Accommodations, travel tips

Hostelling International: Is It Worth the Membership?

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This non-HI hostel was probably one of the worst values I’ve gotten from a hostel. But can a Hostelling International membership really make travel better?

This morning I decided to crunch some numbers and find out how many different hostels I’ve stayed at in my lifetime.

The answer?

Twenty two. And then I made a booking for my twenty-third hostel this morning.

Because I hear a lot about the benefits of a Hostelling International membership, I wondered how much money I could have saved in my past twenty-two hostel visits if I had the membership.

That answer?

Way less than twenty two.

Out of the twenty two hostels I have stayed at, only two of them were HI (Hostelling International) hostels. The hostel I booked today also happens to be HI. Hostelling International memberships cost $18, but can result in discounts on stays.  There are plenty of reasons I have chosen independent hostels over HI hostels most of the time:

-There are way more independent hostels than HI hostels. Hostels are rare in the United States and any rural area. HI tends to have hostels in most big cities, but even then they’ve let lots of cities slip through the cracks. My first hostel trip was to Nashville, and it seems like Hostelling International doesn’t even know that the entire South exists!

-Other hostels have been better located. Last year I was making a hostel reservation during my trip to Europe and thought I found a pretty good HI hostel in Florence. However, when I looked up more information on it, I realized the hostel was outside of the city! Since my goal was to explore the city on foot, this was not an option.

-Other hostels have been cheaper. Most HI hostels accept non-HI members, but add on an extra fee. Even without this added cost, I’ve found independent hostels in the same area that are a comparable price or possibly less expensive.

-HI hostels are not necessarily a quality guarantee. There are a few requirements for HI hostels to be part of this network. However, these are requirements that most travelers have come to expect from a hostel, so most hostels will offer the same features anyway. And if there are any questions, the hostel website and review sites can give more than enough insight.

So why did I ever stay in HI hostels? Well, I shouldn’t be too hard on them. I enjoyed the time I stayed in both of them:

Chicago Hostel
HI Chicago Reception

HI Chicago

The main reason I stayed one night at HI Chicago was because it was the closest hostel to the bus station that had availability during the busy Labor Day weekend! Since I was moving at the time, I had a lot of luggage to drag with me, so walking to my hostel was not an option, and I didn’t want to spend too much on cab fare. This is actually a very centrally located place to stay, and the jumbo-size hostel had some nice amenities. Since I only stayed one night, the extra charge didn’t set me back too much, and definitely not enough to justify buying a membership.

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Exterior of HI Sacramento

HI Sacramento

The main reason I stayed one night at HI Sacramento is because it really is the only hostel in California’s capital! I reserved a private room since I was using this as an opportunity to introduce my mom to hostelling. Our room was probably around the same price as a cheap motel in the same city, but we did have some features here that we may of not otherwise been able to enjoy- such as free breakfast or staying in a historic mansion! The parking fee plus the non-member fee did add to the cost, but again, staying only one night was not enough the justify the cost of being a member.

Why I’m Staying in an HI Hostel on my Upcoming Trip

I reserved a HI hostel because it was the only hostel in the city that provided parking, which is incredibly important for a road trip! It was also in a good part of town, unlike others that may have been cheaper (or not). And because it’s located on a National Park Site, they state that they aren’t allowed to charge an extra fee to non-members. So even though I’m staying more than one night, an HI membership wouldn’t even save me a penny!

I’m not against Hostelling International, and it’s possible that I may even get a membership one day if it ends up being worthwhile. But for now, I’ll enjoy being an independent traveler staying at hostels independently!

Is It Worth It-

Do you think an HI membership would be worth the cost? Have you ever been an HI member?

 

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backpack, resources, saving money, travel tips

Checklist for Planning a Crazy Hectic European Adventure

After entertaining ideas in my head for the past year or so, I finally confirmed that I will be trekking through the Mediterranean. This was decided on exactly two months before my departure date. So what can I do in those waiting months? Ha, there’s plenty to do! Here’s a checklist if you want to know what’s been on my mind lately, or if you’re interested in taking on a similar endeavor!

  • Buy plane tickets. I have found fairly cheap tickets with budget airlines, but in the end, I just booked with Expedia. There were a few reasons for this: for one, I could make sure to earn loyalty points, both with Expedia and with the name-brand airlines they booked for me. For another, I could fly right out of the nearby little airport instead of going to Portland, San Francisco, or another major airport. It would also ensure that there would be no ridiculous hidden fees and that all the basics were covered. I know the exact size my luggage can be, whether or not I’m getting in-flight meals or entertainment, and other things that provide more peace of mind. I decided to book shortly after news broke out about an ordeal involving a passenger suing United Airlines. I thought it might be a good time to snag a cheap ticket. The funny thing was, even though United is usually the cheapest airline for me, that’s not the airline that ended up being the cheapest this time. I guess the other airlines wanted to draw in the loyalties that United was losing!
  • Purchase traveler’s insurance. This was something extra offered as I was checking out with Expedia. I had debated for so long if I would get this, and at the last second I decided to go for it. It was less than $100, but it could end up saving me thousands if certain situations arose. A number of things have the potential to occur during a trip (just like every other day of life), so it’s good to know that I have a fallback for many of these possibilities.
  • Map out destinations. This is especially important if you’re flying multi-destination or open-jaw. You have to be in certain places at certain times, and have to take travel time in between everything. Figure out how many days to spend in each location. Also determine if everything you want to visit is centrally located, or if you’ll need extra transportation or possibly two different accommodations at the same destination.
If you're going to use a GPS, make sure it is loaded with maps of your destination.
If you’re going to use a GPS, make sure it is loaded with maps of your destination.
  • Budget and brainstorm ways to save. Nobody likes the word “budget”, but think of it more as a challenge than a chore. How much can you do with a set amount of money? How much do you want to do? Also keep in mind that budgets can change over time. As I’ve gotten a more realistic idea about Europe, my budget has adjusted to reflect that. And even though my budget is still relatively low compared to most tourists, I am still looking for ways to save. (Do you have any tips specific to saving for Europe? I’d love to read them in the comments!)
  • Make at least a couple of accommodation reservations. My task today was booking the hostel I’ll be staying at for the first several days. It’s a good idea to book ahead of time, since prime accommodations can fill up quickly, especially during busy seasons. I don’t believe in booking all the accommodations for an extended trip though. If your plans change and you want to spend more or less time at a certain destination, it’s nice not to be tied down with having to pay for a bed you don’t want to sleep in. If you are making plans to visit people or enroll in a program, make sure to take care of this ahead of time, though. I was accepted into the Diverbo program a few days ago, which means that I have a free place to stay for seven days (in exchange for speaking English with those enrolled in the program). However, I did have to apply for that ahead of time to make sure I got a place, and I probably should have applied even sooner!
Hostels are great! Stay in them as much as you can.
Hostels are great! Stay in them as much as you can.
  • Get overseas communication. This was something that I had to promise I would do in order to gain my parents’ support for this journey. WiFi works overseas, but cell phone plans don’t. I did hours of research trying to see if I could get MiFi or an unlocked phone with an international plan, but nothing was cheap, and everything involved waiting until I got overseas for purchasing. However, I finally discovered a company that offers prepaid international SIM cards and inexpensive unlocked phones. I’ll tell you all about them once my phone arrives in the mail!
  • Attend any needed or desired doctor appointments. Your medical insurance probably isn’t valid overseas. And no one wants to have to cancel or shorten a trip due to unexpected health problems, so a pre-trip physical is always a good idea. I’ll usually tell my doctor when I am about to travel, and they often make some good health recommendations that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. Sometimes, they even give me sample-sized products of medicines I may need! Visit the dentist or any other specialty doctors before you go, too. Oh, and if you ever experience any sort of back pain, going to a chiropractor before leaving will change the outlook of the trip. Chiropractors can’t make being stuffed in an economy airplane seat for twenty hours feel comfortable, but they can help make it more bearable.

    Having been a practicing EMT (and I'm still licensed) gives me the confidence to take care of my and others' health while traveling. But it's never wrong to get a second opinion.
    Having been a practicing EMT (and I’m still licensed) gives me the confidence to take care of my and others’ health while traveling. But it’s never wrong to get a second opinion.
  • Arrange things with work. Will you quit? Request a leave of absence? Try to figure out a way to work from the road? Oh, so many options. With three jobs, this one will be an ordeal for me. I still need to modify my writing job so that it will be most effective for travels, and also take care of my other jobs that are not so location-independent.
  • Figure out on-ground transportation. If flying from one airport to another was the only transportation necessary during a trip, travel would be much less stressful. But the thing about airports is they tend to be miles away from the stuff you actually want to visit. Does the destination airport offer shuttle service? How much will that be? If you’re going to multiple destinations, you also have to factor in traveling between cities. Bus, train, or regional jet? Does your preferred method of travel service all the destinations you plan on visiting? Will travel time take up too much of your trip? This is probably my biggest headache right now, but I know it will be so worth it once it’s planned out. Yet another on-ground transportation factor is going about day-to-day. I prefer to walk anywhere possible, but that involves making sure that roads are pedestrian-friendly, allowing extra time to get from place to place, and planning to staying no more than a couple of miles away from the sites I want to see.

    Hoofing it during last year's international trip to Niagara Falls
    Hoofing it during last year’s international trip to Niagara Falls
  • Gather gear. Knowing I needed a good maximum-sized carry-on backpack for this trip, I found one way back in December. It’s possible that will be my biggest piece of gear, but there are plenty of things that I will need for this trip that I don’t normally have at home. Just yesterday, I bought an international adapter/converter plug (so I don’t fry my electronics), a combination lock (so I can secure my belongings in hostel lockers), and mini caribiners (so I can make sure the zippers on my backpack stay closed). And while I’m almost done with shopping, there are still a few more pieces of gear on my list to get!
  • Ensure passport and any needed visas are prepared. When I was sixteen, there was a big ordeal with getting my passport. I was going to Peru the same year that the law was made requiring passports for Canada and Mexico. With the increase in people applying for passports, somehow mine got lost in a government storage room for months on end, so I had to go to Seattle to get a replacement. Case in point: get your passport as early as possible. Keep in mind that passports technically expire six months before the printed date, so check the information and apply for one if necessary. This will be my first trip where I will need to get a visa. I can actually go through Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and pretty much anywhere else without one, but for just a few days in Istanbul, the Turkish government is going to make me apply for one. This sort of thing can typically be done online ahead of time.
  • Pack. All that stuff you bought for the trip? Now it has to go in the backpack you bought for the trip. I am sticking with carry-on only for a number of reasons: I won’t have to pay airline luggage fees, there’s less chance that I’ll lose anything, I won’t get a back injury from carrying too much luggage, and when I arrive in a city I can explore on foot instead of paying for a cab to get to the hostel. In order to accomplish this, I can’t take my whole closet with me, and I have to siphon liquid toiletries into TSA-friendly 3.1 ounce containers.
Having multiple bags, like I did while moving across America, means that you may have to try to balance all your belongings on the curb of a busy Chicago street while waiting for a cab to take you one mile to the bus station.
Having multiple bags, like I did while moving across America, means that you may have to try to balance all your belongings on the curb of a busy Chicago street while waiting for a cab to take you one mile to the bus station.
  • Make it to the airport on time! This one is probably the simplest, but also the most important. Find someone to drop you off or otherwise make arrangements, and plan plenty of time to get through the security line and find the right gate. Yes, there is plenty more do to once you land. But for the next few hours, kick back and enjoy the beginning of a new adventure!
destinations, travel tips

Happy Half Birthday to Me!

Today I am exactly 282 months old, or 23.5 years. No, I’m not one of those self-centered people who try to make up as many occasions as possibly to celebrate my existence, but I’ve always used this day as a time of reflection. I’ve only had 6 months of experience being 23 years old, yet in just 6 months I will have a new age to experience! So let’s take a look at what has happened since my birthday, and then plan what to do with the rest of the year!

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

My 23rd year started on May 10th, 2014. I wanted to celebrate my birthday by taking a trip, because my favorite birthdays have been while I was traveling. I celebrated my 8th, 13th, 18th, and 22nd birthday in Disney World. No, my parents didn’t take me to Disney World just to celebrate my annual milestone; my birthday just happens to be the best time of year to go! But there was no way I would be able to get to Disney World this year, so I looked more locally. At the time, I lived about an hour away from Columbus, but I had never actually spend much time there. So I decided to book a weekend at The Wayfaring Buckeye (reviewing this hostel helped me rediscover my travel writing passion), throw my bicycle in the back of my Explorer, and head toward the city. I may have spent my birthday alone, but it didn’t even matter because I got to go to a topiary garden, a humongous bookshop, a record-breaking gavel, a fun science museum, two street fairs, and Buffalo Wild Wings, accessing all this on just two wheels! I even went to the Capitol Building and art museum the next day, and of course I set aside some time to call my family and just kick back.

At the science museum, I got to ride a self-balancing unicycle that was two stories high!
At the science museum, I got to ride a self-balancing unicycle that was two stories high!

I had been working at a retreat center as an outdoor school instructor. Sadly, the school year was just about ending, which meant the job was transitioning. I had the opportunity to help build a new website, and unfortunately I was also given the task of being a lifeguard. Since my summer work was looking somewhat bleak, I started making plans for my days off to “escape” in the world of travel, which also included filling up the remaining weekends in May with even more travel!

Harding Memorial Tomb
Me at the Harding Memorial.

The next weekend I had to go to Marion, Ohio, which I had never been to before. I looked up things I could do while in that town, and was surprised to discover that President Warren G. Harding had lived there, and now he and his wife were buried there! I decided my first stop in Marion would be to visit the cemetery he was buried in. The Harding Memorial looked like something that should only be found in a place like Washington, D.C. But since it was in Central Ohio, it had the bonus of not being crowded with tourists! After finding a geocache near the cemetery, I eventually made it to the event that brought me to Marion in the first place. Secret Keeper Girl had invited me to cover their event so I could feature it in Girlz 4 Christ Magazine. Since it was a mother-daughter event for tween girls, it was a little awkward for me to go by myself. I’m neither a tween nor a mother! But it actually was a great program with some fun games, a message that everyone could take to heart, and a pre-show concert from Copperlily.

Copperlily performing on the Secret Keeper Girl tour.
Copperlily performing on the Secret Keeper Girl tour.

The next week was Memorial Day weekend, and coincidentally, that was the only weekend where I didn’t have any plans. But my work was having a camp out that staff could attend for free, so I turned the back of my Explorer into a bed (while somehow also fitting my bicycle back there) and enjoyed a few nights away from home.

My typical camp set-up included my car (with all my clothes and bedding in the back), my bicycle, and hopefully a provided table to read and eat at!
My typical camp set-up included my car (with all my clothes and bedding in the back), my bicycle, and hopefully a provided table to read and eat at!

Because I had so much fun camping in my car that weekend, the next weekend involved car camping as well! I was invited to a review stay at Turkey Hollow Campground near Millersburg, Ohio AKA Amish Country. I spent two nights there picnicking, sleeping where I could see the stars, walking some paths, and using the camp paddle boat on the pond. During the day, I experienced as much of the Amish life I could in Holmes County by feeding the exotic animals at The Farm at Walnut Creek, touring the schoolhouse, barn, and cyclorama at the Behalt museum, and of course enjoying the authentic shops and foods!

Zebras were one of the several animals I got to pet and feed at The Farm at Walnut Creek. Another highlight was when a giraffe tried to eat my hair!
Zebras were one of the several animals I got to pet and feed at The Farm at Walnut Creek. Another highlight was when a giraffe tried to eat my hair!

My weekend trip to Holmes County ended on June 1st, and sadly that was the first and last trip of June. I remember spending that month working, going to church, and reading. But that also gave me more time to plan a trip to Niagara Falls, which I had wanted to do for a long time! Since Niagara Falls isn’t too far away from Ohio, it would be cheap trip to get there, and I decided to make it even cheaper by taking the Greyhound bus for the first time. Since I had never taken the bus before, I wasn’t sure if the bus station had a parking lot. I decided to drive up to Mansfield to see for myself in early July. And of course, I decided to make a trip out of it!

Doing time in one of the nearly 1000 cells.
Doing time in one of the nearly 1000 cells.

After discovering that there was no parking at all and I would have to arrange for someone to drop me off, I headed over to the Mansfield Reformatory. The outside looks like a castle, and the inside looks like an abandoned prison, which is what it actually is. It has also been a set for a couple of movies and is supposedly a haunted locale. I also spent this day trip visiting a natural park and a natural food store.

Cave of the Winds Trip on the US side of Niagara Falls
Cave of the Winds Trip on the US side of Niagara Falls

The next weekend I headed off to Niagara Falls! I thought this would be my one big trip of the year (fortunately that was proven wrong!) and I enjoyed a weekend of hiking, eating, sightseeing, and visiting Canada for the first time! This trip also really helped me make a name as a travel writer. Starting the eve of my 23rd birthday, I had been comped a couple nights at accommodations for being a writer and reviewer. But this entire 9-day trip only required me to pay for one night of lodging, plus I got a few other perks! But of course, the best part was finally seeing the Niagara Falls in person.

Enjoying the view from the Canada side of Niagara Falls
Enjoying the view from the Canada side of Niagara Falls

A few weeks after returning to my normal life, I got the opportunity to switch my role from tourist to tour guide! My sister had just come back from living in Mexico, and she wanted to explore Ohio before settling back in Oregon. I showed her a few of my favorite places, like Amish Country, President Harding’s tomb, and President Hayes’ birthplace, and she even encouraged me to try out a few new things, like the Columbus Zoo. The few days she spent in Ohio were memorable, not only because they were jam-packed with fun, but also because I decided that I also needed to move back to Oregon after being gone for three years. After all, the main reason I liked working in Ohio was just because of all the trips I could take on my days off!

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Walking through a cute little park next to one of the several cheese factories in Holmes County.

After spending a couple weeks trying to pack what I could and sell what I couldn’t, I finally left Ohio. It was actually miraculous to see everything that occurred in those few short weeks, such as the way my car was sold, the connection to donate my beautiful bed, and the numerous gift exchanges that occurred. I then embarked on my second-ever Greyhound trip, this time for eight days. Although I tried to line up travel writing jobs along the way, it was a holiday weekend and I had a pretty tight schedule, so I couldn’t get anything comped. Yet still, I only ended up paying for one night of lodging (thanks to relatives, former workplaces, overnight bus trips, and one night in a bus station followed by convincing the hostel to let me check in early for free). Besides driving and sightseeing through ten states, I made overnight stops in Chicago, Omaha/Fremont, and Denver. So much happened on this part-moving-expedition, part-road-trip, that you’ll just have to read all five blogs I wrote about it (here, here, here, here, and here) to see what I did!

I don't play favorites when it comes to travel, but a definite highlight was stepping out on the Willis Tower Skydeck's transparent ledge on the 103rd floor!
I don’t play favorites when it comes to travel, but a definite highlight was stepping out on the Willis Tower Skydeck’s transparent ledge on the 103rd floor!

I have spent all my time since then within Oregon boundaries. I got a few nanny and babysitting jobs right off the bat, but while I continued to search for a more regular job, I took a few Oregonian excursions. This included going to the Bigfoot Trap, spending the night in Ashland, and touring the Oregon Vortex, among a few other day trips.

Due to the height change in the Oregon Vortex, my mom and I could finally see eye to eye!
Due to the height change in the Oregon Vortex, my mom and I could finally see eye to eye!

As I mentioned, in addition to my writing work, I started to in-home childcare since moving to Oregon, which now includes a regular part-time nanny gig. A few weeks ago, I was also hired at Harry and David World headquarters to help with the Christmas rush. Not too long after that, I was also hired as a housemother at the Magdalene Home, which is an organization that provides housing and resources to teen mothers and their children. Over the past week, I have been training for this position, and I’m really looking forward to it! My training ended today, just in time for my new training at Harry and David to start tomorrow! I’m actually surprised that working four different jobs is going this smoothly. In fact, the only downside is this means I have early starts every day for a couple of weeks, which will then probably switch to a crazy combination of late nights and early mornings.

So there you have it: just about everything I’ve done over the past six months! So what do the next six months have in store? Obviously there’s work, with the goal to save up enough money so I can enjoy a backpacking trip to Europe, and possibly other destinations! I will also be going forth as one of the few remaining editors of Christian girl magazines, since most of our competition has gone out of business. In response to this, there are plans to expand and improve Girlz 4 Christ, and I am planning to apply for it to become an official non-profit organization! So far I’m not aware of any trips coming up in the next six months, but I’m sure they will happen in early 2015, and I’m ready to take advantage of any opportunities made available to me! Other than that, I don’t really know what will happen for the rest of my 23rd year, but I’m excited to find out. I’ll give you an update on this six months from now- hopefully while celebrating a 24th birthday excursion!

#ThrowbackThursday, Bucket List

Travel I Can Cross Off My Bucket List

Yesterday, I posted my current Travel Bucket List. However, while I’m looking forward to hopefully accomplishing all those things in the future, I think it’s important to also look back on previous accomplishments. While I don’t plan every single trip around my goals, once I have a trip planned, I try to take advantage of any opportunities available to apply that trip to working towards a goal. I often accomplish several goals in one trip, which is why you’ll see that I have often done several goals at the same time. Here are some things that are no longer on my bucket list, because I actually did them!

1. Go to Chicago. (September 2014)

2. Eat pizza in Chicago. (September 2014)

3. Go up the Willis Tower and stand on the Skydeck. (September 2014- Okay, I’m done with the Chicago goals!)

On the Willis Tower Skydeck...before eating pizza...in Chicago.
On the Willis Tower Skydeck…before eating pizza…in Chicago.

4. Live away from the Pacific states. (August 2011)

5. Visit Amish Country. (October 2013 in Holmes County, plus two other trips within the following year)

6. Go to the Creation Museum. (March 2014)

Hanging out in the ark room of the Creation Musuem
Hanging out in the ark room of the Creation Musuem

7. Vacation in Hawaii. (April 2001, Oahu)

8. Go to Walt Disney World. (May 1999, plus three more times, all in May during my birthday!)

9. Bike around a major city. (May 2014, Columbus)

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

10. Be in two places at once a la A Walk to Remember. (March 2013, Nebraska/Iowa, also internationally in July 2014 at New York/Ontario)

11. Visit a different country. (December 2005, Mexico; July 2007 in Peru was the first time I stayed the night inside the country)

12. Visit a different continent. (July 2007 and August 2009, Peru, South America)

Playing with kids at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru
Playing with kids at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru

13. Visit Canada. (July 2014, Niagara Falls)

14. Go on a mission trip. (July 2007, Posada de Amor in Peru, plus several other trips after)

15. Go to Seattle. (March 2004 was my first trip)

16. Go to Nashville. (September/October 2012)

In front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville
In front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

17. Go to Niagara Falls. (July 2014)

18. Take an overnight train trip. (December 2011, from Nebraska to Oregon)

19. Go on a cruise. (December 2005, California and Baja)

20. Support overseas orphans. (Not including Latin American mission trips, I’ve sponsored Nelly in Zambia since 2013.)

Nelly, the teenager I sponsor through Every Orphan’s Hope

21. Fly first class. (January 2013, from Denver to Omaha)

22. See Mount Rushmore. (August 2011)

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
Mount Rushmore in South Dakota

23. Be in the nation’s Capitol. (June 2007 in Washington DC, also in Peru’s capitol of Lima in July 2007 and August 2009)

24. Go to New York, New York. (June 2007)

TIESS3 209
On a class trip to the East Coast

25. See historic Philadelphia. (June 2007)

26. Travel out-of-state without my parents. (March 2003 to Washington, and many, many, many trips since!)

27. Travel by myself. (This one’s ambiguous: in 2001 I flew by myself but was picked up by family at my destination, in August 2011 I moved to Nebraska for an internship, in September 2012 I went to Tennessee for two weeks but one week was spent with a friend, in August 2013 I took a solo road trip to get to Ohio for my new job… if none of the previous count to you has having traveled by myself, then I definitely took several trips over the past year that would certainly count!)

In the airport at the beginning of my move to Nebraska
In the airport at the beginning of my move to Nebraska

28. Drive more than an hour. (First time was February 2013 from Twin City area in Minnesota to somewhere in Iowa)

29. Drive the entire way on a road trip. (First time was August 2013 from Fremont, NE to Marengo, OH)

30. See a Great Lake. (First saw Lake Erie November 2013, within the next several months also saw Ontario and Michigan)

Walking alongside Lake Michigan in Chicago
Walking alongside Lake Michigan in Chicago

31. See the Atlantic Ocean. (June 2007)

32. Go to Colorado, but not just inside an airport. (October 2011, Estes Park, visited twice later on)

33. Buy a car (August 2012, bought a y2k red Ford Explorer, sadly sold August 2014)

My SUV Dora (named so because she was an Explorer)
My SUV Dora (named so because she was an Explorer)

34. Go to Yellowstone National Park to watch Old Faithful, see large wild animals, and stand on the Continental Divide. (July-ish 2002?)

35. Take a tethered balloon ride. (July 2010)

36. Sleep (inside a car) in a Walmart parking lot. (September 2013)

37. See Multnomah Falls. (September 2014)

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls in Northern Oregon

38. Go on an extended whitewater rafting trip. (May 2011, Rogue River)

39. Take a trip with only carry-on luggage. (September/October 2011, Tennessee, and nearly every trip ever since!)

40. Ride the Greyhound. (July 2014, and again in August/September 2014)

Good Ol' Greyhound
Good Ol’ Greyhound

41. Go waterskiing/wakeboarding. (July 2004 was my first waterski attempt, July 2006 proved more successful and was also my wakeboard introduction)

42. Sleep all night in a hammock. (July 2012, at the top of a 60-foot tower overlooking the Platte River)

43. Stay in a hostel. (September 2012, Music City Hostel in Nashville; hostels are now my favorite accommodation!)

44. Attend a Christian music festival. (September 2011, Lifelight South Dakota)

Among over 10,000 fans at a Lifelight concert
Among over 10,000 fans at a Lifelight concert

45. See The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. (June 2007)

46. Visit the three main countries that make up North America. (Started at birth in the U.S., ended in Canada July 2014)

47. Hike from base to summit of a mountain. (The tallest so far was Harney Peak in South Dakota August 2011, but was preceded by Mount Humbug and both Table Rocks in Oregon)

This building is at the very top of Harney's Peak and it was a strenuous four-mile journey to get there
This building is at the very top of Harney’s Peak and it was a strenuous four-mile journey to get there

48. Ride a roller coaster that goes upside-down. (May 2003, Disney’s Rock n Roller Coaster, and of course with visits to more “adventurous” theme parks like Six Flags Marine World, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Adventureland, I’ve been on dozens more)

49. Be invited to a movie screening before it comes to theaters. (July 2011 for Courageous; I’ve also gone to Grace Unplugged, Moms’ Night Out, and When the Game Stands Tall)

50. Become a travel writer (started professionally writing November 2008!)

So there you have it: my top 50 travel accomplishments! I’m looking forward to adding more to this list!

Carry-On Toiletries, resources, saving money, travel tips

Carry-On Toiletries, Part One: Hair Styling

This is the first chapter of the series “Carry-On Toiletries”, for those of us who accept the challenge of traveling with just a carry-on, along with all the TSA requirements for taking toiletries. Stay tuned for the next several weeks for more installments of this series! 

I’ve had hair that ends at my ears and hair that ends at my waist, and every length in between. No matter how long my hair is, it has a tendency to cause problems in travel. At times it’s been so frustrating and unmanageable, the thought of shaving it all off entered my mind! Maybe you feel the same way too. But before you grab a razor, keep reading for a few tips on how to care for your marvelous hair, no matter where you are.

Flat irons, curlers, and other large hair styling items sacrifice way too much space in a carry-on. It’s hard to sometimes even fit a hairbrush! I will usually pack a foldable brush or a flat, thin comb. But even if you style your hair perfectly each morning, the environmental factors of your destination, such as heat, humidity, rain, and even thunderstorms, can effect how your hair turns out. Flyaways, frizz, and uneven curls are far too common in travel.

Rocking a fedora in Chicago. This hat was great at not losing its shape despite being crushed among the rest of my belongings.
Rocking a fedora and ponytail in Chicago. This hat was great at not losing its shape despite being crushed among the rest of my belongings.

Of course, the easiest solution is to hide it! A ponytail holder takes up zero space inside your carry-on. You can even slip it around your wrist for easy access! If I’m going somewhere that I know I’ll need sun protection, I’ll take a hat with a brim. I prefer bucket hats to ball caps because bucket hats are soft and can be crunched up to fit anywhere in your bag. Earlier this year, while attending a conference, I was given a sample product that changed the way I look when I travel. It was a buff, or at least a knockoff one called a Tubie. I can wear it as a headband, and if my hair gets too unruly, I can extend it to cover all my hair. If my hair happens to be behaving, I can keep the Tubie around my neck or on my wrist to absorb sweat.

tubie
After spending a week riding the bus, hiding all my hair under my Tubie was the best I could do.

Hats and tubies are great to hide problem hair, but what if you want to show it off? Maybe you want to show off a new hairstyle, or your outfit doesn’t match any of your headwear. For a long time, I didn’t know how to deal with this on the road. With TSA’s 3.1 ounce rule, you can’t really take enough hair product with you. For years, if I was traveling with a group, I might bum some product off someone who brought checked luggage. If I was by myself, I really had no choice but to hide my hair. But just a few weeks ago, I discovered a new product that offers a great solution.

alpacamania 017

A new company called Zizilia created “The First Pomade Bar”. I didn’t even know what pomade was before finding out about this product, but it is a hair styling product that does a really good job at keeping your hair in place. Zizilia makes them in solid bars, which means one less liquid that you have to take in your travels! The bar alone makes this pomade travel-friendly, but Zizilia went one step further and made them travel-sized! These cute little squares of pomade are great for plopping in your toiletry bag and taking anywhere. The reason this is a solid is because it’s made with beeswax along with other natural and organic ingredients, and I definitely prefer to not carry around unknown chemicals! This is the first Zizilia product I’ve tried, but they have dozens of other products that I’m excited to try out.

How do you care for your hair in your travels? 

A big thank-you goes to the small business Zizilia for introducing to me and sending some great products! 

saving money, travel tips

7 Budget-Friendly Activities for Traveling Anywhere

I don’t believe that you have to be rich to travel. In fact, as long as you’re not in debt, there’s a trip out there that can fit your budget perfectly. Whether you’re headed around the world or simply to the next town over, here are a few ways you can get the most out of your travel experience- and still stick with your budget!

Eat Ice Cream

Twist O' The Mist in Niagara Falls, NY has been one of my favorite ice cream shops!
Twist O’ The Mist in Niagara Falls, NY has been one of my favorite ice cream shops!

I’ve visited (and once even lived in) several towns with triple-digit populations. There isn’t much in these places, but there’s usually an ice cream shop. Ask for a scoop of the most unique flavor on the menu, and you’ll be reminded of your visit whenever you taste, smell, or even hear that flavor. If you’re visiting an area that has several options for ice cream, pick a place that serves flavors from a local creamery. Sure, a small cone at an ice cream stand may cost more than a whole tub at the grocery store, but these few dollars won’t break anyone’s budget.

Visit a Church

One of the best churches I've ever been to- The River in Delaware, Ohio is held in a converted barn!
One of the best churches I’ve ever been to- The River in Delaware, Ohio is held in a converted barn!

If you want to meet locals, experience culture, and look at unique art and architecture for free, then head to a church near your destination. Churches are found throughout the world, even in places where it’s illegal, so you’re likely to find several churches within a short radius. Because this is part of your travel experience, don’t be bound by denomination or feel like you have to agree with everything the church believes. I’ve used travel as a way to experience Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and Catholic churches for the first time. Some churches have a historic significance to the area they serve, and may even be open during non-service times for visitors to see what makes the building unique.

Take a Walk

Walking can bring many unexpected surprises, like this large, walk-able map of Tennessee in Nashville!
Walking can bring many unexpected surprises, like this large, walk-able map of Tennessee in Nashville!

Not only is walking free, but it can actually save you money if you use it in place of buses, taxis, or car rentals. You can experience a lot more of the area by walking. While I remember taking some long walks on family vacations, my first trip with extensive walking was in Nashville. It was there that I went to RCA Studio B, where Elvis first recorded. I didn’t intend to go there, it just happened to be one of the many fascinating places I ended up stopping at while on my way somewhere else. Besides, walking ensures that you can enjoy all that ice cream you’ll sample, guilt-free.

Go On a Bike Ride

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

Some areas are not pedestrian-friendly, either because of a lack of sidewalks or because all the places you want to visit are a few miles apart from each other. In that case, I recommend seeing the area on two wheels. If you cannot bring your own bike to your destination, many hostels and other travel-related businesses can rent a bike to you (with a lock and sometimes a helmet) for a daily fee. Bicycles are the best of both worlds: you’ll be able to notice most of the unique things you would if you were walking, but you can also travel faster and for further distances. While staying at a hostel in Canada, I met a fellow traveler who came from Japan to ride a bike from Los Angeles to New York City, with lots of side-trips along the way. Imagine all that he must have seen!

Photograph Everything

The best part of Chicago's Cloudgate "Bean" is taking tacky mirror selfies to a whole new level!
The best part of Chicago’s Cloudgate “Bean” is taking tacky mirror selfies to a whole new level!

Getting a durable, quality camera may come with an upfront cost, but it is certainly worth all of the memories you’ll be able to capture. Naturally you’ll want to take pictures of the sights you see and the people you share it with, but you can also spend some time and actually get creative with the photograph. If you take a picture of a famous place, it will look the same as the millions of other photographs that other people took of the same place. However, can you incorporate your own unique flair? I once read a traveling shoe ambassador’s blog that put a face on a flip-flop and took pictures of it in several countries and states. If you take a fun spin with a photo, be sure to share it with me!

Go To Unique Sites

Touring Boys Town in the heart of Omaha, NE was a great experience made even better by seeing the World's Largest Ball of Stamps!
Touring Boys Town in the heart of Omaha, NE was a great experience made even better by seeing the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps!

When traveling, you probably pick your destinations based on what you can see there. Of course you’ll want to visit what your destination is known for, but also keep an eye out for unique, little-known sites and attractions. People go to South Dakota’s Black Hills to see Mount Rushmore, but only a portion of these people stop at the wacky Wall-Drug on the way there. Find out about roadside stops that can enrich your travel experience at places like RoadsideAmerica.com. You can also follow road signs to any interesting-sounding attractions or, better still, ask the locals for their inside information.

Chat Up People

Two minutes before this picture was taken in Fremont, NE, I did not know this girl. But she was bold an encouraged me to dress up for the retreat's photo booth with her!
Two minutes before this picture was taken in Fremont, NE, I did not know this girl. But she was bold an encouraged me to dress up for the retreat’s photo booth with her!

Okay, I have to admit that I’m not naturally inclined to walk up to random strangers and start a conversation. But I do appreciate it when another (non-creepy) traveler comes up to me to talk. Being a native English speaker, I have had the privilege of helping people from all over the world practice their foreign language skills simply by chatting with them! While I had the luxury of speaking my own language, I have been able to hear all kinds of interesting first-person stories, and have also picked up a few tips for my travels. If you want to meet new people on your travels but aren’t very outgoing, try staying in hostels, riding the bus or train, or simply standing in a long line for a tourist attraction, and eventually someone will start talking to you!

What are some ways that YOU make the most of your adventure while spending little money?

Accommodations, day trip, destinations, moving, saving money, tour, travel tips

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!

moving, road trip, saving money, travel tips

Across America By Bus (Greyhound Perks and Pitfalls)

This is Part One of the Across America By Bus series.

This past July, I backpacked around Niagara Falls. My primary goal of this trip was to have a ton of awesome new experiences. My secondary goal was to keep it minimalist. Both of these goals came into play when I decided how to get to Niagara Falls. Because I was living in Central Ohio, it seemed almost pointless to fly. Besides, the Niagara Falls airport is nowhere near the actual Niagara Falls. Driving was out of the question. I already find driving to be somewhat stressful, and it would be even worse figuring out directions, navigating traffic, and driving my car that was already on the fritz. And although I did enjoy taking a train trip a few years ago, there are no Amtrak stations in Central Ohio. That only left one option:

The Greyhound bus.

I had never ridden in a Greyhound before, but I had heard and read plenty of horror stories. But it would be a new experience for me, and I would save a lot of money. Besides, it wasn’t that long of a trip, so surely I could handle it.

I took three different buses there and back. One from Mansfield, Ohio to Cleveland, one from Cleveland to Buffalo, and from there I took a New York Trailways bus to Niagara Falls. It turned out to be a great experience! Right away I started telling my friends, family, and fellow travelers the perks of riding the Greyhound:

-You save lots of money!

-It’s the most environmentally-friendly way to travel

-You can take a carry-on plus one checked bag for free

-Footrests

-Reclining Seats

-Large panoramic windows are perfect for drive-by photography

-Centrally-located drop-offs and pick-ups

-Personal adjustable air vents

-Free WiFi (woo-hoo!)

-Power Outlets (double woo-hoo!)

-Enough rest stops so you never have to use the mysterious bathroom in the back of the bus

-A sense of community you can’t typically find on an airplane

(Note that these features are based on the new bus models; some older models are still in commission, but they are getting rare.)

As mentioned in previous posts, I moved from Ohio to Oregon a few weeks ago. It was the biggest move I ever made. I had to travel through ten states and four time zones all the way across the country. And guess how I got there?

Yep, the Greyhound bus!

Because I didn’t want to spend days on end inside a bus, I bought four separate bus tickets so that I could stop at a few different cities, see the sights, and visit some friends. I bought a ticket from Columbus to Chicago, from there to Omaha, from there to Denver, and finally, to my home in Oregon. The bus ride combined with several days of mini vacations ended up taking me nearly eight days to make this trip. During this time, I did see the darker side of Greyhound. While I think overall Greyhound is a worthwhile experience, these are some of the pitfalls:

-Regardless of the time of day, stops are made every 2-3 hours, so it’s really hard to sleep

-The seats don’t have enough legroom

-The overhead compartments are usually too small to hold typical carry-ons, which translates to even less legroom

-Small children can have meltdowns on long rides

-Some (not all) bus drivers can be in very bad moods

-The buses run late more often than they’re on time

-You have to transfer your own luggage every time you change buses

-Fellow passengers can be cranky, annoying, or have body odor

-YOU could be cranky, annoying, or have body odor

No, traveling cross-country by bus is not for the faint of heart. However, I think everyone can benefit from taking a bus ride that’s only a few hours long. I was really glad to have the experience of my Ohio-to-Niagara bus ride before embarking across America. Because of it, I was able to come up with some handy tips that probably saved my sanity. If you’re heading on a Greyhound trip anytime soon, here’s some tried-and-true advice you may want to consider:

-Buy your tickets online and several weeks in advance. You’ll save a ton of money that way.

-If you plan to sleep, come prepared. I brought melatonin tablets, lavender lotion, a Snuggie, and a pillow. You may want to bring a neck pillow instead of a full-size one, and earplugs may also be beneficial. I’ve heard some people suggest bringing an eye mask, but I would advise against it. I think you’re much more likely to get robbed if you’re already blindfolded!

-Unless you enjoy eating nothing but fast food and convenience store snacks, bring a few healthy foods along with you. Yes, food and drink are allowed on the bus!

-Bring hand sanitizer and keep it convenient. The 3.1 ounce liquid rule doesn’t apply to buses, so feel free to bring an industrial-sized bottle!

-Don’t expect to look your best. I always kept my hair tied back and covered with a buff, hat, scarf, or some combination of all three. I changed my clothes once per day and brushed my teeth during layovers. Other than that, just make sure you apply deodorant, and don’t even bother with hair styling, make-up, or fashion.

-Pack as light as possible. Because I was moving, I had a lot to carry. It was a hassle.

-You may find some sketchy people on the bus. Sit near the front of the bus where you can easily call for help from the bus driver. I even wore a rescue whistle under my shirt. I never had to blow it, but it could have saved me if I got into a dangerous situation.

-Try to keep track of where you’re going and how much longer you’ll be on the bus. For some legs of the ride, I pulled out my GPS so I could follow the route and know exactly where we were at. When I didn’t use it, I sometimes wouldn’t even know what state we were in!

-Using the WiFi is a great way to pass time, but don’t expect it to always work. (And even when it does work, you cannot use it to stream videos.) Other things I did to pass the time included watching DVDs, writing in my travel journal, napping, and conversing with my fellow passengers.

-Try to talk at least a little bit with your fellow English-speaking passengers. It will make everyone more comfortable.

-If it’s light outside and you have a several-hour layover in any given city, do yourself a favor and get out of the bus station! Because stations are centrally-located, you’ll probably see quite a bit on a short walk.

Even after spending too-many-hours-to-count on the bus, I can’t wait for my next opportunity to ride the Greyhound. I signed up for Greyhound’s Road Rewards, and between my Niagara Falls trip and my Ohio to Oregon trip, I earned enough points to get a free companion pass on my next trip! I’m excited to introduce someone else to the joys of riding the Greyhound. But first, I need to figure out where to go!

Stay tuned for “Across America By Bus, Part Two”, in which I actually tell you what I did at my stops across the country.

moving, road trip, saving money, tour, travel tips

Adventures in Moving

When I was little, I remember how fun I thought it was to move. After all, my family first moved out-of-state before I even turned one, so with all the subsequent moves, I thought it was just a natural thing to do. (Plus, being so young, I didn’t have to do any of the work!) But after I started school, we only moved once more to ensure that my sister and I could grow up in the same school district. But once I finished community college, I of course had to enjoy the adventures of moving once again!

I first moved at the age of twenty from Oregon to Nebraska. This was by far the easiest move. I didn’t have any commitments in Oregon, and I had an internship lined up in Nebraska that included housing. It turned out to be the basement of a camp chapel that didn’t even have kitchen appliances, but at least there were couches, bathrooms, and a squeaky bed to sleep in. At the time, the most obvious choice was for me to take the airplane. I hadn’t explored very many modes of transportation at this point in time. I looked into taking the train, but it only cost a little less and would take three days. (I did end up taking the train back for Christmas, though.) Because most people reading this probably have flown multiple times, I won’t bore you with details. It was a pretty typical flying day to get halfway across the country. I took two suitcases plus carryon items. It was enough to live on for a few months, but every time I went back to my parents’ house for Christmas, I would fill up another large suitcase with left-behind belongings. I ended up living in Nebraska for two years and one week.

I moved from there to Ohio next. I had bought a car around my first anniversary of living in Nebraska, and since I would need a car in Ohio, it was obvious that I would drive the 800 miles to my new home. Problem was, I did not yet have a home. I did have a job, though, and a couple of my coworkers-to-be let me crash at their place for a week. So I packed up my car and began my first-ever road trip. Since it was costing me vacation money to make this move, I wanted to make it as fun as possible. In Iowa, I stopped at an art park in downtown Des Moines and the future birthplace of Captain Kirk in Riverside. I stayed the night in Morris, Illinois, and the next day went to Michael Jackson’s childhood home in Gary, Indiana and to a park in Fort Wayne where Johnny Appleseed was buried. I also made sure to find at least one geocache in every state I drove through until I arrive in Ohio. After spending some time with the coworkers and having problems securing an apartment, I moved into an RV with a roommate for about a month before finally moving into an apartment. Well, it was actually a barn, but it was remodeled into apartments! If you total the time I lived in these three places in Central Ohio, I lived there for for one year and one week.

Most recently, I moved from Ohio back to Oregon. My adventurist self could have taken this negatively. After all, I wasn’t moving to a new place I had never been before like the two previous moves. But I set out to make the best of it. I first considered driving back, since I had accumulated quite a few belongings. But I knew that my car needed a lot of work, and even then it still might not make it all the way across the states, so I sold it. (And although I’m still car-less, I’m glad I can buy another car in Oregon- they don’t have rust here!) I considered having my things shipped, but after gettting estimates from shipping countries, I realized that getting everything shipped would cost more than replacing everything upon arrival. So I set to sell and donate most of my possessions. I ended up with two boxes of books that I would ship Media Mail, a 100-pound suitcase that I would ship Greyhound Package Express, and a suitcase, carry-on, messenger bag, and pillow that I would take with me on my trip. After considering flying and taking the train, I decided to go with the cheapest option that would allow me to see the most of this country: Greyhound bus. 

After having a friend drop me off at the Columbus Greyhound station, I went through Indiana to Chicago for the first time and spent two nights there. Then I went from Illinois, through Iowa, to Nebraska to spend two nights and visit coworkers. An overnight bus trip brought me to Denver, where I met up with my cousin for 24 hours of fun. From there, I took a two-night journey through Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho to bring me back to Oregon, which included a several-hour layover in Portland where I went on a whirlwind self-guided tour. One thing about Greyhound is that there are rest stops and meal breaks along the way, so I really got to see a lot more of the country than I bargained for. This was a big plus, except when it was the middle of the night and I would have to wake up! Since I usually only travel with a backpack and maybe a small rolling carry-on, I did find it a huge hassle to schlep my own luggage at every transfer, but overall I think I had a much better experience moving like this than I would have any other way. If you’re still unsure that Greyhound is a good option, be on the lookout for a future post where I go over all the perks (and pitfalls) of riding the bus!

I’m not sure how long I’ll be in Oregon. I wouldn’t be surprised if I spend less than a year here. I know full well that moving can be stressful, but it can also be an adventure. The next time you move, see if you can find any interesting stops on the way there!

Accommodations, destinations

United States of Hostels

When I mention to people that I enjoy staying in hostels, I expect one of the following responses:

“What’s a hostel?”

“Aren’t those only in Europe?”

“Those are creepy; you shouldn’t stay there!”

For the last two, I’d like to shout a resounding NO! Hostels are found throughout the world, and only horror movies make them creepy. (In fact, I feel a lot safer staying at a hostel than I do anywhere else!) As for the first question, a hostel is an accommodation where, instead of renting a room, you can rent a bed inside a dorm. That means a big savings in money, and also a greater sense of community with others who are also staying in the hostel.

Even though hostels are most popular in Europe, and I hope to visit dozens of hostels there next year, so far I have only stayed in hostels within the United States. (Okay, so I stayed in one in Niagara Falls, Ontario, but it was only a mile away from the U.S.!) Here are a few I have stayed in and recommend:

Music City Hostel, Tennessee: This was the first hostel I had ever stayed in. Music City Hostel is a culmination of everything that the city of Nashville represents. A variety of travelers from all around the world creates this makeshift community that results in spontaneous jam sessions, late-night talks, and memorable experiences.Music City Hostel is located on the West End of Nashville. This is the district where the hospitals are located, so you will often hear ambulance sirens, but other than that it is a very quiet community. It is a few blocks away from the nearest bus stop or main street, yet it is still extremely easy to find. It is less than a mile away from several attractions, including Centennial Park and Vanderbilt University. It is also within walking distance of Downtown Nashville. Overall, Music City Hostel provides an excellent opportunity to meet new friends and experience the Nashville sights and sounds. This unique hostel is recommended to anyone with a love of travel!

Wayfaring Buckeye, Ohio: The staff was amazing, the amenities were more than I expected, and I saved a whole bunch of money compared to if I had stayed anywhere else! I had only had one previous hostel experience, but the staff at The Wayfaring Buckeye made sure I understood everything and made me feel at home.  It did seem to have a fairly quiet atmosphere, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your personality and amount of energy, but if you wanted to talk, there were plenty of people willing to talk! I was especially impressed by the cleanliness. The hostel was conveniently located near the OSU campus. It was just a few miles by bike to get to the heart of Columbus. I was surprised that bikes and locks were provided for free! The Wayfaring Buckeye appears to have once been a duplex, but a wall dividing the two homes was removed. That means twice the kitchen space, living rooms, and everything else!

Gorge View Hostel, New York: Gorge View Hostel is the closest hostel to the Niagara Falls. This building is at least 85 years old and offers an interesting history in addition to its ease of access to Niagara Falls. This fairly new hostel offers a comfortable combination of old-fashioned charm and modern amenities. Gorge View is certainly worth staying at for several days! Perhaps the best part about the Gorge View location is that it’s the perfect place to view fireworks! On nights when Niagara Falls hosts a fireworks show, the rooftop is open for all guests to view the show and the lit-up city skyline. Overall, Gorge View Hostel is an excellent choice for travelers who want to see the wonder of Niagara Falls. This is one of the few hostels where you can interact directly with the owner, and he can definitely provide lots of insider information and fun stories. The hostel is continually improving, so every visit will get better and better!

Niagara Falls Backpackers Hostel, Ontario: Niagara Falls Backpackers Hostel is a charming, family-owned-and-operated accommodation. On the outside, the old Victorian home seems perhaps to fancy to be a hostel, but on the inside, you’ll enjoy many of the amenities that are unique to hostels. Niagara Falls Backpacker’s Hostel lives up to its “international” name by housing travelers from all over the world, many of whom are friendly and great to share experiences with in Niagara Falls. The hosts speak both of Canada’s national languages, English and French.There is so much to do in the Niagara Falls area, and Niagara Falls Backpackers Hostel is in a central location where you can access it all. The young will love to hear about adventures from their global peers, and older folks will appreciate the BnB-style atmosphere and community. All ages will enjoy their stay at Niagara Falls Backpackers Hostel.

Hostelling International Chicago, Illinois: HI-Chicago is one of the largest hostels in one of the largest cities in America. This safe and friendly hostel welcomes travelers around the world from all walks of life. It includes all the standards of Hostelling International, but for just a few dollars more will also provide a great place to stay for non-members. If there is anything you need to know about Chicago, ask the staff on the first or second floor. Need a cab? They’ll call one for you. Need a recommendation for a pizza joint? They’ll give you a map and point out their favorites. Need to explore Chicago on the cheap? They sell discount tickets to many of the popular attractions, including the famous Willis Tower Skydeck.

Note: Links and hostel research provided by Hostelz.com. At this site, you can find out more about hostelling and book and nearly any of the thousands of hostels around the world!