Rookie Mistakes: Vancouver Edition

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During one of my first solo trips, I bought a train ticket from Seattle to Vancouver. I pictured myself gliding up through the Cascades in a train car, sipping hot cider. I could envision walking around the streets of Vancouver, bundled up in several layers, searching for the most appealing restaurant among a cadre of cultural dining options. I planned to meet a friend at his favorite local bar. And then I planned to take a long, hot shower in my hotel room. The next morning, I would explore the shops with enough time to walk back to the train station and head back to Seattle.

This is not at all how it turned out.

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There was an avalanche in the Cascades, so I had to make the four hour trip on a smelly bus with an old man falling asleep on my shoulder. On a positive note, the view on the drive was spectacular. I basically had my face and my whole body pressed against the glass the entire journey.

The bus station turned out to be two miles from my hotel, which I decided to walk to save money. I quickly found out that I couldn’t use my phone  or GPS because I didn’t have an international plan. So I got lost. Really lost. About a mile and a half later, it started raining. Keep in mind that this was during winter.

It took me another mile and a half to finally find my hotel. By the time I got there, I was drenched, annoyed, and hungry. I quickly threw on some dry clothes and headed to the nearest restaurant I could find. It ended up being a place called “The Bodega” which was a Spanish, family style restaurant. Not the ideal place for solo dining. The waitress asked if I was single. After I sputtered out a surprised, “Yes…?” She asked if I would like to dine with the gentleman in the front of the restaurant. When I glanced over in his direction, I saw that he was a middle aged man with sparse hair. I quickly declined. She rearranged her face in what I can only assume was a sad, maternal facial expression. She looked at me with that expression the entire meal.

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After my meal, I felt a bit refreshed and ready for another adventure. I used the restaurant’s wifi to find the bus route that I needed to get from the part of town in which I was staying to the part of town with the bar to meet my friend. When I found the right bus line, I didn’t have enough change in Canadian coins to ride. The bus driver gave me a sorry look and politely asked me to get off the bus. After going to a Starbucks and buying whatever was on the menu to get change, I got back on the bus. Twenty minutes and eight stops later, I realized that I was going the complete opposite direction of where I needed to go. I immediately got off the bus and had to buy another drink at a local sandwich shop. By this time, all the shops were closing as it was well after dark. I got back on the correct bus going the correct direction just to arrive a few minutes after he left.

At that point, I was fed up with my stubbornness and my experience in Vancouver. I hailed the nearest cab, returned to the hotel, and spent the rest of the night and the next morning watching French cartoons and eating some disintegrated granola bars that I found in the bottom of my backpack.

Because of all the mishaps and misfortunes, I only had the presence of mind to take three, mostly blurry, pictures during the entire jaunt to Canada. I happily boarded the bus back to Seattle, conceding to explore Canada another time. I learned a lot of lessons on that trip. The most important one being that if I had it all to do over again, I would have just paid the money to take a damn cab.

Sincerely hoping that you avoid my rookie mistakes,

Maegan

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Rookie Mistake: Cold Weather Camping Edition

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During the road trip to Mesa Verde

In Colorado during the summer, the weather hovers around 80-90 degrees during the day, but the night is vastly different. Depending on where you are, the overnight temperatures can drop to a chilly 20-30 degrees. If you want to camp at night anywhere in Colorado, you need to be prepared for some cold weather camping.

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The view at a scenic stop near Pagosa Springs

My trip to Mesa Verde during late summer last year was the first time that I had ever been camping without an expert camper. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve camped several times in my adult life, but it’s not quite the same when you rely on someone else to put up all the tents, cook, and generally bring everything that you could ever want. In an attempt to NOT make a rookie mistake, I heavily researched what we would need. I packed two sleeping bags, pillows, and several, several blankets and cold weather gear. So how did this turn into a rookie mistake, you ask? Well, my friend, Breann, and I left the sleeping bags and most of the cold weather gear that I had packed in the garage: mistake number one.

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The summit  of our hike on an 85 degree day

Mistake number two: not going to a local store to buy sleeping bags in the last big town we went through before reaching Mesa Verde. Because the trip took longer than planned, we rushed to get to the campsite before dark, which meant no stops. After getting mildly lost (cell reception is spotty at best through large parts of Colorado), we finally found the campsite right at dusk. We turned on our car headlights and pitched the tent. Which turned out to be for 50 degree weather and above.

We spent two very, very cold, uncomfortable nights in that tent without sleeping bags or clothes warm enough for that environment. One night, I wore a thermal that I happened to have in the car, a sweatshirt, a scarf, a beanie, my winter coat that also happened to be in my car, and two pairs of sweatpants. That definitely did not suffice, but it didn’t stop me from making the most of it, as evidenced by this picture:

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50 Shades of Grey

P.S. We also forgot a cork screw, so I uncorked our wine with my keys, but not without a bit of the cork falling into the wine. Rookie mistakes all around.

-Maegan

 

The Windy City

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On my first solo trip, I packed a carry on filled with a thin coat, a sweater, and jeans and headed off to Chicago. When I got there, I soon realized why the tickets were so cheap. First of all, it was mid-November. And they weren’t kidding when they named it the Windy City. It was constantly windy. The cold bit at my skin through my thin Oklahoma winter coat. You can see everyone’s hair whipping about in the picture above. I basically ran everywhere to keep warm.

Chicago style in Grant Park

One of the things that struck me almost immediately about solo traveling is that I could go anywhere I wanted, do anything I wanted whenever I choose; however, that also meant that I had to constantly make decisions with little to no information about the city. That left me with the GPS on my phone and my intuition. This would later become my preferred method of exploring a new place.

My intuition led me to eating a Chicago style hot dog in Grant Park while I walked along Lake Michigan. By the way, have you guys had a Chicago style hot dog? Um, hi, they give you a whole pickle ON the dog. I don’t know why it took me 23 years to try this. Don’t make the same mistake I did, my friends. I think they have them at Sonic for those of you who can’t try the real thing.

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I also walked around ritzy neighborhoods in Lincoln park for several hours. By walking I mean running. The streets were littered with freshly fallen gold and amber leaves. I found a small Thai place that served delicious curry. I spent hours in that restaurant reading and coming up with ideas for my next venture.

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One morning, I took refuge from the wind at the Chicago Museum of History. Who doesn’t love a good museum? I remember being in awe of the city’s rich history. There were several times in history when the people of Chicago united to fight oppression and to help their fellow neighbors. I’m sure it was the pretty side of history, but it was very inspiring. This photograph was taken by a photographer in the 1960’s. She took snapshots of the people she encountered on the streets of Chicago. I find this photo particularly captivating. I would love to have spoken with this man to hear the story behind the expression on his face.

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Rookie mistake #5235 on this trip: I didn’t plan on the sun setting at 4:30 PM. I was wandering around the side streets of Chicago when it suddenly began growing dark. And cold. I did not want to find myself in a bad part of town after dark, so I grabbed a cab to take me back to my hotel. I did end up in a bad part of town after dark on another night, but that’s a story for another post.

Rookie Mistake: Bathing Edition

On the way to Tybee Island
On the way to Tybee Island

When I travel, I seem to become irrationally stubborn about spending money. On my first solo road trip to the East Coast I not only lived on cheese crackers and oranges, I refused to stay in a hotel. For someone who does not know many people in Savannah, GA, this meant I had to sleep in my car.
This sounded doable. The free spirits I know regularly sleep in their cars to cut down on travel costs, after all. However, it did not occur to me that this also meant I had to find an alternative way of bathing. I considered dunking my head under gas station sinks, but the condition of the gas station sinks I encountered was questionable. In my mind, the only option left was to bathe in the Atlantic Ocean upon arrival. Clearly.

First sightings of my bathtub
First sightings of my bathtub

For those of you who grew up in the proximity of a large body of salt water, this may sound absurd. As a native of the midwest, I thought this idea was magical. In all actuality the only thing I found magical was how voluminous the sea left my hair. Other than that, I felt dirtier than before I soaped and shampooed. In the waves.

Check out that volume
Check out that volume

I’m so happy no one I knew was around to witness my ridiculousness.