5 Big Differences when your AT prep is in England
It can sometimes seem almost impossible, living and commuting daily in London, to take in the fact that in a few short weeks we’ll be on the Appalachian Trail (and hopefully not too jetlagged). It seems like such a world away, and I know I won’t really believe it until I get off the plane in Atlanta. Pondering the biggest differences that I’ve encountered while prepping, due to being on the wrong side of the pond, I think these are the most striking (though don’t even get me started on understanding about how you do breakfast in the US. Why is there fruit near your bacon? Pancakes are a dessert! There is clearly further culture shock to come on arrival.)
1) You need a visa
This might seem obvious, but we Brits are used to the visa waiver program and merely having to fill in a short form on the plane when visiting the USA. They have tick boxes – No, I’m not intending to overthrow the Government during my stay, Yes, I plan to go home again. That kind of thing. When you’re staying for more than three months though, you need a proper B1/B2 visa, which involves scary visits to the US Embassy for interviews in which you explain that no, you’re not planning to overthrow the Government, and yes, you intend to go home again afterwards. It all went pretty smoothly for us, which was a great relief. I was all prepped and ready to explain that no, I don’t have a job or a flat to come home to, but honestly, I’m not planning to abscond. But luckily, they didn’t even ask, just looked at our enthusiastic, hiker-dream-filled faces, and gave us the ok. Phew.
2) You can’t buy bear bags and canisters in England
Amazon.com certainly has them, but Amazon.co.uk? Forget it. This is because the most we ever have to contend with in the English countryside is the occasional wasp or mildly perturbed squirrel. There aren’t even that many foxes, I suspect this is because they’re all in the cities, going through the bins. So I guess a dry sack and zip lock bags will have to do us, at least until Neels Gap.
3) You can’t mail drop from outside the USA
Yep that’s right, they won’t hold International mail for thru-hikers, only domestic packages. So no mail drops for us. Neither can you take meat products through customs, so other than a few initial cereal bars and some teabags I guess it’s all going to be shop as you go. Mind you, this does at least mean that I’m not having to do masses of cooking in advance – I can’t really imagine being together enough to put 6 months worth of food in convenient portions and send it all to strategic drop points anyway, I am in awe of this kind of planning.
4) Health insurance of doom
When buying travel insurance there are two categories, firstly the whole world other than the US, or alternatively, the whole world including the US. You can guess which of these is astonishingly more expensive. Also, it turns out that specialist backpacker insurance tends to only cover those who under 30 years old. However, we who are used to the NHS (at least for now) can only whimper in horror at the prospect of the cost of American medical treatment, should anything go wrong, so this is an area where it’s advisable to just take a deep breath and pay the extortionate premiums.
5) You know you can’t go home
No matter what happens, we have no way to spend a quick restorative visit at home, or with friends who might live close to the trail. But I think psychologically, this might be no bad thing. This, for us is our one shot at the Appalachian Trail, we can’t try again next year, we can’t section hike later, it’s now or never. So when the going gets tough, maybe we’re at an advantage. Besides, I’m contemplating posting my airporter bag cover up to Maine once I get to Georgia, so clearly I can’t go back to England until I’ve walked up there to get it…
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