Random Thoughts, Portland, and Planning For Overseas

I’m entering my 8th week on the road.  At this point, travel life has become the new normal.  I enjoy and welcome the randomness that each day can bring.  Thoughts so far…

Overall

The trip has been nothing short of awesome.  It’s not possible to put it into words so I won’t try.  I have no regrets about leaving my old life behind for a period of time while I do this.    I’ve developed a sort of a pre-arrival routine for each new city where I start by researching some history and culture about my destination to get a sense of the place.  Next, I investigate the public transit maps, and try to determine what’s easily accessible and what’s not.  I read event pages and things-to-do lists looking for well known hot spots and places that would be cool to see.  I check out the Couchsurfing community group and activity pages to see what’s going on.  My basic formula is to try and maximize the experience for my budget and learn something new.

In order to save on accomodations, I stay in hostels and couchsurf… however, both of those have major advantages way beyond the cost savings.  For travel, I take buses and trains, not just within, but between cities.  (I shared a cab once in DC, and that’s the only taxi I’ve been in the entire trip.  I’m quite proud of that fact.)  For food, I eat out once or twice in each city, but most of my food is from grocery stores.  Once you remove the costs of flying, hotels, taxis, and eating out everyday and replace them with more everyday types of things, it becomes possible to travel for a month on what most people spend in a week of vacation.  I’m still probably spending more than I need.  I could camp, eat ramen noodles, or hitchhike between cities to cut expenses further.  I’ve met other travelers doing this, but it seems a bit extreme for me.

Hostels and Couchsurfing

The best description I ever heard for Couchsurfing is that it uses technology to facilitate real-life human interaction.  I couldn’t describe it any better than that.  I’ve had great CS experiences.  Seeing the city through the eyes of a local is always a treat.  However, sometimes, the people you stay with are busy, and don’t have time to show you around.  So that’s why I’ve also discovered staying in hostels can be just as good.  CS was never about a free place to stay for me.  It’s more about getting a local’s take on the location.  Take it from me, hostels are so cool, and if you mention that horror movie to me of the same name, I’ll kick you in the teeth.  I’ve met so many friendly and awesome people from other countries while staying in them.  I have a wealth of input from Europeans as to where I should go and things I should see when I get over there.  So, CS is great, but when you combine it with hostel living, you really get the most out of travel.

Europe is Coming

My last week in Columbus before starting the trip was filled with a lot of anxiety.  I knew I wanted to travel the world.  I made the necessary preparations, but the actual jumping out of the plane part was still coming fast.  Over the last 7 weeks, I’ve become accustomed to travel in the US, and feel very comfortable just picking up and moving week after week.  It feels quite normal to be honest.  My pending launch into Europe brings back similar anxieties, though.  I don’t speak the language in most countries I’ll be traveling in.  There are customs and cultures potentially very different from what I’m use to.  US dollars will be exchanged for pounds, euros and kroners.  Most intimidating of all is that I’ll be a foreigner, more vulnerable to my surroundings than I’ve been up to this point.  I’m really glad I took the time to travel the US first.  I feel it prepared me to be on the road, and adapt quickly to new surroundings.  Europe is just harder, but not all that different than what I’m doing now.  At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Portland

Portland is, frankly, just a really cool city.  I can’t think of any other way to describe it.  I would love living here.  For starters, it’s extremely bike friendly… the best I’ve seen so far.  Bike lanes are every where, drivers are courteous.  The light rail here even has hooks inside the train to hang your bike on while riding in order to minimize the footprint.  If you’re not biking, the public transit rocks too.  I rode the buses, MAX light-rail, and even the streetcar.  I didn’t have any issues getting around, and I went to places in all four quadrants of Portland at all times of the day and late at night.  Best of all for life here, the mountains and water are not far away, so there’s tons of scenic trails and adventurous climbing if you’re up for it.

I must also say, the couchsurfing community in Portland is THE best I’ve ever experienced.  It’s kind of hilarious I didn’t couchsurf here considering that.  I went to three CS meetups my first three days… Two were happy hour meetups, and the other was a  9.5 mile hike through the foothills of Mt Hood.  (That’s where those pics above are from).  The group is really cool and welcoming, and very, very active.  Impromptu meetups will bring out 15 or more people.

As for touristy stuff in Portland, I did the following…

Powell’s Books… quite possibly the biggest bookstore in the US if not the world.  It takes up a whole city block, so the pic below is like tip of the iceburg for the store.  I walked around for at least an hour in this labryinth of books.  What’s especially cool is that the place is packed with people, and most seem to be buying a book or two.  I’m more of an e-reader these days, but happy to see a thriving bookstore.

Voodoo Doughnuts… famous for their maple and bacon doughnut.  Sorry to my veggie brethren, but sometimes I suspend my vegetarianism when a local favorite demands that I do so.Old Town Pizza… supposedly haunted pizza place in the Old Town area (duh).  They brew their own beers like a lot of places in Portland.  I got a small pizza and didn’t see any ghosts, but I had couple pints of really good beer.  I had great beer every place I went here.

So that’s the status of things.  In other random news, I bought an iPhone 4S.  I got a crazy deal from my carrier to get one for only $140, and they’ll unlock it when I get overseas. I’ll be able to place a pay-as-you-go sim card from carriers in Europe.  They will also allow me to place my phone into a “seasonal stand-by” mode in the US which will suspend usage of it while traveling abroad.  Of course, that’s how it’s suppose to all work in theory.  I’ve been assured multiple times it will, but we’ll see.

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