By Paul Tierney

Earlier this year a family of four departed for Los Angeles to fulfil a two-year plan of saving and complete a wish for their children.

Freelance writer Paul Tierney explains –

For the two Adults on travel day it was last minute check overs to ensure things were sorted and we had what we needed for the next 26 days. While the two children (eight and 10 years of age respectively) had a look in their eyes that told a story these Parents knew what they were doing so happily trotted off out the door on another adventure. Beginning at Auckland airport, our vulnerability was clear, safety and survival depend on those around you - As a family we pride ourselves and our ‘work to travel’ ideals on having a positive approach to people then in turn we often get to enjoy the best in what people have to offer. Using these tactics that presence and outward positivity attracts kindness and great treatment awaits as experienced on our favourite of airlines Air NZ. By the time we made the Best Western Stovalls Inn Hotel room in Anaheim 24 hours had ticked by (door to door) and we were shattered – Although I must give a big tick of approval here for Naturo Pharm Jet Lag Relief mouth spray which we agreed combated the effects well.

After a day’s rest and vicinity awareness, we went about filling up water bottles, fuelling up with breakfast and getting to and from Disneyland on foot for the following three days. The people, sights, sounds and a few rides in there too made for the most entertaining, special few days one could ever wish for. We soaked up a night lights colour show and could see the fireworks when they were on from Stovalls meaning we weren't overly late getting to bed for good sleeps each night. In three days, utilising the Max pass for the last two we covered both Disney and California Parks easily with time to go back to the favourite rides – Everything was first class and we met some wonderful staff who we later learned do a fantastic job on very little pay considering what that park generates annually.

Disneyland was amazing and we always knew we'd take a few days to recover from it so we scheduled an LA tour with LUX BUS – Within the cool comfort of a big Coach we were driven about LA County seeing everything from the traffic, the homelessness, the inner-city buildings, Hollywood where we enjoyed a meal at the Hard Rock Café, out to Santa Monica for a look at Markets and down town shopping then home to Anaheim by 8:30 pm.

Having had a good look at the traffic and armed with information and observations such as when no red arrow, good to go right through the red light; Tight right, loose left when turning at intersections and being aware the fast lane is on the left not the right prepared me well for collecting the rental car. Impressed how smooth and easy the pick up at Avis was we were handed the keys to a brand-new Ford Explorer with plenty of space for us to go cruising, our travel broker Lucy Marshall had sorted this out well and all insurance was included.

When in San Diego the following morning after arrival we learned about the horror being described as the Las Vegas massacre, our thoughts of those in the city including the New Zealand Daughters and Mother we met at the LA Tour bus stop awaiting their bus to Las Vegas were dominant because this type of thing obviously disrupts the normal which is what tourists hope to see and experience, stretches local security and adds angst for those there at such a tragic time. Using the remaining entries on our Southern California Pass we visited San Diego Zoo, Legoland California and a brief visit to Sea World kept us occupied, I also sneaked away for a quick look about the USS Midway aircraft carrier moored at the harbour as an additional activity.

Next stop Phoenix, Arizona where high 30-degree Centigrade temperatures meant swims, good food and drink prepared us well for a solid day’s outlet store shopping and road trip North. Our accommodation near the Gateway to the Grand Canyon National Parks Southern Rim was ideal and gave us a great launch pad into the Canyon for a full day’s wonder. I ended that day feeling very privileged and strangely emotional to have walked those steps.

The road trips about Arizona where the Cactus, valleys, rock filled hills leading to Mountainous ranges beneath cloudless skies provided the distraction during the race that is USA highways, the trucks doing 75-80 mph provided fantastic fuel saving slip streamers however the thought of one of those tyres shredding at that speed was a frightening concept - I heard from Truck drivers during my travels that most organisations have well cared for rigs however dangerous operators (cowboys) do exist when able to dodge the Police checkpoints.

A stop at the Mighty Hoover Dam before going on to Las Vegas where a challenging, busy, dazzling, dangerous place awaited - here you find an example of all that is good, bad and crazy about this still wild west.  Departing our fantastic, family friendly Excalibur accommodation we set off across the Mojave Desert toward Los Angeles where as we neared the traffic increased, the speeds of drivers became more frenetic and the race for lane survival went up a notch, luckily, we had a dinner date at Santa Clarita to break the journey before completing the trip to Venice Beach after dark when traffic flowed swimmingly.

Our self-contained Venice accommodation although pricey provided the perfect wind down following all that touring; close to the canals, beach, supermarkets and food we had a great time here. One of the huge time savers is the awesome Uber service in LA, we used it often to get around Santa Monica and Venice after dropping off the Rental Car – We also found using Uber far less hassle than the public transport appeared to be for getting to Universal Studios where on the way we met a Mexican National who gave us great insight into the hardships of surviving in LA - House prices, rent etc. start similar to what you'd pay in Auckland however the population and competition for jobs and property mean getting any of those things hard going. He did suggest Crime wise things were a lot better than what was happening in the mid to late 2000's when Street Gangs had over run the city, since then control has swung back and people feel a lot safer. At Universal Studios we had the front of line pass which is a must with only one day to nail it so we barely had to wait in queues to have a great time. After dinner our Armenian driver this time provided pleasant conversation all the way home (like the fairy-tale it felt like).

We then closed out the trip with more beach weather completing a 100% stretch of no rain at all and despite a long wait until the 09:30 pm flight home we filled the time easily before flying with the mouth spray. We recovered from the inevitable effects of long distance travel in the refreshing comfort of home.

In reflection, the children although confused at times (why mum and dad couldn’t just feed them) never complained excessively when we had those moments of difficulty finding dining options or executing plans because we did find the food States side difficult to understand. Chocolate was surprisingly scarce compared to other High Fructose Corn Syrup filled delicacies, as a one-eyed observer Hershey's was no match for our Whittaker’s and although Cadbury Chocolate was there you paid for it in comparison - They love their Snickers though, a go to Halloween treat!

One definite advantage we became aware of was that most travellers, visitors and locals were not early starters - If gates opened at 10 they'd either arrive then or rush in later - advantage exists with getting in early.

Favourably it never ceased to amaze me how affectionately portrayed New Zealand is and how high on the list of go to countries it was, people were very kind not to guess where we might be from and I often found myself putting them out of their misery by telling them 'we're from NZ' - With that came elation and almost congratulations - Lorde, Lord of the Rings and Steven Adams might just about have surpassed the All Blacks as our most associated symbols of this great country of ours, One ex American Footballer from Phoenix in awe of New Zealand even said how impressed he was with NZ's general sporting ability at the Olympics - A country punching way above its weight he said! Interestingly young British travellers said they'd love to go to New Zealand, unfortunately it's portrayed in their circles as expensive.

In closing I’d like to also invite you to read the full ‘Diary’ where I describe each day in a bit more detail and offer insight into how trips such as these unfold – For anyone considering a family holiday to the United States I encourage you to do so, it is not as scary as many fear it to be and with the world’s political climate tourism remains vital and relied upon by many, so you do feel more than welcome. Equally for us here in New Zealand I cannot ignore the fact how fortunate we are, yes, a 26 day stretch of no rain in Autumn is unheard of however it is a small price to pay for the green grass of home.