Probably one of my best summers was in 2007, spent in the United States of America. Back then, I did a work and travel programme which was more focused on work but included some travels, too. The whole experience was supercharged with difficulties, adjusting of habits, measure units, and dealing with a long-distance relationship.
I have listed this article in the Travel category of my blog, but you will also see traces of my overall life experience in Uncle Sam, so expect both travel and lifestyle advice here.
Why am I sharing this with you now, ten years later?
Not only because I am a better writer now and I have a blog but also because it was truly a vortex of emotions, tonnes of sweat (“Svet never sweat,” one Mexican guy would say), travels, and many other adventures along the way. Here are the lessons and tips that I learnt the hard way.
Stone Harbor, New Jersey – my Cosy Home for the Summer
Probably very few of you have heard of this tiny resort town (population around 800 people in 2013) in Cape May County, New Jersey. Stone Harbor’s shores, with what I could only describe as the finest sand my feet have ever roamed, are washed by the Atlantic Ocean.
It is where my friends and I spent around three months from June to August, living and working. To be honest, my first job was in Avalon, NJ, literally adjacent to Stone Harbor, and my second one was in the stone town. The two towns might be petite, but they truly are gorgeous – beautiful houses are lined together with perfectly cut grass and enormous (for a European citizen, at least) boulevards crisscross the two places.
Work and Travel in the United States Is So much Fun – Especially in Summertime
The work and travel we did was more work than travel, so I will start with what I did and where we (10 people in an apartment) lived. I was one of the (un)lucky to sleep on the floor.
On one hand, I was lucky because an inflatable bed is the cosiest bed I have ever slept on. On the other hand, I was unlucky because I had to sleep in the living room where everybody else hung out.
A word of advice – don’t plan to live with 10 other people unless you know at least half of them. It’s not worth the hassle even if you save a couple of hundred bucks.
The apartment which was shared by our group of ten people was located on Stone Harbor’s 96th Street. I remember it vividly because I cycled every single day to and from my first job and then to and from my second job. To work and travel, you need to first work.. and cycle 😉
Every single time, the wind was blowing in my face, which made cycling not only challenging and sweatier but also very rewarding. But once in a while, I would take my shirt off and woo ladies (just kidding, I needn’t take it off).
My calves and quadriceps expanded greatly not only due to the everyday cycling but also because I marched in and around the hotel for 8 ½ hours.
Working as a Maintenance and Grounds Keeper Is as Diverse as It Can Get
Because it was very diverse – from cleaning the swimming pool, watering the gardens, and distributing towels to guests through painting walls, corridor stairs, and ceilings to maintaining electricity and regulating the irrigation system.
Time for a funny fact – once, I went to work so drunk, I almost fell in the pool while cleaning. And at least a couple of times, I almost puked inside.
Did I mention that besides all these activities, I also had to plunge clogged toilets?
Oh, yes, not the best job in the world, but, hey, I am so much stronger after doing that several times (thank God, the guests did not clog their toilets that often).
Sometimes, I wished I had to do that than to paint walls under a scorching July sun with unbearable levels of 96% humidity.
Prep-cook at a Seafood Restaurant Gives You a Chance to Sneakily Indulge in Delectable Dishes
My second job of my work and travel escapade was much more “scrumptious” – not only because I worked in a small family seafood restaurant but also because sometimes, I could surreptitiously savour some of the sea delicacies (I was not allowed to try anything besides the French fries, so, Jen, if you are reading this, I trespassed your prohibition…many times).
The main chefs were not Americans and we had quarrels a couple of times because I didn’t “obey” their orders.
A word of advice – be careful how you communicate with other nationalities and races since you can offend them more easily than you think.
Okay, truth is, I only sneaked tiny portions of shrimps or scallops – you cannot blame a man for trying! And I almost forgot – I got to keep the morning doughnuts if some of them had not been sold. And who says “NO” to an appetising doughnut with a delectable topping?
I had great colleagues there and I really enjoyed the work. It was usually around 5-6 hours (starting at 17:00 until 21:30-22:00). On Fridays and Saturdays, especially in the rush hour, it was insane.
Here’s something more interesting – the girls I worked with there were amazingly sexy (well, one was an amateur model). And my cooking and flirting vocabulary impressed them very much.
Travelling in the States Gets You to Unexpectedly Gorgeous Places
Work and travel, work and travel! Now comes the more fun part, although, I have to admit that working in an American hotel of around 60 employees out of which 25 were Bulgarians was more than amusing.
The other 35 included several Mexican guys and other Eastern Europeans. So, chances that you will hear English speech were slimmer than hearing Bulgarian. What a mafia, ho-ho. We didn’t embezzle anything, I promise you!
Alright, I did “steal” (read took and never returned) some batteries for my mp3 player (once). Does that really count?
Anyway, some of my travels included shopping on the day off in another small town called Rio Grande. Sometimes, I would cycle to there (it seemed like my cycling thirst was insatiable), put the groceries in my backpack and in two bags, and cycle back, looking like a Christmas tree without the lights. Too bad nobody took a picture of me like that.
TIP TIME: Once, we almost got bitten by a snake on the road. And there was this other time when it started pouring cats and dogs. So, consider buying a car there if you want to both work and travel. Some pretty good deals can be found for $1,000 and if you divide that in four and use it for the whole summer, it’s pretty neat. Fuel in the U.S. was, and still is, very cheap.
Avalon, New Jersey – a Place of Mists and Jaw-dropping Houses
The hotel I worked in was actually in Avalon (2 blocks away from Stone Harbor) and from time to time, a friend of mine and I would cycle there and admire the amazing resort houses. As per the signs in front of some of them, there were houses that were being sold for as much as $5 million!
So, I present to you million dollar New Jersey photos!
Atlantic City, New Jersey – the Small Vegas
The Small Vegas, as it is known, is situated around 1 ½ hours from Stone Harbor, so almost every week, we would go there for some clothes and diamond shopping (yes, I did buy diamonds because plunging toilets really pays off!)
Atlantic City might not be the most exciting place in the States, but it has probably the most revered boardwalk on the East Coast with the most peculiar history.
Miami, Florida – Where Sunshine Is En Masse
Not only did I purchase diamonds (a laptop, a camera, tonnes of junk food, sex toys, and Victoria’s Secret lingerie and perfumes – the lingerie was not for me, relax!) but I also saved money to visit the Sunshine City.
TRAVEL TIP: Plan in advance and opt for a bit off-season. The weather in Miami is gorgeous all year round, so you might even get into the best hotels.
Before you start envying me, let me tell you how I did it.
No magic formula here – I just started planning the trip in advance and booked the trip (which was in late September) when July commenced. The 3-day trip (accommodation and tours included) cost us around $450 – now, that was the deal of the deals, wasn’t it?
Here’s one photo from the gorgeous, stupendous, stupefying Miami.
New York City – Where Crowds and Skyscrapers Contrast with Quirky Neighbourhoods and Gigantic Parks
Ah, the Big Apple! It’s not only big and sweet but also so enchanting. Our last stop before going back to Bulgaria from what can only be narrated as an unforgettable summer was New York City – the City of Cities.
It’s not only the skyscrapers and the crowds (some people are not a fan of those, I know). That’s just a tiny bit of the most cosmopolitan city in the U.S. Throngs of architectural styles with swarms of nationalities crash there. Every tiny street looks like it has its own unique charm and can narrate you its peculiar story.
I am sure you will find your peace and tranquillity even among the legions of people around. And if not, there are great secluded places in Central Park if you really want to be alone and avoid the crowds.
New York, I am going to come back, so you better be prepared for me because this time, I would be legally allowed to drink my throat out!
TRAVEL TIP: The legal drinking age is taken quite serious, so don’t show off if someone buys you a beer.
My 3 ½ months visiting Uncle Sam and exploring “his” beauties changed me for the better. As a result of the work and travel experience, I became much more independent, cast away around 10,000 km from home. My communication skills skyrocketed. So did my patience skills – crucial if you aspire to be a world traveller.
The moral for you today is: Embrace the challenges and failures along the way, as they teach us and that’s how we grow. At the end of the day, no one is going to ask you whether you failed, but how you fuelled your motivation and persevered until you succeeded.
What’s your story? Do you have a piece of work and travel experience that completely changed your life and/or taught you essential lessons?