been carved into the face of Cedar Mesa located just north of Mexican Hat. It winds 1200 feet from Valley of the Gods to the top of Cedar Mesa and is just 3 miles of gravel and sand paving the way. We had to leave our trailer at the bottom on the side of the road while we drove to the top, watching our belongings get smaller and smaller. Get a look at this view…

 

 

Here’s a link to a video of the drive from YouTube here

After our stop-off we headed on into the desert, across the Utah/Arizona boarder and finally approached the valley. We stopped on the side of the road and took the unmissable photo which is definitely one of my favourites from my whole year away – especially the slow-mo jump! Running into the road when there were a few minutes before cars came was hilarious and we took it in turns to get the best shots.

Monument Valley

Clambering back into the van we headed into the valley. We were lucky enough to have a full tour included with our trip, and if you can get to arrange this for yourself I would highly recommend it. Not only do you get to go to parts of the valley that most solo visitors aren’t allowed (by way of a 4×4 type buggy) but you get a native Navajo guide taking you round with so much history and knowledge ready to answer any questions. We were told the stories of the rock formations and allowed to get out and take photos of everything, including going inside a little hut where the Navajo people lived, getting up close to ancient tribal wall etchings and running down sand dunes. Super cool.

After sunset we took a long ride further into the valley to hear some more Navajo stories as well as eat a homemade huge (delicious!) taco which, after we’d eaten it, were told it contained 1000 calories. I think we all agreed it was worth it. After dinner there was a camp fire with native song and dance and then, much to our horror, full audience participation. Picture this; a group of Japanese tourists and our group of English/Australian girls all asked to pair up and do individual pair dances round the fire. I don’t think I was the only one who contemplated running into the flames. All I can say is thank God it was so dark.

We made our way back to the base where we picked up our trusty van and headed to the hotel but not before we took time to appreciate the stars – I’ve never seen anything like it and the memory of us craning our necks out the side of the 4×4 to get the best view will stay with me forever. Magical.

San Angelo, Carlsbad & Santa Fe

From Austin we moved onto a few smaller places on our way to the wonder of Monument Valley. First up was San Angelo, which if you didn’t know is one of the top 5 places for sheep and goat auctions. It’s also one of the best places to go if you’re interested in early American frontier life. Those two facts alone give you some idea of what we got up to there… not a lot. Still, our room had big double beds and the hostel had washing facilities so it served as a laundry stop if nothing else. We had dinner at a burger place that gave you a celebrity name when you ordered which they’d then shout out when your order was ready; I was Emma Stone. That really was as wild as it got. Feeling pretty tired everyone except me rejected Jack’s offer of getting drinks (although beers were had at dinner, don’t think for a minute we broke our streak of drinking every day) so we headed to pretty much the only bar in town and got educated by the most enthusiastic bartender of all time. That was the extent of our time in San Angelo, I didn’t even take any photos.

Next up was Carlsbad! I remember it being so hot here as we headed deeper into the desert. Coming directly from San Angelo we went straight to Carlsbad Caverns which is one of 300 limestone caves, is 1000ft deep, has 30 miles of passages and has “The Big Room” which is the largest underground chamber in the USA. Pretty impressive. It was used as location for the film Journey to the Centre of the Earth, if that means anything to any of you. Going down into the cave was easy and it was really interesting to see all the stalagmites and stalactites and the way the lighting was done actually made some of them look quite pretty. We took a breather when we reached the bottom of the slope and waited with some other explorers for the rest of our group to which Lynsey said “there’s more life in this cave than in San Angelo!” – which will forever be hilarious to me, but maybe you had to be there. The trek back up to the top was a killer but we did it in record time and after a quick pose to get our traditional group photo we piled back into the van and made our way to the motel, stopping only for pizza, beer and classic red cups. That evening in Carlsbad will always be one of my favourites – a sunset, pizza, great company, hysterical games of beer pong and a swimming pool with our phenomenal aqua yoga. You can’t beat it.

Our final stop along the way was Santa Fe, home to the oldest house, oldest church and the second cleanest air in America*. It gets 310 days of sun each year and is apparently the 5th most romantic city… I’m open to opinions on that.

I don’t remember doing anything there apart from going to a bar and playing shuffleboard. Half the group headed back to the hotel to make the most of the laundry facilities and enjoy a chilled evening whereas the rest of us found another bar; which felt like it hadn’t had unaccompanied girls in it since the dawn of time so we were home by 11.

Not far from Santa Fe is Roswell, featuring one of the worlds largest mozzarella factories. It’s also the birth place of John Denver and Demi Moore and of course, is home to the UFO Museum and Research Centre. This last fact is why Roswell is even on the map at all. Back in 1947 it was the site of an alleged UFO crash and has been a hub of alien and UFO themed stores, museums and restaurants (there’s even a flying saucer shaped McDonalds) ever since. As we were in the area it seemed silly not to spend $5 on the museum, however opinions of this experience did split the group. Some thought it was the highlight of the trip so far and others thought it was a waste of time. I was somewhere in the middle but I have to say it was as interesting and as weird as you’d expect it to be. The video below was probably why I was swayed.

Honestly. There really are no words. Our time in the middle of the desert couldn’t have been stranger but we loved it all the same (I think Ana loved the gift shop here more than most).

Next stop Monument Valley!

*American Lung Association 2013

Houston & Austin, Texas

Houston was a surprise destination for all of us; the itinerary had mentioned Austin but not Houston and considering we were there the two weeks after Hurricane Harvey we weren’t expecting much. How wrong we were! Thankfully we saw almost no devastation within the city and our hostel only had minor damages – a damp ceiling and a broken toilet in our room, both of which were nothing compared with what we could have faced.

Let me back up for a minute though and tell you about about the swamp tour we went on en route to Houston. Before we left New Orleans we stopped off at Cajun Pride Swamp Tours and had a boat tour of the swamps and bayous. It was interesting, interactive and our tour guide completely loved what he was telling us so his enthusiasm was infectious. We learned about alligators and saw them up close and personal (video below) watched raccoons and got to pass round snakes, skulls, and Handbag the little alligator.

After all the excitement it was time to climb back into our trusty van, our home from home, and head on to Houston. Five hours later we arrived and quickly visited a ‘waterfall’ in the middle of a little park which was heaving with teens taking prom photos before continuing to our hostel to get ready and head out for dinner. We thought Houston would be a quiet night; dinner, drinks and bed but it turned out to be one of the best nights we had. I think it gets the award for most surprising city but perhaps it’s what we made of it.

We had dinner in an underground food market type place where you could get anything from sushi to pizza to tacos so everyone got something they loved. We then headed to the emptiest bar on the strip for a drink or two – we bagged a booth and settled in. Five glasses of wine later and the place was packed so we took it in shifts to dance so we didn’t lose the booth. Tactical. Four hours later, add in more wine, a few beers and a swimming pool and you’ve got a great night. Intellectual conversation, shared drinks and swimming under the stars with your new found best friends is unlike much else. Houston, you were pretty special.

From Houston we headed to Austin! A slightly slower morning from what I remember but three hours later we arrived at the Salt Lick, a proper Texas BBQ. The vegetarian options on the menu were zero. I got potato salad and coleslaw, neither of which looked like either I’d seen before but they tasted alright. Austin was hot hot hot so a few of the girls did a wine tasting experience while the rest of us relaxed in the sun and played boules. Since it was such a scorching day we went to Barton Springs Pool, a fresh water spring/swimming pool where we swam and relaxed for the first time in a while – activities every day are pretty exhausting no matter how fun they are. That evening we got pizza and beer (so America) and watched thousands of bats fly out from under a bridge, which sounds boring but it was actually pretty cool and there were so many people there watching with us. Maybe it just says something about Austin, that that’s the best evening entertainment they have. Just kidding, I’m sure the nightlife is great we just didn’t really get chance to sample it apart from a few drinks (a bucket full of beers for $12) here and there. Day two was spent exploring the street art that was displayed all around the city and it was pretty impressive, and very instagramable. We went to the Capitol building which was a rather nice air-con stop as well as educational of course and then we wandered the shops and tried on cowboy hats and boots once again, far more up our street and a few of us bought bandanas for our upcoming Monument Valley adventure.

Our hostel in Austin was interesting to say the least. The girls bathroom was being renovated so we had to use shared facilities but the rest of the place was nice and the lake behind the building was stunning, especially at sunset. The only issue we had with our time there was that we had a threatening sleep-talker in our room. Whether he was joking with us or whether he was serious we’re still not sure but we felt unsafe to say the least. The hostel staff were super helpful with the situation and moved us immediately but it was still a pretty odd. The screenshots of our messages to each other still make me laugh now.

Maybe I need to give Austin another chance but for now it’s not top of my list of places to return.

On to San Angelo!

New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA)

Where do I even start?! As with Nashville, New Orleans was always on my bucket list and for good reason – it’s unlike anywhere else. It has a very French/fairytale/jazz infused feel it’s impossible not to love. There’s a big interest in the supernatural; graveyards, ghosts (you can even have dinner with one at Muriel’s in Jackson Square) and clairvoyants and it’s had a reputation as a “refuge for lost souls” for many many years. If you’ve ever read A Streetcar Named Desire it’ll feel like you’re in that book as you walk round, theres an actual ‘Desire Street’ and you can go to ‘Elysian Fields Avenue’, just a casual literature reference.

When we first arrived it was the hottest it had been for a few days, hitting the early 30’s as we wandered a Lafayette graveyard filled with beautiful historic above ground tombs which was interesting to see if not a little haunting. From there we obviously headed to a bar, where we had drinks in the sunshine and threw coins into a fountain as we made wishes. After a unanimous decision, we headed to a thrift store where we picked outfits for our first night in N’Awlins. We headed to the hotel to freshen up and get ready and we were blown away by the luxury that awaited us. After many nights in hostels and motels (all of which were really good) we were in a proper hotel with walk in showers and luxurious double beds. Heaven. There was also an incredible rooftop bar with live jazz music and a view of the city which was stunning at sunset. The link to the hotel is here if you’re in need of a recommendation.

So, let the first night begin. Apart from Nashville, this was the first city that we were really able to party in and let me tell you, we were ready for it. We met at the rooftop bar with sequins, fake moustaches, pleather caps, snake hats, Mardi Gras beads and moustache suits in tow. The crazy thing? We didn’t look out of place.

We wandered the French quarter and got hurricanes on the way to dinner. A hurricane for anyone that’s wondering is a strooooong cocktail made with various rums and we got them by the litre, literally. Jazz music filled the streets as we waited for a table at the best restaurant for gumbo and other Louisiana favourites. We were waiting a while, well, long enough for the hurricanes to take effect and for a group of us to pop to the bar next door to get some more rather strong but expertly and individuality made cocktails. Delish. The alcohol laws in New Orleans are such that you can walk from bar to bar with your drinks and it’s legal. Amazing.

After dinner we wandered, dipping in and out of bars to listen to jazz performers which were amazing. Street music, dancing, spoon playing and cartwheels were happening left right and centre – and that was just from our group. I’ll insert some videos below – even they may not give the whole atmosphere but they sure make me smile thinking back to them. The rest of the night was filled with dancing and drinks and laughter and it was one of my favourite nights on the trip.

On the left is Jess cartwheeling, the top right video is me and Jack – pretty sure I blacked out for the whole thing, I had no idea what I was doing (clearly!) it was like a crazy trust exercise, “just run!”, and bottom right is Jess and Jack playing the spoons. What can I say, we’re a talented bunch…

Feeling surprisingly fresh the following morning, we headed out in the blistering heat to get breakfast. We walked a fair way and I think it nearly killed a few of us off but we made it. I ordered the bananas foster which is bananas, cinnamon, sugar, cream and ice cream and it’s way too heavy for breakfast after a night out but it’s a New Orleans classic so I couldn’t miss it. And of course we had mimosas which kind of goes without saying.

Later in the day, Ana and I went to Mardi Gras World where we learnt why and how all the floats are made as well as getting to walk round the warehouse where they’re all made. Instead of a ticket to enter the ‘museum’ you get Mardi Gras beads which both Ana and I thought was such a novelty. Before looking round the actual floats and learning about the process they go through when they’re made you get to watch a video about the history of Mardi Gras. We also got to eat cake – if your piece had a tiny plastic baby in it then you were king/queen for the day. It was called King Cake. I know, New Orleans right?

I think we went out the second night as well but in all honesty I can’t remember much about it, I think it was more chilled than the first night but no doubt drinks and jazz still featured highly. Before we left we had to stop by the market and grab some beignets, deep fried choux pastry covered with powdered sugar, which were incredible.

“Laissez le bon temps rouler” translated as “let the good times roll”, the unofficial catchphrase of New Orleans. Add it to your bucket lists now.

Heading South…

I think I’ve been waiting a while to write all these posts because once I’ve done it and they’re out there, what more is there to say? Who else is there to tell about my adventures? Reliving each city as I’ve written about it has been such a joy, I guess it’s the closest thing I’ll get to actually re-doing the trip – as much as joke about it to Ana. I’ve been especially reluctant to write about Nashville and New Orleans because I’m afraid my love for them won’t come across. It’s quite hard to write about a place where nothing major happened, there were no grand canyons or star filled skies it was much more about the people and the music and the atmosphere. And that’s something very hard to describe.

Nashville was always on my list of places to go. Country music and the whole romanticism of country life have always been of interest so actually being there was really special. The visit to the Ryman auditorium was incredible – learning about its history and the Grand Ole Opry and being only a few footsteps from the stage that so many incredible performers have sung on was so surreal. Walking up and down Broadway, the main street, popping into boot stores, hat stores and the array of different bars and honky tonks listening to all the next big thing’s. People singing and dancing everywhere with a real love for the music they’re listening to. It’s just such a special place.

It’s the place of karaoke – and I mean karaoke. These people can SING! Like, ready to get their big break kind of singing. So naturally our tour leader added my name to the list. I politely but rather forcefully declined and let another member of our group take my place, and it was just as well because she smashed it.

It’s also the place where you can get pizza delivered to the bar. I’m here for it.

It’s the place of $54 hats, 3 pairs of boots for the price of 1 (which is actually a really good deal and a few of us nearly grouped together but the reality of carrying boots round the world put a slight downer on the idea), it’s the place where everyone can wear pretty much the same thing and it’s not weird – think denim, flannel shirts, hats, boot, etc etc. It’s magical. I think the phrase of the night was “I love it, can I stay here? Let’s stay here. Can we stay here?”.

We also got to visit the Bluebird Cafe, which may not mean anything to many of you but it’s the place people go to perform at open mic nights where they may or may not get spotted and they become the next Garth Brooks or Taylor Swift. Both were discovered there, and it’s also had visits from Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley before they were country superstars. It’s a country music holy grail and I got to stand outside.

Nashville, I’ll be back.

From Nashville we went to Memphis, land of Elvis and Blues. Compared to Nashville, Memphis was a little bit of a let down. Don’t get me wrong, it was still amazing and the live blues singers were unlike anything I’ve ever heard before but nothing was going to beat that Monday night. Tuesday night in Memphis wasn’t quite as buzzing and the rain may have dampened the mood a little, thanks Irma.

We spent the day at the National Civil Rights Museum which is adjoined to the Lorraine Hotel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The museum was incredibly interesting and interactive but the most hard hitting part for me was definitely seeing the room where the assassination happened. Everything was left as it was and the quotes from his family and friends bought a tear to everyone’s eye, it was very moving. If you’re ever in Memphis I’d definitely recommend taking the time to visit.

We also took a trip to the Gibson factory which was $11 rather than $60 like Graceland was, sorry Elvis – maybe next time. The Gibson factory was fascinating though, even for someone who’s not got the biggest passion for how guitars are made. It was very hands on, lots to see and touch and questions were encouraged, well worth $11.

I have to say though, highlight of the day had to be the Peabody Ducks. If you haven’t heard of them, stop whatever you’re doing and listen up. There are a group of ducks that live in the Peabody hotel in the centre of Memphis and every night there’s a ceremony for them. They walk (waddle?) from the fountain in the hotel foyer down a set of tiny red stairs, down a red carpet to the elevator lead by the Duck Master. They proceed to get in the lift which takes them to the roof where they spend the night and then in the morning the ceremony is reversed. They do this every day. Hundreds of people (us included) waited for 45 minutes to get a good view of them. There was music and the Duck Master had proper attire and it was quite the event. Half our group thought it was ridiculous and the other half (myself included) thought it was maybe the highlight of the trip (or definitely the highlight of Memphis). Here’s a video Ana took of them – she sat on the floor with the children to get the best view, obviously, but I still don’t think you can get the full experience. Add it to your list of things to do in this crazy city.

We also visited Beale Street which is the equivalent of Broadway in Nashville. It’s a street full of bars that have blues music flooding the street it’s impossible not to be impacted by such soulful voices; blues isn’t my favourite genre of music but even I was swept up in it. It was a great place but the tiredness from Nashville and the rain from Hurricane Irma had caught up with us and so it wasn’t a late night but a fun one all the same.

East Coast Highlights

City: New York, New York

Technically the tour started in New Jersey so we got a bus from New York to New Jersey with no idea when to get off, when we did eventually guess (surprisingly correctly), we were dumped on the side of a road like in a movie. It was bizarre. Luckily a man gave us directions along the gravelled main road where we came to a Motel and finally called an uber to rescue us. The morning of the tour we nearly went off on the wrong tour altogether, down to Miami whilst Hurricane Irma was happening. Not the best start. But before all those misadventures we went to New York which quite frankly started out as a nightmare trip.

You know how you always have the thought in the back of your mind that the hotel won’t have you booking or the Airbnb won’t exist? Well, that actually happens. 11pm in the middle of The Bronx, two young women are wandering the streets trying to contact the owner of the accommodation they’re meant to be staying in and they get no reply. I don’t know whether it was the tiredness or just because everything was completely overwhelming but we both stayed relatively calm considering the situation. Thank god for smart phones and google is all I can say. We booked one night at a place nearer the centre which from the outside (and the inside come to think of it) looked like a prison but our room was decent. It had walls and a bed and that’s really all we cared about. We sorted accommodation for the rest of our stay which was in the theatre district and 2 minutes from Times Square so it actually worked out in our favour, despite the stress and money.

So, my highlights of New York are as follows:

The Rockefeller Center, or the top of the rock as it’s more casually known. Tickets have set times on them so if you know you want a particular time I would either book online or get there early, we tried to just saunter in and it doesn’t really work like that. Tickets are about $34 which is a bit steep but there’s a video of the history of the family and the building as you wait and once you’re up there the price becomes irrelevant because the view is indescribable. As with everything on this trip, I’ll never forget it.

Secondly, Broadway. It was on my bucket list to see a Broadway show and I had to persuade Ana, my travel companion, but as soon as we were there she was on board. We queued in Times Square to get the reduced tickets which worked out pretty well. We bagged seats in the stalls for Kinky Boots for about $75 each which when some seats go for $$$ it was a steal! I can’t rate a Kinky Boots highly enough, if it’s not on your list of shows to see, add it on now because you will be blown away. It has everything you need from a musical – a heartfelt storyline, fantastic musical numbers and costumes to match as well as plenty of laughs. The only thing that bothered us was the accent, being set in Northern England the American twang was a little hard to get used to but it was amusing rather than irritating. Ana loved the show so much she found a souvenir cup in the trash on the way out and took it back to the hotel with us and let me tell you, other souvenirs were sacrificed because this cup took up so much space in her bag.

My third highlight of New York is Times Square. The glitz and glamour of the lights, the amount of people and the atmosphere is exactly as you’d imagine and it was so surreal to be there.

Other highlights include: Grand Central Station, Central Library and of course, Central Park

City: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Now Philadelphia wasn’t my favourite city it has to be said but if you’re into American history it’s definitely the place for you. We weren’t there long but we saw the Liberty Bell, ran up the “Rocky Steps” and saw many other historical landmarks. We also went to Reading Market where you can purchase the infamous Philly Cheesesteak.

City: Washington DC (apparently not part of any state but in between Maryland and Virginia)

Washington DC also wasn’t one of my favourites but it again, full of history and very interesting if you’re into presidents and parliament etc. We saw the Liberty Bell, which is so much smaller than you’d expect it to be it was almost disappointing, we also saw The White House which is also a lot smaller than you’d think. We went to the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed, saw the World War Two memorial, the Martin Luther King statue. The Lincoln statue was very surreal to see and its as imposing as you’d imagine. We visited the Air and Space museum which was really cool, and I’d highly recommend going because not only is it free but it’s actually really interesting. There are two “best things” about Washington though. First of all, the bars. I’ve never had drinks so strong and neither had Ana – as the pavement soon found out (no judgement Ana, my time would soon come too!). Secondly, we got the chance to go to a baseball game. A proper all-American baseball game with pizza and beer and the whole shebang. It was so cool, a definite movie-moment.

State: Virginia

We passed through Virginia on our way from Washington DC to Nashville so we stopped off at Shenandoah National Park where the first of our group photos was taken. Virginia was our first time staying in a motel which was another movie moment, despite the murder vibes, but it was so nice being in a double bed rather than a single bunk bed. It’s the little things.

Fiji: Tips and Tricks

1. Starting off with the thing you can’t go without, the Bula Pass. This is pretty much the only way to go from island to island unless you want to catch a private speedboat or helicopter. Purchased in advance, it allows you to go from island to island as many times as you want and in any direction you want (I mean up and down the islands, not like, forwards/backwards or side to side just to be clear). It costs $442 Australian dollars (roughly £253) and is available from Awesome Adventures, the company that primarily deal with island hopping transport and accommodation as well as day trips and activities.

2. Bulk buy water ($6 for 6 litre bottles) from the mainland before you head to the islands because a lot of the islands don’t provide drinking water (some don’t even provide it at meal times) and if you buy it on the islands you could pay up to $8 a bottle. It’s a pain to carry around but Fijians are super helpful and will always take it from you when getting on and off boats and usually carry it to the room too (island dependant). Just a quick word about the mainland – don’t let it put you off, the islands couldn’t be more different so don’t stay there more than one night either side of your trip (or get a flight the same night you arrive back if you can).

3. Speaking of boats, don’t go to Fiji if you don’t like water travel and/or get seasick as the ferry can take up to 4.5 hours to reach some of the resorts that are in the north islands. The ferry also doesn’t take you to the door, you have to climb from the ferry to a speed boat/smaller passenger boat that then takes you to the islands. Even then you get out of the boat into the shallow of the water to walk up the beach to your resort so wear flip flops and clothes you don’t mind getting damp because you will have water splashed up your legs to get the sand off. Hey, I never said it wasn’t an adventure.

4. If you’re doing island hopping (backpacker style rather than a fancy resort vacation) try and visit a combination of “one coconut” and “two coconut” resorts. The coconuts replace a star rating system so one coconut is the basic level with resorts run by villages and families, often with limited electricity and water whereas two coconuts is more luxurious often with wifi (possibly at a cost) and hairdryers. One coconut resorts are great for getting a feel for the Fijian culture and really getting back to basics and I’d highly recommend staying in one but start your trip there and work your way up to a two coconut place – degrading the standards as you go will only be a bad thing. Ending on a high and finishing somewhere that has a few more amenities will be exactly what you need after 10 days running from place to place (it really is more taxing than it sounds). I’d highly recommend Blue Lagoon and Octopus and for the extra $50(ish) they’re more than worth it.

5. I doubt this would happen but if you’re island hopping try not to piss anyone off because nine times out of ten you’ll see them again on another island or meet someone that’s met them. In the same way, friends are everywhere and reunions are the best.

6. Take a bed liner and the strongest insect repellent you can find. I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Top Five Travel Must Haves 

With the non-stop place to place schedule I’ve had the past couple of months I found the easiest way to write down blog ideas was to create lists of different things I’ve noticed/learnt/experienced. I feel these type of posts are easy and fun to read as well as being a good ‘on the go’ format for me. With that in mind I have a couple of upcoming posts in a similar style to this one on various topics so hopefully you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them. 

Kicking off the first one I thought I’d give you my top five travel must haves since I’ve just passed the ten week travel mark. A couple of these are aimed at hotter climates but hopefully it’ll provide some inspiration for any upcoming trips you may have. 

1. Sun cream and after sun

These come hand in hand and you can’t have one without the other. Especially for Australia, New Zealand and other countries in the Southern Hemisphere suncream is a no brainier because of the strength of UV rays. Don’t forget the after sun as well because no one wants pealing skin especially after the hard work of getting a good tan, you’ll want it to last as long as possible. 

2. Antiseptic cream 

Don’t laugh at this one. The sun cream/after sun and antiseptic cream combo has become a daily (and nightly) routine now due to the amount of bites received. It’s also great for any cuts, grazes, popped blisters, and any other ailments. It’s basically saving my life at the moment, there’s not much it can’t fix. I’d even go as far as to recommend a brand but that might be a bit much… who am I kidding, it’s Bepanthen. 

3. Clothes for all weather 

Even if it’s just one item for each weather type (e.g. one raincoat, one pair of fluffy socks, one sun hat) because yes, you will need a raincoat in Fiji despite what you might think. Fluffy socks are great for colder cities (Melbourne I’m looking at you) as well as being useful for flights. 

4. A microfibre travel towel 

I can’t stress this one enough, I’d be lost without mine. Bodhi is a great brand and the towels come in a variety of sizes and colours and have a hook which is great, providing the door actually has hooks. They also come in small travel bags meaning you can keep it separate from your other things in the event that you have to pack it whilst it’s still damp (although they dry incredibly quickly) but they fold so small you can squeeze them in anywhere. I got mine from Amazon here

5. The lowest standards 

When you think they’re low, lower them again. I’m serious. Think bed bugs, mice, unwashed sheets and geckos under the mattress to name just a few scenarios. I should add in a sixth one on this note; hand sanitiser. I know they become less effective the more you use them but I think you’ll agree it’s better than nothing. 

So there you have it, my five travel must haves. I’m sure with time I’ll add a few more to the list but until then these are my holy grail. If you have any you’d add to the list feel free to leave them in the comments! 

Just an update…

Throughout the past two months (58 days) I’ve travelled over 22,000 miles. I tried to look for an equivalent distance but google wouldn’t give me one; I know it’s a crazy long way though. I’ve currently been to 16 US states, 4 out of 6 Australian states and a two week stint island hopping in Fiji, all in the space of 8 weeks so it’s safe to say I’m more than a little exhausted (island hopping is actually more tiring than it sounds…). 

Throughout the multiple trips I’ve done there was barely time to sleep, let alone keep up a blog which is why this post is as late as it is. This may or may not be a get out clause; I will write something at some point but it might not be until I have some sort of routine because although it may look like constant cocktails and sunsets, travelling is super stressful at times. 

Thank you for all the interest in what I’m up to, it’s definitely appreciated -messages of support don’t go unnoticed and I’ll always reply so drop me a line if you want to! 

With love from across the (very big!) pond,

Sophie