The End of the Road

After twenty-one thousand incredible miles, we made it to our 48th state.

What a blessing to be able to have seen so much of this beautiful land; we’ve had countless people tell us that that is something that even few Americans have been able to do.

The last two states for us to visit were Ohio and West Virginia – but as we were on an epic 48 hour drive on our way back to New York to prepare to fly out, we only got a glimpse of these states.

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A rough sketch of our route

But, we took the time to celebrate the 48th state milestone with one of our last on-the-road meals, at a little park in Bethlehem, WV. Thankfully we could enjoy the sunshine before driving through nine hours of torrential rain across Pennsylvania and New Jersey!

In New York City, the end of our journey, we amazingly met some friends who had also just finished an epic journey of their own. Rob and Christine Lilwall cycled from California to New York City on a tandem!

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We both reached our milestones on Thursday – for us 48 states, for them coast to coast – and we both arrived in New York City on Friday. _MG_0576

Enjoying a celebratory drink overlooking the Statue of Liberty, and where so many Europeans first set foot onto these magnificent shores, we were thrilled to be able to share our stories and congratulate each other. And, we look forward to seeing them both back in Hong Kong.

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In Tulsa, just three days before we arrived in New Jersey, we gave the car a tremendous clean out, scrub and hoover – so much dust from the desert! So when we got to NJ, we just had to get it ready to drop it off with the shipping company.

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It is really amazing how much you can fit into a car! Our stuff was spread all over the lawn, garage and our bedroom. And the car looked very ‘naked’ without all of its equipment.

But now everything is almost-neatly packed into bags and boxes; our whole life seems to be a series of packing, unpacking, repacking and re-repacking. I’m thankful for the new Lianne La Havas album that got me through it.

On Friday, we took the Defender to the shipyard to have it inspected and received to clear customs, before it makes its long voyage home to the UK. The next time we see it will be in December.

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It really is remarkable car; although it is very loud, not the most comfortable, and there’s always something that doesn’t quite open or close properly, it drove us thousands and thousands of miles through extreme heat and crazy terrain, and never let us down once.

If only it had air-conditioning…

While the car is on the ship, we are already dreaming of how to prepare it for the next expedition – what we would change, what we would keep the same, how we can make it fit a few more people in so we can share the road with some friends…

Hopefully next summer we will be able to take the car somewhere even more challenging. We have a destination in mind – maybe we will be able to reveal that within the next few months.

But for now, as we look back over the past four months, we also look forward to The Travellers Two returning to Asia and sharing those new stories as the journey continues.

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Off Road Arches

After our off-road “training” with our Belgian friends in Idaho, we were more confident to take the car off road ourselves. And we had heard many stories from 4×4 enthusiasts that Moab, Utah is the best place for it.

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So after following the tourist trails through Arches National Park, we turned onto a gravel road. The sign said “4×4 vehicles, high clearance recommended” and that it was best to take the road from north to south.

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After a couple of minutes of driving on gravel road, we saw two cars coming down from the hills; a Dodge and a Toyota. The guy in the Toyota stopped, and told us “It’s pretty gnarly up there.” But then he looked at our car and said, “you have pretty high clearance – you should be fine.”

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Michal’s reaction was, ‘hey if your car can do it, we’ll have no problem’ – after all, our car was built for this.

If only he knew what was coming up…

Half way through the eighteen-mile track, we saw that a storm was approaching from the west. We knew that if it started raining heavily, the road would become even more dangerous and impassable, and that we would likely get stuck for the night. But, thankfully, we were only hit by a light spot of rain and the heavy clouds moved north and east.

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After hours, literally, of adrenaline producing hills, with the tyres clinging on for life to the steep rock and soft sand, we made it to a beautiful spot a mile away from the main road.

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As the sun was setting, we decided to stop for a magic hour dinner, and as I was cooking Michal went hunting for the perfect last photo of the Moab’s arches.

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Yellowstone – but instead of Yogi we met Lucy

Driving across Northwest America has been another feast for the eyes and for the soul.

Leaving the west, making our way east, led us through Cascade National Park with the bluest lakes I have ever seen and some of the most jaw-dropping mountains of our drive.

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Thick, dense pine forests coat the landscapes, and we spent a day exploring Glacier National Park before heading to the world’s most active volcanic region; Yellowstone.

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We’re not usually early morning people, but we entered Yellowstone at 6am in time for the sunrise, and the mystical scenes that greeted us easily repaid the hours of sleep that we had given up.

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It was magical; the mysterious mist rising over early grazing herds, the lakes, rivers and mountains, the colours, the smells.

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We hiked one of the parks highest peaks; Avalanche Peak, and it almost lived up to its name! Once we summited, we made our way across a ridge to the next peak, with Louise being literally knocked over by the wind several times. And as our path downwards turned into a scree slope, the only way down was to slide through rocks and pebbles, creating mini-avalanches and hoping we wouldn’t bring any bigger piles down on top of us.

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It was an exhilarating, somewhat nerve-racking but beautiful hike… and we still had a day ahead of us to explore the Teton Mountains, a stunning mountain range that we had heard so much about.

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But when we woke up, the heavens opened, and our plans for a beautiful hike in the Teton Mountains were spoiled. So we decided to just drive south.

Ten minutes later, as we entered Jackson, Wyoming, we were shocked to see a beautiful red Defender sitting outside a Dairy Queen. It wasn’t just any Defender; it was kitted out with a roof tent, roof boxes, two spare tyres, and those tell-tale stickers with a website and logo that told us “this car is on a serious journey”.

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So we went inside, and met Sam and Hanne – a couple from Belgium who are into their 11th month of travelling.

When we told them that we had a Defender parked outside next to theirs, they of course jumped up and went out to take a look!

We started comparing our different interiors and exteriors; Michal and I were a little envious of their fridge and custom built units at the back. They had travelled around Africa for the first ten months of their trip, and had had a lot more time to build their house on wheels. The end result was beautifully organised and convenient; we learned a lot from them!

After a couple of hours of hearing each others’ stories, since we had no plans for that day thanks to the rain, we opted to join Sam, Hanne and “Lucy” their Defender on the road.

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After an afternoon of driving and filling up on groceries, we found a perfect, secluded spot in the Idaho wilderness and set up camp for the evening.

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The rain clouds had cleared out and the sky that night was absolutely stunning!

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After a European breakfast, Sam and Hanne found some 4×4 trails through Crater of the Moon national park, and so after a morning of exploring caves and volcanic craters, we took our vehicles off road to put them through their paces.

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They wanted to give us a little taste of what it might be like driving through Africa…

And within the first ten minutes, we heard a smash… We had lost a window!

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We’re not sure if it was the intense vibrations, or the pressure from the car frame, or a stone flying up and hitting the window.

But it was gone!

With Sam and Hanne’s help, we patched it up using a plastic crate lid, and have now joined the league of travellers whose cars are somewhat held together by duct tape.

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The rest of the 50-mile trail passed without any drama. But Sam and Hanne said that the roads and the landscape looked so similar to that of Namibia that they expected to see a giraffe or elephant at any moment!

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We were planning to go our separate ways when we reached the lake, but there was a campsite just a mile away and so we spent our evening fishing (again, zero fish for us…), cooking and planning our next journey together somewhere in the world.

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The next morning, we were both planning to get on the road early, but again we had so much to share and discuss and dream about that we didn’t get away until almost 3pm.

What a joy to meet such like-minded travellers by absolute chance! But we don’t believe in coincidences, and are very sure that we’ll get to travel somewhere together again in the future; maybe we’ll get ourselves a matching roof tent by then…

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Sam and Hanne have been through Africa, N. America, and you can follow the rest of their epic journey through Central and South America and into South East Asis on their website www.tweejaaropreis.be – which means “Two Years On Vacation” – and if your Flemish isn’t up to scratch, google translate will help you out!

On a trip like this, it is imperative to be prepared and make good plans. But, sometimes, it is just wonderful when plans get changed or rain throws a curveball… something amazing might just happen…

Wild West

Louise’s 2nd July Concert to kick off the 4th July weekend seemed a little ironic – a Brit wishing Texans Happy Independence Day?

But, music is a universal language and the concert connected superbly with the audience. And since we had given ourselves one week to get to Los Angeles from Austin, as soon as the gig was over, we packed up the car and headed into the night.

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West. Wild West, truly!

We had seen some pretty remote parts of the states; the Badlands in the Dakotas, tiny little towns in Minnesota, never-ending fields of farmland in Missouri and Kansas.

But the vast expanses of desert in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California were something even more incredible.

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The Guadalupe Mountains on the Texas and New Mexico border were our introduction to the rugged, wild terrain that continues across the south of the USA. Rich rocks filled with quartz, mountains lions, cacti and forest, snakes and deer – the mountains held a diversity of life thanks to their abundant water supply.

But as we headed further into the desert, the numbers of species fell and soon we were alone with lizards, birds, and bugs. There is nothing like the quiet, the darkness, the heat, the expanse of the desert.

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In towering sand dunes or vast canyons, with the unforgiving sun and no sign of water, it is easy to see how lost and helpless we are under the forces of nature.

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As we approached one of the world’s most stunning features, the great crack in its crust formed by a formidable earthquake, Grand Canyon, we wanted to have a different experience than we had had before – something more than taking that same photo that everyone has.

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So we started hiking down into the canyon. As soon as you start to descend, you start to understand the sheer size of the place. We walked for hours, and had not even got close to the bottom. One can not easily conquer these wild places.

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One of the most fascinating features of the Wild West is the number of abandoned, or almost-abandoned towns that are scattered across the landscape. We came across several mining towns that had fallen into ruin, with their run-down buildings, scrap cars in yards, and mine shafts – some still with undetonated explosives!

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It is amazing to let your imagination create the stories of those who lived here; why they came, how life was, what finally forced them to leave. And for those who have stayed, how do they possibly survive when there is no-one for miles and nothing to build a life around?

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Amazingly, the post office and the railroads are the veins that keep the life blood flowing; connecting and crisscrossing and keeping these tiny towns alive. In the most remote of towns, high in the mountains or deep in the desert, post boxes line the roads and are a welcome sign of life.

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Perhaps the creepiest place that we came across was while we were off-roading in the Mojave desert. We had turned onto tiny dirt tracks, when we crested a hill and found an old trailer; the windows were gone, and it was covered in plastic sheeting.

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Bullet casings and shotgun shells were strewn everywhere, and our minds immediately jumped to Walter White and Breaking Bad! It was a great hideout… shielded from view and protected from the rear by mountains. So either someone there had a score to settle with the coyotes, or the King of the Hill had something else going on…

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But that night, we found a perfect camp of our own. In the middle of nowhere, peaceful, with the brightest stars we have ever seen. It is easy to see why our ancestors worshiped the moon and the stars; these bright oracles bring light in the midst of darkness, and their beauty is astounding!

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As night fell, the howl of coyotes greeted our ears. We made sure the door was firmly locked that night!

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While the days are hot and bright, the nights are usually dark and cool and peaceful. But when storms come, the lightning is awe-inspiring. Driving towards Las Vegas, the air was thick with the smell of electric charge – it looked like “Sin City” was under attack with fierce vengeance! With lightning all around us, in every direction, piercing through the night sky with great cracks of light, once again we felt the force of nature – knowing we were at its mercy and have no power to stop it.

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It is an amazing feeling to be overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty and wildness of our world. It can be uncomfortable, daunting, truly scary. But it is always an enriching, humbling and inspiring experience.

Coast to Coast

On the 9th July, we made it to Los Angeles! We were in a rush, as we had booked the Defender in for a service at British Car Service and we were later than we had hoped…

But we drove straight to the garage, and were greeted by a warm smile and multiple British Accents!

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The car, having done over 14,000 miles in the last two months, hadn’t let us down, but we thought it would be a good idea to have it looked over. And, when we walked into the garage and saw all the Defenders sitting there, we knew that this was the right place to come.

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They service Land Rovers that have travelled the world, with the pictures on the walls showing some of the amazing machines they have built and maintainted. Steve, the owner, even though he was rushing to fly to England that afternoon, still took the time to show us around the shop.

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Originally from Manchester, England, Steve has lived in the USA for 40 years, first working as a Rolls Royce expert and then later opening his unique British car servicing business.

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They are the largest independent garage for Land Rovers in the USA, and had absolutely everything we could have needed! But thankfully, all that we needed was an oil change and a decent look over… that was until we mentioned that there was a slight issue with the bonnet latch…

It closed fine, but the release wasn’t working properly.

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Three hours later, it was fixed! But it took five Land Rover experts and some serious elbow grease to get it done…

Alex and Josh, who had spent their afternoon educating us about Defender engines and fixing the bonnet, invited us out for a drink, and as we drove to Alex’s local, we got our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean!

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The bar was right next to the beach, and so after 41 days, we have made it Coast to Coast… but we definitely didn’t take the most direct route…

We had a great evening with a truly American meal; hearing stories of off-roading in the desert while turtle evading, and break-neck driving through fields to escape a tornado.

After the sun had set, with the car’s engine all in good shape and a fully functioning bonnet, we started our journey towards the lowest point and the highest point in the USA’s 48 states.

Half Way There

Half way through our journey. Half way through the year.

The half way point is an interesting place to be – you look back just as much as you look forward. It’s the beginning of the end, but right in the middle.

We are almost exactly in the middle of our trip. We have been on the road for nine weeks, and have just over nine weeks until we say goodbye to the Land Rover for a little while. We’ve been to the most Eastern, Southern and Northern points of the continental USA, and still have the Wild Wild West ahead of us.

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And we are almost exactly in the middle of the USA! Although we only have 13 states left to visit, those 13 make up almost half of the country and we will probably double the 11,000 miles that we have put on the odometer.

So, at the half way point we look back at the truly beautiful times: the parks, the people, the concerts and the open roads. And the challenges: the heat, the cold, the bugs, the lack-of-hot-showers!

And we look forward to even more to come: meeting amazing people with their stories, breath-taking views and being inspired creatively.

This is our first long overland expedition, and even though we’re driving through a “first world” country, it’s definitely a learning curve. We’re using this as preparation for future trips in more remote places in the world.

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From Austin, we’re on our way into the desert, mountains and then, if we make it out the other side, back to the ocean!

If you’re enjoying being part of our journey, please click “Follow” on the right of the post, to subscribe to our blog, and connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. We’ll try to keep it fun!

Nashville Diaries

We were just supposed to be in Nashville for a day or two… we had one meeting planned and a couple of potential connections. The meeting turned into a perfect day of music, philosophy and, surprisingly, off-roading…

That evening, with very muddy tyres, we went up to Nashville not knowing where we were going and without plans. But it happened that Glen, an Aussie friend from Hong Kong, was in town at the same time. The person that he was going to meet invited him to an event that night – so we ended up at launch party for Weld; a creative collaborative space for designers, photographers and artists. Never have we seen so many hipsters in one room!

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Catching up with friends at Weld

It was a night of connections – first we were shocked to see two guys we knew from Hong Kong – Nick “the Greek” Georgiou, who had cut his epic beard, and Brady Toops who was now a Reality TV star. And the surprises continued when Michal met not one, but two people from university who he hadn’t seen for over ten years!

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Nick the Greek

Nick the Greek had promised us a tour of Fort Houston, where he works. “The Fort” as it is lovingly referred to, is an old hosiery factory that has been converted into workshop space for woodworkers, mechanics, metal smiths, artists and artisans. (For more on the Fort see our write up here).

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Is Everything In Order?

Inspired by the serious motorbikes that surrounded us, Michal started tinkering with the Land Rover engine. Honestly, the engine had cut out a couple of times previously, so we knew we needed to check it.

The oil was REALLY low. And Michal tried to clean the fuel pump… but it turns out that Michal doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows about engines, and it’s easier to unscrew something than put it back together.

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Becoming a real man…

So as we were driving away, we realised that the engine didn’t sound right… it was coughing and lurching and was obvious that we weren’t going anywhere!

But thankfully, we had hardly got out of the parking lot, and the motorcycle boys either knew what to do or knew whom to call. And amazingly there was a Land Rover specialist around the corner, who said that he would come over after work to check it out.

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Stuck in Nashville

When the mechanic showed up, he told us that we needed a new lift pump; and because it’s a unique car we needed to order it from a specialist dealer in New York. If we got the fastest shipping it would be here before the weekend…

So we were stuck in Nashville… but, hey… there are worse places to be stuck!

Over the next couple of days, we slowly fell in love with Nashville. The guys at Fort Houston took us under their collective wing, and we were semi-initiated into the Blackbirds Gentlemen’s Motorbike Assembly with the super spicy Hattie B’s chicken and the Fort Houston jersey.

The only problem was, we don’t have a motorbike… we only have a broken down Land Rover… but they didn’t seem to mind ☺

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Nick and Tanner, the Blackbirds

After two days of getting to know the city and the arts community, Friday morning came. After a serious breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we retuned to the Fort hoping that the part would have arrived.

But when we saw that the mail had been delivered and there was nothing for us, and that I still hadn’t received the confirmation email or tracking number from the company, we started to worry… If we didn’t get it today, we would be stuck until after the weekend!

Just then, I got an email saying that there was an incorrect zipcode on the order, and that I needed to call UPS to find out where the parcel was!

I finally got the tracking number, called UPS, and they told me that the shipment had been rerouted and that, even with the new, correct zip code, it wouldn’t be delivered until Monday…

But, Nick the Greek, a.k.a our saviour, got the address, jumped on his Harley and drove for over two hours to pick it up for us… and he even managed to grab us pizza in the process!

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To the rescue!

The mechanic was busy the whole day, and didn’t show up until 7.30pm on Friday night. He is obsessed with Land Rovers, and although he knew them well, he had never actually seen the 300TDi before. He was like a kid in a candy shop! And was very entertaining… we learned a lot that evening, and not just about Land Rovers… Patrick, one of the motorcycle guys stayed with us until 1am to help us finish, before being woken up early by his 2 year old daughter… I don’t think he got much sleep!

With the car fixed, there was a weight off our shoulders, and we should have been on our way. But we were having too much fun, and there was so much creative stuff going on that we had to at least stay for the weekend.

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Louise playing at Nashville’s Art Crawl, Fort Houston

Too many wonderful people and experiences to post about – artists, entrepreneurs, Land Rover lovers, lakes, barbecues, musicians… our souls were enriched and our senses were saturated!

We knew that we had to get back on the road, but put off saying goodbye for as long as we could. We had really found a home in Nashville – people who we admired, were inspired by, saw eye to eye with, laughed and ate and fixed things with.

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Bennett’s Airstream; Born in the N.A.S.H, at Porter Flea

We had been blown away by their hospitality, their generosity, their willingness to help us out and go the extra mile, or 100 miles, for. It’s an amazing feeling to be welcomed in to a community like the one we found at Fort Houston. What they have is truly special. We know we will be back.

After checking the oil one final time, (we had changed it once, and then again by accident!) we finally set off as the sun was setting and the rain stopped pouring.

And as we drove away, we were already trying to figure out how and when we could come back to Nashville. Michal realised the next day that he left his camera charger… I guess we’ll just have to go and get it!

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On the Road Again

Frail Travelling Coincidences

House concerts are very different to a regular show in a bar or concert hall. By the time you start singing, you’ve already had the chance to meet most of the people in the room. So when you sing and share the stories, you are now sharing them not with strangers, but with friends. Your audience absorbs your songs, differently as well – you are not just a musician, a performer on the stage: you become a real person.

The first house concert I played was in New Haven, Connecticut. A Yale University professor asked me to come and play; he invited a few of his friends and colleagues without his family fully knowing what was happening. His son Max kept asking “Dad, what’s going on here?” and he tried to explain “You know the girl that was here a couple of days ago, Louise, is doing a house concert” … “OK dad, but what’s really going on here?”

_MG_4237It wasn’t until I mentioned the concept of house concerts during the show, that he finally realised that they’re really “a thing”. I guess that shows that house gigs are not common; they have become popular in some parts of the country, but to be honest, I wasn’t even sure what to expect from the first one.

It’s interesting to see what kind of people we will meet during these intimate performances. In New Haven the room was full of University and NGO people, fighting global poverty. It was an interesting crowd to be part of. But the second concert I was invited to play happened yesterday and was even more unique. In a joke, after the show, we were joking that they can take my music beyond ‘the cloud’, further than all the other music… because most of the guests were working for NASA.

700px-Nasa-logoAs we arrived into Yorktown, VA, the first thing that we heard, and then saw, as we got out of the car were strange looking jet planes flying above us. All the signs that we had seen for Military Bases, and NASA, on the way started to make sense! Little did we know it, but our friend Whitney, who we knew from Australia, is married to a scientist who works at the NASA Research Centre.

And only a few hours later we found out that half of the audience in the room was working at the same facilities, from contract coordinators to fighter jet pilots. It’s so amazing to be able to meet people from different walks of life, hear their stories, where they come from and where they are going. It’s also and incredible privilege to be able to share our stories and piece of our lives with them.

To use the words of one of my favourite poets, Philip Larkin, “these frail travelling coincidences” are beautiful – yesterday, a lady told me that as soon as I started singing, she knew that the evening was a gift to her that she truly needed that evening. And likewise, we were blessed with good food, inspiration, deep rejuvenating conversation and plenty of laughter.

As we are about to head south to Charleston, South Carolina, where I’m booked to play two pub shows over the weekend, we are hoping to do more of these house concerts along the way. So if you’re somewhere out there and you enjoy music, good company and having a classic Defender parked on your driveway,  here is our intended itinerary for the next couple of months. Let us know if you would like to host us for a house show, club show or a music festival, we might just be in the area. Just let us know at louise@louisewrightmusic.com

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May 11thCharleston – South Carolina

May 18thMiami, Naples, Key West – Florida and Georgia

May 25thNew Orleans – Alabama, Missisippi, Louisiana

 June 1stNashville, St Louis – Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri,

 June 8thChicago – Kentucky, Illinois,

June 15thMinneapolis – Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota

June 22ndKansas City, Tulsa – North & South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas

June 29thAustin  – Texas,

July 6thLA  – New Mexico, Arizona, California

Jul 13thSFO – California

July 20thPortland, Seattle  – Nevada, Oregon, Washington

Shipping your car to America

On Tuesday, we were overjoyed to finally pick up the Defender from Newark Port! It had been a long wait, so we were relieved when we finally saw it in the flesh and it was all in one piece!

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2015 is the last year that Land Rover will be producing Defenders, and so this trip is a tribute to the car that has probably done the most exploring of any motor vehicle. This post may not interest a lot of our readers, but for anyone who is thinking about importing a Land Rover (or any other car) into the USA, we wanted to document the process.

Although it is not an extremely complicated process to get the car into the USA, it did take us a great deal of research and a lot of waiting for answers. So, for anyone who is interested, here are the steps we went through and what we learned along the way…

1) Import Category: There are several categories of import for cars the USA. The one we used, which would be suitable for most travellers like us, is temporary import as a non-resident. This is “Code O” on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) import form. This allows you import a car for up to one year, as a non resident if the car is for personal use. You are not allowed to leave the country until the car is re-exported. (see note 1 below)

2) EPA Exemption: Since our car is non-conforming to USA safety standards (steering wheel is on the wrong side!) we had to also apply for exemption from the EPA’s standards. I believe that all cars have to apply for this even if you think the car would fulfil all requirements. To do this, you send a request letter with car and driver details and trip plans to the EPA, and they hopefully approve and send you a letter confirming! You have to send them the proof of re-export when the vehicle leaves the country, otherwise you are issued a huge fine!

3) Import Bond: This was a BIG question that was on our mind for a long time and we didn’t get a clear answer to until very late in our planning! in some cases, US Customs will charge an import bond (deposit) when the car arrives, as a guarantee that you will not sell/leave the vehicle in the USA. This is normal charged at 1.5x the value of the car! So in our case if would have been much more than we could afford… In doing all of our research, both on USA government websites and hearing from people who had done similar trips, we could not get a definitive answer from anyone about whether we would have to post a bond or not… and obviously this was a huge consideration as to whether we would be able to go ahead with the import or not. Finally, through our shipping company, we were put in touch with an import broker, who, after asking us the year, make and value of the vehicle, told us that we would not have to pay a bond. I really have no idea whether other cars would have to post a bond. The official guide on “temporary imports as a non residents” says that no bond is required, but it is down to the discretion of the customs officer… so it best to get a definitive answer from an import specialist.

4) Shipping: We got several quotes from shipping companies to ship from Southampton to New York. We decided to go with Kingstown Shipping, since they gave us the most information with contacts for insurance and import brokers. They were also the most reasonably priced with great service! The other companies just told us “not to worry”, one gave us wrong information, and just seemed interested in getting our business no matter what. We used “Roll on Roll off”, since it is also cheaper. But you can also book a whole container if you have other items to ship. (With RoRo you are not allowed to pack the car with any personal items) We had to arrange a haulier to pick up the car from the UK since we were still in Hong Kong, and Kingstown Shipping were happy to arrange that for us. We scheduled a shipping for the 11th April, and the car was delivered to the port on Friday 10th with no hassle. The shipping company issued a Bill of Lading once the car was on the ship and the vessel had sailed. Their fees covered the haulier, the port fees/terminal handling and the shipping.

5) Import Broker: US Customs requires two forms to be filled out and submitted upon arrival. Thankfully we were put in touch with Flora and Fauna import brokers who made the process extremely simple for us!  “There is no legal requirement for you to hire a Customs broker to clear your goods. However, many importers opt to do so for the convenience.”  [Procedures for Importing Vehicles and Engines into the US, EPA 2010] I don’t know how you would go about submitting this by yourself, so would definitely recommend using a broker house! We had to submit a power of attorney that allowed Flora and Fauna to act on our behalf. The two forms they submitted for us were the CBP and the EPA 3520-1. Each of these forms needed information from the shipping company, from us, and from the broker. You need to elect an address where the car will be “Shipped” to. Although we had no permanent address in the USA, we were able to use a friend’s home as the car address, and this also served as the address for the insurance (see below). The Import Broker contacted us once the car had arrived, and once it had cleared customs. Their fees covered the Customs charges (Department of Transportation and EPA), filing fees, terminal handling and their own legal fees. They would have also assisted in bond posting if we had needed it.

6) Marine insurance: We got insurance for the period that the car was on the ship with Towergate Insurance. This was very straightforward; they just require the value of the vehicle and the cost of the shipping, and can process very quickly.

7) Delays: The car was supposed to arrive into New York on the 21st April. So we planned to arrive on the 18th, so that we would have a couple of days to get over jet lag and sort out insurance etc. But we got an email on the 20th that the vehicle wasn’t going to arrive until the 26th, and that it could take some time to clear customs! Thankfully, it only took two days to clear customs, but it still put us a week behind schedule. It could have been much longer, and so be prepared to have to wait.

8) Insurance: From the research I had done, it didn’t sound like getting insurance was going to be either difficult or overly expensive. But it turned out it was both! The difficulty is that the car is never registered in any state, and most insurance companies need the car to be registered in the state that they insure you from. But since the car retains its international (in our case UK) registration, a lot of companies had no idea what to do with us! And we both have international drivers licenses, so companies in the US cannot see driving history, which puts premiums up. Finally, we spoke to an agent at AAA who found us insurance through Progressive. I had already spoken to a Progressive agent who said they couldn’t insure us, but the AAA agent found something for us! You can get either just liability (which is the legal minimum) or full coverage. We opted for full coverage, otherwise you’re not covered for any damage to your car. This ended up costing quite a bit more than we had budgeted, but we have peace of mind which is worth so much!

9) Pickup: Picking up the car was a relatively straightforward procedure. The import broker forwarded the Delivery Order once the car had cleared customs, and gave us the address of the port. Thankfully a friend drove us to the port, otherwise it would have been a long walk from the closest bus stop! The port is huge, so we had to find the right office and dock. Once inside, we handed the Delivery Order to the officer, who took a copy along with a copy of my passport, and sent us to the next office to process the release. This took about an hour, but was just a case of waiting for them to finalise paperwork. Then off we drove!

10) Carnet De Passage: This is a document that is honoured in many countries in place of an import bond. It is used especially in Africa, South America and parts of Asia. The USA does not honour the Carnet de Passage system. We looked into this for going into Canada, but we would have still had to make a large deposit to the Carnet Office in the UK (the RAC) and so we decided against it. So there is no point in obtaining a Carnet de Passage for driving the USA.

11) Diesel: America loves petrol! There are not that many diesel cars here; of course trucks use diesel here, but not all gas stations have diesel available. So we are gonna have to make sure we don’t get caught in the middle of nowhere with no diesel. It’s legal to carry extra fuel tanks here, but make sure you get the right colour – Red is petrol, Yellow is diesel.

12) Budget: It may have been cheaper for us to buy a vehicle once we arrived in the States. But we were not sure if we would find something safe, reliable and that allowed us to camp at the back. Plus, we had already invested in upgrading our Defender for the journey. Looking at the below costs, it is definitely cheaper to import rather than to rent a car, when you are doing a trip longer than a couple of months. Here is a rough estimate of our costs:

Shipping (one way, without haulier) – $1200

UK Port Fees – $220

Marine Insurance – $230

Car Insurance – $1100 for six months

Import/Customs Fees – $700

Total: US$3500 approx, plus return shipping.

To return the car to the UK, we will have to pay shipping, port fees and marine insurance, which should be similar prices, but always budget for the unexpected!

Note 1:

2.2.5 Temporary Vehicle Imports for Nonresidents
Motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment for personal use may be imported for up to
one year. The vehicle must be imported in connection with your arrival, and it must be owned
by you or on order before you depart from abroad. Only individual nonresidents may import a
vehicle through a nonresident exemption. There is no Customs bond required, however, EPA
requires that written approval must be obtained prior to importation.
Requirements:
● Importer must file with U. S. Customs, upon entry, an EPA Form 3520-1 declaring code
“O;” and attach the EPA letter of exemption.
● Importer should keep a copy of the EPA approval letter for future proof of EPA
exclusion.
Restrictions:
● Importer must be a nonresident;
● Vehicle may not be sold or otherwise transferred to another party in the U.S.;
● Vehicle must be used primarily for personal use by the importer while in the U.S.;
● Use of this exemption is prohibited if the vehicle is to be used primarily to conduct
business, or for principle use by persons other than the importer (or spouse of the
importer); and
● Vehicle must be exported after one year, or upon the nonresident departing the U.S.,
whichever comes first

 [Procedures for Importing Vehicles and Engines into the US, EPA 2010]