Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Last post from home....

Packing is all done, flights booked, house cleaned, and we leave in about 24 hours. So this is our last pre-trip post, and we leave you with some photos. Hopefully our next post will be from Florida. Have you ever wondered how much luggage a family of five need for a 6 month trip? If so, take a look....

1) Children's suitcase all packed. That's clothes for 3 kids.
2) The state of our bedroom mid packing. Kids suitcase, and parents suitcase all packed.
3 & 4) We have been told we have to fly our country's flag in the RV parks. However, this was not simple for us. Steve is totally English, I was born in London but come from a Northern Irish family, and the kids are all Northern Irish. So what flag do we fly? Add to that, that the typical American wouldn't recognise the Ulster flag, but would recognise the Republic of Ireland. Well, we just didn't know which flag to fly. We didn't just want a British flag as we wanted to represent our home now, and our kids home country. So we wanted the Ulster Flag, but both of us find it very odd flying the Red Hand of Ulster as we are neither of us from the loyalist background. So in the end we bought a big Ulster flag, and small British and Irish flags. I think we have every base covered. lol.
5) The bags all packed - 2 large holdalls, 1 medium holdall, 1 small over night suitcase for stops in Dublin and Orlando hotels, and 4 items of hand luggage (1 laptop, 1 camera bag, and 2 rucksacks full of kiddies entertainment. Have I forgotten anything?

Planning the first month

Its our last day at home as we leave for our big journey tomorrow. I have a wee bit of packing left to do. Dan is cleaning windows and tidying the Utility room. I have to pack, and tidy our bedroom. Then I think everything is done.

Tomorrow Barney has a hair cut appointment and then we all have a dental appointment just before we leave (well, it will be 6 months before we see a dentist again!)

I have mostly planned the first month of the trip now. You can see my planner above. (Click on it to see the larger view). We are staying 1 night in a Dublin, Ireland hotel, then one night in an Orlando, Florida hotel. Then we collect the RV and drive to a place called Titusville on the east coast of Florida. We will stay here from 1st - 12th February, hopefully seeing the shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral on 7th Feb. From 13th - 17th February we will be in Georgia and will be taking a trip to a Georgian prison on 16th Feb to visit my pen pal, who I have been writing to for almost 3 years now. From 18-20th February we will be hopefully staying on Mexico Beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida (courtesy of Dans parents who sent us some money for something a bit luxurious). Then from 21-24th we will be driving through the coast of Alabama. 25th - 28th driving through the coast of Mississippi. From 29th February we will be in Louisiana. And that's as far as I've got with the planning.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Last Day of School

Today was the last day of school for Jimmie and Annabelle, as we are leaving for our trip in 5 days. The kids will all be going to Nannys house for 2 nights on Monday so that we can get the house ready and pack (it is almost impossible to clean a house well enough to be left for 6 months, with 3 kids around).

I was surprised that both the kids schools made their last days special. Annabelle wont be returning to her school as she will be secondary school age by the time we get back. But she hasn't been there all that long, so I was surprised and pleased that they made a bit of a fuss of her. She came home with a huge card that the kids had made and signed, and they had treats at school. Some of her friends gave her presents, and everyone signed her shirt. We will have to send them all something from America. We will certainly be sending postcards from every state we visit. Here is a pic of her at home this afternoon with her signed shirt, and good luck card.

Sam also came home with stories to tell today. His class had bought him a card and a travel journal, which they put their addresses in. Some of his friends got up and did wee speeches about Sam and all the ridiculous things he's done in the two years he's been at that school. So he came home in good form.
So things are really getting excited around here now. Five days till we leave, no school, and our visa's arrived today!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Packing and stuff...

To be honest I haven't started actually packing suitcases yet, I have 6 more days to worry about that. But I have been packing up the attics, kids room, kitchen etc. So far, Dan and I have spent about 7 days full on cleaning and packing up the house. It's been utterly exhausting and I have had death sleeps every night! Here are some pics from our week of hard work...

Jimmie and Barney get rather over excited about taking this trip...

Daddy and Barney find a heap of toys in the loft that Barneys never seen before, here they are playing with the marble run.

The horror of my bedroom as I clean out the attic. Least I found plenty of suitcases for the trip...

Dan gets so bored with packing that he relieves his bored by dancing on the stairs with a large box on his head. I don't think it occurred to him that if he broke his legs we wouldn't actually be able to go....

Visa Troubles

With just 6 days until we leave, there are no signs of our visas (or our passports which the consulate still has). Our visa interview was on 15th January. We were told at that interview that we would definitely be granted visas for long stay travel within the US. However, our passport photos weren't accepted at that time. But dont worry, the man said, just send us some more and we will post your visas right out to you. So we did. We got photos taken, sent them recorded delivery, and have heard nothing since. Apparently the visa should arrive within 2 working days. So Dan phoned to consulate (at a charge of £1.98 per minute) just to be told that they held no information about it at reception and weren't authorised to put us through to anyone else. They said if the visas hadnt arrived by next week we should phone back. Despite us leaving on Wednesday. Grrrrrr. This has really stressed me out.

Edit - 5 minutes after writing this I received an email from the American Consulate informing us that our visas have been approved and are being sent in this afternoons post. Yay!

The end of an era

This weeks Banbridge Leader article about the closure of our shop. You can read it by clicking on it to see the larger version. They spelt Dan's name wrong, lol. No surprises there. Well, its the end of an era for us, and the start of a new and excitin journey. Only 6 days until we leave, and its madness here...

Monday, 21 January 2008

Florida Planning

Since booking our flights from Dublin to Orlando for the 31st January, life has been absolutely hectic. I am pretty sure neither Dan or I have stopped to catch our breaths for even a second! There is just so much to do. The house needs to be left clean, tidy, and showable - as its still on the market. Dan has been cleaning out food cupboards in the kitchen today and we are living on whatever in the freezer needs eating. I've cleaned our drawers and cupboards around the house, but we still have to empty the sheds (they were full of CDs), dismantle the trampoline (could turn out to be a full days job), amongst many other things.

This week we have informed the insurance company that we wont be in our house for 6 months, informed phone companies, electric companies, Internet Service Providers; met with the solicitor to give my Mum power of attorney, been to the police station to get background checks for our visit to see E in prison in Georgia, had photos taken for our visas (which were granted pending better photos) written to schools, applied for Barneys place in primary school for September, applied for Annabelles secondary school place, and we must have written/phoned a dozen other people and companies too.

Yesterday I finally got time to sit down and start planning the actual trip. I mean, we have had plans in our head for quite some time, but now its time to actually book things and work it all out for sure. I ought to put a map here of our intended route...

Ok, so here is a map of the USA with all the states on. We are flying into Florida at the south west there. I have marked the states that we will see with blue crosses. So we hope to stay in Florida for 2 or 3 weeks, then head up to Georgia and visit E. Then we will drive down to Talahasse (in Florida) and drive the gulf coast route from Florida, through Alabama, Mississippi and into Louisiana. This drive will take us about 7 days as we plan lots of beach side stops along the way, and fully intend to stuff ourselves senseless with all the seafood there. From that point onwards we have no road plan yet, but will be chasing the weather westwards, trying to avoid the heat of the summer in the desert.
We should arrive in California at the end of May. If we have any money left and are not desperately homesick then we hope to visit the states with the grey crosses, ending in Chicago. But at the moment none of that has even really been thought about yet.
Oh, for anyone interested in what our home for the six months will be, CLICK HERE. This is the RV we are hiring for our trip. It sleeps 5 people. You can see inside it by clicking on the smaller pictures.

So, as I was saying, yesterday I sat at the computer for about 12 hours, with my two huge RV directories and my Passport America membership by my side. It wasn't long before I realised we had a problem. Florida is having its best weather at the moment and is in the middle of it's 'snowbird' season, which basically meant that all the RV parks were extremely expensive, and nearly all of the good ones were booked to capacity. I started to wonder if we would even be able to include Florida on our trip. But then I found this RV Forum and left a message about our trip. Within minutes I had a reply, and within hours I had about 14 replies. They proved to be such a friendly bunch of people who are obviously very passionate about their RVing lifestyles. They answered all my questions, and this morning I got an email to say that they had found a lot for us to park in in Florida. One of the forum owners lives in an RV park in a place called Titusvile, on the east coast of Florida. He knows some people who own a space in the RV park across the road, but they arent living there at the moment, and they have kindly offered to rent it out to us for as long as we need while we are in Florida, at less than the going rate. I was so releived. We now have a firm safe place to stay in Florida, close to the beaches and all the areas that we wish to visit.
He also told me that Cape Canaveral is just down the road from where will be, and there is a space shuttle launch scheduled for the 7th February, while we are there! So we plan to park our RV somewhere with a view and watch that rocket shoot off into space. What a once in a lifetime experience for us and the kids!
It seems there are a heap of families from this RV forum that would love to meet us on our trip, and we wont be short of anyone to turn to for advice or information. The great thing is that Jim will meet us at the RV park and go through everything with us. Which is reassuing as we dont know the first thing about driving an RV, hooking it up, or anything at really! I know Dan is more than a little nervous about driving the big thing on the wrong side of the road. They have given us tons of helpful hints already, including flying a flag from our country in the RV window (apparently its a great way to meet Americans!) I think we will need a Northern Ireland flag and a British flag. I'm not really sure what we are! Seems funny to think we might be flying the red hand of Ulster around America when we never ever participate in anything like that here. LOL.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

The travelling M's

There are a few people visiting this blog who don't know us from our family blog, so I thought I'd post a few pre-trip pics of us. This is who we are.....

Dan - 36, Bree - 31, Jimmie - 12, Annabelle - 10, & Barney - 4

Thursday, 17 January 2008

We're Going!

The flights are booked! We fly from Dublin to Orlando on 31st January. There's no turning back now! 14 days to organise it all. Why do I have a headache?

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Blog Post Number 1

As readers of our regular family blog will know, we are leaving for our big 6 month trip across America in about 2 weeks time. Rather than blogging on our regular blog I have decided to keep a special travel blog that our friends and family can read, and that we can look back on in years to come.

2007 was an extremely strange year for us in many ways, and has ended with the closing down of our beloved CD shop here in the town. Whilst we are sad that this way of life has come to an end for us, we are also excited by the change in our lives. We have both been self employed since the children were born. Whilst this has been a blessing to us in so many ways, it has also been a real tie and burden in other ways. So before deciding what to do with the next few years, we decided to take a 6 month life gap. We had so many ideas of what we could do for 6 months, some more adventurous than others. Dan wanted to spend 6 months at home doing nothing but resting, whilst I wanted to trek across Africa with nothing but a tent and some cooking equipment! After a year of talking and deliberating we decided that the best thing for our family (considering our needs and the ages of our children - 12, 11 and 4) was to take a 4 - 6 month RV trek across America.

We had various reasons for chosing this. Firstly there is no language barrier, which certainly makes things easier when driving a strange and unusual vehicle through unknown terrain. Secondly, it has the facilities in every state to cater for families travelling in RV's. Thirdly, it is possible to hire RVs for long periods of time, for far less money than possible in Europe. And of course America is a beautiful and vast country. It has absolutely everything you could want to see, from mountains, lakes, swamps, to mountains, deserts, snow, and so much more.

Because we couldn't decide whether to close our shop or not, we left the decision to the very last minute, and now I have appoximately 3 weeks to plan and prepare for the trip. As you can imagine, 1 week into it I am starting to lose my marbles. There are roughly 6 million things that need doing before we go, and I have ticked off about 3 million of them so far. But I am glad to say that yesterday we were granted our American travel visa's and have permission to stay longer than the average traveller.

The application process for the 5 non-immigrant travel visa's we needed was phenomenal. The amount of forms, information, proof of funds, proof of just reason to return to the UK that we had to provide took me almost a full week to gather together. I needed letters from the childrens schools proving they were reserving their places until their return. Bank statements, proof we owned a house, and lots lots more. Eventually we made it to the visa interviews in Belfast and met a very nice American man who asked us a few questions about what we do for a living, where we were going, about the kids schools and asked a bit about RV travel. He was kind enough to give us some weather advice and then told us we had the visas.

Dan has finally cleared out the shop premises so now we have the job of packing up the house, leaving it clean, and planning our route, all of which I will talk about in the next few posts. As you can imagine, the feeling in our house at the moment is one of excitement (except from me - its more a feeling of lunatic stress!)