WINNER OF BEST REGIONAL NEWSPAPER FEATURE IN VISIT USA MEDIA AWARDS
Zoe explains where her strong connection to the USA comes from:
When I was a teenager, I took off with just a suitcase full of dreams and went to live in California.
I’m a big believer in fate. I had no idea I wanted to live in California but, by fluke stood at a bus stop one day, I heard about a student exchange programme. I never caught that bus. Instead I went and signed up on the spot, alone and with no idea what awaited me, other than a huge amount of excitement.
Following an 18-hour flight, I arrived into a tiny airport in the suburbs of Los Angeles where I was told a fellow student would meet me. It poured with rain that evening and everyone I met that night was grateful to the English girl for bringing the rain. It was pretty much the only time it did rain though during my entire stay.
My Cali lifestyle was amazing. Within no time I was hitching a ride down to Tijuana in Mexico, driving the Pacific Coast Highway (the PCH) up to San Jose and hanging out with Hollywood directors in Echo Park. There's something magical about the light and atmosphere in Southern California, brought about by that magnificent sunshine, pleasant evening temperatures and the abundance of flowers. I adored the fact that a 40-minute drive from my student digs would take me to the famous Santa Monica beach and yet, within 90 minutes of driving in the opposite direction, I could be skiing down Big Bear mountain.
It was the 'can-do' attitude of the Californians that I loved so much and still do to this day. One time we drove 400 miles because we wanted to go and see a show in San Francisco. Never before, or since, have I felt so welcomed by kindred spirits and so encouraged to be myself.
Within a blink of an eye my six-month semester in L.A was over and so I took to the road, and the skies, to spread my wings further across the States, taking in Hawaii, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Las Vegas and more.
I returned to England but was back in California again within a few years. And, after having children, I took them to meet my friends and their children. Re-living 'my California' through their eyes was amazing. Yes, we had fun at Disneyland but it was the surfers and camper vans on Huntington Beach and the quirky hangouts off the beaten track that captured their imagination the most. What I've learnt from my travels is that it's always better to try to experience a place 'like a local' rather than a tourist.
Last year, we embarked on a bold 3,500 mile road trip from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Monument Valley, through Death Valley and onto Sequoia and Yosemite before showing the kids one of our favourite places in the world - the PCH - and taking them back to the place we feel is our second home - Huntington Beach and Los Angeles.