Camp America + CCUSA | Travel Review
Updated: Jun 30, 2020
Hi people, welcome back to what is quickly becoming one of my favourite segments here at Meg's Gap Life- another Honest Travel Review!
This week's post is courtesy of a wonderful human being and good friend of mine: Miss Caitlin Coffey, who has spent the past three consecutive summers teaching kids to swim in Pennsylvania with Camp America and CCUSA. I've spoken to her in detail about her experiences while there, in the hopes that the answers to these questions can help to guide you if you're contemplating taking the leap, and booking to go there yourself.
Anyway, without further ado, take it away Cait:
What was it you did? I worked in a summer camp (Perlman Camp) in America, life guarding and swim instructing.
When was it? Summer 2017, 2018 and 2019, from June to late August.
Where was it? Perlman Camp, Lake Como, Pennsylvania
How long was it for? The working period was for around 2.5 months.
How far in advance did you book it? For my first year (Summer 2017), I applied in September 2016 and all arrangements were sorted by Camp America by late March. For the second two years it was a bit different as I didn't have to apply through an agency to get the job, I applied directly to camp and then organised the travel details with an agency called CCUSA, who organised my VISA and travel insurance. I booked flights in January of the year I went.
How much did it cost? Year 1 (with Camp America) was £800 (ish) for camp fees, flights and insurance. (Visa costs are not included). Year 2 & 3 (with CCUSA) was £300 (again- ish) for camp fees and insurance. (I booked flights and paid the Visa fees myself).
What does that price actually include? The camp fees (which are cheaper if you're a returner) include travel insurance, your DS2019 (visa document) and arranging your placement connections.
Could you have done it cheaper yourself? It's a lot cheaper if you book your own flights because you can find the best/ cheapest way to get to your camp. It's also cheaper going with CCUSA than Camp America, however for first timers I'd say Camp America is definitely better as they hold your hand more; CCUSA just sort of get you there and do an occasional check up every now and then, they don't really help you too much with the application and organising process.
Did you need much spending money on top of this? All your food and board is free whilst at camp, but you will need spending money for days off as you'll most likely want to leave camp for the day and sometimes even stay somewhere else, which can be a bit expensive as you're in the middle of nowhere. Finding transport and accommodation is a bit tricky if you don't have a car.
Did you go by yourself or with others? For the first year I went solo, but for the second and third years I went with friends that I had made at camp the previous time.
Did you need a visa? How much was it? How did you get it? You need a J1 Visa which is around £120 but you do have to travel to your nearest embassy to get it. My US embassy is in London so the train fare down there could cost me up to £300. They give you an appointment and if you cancel you don't get the money back. You have to apply online (which is a long process) and then your agency will send you a DS2019 form which you HAVE to take to the appointment along with your passport. The DS2019 is what you give to the scary passport control men when you get off the plane. My friend forget his once, THAT was traumatic. You also have to get a DBS check which costs £40 and you can just do that online.
How much luggage did you take? I took 23kg checked baggage, 1 carry on bag (completely stuffed), and a backpack. They give you a packing list so you know what you'll need, and there's also a laundry service (which I can't say is the best from my experience but it does the job).
Do you have any must take item recommendations? Definitely a rain coat and a MASSIVE hoodie. If you end up in Pennsylvania, It RAINS!!
Were the company helpful in answering questions and helping you organise bookings/ arrangements? Camp America were really helpful for the first time at camp, but I didn't get paid a lot because they organised pay, which is why I changed to CCUSA. CCUSA were better priced, and less in your face during camp which I preferred but some of my friends said they preferred Camp America because they were better at communication if you had a problem or anything.
Did it involve working/ volunteering/ education or was it purely for pleasure? Working!
Sum it up in one sentence? The best three summers of my life.
Did it live up to your expectations? Is there anything you wish you’d known before you booked it? In my first year, I wish I had known more about my specific camp before getting there, but that was my own fault because I could have done more research. It 100% exceeded my expectations, and gave me a different outlook on things.
Tell us the good/best bits? The people! I've met some of my best friends at camp! But also experiencing new culture, my camp was a Jewish camp so it was really interesting being immersed in a different way of life to my own. Perlman Camp is a world within it's own, they have so many traditions that I'm so glad I got to experience; things like Maccabiah which like is a sports day on acid, or Israeli dance, which is lots of crazy dances to Israeli pop music on a Friday after Shabbat dinner.
Tell us the negatives? I honestly can't think of anything bad, I was a bit homesick at first, and around my birthday, but you're so busy that you don't really have the chance to be homesick for very long. If I had to pick something maybe the food, my camp was Kosher so it was really hard adjusting to the amount of dairy they ate and the lack of bacon. Also (in my opinion) the tea is rank, and the chocolate is odd, but other than that it's not that bad.
Was it worth the money? 100% worth it!
Are you glad you tried it at least once? Yes! I loved it so much I did it 3 times!
Would you do it again? And again and again! I'm still so sad I can't go back this year.
Would you recommend it to your family/ close friends? Definitely, and already have!
Any final thoughts? Just that if you get the chance, do it!
And with that, we're done! Did we answer all of your questions? I hope we've managed to at least cover a few queries or put your mind at ease when it comes to making the decision. As we've said, taking a big travel leap can be scary, but the scariest part is just deciding to do it! You got this. See you in the next one, Meg x
**All opinions in this post are based on a PERSONAL experience with these specific businesses, and cannot guarantee that you will have the same feelings. Any negatives are written with the aim of being as honest as possible and again are purely personal opinion based on a specific experience. No offense or slander is intended**