photography, Recap

Where Did 2017 Go?

This past year seemed simultaneously both long and short. As it’s become my tradition to recap the adventures of the past year through photos and provide encouragement for the coming year, let’s get started on the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2017!

year 2017

January

January 2017 snow

The year started off with snow, a rare occurrence in these parts! I began the year with a hike up Roxy Ann Peak, and continued enjoying the snow by volunteering in the mountains at Wilderness Trails. I also had the opportunity to interview Sadie Robertson for this year’s spring issue of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine, which was the start of more growth with this project.

February

February 2017 Trees of Mystery

The highlight of February was taking a day trip to Trees of Mystery in Klamath, California. I had given my family tickets as a Christmas present, and it was a fun trip together. Since the New Year is during February in China, I went to the Chinese New Year festival in Jacksonville, Oregon. I also drove my friends out to Gold Beach where we hunted for glass floats, but unfortunately we didn’t find any.

March

IMG_20170331_122226

This month focused more on local outdoor adventures. Since I was doing the On Foot series on this blog, my goal was to discover trails and walking paths. I even discovered new tiny towns like Wimer, Oregon and its covered bridge. I took several day trips to Ashland, Rogue River, and Jacksonville, and I hiked Table Rock.

April

April 2017 Susie Shellenberger

April’s adventures started out a lot like May’s. I joined in Ashland’s First Friday Art Walk, which I hadn’t done since college. I also hiked in Jacksonville and went on a few country drives. But then I found out that one of my favorite speakers and writers, Susie Shellenberger, was going to be speaking in Brookings, which is a town on the Southern Oregon Coast. Although I had short notice, I planned a wonderful weekend road trip around her speaking schedule where I got to see beautiful portions of the Pacific Coastline. I even stayed in my first AirBnB… on a boat!

May

May 2017 Redding

This was the hardest month for me. Although I tried to jazz up the year by taking trips and going on adventures, for the most part they were there to cover up some struggles. I applied to several jobs this year, all of which resulted in rejection. My current jobs have gone through some rough patches. I knew a few people who died in car crashes. But it really hit home when I got hit myself. Just three days after my birthday, I was driving some girls home from a Mothers Day event on a Friday night when another car ran a red light and hit us in the intersection. For the most part, we were fine. However, I did have to spend the rest of the year going to chiropractic appointments, and dealing with the insurance companies is still a hassle. But since I got a rental car, I decided to take a road trip the very next weekend, kind of as a way to kick fear in the face. Because I made plans the same day I left, I considered several destinations until I found one that was both affordable and available. I had a nice time exploring several attractions in Redding, California.

June

June 2017 Golden Ghost Town

I drove three different cars this month: a rental from my insurance company, a rental from the other insurance company, and finally, a new car for me! Since June was continued stress of dealing with the aftermath of the car crash, I wasn’t in the mood to travel much. I did take a day trip to the ghost town of Golden, Oregon and nearby Grants Pass. After bidding good-bye to my totaled car, I picked out one that was almost exactly like it, except a year newer. I didn’t get it until the end of the month, but managed a trip to the movie theater the night I bought it to see Cars 3.

July

July 2017: Thor's Well

It was time to really break in my new car. I started off the month with a weekend road trip. I spent the first day and night in Eugene, walking along the river and staying at the hostel. Then I headed out to the Central Oregon Coast. Since that area has been largely unexplored by me, I got to enjoy attractions like Thor’s Well and the Sea Lion Caves for the first time, not to mention beaches and lighthouses. I then re-explored the coastal towns I had driven through in April. The rest of the month was spent relaxing at home, doing things like hammocking, biking, and even fixing up my old tent so I could go backyard camping.

August

August 2017: Lion Sleepover at Wildlife Safari

I’m glad my tent was repaired the previous month, because it allowed me to have one of the most exciting adventures of the year! Although it took place only an hour and a half from home, Wildlife Safari had a sleepover event where guests could camp out next to the lions! We also had encounters with several of the other resident animals, like the bears and cheetahs. The way back home took much longer than an hour and a half, since I stopped to see the Myrtle Creek covered bridges and take my time going through the Applegate Trail Museum. The next weekend, I was out again! I spent the first night once again in Redding, California, where I went to WaterWorks and Bethel. The next day I met my friend Kylie (who I had only ever seen via the internet before), and we explored little Placerville together. I spent the final day of that trip in Tahoe, but this tri-state trip wasn’t the last one of the month! The next weekend, I went on two separate day trips: one I went to Lava Beds National Monument with the kids I babysat, and the other allowed me to explore Bend with a friend.

September

September 2017: Anita Renfroe

After all of August’s adventures, I was spent, both physically and financially. Although wanderlust was still knocking at my door, I planned to explore the local area instead by going on hikes, using my hammock, geocaching, and attending a free retreat. My “No-Spend September Staycation” did allow me one out-of-town trip, though, when I won a ticket to see Anita Renfroe’s comedy show in Klamath Falls.

October

October 2017: Table Rock

October continued the slower pace that September set. I took kids to the pumpkin patch a couple of times. I spent a long day hiking up and around Table Rock. And though I had taken a summer break from Wilderness Trails due to my injured back as well as scheduling conflicts, I jumped back in full-force this month. First there was the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration dinner, followed by two weekend camps.

November

November 2017: Crater Lake Snowshoeing

Although I didn’t do anything to celebrate Halloween, I seemed to make up for it early in November. After joining Ashland’s First Friday Art Walk (where many of the refreshments included leftover candy), I joined Southern Oregon University’s ghost tour. Then came two more Wilderness Trails weekends, the second one introducing snow! The snow fun continued on Thanksgiving. My family decided to burn off some calories before consuming even more of them by snowshoeing at Crater Lake National Park.

December

December 2017: Christmas Eve Church Tour

Since I’ve lived with my immediate family the past few years, I no longer travel much in December, partly because this month’s travel expenses are so high, and partly because there’s so much to do locally for Christmas and other celebrations. Still, there were yet another two Wilderness Trails retreats. The first one was a tree-cutting camp, so I got to cut down a Christmas tree for the first time ever. My family had already set up the fake tree, but it worked out because a few days later, I moved into my own apartment. It’s a “tiny home” of 300 square feet, and it’s walking distance to most places I usually go anyway. So I’ve been enjoying the local mini-adventures of setting up my new home and walking the town even when it’s freezing outside. In fact, what was probably my most cultural experience of the year happened within my new city’s limits! I decided to end 2017 by going to seven different churches for their Christmas Eve services. Some I was familiar with, and other provided a whole new kind of experience.

What About This Blog?

It was a record year for JessicaLippe.com. Here were some of your favorite posts and stats:

Most Read Post: Hostelling International: Is It Worth the Membership?

Most Popular Post Written This Year: Fall Foto Fun

My Personal Favorite Post: 11 Travel Hacks that Don’t Require Credit Cards

Top Ten Countries Readers are From: 1. United States, 2. United Kingdom, 3. Canada, 4. Germany, 5. Australia, 6. Philippines, 7. India, 8. France, 9. Netherlands, 10. Italy

2018

Now that we’re up to speed, we are on the cusp of 2018. This year I will be ringing it in at work, of all places! (It seems to be the only place where I can stay up past midnight!) Then, I’m starting a two-month adventure called grand jury duty. Since this involves weekly involvement, I’m not sure how much travel I will be able to fit in for January and February, but I do have a few Wilderness Trails weekends, and my other weekends are mostly open. After that, I’ll be able to use the airline tickets I was given for Christmas to go to Maui, Hawaii!

After that, I’m not sure exactly where life will take me. I’m not even sure if I’ll stay in the area, although I like it here and don’t currently know of any opportunities to move elsewhere. I’m still entering contests in hopes that one will provide me with a free trip. I’d like to travel more, but I have more important non-travel goals.

I’m starting off 2018 with 21 days of no sugar. I’m not sure if you can call it a New Year’s Resolution since I know it won’t last all year, but it’s an effort to get healthier. I’m also committed to getting more serious about writing, and hope to make it a more substantial part of my year. I’m even going to get more motivated about getting a book published. I’ve gone through this process several times before but have always given up before getting accepted by a traditional publisher, so hopefully all this work can finally come to fruition in the year ahead.

Now that you know what I’ve done and what I’ll do, I want to hear from you! What was your highlight of 2017? What do you hope to accomplish in 2018?

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Winter

Winter Trips and Pics

In years past, I’ve commonly thought of this season as a time to take a long winter’s nap, certainly not an ideal time to travel. I could go to a local Christmas event or two, but save the real adventures for warmer weather. But so far over the past month, I’ve been surprisingly proven wrong! This could very well become my best winter yet. 

Here’s what I’ve done…

My family went snowshoeing at Crater Lake National Park on Thanksgiving morning to burn off the calories before we even consumed them!


I have gone to several camps with Wilderness Trails. The snowy mountains are fun to enjoy, and one camp, everyone got to cut their own Christmas tree!

This is in addition to the usual Christmas and winter festivities, on top of moving earlier this month! Although I only moved 10 miles away (which is actually closer to work, church, and other places I typically frequent), I am excited for the new adventures to be had in this neighborhood. And I will admit that I am also planning a late- winter trip to a warmer destination. 
Season’s greetings and merry Christmas!

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!

backpack, destinations

Backpacking Across Europe

I don’t know when this dream started. Maybe it was sometime in the 60s when hippies fresh out of college wanted to explore the world on a shoestring. But I’m not concerned too deeply about that. I’m wondering when that dream became my dream.

I have a lot of dreams. I want to have a family, become a full-time freelance writer and media specialist, and adopt several kiddos. I also have an entire bucket list specifically for travel goals. The one I’m currently working on is the dream of backpacking across Europe.

Childhood Years

My sister (age five) and I (age nine) in Oahu. Yes, I went to Hawaii with a broken arm. But back then, they had waterproof casts.

My family traveled a bit when I was growing up. Other than a Mexican cruise, all our trips were domestic: Disney World, Hawaii, Yellowstone… you get the picture. I loved every single trip, but I always wanted to travel internationally, particularly Europe. After all, where else can you see the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Big Ben, and a ton of other notable and historic structures? Okay, maybe in Las Vegas, but Europe is the real deal.

Gaining Independence

Dressing up while working in Bandon, Oregon.

I started taking out-of-state trips without my family when I was twelve years old. Mostly this was with my church, such as our X-treme Praise choir tours around the Northwest. Even on the first trip of this sort, I was brainstorming ways we could somehow take our tour through Europe! At age sixteen, I went on a school trip to the other end of the country as we touring DC, Philadelphia, and New York. Later that summer, I finally went intercontinental- a mission trip to Peru! From then until I started college, I spent my summers living by and exploring the Pacific Coast. I went back to Peru when I was eighteen, and one year later, I took a different mission trip to Mexico. At age twenty, I left my Oregon home and set out for the Midwest.

Becoming a Backpacker

Pointing out where I was on a giant map that I found while backpacking across the city.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about hostels, au pairs, and all kinds of low-key travel. I was anxious to use these new found resources, but things kept on getting in the way. It all turned out for the better, as moving what is normally thought of as flyover country provided tons of opportunities. Just three days after moving to Nebraska, I went on a work-funded trip to Mount Rushmore! Work sponsored several other trips, which added several new states to my list of places I’ve been.

A year later, I took a trip that would set the pace for all subsequent trips. I spent two weeks in Tennessee with just carry-on luggage, my own two feet, and a $0-$50 daily budget. It was my first time staying in a hostel, and I’ve stayed in many since. Even with trips that aren’t officially “cheapskate” trips, I’ve incorporated minimalist packing and being budget savvy.

The Realization

One word to describe my Niagara Falls experience? Exciting!

This past summer, I finally crossed borders by myself. Okay, it was only to Canada, and it was only a couple miles from the US border at Niagara Falls. I had recently transitioned from being a general devotional writer to being more of a travel writer. I had already taken a couple partially-sponsored weekend trips for writing purposes, but this was my first big break. Even though I had to work for some comped attractions and lodging, I still had plenty of free time to enjoy this vacation.

I stayed on both sides of the border, but while in Canada, I was sitting at a lookout point, admiring all three of the Niagara Falls, and started thinking. Suddenly, I got what I feel was a God-nudge. You are ready to go to Europe. Really? Yes, this was practically a lifelong dream, but I had pushed it out of my mind the last few years as I was doing extensive domestic travel. This was an exciting realization!

The Preparation

I decided to leave Ohio right before going on this final trip to Amish Country, so I decided to make the best of it!
I decided to leave Ohio right before going on this final trip to Amish Country, so I decided to make the best of it!

As soon as I returned from Niagara Falls, I immediately began planning a European backpacking trip. I picked up the AAA Travel Guides, started a Pinterest board, subscribed to a dozen travel blogs, and re-prioritized my spending and saving habits. But there was one thing that still felt wrong, though I couldn’t pinpoint it. I was about to celebrate my first anniversary of living in Ohio, when I quit my job! I quit for personal reasons, but suddenly, my travel goals seemed to become clearer. I would spend a year back at home while saving up and planning for this overseas excursion.

This is the end of this blog post, but it’s not the end of this story. I am still in the early planning stages of an international excursion, and I’ll be sure to post my updates and ideas here. It will be interesting to see how this long-term dream finally comes to fruition!

 

resources, saving money, travel tips

Free Substitutions for Everyday Expenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Accommodations, moving, road trip

Across America By Bus: Nebraska

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

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

Camp Rivercrest

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

Camp Rivercrest Cornfields

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

Fremont LakesFremont Lakes

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

Platte River at Camp Rivercrest

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

Midwest sky

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

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

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.