In an effort to save money, my friend Katie and I decided to take the BoltBus from Portland to Vancouver. It is a direct Greyhound style bus that only has stops in Portland-Seattle-Bellingham-Vancouver. It cost $34 per ticket per way. They boast that fares are as cheap as $1 but I suppose that is for the first person who books months in advance. We booked two weeks in advance and apparently I was the 34th person to book. Still, that’s a pretty cheap fare for about 250 miles! Driving, we would have had to fuel up 2-3 times at $50 per fill!
However, the only downside to the BoltBus is the location. It leaves from downtown Portland at 6:30am. I live in North Portland and could easily drive, but paying for parking downtown is about $10 per hour… I don’t even want to know how much an entire weekend would cost! Instead, I drove to the light rail station and parked for free in the neighborhood and then took the train downtown. They recommend you arrive at 6am. The trains only run hourly that early, so I had to take the 5am train, which meant waking up at 4am to get ready and drive the 15 minutes to the station!
Luckily the bus was comfortable with outlets and free wifi, so it was an enjoyable ride. Apparently they have these busses on the east coast, too, so if you want a quick and cheap way to get somewhere, I definitely recommend them! Here are some photos of Seattle I took while driving through!
We arrived in Vancouver around 2pm on Friday. Instead of paying for a bus, we walked the mile from the station to our hostel. It looked harmless on the map, but we soon realized we were stumbling into the worst part of town. The streets were lined with strip clubs, marijuana clinics, and homeless people screaming. It actually felt like a scene out of the Walking Dead because the homeless people were so high on drugs that they were stumbling like zombies and looked completely dead in the face. When we told our soon-to-be friends about this experience, they all laughed, knowing East Hastings was NOT an okay place to go.
Our hostel was the result of our attempt at frugalness. We found it online and it seemed reputable, although many of the reviews were poor. We figured it was only for two nights so we should give it a shot. For $24 per night, it was a steal. We booked the 8 person mixed dorm because single-sex or private rooms were more expensive. Plus, meeting new people is always fun! Had I not been in a good mood the entire trip, the hostel would have been miserable. We entered our room to find 5 bearded and tattooed Australians reeking of pot. They ended up not even living in our room, but they did live in the hostel. They had been living there for a year in a different room! I did the math, and even with the long-term discount, it is a $650 rent per month! The location is in a great part of town and you do get free breakfast (only and muffin and coffee…) but that’s not worth it at all!
Katie and I dropped our bags and left to get a bite to eat. We had passed a restaurant near the hostel that smelled DELICIOUS, so we went back. It was called “Bread & Meat” and only served bread and meat. I asked the worker what the best thing on the menu was and he said he would whip me up something good. I think it involved chicken and pesto and cranberries, but I’m not quite sure. I also ordered a legal beer to go with the meal! I never thought living under America’s drinking age would be so hard until having the freedom in Iceland and Jordan.
After lunch, we walked around Vancouver a bit. We saw the Vancouver Olympic Cauldron and the gorgeous sea wall. I love just walking around cities and picking up the vibe. It was definitely clean and very modern feeling. It reminded me a bit of Dubai with all the huge, glass skyscrapers sprawling in every direction. It was also very, very white with a huge Asian community. Vancouver has the second largest Asian population in North America!
As we were tired from traveling, we went back to the hostel where we finally met two of our dorm-mates. The first was Tim from England. He had been living in the hostel for a few weeks and planned to live there two more months. He had done the same in Australia for three months prior. I had never heard of someone living in a hostel or even traveling so long without a definite plan! He had just found work as a personal assistant for a Vancouver business man so he was ecstatic. We also met Kevin who is from Ireland! He was also living in the hostel and working construction. We ended up chatting for a few hours while relaxing in the room until a girl from Sweden, also our roommate, came back and we all went downstairs to the bar below the hostel for drinks. The #1 thing I love about traveling is meeting new people. People always asked me while I was abroad what my favorite part of [insert city] was, and the answer was always the people! I feel like I can be pretty antisocial when it comes to meeting people in the normal course of daily life, but when traveling, I am so outgoing and love talking about traveling/pronunciation/everything!
The next morning, Katie and I went with Tim and Kevin to the bakery next door to get the free breakfast. If you wanted, you could pay $5 and upgrade to a hot breakfast. We had heard rave reviews of the hot breakfast, so we all upgraded. It was pretty delicious. Eggs, sausage, hashbrowns, toast, and coffee! Yum! After, Katie and I left to do touristy things our friends had already seen. We went to the famous Stanley Park and wandered around. We stumbled upon the International Busker Festival where I got a free Canadian flag which I proceeded to wave all day.
If you’ve noticed, the Northwest is pretty hot right now. We are seeing temps in the high 90s! Most of the cities usually experience cold, rainly weather, so many places don’t have air conditioning, including my apartment AND the hostel. So when Katie and I found a fun looking fountain, we took full advantage and relaxed with our legs in the cold water.
We spent the afternoon going to free art galleries, walking through the various hipster districts, and finally settling at a cafe to cool off with a cold cider. It was only 5pm when we wandered back to the hostel, but we were so exhausted from the heat! Plus, we had run out of things to see. We were going to go to a brewery tour because I had a 2-for-1 ticket, but we realized the tour required you to have closed toe shoes! Who wears those in summer?!
When we got back, the room was empty, but not even 5 minutes later, a stranger walked in and told us he was staying in the room for the night! We got to chatting and his name was Matt and he was from Australia. He had come to America a few months ago alone to travel. He bought a cheap car and has been traveling from city to city ever since. He came to Vancouver for Canada Day on Monday. Then, his plan was to go to Portland on July 3rd but his couchsurfing host fell though. Since Katie has an extra room in her apartment, she volunteered to host him! Isn’t it crazy how things work out? Tim soon came back and joined the conversation and the four of us spent several hours just chilling in the room and talking about life.
We were going to venture out and find a new bar, but we ended up going back downstairs to the Cambie bar. The drinks are apparently the cheapest in the city AND the company is great, so why not? The night proved to be another great one and I met even more interesting people. It was a bit bittersweet, though, as I knew we would be leaving in the morning. I wish I could have stayed longer.
After the bar closed, Katie, Tim, and I went upstairs and wandered into the common room where we found a plate of chicken and pasta! No one had claimed it and it was cold. There were also two other pots of pasta on the stove. In true hostel-fashion, we claimed the unclaimed food and had an impromptu dinner. It was surprisingly really, really good (until we found out Matt, who had left the group early, had seen it sitting in the common room 4 hours prior to our discovering it. Gross). While we were chowing down, a group of guys from New Zealand came into the common room and we all ended up chatting over a can of Jalepeno pringles.
The next morning we had planned to see a few more sights, but we soon realized there was nothing left to see unless we wanted to pay for a museum or guided tour. Instead, we got breakfast with Kevin and Matt and ended up sitting in the bakery and chatting with Matt for a few hours. Then we left to catch our bus when we realized Matt had left his 5 boxes of ramen noodles with our stuff! I had to carry them all the way across the border to give back to him when he comes to Portland. I don’t even like ramen!
The trip was so much fun and reaffirmed my suspicions that my experience as an international traveler is not quite complete. I still have a serious case of wanderlust and the great experience at the hostel only motivated me to do something to fulfill it. Now that I am graduating in November without a plan, I think it is the perfect time to do something I truly want. If I pursue a full-time career, I most likely will never have another chance to travel on a large scale. I have contacts in so many countries and a wealth of knowledge about communities like couchsurfing. Did you know that several hostels even have a work-for-stay program? They never hire employees, but simply find travelers who are willing to clean and work the front desk in exchange for a free place to stay and free breakfast/laundry/wifi. I’m seriously considering spending the next six months working as many jobs as possible and saving up in order to trek around the world in 2014. The more I experience and grow, the less I see myself fitting into a typical lifestyle – at least, not any time soon. I definitely have a lot of research to do, but I also want to fight my planning nature and let this hypothetical trip evolve as it wants. Just book an exit ticket and take it from there. I’ve met so many people who have done this and claim it was the best experience of their life. Now I just have to make it mine!
As with all of my travel posts, if you want to see more photos, you can see my album here. It isn’t specific to Vancouver, so most of the early photos are from Portland. Enjoy!