Friday, 9 November 2018

Should you rent an RV with JUCY USA?

As you may have seen from the barrage of Instagram stories I have posted lately (@DigitalScarlett), I recently rented a car from Jucy USA RV Rentals at their San Francisco Branch. You may have heard of the company as I spoke about them earlier this year as I rented from them twice while in New Zealand. In New Zealand, however, I just rented a car, not a car-turned-RV. I have to say though, my experience with them in New Zealand was far better than in the USA when it comes to both cost and customer service. 

Follow me as I look at how much it costs, my experience with the company, and the benefits and downsides to renting through Jucy. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to leave a comment and I'll get back to you as soon as possible! 

(If you get bored, scroll down to the bottom to see my overall opinion).
My Jucy dwarfed by the Giant Redwood Trees.

First things first, how much did it cost me to rent a Jucy RV for three days?
  • Base rental fee: 
    • $48 (£37) per night * 3 = $144 (£112) from 2pm Monday until 11am Thursday. 
    • Note, I chose the 2-person model without the 'penthouse' roof tent but they only had a model with it included left (a 4-person birth) so I got that for 'no extra charge', even though I didn't want it as I was worried about fuel economy with it on... but anyway.
  • Mileage:
    • Note, because it is low season, I received 100 miles per night for free. I received a further 100 miles extra for free for checking-in on YELP upon arrival.
    • I opted for an extra 100 miles for $12 per night to bring me up to 700 miles. Note, you cannot choose how many nights you want the extra 100 miles for $12, you have to do it for the entire length of rental so I had to go for an extra 300 miles for $36 (£28).
    • HOWEVER, I ended up going over my limit of 700 miles (which I will discuss shortly), and ended up being charged a further $60 (£46) because if you do not buy an unlimited miles package (the next level up), you are charged 25 cents per mile. I went 240 miles over, hence the $60.
      • Overall: $100 (£76)

  • Insurance:
    • I did not get my insurance through Jucy. These days, I never buy car rental insurance from the car rental agency itself as it is always extortionate. At Jucy you have 3 levels: $10 per night, $15 per night, or $25 per night. Either way, it ends up being rather pricey by the end of it if you want to stay safe. Instead, I went to worldwideinsurance.com and took out a 3-day campervan policy. Initially, I purchased a car insurance policy but was advised at Jucy they may not honour it given it's a conversion. I got a refund on the car policy and got the campervan policy at £30 for the 3 nights to cover everything that the $25 a night policy covered with Jucy. 
      • Overall: £30.

  • Fuel:
    • As I have mentioned, I did nearly 1,000 miles! 940 miles to be exact. This ended up costing me $130 (£100) in fuel. Far more economical than my car back home to be clear.

  • Overall: £112 + £76 + £40 = A staggering £228 for a 3-day rental + £100 fuel = £328!
Inside view of the rear.

Benefits
  • No young drivers fee! One of the only rental places I have found in America that does not charge you extra if you are under 25. You do, however, have to be at least 21 to rent one of these vehicles. 

  • The car is super convenient/ practical: I actually loved the car itself. It was really handy - when you opened the rear door there was an entire kitchen set-up there - including a sink, chopping board, 2 gas stoves, a fridge, kitchen utensils, pots, pans etc! (Note, as I will go on to discuss, this is expensive in the summer season).

    I love the fact there was a second battery that meant you could keep your stuff cold all night and that you could charge your phone overnight in one of the several USB ports too. There was plenty of space for 2 people - the bed was easy to fold out and pack away as well. I didn't get to try out my roof-top tent because I had no need to but it looked robust enough.

    In the back, once you'd folded the bed away, you could then fold out a table if you wanted too that was built into the car and the perfect space to eat. There was also a large storage box under the table which is supposed to fit 2 large suitcases and 2 small ones... though I think that would be a squeeze/ hassle getting them in and out. I couldn't even be bothered to get my one bag out so just kept most of the stuff I needed in reach and put the rest below but it was handy anyway to keep stuff out of the way of prying eyes.
  •  Ease of driving: I mean, I honestly have no idea how I racked up nearly 1,000 miles. I know I drove 16,500 miles to Mongolia this summer but.. this was nearly a new record for me in less than 3 days. Part of this was due to the ease of driving. The seats were easy to control and were comfortable. Best of all, however, it has cruise control! I know most Americans are used to this but I have never used cruise control in my life because I rarely ever drive automatics either. The two factors combined meant it was a breeze to drive.
  • Ease of parking: Unlike a regular RV, this baby could be parked anywhere. I did not have to worry about height restrictions or being too obvious parked up anywhere. I mean, ok, the purple and green writing that says 'RV' on the side didn't help but generally it was rather inconspicuous and easy to get around in. As someone who has never driven an RV, I would worry about manoeuvring such a large vehicle. I didn't have that problem here though.
Downsides
  • Customer Service: This was my biggest pet peeve with the company. I have written a detailed explanation below this section on what went wrong/ why this irritated me so much.
  • Timing: It is a HUGE inconvenience to have such limited pick-up/ drop-off times. The earliest you can pick up your vehicle is at 1pm while the latest you can drop it off is at 11am. That is, without incurring an additional fee. From mid-October till the end of April you were only charged $35 for this fee but usually its $55. And, as you will read below, even if they say 1pm and you arrive early to ensure you get it on time, you may still be let down. 

  • Cost: There are actually several more fees that one would usually incur if you were renting during the peak period. Some of my favourite things about the car included the free 'Personal Kit', that is, the free bedding and towels provided, as well as the 'Provisioning Kit' which included cooking equipment and utensils. However, these perks are astoundingly expensive during the summer months. $50 for the Personal Kit and $150 for the Provisioning Kit!

    Of course, there is the issue of miles - it is expensive to add on unlimited mileage - something I found was definitely needed in America given its vast size. Further, don't forget there are taxes added on top of all of this. That's not Jucy's fault but you don't see it easily in the prices - be sure to check the 'total cost' not the cost per night as that's where they add it on. 

  • The car itself: Though I raved about the RV, there were some minor downsides. Well, actually, one of the biggest downsides which is really rather inconvenient is the lack of decent curtains/ blinds. Mine just constantly fell down and there weren't even any provided for the front window or driver/ passenger door. When I was sat up in bed on my laptop late at night, everyone could see me through the window. Even the windows with blinds were very dodgy. They all needed to be replaced.

    One minor thing - I wish I could have connected my phone via Bluetooth! That's more of a 'me' issue than a 'them' issue though - you could do it by aux cable but I'd forgotten the headphone adapter for my iPhone so couldn't do it. The car also came up with an oil replacement warning light and I didn't know what to do/ whether I had to pay for more oil so I just left it and they told me that it comes on all the time... odd thing to do. Oh, and the fridge is super noisy at night!
  • Hidden fees: Be careful you don't get extra charges. Be sure you empty your water tank before you return it or you will be heavily fined. Further, make sure you pay for all road tolls/ bridges in advance otherwise they charge an admin fee to cover them. I have also seen people complaining about a $700 fee for taking the car to Burning Man so be cautious of that. Oh, and don't do a me - keep track of your mileage and ensure you get it before leaving the place so you don't face a $60 charge (or worse) like I did!

Problems with Customer Service
Frankly, this review would all be glowingly positive if it wasn't for the customer service I received. I'll be honest, I loved the car and could have perhaps even stomached the cost if it hadn't been for the difficulties I had dealing with the company/ extra fees.

First things first: I arrived to the Jucy rental location one hour early. Frankly, I knew it would take them a while to get the paperwork in order and I wanted to be sure I could leave at 1pm as I had a long drive ahead of me. However, I was told if I wanted to start early I would be charged an early pick-up fee of $30 (usually $55 during peak season). Obviously, I declined but hoped things would be sorted out shortly. Unfortunately, however, 2pm rolled around and I STILL hadn't gotten my car. It was 2:15pm before I drove out of the door. I roamed around for one hour bored, waiting to pick up and wanting to fill out paperwork but instead, they forced me to wait then kept me waiting for an extra hour more. Not a good start.

Next, I hit a problem when I realised they had not written the number of miles the car started with on any of my documents. I say any of them... turns out they only gave me one piece of paper. While trying to find the number of miles the car had on this piece of paper, I realised she ignored my request to add the extra 100 miles at $12 per days. I had asked her to do this but then she went off with another customer and must have forgotten my request and so I had not been charged nor received these miles - something I knew would cause problems upon return.

Consequently, I tried to contact the Jucy office by phone but my English mobile would not let me call them. I then e-mailed them and heard nothing back. I was able to contact someone on their Instagram but they also took ages to respond. Later, in their defence, I found out they had sent the miles through by e-mail but it had gone straight to my junk box. It was also too late as I had already gone over my mileage limit by the time they had sent it and knew to get back I'd have to pay 25 cents per mile. 

At the office, they initially thought about charging me $130 for the extra mileage as I had not booked the $12 per day 100 extra miles package (which I had asked to do)... instead, they made it sound like they were doing me a favour by allowing me to now buy that package and to then pay an extra $60 on top for the mileage that went over despite having no way of checking what the mileage was at when I first set off. I was told by customer services there should have been the mileage written down on the contract I signed but the box was empty on my sheet and the staff at the local Jucy in San Francisco told me they don't bother filling it out if you're returning to the same store - even though the customer needs to know this!

Anyway, I have now asked Jucy for a refund for the $60 as there wasn't any way I could know the mileage as they never told me - so I'll let you know how that goes. I should say though, the man that took back my car was the sweetest guy ever. I had a very emotional day with some bad family news and he was so sweet and kind to me, he really cheered me up and made me feel like he cared. The lady in the office, however, was far more focused on sternly smiling with a fake-cheery tone... odd!

OVERALL VERDICT: TO RENT OR NOT TO RENT?
Overall, I would give my experience with Jucy a 6.5 out of 10. I would recommend the company based on the fact that I absolutely loved the car and that it is perfect for adventuring around California. However, I would say it is best suited for 3 people - that is, to help split the costs while still remaining comfortable/ having enough space for bags. 

I'd also say my recommendation of the company depends on what time of year you are renting. During the off-season, the car/ RV is way more affordable than during peak months. During peak months they charge you extra for EVERYTHING, including an increased cost of rental in the first place. Winter months are far more flexible/ generous and everywhere is quieter so it's easy to park for the night as well.

Finally, just be sure too that you double-check everything you are signing, even if they try to rush you through it, to make sure you have everything you listed and that you have paid for what you are expecting to get so you don't return to any nasty surprises! I hope for your sake that you never need to contact customer service either...

Enjoy and good luck! :).

Let me know if you decide to rent one in the comments below.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Birthday Blues: Navigating the Perception of a Successful Life

"What horrifies me the most is the idea of being useless; well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age." 
- Sylvia Plath


The clock struck midnight and time slipped forward. I am now 24-years-old and feel drastically different. Of course, this is not a physical change but rather a state of emotional turmoil. 24-years-old just seems so darn old. I know people older than me will laugh at that statement - in fact, just today my parents said to me “What I wouldn’t give to be 24 again”. 
The problem, however, is when my dad progressed to tell me that by the age of 24 he had completed his first career (a five-year stint as a soldier in the British Army), gotten married, and had a child. I mean, shhhh Dad, shhhhh. My mum had followed the same path and had several years in the army under her belt too as well as experience travelling. Adding to that, my sister Charlotte lives in Canada, is married, and has 3 beautiful children while my sister Grace lives in Australia and has just bought a house at only 22-years-old. Finally, there is my sister Vikki who loves beyond measure and also has a beautiful son to shine a light and laughter on all of our days. 

And this is part of my silly fear. At 24-years-old I feel more pressure to have done something with my life, made something of myself. I have to remind myself how totally moronic that sentence is. Of course, I have done stuff with my life, just maybe not in the traditional sense.
So excuse me for what is about to be sound like the most bragging you have ever heard - it is not intended as such but rather a reminder to myself. A reminder that I have achieved a lot by 24 and that a full-time job, a marriage, and having kids aren’t the only way to measure your life. 
I may be 24-years-old but after gaining good grades from Colchester Royal Grammar School, I went on to graduate from the University of Warwick with an undergraduate degree in History and then completed a master’s at the University of Oxford. During this time, I received three research scholarships and travelled all-expenses-paid around the US three times as a result. I presented at two major conferences and shared ground-breaking findings on the history of drug criminalisation in the US. 
I may be 24 but I have been to 47 countries since turning 18 - Greece, Canada, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, Mayalasia, the USA (18 states), Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Wales, Germany, Belgium, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Barbados, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Mongolia, Latvia, and Lithuania. 
I may be 24 but I have driven 16,500 miles from London to Mongolia and back in a car that everyone told me would never make it. I have stayed and shared experiences with over 50 strangers by blindly trusting them and sleeping on their couch/ in their spare room on Couchsurfing. 
I am 24 and I have worked doing the most random jobs ever: from serving shots in skimpy outfits in clubs or promoting RBS internships to sampling Rustler burgers, working in corporate law firms, researching for the Canadian history channel or writing powerpoints for Iraq’s largest credit card company. I really have done everything possible to enable me to travel for longer and get a taste for what I’d like to do. 
Despite all this though, I guess the people I have surrounded myself with make me nervous. It’s funny because we all want what someone else has. I often get friends messaging me saying “I wish I could do what you do; working full-time sucks” - and a lot of the time I totally agree, I love my life as a freelance writer, editor and researcher - but sometimes, on days like today, I envy these people with their stability, solid career progression, nice flats, and London party lifestyle. 
I also have friends from my time at Oxford that seem to be literally changing the world every day - whether that be working in high-level government roles, working for NGOs or conducting ground-breaking academic research on the effectiveness of malaria medication - everyone seems to be killing it. While I am naturally happy for my friend's success, I fear I am not doing enough.

However, I have come to realise that whatever I do, it will never feel like enough because of the way I perceive success. I am currently juggling so much as it is - I am going to California next week for three weeks and I am writing exam revision guides, editing guidebooks for two different people, conducting tons of marketing for my dad's company, writing and researching my own book that will be a travel guide to the Russian Revolution, making a scrapbook of my trip earlier this year, cross-stitching several portraits, trying to launch an online craft business, sending out magazine pitches frequently, trying to find the perfect 'real' job, battling the idea of launching my own travel-based  tech start-up, working on a family history, and binge-watching 7 seasons of Sons of Anarchy... Talk about a lot on my plate!
I just have to remind myself - everyone has different perceptions of success and things happen for people at different times. A friend of mine recommended the book ‘Thrive’ by Arianna Huffington, and on day’s like today, I need to read it to remind myself of this. 
As an example of this different perception of success, I was asked this week if I could give a speech at my high school awards evening next month about what I have done and then hand out the awards to students on the stage. Part of this is most likely a right-place-right-time scenario as I was giving a talk to some gifted-and-able students about 21st-century careers options but I also like to think it was recognition of how far I have come. 
I have to admit, in high school, I focused academically (I was also a librarian, a prefect, and in the senior choir) but outside of school I was a bit of a troublemaker (shock-horror). The funny thing is, I don’t think the teacher that asked me to present at this talk remembers the only interaction we had in high school - that was, when he pulled me into his office to tell me he learned that I was using drugs and that, as head of safeguarding, it was his responsibility to put a stop to this. Let's say that made for an interesting few months at both school and at home. Things changed though - and I made it to CRGS and got on with my A-Levels and went on to do everything listed above.

So I guess what I am trying to get at is do not worry, things happen at different times for different people and there is no uniform definition of success. Ironic given I don't take my own advice - but who does? 

To end things, I just want to share a small part of my favourite poem - it has been on my wall for years now. It is called 'Desiderata' written by Max Erhnam:

"If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself./ Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.../ Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceived Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

Monday, 17 September 2018

Rebranding!

Just a quick update to say that I will be rebranding this website to the name 'Digital Scarlett'. Given I'm now growing older (24-years-old next month dammit), I figure it's time to change the blog's name. 

My Instagram and Facebook will be changing to Digital Scarlett too but you'll still find the same old content. This website will change URL's to DigitalScarlett as well.

Thanks for the support! 

Monday, 6 August 2018

Car accident in Georgia: How we lost our rear windscreen.

Georgia has been eventful, to say the least. We crossed the Turkish border into Georgia late Thursday night. The border crossing itself foreshadowed what was to come. It was a long, slow, and confusing process. When we arrived at the Turkish border to exit, they made me get out of the car and walk through security as only one person was allowed to be in the car. However, Harley and I had no means of contacting one another as we didn't get a sim card in Turkey. I blindly stumbled through security with no idea what was going on and made it out the other side in Georgia in five minutes. Harley, however, was nowhere to be found. TWO HOURS passed and eventually I was able to see my Freelander emerging from security. During this time it rained relentlessly - I was freezing cold too. Thankfully, to take my mind off things, I befriended a really nice local who gave me sight-seeing advice and told me what to expect in Georgia. 

I worried Harley was getting in trouble at the border as we hadn't been able to pick up the highway vignette needed to use the highways in Turkey. A camera takes a picture of your number plate every time you enter one. You're supposed to receive a fine about 10 times the amount of the initial fee you would have paid if you had purchased one -- however, as luck would have it, the Turkish security system crashed and they were having to process everyone manually. That's why it took Harley so long to get through! That, combined with the fact some idiot was taken for questioning but forgot to move his car and thus blocked every single car behind him from going forward. Nobody could find where this guy had gone to and so couldn't get the car moved. I had to laugh when Harley told me what the Georgian security forces did to him -- when they searched the car, one man, coincidentally seemingly the only man at the entire border to speak English, started grilling Harley on why he had a hammer and pliers in the car - were the pliers to chop people's fingers off? Harley started to panic and explained they were necessary to fix the car, promising they were just tools. Security grilled him further before laughing in his face and explaining it was all a joke and he was fine to continue! Needless to say, Harley pooed himself.

Anyway, when we finally entered Georgia, we had a hotel set up. At least, we thought so. Turns out the prices we'd booked online were 'old prices', and so we swiftly left before finding another hotel just up the road. The next day we intended to explore Batumi, a coastal seaside city. However, as is typical of our luck this trip, it started to chuck it down as soon as we left the hotel. We quickly had to abandon our plans of visiting the Botanical Gardens and retreat to another cheaper hotel. We spent the night planning our trip around Georgia and grew excited about what lay ahead - finally, a chance to do some exploring rather than constant driving.

The next morning we set off to Kinchkha Waterfall, a site around 2 hours away. The main waterfall itself was a let-down but we enjoyed the journey up to it. We took a wrong turn and accidentally went 'properly' off-road for the first time. All went well. I mean, I did have to get out to move a fallen tree as the car couldn't get over it/ it was trapped under the wheel but we were pleased all had gone well. A little too well. 

 

By this point, Harley exclaimed he had become one with the Freelander, he was close to controlling it with his mind. I have to say now, drivers are crazy in Georgia. There is this sense that you can go wherever you want on the road, cut in front of whoever, and beep whenever you feel like it because, at the end of the day, nobody wants to crash their car. That said, every other car on the road seems to be missing a bumper or window. There are also several pigs, cows, horses, and stray dogs that love to run out in front of you. I have to admit, Harley was driving fantastically up until this point... I guess that led to extra cockiness because all hell soon ensued!

   

We drove down this small ravine to access a lower part of the waterfall. Initially, we reversed in to make it easy to get back up the hill. However, wanting to get a nice photo of the car, we turned the car around. This photo opportunity was spoiled though as another car decided to come to join us in the area. Anyway, we enjoyed paddling around the waterfall and scrambling across the rocks. When we went to leave, Harley decided to accelerate heavily to ensure we didn't get stuck half-way up the hill. However, in doing so, as soon as our tyres hit the tarmac above, the car shot backwards and slamming on the brakes achieved nothing. Before we knew it, we'd smashed backwards into a brick bollard that had narrowly stopped us from being propelled backwards off the bridge and into the shallow water below.  

 

Instantly, and naturally, Harley panicked. We got out the car to assess the damage and it turns out our rear windscreen was now literally over the road. The handle to open the back door was also hanging on by a thread. That was it - adventure over and relationship ruined. At least, that's how Harley felt at that very moment in time. I have to tell you now - this isn't the first time he has crashed my car!! He drove into the back of someone last year but luckily (for me anyhow) didn't damage my car only theirs. I digress - the door now wouldn't shut properly and kept opening by itself. We drove further down the road to leave the scene of the crime and feared that as we drove along, it may open on its own accord and the bed we had built, packed with our clothes and food underneath, would come shooting out and (if we were lucky) would fall all over the road - or, if we were really unlucky, hit a car behind us. The further down the road we got, the more Harley panicked to the point he was actually sick he was so concerned (bless him).

We decided to return to Batumi as we thought we may have to cross back into Turkey and then go back through Europe. We returned to the hotel we had visited the night before and the guys that owned it helped us put up a plastic tarp over the back window as it was now chucking it down with rain and our bed was absolutely soaked. We were able to disconnect the back handle entirely so now it is just permanently shut.

The next day we explored a small part of Batumi before heading to Tbilisi. Armed with the knowledge that some guy was selling a second-hand 2002 Freelander backdoor for only £60, it felt like we had little choice. It took around four hours to reach the city and we couldn’t stop along the way as we had nothing in the rear window anymore. One of us had to stay with the car at all times as all of our stuff was in it.

     
Batumi

When we reached Tbilisi and found a hostel, we realised there was no private parking anywhere. Some mechanics in Tbilisi fashioned us a new plastic tarp that looked far more secure so, for the meantime, it’s ok until we find something better. We weren’t able to make contact with the guy selling the door and we may try to just cold call him in a few days’ time. He doesn’t speak any English, nor do most people in Georgia, so it’s extremely difficult trying to do anything or get any help.  Anyway, with the window patched together, we set off the hostel and enjoyed a dominos pizza before hitting the hay and getting ready to explore the city further soon.