Trip of a lifetime

Empowering students through summer travel experiences

Fatoumata S

Summer 2013

As usual, I arrived late to the airport. My flight to the first destination on my trip of a lifetime departs at 10:30am. A normal, on time person would arrive at the airport at 7:00 am but not Faatimah. On the way to the airport I got a call from someone at American Trails West letting me know that I’m running late. I felt horrible. What a poor first impression. I finally got to the airport & the rest of the travelers, who would eventually become my friends, had already checked their bags and went through the security check. I was the only one left to arrive. After I went through security check with one of the counselors by the name of Kevin, I went to meet up with the rest of the group.

I arrived where the rest of the group was; an instant awkwardness filled the room. Who was this girl? Where is she from? why is she so late. No one said anything but I was convinced that’s what they were thinking. I knew there was another “Trip of a Lifetime” accepted student on my same trip but I couldn’t find her. I decided to have a seat alone. I played on my phone to avoid looking at anyone. I looked around a little and realized I was sitting next to the person who I was looking for all that time. She had even made friends. They were really friendly; Allegra & Gabby. We formed a small clique automatically. We followed each other on Instagram, and asked a few questions, the basic “we just met” small talk.

Touch down! Phoenix, Arizona. Although it wasn’t the most exciting place on the globe, I was psyched that I was on the west coast. I felt so accomplished. At the airport, we met up with the rest of the teens who came from Chicago, Miami, Boston, Maryland, and California. We hopped on the bus and our awesome and very patient bus driver Pat, took us to lunch at a mall. Afterward we checked into the BEAUTIFUL Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort. the view from our rooms were gorgeous & the resort was huge. I had never stayed at a resort so that was a new experience for me. It was quiet. We then hopped on the bus. All 45 teens and 5 counselors and headed to a Diamondbacks game.

We played a game on the bus and got to know everyone. I found someone with the same birthday as me. That was pretty exciting. Although I wasn’t a baseball fan, and had no Idea who the Diamondbacks were, I enjoyed that visit. The Stadium was amazing to me. How many times do you see a Cold Stone creamery at a baseball stadium. I travel from the Bronx all the way to 42nd st. just for Cold Stone so I was freaking out with excitement.

The next day, we went to breakfast at an awesome restaurant. I was even disappointed that I couldn’t eat because I was fasting but I wouldn’t break my fast. After that, we went back to the resort and went to the pool. It was such a nice relaxation time. We got to swim in the pool, sit in the jacuzzi, and even go on a mini water slide. Now we were on to Wet n Wild, “Arizona’s biggest ‘n’ Best Waterpark.” it was so busy. We couldn't get on much rides but we had a great time. I had 5 friends then; Sarah, Natalie, Sarah, Natalie, and Catalina. We later had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe where I discovered my unconditional love for Buffalo wings and tenders. One of the most memorable nights of my trip. I even carried the wings with me all the way to the ICE SKATING RINK!!!! I hadn’t been ice skating in so long. It was amazing!

Over the course of the next week, I made so many more friends. I finally knew, almost everyone’s name. Kind of an oxymoron huh? Almost everyone. We went to flagstaff and stopped at Sedona on the way. We got to go on the off road pink jeep tour. So dangerous yet very safe. I’d strongly recommend it! We also went to the movies, and went to Buffalo Wild Wings. Not to mention, everyone’s favorite part of the trip took part in Flagstaff too; a trip to WALMART! Quite frankly, It was well needed. The Grand Canyon was amazing! I finally understood why people spend their fortunes and wish their entire lives just to see some rocks. They were more than rocks. A miracle!
Flagstaff was nice then we were off to Utah. I must say, Utah was my least favorite part of the trip. I hated it. I didn’t have phone service for two days. I can say my favorite things about Utah were the beautiful Bryce & Zion Canyon. Another amazing miracle of rocks. I couldn’t believe my eyes at Bryce! Another thing I liked about Utah are all those Mormons I met. I find them so interesting but I had never actually met any.

After Utah came the wonderful VIVA LAS VEGAS!!! Las Vegas was breathtaking. I’m from New York City so I’ve been to Times Square and I’ve seen bright lights but Vegas was different. The strip was fascinating. I don’t know which I liked more, the Eiffel Tower replica at the Eiffel Tower restaurant or how the New York New York hotel actually looked like the skyscrapers in New York or the Statue of Liberty replica. Maybe I liked the view of Vegas from our amazing Monte Carlo hotel & casino. We ate at amazing places such as the Buffet at Circus Circus or the Planet Hollywood at Caesar's Palace, or maybe it was the delicious and diverse breakfast buffet or all the shopping. All I remember was being fascinated from the moment I entered Vegas to the moment I left.

As soon as I realized that I was on California territory, a sudden excitement rushed through me. I felt like Charlie when he got the Golden ticket. Being from the East Coast, California is almost like a dreamland that we only see in the movies, so to actually be there felt so unreal. We ate lunch at the famous In N Out! It was great. Not necessarily the food, but the experience. After lunch we hopped back on our tour bus and drove straight the San Diego zoo. I'm not too fond of Zoos but I rode the Skyfari 4 times over the Zoo and the Dippin Dots was making California all the more lovely. Dinner was at a restaurant called “Dick’s.” I promise you it was just as funny as it sounds. The waiters are so aggressive and accept friendly insults, if that makes any sense. I would definitely return there.
SURF DIVAS are not all females! I know, it shocked me too. We went to a beach in San Diego and met up with the Surf Divas for some surfing lessons. I am ashamed to say the furthest I got, was on my knees but it was so fun that I just might go surfing again when I get the opportunity! The sand was so lovely.

Los Angeles was the cherry to my Sundae. Too bad we only had until Sunday. On the first day in Los Angeles we went to Disney Land. I was so excited. I had never been there or Disney World. The fireworks were literally magical. My childhood finally felt complete. Everyone was so excited. Afterward, most of them asked me “Faatimz, how was Disney? You were missing out.” We also shopped at 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Some of the boys on our trip even got to see DOC RIVERS and took pictures with him. I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get to see him or Kobe Bryant! We went to the Hollywood Improv Comedy Club. I laughed so hard that even my friend Hallie was confused. She didn’t understand how Hilarious I was finding those jokes! Our last day in LA was not only one I can never forget, but I learned so much from Universal Studios. I learned about green screen effects, movie scenes, and saw all these famous houses from the movies. I felt almost like a celebrity! Afterward we went to dinner and an arcade.
When we got back to the Hotel, we had a closing ceremony. We got awards. I was awarded most helpful because I was always prepared to lend a hand and show sympathy throughout the trip. We also shared our favorite moments, joked around and realized how close we had gotten over the course of two weeks. It felt like I had known these people for a lifetime when in reality, I had just met them on my trip of a lifetime!

The next morning we woke up at 5am and arrived at LAX from our Embassy Suites hotel at about 5:30. It was so emotional. Knowing that these people who have just made a huge difference in your life are now going their separate ways was the saddest part of all. When saying goodbye to my friends, I reflected back on my trip. I thought to myself, I’ve been the only African amongst caucasians; the only Muslim amongst Jews & Christians and not one day did they ever treat me as if I was different then them, and what an amazing time I had! This would’ve never been possible without the help of Project TOAL!

  • testimonialImg

    "I may be multiracial and I may be living in the ghetto but what I am going to do with my life is going to be historical."

    "I may be multiracial and I may be living in the ghetto but what I am going to do with my life is going to be historical."


  • testimonialImg
    “This trip made me realize that there’s more to the world than the South Bronx.”
    “This trip made me realize that there’s more to the world than the South Bronx.”


  • testimonialImg

    "I am really and forever will be thankful to Trip of a Lifetime for giving me such an exceptional experience this summer that will be forever remembered."

    "I am really and forever will be thankful to Trip of a Lifetime for giving me such an exceptional experience this summer that will be forever remembered."


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