The Map on the Kitchen Table

Although I was born in Oregon, I don’t consider myself an official Oregonian until age three. My family moved to California when I was just a few months old, but they later decided that Southern Oregon was truly home and moved back a couple years later. After renting for a short time, we moved into a lovely suburban home that not only had a dining room for our dining room table, but there was a space inside the kitchen for a table as well. I remember going to furniture stores with my parents, until they finally brought a bench seat corner table set into our home. But with my preschooler tendencies, plus the anticipation of another child, my mom was well aware that this table was just one accident away from spilled juice or coloring off the paper. To protect the wood, she decided to cover the table in plastic, but knowing that would look tacky, she made a creative decision that would not only protect the table, but would provide a lifetime of curiosity and learning.

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My mom found a U.S. map about the same size as the table, and laid that out before wrapping the table with a thick plastic sheet. Even though my sister (who wasn’t even born when we got this table) and I are adults now, we know that this protective plastic coating is never coming off- it gives the table its character! Sure, we had to replace the aging map once, and my family has moved, but this kitchen table was sure to find its way in my parents’ current home. Whenever a few of us are gathered around this, it always turns into either a geography lesson or a story about someone’s American Adventure.

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Guests always loved looking at our table. Of course, the first place everyone has to locate is where they call home- which, for many of our guests, has been good old Southern Oregon. People love pointing out their birth town, places they have lived, interesting places they’ve visited, and where their family is from.

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I’ve always appreciated the detail of such a large map as it makes it easy to figure out where exactly my friends and relatives live. Many of my relatives live in Southern California, and I’ve been able to locate every single city they live in! When planning family visits, we often used our finger to trace our route down the I-5. When my parents, sister, and I travel separate from each other, we often gather around this table afterwards and trace out everywhere we went. It’s not quite like joining them on the trip, but it gives the rest of us a more realistic perspective of what the trip was actually like! While living in the Midwest, I would come back for Christmas break and enjoy pointing out the trips I took, especially my long solo road trip between Nebraska and Ohio.

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Nowadays, one of my favorite routes I like to trace on this map is the bus trip I took across the country. I remember while on that trip, probably somewhere in Wyoming, another bus passenger stated that she wished she and her family knew American geography better. I immediately thought of this and told her all about how my family sealed a map on the kitchen table when I was growing up. She was interested in the idea, as many of our guests have been, and I recalled all the fun memories that took place seated at this table. Who would have guessed that, of all things, I would be looking forward to once again seeing the map on the kitchen table?

Free Substitutions for Everyday Expenses

What would you rather spend your money on: a super-amazing trip of a lifetime, or day-to-day costs? Of course you want to be able to live well, but when you’re saving for a trip or other big goal, you may realize that you’re spending money on things that you don’t need to spend money on. But going on a spending freeze does not mean you have to stop enjoying the things you love. It just means you have to go about things differently. Here are twenty-one expenses that many people have, along with some cost-free substitutions.

Instead of paying for network television… many channels upload some of their popular shows onto their website or onto the free version of Hulu. ABC, CBS, and A&E are just some of the channels whose websites you can visit for free shows. Yes, this does mean watching on your computer, but if you really want to watch on a bigger screen, you can consider a one-time cost of buying a cord that will display your computer screen on your television. If your favorite show is not offered online, see if a friend who has that channel would be willing to host a weekly screening night.

Instead of going out to dinner… enjoy time together by cooking a meal at home. Begin by looking up a recipe (for free online, of course) for a dish you’ve never made or tasted before. If you don’t have the ingredients at home, make shopping at the grocery store part of your dinner date! This can be your opportunity to try out crazy cooking methods and use your finest dinnerware. You can even make it formal by busting out the cocktail dress or suit and tie! I realize that technically, this still costs money as you’re buying the ingredients, but you need to eat anyway, right? As long as you’re not purchasing new cookware or exotic foods, this memorable night in can cost just as much as any other meal you cook at home.

A former roommate and I spent an evening shaping and baking pretzels!
A former roommate and I spent an evening shaping and baking pretzels!

Instead of spending money on movies… some production companies have movies available for free online, often available to stream straight from YouTube! There are also dozens of websites dedicated to providing free documentaries to the public. Now this takes care of your movie subscription services, but what about the movie theater experience? If you’re a business owner, ministry leader, or even a blogger, not only can you attend movie screenings for free, but you can see them before they come out. Since getting into the Lifeway Films advanced screenings, I’ve been able to see several free movies over the past few years in the best theaters in town!

Instead of buying books… the obvious recommendation would be the library, but I realize that it is not a viable resource to everyone. Even if you do have a local library, it may not have the kind of selection you want. Many communities have some sort of book exchange, which could be anything from a mailbox on the sidewalk, to a bookshelf in a store, to a whole building filled with free books! Sure, you may have to give up some books, but in return you can get an entire selection of new books! If your area doesn’t have a book exchange, consider starting one up! A great way to get brand-new books is to enter contests, often sponsored by either the author or the publisher. Even if there are no advertised contests, a nice fan letter sent to the author may be returned by free books- possibly autographed!

Instead of shopping online Craigslist, eBay, and other online stores… you can look for a local free group on Facebook. This has a similar philosophy to the Freecycle website, but because it’s on a regularly-accessed social network, it tends to be better utilized. Once you join your local group, all you have to do is either post what you’re looking for, or post something that you want to give away. Your neighbors will then be able to help you out in your endeavor. In addition to this, never underestimate the good old-fashioned method of telling your friends what you’re free-shopping for!

When I was moving, someone on a local Facebook group was fortunate enough to take this custom-made bed out of my hands for free!
When I was moving, someone on a local Facebook group was fortunate enough to take this custom-made bed out of my hands for free!

Instead of purchasing clothing… you can try trading with friends. Of course, this only works if your friends have similar size and style. You can also take up sewing and upcycle your current threads. You can prolong the life of your clothes by patching up holes, or you can give your wardrobe a complete makeover and turn one item of clothing into something else entirely. If you get creative, you can turn a t-shirt into a skirt, or a skirt into a scarf!

I upcycled twelve camp t-shirts into a no-sew blanket!
I upcycled twelve camp t-shirts into a no-sew blanket!

Instead of buying school books… share with a friend who is also taking the class, or borrow from someone who took the same class the previous semester. If you don’t have these kinds of connections, many school libraries, and sometimes local public libraries, carry the current school books and allow students to borrow them for a short time as needed. If you can, contact the instructor before the class starts and ask what books are actually required. (Sometimes what the school thinks is read and what the instructor actually assigns can be different.) All the above options typically only work for books that are not read on a daily basis. You probably will have to buy some books, so find them used for as cheap as you can online, and after your class ends you can sell them directly to another student for almost the same amount that you bought it for. Even though it requires putting a little money down, many students find that this method will help them break even in the end.

Instead of purchasing souvenirs… take lots of pictures. Go geocaching and trade for an item that will remind you of the area. Keep a travel journal. Collect your ticket stubs, itineraries, and brochures. Find rocks, shells, or other natural objects and label where you found them (make sure this is legal before taking them). The souvenirs you want to buy are likely made overseas and simply stamped with your destination’s name. Another bonus of free mementos is that they often better represent your vacation spot.

The only "souvenirs" my friends and I have from this hike are the photos we took and the trinkets we traded in the geocaches.
The only “souvenirs” my friends and I have from this hike are the photos we took and the trinkets we traded in the geocaches.

Instead of giving pricey gifts… find a way to spend time instead of money. Newlyweds may need a house- or pet-sitter while they’re on their honeymoon. First-time parents often need help catching up on housework and yard work, or getting the nursery ready. Not-first-time parents may be looking for babysitting for their older kids or meal preparation. You could also get crafty and make a unique, quality gift out of items you already own. Used gifts are sometimes okay as long as it’s a gift from the heart, such as an antique family heirloom being passed down. Just make sure that your free gifts don’t come across as stingy or unwanted. In some cases it is better to buy a (couponed, on-sale) gift for a dear friend than hoarding away a few extra bucks.

Instead of paying for a pet… pet-sit for your friends and neighbors and you could get paid to snuggle with a furry friend! You can also get your animal fix by volunteering at, or even just visiting, an animal shelter. You could also volunteer or work as a farmhand and be exposed to a variety of creatures! Remember that a pet does not typically fit into a traveler’s lifestyle. You either have to hope to find pet-friendly lodging and camps and pay the extra pet fee, or pay for a kennel or pet-sitter back home. This is a huge expense in addition to the regular expenses of food, immunizations, etc.

Not having pets didn't stop me from playing with my Nebraska neighbor's puppy!
Not having pets didn’t stop me from playing with my Nebraska neighbor’s puppy!

Instead of buying paper products… use reusable! Many people already have plenty of towels and other paper product replacements already in their homes, but even if you don’t have enough cloth towels to replace paper towels, you probably have enough material to make your own. Bandannas can make festive napkins. Old t-shirts can be cut to any size of rectangle for whatever you repurpose them as. Even old socks are great for scrubbing and wiping down when cleaning. If you don’t feel like washing rags, use a small piece of salvaged cloth for the task and then throw it away.

Instead of purchasing periodicals… think about why you’re really reading it. If you only buy magazines to read one or two certain sections, search for those topics on Pinterest and you’ll get thousands of pins linking to articles on that topic. Remember that lots of magazines publish their most popular articles online for free. As for the newspaper, I’m not sure why they’re even still in print, but you can find all that news online and immediately after it happens. If you want something you can hold in your hands, there are free subscriptions, or at least trial issues, to many magazines. They’re getting rare, but they’re still out there! Finally, utilize free magazine racks, check out magazines at the library, and trade magazines with friends. As long as it’s your first time reading it, who cares if the magazine is several months old?

Instead of paying to exercise… work out at home and on the road. If you are traveling and there is no price difference between an accommodation with a pool or workout room and an accommodation that doesn’t offer any workout equipment, choose the place where you can be more active. As long as you have decent walking or running shoes, you can turn any place into a gym. Motivate yourself to exercise more at home by doing small, vigorous tasks such as unloading groceries, walking to the mailbox, or vacuuming. Also, there are many workout videos available for free online streaming. Some may recommend simple exercise equipment, but you can replace a yoga mat with a towel and use water bottles filled with rocks instead of weights.

You can save money on exercise AND transportation if you decide to walk EVERYWHERE like I did on my Niagara Falls trip.
You can save money on exercise AND transportation if you decide to walk EVERYWHERE like I did on my Niagara Falls trip.

Instead of buying shipping material… save the packaging from items shipped to you, cover your address with a new label, and ship it out! If your shipment requires cushioning, you can use already-used wrapping paper, the contents from a paper shredder, or any other needs-to-be-recycled paper from around the house. Oh, and you can also save the bubble wrap that gets sent to you for later use. You can even place fragile items in the center of the package and surround it with other softer, non-fragile items. If you plan to ship through Priority Mail at the US Post Office, don’t even bother trying to find packaging. All post offices provide Priority Mail boxes, envelopes, tape, and address labels for free. Whenever you have to mail just a small envelope, consider if you could send the information online instead. If you’re careful about your shipments, you can get away with only spending money on stamps!

Instead of buying video games and gaming devices… I’m not entirely sure why the gaming industry is so big when there are so many games you can play for free. If you have a smart phone, you’re probably already aware that you can download free gaming apps. There are also many free online gaming sites with many different genres. And a bonus to parents and students: there are a ton of fun, free games that are also educational! But, in my opinion, video games will never be as fun as traditional board games. You probably have a few hiding in the back of your closet; why not pull them out and play a few rounds?

Instead of paying for a hotel room… don’t do it! I understand the merit behind hotels and motels, but I believe that they are used far more than they need to be. Read my article on ten alternatives to hotels. All of them are cheaper than a hotel, and several of the suggestions are absolutely free!

Lounging in a lodge... that we stayed a night in FOR FREE!
Lounging in a lodge… that we stayed a night in FOR FREE!

Instead of an expensive friends’ night on the town… enjoy a night in! Have a potluck (depending on what dish you make, you could actually spend less than you would for your own personal dinner), and spend the night watching movies, playing games, or simply catching up. If you volunteer to host a night like this, your friends will probably realize that they can also host low-key, low-cost get-together at their house. There will be fewer pricey nights in town and more times celebrating friendship in the comforts of each other’s homes.

Instead of spending money on music… many cities of decent size will have free concerts going on at least a few times per month. These may be small, one-man shows inside coffee shops, but this could be great as you’ll really get to know the artist. For in-home entertainment, Amazon often offers free downloads, and up-and-coming artists will give some songs away on their website to get people interested in their music. Of course, if you don’t care about owning music, you have plenty of options for listening to music, such as YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and, of course, the traditional radio.

A few years ago, I bummed a ride with friends to South Dakota to attend Lifelight, a huge, FREE music festival!
A few years ago, I bummed a ride with friends to South Dakota to attend Lifelight, a huge, FREE music festival!

Instead of buying snack foods… go foraging! First study up on different types of edible plants that are native in your area, and which ones can be poisonous if ingested. Then go into the forest or perhaps even your backyard or another area that doesn’t get sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Some leaves can be used as spices or to make herbal tea, and there are plenty of other nuts, flowers, grasses, fruits, and roots to enjoy. Foraging may not fill an empty belly, but it will give you a greater appreciation for food and hopefully these wild, organic options will lessen your consumption of junk food!

Instead of spending money on sporting events… watch the kids! In most communities, sporting events for children in middle school and under are free to attend. Even if you don’t have any kids in sports, this is an easy, free way to show your support in the community. Check with the local schools and Little League for game times. You could also check with community clubs, churches, and other organizations that may play intramural sports and ask if you can come watch a game. Local games can be just as interesting as the big leagues. If you’re set on seeing the professionals play and you don’t get any free sports channels, you can stream some games online.

Even some college games are free! When Penn State Men's Volleyball came to challenge Ohio State, it didn't cost me anything to cheer on my cousin!
Even some college games are free! When Penn State Men’s Volleyball came to challenge Ohio State, it didn’t cost me anything to cheer on my cousin!

Instead of paying a monthly phone bill… make phone calls using Google Voice. If you’re in the United States, you can call for free to any other phone number in the United States. However, there are some caveats. First of all, you need to be connected to the internet, which usually isn’t a problem with the prevalent free WiFi and the fact that so many people use data plans. The worst part is that you cannot provide a number for people to call you, and you cannot leave voicemail. But since Google Voice will take care of most of your outgoing calls, consider getting a cheap pay-as-you-go phone for when you need to receive calls and leave messages. You can get a Tracfone for as little as $10 (they even have smart phones for a slightly higher price), and all of their phones come with at least 10 free minutes upon activation. If you prefer texting, there are many websites that will allow you to text over their website, and will even provide recipients with a temporary number for them to text you back.

What swaps have you made to save money for your adventures?

I Now Write Travel Guides!

24 hours ago, I never expected I’d write travel guides. But here I am, 24 hours later, and I have two guides published!

Just last night I found out about a website called Buggl. It is a resource to look up all kinds of travel guides. You can search by location or by type of activity. Each guide varies in price (depending on how much the author charges), but they all include an online version and a downloadable, printable PDF book.

I decided right away that I wanted to create a travel guide of my own, so I signed up. While some of the features were kind of annoying to work with, overall it was fairly easy to put together a guidebook. With a late night last night, I finally finished this:

A Non-Mushy Week in Niagara Falls

Because I have the freedom to write about anywhere I want from whatever perspective I want, I decided it might be fun to write a book about how you can visit Niagara Falls, the ultimate honeymoon destination, when you don’t want any romantic ideas whatsoever. Of course, I think this guide would still be useful to couples who wanted to visit, but because I went solo on this trip, I wanted to let others know that they can enjoy this place by themselves, too! Furthermore, I wanted people to know that Niagara Falls is so much more than an afternoon stop! This guide explains in detail how you can enjoy seven action-packed days! In it, I give little-known secrets, information on how to prepare for this excursion, and more. I wrote all the words and took all the background pictures featured in this guide! Click here to download A Non-Mushy Week in Niagara Falls for only $1.25!

After publishing this book, I tried to get some sleep, but I woke up early this morning because my mind was buzzing with ideas. I immediately wrote down a few ideas I had for other guidebooks, and after I got ready for the day I sat down and wrote another one!

A Weekend at the Creation Museum Travel Guide

I was inspired to write this one because I visited the Creation Museum last March, and was surprised to learn that while all tickets are valid for two days, many people only spend a couple hours there! That’s not nearly enough time to experience all that the Creation Museum has to offer! Based on my experience, I made this guide to better utilize the two-day ticket and enjoy a whole weekend in and around the Creation Museum. This includes where to stay, where to eat, and what to do after-hours. Click here to download A Weekend at the Creation Museum for only 99 cents!

If these two guides go over well, I plan to write many more. If you are interested in visiting Niagara Falls and/or the Creation Museum, I truly believe that these books will be a helpful resource to you! If you are interested in some other place, let me know. If I’ve been there, I’ll create a guidebook customized for you!

Thanks for reading, both my Buggl travel guides and right here on my blog. Let me know what you think!

Throwback Thursday: Rafting the Rogue River

In honor of the ever-popular hashtag, this website will now celebrate Throwback Thursdays by featuring trips I’ve taken anytime in the past- from a couple years ago, all the way back to when I was a couple years old! It may be every Thursday, or it may just be on Thursdays that I feel like searching through my archives- I don’t know yet. 

School recently started for many colleges. That means an official end to all summer activities. No more summer camps, no more walking the beach in flip-flops… and no more rafting. The Rogue River in Southern Oregon closed to all rafters around the same time that the local colleges kicked off. But a few years ago, I found out I could go to college AND go rafting at the same time!

In order to get my college degree, I needed to get three health credits. These could come from traditional health classes, such as First Aid and Nutrition, or they could come from Physical Education classes. I decided that Phys Ed would be a stress-releasing way to break up the more rigorous classes. When signing up for classes for my final quarter, I still needed to get one more health credit. When I saw a whitewater rafting class among the course listings, I immediately wanted to go. Instead of a standard twice-per-week class, I could go on a three-day rafting trip down the Rogue River. It cost an extra $400 fee, but knowing I may never have this opportunity again, I decided it was worth the money. (I later learned that this was an incredibly good deal since the trip was comped by the school and volunteer guides. So if you’re looking for a less-expensive rafting trip, call your community college and see if you can join them on a trip!)

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The trip was in early May in order to align with the school’s schedule, and also so we could go during a legal rafting time without having to get a summer permit. That meant, in order to stay dry and warm, I had to bring the right clothes! I hardly ever shop for new clothes, but I spent an entire day buying under armor, a rainsuit, wool socks, water shoes, sunglasses, and a special poly-spandex fabric blend of pants to go with a rash guard suit I already owned. I never would have thought I’d spend so much money on such a ridiculous-looking outfit, but it was definitely worth it!

00000005  0000000800000007Cabin by Rogue River

Three days is a long time to be on the river, but fortunately the Rogue River is so unique, there are a lot of unique stops along the way. We stopped every day for lunch and a couple of other attraction/bathroom breaks. We stopped at a few hiking trails, historic buildings, and even farms! I never realized how much was along the Rogue, and so much of it is difficult to get to by car!

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One of the best parts of the trip was that we got to stay in beautiful lodges each night! The fed us such large meals and offered fun activities to wind down the day. At the lodge we stayed in the first night, I looked through a scrapbook they had, and learned that many celebrities had come to Southern Oregon to go rafting and stay at this lodge. Today I don’t recall any of the celebrities except for Laura Bush. The second lodge was so remote that it was only accessible by river! Some of us had a campfire that night, and the staff made sure we knew to put the fire completely out when we were done, because if a fire did start, there would be no way for a firetruck to get there!

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With so many people taking this class, we had quite a few rafts, each one owned by an experienced guide. I was in a small raft with two other students and our fearless leader Jen. She did an excellent job at getting us through the rapids, and when the water was calmer, she captivated us with interesting stories about her rafting experience.

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Jen rowed the raft most of the way, but she was nice enough to let us get some hands-on learning in the lower-class water. I was actually surprised at how little we were required to do, especially since this was a physical education class! Rowing was completely optional, and we were only required to take a short walk around some class 5 rapids, since our school’s policy would not let students raft over those. At the end of the trip, we did have to take a one-page test about rafting vocabulary and operations. Since I got an A in the class, I guess that proves I learned something!

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Even though we weren’t allowed to raft through the class 5 rapids, we were allowed to go on all the lower classes of rapids, including some pretty intense class fours. Looking back at these pictures, I realized I only took pictures in the calm water. That’s probably because high-class rapids require everyone’s attention in case something goes wrong. Plus, they’re just fun to ride over!

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While whitewater rafting was a fun, educational, new experience, the most memorable part of this trip for me was the scenery. I can’t think of a better way to end this post than with some snapshots of these gorgeous (not to mention completely unedited!) views.

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10 Ways to Pay (Almost) Nothing for Accommodations

We all know there’s no such thing as a free ride, but is there such a thing as a free bed? For most travelers, accommodations is their number one trip expense, but it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. You just have to follow this one simple rule: Never stay in a hotel! Hotels provide little more than a bed and a bathroom, and they do nothing in adding a cultural or community aspect to your trip. Instead, try out one of these accommodation options- and save a bunch of money while you’re at it!

1. Friends and Relatives: This is the easiest and cheapest option. All you have to do is figure out who you know that lives near your destination, and call them up. If they’re available, this is a great option because it offers so much more than just a place to sleep. Every time I’ve stayed with someone I know, they’ve offered me a ride, a meal, or even a city tour. Of course, everything depends on whether or not you know someone at your destination and if they’re available, and depending on how well you know them, you may feel as if you’re imposing on them. But this can be a great way to catch up with an old friend, and if you bring a gift from your hometown, it can serve as a unique cultural exchange.

Hostel Dorm Beds in Chicago
My hostel dorm bed at HI-Chicago

2. Hostels: If you’ve read any of my other posts,  you probably already know that I’m a big fan of hostels. This is ideal for the solo traveler, but even couples, families, and groups can save by staying in a hostel. Depending on location, they can range anywhere from $15-45 per person per night, but they’re always a fraction of the cost of a nearby hotel room. In addition, hostels typically provide a guest kitchen, breakfast, WiFi, a commons area, and some degree of concierge service. The cheapest option is to get a bed in a large dorm (which can be co-ed or gender-specific), but if you prefer, many hostels offer private bedrooms and family suites. To save even more, book through Hostelz.com.

Deborah's Guesthouse Bank in Kentucky
I stayed at “The Bank” Guesthouse in Northern Kentucky, where you can sleep inside an old vault!

3. Guesthouses: If you’re traveling as a family or other large group, this may be your least expensive option. At sites like airbnb.com or vrbo.com, you can book anything from a spare bedroom to an entire house directly through the owner. It’s hard to say what to expect from a guesthouse, because each one is so unique. You have to speak with the owner about what to expect, but one of the reasons that guesthouses are becoming increasingly popular is because they often offer all the comforts of home. Because guesthouses are so diverse, you can choose one that fits your needs and lifestyle best, from a downtown high-rise to a country cottage.

Camp Rivercrest
Not only have I camped here, I lived here for two years!

4. Camping: If the goal from your vacation is to get away from it all, staying at a camp will definitely help! Campgrounds are always a low-cost option, and there are many primitive campgrounds that you can stay at for just a few dollars per night or even for free. It is true that the initial start-up costs for camping can be a bit pricey. You’ll need a sleeping bag, food, fire starters, and either a tent or a camper. However, some people convert their van or SUV to sleep in. Others will go to campgrounds where they can rent cabins, yurts, or other lodging, though this can up the price quite a bit. The best part is, once everything is set up, camping can be a vacation in and of itself.

couch
Although no one ever contacted me through Couchsurfing, several visitors slept on my old couch.

5. Couchsurfing: Couchsurfing is an online organization where people can offer travelers a place to spend the night. Although it could be sketchy and awkward to stay at a stranger’s house, you can get background checks and references, and it’s completely free. I’ll admit, while I’ve heard many positive experiences from others who’ve traveled this way, I don’t think it’s for me. But I do have a Couchsurfing account and I even used it once. I found the owner of a hostel who, instead of offering his couch, offered a free hostel bed for one night. By contacting him through Couchsurfing, I got my first night at a hostel for free!

Church with Long, Confusing Name
I’ve spent the night at several churches. This one in South Dakota was not one of them, but I thought it was funny that their name was so long, they needed two signs!

6. Convents and Churches: These nonprofit faith organizations are not typically thought of as accommodations, but some of them definitely are! Some convents and monasteries, especially in Italy and other European countries, help support their ministry by offering low-cost lodging to travelers. I didn’t know about this until recently, but I plan to try this out if I go to Rome! In any country, if you call ahead of time, you may find a church that can offer you a place to sleep, even if it’s on the floor of their fellowship hall (though some clergy may even offer up their homes!). Churches are more likely to open their doors to you overnight if you are traveling as a group and are of the same faith.

Volunteer in Posada de Amor Peru Orphanage
Volunteering at an orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru, called Posada de Amor

7. Volunteer: I love volunteering while traveling because it gives me a more realistic understanding of what the area is like and gives me the opportunity to “give back” to the community for allowing me to visit. Some organizations will even provide their volunteers with freebies, such as meals, transportation, and, in some situations, lodging! You can search for causes you care about near your destination, or you can download Kirsty Henderson’s e-book, The Underground Guide to International Volunteering: For experiences that go beyond beaches and the backpacker trail. I’m in the middle of reading this book now, so stay tuned when I give you an update on what I think about it!

Overnight Greyhound Bus
Taking a rest stop in Wyoming, right before I spent the night on this bus.

8. Take an Overnight Trip: Whether you travel by plane, train, or bus, be aware that you can also use these services overnight. It’s not the most comfortable way to sleep, and you’ll likely be woken up in the middle of the night, but at least it’s something! After all, riding the bus during the day costs pretty much the same as riding the bus at night, but at least you won’t have to pay for an accommodation that night. Airlines often even give discounts if you choose a “red-eye” flight! In my opinion, trains are the best way to sleep on transportation. In some countries, it’s required to pay a little extra for a sleeper car, but in other countries (such as the United States), you can choose to pay a lot extra for a sleeper car, or you can just pay for a standard train seat and sleep right there! (Trains tend to have more leg room, better-reclining seats, footrests, and quiet hours, so it’s almost, kind of like sleeping in a bed. If you’re driving, you can still apply this principle by either having one person drive while the other sleeps and switch off, or by parking in a large parking lot (such as Walmart) and sleeping there. (But know that not all Walmarts condone this and may even ask you to leave!)

Columbus Greyhound Bus Station
Resting up at the Columbus, Ohio Greyhound bus station

9. Sleep at the Station: This is more of a plan B, but it will do in a pinch. If you’re leaving the next morning, the airport, bus, or train station will probably let you spend the night, as long as they operate 24 hours. If you’ve just arrived at your destination, you can sometimes stay at the station as well. The major problem with this is keeping your things safe. Some train and bus stations offer lockers for small pieces of luggage. I’ve seen some overnighters use small padlocks to secure all the bag’s zippers, and then use a bike lock to attach their luggage to themselves. Of course, you shouldn’t expect to get much, if any, sleep. Some people are also concerned about personal safety. This probably won’t be an issue if you travel with others, but even if you travel by yourself, you should be fine if you stay within sight of a security guard or employee and just try to blend in.

Mennonite Your Way Directory
This is my copy of the current MYW directory. If you think the cover’s great, wait until you see what’s inside!

10. Mennonite Your Way: This is an organization I just found out about last week. Mennonite Your Way is a group that has listings of people who offer lodging to travelers as a way to practice hospitality. When I first heard of this, I thought, “Cool, but I’m not Mennonite.” It turns out that you don’t need to be! Although many of the listings are for Mennonite households, hosts and travelers are not required to be Mennonite, and as long as you’re respectful of your host’s faith, you don’t even have to be Christian. For safety and to ensure that people who use this are aware of the mission, homes are not listed online, but you can order a Hospitality Travel Directory. I was expecting this to be a Xeroxed stack of addresses, but I was surprised when I received a professionally-bound 100-page catalog that started off with more information about Mennonite Your Way and a few articles from the users. Homes are listed by states and provinces, plus other countries in the back. Among the listings are information about things to do in the area and advertising for wholesome supporters. Each listing shows the family’s names, address, phone number, e-mail, how much space they have for visitors, whether they have any kids or pets, occupation, church affiliation, hobbies, and more! Many of them seem to be in rural areas, but some are downtown in big cities. Although staying at someone’s home is donation-based, Mennonite Your Way asks that you offer $10 per adult and $2 per child per night, plus $2 for any offered meals and perhaps a gift from your hometown. I’m tempted to plan a trip just so I can use this great resource!

Travel can be pricey, but hopefully these inexpensive accommodation suggestions, along with all the other resources at this blog, will help your trips to become affordable and attainable!

Looking for Bigfoot

Do you believe in Bigfoot? Up until several years ago, I never even thought of the possibility of this creature’s existence.

At the time, I worked part-time at a now-defunct gift store called All About Oregon. On slow days, I tried to get to know the merchandise better, which included thumbing through all the unique guidebooks. In one book, I discovered that there was a Bigfoot trap somewhere in the mountains. I laughed at the concept. But soon after, All About Oregon started selling Bigfoot merchandise. We were even given a cast of what was believed to be a Bigfoot footprint, so we displayed that on a table surrounded by books about Bigfoot, a map of Bigfoot sightings, and various other Bigfoot souvenirs. My curiosity increased along with the rest of my coworkers. I even wanted to take a road trip to find the alleged Bigfoot trap deep in the woods, but instead I moved to the Midwest, where Bigfoot does not live.

Before I go on, I should give a big of background on Bigfoot. There are hundreds of legendary creatures around the world, and Bigfoot is the one that is native to the Pacific Northwest. Also known as Sasquatch, these large, ape-like animals are thought to be very intelligent, and also very smelly. Although most people think the people who are adamant about Bigfoot hunting are simply crazy people, but there are even research groups who have been intrigued by the possible skunk ape. In fact, the North American Wildlife Research Team wanted to study Sasquatch, so they built what is known as the world’s only official Bigfoot Trap inSouthern Oregon, just a few miles from the California border. This was a small shack with a steel drop-down door, and was baited with raw carcasses. After several years of attempted trapping and only being able to catch bears, the door was secured open and became an obscure tourist attraction.

Collings Mountain Forest Near Bigfoot Trap

I had completely forgotten about the Bigfoot trap, until a few days ago when I was perusing RoadsideAmerica.com. This is one of my favorite travel websites because you can search for unique, and often free, roadside attractions near your home or along your travel route. A little over a year ago, I planned a road trip where all my stops were inspired by attractions I found on Roadside America, and before I travel, I’ll often visit this site to see what quirky things are near my destination. I was searching for attractions in Southern Oregon last week when I rediscovered the Bigfoot trap. I immediately started making plans to go.

Collings Mountain Trailhead with Bigfoot Trap

Who else would be better to visit the Bigfoot trap with than my coworkers who got interested in it with me in the first place? Two of my former coworkers from All About Oregon, Megan and Steph, along with Megan’s daughter River, joined me on this day excursion. It was a long, peaceful trip through farmland and forest. After driving quite a few miles along the Applegate Highway, we arrived at the Collings Mountain Trailhead, just across the street from a beautiful view of Applegate Lake. There are actually no signs at all to inform visitors that there even is a Bigfoot trap in the area. The only clue the road signs give is that the Collings Mountain Trailhead sign includes a picture of a foot. Most people would assume that this symbolized a walking trail, but Bigfoot hunters know that this is the way to find Bigfoot.

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It was supposedly a half-mile hike to get to the part of the trail with the Bigfoot trap, but because this trailhead also had trails that went to the summit of Collings Mountain, as well as trails for biking and horseback riding, the several forks in the road confused us quite a bit. I was glad to have brought a GPS with me, with the coordinates for the trap already plugged in! However, with the mountains and thick forest interfering with the GPS signals, we did up going on the wrong path once, but soon realized that we had walked too far.

Bigfoot Trap Caretaker's Shack

The first man-made feature we found was a completely-destroyed cabin. This was the shack that the trap’s caretaker lived in. All that remains are a few boards on the ground, but through close observation you can somewhat gather what it must have looked like. After walking just a little bit further, we finally saw the Bigfoot trap off in the distance!

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Because it hasn’t been refurbished for years and doesn’t officially belong to anyone, the trap itself has turned to a sort of log book where visitors have vandalized. We enjoying crawling under the door and being “trapped”, and just being amazed at the notion to build a trap in the middle of nowhere to find a creature that may or may not exist!

"Vandalizing" the Bigfoot TrapI was prisoner of the Bigfoot Trap!

While the Bigfoot trap was the point of our trip, we had a few other things we came to do. I wanted to introduce the other three to one of my hobbies: geocaching. In the near future, I will be dedicating a post all about geocaching, but when I describe it to people who have never heard of it, I say “It’s like a worldwide treasure hunt for grown-ups!” Since finding Bigfoot proved to be too difficult, I figured that maybe we could at least find a few geocaches. I plugged in the GPS coordinates for the cache closest to the trap. Like I had mentioned before, my GPS was acting really jumpy in the area, so this one proved to be a challenge. Based on the cache’s description, we’re pretty sure we found the tree that the cache was hidden near, but we did not find the ammo can that contained the geocache. But not to fear; we had more geocaches to find!

On the Trail of Bigfoot Geocache

As we walked back towards the car, we were also on the lookout for another geocache. The GPS worked better in this area, and although this was still a tricky one to find, we went in the right direction. This was not only River’s first time to geocache, but she was also the first of us to find the geocache container!

On the Trail of Bigfoot Geocache

This was a really nice geocache, except for the fact that some of the items inside got a little damp. We all signed and dated the logbook, and then we each traded a small trinket we bought for an item inside the cache. We then closed up the container, hid it back where we found it, and continued back toward the road. As we were walking, I realized that almost all the hikers who go on trail must have Bigfoot on their mind, regardless of whether they’re Bigfoot believers or Sasquatch skeptics. I joked that if I had a large expendable income, I would get a few life-sized figures of Bigfoot and hide him just far enough away from the trail that people might catch a glimpse. Everyone else agreed that they would do the same thing. I’m surprised no one has done that yet!

There was one more small geocache across the street from the trailhead. Steph found it wedged behind the railing. Once again, we all signed the log and traded items. From here, we enjoyed the view of the lake, and then got back into the car.

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A few miles down the road is the McKee Bridge. It is the longest of the four covered bridges in that county. While it hasn’t been open to cars for a long time, it was unfortunately also closed off to pedestrians a couple years ago for being unsafe. They have since raised the money for repairs, but because the repair work hadn’t begun yet, we could only get up to the opening of the covered bridge.

McKee Bridge

As we walked back to the car, Steph and Megan were discussing that they had a favorite restaurant in historic Jacksonville, which was the closest town. They then turned to me and asked “Jes, do you like sushi?” I don’t like sushi, but I agreed to go to Umi Sushi. I found out that there are actually fish-free options for sushi, so I decided to be adventurous with this new cuisine and order a bento box with avocado rolls. (River was even more adventurous and got eel sushi!)

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Overall, it was a crazy day of unique adventures. Although we didn’t find Bigfoot, we did discover new things not too far from our Southern Oregon home!

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Across America By Bus: The Last Stretch to Oregon

Note: This is the fifth and final post of the Across America By Bus Series.

When planning my route, I knew there were a few cities west of Denver that would be somewhat interesting. But adding any more stops on my trip would push it to a nearly two-week-long trip, and I didn’t think I would have the energy to do that, especially with the lack of sleep and stress from moving. So I decided to experience everything west of the Rockies through the panoramic bus windows.

GPS on Bus Window to Oregon

At this point, I had gone to six of the ten states on the route, and I had about two days to get through the other four. We headed straight north from Denver and spent most of the day going through Wyoming. The only other time I’ve been to Wyoming was to go to Yellowstone National Park. Let’s just say this definitely wasn’t Yellowstone! It was surprisingly cold, and I had to wear my coat whenever I went out to walk around.

We switched drivers in Salt Lake City around midnight. Most people continued on the bus and slept until we arrived at Boise, where we switched drivers once again. This bus driver missed his calling as a tour guide, but that was good for us passengers because he was sure to tell us a bit about the cities we stopped in, and he also showed us the highlights of what we drove by! He even pointed out several things in an area that I would have otherwise assumed was just a plain desert! When he announced that we crossed into Oregon, and shortly after into the Pacific Time Zone, I finally felt like I was almost home. I was excited when we stopped in Bakersfield for breakfast, where my feet hit Oregon ground for the first time in nine months!

Baker City

Even though Washington wasn’t on the itinerary, part of this ride took us along the Columbia River, which separates Oregon from Washington. I admired the Washington scenery from the Oregon side, and thought it was pretty neat that I actually saw 11 states on this one-week trip!

View of Washington from across the river in Oregon

I think the best highlight from the bus ride was seeing Multnomah Falls! I had never seen Multnomah Falls before, even though I had been in that area (and even on the exact same road!) before. I was so glad the bus driver pointed it out, and I hope to see it up closer someday.

Multnomah Falls Oregon

Soon after seeing Multnomah Falls, the bus arrived in Portland! I had to transfer buses to head south, but I had a couple hours before that bus departed. That meant I had some time to explore Portland! I had done some research on the bus, and found out that the nearest Voodoo Doughnuts was a third of a mile away from the station. Since I was introduced to these doughnuts the day before in Denver, I figured it might be a good idea to pay homage to the city where they actually came from! My plan was to rent a locker at the bus station so I could store my things as I went for a walk. Unfortunately, none of the lockers were large enough for my big suitcase, so I put all my other belongings into the locker and decided to just roll the big suitcase behind me as I went around town. It may seem strange, but because I was in “weird” Portland, no one I walked by acted like it was strange at all! (I actually haven’t visited Portland since the show Portlandia began airing. I blame the series for encouraging more weirdness, because I don’t remember it being this crazy before!)

Chinatown and Homeless Town in Portland

To get to Voodoo, I ended up walking through Chinatown. This is also an area that has lots of inner-city ministries and organizations. I thought it was cool to pass by each of them and see the services they provided. Each one had something unique. I finally found the sparkly pink building, and had to wait in line outside. The line in Denver was incredibly short compared to this one, but I suppose the doughnuts are a lot more well-known here!

Voodoo Doughnut Portland StoreVoodoo Doughnut

After finally getting the prized doughnut, I walked back toward the bus station, and then decided to head to the Union Station next door. It had a fancy exterior, but inside, the train station looked about the same as the bus station.

Portland Union Station

It was getting dark by the time my bus finally took off, so it was perfect to try to catch up on a little bit of sleep. I remember as a kid that it took five to six hours to get to Portland, but because this bus had so many stops, it took a lot longer. I finally arrived after 1am in Southern Oregon, which is where I am today!

I hope you enjoyed reading about my bus trip across America through Chicago, Nebraska, Colorado, and finally here in Oregon. What crazy journey do you think I should go on next?

This post is dedicated to my parents. They made a great choice when they decided to raise me in Southern Oregon! 

Across America By Bus: Denver and Boulder

Note: This is part four of my “Across America By Bus” series.

Throughout my life, I have lived in four states in various regions. But no matter where I was, Colorado was a popular vacation destination for my neighbors. And why shouldn’t it be? It has the best of everything: big mountains, big cities, and small carbon footprints. I knew I wanted to make Colorado part of my journey across America, but I wasn’t sure what city to stop in. When I was reminded that I had a cousin who moved to Denver last year, I made arrangements to visit with her!

Colorado Mountain View

The bus from Omaha to Denver runs overnight, which meant that I didn’t get quality sleep. On the other hand, it was nice to hit the ground running as I started my day off in Denver. Cousin Sara picked me up from the station, and after stopping for a natural, vegetarian breakfast, she showed me to her downtown apartment and we made plans for how we would spend the day.

Red Rock Theater

After driving around the city where she pointed out the important and notable buildings, we headed to the Red Rock Theater. I have never seen such a large, lovely outdoor theater. I’m sure it’s a great experience to see a performance there under the stars, but because we were there in the morning, it was filled with athletes who all the steps, seats, and railings as intense workout equipment. There were also lots of great walking paths where we enjoyed taking selfies.

Red Rock

After that, we headed toward Boulder to see Flat Irons. There were also lots of joggers and runners there. (I never realized how many athletes lived in Colorado!) Although I felt a little too tired to go up the mountains, we took a beautiful natural trail between the mountains and a ravine.

Flat Irons Ravine

When we returned to the parking lot, we considered taking a tour. I was surprised at everything that went on in this area. There’s the State Capitol Building and a U.S. Mint, both of which offers tours. But when Sara mentioned that Celestial Seasonings offered factory tours in Boulder, I immediately perked up. I absolutely LOVE their tea! So we drove over to Sleepytime Drive where the factory is located.

Flat Irons Colorado

We arrived fairly early, so we used that time to sample several different flavors of tea, some of which I have never seen in stores! I was impressed by the high standard of health considerations at the Visitor’s Center. Tea was served in washable ceramic cups, all their teas were natural (and several were even organic, including their new kombucha!), and you could flavor tea with organic honey. I learned that Celestial Seasonings actually cares a lot about health and the environment, supported most notably by the fact that they save tons of metric waste each year by not using staples on their tea bags! The Visitor’s Center also had interesting art to look at, such as decorative teapots and even a tea dress made out of tea packaging!

Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory

Photos weren’t allowed on the tour, which was probably a good thing since everyone had to wear funny hair nets! After a quick video on tea history, we walked through a big warehouse-type building past all the pallets of ingredients, but there were two ingredients that had their own rooms. The tea room had its own room because tea easily absorbs other scents and flavors. I learned that most tea from Celestial Seasonings doesn’t actually contain tea! They’re technically called “herbal infusions”, and that explains why they’re caffeine-free. The other room was the Mint Room. As soon as we stepped in, my eyes watered up! Obviously, such a powerful scent has to be kept separate from the rest of the ingredients. The tour ended by walking around the assembly lines.

We went back to Denver for lunch, and Sara showed me some more sights downtown. The Packers played that evening, and being Sara’s absolute favorite team, we had to watch it. Unfortunately, it was not a good night for Green Bay.

Denver Voodoo Doughnuts

I was supposed to leave the next morning, but we had one more place to go: Voodoo Doughnuts. It’s a shop from Oregon, but for some reason I had never been there before. The only out-of-Oregon Voodoo is located in Downtown Denver, so of course we had to stop by there. After that, I cleaned up, packed up, and took a taxi back to the Greyhound Station. Denver was my last planned overnight stop, but I still had a few days of this trip left to go!

Across America By Bus: Nebraska

This is part three of the “Across America By Bus” series.

Some of the most valuable lessons about community were taught to me in Nebraska. I spent two years living near Fremont, and there were many times I had to rely on those around me. Everyone I met there proved to be a true blessing. This time also opened up more travel to me, especially since it was my first time living away from home. Work provided many opportunities for paid travel that I never would have expected, and I was encouraged to travel solo for the first time too. I wanted to make sure to visit this area on my cross-country trip. Everyone turned out to be a blessing once again, even though most of them didn’t even know I was coming!

Camp Rivercrest

It took all afternoon to get from Chicago to Omaha. I got picked up by someone I had never even met before, but she was a roommate of a friend. After hearing a little about her life and that she also had experience at the camp I had worked at, I quickly befriended her. I spent the night in Omaha, and woke up super-early the next morning so a friend could drive me to Camp Rivercrest in Fremont.

Camp Rivercrest Cornfields

The ride at sunrise provided a great opportunity to catch up and share experiences with a fellow traveler. We eventually arrived at the house I would be staying in to unload my gear. I then went to the camp director’s house. He and his wife have two kids, so I knew that they would be up around this time to get ready for school. But the thing was, they had no idea that I was coming to Nebraska, let alone their house! I guess I came a little too early, because no one was up quite yet. I decided to walk along the camp-owned cornfields. When I went back to their house, I could tell they were having breakfast in the kitchen. One of the kids was at the sink by the window, so I tapped on the glass. I don’t know what startled her more: the fact that someone was tapping on the window early in the morning, or that I was there! After everyone’s initial shock, they let me inside, and we caught up before the kids had to catch the bus. Us remaining adults chatted a bit more, and then they proceeded to show me all the changes that had happened in the year I had been gone. So much had happened: five acres were added with new-to-them buildings, an old house was remodeled into offices and meeting rooms, the old offices turned into storage and prayer rooms, and my bedroom suite had been adapted for visiting workers. I knew some of this had happened, but I didn’t realize to what magnitude! (Perhaps the reason I didn’t know was because when I left, they lost their fabulous media manager that would have kept the public updated on these kinds of things. Ha.)

Fremont LakesFremont Lakes

Nebraska was my most restful stop, but I did enjoy visiting Fremont Lakes. I spent the afternoon there with some friends, and we just caught up on life, shared experiences from Ohio (they grew up there), ate food, and splashed around in the lake. It was actually their house that I was spending the night in, so they eventually brought me back home where I rested through the next day.

Platte River at Camp Rivercrest

I walked around camp, reliving the memories. It was refreshing to see all the old lodges, cabins, and outdoor adventure elements. When living here, I enjoyed going to the back of the property overlooking the Platte River. The river was still breathtaking as usual. I eventually found a few former coworkers that I hadn’t seen yet, and one offered me a ride back to the Omaha bus station.

Midwest sky

I did take Nebraska at a much slower pace than anywhere else I went, but I was able to catch up with more people here than anywhere else too. Besides, it was good that I got to take this break midway through the trip, because I would be getting very little sleep the rest of the time!

I’d like to use this post to shout out to Camp Rivercrest, where I lived and worked for two years. If you agree that they should redesign their website (like they’ve been wanting to do for years now), encourage them to call me!

Across America By Bus: Chicago

This is part two of the “Across America By Bus” series. Click here to read part one, “Greyhound Perks and Pitfalls”.

I have wanted to visit Chicago since I was eight years old. Granted, I wanted to go to Chicago back then because that’s where the Veggie Tales headquarters were. Veggie Tales moved out-of-state several years ago, and most of the attractions I went to didn’t even exist when I was eight, but finally getting the chance to visit Chicago felt like a childhood dream come true. I made sure to make it the first stop of my trip across America.

The first place I visited in Chicago was, of course, the Chicago Greyhound Station. It was probably the nicest bus station I went through on my entire trip, but it still wasn’t anything too special. The next place I visited was the inside of a taxi cab. I was only staying a mile away, and normally I would walk that distance, but because I had several pieces of luggage, it was worth paying the seven dollars for a cab. Besides, riding a taxi through a big city is part of the experience! I wasn’t allowed to call a cab or ride the subway when I went to NYC in high school, and it always felt like I was missing an aspect of the city because of it. The third place in Chicago I visited was the hostel.

Chicago Hostel

Hostelling International Chicago is conveniently located downtown, within walking distance of everything I wanted to visit. It was the only HI-brand hostel I’ve ever stayed at, and by far the largest! This hostel was quite a bit more expensive than any other hostel I’ve visited, plus I had to pay a few more dollars because I wasn’t a Hostelling International member, but it was still a great deal when you consider that any other accommodation within several miles would be at least three times the price. I checked in and went up to my dorm for a tiny bit of shut-eye before I woke up with the excitement of wanting to seize the day. Since I usually travel slowly, cramming Chicago into just one full day was a challenge, but I think I made the best of it.

As I was heading down to the first floor of the hostel, I noticed a sign that said the hostel sold discount tickets for the Willis Tower Skydeck. That was on my agenda, and I’m always up for saving money, so I picked up a ticket from the front desk before heading out.

Chicago Willis Tower

Just a few blocks away was the Willis Tower, although many people still know it as the Sears Tower. It was the tallest building in America up until this year when the new World Trade Center was built. Unfortunately, when I got to the Skydeck entrance, employees were announcing to the crowd that there was a broken elevator and to come back later. I mentally rearranged my itinerary and headed towards what I thought was Lake Michigan.

Chicago Feet Statue

After walking for many, many blocks, I thought I should have been at the lake, but I wasn’t. I finally pulled out my GPS and discovered that I had been walking parallel to the lake the entire time! I turned and began heading the right way. It actually turned out for the better, because I hadn’t planned to go to the Magic Mile, but because I took this route I ended up at the very end of it. A race was going on that day, so I walked by the finish line and visited several of the vendors before continuing on by Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan Chicago Harbor

I had flown over Lake Michigan before, but this was my first time seeing it up-close. For awhile, I enjoyed walking on the path by the harbor, with a few stops at interesting points like the Buckingham Fountain. Eventually, I made it to my intended destination: the Navy Pier.

Chicago Buckingham Fountain

Before leaving on this trip, I had asked for travel tips from people who had been to Chicago. The Navy Pier was a common recommendation. I enjoyed walking out above the lake, and going through the shops and art features, but I’m still not really sure why so many people told me to go here. I found a pizza shop on the pier where I ate lunch, and on the way out, I saw a Crave Bar truck where I grabbed my dessert. I then headed on to Millennium Park.

Chicago Navy Pier

Millennium Park is interesting in that is was created to celebrate y2k, but it wasn’t opened until several years later. I first found myself in a beautiful outdoor theater, but I was looking for the famous Cloudgate “Bean”. Something reflective across the theater caught the corner of my eye, and sure enough, it was The Bean! It was fun walking around and underneath The Bean for a fun house effect. My favorite part was trying to find myself in the reflection among the hundreds of other visitors!

Chicago Bean

After getting dizzy from the optical illusions of The Bean, I continued through the park’s art, including the Crown Fountain. I then turned back to downtown towards the tallest building I could find. I was going to see if the Willis Tower Skydeck had opened yet.

Chicago 2014 090

When I got there, the staff was still saying that it was closed. I went up to one employee and asked her if it would be open at any point in time that day.

“Nope, come back tomorrow.”

Knowing I wouldn’t have time since my bus left the next morning, I asked if there was any way I could get a refund. She scrunched her face up. “Refund?” I nodded. “Oh, you have a ticket? If you have a ticket, you can go inside!” I pulled out my ticket and went through the doors.

Because the staff hadn’t communicated very well that only ONE elevator wasn’t working, and that people could still come if they had bought a ticket elsewhere, there wasn’t much of a line at all. The trip started by going down to a basement floor, getting a security check, and then watching a video about the history of the tower. I then crammed with several other people on an elevator that went to the 99th floor. It felt really different on this floor. I don’t know if it was just in my head, but I’m convinced that I could feel the building sway! I then got onto another elevator to the 103rd floor, also known as the Skydeck.  It’s the highest the public can get in any building in the United States.

Chicago View from Skydeck

I enjoyed going around the building and looking through the panoramic windows. I was able to locate almost everywhere I went earlier that day. But the highlight of Chicago was definitely “The Ledge”. These are four glass rooms that stick out of the Skydeck, so you can see everything straight below you! Waiting in line allowed me to get the guts to walk out, but as soon as I stepped out, I felt like I was going to fall! I posed for a few pictures, and then stepped back onto solid, opaque ground! It was such a rush, I decided to go out on all four ledges. It never got any easier!

Chicago Skydeck Ledge

After coming back down to Earth, I walked around the Willis Tower and was amazed at how far up I’d gone. Because I was operating all day on only a few hours of sleep, I went back to the hostel to relax for a bit. I realized that I needed to find a Chicago pizza restaurant to eat dinner at, because the pizza I got at the pier wasn’t very good at all. After I had recovered enough, I asked the front desk for pizza recommendations, and I was sent to Lou Malnati’s. I didn’t realize until I got there, but this the most popular place for Chicago pizza! I had to wait outside for 45 minutes with a buzzer, but trust me, it was worth the wait! I ordered a personal pizza of their best deep dish, “The Lou”. I had always heard that traditional Chicago pizza had sausage, but this was vegetarian and featured a divine combination of spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and three cheeses.

Chicago Lou Malnati

After finishing off with a cookie pizza dessert, I spent the rest of the evening exploring all that the hostel had to offer. After a somewhat restful night’s sleep, I woke up, enjoyed a full breakfast, got ready, and took a taxi back to the Greyhound Station, where I boarded the bus to my next destination!

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A big thank-you goes out to Hostelz.com! I found out about the HI-Chicago Hostel through this site, and there you can find thousands more!