Flying Across America

Flying Across America

My biggest passions are traveling, flying, and the ocean, so when I get the opportunity to combine all three it’s the ultimate dream. After a lot of planning and consideration, my dad and I decided to fly his single engine plane across the United States to the Bahamas. 

Flying across the US is one challenge, but flying internationally in your own plane poses even more challenges with customs and paperwork. Fortunately, we had help from Air Journey, a concierge service that helps pilot tailor their dream trips anywhere in the world. Below is a day-to-day account of our journey from the Pacific Ocean in California to the Bahamas!

Day 1: Oxnard, California to Georgetown, Texas

Flight bag – check. Camera equipment – check. Bikinis – check, check, and check. It was crazy to think that in a few days I would be on the other side of the USA. Was I crazy? Maybe a little. I’m crazy about adventure, that’s for sure!

It was pouring rain when we departed from Oxnard, California but it was almost beautiful flying through giant puffy clouds. We had a killer tail wind, so we were pushing 240 knots (275 mph) all the way into Texas. Flying through Arizona and New Mexico we encountered some killer turbulence as well; it was so bumpy it was hard to press any buttons or keep my hands steady on the yoke. After a few hours of bouncing around, I was ready for a sick bag. Luckily we made it to Dona Ana Airport in New Mexico (super close to El Paso, Texas) after 3.5 hours in the air to refuel, eat, and check out the air museum. 

We took off in the early afternoon from Dona Ana, New Mexico to Georgetown, Texas (near Austin), which took about 2.5 hours. The flight was much smoother, but it was definitely a long day in the air. I asked a guy what was there to do in Georgetown, and in his thick Texas accent he replies, “Not much except some bars with old people.” Great. There was a Chili’s restaurant next to our hotel, so we had dinner and some drinks at the bar.

Being of mixed descent, I look almost nothing like my dad so usually people don’t think we’re related when we travel together. I struck up a conversation with two young guys at the bar and they asked how I know “that guy” sitting next to me. When I told them “that guy” is my dad, they said, “You mean like a father figure, right?” Dad overheard and has a tendency to get pretty vibrant after a few drinks so he exclaims, “No! I did the deed! I was there!” And goes into full explicit detail… Let’s not go there. 

Flying from KOXR to KGTU. Rings from Jet Set Candy.

Day 2: Georgetown, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana

I was really excited for our second day of flying since there’s a lot to see from the air, it’s a much shorter flight, and above all, the fact that we’re going to New Orleans! The flight was only 2 hours, and we arrived on a great weekend: The French Quarter Festival! All the streets in the French Quarter were completely closed off, and there were different stages set up on each corner playing classic jazz. 

I had no idea what to expect out of New Orleans since it wasn’t Mardi Gras, which is what most people go there for, but it was a giant party and packed everywhere. People drank in the streets, pizza and hot dog stands were everywhere, and Mardi Gras beads were being thrown from balconies; it was an awesome experience. And the food was incredible!

Day 3: New Orleans, Louisiana to Ocala, Florida

I’ve explored a lot of Florida so I really wanted to do a few activities that were “off the beaten path.” We flew 2.5 hours from New Orleans to Ocala in Central Florida and drove half hour west to a small town called Williston, home of Devil’s Den. Devil’s Den is an underground spring where you can dive or snorkel and see pre-historic fossils dating back to 7500 BC! The water was incredibly cold, but it was a mermaid’s paradise. We continued to drive another half hour to spend the night at Crystal River, home of the manatees!

Day 4: Ocala, Florida to Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Dad was not happy when I told him we had to be up at 6 AM to swim with the manatees. We went out on a little pontoon boat to the actual Crystal River and searched around for these sea cows. When we finally saw a dark figure in the water, we eased into the water and swam around. It was crazy to see how big these creatures are in person! They don’t do much, except float there and eat grass, but they’re pretty interesting looking.

Dad had enough after about 5 minutes and climbed back into the pontoon. I asked him what he thought of the experience and he shrugged and said, “They’re kind of ugly and they don’t do much – they’re like sea cucumbers.” I have a fascination with large sea mammals so I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I guess if you’re more of a party animal like he is then you might not have the patience for it. We drove an hour back to Ocala to depart to Fort Lauderdale, where my sister, Sharon, met up with us for the rest of our trip!

Day 5: Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Bimini, The Bahamas

Bimini is the closest island of the Bahamas to the US, so it was only a 20 minute flight out, which was awesome because I was so ready for some ocean time. From above, the island looked tiny with a single dirt road going down the center and totally covered in palm trees. We had to take a water taxi to the main part of the island and there were golf cart taxis lined up ready to take us to the hotel. Dad insisted that we could walk, but after about half hour of walking I insisted he look at a map. He took out the GPS on his phone and showed where we were, where we came from, and where we were going. We had hardly made any progress, so we waved down a taxi. The taxi driver laughed and said, “Man, the island is 7 miles long, you still got a ways to go!” Thanks, Dad. 

Bikini from Kokoh Bikini.

Day 6: Bimini, The Bahamas

Today was the first day we weren’t flying, which meant some much needed R&R. We rented a golf cart and drove around the island exploring all the different beaches; I love the white powder sand and the clear blue ocean waters of the Bahamas. We decided to take the water taxi back to the other side of the island and a guy rolls up in his beat-up truck and asks if we needed a ride, so we hopped in. He said he was going the same direction anyways, so he didn’t ask for any payment; the friendly locals are one of the main reasons I love the Bahamas so much. 

On the south island there’s a shark lab where they do research and conservation for sharks! We wanted to check it out, but the woman only allows tours in the late afternoon, and it was still pretty early in the morning so we went back to the main island. There’s a few food stands along the ocean where you can have fresh conch – Bahamian food is amazing! I love having conch salad, conch fritters, and cracked conch every time I go to the Bahamas. We tried paying for the meal with a really large bill and the woman says, “Just come back when you get change.” I was in disbelief that they have such a laid-back attitude. You really have to go outside the resorts to have the best authentic experience. 

Turkish Towel from Briland Blu.

Day 7: Bimini, The Bahamas

Bimini is known as the “Big Game Fishing Capital of the World,” so we decided to go fishing! We woke up early in the morning and there was a guy waiting in the lobby that walks up to us and says, “Hey, your dad said I could come fishing with you guys today!” Sharon and I look at each other thinking, Here we go… Dad has this amazing ability of making friends when he’s out at night and usually invites them with us somewhere and then random people show up the next morning wherever we’re going – it makes me laugh because he usually doesn’t remember that he does it but he’s still down to have them come along! 

The boat took us out early and we went out a few miles to sea, and it was a bright and sunny day. We were catching barracudas over and over, and then we finally snagged a fish that took about 15 minutes to reel in! Once it broke the surface, we saw it was a beautiful Mahi Mahi with rainbow colors and a giant sail. Unfortunately it turns to a green color after being out of the water, but it was still awesome to see that we caught a 30 pound fish! I was definitely sore after that. 

Day 8: Bimini, The Bahamas to Staniel Cay, The Bahamas

We climbed in the taxi to head to the airport and a local guy about 18 years old hops in too. Dad says, “You were the bartender last night! Where you headed?” The young man shyly says, “Last night you said I could see your airplane since I was taking flying lessons to become a pilot.” Dad totally didn’t remember but exclaims, “That’s right! Let’s go!” Dad showed him how to pre-flight the plane and all the controls on the inside, and you could tell that was something that young man would remember the rest of his life.

The Bahamas is a vast chain of islands, and it’s beautiful getting to see all the different shades of blue from the sky. We flew an hour and a half to Staniel Cay, one of my favorite islands in the Bahamas! There was a direct crosswind blowing 40 knots, and the wind sock was so erect it looked like it was about to rip off the pole. It’s never a good sign when the pilot curses while trying to land the plane, so it was a bit nerve racking, but we made it. 

As soon as we arrived, a local Bahamian was waiting to take us on a tour around Staniel Cay. Just steps from the airport was a dock and a boat, and we hopped in and headed towards Iguana Cay. The iguanas were all over the beach! The guides gave us bread to feed the iguanas, but they didn’t tell us that they are one of the most endangered types of iguanas in the world… I feel like a bad human for contributing to that, but I hope that whoever is reading this and plans on going doesn’t do the same! 

The next stop was the swimming pigs on Pig Beach! This is my second time seeing these pigs, but a few months ago some tourists poisoned some of the pigs so many died, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were still quite a few running around the beach, but there are so many tourists visiting now that the swimming pigs don’t really swim anymore since people will just park their boat on the beach to feed them and take pictures. Last time we went my dad asked how long the pigs can swim for. The guide responded, “As long as you have food!”

We headed to Thunderball Grotto, a giant cavern you have to snorkel or dive to, and there’s tons of fish and beams of light that shine through tiny crevices. This grotto was used as a major scene in the 1965 James Bond 007 movie, Thunderball. 

The last stop was supposed to be swimming with the nurse sharks at Compass Cay, but the guide was telling us that there is a $10 docking fee and the seas were getting pretty rough, but we can see the sharks at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. Since he claimed it was the same thing and less money, I was down. Walking to the dock there were about 40 nurse sharks and 2 stingrays that were hanging out in this small area. There was a crowd of people standing at the edge of the water petting the sharks – I looked around and hopped in the water to swim with them. Since they’re nurse sharks, they’re totally harmless to humans, but people started screaming at me to get out of the water and cursing names. Once they saw that I was totally okay and the sharks didn’t even bother with me, everyone started jumping in the water too for pictures. I rolled my eyes. 

Day 9: Staniel Cay, The Bahamas to The Abacos, The Bahamas

We flew an hour and a half north to another chain of islands, The Abacos, and landed in Marsh Harbour. From there we took a taxi to a water taxi, and then it was a 20 minute boat ride to our final destination: Hope Town. Hopetown is a tiny island with beautiful picturesque cottages and shops, quiet deserted beaches, and a stunning bright red and white striped lighthouse. 

While Sharon and I were soaking up the sun on our last full day in the Bahamas, Dad was making friends as usual. We met up with him for dinner when he said he ran into a local buddy from 30 years ago when he visited Bimini, a lighthouse keeper named Elvis, who told him to come to the lighthouse at sunset to light it.

The Elbow Reef Lighthouse in Hope Town is one of the last manual lighthouses in the world, so to see Elvis in action was really special. This lamp burns pressurized kerosene oil with a wick and mantle and the Fresnel lenses concentrate the mantle’s light into a beam directed toward the horizon. Elvis uses a crank to wind up 700 pounds of weight to the top of the lighthouse. This weight slowly drops to the bottom of the lighthouse in order to smoothly rotate the 4 ton apparatus that holds the lenses and burner equipment, creating the circling light that you see from afar. Elvis has to do this every 2 hours during the night in order to keep it running, every single day. 

Day 10: The Abacos, The Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale, Florida

From Hope Town, to Marsh Harbour, and back to Fort Lauderdale, we made the journey back to the US. Dad really wanted to try out Segways when we were in Fort Lauderdale, and the whole time I was thinking, I can’t believe we’re actually doing this. We’re THOSE tourists… The woman that was showing us how to use the Segways didn’t exactly explain how to turn off the machine, so Dad jumped off and the Segway just zoomed off and almost went through the window. It sure took the woman by surprise!

Flying across America and all the way to the Bahamas was an incredible trip, and I’m so glad I was able to make such fond memories with my dad and sister. These memories are ones I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

XOXO

Anna

48 Replies to “Flying Across America”

  1. : Aww! that’s sweet having a father and daughter trip. It seems that both you and your father had a grand time during this trip . But wow the flying time is too long good thing you have a lot of stops. The Bahamas looks like paradise indeed.

  2. Pig beach looks amazing, I’ve never heard of this place. Your picture with the pig must have thousands of likes on Instagram, I’ve never seen anything like it. Your dad sounds cool, my daughter is also mixed race but she looks like me and nothing like her mother!

  3. Amazing photography. The picture with the pig is really wow! I’m really keen on visiting New Orleans and that French Quarter Festival! sounds perfect since we enjoy jazz.

  4. All I could say was ‘WOW’ as I read through this! Such an adventure to fly that far in a single engine plane, you covered so many beautiful destinations. I love flying too especially the photography opportunities from above. I’ll read through again because I got a little distracted by all the amazing photos πŸ™‚

  5. Wow! What an incredible trip!!! The water in the Bahamas looks so incredible… and I really want to visit New Orleans as well. Really amazing that you have gotten to fly with your Dad… what a unique read.

  6. I’m obsessed with this post and your adventure! How cool that you got to share it with your dad. Getting my pilots license is on my bucket list, so maybe someday I’ll be as cool as you haha. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I’m in love with your adventures!! This is a great itinerary. Going to the pig beach is on my bucket list! And I’ve never heard of Ocala. Thanks for putting it on my radar.

  8. This is awesome! This post made me wonder if I should sign up for flying lessons haha? The manatee and the pig picture came out amazing! Keep enjoying your travels. – Mariella

  9. Awww this was so cute to read! And it’s amazing you go travel with your Dad and sister! It’s always those types of experiences that will stay in your memory for a lifetime. I hope to have such an experience one day! I also really glad you got to visit the city my family lives in, NEW ORLEANS. If you ever visit again I’ll be more than welcome to show you around.

    1. Thanks Kareemah! Loved sharing the experience with my dad and sister. Would love to meet up in New Orleans one day!

  10. This is awesome and what an adventure! Some gorgeous photographs too. I spent a lot of time up in Crystal River and am still just as obsessed with manatees, they are such amazing gentle giants! Your underwater photo is stunning! Thanks for sharing!

  11. This is an awesome journey. Gorgeous photos :-). I love the swimming pig on Pig Beach and the swimming with the nurse sharks at Compass Cay ! Your pictures inspire me to discover new destinations. You are a true-born adventurer and enthusiastic storyteller. Exploration seems to pulse through your veins πŸ™‚

  12. What an epic adventure! I obviously need a pilot (or a license) in my life! Cannot believe that you got to swim with manatees, pigs, and sharks!

  13. Oh wow! What an adventure! Devils Den, the manatee and the sharks would have been the highlights for me. I would love to do something just like this sometime.

  14. It seems so much adventure in quite short time. It’s great that you are traveling together with your dad. Enjoyed your pictures a lot. Thanks for sharing.

  15. What an absolutely incredible journey! I have been curious about Devils Den in Florida for a while now & hoping to visit there this month! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  16. This is amazing! What an awesome adventure to embark on with your dad. It’s great that you got enjoy all sorts of destinations along the way as well as enjoy those views from above in-between each destination. The Bahamas looked gorgeous from your photos. Thanks for sharing!

  17. You are so lucky to be able to fly everywhere like that!! That’s amazing πŸ˜€ I would love to go see those nurse sharks as well hahahaha.
    And plus you are a mechanical engineer so you should totally check out my post on how to grow your engineering career through travel πŸ™‚

  18. This sounds like such an incredible trip! I’ve always wanted to go to Bimini, but I’ve only been to Andros, Nassau, and Freeport in the Bahamas so far. I’ve heard that the pig swimming thing is becoming really dangerous for the pigs, did you notice the condition of the animals? It makes me so sad that tourists would harm local animals and environment like that :/

    1. Thank you! It made me sad to hear about tourists hurting the pigs too πŸ™ When I visited 2 years ago the pigs seemed happy just running around since there weren’t many people, but now that it’s become so popular the pigs look very tired, dehydrated, and malnourished. It’s really a shame.

  19. This father-daughter trip sounds like the adventure of a lifetime! I get my wanderlust genes from my dad too but he passed away a few years ago so seeing this has me all sentimental πŸ™ But on a happier note, your photos look absolutely magical, it seems like you were made to be in front of the camera! I esp. like the anecdote about the nurse sharks being harmless and the tourists freaking out but upon realizing their harmless nature, them jumping in right after you! Hahahahah that cracks me up!

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your dad πŸ™ But thank you for the kind words, Izzy! Haha yes, unfortunately people can be quick to judge since they automatically think of Shark Week!

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