How to Survive… Travelling to Summer Camp.

You have been patiently waiting, counting down the days and packing your bags ready for your upcoming summer adventure in the USA. Travelling can be stressful for many people, so I have put together a mini-guide to make life a little bit easier for you when that magical day finally arrives!

Before You Leave The House

  1. Once you have squeezed everything in your suitcase, make sure to weigh it!

    Overweight luggage can be seriously pricey, even if you are only overweight by a kilogram or so! Buy a luggage scale – electronic ones are usually the most accurate – and take it with you for your journey home too.Most airlines flying from the UK to the USA usually allow 23kgs for a checked bag (unless you have upgraded or are a member), but check with your individual airline before you fly – you can find more information about baggage on the airlines website.

  2. Make your suitcase noticeable – especially if it’s black!img_0208-1

    There are usually at least 200+ black suitcases whizzing round on the conveyor belt when you arrive at your destination. Make your life easier on arrival by either buying a crazy patterned suitcase (like me!) or add a noticeable luggage tag/ribbon/elastic belt to your existing suitcase to make it stand out from the crowd.

  3. Ensure your hand luggage is the correct size/weight.

    I am yet to have my hand luggage measured or even weighed on a flight to the USA, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry! Again, visit your airline’s website to find out the maximum hand luggage dimensions/weight allowance.On trips to the USA, you are often allowed to take a ‘personal’ item as well as your hand luggage item. This could include a laptop, a small handbag, a coat etc. For example, this year I flew with Thomas Cook and I had a Pink rucksack as my hand luggage item (full to the brim by the way, the story of a serious overpacker!) and a laptop bag as my additional item (I also managed to squeeze three pairs of shoes into that along with my laptop – I have serious problems, I know).

    This one is probably already well known, as it has been around for a few years now, but make sure that any liquids  you have in your hand luggage are less than 100ml and in plastic bag – this includes make up, lip balm, hand sanitiser etc. You can pick up a plastic bag at the airport once you check in if you don’t have any at home.

  4. Check in online.

    Most airlines now allow you to check in online up to 24 hours before you fly. If you didn’t want to pay for a seat when you first booked your flight, check in as soon as you are able to to try and bag a good seat! I like to sit by the window and admire the view but I often find that if you choose a seat in the middle section of the plane, you get more than one seat to yourself! The last five times I have flown to/from America, I have had an entire row to myself! BINGO!You will need your booking reference to check in online – find this on the email confirmation sent to you from the airline when you booked the flight.

  5. Have all the correct documents stored safely in your hand luggage.

    Documents include:

    • Passport (with visa inside).
    • Boarding card and flight itinerary.
    • Visa forms – this includes your DS-2019 form and SEVIS receipt.
    • Spare passport photo.
    • Insurance documents – usually found on your camp agencies website.
    • Camp information (contact details, camp address, camp contract).
    • Onward travel instructions to your camp (if necessary).
    • International driving licence (if you plan on hiring a car whilst on your travels).

I like to store all my documents in a plastic zip-folder to keep them all together, and to stop them being lost in my bag (and there’s always so much stuff in there, they would be so easy to lose!).

At The Airport

  1. Plan your journey to the airport beforehand.

    Have you made plans for how you are going to get to the airport yet? Maybe someone will give you a lift, you are catching the bus or even a train. I travelled on the train this year (as my parents clearly don’t love me enough to wave me off!), and booked my ticket a couple of weeks in advance for a cheaper deal. If you are planning on travelling by bus/train, remember to also pack your ticket and any railcards you may need.Make sure your chosen method of transport is running on time the day of your departure, and that there is an alternative way to get to the airport if yours happens to be cancelled/delayed.

  2. Arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare.

    Most airlines recommend you are at the airport 3 hours before your departure time for flights to the USA. This may seem excessive, but it’s better to be able to mooch around the shops or grab a bite to eat before you board than having to run through the airport at the last minute because the queues were huge at security and you didn’t arrive in time.
  3. Pre-plan flight entertainment.

    7 hours is a long time to sit in one seat, especially if you didn’t pack any form of flight entertainment in your hand luggage. Most planes to the U.S. usually have individual TV screens in the back of the seats, but remember to pack some headphones that you can plug into the screen.Other ideas for entertainment can involve iPods, iPads/tablets, books or magazines.

  4. Snacks, snacks and more snacks!

    Plane food isn’t always the best, although the Thomas Cook meal I had on the way here a couple of weeks ago was actually edible (for once!). Again, 7 hours is a loooooong time so stock up on snacks for the journey. This is also the last chance you will have to eat English food for a while, so treat yourself to a bag of Quavers, a bar of Dairy Milk and a bottle of Ribena (or one of the many other wonderful snacks we take for granted in England!).Some airlines, American Airlines/British Airways/Virgin Atlantic included, offer a complimentary drinks service on board. Thomas Cook sadly do not, so make sure you take water on the plane with you – high five for hydration!

On Arrival

  1. Complete the customs declaration arrival card prior to landing.

    arrival form.jpgThe airline staff will bring round a blue customs form that you will need to hand in to the security/border staff when you arrive at the airport. Although they have these forms in the airport, it saves SO much time if you have already completed the form.The form is blue, and will ask for your personal information, the address you are staying at in the U.S. (put your camps address unless you have been advised differently), passport information and questions about the items in your luggage.

  2. Have the necessary documents ready for immigration.

    The border agents will require your passport, visa forms and the above customs arrival card. Have these documents out of your bag/folder and ready to hand to the agent when you are called to the desk, speeding up the process for everyone involved.Sometimes agents may ask you to provide proof of your onwards journey out of the U.S., so make sure you have a copy of your flight home details.

  3. Plan your onward journey.

    Camps often provide you with instructions on how to get to camp once you arrive. If you are not already aware of this, speak to your Camp Director before you leave for America so you are not stranded at the airport! Your onward journey may involve a connecting flight/bus/train, or you may be collected from the airport if your camp is local.Follow my simple travel survival guide and your journey to the States will be stress-free this year!

Safe travels!

Ellie

May 24th, 2017.

Another week has flown by at camp (I hope it all doesn’t go by this fast!!), and it’s time for another weekly journal update. It has been another crazy week here at camp, filled with some BEAUTIFUL sunny weather and the start of the infamous camp counselor tan (I really need to stop wearing a watch).

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Work has involved more office duties, including chasing the staff for their forms (if you are reading this and you are one of those staff members with outstanding forms, stop reading this and COMPLETE THEM NOW!!) and speaking to parents about the upcoming summer. I also gave my first ever camp tour to two Moms from NYC, who have both signed their boys up for camp this summer! Yay!

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I still haven’t found the time to decorate my desk, but I will post a better picture as soon as I have!

I also spent an entire day this week tidying and organising the camp store, a perfect job 21for me being such a neat freak! After completing a store inventory, I have been busy speaking to people about ordering nice new merchandise for the summer… including Camp Awosting fidget spinners! I can already see the kids going crazy for those, they’re HUGE here right now!

More staff begin to arrive at camp this week, which makes camp that little bit more exciting! It has been really quiet over the last week in the office with just me and Lisa (the office manager) around, but things have started to liven up a bit with more people around! Alex, Mark and Dan all arrived this week, with a couple more staff arriving to help get ready for camp over the next few days.

The weekend began on Friday night when I went out with the Awosting staff to AJ’s for dinner and drinks. It was great to catch up with my director, Pauline, and assistant director, Alex, and our camp nurse came down from Boston to visit for the night. As I mentioned last week, I generally avoid American chicken nuggets especially those from McDonalds), but I knew the chicken strips from AJ’s were really good. Everyone laughed at me for eating a ‘child’s meal’, but I just think I’m easy to please (plus a former university student who didn’t know how to cook – I had no choice but to develop a love for them!). The week also involved a LOT more pizza, of course, and a blue slush for breakfast from Dunkin Donuts. 12/10 on the unhealthy scale this week.

In this week’s episode of ‘Is America really big or is Ellie really small…’, I found a regular size ‘soda’ can in the ‘gas’ station. Here’s how it compares…

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It was great to have a weekend off work. Saturday was spent with Ben’s brother’s friends, who were visiting from England for the week. Ben and Sam were off for the day on a lifeguard instructor course, so we spent the day eating (of course) at 99’s (basically the American equivalent of Wetherspoon’s) and visiting Kent Falls. As all the snow has melted, and there had been a huge storm a couple of days before, the falls were really high and it was great to see them in spring before it gets too hot and the water level drops. There was NO way I was going in the water (it wasn’t warm enough) but after some persuasion, I managed to convince Sam’s friends to jump in. If you’re ever in Connecticut, or lucky enough to work at a camp here, Kent Falls is a great location for a day off.

Sunday was spent having a lie in (well-deserved I think!), watching the Manchester City match (Ben and his family are huge fans) and then SHOPPING! I called at Target, Goodwill and Walmart and managed to pick up some more unnecessary items including a huge 4ft body pillow – it was $12, I just couldn’t resist! I also picked up a few 4th July accessories, including a snazzy feather boa which is currently hanging around my desk, and a cute cactus print drinks beaker. I still haven’t completed my desk decorations – I keep forgetting to buy white-tack (the American version of blu-tack) – but I will post a picture of it as soon it is complete!

36Finally I haven’t really mentioned this before now but I have also been spending quite a lot of time visiting p&j.jpgBen’s dad in the Hospital of Special Care in New Britain, around an hour away from camp. Ben’s dad was diagnosed with ALS (also known as motor-neurone disease) a couple of years ago, and had a tracheotomy fitted a couple of weeks ago to help him breathe more comfortably. He is recovering well and we are all looking forward to him coming home – hopefully by the end of next week. Jepo and Pauline (his wife/Ben’s mum) are also my Camp Directors, and are probably the strongest people I have ever met. We are all rooting for you, Jepo!

So, that’s another week at camp done! We are currently getting ready for Camp Erin next weekend, which 3-day camp hosted at Camp Awosting for grieving children. It will be my first volunteering at Camp Erin, and I have been told it is an extremely moving experience – it’s a good job I already bought a box of tissues on my Walmart trip this weekend! How many days have you got left until camp? Don’t forget to check out my Letter to First Time Camp Counselors, if you haven’t already, and don’t forget to write to me!

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Finally, I also got to catch this amazing sky last night as we were driving home – I had forgotten how great sunset was in the country!

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Happy Wednesday!

 

Ellie

May 17th, 2017.

So I have now been in the States for an ENTIRE week, and I sincerely apologise for the lack of updates so far! I have had a crazy week involving cabin assignments, broken cars and everything supersize (I had forgotten just HOW big things are in America). 11.jpg

My journey started at JFK airport where the queue for immigration was pretty non-existent (for once!!). I was through security and waiting for my bags within 15 minutes, and I think the trick was getting a seat on the plane as close to the doors as possible and practically running through the airport once I was off the plane. This way I managed to beat the queues, and get through quickly.

Next I had the job of crossing crazy NYC in to the city, to catch my bus to Connecticut. If you missed my post last week about ‘How to Survive… Travelling across New York City‘, check it out (especially if your journey involves you getting from JFK airport to any part of Manhattan/the City).

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I also met Ben at the airport, as he had flown back from visiting friends in Colorado for the week, and it was great to see him after a few months apart! Having a camp boyfriend isn’t easy… but someone has to do it I guess! If you don’t already know who Ben is, find out more here!

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Until camp starts (and it gets warm enough to start sleeping in a wooden cabin again!), I am staying at Ben’s house with his family. The weather was pretty similar to England when I arrived (aka cold and miserable), however the sun has decided to shine over the last couple of days and I am dressed in a t-shirt and shorts today trying (and failing) to get a tan!

I got straight to work in the Office at Camp Awosting pretty much as soon as I arrived, so I don’t really have anything exciting to report so far! I have answered a whole load of phone calls, sent a bunch of emails and began to assign campers cabins for the summer (which is definitely easier said than done!). This is my current setup for the summer, although it will be MUCH better when I finally get around to putting some photos up and buying some cute stationary from T.J. Maxx (the American equivalent of T.K. Maxx – don’t ask me why the initials are different).

After work, I managed to sneak in a flying visit to Walmart, although Ben definitely cut my visit short (he HATES shopping – we are polar opposites). I could literally spend HOURS in there looking at all the homeware (unnecessary really, I know). I ended up just quickly picking up toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, body wash etc, as I didn’t really bother bringing any with me due to not wanting to waste precious kgs in my suitcase! You can see exactly what DID go in my suitcase though here.

I also have visited True Value (the American equivalent of B&Q), Aldi (yes, they have Aldi in the States too and yes, it’s just as cheap!), a diner and went out for late-night ice cream at Frisbees. I also visited Dunkin Donuts (America does run on Dunkin after all) twice now (oops) for a smoothie, and of course, MCDONALD’S! My advice would be to avoid the chicken nuggets – they’re not a patch on the ones we have in the UK!

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Now I look back at that list, I realise 90% of it involves food. Wow, they are going to have to roll me home at this rate.

We have also spent some doing boring every-day life things, such as taking the car to the garage and food shopping. Camp isn’t quite in full-swing just yet, so life is going to be a little bit different until other staff begin to arrive and I move to camp ready for staff training to begin. Boring every-day life things aren’t quite so bad when this is the view…

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Finally, I had forgotten just how large ‘normal’ things in America are. Here are a couple of examples…

 

How to Survive… Travelling Across NYC.

You’ve completed all the forms, secured a place at camp, got that visa stamp in your passport and are all ready to depart for the summer… but the hurdles don’t quite finish there.  The next challenge many of you will soon face is getting across New York City to continue your onward journey to camp. If you camp is located on the East Coast, particularly in New England, its highly likely that you will be flying in to NYC and then will have to continue your journey to your final destination; camp.

If you are travelling from JFK airport, once you have collected your luggage, head out of the baggage claim/security area and look for the overhead signs for the ‘AirTrain’. The signs for the AirTrain are all marked in green, so they are quite easy to spot around the airport. You will be directed up an escalator to the AirTrain platform which will look something like this…

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Once you are on the platform, look at the TV screens above your head. There will be 2 sides to the platform, with AirTrains heading in two directions. You will need to get the train to Jamaica Station.

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Once you have exited the train at Jamaica station, walk though the tunnel until you reach the ticket barriers. The AirTrain costs $5 (you pay after you have already ridden it, weird!), however most people will then need to get on to the subway into downtown NYC. If this is the case for yourself, the cheapest option is to get a MetroCard combination ticket.

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A combination ticket for both the AirTrain and the subway will cost you $7.75 plus a $1 fee for the card. Once you have the card, you can top it up and reuse it around New York (like an Oyster card in London), so keep it handy in case you visit New York again on your post camp travels.

You can purchase the MetroCard from the machines located around the AirTrain station. The machine will accept both cards and cash, including coins.

Once you have purchased your MetroCard, proceed through the barriers and follow the signs for the subway. You will walk through the area for the Long Island Rail Road station and proceed to the lifts at the end. The lifts will take you down to the subway station, where you will then need to swipe your MetroCard again for access to the subway.

Once you are through the barriers, head left and go down the escalator on to the platform. If you are heading in to the City, you will need to catch train ‘E’, which is also clearly marked as the subway for Manhattan/downtown overhead.

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As you can see, the ‘E’ line is marked in blue and takes you right in to downtown Manhattan. The red circle on the left on the picture is the stop for Port Authority Bus Terminal, which is often abbreviated to PABT when you are on the subway itself. Here is where you are able to catch buses out of New York, for example I caught the bus to Torrington, Connecticut, close to where my camp is located.

The whole journey from the airport to the city only takes around 1 hour using the AirTrain/subway. Unless you have money to burn, do NOT even think about getting a taxi to the city – even if you are in a rush! The traffic in NYC is CRAZY, and it is definitely not any quicker to get into downtown Manhattan in a cab. It will also cost you a small fortune.

Once you are at Port Authority, if you have been instructed to do so by your camp, you will need to purchase a ticket to your final destination. The bus company that you will more than likely be travelling with is either ‘Greyhound’ or ‘Peter Pan Bus’, and you will find their ticket offices located on the right hand side of the ground floor of the bus terminal.

If you have a while to wait until your bus, you can check your luggage next to the ticket office for free (if you have purchased a ticket), for up to 24 hours. This is really handy, as you can then go and explore the city for a couple of hours without having to lug your suitcase around after you – just don’t forget to collect it again on your way to the bus!

Make sure you arrive at your bus terminal around 15 minutes before it is due to depart, to allow you get your bags loaded on, pick a seat and settle in for the journey. There are toilets at the back of the Greyhound/Peter Pan buses, so my advice would be to get a seat nearer the front of the bus in case the toilet smells at all! You are allowed to eat/drink on the buses, so take snacks if you have a long journey, and there are also plug sockets (so make sure you pack an adapter in your hand luggage as you won’t be able to access your suitcase once you are moving!). The buses also often have wifi, but the signal isn’t always great (especially if its busy).

So, there you have it; how to survive crossing one of the busiest cities in the world. The whole route is really well sign-posted, so keep your eyes peeled when making the trip, and if in doubt… ask! The people around the airport/at the stations are really used to tourists making the journey in to the City, and love to hear an English accent!

This was my view from outside Port Authority, looking towards Times Square! Tweet me a picture of your view when you arrive in NYC @how2survivecamp

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Counselor Files: Sam Cunningham Dreyer

This weeks Counselor Files comes from twenty-four year old Sam. Sam was born and raised in England, but moved out to America last year after finding love at summer camp and getting married in November 2016. Congratulations (again!) Sam and Dan! Read on to find out exactly what Sam thinks about summer camp, and her advice to you…

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1. Which camp do you/did you work at, and where is it located?

Camp Chinqueka, Connecticut USA.

2. How long have you worked there?

For three summers now – 2013, 2014 AND 2015!

3. What is/was your role at camp?

During my first two years at camp, I was the Fencing Counselor and the Archery Counselor. In 2015, I became the Outdoor Adventure Counselor.

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4. Why did you decide to work at a summer camp?

Before camp I worked in the outdoor pursuits industry in the UK and I felt that I had the skills required at camp! I also thought that going to work at a summer camp was the perfect opportunity to travel and explore the USA.

5. Which agency did you apply through, and would you recommend them to a friend?

I originally applied through Camp Leaders in 2013, who were great throughout the whole application process and gave their support where necessary. When I returned the following year, I researched other agencies and ended up going with CCUSA as it was cheaper for returning Counselors like myself. Again, like Camp Leaders, they were very helpful and quick to respond to any queries I had.

6. What is the best thing about being a Camp Counselor?sam4

It is incredibly rewarding to be able to help make a child’s summer memorable and to see first hand how much the girls grow over the course of their time at camp. You watch them conquer their fears, gain confidence, make new friends and become beautiful and independent young ladies – it is an amazing feeling to know that you played a part in that. I found myself at camp and it became a second home very quickly. I learnt new things and the experience made me who I am today. Camp gave me confidence to take on any challenge, and it has given me new friends around the globe who are all now connected to each other for life!

7. What is the worst thing about being a Camp Counselor?

Summer camp is definitely no walk in the park! You need to be a hard worker, be able to cope with very little privacy and you will be exhausted at times! It can be very difficult being so far away from home and normality too, but as soon as you get home you’ll wish you were back at camp in a bubble away from everyday ‘normal’ life!

8. What is your favourite camp memory?sam1

Ahh there are so many! I personally love Water Sports Day. Both the girls and boys camp get together and compete against one another in swimming/boating events. The girls love getting into character and dressing up in themed costumes, and the both camps are in such high spirits and motivate each other to do the best they can. Seeing the love and passion that the girls have for their summer home and their fellow campers is incredible.

9. What are three items that you could not live without at camp?

  1. Bug spray- the bugs just love me!!
  2. Anything fancy dress or anything that is your tribes colour – the wackier the better!
  3. Photos, photos and even more photos. The children LOVE to get to know you and browse through pictures and ask you about your life. You can decorate you bunk with photos and make it more homely too, which can help if you find yourself a little homesick.

10. Do you have any advise for people applying to work at a summer camp?

Go into the experience with an open mind and an open heart. Take the job as seriously as you would with any other job – remember you have parent’s putting their trust in you to look after their most prized possessions! Also, remember to have fun!

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A Letter to First Time Camp Counselors

Ellie Wilkinson
(soon to be at) Camp Awosting
296 West Street
Morris
Connecticut
06763
USA

May 4th, 2017.

First Time Camp Counselors
Summer Camp
USA

Dear First Timers,

First of all, I just want to start by saying CONGRATULATIONS on making the wise decision to spend your entire summer at summer camp in the USA – you have made one of the best decisions of your life.

Following on from this, I would like to say another huge WELL DONE for getting to this point – I know it wasn’t easy. The whole process of applying online, trying to sell yourself to Camp Directors, getting placed, completing your visa application, visiting the embassy, booking your flights… the list of things to do BEFORE camp even arrives seems endless, and is definitely no easy task. The hard part is over, and the fun will soon begin.

As we all count down the days until we get to step on that plane to the big old USofA, I know from both my first time at camp, and from the tweets I get from first timers, exactly how you are feeling right now. Excited, nervous, impatient, eager, scared, enthusiastic… the list goes on. Trust me when I say you’re not the only one – there are literally THOUSANDS of other first timers who feel the same (and even some returners too!).

This year I have made the decision to go and work at the brother-camp to my beloved Camp Chinqueka so in a way, I am a first-timer too. I am feeling all the same things that you are currently feeling and like yourselves, I have SO many questions about what to expect. Although in a way it will be very similar for me (the scheduele, the activities, the food etc.), there are going to be so many things that are different. For a starters, they are all BOYS. Girl power is a pretty big thing at my previous camp and we often sung songs about how gross the boys are, so that is going to be a HUGE change for me. Who is going to make me friendship bracelets? Who is going to braid my hair? Like you, I am stepping into the unknown – an unknown where I may actually have to start liking boys, ew!

The best way to approach summer camp is to go in with a positive attitude, and with your eyes and ears open. If you read my summer camp staff training guide, you will already know that within hours of arriving at camp in my first year, I was wrestling with a 20ft water trampoline with a group of strangers. Was that what I had in mind when I had been, like you are now, talking about camp with my friends or daydreaming about the summer ahead? Absolutely not! You will be given jobs (especially during pre-camp) that you don’t find mentioned in the camp agencies brochures, but the best advice I can give you is to just get on with it, and remember that you’re part of a team! Be a team player.

If you haven’t already, try and find some other people going to your camp this summer, whether other first-timers or returners. It’s a reassuring feeling when you arrive at camp and recognise at least ONE face in the crowd! Lots of camps have private pages/groups on social media, so if you haven’t already, send your Camp Director a message a see if there is a way to contact others before you arrive! I had so many questions before my arrival at camp, and was lucky enough to be messaged by a returner with some tips for the upcoming summer (who it just turns out is now one of my best friends!).

Summer camp WILL be one of the greatest summers of your life, but it is what you make it. There will be times you are exhausted from being on-the-go 24/7 and times that you are homesick and wish you were back at home, but the good times definitely outweigh the bad. Ride the storm and you will soon be back to lipsynching the latest JB song or diving head first into the lake.

My final parting piece of advice to you is to ASK. Ask what time you should be at breakfast. Ask how you should lay the tables at lunch time. My mum always taught me that if I didn’t know the answer, there was definitely a whole bunch of other people who didn’t either.

As I said earlier, the hard part is over. Enjoy counting down the days to camp. Spend time with your family and friends – summer might go quickly for you but it doesn’t always go as fast for them! Eat as much Dairy Milk as you physically can before you leave, Hershey’s just doesn’t compare. Finally check out my pre-camp to do list for a quick guide on how to prepare yourself for a summer in America.

Happy travels!

Ellie xo

P.S. I LOVE to receive mail at camp, write to me this summer (address at the top)!

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