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"My Backpack and I, So Far" by Brad Grant

22.02.16

For those that know me personally or have followed me on social media for the past two years you will know that I never stop talking about traveling. But why? I’m going to tell you.

I do want to start however by saying traveling changes lives and no matter what I say in this post – you will not understood until you experience it for yourself, so if anything, let this post be a kick to the ‘inspiration’ membrane.

If this blog is going to be anything I want it to be then I want you, the reader, to get to know me.

So, let’s get started.

My traveling journey began when I applied for Camp America back in August 2013, eight months after my ninetieth birthday. I’d always wanted to complete the programme ever since I was about fifteen. I have clear memories off sitting in Science class and rather than researching atoms or alike, I was sat looking at the Camp America website, day dreaming. Eighteen you had to be to apply, but when I turned eighteen life got in the way and I didn’t apply.

When August 2013 arrived, I was nearly one year into a full-time job, money was great, was it what I wanted to do? No. I still wanted to do Camp America and the thought of asking my manager for three months leave felt silly. I did it anyway, and guess what? They laughed and said no.

I lie, they didn’t really. My manager at the time (DR), who I will always be grateful too said yes. I couldn’t believe it. I got home, I hit the sign up button, completed my application, and before I knew it my application was well underway: Camp America interview complete, police check approved, references approved, medical approved. All that I needed was that all in important placement!

Fast forwarding to January 2014, the 4th to precise. That all important camp interview happened, with a wonderful camp called Camp Huntington, a co-ed residential programme for children and young adults with learning and development needs, in upstate New York.

After an hour of being interviewed by an awesome lady called Alex, she went and hired me right on the spot and from that moment, I think the ‘old’ Brad started to dissolve. The next six months were nothing but excitement, I flew to Belfast in the April of 2014 with my Dad for my Visa appointment, all was approved. Next I attended a pre-departure meeting hosted by two awesome ladies, Katy & Nicky who got myself and 100s of others hyped for Camp and in-between of all this I was chatting to my soon to be co-counselors, talking all things AMERICA, especially Wal-mart!

June 2014 arrived, I had my final day at work until September, and my family threw me an awesome send off. The 14th arrived, the day I was to fly to New York City. Brad, who everyone knew before this point was a stay at home guy, a mummies boy. At this point I was nothing of the sort, I was beaming with excitement, ready to go! My Mum however was a blubbering mess. We had breakfast en route to the airport me, my Mum, Dad, Sister and Granddad. I felt too exited to eat though, I just wanted to be on the aeroplane! We arrived at Manchester Airport were I was flying to LHR with a co-counselor Lucy. Mine and her family let the tears roll, then ours also rolled, a great way to meet your co-counselor but it’s safe to say we clicked right from this moment.

Arriving at LHR, we met six other co-counselors, all ready for our evening flight to EWR. Everyone was awesome, we all clicked, we were all so excited and we were ready to hit the states.

After just over a 7 hour plane journey filled with movies, music, selfies and a broken zip on my bag, (thanks to the awesome air hostess who got it open for me!) we had landed in NEW YORK CITY! We headed to a Camp America arrivals hotel, settled down for the night, well firstly we got stopped by a sheriff for walking on what we thought was the pavement, and was actually the ‘highway’ honestly, this sheriff came speeding over the grass verge, blue and red lights flashing, I thought I was going to be arrested or sent back to the UK!

The next day arrived and we headed to camp, witnessing a view like something you see in the movies, this was New York.

Feeling mesmerised and needing pinching that this was happening, we arrived at camp.

Over the next three months, everything would change. It started with orientation week, were we assigned roles and bunks, and received training and inspirational talks from campers families, past participants and all those that make camp what it is. One talk however which will always remain with me was from a lady called Kathy. She said: “Camp will change your life, whether it happens here, when you get home, three months after you get home, or a year after you get home, you will change ” and she couldn’t have been more right.

     

Over the three months of being at camp, I worked and met some of the most inspirational campers, whom face so many difficulties each day, but still remain happy and positive, and enjoy life to their fullest. The co-counselors some of which are now like family, were amazing to work with and we all gelled so well. The support staff, who cooked, cleaned and did the camp maintenance were awesome, as were the office staff.

Three months flew by, here are a few captions of my time at camp:

Camp put so much into perspective for me. I found a new thing called ‘patience’ I grew a new confidence, I gained weight! I was inspired more than I had ever been before to think about my life, and what the important things are, putting all the materialistic things aside. When camp came to its last day, the tears were rolling for everyone. Nine whole weeks of working and living together, starting as strangers leaving as family. Nothing can take away the memories you make at a camp, and nothing can compare to it.

After being signed off from camp, it was time for the traveling to begin! I traveled from New York right across to Las Vegas, with 11 awesome people and one awesome chauffeur! We visited some of the most amazing states and national parks the USA has to offer: Tennessee, New Orleans, Utah and Nevada, the list goes on and I will talk in more detail about those places I visited in another blog post.

Having already been inspired at camp, to then meeting a whole new 11 strangers, who I would spend the next 18 days with, I continued to be inspired. I’ve never once, been in an environment whereby everyone has ambition, passion and creativity. All chasing their own individual dreams, enjoying life, and inspiring those around them.

I remember being sat at the Grand Canyon, the latter of our trek tour. Three months being away from home, the longest and first time I’d ever been away from home. As much I was excited to see my family and friends, I didn’t want this journey to end. So I made myself a promise that I was not going to let it end.

I called my parents, watching the sun go down and still do this day, swearing Liam Hemswoth and a pal walked past me, anyway… the phone rung, the parents answered: “Hi, I’m just ringing to let you know when I return home in 4 days, I will be applying to college to go to university in September 2015 to which I will also leave my full-time job” My words back in September 2014 and now writing this blog post in February 2016, I can say those words are now a reality.

I’m at university, living away from home and studying Public Relations, planning my future directions. I spent the year of 2015 focusing on getting into university and because of this didn’t go back to America. This year however, I am going back, this time to a new camp, to set myself a new challenge and to experience something different, and I am so excited.

If there is anything that I have learned the past two years, it’s to live life to the fullest and do what you want to do. I don’t know if we only get one life, but I’m living on the basis that I may only get this life, and in this life, I will live life and I will have no regrets.

A special mention to everyone who made this adventure happen, I will always be grateful.

                               

Speak soon,

B