Tag Archives: road trip

Heading West in an RV

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Western USA in an RV

San Francisco had been a fantastic city in which to start our family RV holiday, but now I was excited to start our road trip travelling in the Western United States. For most of the 20th and 21st centuries, the automobile has been the dominant form of transportation in the United States. Equally, travelling on a road to the West has for a long time been synonymous for many with the American Dream: freedom; adventure; and diverse, enticing and grand landscapes. Therefore, the road and the car both hold a revered place in the American consciousness. It was our first time in the Western United States, and we looked forward to travelling across a variety of Western cities and landscapes.

Our RV trip didn’t start that well. In the first minute of the trip, plates fell from a cupboard and shattered on the floor. But that was soon forgotten after we left San Francisco and ventured further south. Continue reading


How Not to Road Trip California: Part Two

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series How Not to Road Trip California

Exhausted from spending so many hours in the car the day before, we slept heavily, and the 7am alarm we had planned was a distant memory. We eventually woke up at about 9am, and packed our things in a hurry before heading into town to grab a quick breakfast before we hit the road again. We had considered skipping breakfast for the sake of getting going sooner, and it was a good thing we decided against this plan of action Continue reading


How Not to Road Trip California

When spending my year living in America, Spring Break was one of the things I had most looked forward to. It’s something you see on TV and in films all the time — sun, crazy parties, and Instagram-worthy destinations. I was lucky enough to be invited, along with another English girl, Amy, who I was out there with, to stay with a friend in Los Angeles for the week of Spring Break. Her final exams finished ahead of ours, so she flew home on the Tuesday while Amy and I rented a car on Friday and spent the weekend driving down the coast to LA in time to kick off our week on the Monday. I couldn’t drive, since I only have a provisional driving licence in England and there was no way a rental company would let me behind the wheel, so the responsibility was down to Amy — we felt confident that nothing could go wrong. We’d spent a long time looking at Google Maps, planning our route, our stops and our breaks, and we were sure that we had everything planned.

The whole of California in one weekend? Perhaps a little naïve. But we were confident we were up to the challenge, and headed into the weekend idealistic and enthusiastic.

Our first problem came when we were booking our car. We noticed that the extra night added a huge amount to the cost of the rental car, and rather than just sucking it up and paying the extra, we reconfigured our route and decided that we would still have plenty of time if we rented the car first thing Saturday morning, as long as we were on the road by 7am. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite happen like we had hoped. Whilst we made it to the car rental office as planned, we had apparently picked the worst possible day to rent a car. There were only two other customers ahead of us when we arrived, so we thought that we would be on our way in no time, but it soon became clear that there were problems in the office. We were called up to the desk and started filling out our forms, but the people ahead of us were still lingering at the front, and once we’d finished giving them our details they told us that we would have to wait a little while because the printer was broken, and apparently they couldn’t let us have a car without taking our receipt.

More and more people arrived, and they were all being told to wait, just as we had. After two hours sat in the office watching the clock, they were finally able to call their manager in, who gave us a handwritten receipt, the keys to our car and finally let us go. By this point it was gone 9.30am, we were behind schedule, and my friend was having much more difficulty driving on the other side of the road than we had anticipated. However we were still optimistic, and we were out of Oregon and driving through California before midday.

Unfortunately the weather was not on our side, and before long the skies were grey and the wind was roaring. We had planned to make our first stop in Crescent City, on the Northern California coast, to see the Redwoods. However, when we tried to drive into the trees we were stopped by Park Rangers who told us that the wind level was too high, a few trees had already fallen, and we weren’t allowed to drive in at risk of more being blown down. We were disappointed to have our plans derailed, but we were more frustrated that we had taken the longer, coastal route to make this stop rather than the much quicker I5 road which would have taken us much further on our journey. So, we turned into the wind and starting racing towards the highway, discarding our notions of scenic stops and beginning the 320 miles we still had to make before we reached the city of Petaluma, just outside San Francisco, where we would be stopping for the night.

The drive got a little hairy as we got closer to San Francisco, and driving in the dark in heavy traffic was not ideal for Amy driving in America for the first time, but we made it to Petaluma in one piece. We had found a hotel deal online, and found ourselves checking in to a very swanky, old-school hotel, in a really lovely city — full of quaint little shops and independent restaurants and bars; we were disappointed that we were arriving so late and wouldn’t be able to look around properly. Because of this late arrival, there weren’t many restaurants still open, but we tracked down an Italian place just off the main high-street called Cucina Paradiso, and I have to say that if anyone finds themselves in Petaluma, it’s a must-visit. It was a little fancier than we had intended for our budget, but I can honestly say that their pappardelle was the best I have eaten.

And so our first day drew to a close. Amy had been driving us for around nine hours, and our only major stop had been a complete disaster. But we knew that the next day we had a shorter drive — only six hours or so — and we had so many stops planned that we were sure it wouldn’t feel like we were in the car much at all.

If only we knew…


Biking Australia: Sydney to Wisemans Ferry (West)

Distance: 73-79 km

Estimated Time : 1 hour and 30 minutes

As one of the world’s greatest driving destinations, people who have travelled to Australia agree that there’s always something new to love each time they come. Whether it’s the picture-perfect coastal views, endless rows of relaxing bush lands or even the man-made wonders like the Opera House in Sydney, there’s no telling which one you’ll be fixated on first. For me, it’s always been the freedom of the open roads.

This itinerary takes you along the convicts’ trail. That’s right! In order to get to Wisemans Ferry, you have to follow the road built by prisoners.


Did you know that a reformed convict once ruled this quiet town? Those of you who are renegades at heart have probably heard of him — he went by the name of Solomon Wiseman. For those who haven’t, it was once called Lower Portland Headland and then changed to Wisemans Ferry in his honour. Transforming from lawless Continue reading


Part 5: On Misadventures and Endings

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Hitting the Road... In Your Own Backyard

Claire and I are in Grahamstown, a university town in inland Eastern Cape. We have planned our trip so that we catch some of the Grahamstown National Arts Festival: this is two weeks during which this student town is overrun by artists, musicians, performers and others of a dramatic inclination, during South Africa’s largest arts festival. (Travel tip: add some flair to your travel itinerary by planning around local festivals). Specifically, on this particular morning (our first and only full day at the festival), Claire is out and about soaking up jazz performances… and I am spending my fun-money buying throat lozenges, vitamin C, pain killers, and tissues at the local pharmacy. After four weeks on the road, my body has thrown in the towel, to the extent that our travel medical kit is not sufficient.

When planning our trip, Claire and I envisioned Grahamstown being our ‘party stop’, an interlude of drinking, night-life and catching up with mates to break the chill-factor of the Eastern Cape (and four weeks of just each other for company). In reality, I determinedly haul myself to the selection of shows we had planned to see, in between which I abandon Claire to her partying and opt to sleep off a debilitating cocktail of medication, congestion and fever instead. Not so much the plan. But, few journeys ever go 100% according to plan and the trick (I learned) is to be able to absorb the unexpected (i.e. travel with enough extra cash to heavily self-medicate if you need to!) The most I can say about Grahamstown is that it has a very well-stocked pharmacy. Thankfully.

Finding life (and fairies) in Hogsback's forests

Finding life (and fairies) in Hogsback’s forests © Caitlin Tonkin

Pulling out of Grahamstown two nights after pulling into it, Claire and I enter our last and perhaps quietest few days of travel together. We loop through the purple and green landscape, dotted with red aloes, towards Hogsback — a whimsical town in the Eastern Cape mountains whose surrounding forests are said to have inspired parts of Tolkein’s Middle Earth. There, we spend two days snuggling in front of the fire and drinking sherry at the Away with the Fairies Backpackers (fantastic!) We also spend a peaceful afternoon looking for waterfalls and fairies along one of the gentler forest trails, followed by a soak in the backpacker’s outdoor, cliff-top bath with a view.

Waterfall-hunting © Caitlin Tonkin

Waterfall-hunting © Caitlin Tonkin

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