G Adventures: Coast to Coast Eastbound – What I Took

Always the biggest question with longer trips and bloggers – what did you pack?! I know I slaved over this question when deciding on every little thing but I’m pretty happy with what I decided for and against so here it goes!

Along the way, what kept me focused was this packing list from Tortuga Backpacks. Their prices to ship to the UK are a bit steep but I thoroughly enjoy their newsletters and anyone planning a more minimalist travel style would benefit from them.

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As previously discussed, I went with the Osprey Farpoint 40. This was the perfect medium between trying to take literally a backpack and a 70 litre. I wanted something that I wouldn’t dread putting on my back if need be, that kept me on my toes when buying things and would work for future trips. Even at full capacity that I used it to, it still wasn’t terribly heavy so I’m pretty happy with this decision and would urge anyone considering it to give it a test run in their local outdoors shop.

Toiletries

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This was a pretty huge deal for me. I’m not a particularly makeup and pampering lady, but confining myself to this teeny tiny toiletry case from Muji was hard. It was basic on some people’s standards but extravagant by a minimalist’s world. One thing out of it that I absolutely rate is Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap. That tiny little bottle lasted me the whole trip and kept my skin just hydrated enough through sun, sand and wind. Big tip from me is that if it’ll make you feel a little more like yourself on a night out, allow yourself one thing. I’m not a regular mascara wearer, but after three days of not showering in campsites but a club to go to in New Orleans, it made me feel very much renewed!

Inside the Bag

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This had to cater for nights out in Vegas, swimming in rivers at Yosemite, hiking the Grand Canyon, dinners in Memphis, dancing in Nashville, shopping in New York and quite a few other things inbetween. I find full packing lists a bit boring so I’ll just run over what I think is super important for this type of trip.

  • Packing cubes – The ones pictured are Eagle Creek and I also had a large one for clothes from Muji. we often got off the bus, dumped our stuff and headed out on our adventures. With this in mind, I wanted to be able to change a stinky bus t-shirt or find my camera charger quickly. The large Muji one also turned into my pillow as my travel pillow sucked. The people with suitcases did not have this luxury. You’ve heard it before and I’ll tell you again, packing cubes are life.
  • Tracksuit bottoms/comfy shorts – these were actually a last minute buy of mine and my god, am I happy I did. I couldn’t tell you how long we were on that bus but over 6,000 miles, I’m happy I didn’t wear jeans the whole way.
  • A nice pair of shoes (but only one) – no one wants to wear Vans out in Vegas and that’s saying something from me. I took some cute Mexican loafers and got lovely comments on them the whole way!
  • Good quality socks – not the ones your mum bought you a few years ago from Asda, I’m talking Nike or SmartWool. It seems ludicrous spending this money on socks but for real, I made holes in both socks walking over the Golden Gate Bridge on my very first day and then had to dive into Nike in San Fran to replace them.
  • Black jeans – easiest thing to dress up or down, boy or girl or other.

Camping

For this trip, I had to bring a sleeping bag so I brought along another suitcase which I checked in. I tried really hard to find a four season sleeping bag that was small enough to just carry by hand but I couldn’t find one. The suitcase doubled up as a New York shopping bag and during the trip, I would put shoes in there.

I was extremely happy with my sleeping bag, the Vango Serenity Single. I decided that because I had cut down on so much of my clothes, I would allow myself this luxury as I hate mummy sleeping bags. If size isn’t your issue and you want to feel like you have your quilt from home on you, go for this sleeping bag. It’s amazing.

Technology

For some reason that I cannot explain, I thought it would be a good idea to only take a film camera on this trip. Thankfully my mum broke my camera trying to get the film out of it three days before which a) saved me from not having my amazing trip remembered in glorious HD and b) forced me into a decision quickly which is one of my main problems when deciding to buy things.

I chose the Sony a5000 after quick but thorough research and that’s what most of my pictures were taken on. I also had a neat app that meant I could send my photos to my phone to back up over a wifi connection between my phone and camera (no actual Internet required) which was handy to do on the bus. I also signed up to Dropbox Pro which backs up your phone continuously.

Any regrets?

In hindsight, there are only a few things which I wish I brought along which isn’t that bad for this type of trip.

  • A pair of good quality sandals – I almost bought a pair of Teva’s on multiple occasions but couldn’t bring myself to spend £50 on sandals. I now know that they’re much better for your feet and the benefit I would have reaped from them.
  • More books/Kindle – I think on future trips, especially if they involve camping, a Kindle will be a godsend.
  • A water bottle with a filter – I became very aware of how many plastic bottles we were all throwing away on a daily basis, let alone over the entire trip. To be completely honest, even bottled water in the US tastes pretty horrible to me so once water from a fountain went through a filter system, I’m sure it would be more drinkable.

 

Hope this helps some confused adventurer out there like these posts helped me!

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G Adventures: Coast to Coast Eastbound – Memphis to New York

Memphis, Tennessee

This half of the tour seemed to go so much quicker than the first half. We reached Memphis and around half of us decided to go to the Martin Luther King Memorial Museum. It’s one of my favourite museums, well, ever, as it’s super informative, whilst bringing information to you in a non-stuffy museum-y way. Definitely a must for Memphis.

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I’m not going to lie, I don’t like Elvis. We were camped next to Graceland so a lot of the group went over in the morning but I was in New York saving mode. We went to a pretty good BBQ called Marlowe’s and they picked us up from our tents in this pink limo. Our tour guides had bullshitted us about a lot of things on this trip so you can imagine our faces getting into this baby.

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We done as you are supposed to do in Memphis – we watched live music and stumbled back to our tents.

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Nashville, Tennessee

Next stop, Nashville. God, I wish I had watched the show before I came here. It was all a little hazy (some cocktails went ahead here) and not a lot of evidence came from the night. All the streets are crawling with live music. I snuck into a line dancing lesson. I got really, really drunk. A few people threw up. A few people kissed. Nashville was like a second coming of Vegas really.

We also shot guns and Tennessee’s gun laws are insane.

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Shenandoah National Park, Virginia 

I was not feeling good this day but it was a short hike. I didn’t do all of it, but enough to capture this pretty view.

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Washington D.C

So. Much. Driving.

SO MUCH DRIVING.

The front of the bus looked like this around this drive. It got intense.

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Here is where I found out that I don’t know how to make my camera like nighttime shooting but some pretty freaky photos came from it.

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We stopped at Arlington Cemetery on the way. Definitely something for any history geeks to do, or if you just need to feel humbled.

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New York, New York

We made it. The bus made it, somehow. The only things we lost were sleep and some showers (and almost Ollie’s wallet). But what we gained was 6,000 miles across one of the most amazing countries on Earth. Geographically, the USA is a whirlwind. Culturally, two hours and you feel like you’re in a different world.

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I spent a whole lot of time in Queens and Brooklyn, just hanging out and seeing some friends. I’d been to NY with a school trip so didn’t feel the need to do a lot of sightseeing but the One Trade Centre and Memorial hadn’t been completed when I last came so it was pretty special to see it.

 

All in all, this is obviously one of the best experiences of my life. I was worried at one point that this would be too guided and wouldn’t leave room for the adventures and spontaneity but I was definitely wrong. There was a lot of freedom in what we could do – if you didn’t like an activity or wanted to do another one nearby, that was cool as long as you don’t mind possibly doing it by yourself and as long as you’re there when the bus leaves! The amount I saw for the amount of money I spent, I’m extremely happy with – whilst this isn’t for budget travellers, it can be done without spending a fortune.

G Adventures: Coast to Coast Eastbound – San Antonio to New Orleans

San Antonio, Texas

So after a long drive to Texas (I think it was seven hours total), we got frozen cocktails from a drive-thru on the border at 11am. For some reason I can’t remember the name of it… After a party bus 2.0 experience, we hit the road even further to San Antonio.

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If you’re gonna SnapChat abroad, it better be worth it.

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Whilst at university, I worked at the Six Flags in San Antonio for three months so it was nice to go back and know where I was going! I messaged a few people I’d met there, but then I got what I was really after in Texas and that was Whataburger. There’s no point in writing some fancy foodie paragraph about Whataburger because I accept that it looks gross but if you get the chance to eat it, take it with both hands and run. It’s the new In-n-Out. Trust me.

Back at camp in San Antonio before heading out, we had a talk about whether we really wanted to go to Houston or whether we wanted to go off road and go to a rodeo. This was on everyone’s list of things to do that was necessarily on the itinerary, but our guides worked on it and hailing from Texas himself, Kaleb sorted it out.

The Washington County Fair, Brenham, Texas

We went to a country fair, in between San Antonio and New Orleans, rummaged through some antique stalls (where I pretended I was in American Pickers) and I picked up a sweet cigar box for $10 because I was “just so darn cute and British”. So shout out to Katy who also gave almost all of us free 1970s rodeo posters.

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We were treated with the Texan hospitality I know and love, and was able to camp on the fair’s land just through asking politely.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

I’ll be honest, this is where the tour took a bit of a toll on me and I just wanted a bit of sleep in a bed. I done a few basics: going on a swamp tour, hearing live music, going to Cafe Du Monde, walking the streets to look at the crazy houses, throwing some beads, eating a shrimp po’boy… Okay, now that I list them I don’t know how I felt rested.

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Tryin’ to catch some gators

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Fact: These boars bloody love a marshmallow.

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Bring a hairbrush for post-swamp tour. You will need it.

G Adventures: Coast to Coast Eastbound – Monument Valley to Carlsbad Caverns

Horseshoe Lake, Arizona

One of the short stops along the way, a lovely excuse to stretch out legs. Here’s a little cameo of Kaleb, one of our tour guides and an example of how I can manage to stand right in front of some amazing scenery. Arizona is hot. Take water, please and do not, for the love of god, wear black.DSC00438 DSC00442

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So my camera ran out of battery on the way to Monument Valley (darn USA voltage slowing me down) but it still remains one of, if not the, best moments on the trip for me. Through G Adventures, we had a tour of the land with native Navajo people living at Monument Valley who took us to some great spots, cooked us an authentic meal, showed us traditional Navajo entertainment and organised for us to sleep on the reservation for the night. We had the option of sleeping in their hut but instead we slept underneath the stars as it was a full moon. I wish I had a photograph that would capture even a 1/10 of what we saw but it’s definitely something you wouldn’t believe anyway. It’s so amazing that it’s even above bucket list material. We were covered in orange sand for days to come as there was a sand storm in the night but it was worth every second.DSC00448 DSC00449

And now for the iPhone photos (I know, I’m sorry).

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Sunset at 6am

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Not gonna lie, pretending to be Forest was one of the best moments of this tour. Don’t pretend you’d feel any different.

Mesa Verde, Colorado 

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Quite a different pace of National Parks, especially compared to the greats like Grand Canyon and Monument Valley but a worthy stop nonetheless. We had to walk up a 40-foot ladder to get to this view so I feel this photo has to be included, even if it was taken with my shaky hands at the time.

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Santa Fe is a bit of a blur, as you can probably tell from this photo. It’s where you start to get a feel from the South but you’re not quite there yet. There are beautiful jewelry stores and almost everybody came back with a ring or three. It reminded my of a few European spots which is quite rare for the US from what I’ve seen. Their architecture is heavily protected so there’s a lot of history to see here. I was still recovering from cameragate so there’s not many surviving photos.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Writing my postcards for back home in Carlsbad Caverns was a surreal experience, I can tell you that. Surprisingly this was also one of my favourite experiences from the tour – the beauty of it is hard to describe until you’re walking through it in the dark. Just one of those crazy things natures does to remind us humans that it’s always going to be boss!

DSC00469Continued in San Antonio to New Orleans!

G Adventures: Coast to Coast Eastbound – Death Valley to Grand Canyon

Bishop and Death Valley

After heading out of Yosemite, we camped at Bishop for the night. A lot of stops on this trip are to break up the drive times – we done no nighttime driving and always stayed somewhere which meant we were always somewhat rested for the days ahead.

Driving through Death Valley is something that wasn’t on my bucket list before but is something I would add to anyone’s. It was around 45ºc when we went which our tour guide remarked “wasn’t even that bad” as they had driven through when it was 55ºc a few weeks before. We stopped and explored for around half an hour but any longer and I think we would have gained a few empty seats in the van…

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For real, though.

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We walked to see the sand mountains and if you do the same:

PLEASE TAKE WATER.

I almost fainted around this part and it was not fun. Good thing we had Vegas coming up…

Las Vegas

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So it all got a bit messy in Vegas as expected and this is one of my few surviving photographs. Dancing on beds in the clubs, getting married outside the Little White Chapel, making some money on the stripper poles in the party van and most importantly for me, getting a new pair of glasses in one hour for £180, some good food, a bed actually inside a hotel rather than a campsite and seeing a good ol’ show (a few of us saw Zumanity but there was heaps to see and at least two people going to each show from the group), Vegas very much delivered.

Grand Canyon

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No time to focus when you’re terrified really.

Since I went to Florida as a 13 year old, Route 66 has been a dream of mine which got thrown into reality on this trip. You’re only on it for a bit, but it’s enough. We went to the local favourite of Snow Cap Burgers, which is eccentric to say the least.DSC00288

We drove onto Grand Canyon and done a quick walk of the rim before eating some pizza (a rare treat) back at camp.

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Nope.

The next day was a more intense hike for most of the group – they completed the Bright Angel trail which takes you 12 miles into the bottom of the Canyon. I’m not an experienced hiker, or exerciser really, so rather than passing out I thought I’d play it safe. I wasn’t alone, three other ladies joined me although one of their reasons was because they cut open their knee running up escalators the wrong way in Vegas. No comment as to whether I was behind her, following her lead. DSC00369 DSC00428

Continued in Monument Valley to Carlsbad Caverns!

G Adventures: Coast to Coast Eastbound Review! – San Francisco to Yosemite

So I left for my Coast to Coast trip on the 3rd September and got back on 4th October and my holiday blues have well and truly kicked in, so what better time for a blog post about it! I’ll cover a lot in this and break it up into two or three days for each post so if you’re thinking of booking any of the G Adventures North America tours, I hope you get some information from here as I couldn’t find a lot when I was researching. Here it goes!

Pre-Trip

I done a lot of research when it came to my North America trip. I done a Work Abroad placement in Texas in 2013 and wanted to return since. I weighed up a lot of options including buying a van and doing it myself (which would have cost me around £10,000), a few other tour providers that didn’t do as many stops and MegaBus/Greyhoundin’ it. G Adventures, by far, was the best choice for me when it came to destinations, accommodation style and price.

The total cost of the trip without spending money for me was £2475. I booked through STA Travel and received £100 off the tour price which at the time was around £2000, making it around £575 for direct flights from London to San Francisco, then New York to London which I thought was pretty darn good! I chose the Eastbound route as I thought it would be nice to get the end of summer on the West Coast which definitely was the case. Our tour guides, Kaleb and Alex, said that they preferred the Westbound route as a lot of the experiences that people enjoy the most are on the end of the tour, rather than doing the amazing stuff then feeling a bit let down as the weather gets colder and there be less outdoor adventures. I didn’t see a problem but it’s something to keep in mind. G Adventures also has a 24-hour hotline for any problems you might have beforehand which is pretty sweet for those last minute panics.

This included accommodation which was around a 80/20 split of camping and hotels, most of our meals when camping, National Park tickets, some activities and transport so all I really had to book separately was hostels on either end in San Francisco and New York which I done through HostelBookers. It was pretty fuss-free and I appreciated not stressing about it once it was booked!

The Trip!

San Francisco

So I landed in SF, got an airport shuttle for around $15 direct to my hostel, the HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel. I got there around 7pm and found out there was a pub crawl starting at 8 so I chucked my stuff down, brushed my teeth and headed out! Five bars, a few friends and a slice of $1 pizza later, I went back to my comfy room attempting to prepare for the next day.

As the tour didn’t start until the 5th, I had two days to explore by myself which STA advised as you don’t do anything in SF with G Adventures. A few of the people on the tour flew in on the 5th and regretted it as they didn’t get to do even the basics. I decided to walk where many have walked before and explored across the Golden Gate and back.

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The next day I walked to Fisherman’s Wharf and got an impromptu boat tour of Alcatraz Prison. If you want to visit the inside of the prison, you should look into booking your tickets as soon as possible, three months minimum. The boat tour guide said they sometimes have extremely limited tickets on the day during the week which people queue from 5am for if you are desperate. It was lovely to see Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge from the sea though – these tours are all over the Pier and you don’t need to book in advance.

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Organised by my hostel, a walking tour of SF’s Mission District was a good taste off the beaten track. A mix of cultures, a big graffiti scene, mad Bloody Mary’s from Zeitgeist at midday – it’s worth the travel.

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A few of us from the walking tour that wanted to keep the fun going decided to have a day drinking session at Dolores Park, apparently a Mission District tradition. Expect big crowds if the weather is nice!

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After a sun soaked sit down with some tacos and beer, it was time for me to meet the group I was going to be travelling with for a month! We met in the Good Hotel, dealt with some formalities then briefly introduced ourselves. We then went for something quick to eat and after my day, I was ready for bed as were a lot of people who had gone sightseeing or travelled that day so don’t feel compelled to party on the first night, it’s totally normal especially as this was the last bed and wifi we saw until Las Vegas.

Yosemite National Park, California

Waving goodbye to SF from the Golden Gate Bridge early in the morning, getting us on the way to Yosemite. Lots of chatting going on – there were 22 people on our tour, the absolute maximum we could have, so there’s always something going on. We were told not all tours are this full so if too many people is a concern of yours, give G Adventures a call to find out when the less busy tours are. I enjoyed it as there was always people to hang with if you didn’t necessarily want to do what the majority wanted to do but at times it was a tiny bit overwhelming, however I did anticipate this.

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Taken in San Antonio – This was our van, trailer for luggage and camping stuff and two person tents

The drive to our camp was intense and amazing. We stopped off for a quick dip in an open pool, done some cliff diving and then headed off to start setting up camp for the first time.

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The next two days were spent exploring Yosemite and all it had to offer. DSC00148 DSC00169 DSC00171 DSC00179

So my glasses broke just before we done our first hike. Crying in front of five people I met around 48 hours beforehand with my glasses in pieces wasn’t on my bucket list but it definitely gave me a swift lesson how to take experiences on the chin and adapt to them. Whilst in the future I will always take a spare pair with me and carry them when doing stuff like hiking, I will never forget doing the Glacier Point trail with my glasses held together with tape that Ollie got from Roy in the gift shop.

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The trip was the best in the moments where we just chilled and got to know each other. This little river was next to our camp where we’d go to hang out after the hikes.

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Our last stop in Yosemite was this alpine lake – freezing cold but well worth the struggle of trying to go in. We were headed off to Bishop and Death Valley, seeing the breadth of environments that California has to offer before getting to Nevada.

Continued in Death Valley to Grand Canyon!

Review: YOUR Pillow! by SHO – Ultimate Self Inflating Travel

As much as the extremely over-enthusiastic name put me off this item, after a fair bit of research, the YOUR Pillow! seemed like my go-to option for a decent travel pillow. As I’m not a regular camper, my experience with travel pillows has either been lugging my normal one along or buying a neck pillow last minute in Gatwick’s WHSmiths but this clearly isn’t going to cut it for four weeks mostly camping! The SHO pillow comes up on many ‘Best Travel Pillow’ lists, turns up first on Amazon and Google and has the most reviews it seems so I figured it’d be worth my bet.

Size

SHO pillow

I decided to put this against a Pepsi Max can for two reasons: 1) It was the closest thing to me when taking photos and 2) Unlike the Amazon listing, I feel this gives you an accurate vision of the size of the item. This is my number one priority when I was looking for an item – I’m taking a 40 litre bag and every centimetre of space has to be earned. Now, at first I thought it was massive and a part of me still does but I’m accepting that most pillows are around this size. One of the only ways to get around this is to not take one at all and make something like a packing cube multipurpose. Would the comfort of this pillow outweigh the fact that I think it’s quite big for a pillow? Let’s see…

Set-Up and Comfort

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Once I unrolled it, I did realise how much pillow they’ve packed into that bag. The nozzle at the top unscrews and air is slowly released into the pillow. As I bought a self-inflating pillow, I naively thought that it would in fact self-inflate. I actually went to the bank and back in hope that when I came back, I’d come home to a wonderfully plump travel pillow. Yeah, nah. You’ve got to blow it up a bit. Don’t get me wrong it was only a few puffs but yeah, very much not self-inflating.

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This is it’s size, blown up to its’ full capacity. I think I’m more impressed with it than I look. The outer material is plastic, which I think is possibly a mistake but I have no major qualms with having to put a t-shirt over it or something similar. It is definitely high enough to provide proper support for your neck and shoulders when sleeping and I think it’s probably the closest thing to a real pillow that a ‘travel pillow’ can get.

Price

£18.99.

I think my mother lost a tiny bit of respect for me when I told her this.

Like, it’s an expensive pillow, I get that. But as a person with a shoulder injury, I was prepared to pay up to £20 for a decent pillow, so I did. Do I think (at least so far) that it’s worth £18.99? No way. But comparatively, other £5-10 pillows are nowhere near the quality of this item. I’m also a big believer in invest once and not again, so hopefully this has been a smart purchase. This pillow also comes with a lifetime guarantee which I am a big fan off.

So overall, I’d probably give this pillow, pre-trip, a 7/10. A few things that could be fixed to make my life a little easier – better material, no prep time – but in reality, not that big of a deal. I would recommend for people to at least try it out to see if it’s the one for them!