A Little Purpose… Nature of Communities Around the World

My recent whirlwind tour of the US with my job at Geeks Without Bounds gave me pause recently when I thought about all I have learned in the past six weeks. I marvel at the fact that I had never even heard of hacker and maker spaces less than six weeks ago and now I have visited 13 of these alternative communities in 11differenct US cities.

Lock Picking Tutoring at HacDC
Lock Picking Tutoring at HacDC

Hacker and maker spaces are pockets of intense community and they share a common interest, normally in the realm of technology and computers. And though they’re united under the common label of a name, each one was so different. DC’s space reflected more of they yuppy (so in a good way) demographic of US policy makers and activists while the southern hospitality in Louisville was a direct representation of the totally unique culture permeating the south.

Before I took this job I had previously visited many of the cities on our tour, and yet I had never seen this side to the cities. They were in neighborhoods I would never normally visit, hosting events you’d never find on a city’s official “calendar of events,” and making projects and sharing ideas I rarely find my self exposed to in the course of my every day life.

So now I look back on my RTW trip and on the last two years of my travel and wonder how much I missed because of the lens/purpose through which I viewed my travels.

Similarly though, I’ve also gained experiences other travelers may miss because of the lens through which I personally view the world, my specific passions and interests. As a performer I was drawn to the summer street theatre in Slovenia and actually stayed an extra two weeks in the capital just to see shows and feel the fever pitch of excitement in Ljublijana as performers dotted the sidewalk with their street shows.

Swan Lake in Slovenia
Summer Outdoor Swan Lake Performance in Slovenia

A Wandering Sole travels the world running marathons – the community and experiences she discovered over the past several months are totally unique to her travels.

Last week in LA, the hula-hooping community sprung up in the city and descended on the La Brea Tar Pits for a day of hooping and fire-sticks—yet another example of a subculture and experience you’d miss unless you happened to find yourself at the Tar Pits last weekend or already have a keen interest in hula-hooping.

Visiting these spaces  demonstrated one way that purpose plays a key role in shaping individual travel experiences. And our lives for that matter. The communities and culture of the hacker and maker spaces was once completely foreign to me, but by putting a different lens and purpose on my travels my experience in these cities was completely altered.

Knowing this, or at least considering travel in this light, I’m eager to see what experiences I can uncover if I look for things outside of the guidebook, outside of my pat personal interests, and perhaps dig a little deeper.

A Little Travel Snobbery…Los Angeles Public Transportation Doesn’t Suck!

Right here and now I am going to cop to my own travel snobbery…I used to never ride public transit in the US. That’s what your car is for…

Over the past year I gamely embraced the adventure of using rickety chicken buses in Central America, open-air tuk-tuks in SEA, bikes throughout Amsterdam and yet last week I scoffed and whined at the idea of being forced to ride the metro in LA.

New York? Of course you ride it there.

Same with Chicago, DC, and Boston. I was fine with the idea of catching a train or bus in any of these cities.

But I lived in LA for two years and for no other reason than assumption and ignorance I assumed the LA metro transit sucked as hard as the legendary freeway gridlock (which counts out riding the public bus as well unless you want a very real exercise in patience). I never even once used the LA metro system while I lived there for two years.

Oh, how my life could have been so much better. It was so simple.

Tourists Posing at the Hollywood Walk of Fame

I ducked underneath the raised cameras of tourists near Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, side-stepped the wackily clad actors on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, grinned at the people crouched on the ground and modeling next to handprints and footprints, and then escaped down a wide staircase and was rapidly in an environment that I recognized – public transportation in the form of LA’s incredibly simple subway system.

Hollywood and Highland Metro in Los Angeles

LA’s metro system doesn’t even begin to compare with the extensive network of London’s tube system or the vast color coding (nightmare) that is the Times Square stop in NYC.

Traveling LA on Public Transit, Metro Style

Instead I had just one option at this stop; there are only a handful of subway lines to choose from but as a tourist it totally covers all of the popular areas although it doesn’t even begin to touch on the whole of LA County. If you’re passing through LA briefly you’re likely well covered (it leaves from LAX airport and runs into downtown or Hollywood!). As a local I would have had a very effective way to get to auditions if only my travel snobbery hadn’t prejudiced me against the subway.

It’s color coded just like most subway systems. It’s clearly marked. And it’s simple.

It’s all you could ask for really.

I made it from a couch in Hollywood to another couch in Pasadena, during LA’s legendary Friday rush hour traffic, in just 50 minutes. And my friends on either side were saved some incredible traffic frustration.

Los Angeles Union Station

Compare that to the last audition that I ever went on in LA, where I sat in 2:00pm (ie. senseless) traffic for 2.5 hours going HALF that same distance and in fact never made it to my destination before I got so frustrated, teared up, pulled off the road and sat at a restaurant eating instead of my going to my audition.

Life could have been so very different.

No worries though, my travel snobbery has been beaten into submission.

LA’s metro system rocks.

If you go there, use it. You will love it too.

Quick Travel Tips: Los Angeles Public Transport

How much: One-way is just $1.50. All day pass is $6.
Where: Check the routes at: http://www.metro.net/ and you can buy your fare cards inside any of the metro stop stations.
Extra Tip: Stick to the metro if you can, the buses will still be stuck in gridlock!

Bronze Chariot at The Met, NYC

A Little Travel Memory … They Got to Ride Around in That?!

I beg you to look at this ancient bronze parade chariot from the 6th century BC and not be wowed; it’s inlaid with ivory and stands as one of the coolest things I saw at The Met in New York City. Museums are one of those things that can be really hit or miss…and it’s totally NOT my thing to seek out a new museum in every single town I visit – simply not my style. I like museums, I find them  incredibly intriguing and a great window into a new culture but also think they’re one of those “dose activities.”

Ancient Bronze Chariot
A very cool ancient bronze chariot as one of the exhibits at the Met in New York City.

But a trip to NYC necessitates a visit to at least one of the museums – especially since it was my first trip actually spending time in the city. And I really enjoyed the four hours I spent wandering the interesting (to me) rooms (ancient pottery…skip…also not quite my thing) and although I am by far not a NYC museum authority – it ranks up there as top five museums I’ve wandered (also on the list is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy).

Quick Travel Tips: The Met

How much: The museums show a recommended amount of $20 – it’s recommended which means you can pay whatever you want…that means budgeting RTW backpackers can still visit without blowing a day’s worth of food on entrance!
When to go: The Met is closed most Mondays, check out the general Met information to confirm days, times, and special exhibits!
Tips: Grab the map! The Met is huge, it’s easy to get a little lost (which can be fun) but a map will help you hit the areas you find most interesting.

A Little Tourist…Home Through the Eyes of a Traveler

I didn’t know that the Hollywood Walk of Fame concept extended to RockWalk of Fame at the Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard.

RockWall Guitar Center Hollywood

Right there in front of the doors to the Guitar Center are the hand prints of rock legends, icons of the music industry who left an imprint on the world with their music and were asked to leave an imprint in the concrete to solidify their presence for the coming generations. And I never knew it existed.

When I passed through LA in June for a friend’s wedding I found myself casually walking down Los Angeles’ Sunset Blvd in the building afternoon heat, sweating, my hat and sun glasses in place and my eyes scanning building names and architecture. I smiled at strangers and took long looks at all of the characters strutting, hobbling, clicking, and jogging by as I meandered down the sidewalk.

Movie in Bryant Park
Movie in Bryant Park, NYC

This was the first time that I had ever walked Sunset without an immediate purpose. Though I toiled through two long years in the city, I never walked through Hollywood unless parking was impossible… and then it was an inconvenience so I spent my days rushing past the buildings, ignoring others and using my pre-printed Google with my exact destination.

It took a year an a half for my travel eyes to apply to the US but I discovered on my summer tour from California to New York City, Washington DC, and Florida that I have fresh eyes on my former homes. Fresh eyes on the cities I once thought I knew just because I could drive the roads with familiarity and find my nearest supermarket with ease.

For the first time, I approached Los Angeles, Orlando, St. Pete, and others with a mind toward traveling through them just like I travel foreign cities all over the world.

I walked everywhere.

Or rode a bike.

I stopped and asked for directions rather than printing a map.

I carried my camera and looked around for the visually appealing; the neat; the weird.

I tried new restaurants.

I entered shops and chatted up the sales clerks.

I asked for discounts at inappropriate times and bargained in appropriate places.

I smiled at the actors moonlighting as superheroes on the touristy part of the Hollywood Walk of Fame and wondered about their stories – their goals – why they chose this job.

I traveled through Los Angeles and found a new coffee shop (that isn’t a Starbucks!).

I traveled through Orlando and a friend showed me the best vegan and vegetarian eats I somehow missed in college.

I traveled through St. Petersburg and rented jet skis with my Florida friends for the first time ever, ending the day with lunch at a local fish shop I’d never seen before, even though I lived in St. Pete for more than 18 years.

I simply continued my travels even though I was home.

Give it a try! What are your home touristy experiences? Do any of the above tips and you’re bound to discover something you never knew existed right around the corner from your house :-)

A Little Community…Travel and Blogging Collide in NYC for #TBEX

Sitting down on the stained cement curb or worn bench overlooking a market is one of my favorite places to hang out in a foreign country – and not because I like the burning scent of urine that floats up from below, unwelcome but eternally present, or even necessarily the view of the market, busy and often a touch exotic – it’s because of the person who invariably sits down right next to me and strikes up a conversation as we jointly slurp down sticky and dripping bags of chili-powdered mango strips.

Manhattan Skyline at Sunset, NYC
Manhattan at sunset from the Staten Island Ferry

That’s where my stories are born, and those are my most vivid and happy memories. Similarly then it’s the people I met this past weekend at a travel bloggers conference in New York City that stick out the most – more than the panel discussions that were noticeably light on content is the memorable collage of faces, stories and experiences of others on similar paths around the world.

SEO Panel Discussion at TBEX
SEO and Monetization Panel at TBEX

What I learned is that within our own families and social circles most of us travelers are anomalies. We are often the odd ones out – choosing more modest lifestyles to save up and then spend those precious earnings sleeping in cheap rooms that make us wish that the word “dirty” adequately summed up what it’s like to see bugs on the floor, mold in the crevices and a sad, limp mattress, naturally sheetless, drooping in the corner.

I am so happy that I was able to attend the Travel Blog Exchange conference this year, dubbed TBEX (by the travel community on Twitter) and actually meet the faces behind the other blogs that I follow. These other travelers continually inspire my own travels – their words and photos often fueling my next off-the-cuff and rapid travel decisions.

Without further ado, the people I met at TBEX and fun experiences we shared:

Andy Hayes and I were able to spend a whole day gabbing about SEO and future plans as we walked the quirky Roosevelt Island – an almost anti-traveler’s destination in the city, we both couldn’t help but enjoy the surprisingly good music from a guitar player hiding himself in the bushes near a foot-path as he sang to himself and strummed his guitar; he wasn’t busking and soliciting tips, just enjoying the peaceful little island looking out over Manhattan. Thanks Andy, look forward to our planned joint ventures!

Shouting over the painfully loud music at the equally painfully trendy Ace Hotel I met Amanda (The Lost Girls)– though I choked a little on paying for the $9 beer, I stayed am was so glad to see that Amanda is equally as sweet in person as our emails. I dare-say an inadvertent late-night confession session means we’re BFFs now, no?! ;-)

Friends eating Japanese food at Otafuku in NYC
Gary, Bessie, Jodi, Kyle, Audrey and me! (Dan's behind the camera taking this lovely pic)

Jodi (Legal Nomads) was one of those unexpected finds – I didn’t know she was coming to TBEX…nor that she was such a foodie! Along with Dan and Audrey (Uncornered Market), Gary (Everything, Everywhere), and Kyle and Bessie (On Our Own Path) Jodi showed us how to eat our way through New York City – my favorite foodie experience was stealing away with this group to Otafuku  for street-side Japanese barbecue topped cabbage pancakes so hot and fresh the plate burned my lap and we filled that hour with jokes and stories.

Rounding out the weekend was an impromptu Chipolte lunch with Dave and Deb (The Planet D), Trisha (Travel Writers Exchange) and Margo (Travel Belles). Each have personalities completely matching and exceeding their online friendliness. So glad that I had the extra few days in NYC to meet up for poutine and french fries with Dave and Deb, Melanie (Travels with Two) and several others at Pomme Frites – another recommendation from Jodi that exceeded my expectation for a french fry restaurant…sweet mango chutney mayonnaise, who knew it was so good?!

There were so many other travel bloggers I met and loved (Craig/Stay Adventurous, Steph/20-Something Travels, and Dave/Go Backpacking) – their stories each unique, some in the middle of their RTWs, others weekend and family travelers, but all with tales that had me horrified and grossed out (thanks for the toe-nail story Jodi) falling out of my chair with laughter and itching to get back out on the road.

Thanks for the sense of community TBEX-ers as I hit the road again but now know so many of you are out there too! :-)

Fireworks Washington DC monument

A Little Greeting … Happy Fourth of July from Washington!

Happy Fourth of July from the Washington Monument in DC! An old friend of mine from middle school lives in DC while she undergoes training with the government, so I made a pitstop into the city to see her after staying in New York for a week. Being my first Fourth in the city, she gathered up a group of friends and we camped out all day enjoying the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the lawn. As evening approached we hunkered down with thousands of others to watch the 20 minutes of huge fireworks blossoming around the Washington monument.

It was beautiful to see the patriotism of red, white, and blue blankets, shirts, towels and chairs spread all across the lawns around the reflection pond and monument. Although I love traveling outside of the US, there’s just something to be said about singing the National Anthem on the lawns of our capital with other Americans.  :-)

Fourth of July in Washington DC

Fireworks Over the Washington Monument

Fireworks in Washington DC

I hope you had a fantastic Fourth of July, or a lovely weekend for non-Americans!

A Little Travel Memories…Graffiti on Telegraph Ave

Travel Memories:
Colorful Graffiti on Telegraph Ave in California

Graffiti on Telegraph Ave in Berkeley

I spotted this fenced off, overgrown and relatively desolate former park on one of the most touristed streets in Berkeley, California. Telegraph Avenue. Telegraph Ave played a part in the counter-culture of the 60s as a home for runaways around the US but is now essentially home to an overwhelming number of purposely-not-trendy-so-they-are-trendy cafes and restaurants that service the nearby University crowd.

California is normally so good about maintaining its parks so my brain still has trouble computing this sad and pathetic little park that no one visits, bums sit between the iron fence posts and are the only ones people-watching the busy nearby foot traffic on Telegraph.

Read more  travel memories here on A Little Adrift for some nostalgic reminisces of the best moments in myseveral years of round the world travel.

California Saltwater Taffy

A Little Travel Memory … Sampling California’s Saltwater Taffy

I’m a chocoholic. That is a fact of life I have come to accept; if there is any choice between cake, hard-candies, or really any sweet and chocolate—chocolate wins by a landslide. Now, in all that lead-up, I have to admit that I betrayed my love-affair with chocolate for the saltwater taffy of Northern California while I was in the Sacramento area visiting a friend from my LA days. She took me to a candy-shop filled with barrels of flavors was too tempting and I felt like I had traveled back in time to the 50s. The only thing that would have made the picture more complete would have been a counter serving shakes in the corner and a guy in a pin-stripe hat.

California Saltwater Taffy

So I caved. Of course I caved, do you see those barrels of sweets?!

Even beyond the sweets though, this tiny shop in Old Town Sacramento offered up dozens and dozens of sweet, sour, and decidedly spicy taffies and the ambiance of it was as charming as any.  This photo sets my taste-buds watering in memory of the freshly made dark pink cinnamon flavored taffies, so creamy … taffy is pretty much a must for any trip to San Francisco.

Though I do not travel much in the United States anymore, we do have our charming areas and our slices of life that are worth indulging in. I especially loved that I could try on my travel habits after having been on the road for a couple years now—it changes the way I approach even traveling in a city or state I know pretty well. :)