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!

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day trip, destinations, moving, tour

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!

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!