Traveling the United Kingdom with my son
This past August, I flew to England with my little boy, for the long-awaited arrival to see his dad again and meet his grand-parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Together, we flew the four hours from Phoenix to Chicago and then boarded the flight destined for Manchester, which would be arriving the next morning. I had no idea what to expect – what would the country be like? How would my son’s father be after four long years? Surprisingly, I was more excited and hopeful, than nervous!
The sunrise peaked over the horizon and through the purple and pink hues outside the airplane window, I saw a collection of brick homes and vast rolling green hills. I could tell we were about to be landing in the UK. My son slept most of the flight, which was what I’d been hoping for when I booked the red-eye.
We taxied to the gate, then Sirian and I walked over to customs to get our visa’s stamped. I was asked questions on why we were visiting, where we were staying and how long we planned to be in the country. I told the man we were visiting family, gave the address and said our return flight home was in November, over two months away. We were granted approval for a six-month maximum stay and then followed the path leading to arrivals. There awaiting us was our England family with some tears streaming down their cheeks. It felt so good to finally meet them in person. Sirian was a bit shy at first, but he flashed a few smiles.
With Sirian in his new car seat, we headed out of Manchester and to the small town of Westhoughton. One of the first things I noticed, while on the motorway, was the size difference in vehicles compared to the US. Their cars were more compact and not as flashy; I didn’t see any SUVs or big trucks, except for the work ones. It was a cloudy day and a light misty rain freckled the windshield. Along the thirty-minute drive, I observed how almost all the buildings and homes were made from brick. It was mid-August and vibrant flowers and gardens decorated the outside lawns.
We would be staying at the grandparent’s home, which has been in their family since the 1930’s. After settling in, Sirian’s young cousins came over to meet us. They asked each other a lot of questions and played games in the backyard. Sirian’s dad and I decided to take a walk together, while the kids had some fun. Sean and I had gone through so much… He’d flown out to America in 2012 and we had an amazing time, learned a lot from one another and evolved on our spiritual journey, which was spent mostly out in nature together. One thing I’ve always admired about him was how much he walked. He showed me how important it is, and fun to do, to just walk everywhere – follow the unknown path, and let your mind relax. Even though our relationship ended with us parting ways, I still loved him dearly and knew it was important for Sirian to know his dad.
I felt giddy to finally be in England, a place I’d dreamed about visiting for years now. Sean led me through the neighborhood and down to a nature-preserve park, not too far from the home. It was beautiful and enchanting. There was a maze of trees that followed alongside the small stream and the park stretched through the urban area for about a mile. It was nice to catch up with one another, ask our questions, and even though we hadn’t seen each other in nearly five years, we smiled and said we both looked the same.
Later that afternoon, we walked to the local grocery store-chain, Sainsbury. I was enjoying hearing everyone talk in their lively accents and it was exciting to browse up and down the aisles. The store was fairly small compared to some in America, but it had a good variety. There was organic produce, smoothies, coconut milk, and other vegan options available. However, they did not have much when it came to super-foods like spirulina and other mineral-dense items. All the cashiers in the check-out were sitting down in chairs, which I thought seemed more like an American thing to do! The store charged for the use of plastic bags and it made me happy to see most shoppers had brought their own.
On our walk back, I noticed that all the homes in the area had four different colored bins outside. They had a bin for landfill waste, two recycle bins – one for paper and cardboard, the other for aluminum and glass, and the fourth bin was for compost. They seemed ahead of America with the organization of their rubbish! The television had the same Disney and cartoon shows for children, but all the characters had English accents. Also, the people of England buy a TV license, which means they don’t have the insane number of commercials like we do in the states.
My debit card worked in the country, if I needed to use the ATM or checking out at a store, but there was a small fee to do so. I’d brought some cash to exchange to their currency and I was surprised to see how little value the US dollar was compared to the pound. For example, transferring three-hundred US dollars came out to two-hundred and fifteen pounds. It seemed like food and clothing was less expensive than the states, but their fuel prices were much higher. Costing about seventy-dollars to fill your standard car. But unlike the US, people in England tend to walk a lot more!
Our first week in England was full of a lot of sunshine and taking those long walks. I was surprised how much beautiful nature there was to walk through, but you would still find the sad struggle of people littering along the pathways. It was interesting to walk through the forest knowing you didn’t have to worry about predator animals, like how it can be on your mind when you’re out in nature in places like my home state of Arizona. I was told that there used to be bears and wolves in the UK, but they were hunted off a very long time ago…
The English enjoy their tea – which they also call, having a brew. Their evening meals always include some type of potato, a vegetable dish and meat. For dessert, they had some great-tasting sweets and I would argue their chocolate is much better than America’s. Blackberries, plums, apples, strawberries and raspberries grow easily in their climate, and they were still in season during the late-summer. Westhoughton and had a small, main road through town called Market Street. A few pubs, cafes, pastry shops, thrift stores, gift and repair shops lined the strip. I’d accidently broke my phone twice while in Europe, and thankfully a store in town was able to fix it at a very reasonable rate. England doesn’t have the big companies like Verizon and Sprint, for example, so it’s important to really take care of your phone because you forget how useful it is, until it breaks! I recommend investing in a quality case and paying attention to where you put it…
All the children in England wore uniforms to school and they graduate at the age of sixteen, with the strong encouragement to attend university straight after. If they do, the first two years of school is free… Teenagers are eligible for their driver’s license at seventeen, which is a much stricter process than what we have in the US and it’s not uncommon for people to never get one. Everyone in the country has health insurance, which is covered by a small amount that comes out of their wage, but nobody seemed to have a complaint. They were grateful for their ability to be seen and treated without the worry of having an extremely costly bill. Even their dentists were much more affordable than the care we receive – a filling costs between twenty-five and forty dollars, and a root canal is about one-hundred and fifty dollars. Unlike the US, where you can be looking at over a thousand dollar bill for any major dental work without insurance.
During our two-month stay, I grew very comfortable going out for walks on my own. I was never afraid of my surroundings in Westhoughton. It was full of kind and caring people, whom I enjoyed stopping to talk with. Before leaving for the United Kingdom, I was told by several concerned family members to be cautious and that it’s a scary time over in Europe. But when I spoke to the people of England, they voiced their fear of America – saying they could never live there and how it seems like the wild-west and people are firing guns all the time. It was amazing to see how many people truly are living in fear of one another. There was also the same hate for Muslims, the pointing fingers game, and the call to strengthen borders. One day, I caught a taxi with my son to a local kid’s place and our driver was Muslim. He told me he has six children and how he works two jobs to provide for them. He said in a sad voice how he wished the media would report the truth. That the people they show on the news who are causing harm are not true Muslims and not affiliated with what they truly believe. It was honestly heart-breaking. I shook the man’s hand before leaving his vehicle and told him he was appreciated.
We are living in a time where we may appear or sound different than others around the world, but our lives and concerns are very similar. The people of England are also struggling with the rise of living expenses, trying to make ends meet; there are the bored teenagers unsure of what direction to take and the country also has food products with chemical additives and too much sugar. But there are also those brave ad dedicated people working to make a real difference and transform the future. I attended a healthy-conscious food festival where the place was packed with people trying new things, I spoke with a beautiful young psychiatrist who talked about how she doesn’t push pills on children to mask their problems but works with them emotionally to get to the root of their issue and uses natural healing techniques to move them forward. There is an uprising of young people interested in growing their own food, learning about permaculture, sustainability, and revitalizing a creative and artistic culture.
I enjoyed traveling and exploring as much as I could. It was amazing to see how many castles and old churches there are, and it gave you a sense of how old the land really is. England has an awesome train system that is inexpensive and easy to navigate. If you are in any of the main cities, like London or Manchester, do your best to avoid the rush hour of mornings and afternoon – the trains are typically wide-open midday. We were lucky to have family to stay with, but I recommend for fellow travelers to check out wwoof.org - it’s an organization where you can help on an organic farm and have your lodging and food provided, or, visit the website ic.org – which has a listing of Eco-villages and intentional communities in the country. Also, there is air-bnb - just be sure to read reviews before choosing a host.
Our stay in England was from August through November. If you visit during this time, you will experience sporadic rain, but hardly was it a heavy downpour. Bring layers, pants, and a rainproof jacket, but know it can be warm during those summer months. It didn’t get that cold until the time of our departure in November. It was an incredible experience and one that we’ll never forget. I am grateful Sean and I were able to co-parent together and live under the same roof while maintaining respect for one another. It’s important to be able to step back, see the bigger picture, and do what’s right for your little one…
Heading home to America felt strange when the day finally arrived, but I know we’ll be back. The only regret I had was not going to a concert in Manchester. It was one of my favorite bands, but I decided last minute that I’d rather save the money… In my opinion, it’s always better to go and enjoy a rare experience, rather than worry about saving a bit of cash! That’s the only thing I would have done over. I found the English to be very funny, talented and amazing people and I look forward to seeing their country again. It means the world to me to know that we have an extended family across the ocean and I send them a lot of gratitude for their kindness and hospitality. Until next time UK…..
*Please check out the Diary of a Starseed Series for more exciting travel stories and information on communities and healing! Search: Diary of a Starseed on Amazon!