Posts in United States

5 Secrets to Exploring Los Angeles on a Budget

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Los Angeles: the city of glamour, fame, and fortune. It can be a “hella” fun place to visit — but it can also bottom out your bank account if you aren’t careful.

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Traveling to Los Angeles? Then take note of these simple hacks to save money in the City of Angels. Some travelers come to LA expecting to spend tons of money on the clubs and clothes, and if that’s your intention for a vacation, fine. Splurge on the high-end restaurants and wax museums and “Star Sightings” buses.

Are you a backpacker or budget traveler? Then this guide is for you. If you want to take in all Los Angeles has to offer AND save mad moolah while doing it, here are some ways to make your dollar go the distance.

<< Hunt for Cheap Eats >>

FOOD TRUCKS/STALLS: Los Angeles streets are dotted with food vendors, food trucks, and carts that cater to the fatty in all of us, and also means there are plenty of cheap eats too. Get your nom on by eating at places along the streets you see construction workers and locals grabbing a bite. These are the food trucks and stalls that they eat at every day because they are cheap and tasty. Favorites — Los Angeles has amazing Mexican food, but also keep an eye out for fusions things like Spanish and Korean mix. Also, don’t forget about the quick-grab fruit stands that you usually see in Southeast Asia — they’re in LA too and still only $1-$2 for a bag of fruit.

FIND A FOOD TRUCK: Roaming Hunger Tracker

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MEAL DEALS: Like most cities around the US, even the glitzy restaurants sprinkling Los Angeles have specials too. Scout out the happy hours and meal specials before you arrive, or do a quick search for best happy hours in Los Angeles. There are 1/2 price burger nights, Taco Tuesdays, and Thirsty Thursdays abound and easily found. My favorite go to is Cabo Cantina on Tuesdays for all you can eat tacos and cheap beer.

One week, while testing how far I could stretch my budget, I went out with a friend and had dinner and drinks for under $10 each night. Here are some of the places we hit.

Monday’s at The Stand the deals is $1 hot dogs and $2 house Honey Blonde Ale, so we scoffing down some dogs and beers and moved on.

Tuesday in Santa Monica we went to All-You-Can-Eat Taco Tuesday at Cabo Cantina ($4.99) and ate until our bellies threatened to burst.

Friday night at Maui & Sons in Hollywood we hit happy hour and their $3 import beer deals.

<< Hit the Vintage Shops >>

The City of Angels is a bit grungy…but it’s also littered with good things like consignment shops, thrift stores, vintage clothing stores, and shops that sell wardrobes from movies.

What does that mean for you? Super cheap clothes. Get your hobo-chic on.

While wandering Hollywood, Santa Monica or Venice Beach, make sure to step into the numerous vintage clothing stores lining the streets to score some deals on clothes. Some places are just old-school digs, but others get all of the wicked cool props and costumes from studios that don’t need them anymore — even articles like jeans or leather jackets.

These shops around Los Angeles are packed with every era of style your heart might desire. I was short on warm clothing before my trip to New Zealand, so I stopped by a favorite of mine, Iguana Vintage Clothing in Hollywood, and scored an awesome Mexican poncho for only $10. It lasted me for years until someone stole it.

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<< Master the Metro >>

If you’re in Los Angeles with no car, you aren’t completely helpless. The Metro bus and rail system, like most of the US, isn’t top notch compared to some European and Asian countries, but it will take you where you need to be.

The Metro rail is a huge money saver. Grab an all day pass good for bus and metro for $5 and you can go most anywhere in the city. The buses come more often and more on time than cities like Washington DC, but don’t expect the Metro rail to follow suit.

Planning on some late nights out? Some buses in Hollywood run 24/7 every 30-60 minutes too.

Most places of interest around LA will have a bus stop or metro link to that destination. You can get to South Bay, Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood, China town, Venice beach and more all by bus or metro. If you’re a picky about taking buses and metro because the are dirty and grimy, get over it or spend loads on taxis and rental cars.

<< Budget Beds >>

While the United States isn’t very accommodating when it comes to backpacker style guesthouses and hostels, Los Angeles is one of the few spots that I’ve seen in the US that has them. There are a few around the city, one being a hostel located right in the heart of Hollywood. But the hostel that I’ve stayed at and loved was HiHostel just off of the 3rd Street Promenade. Here you can get away from the mayhem of the city and be just a few blocks away from the beach.

As always, some alternatives are AirBnB and Couchsurfing. Obviously the best budget choice is Couchsurfing, but remember that Los Angeles is a tourism epicenter and you’ll need to start looking far in advance. For AirBnB, just remember that peak season for summer and times when there are festivals or events, prices will hike.

<< Do Free Shit! >>

Everywhere you look, someone will be trying to sell you something in Los Angeles. Not like Southeast Asian countries, but take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard and you’ll come out with a million flyers. Ignore all of the paid tours and cheesy attractions, because Los Angeles has amazing free things to do.

You have feet right? Then wander!

Los Angeles has a storied history from its rise by gang influence, to becoming the center of the entertainment world, to the eclectic and unique hippie culture that seems to be stuck in the 70’s.

SANTA MONICA: Hang out on the pier and watch a sunset or lay out on the beach all day. Go to the 3rd Street Promenade to people watch or enjoy a street performer.

VENICE: Gawk at the hippie RVs, fascinating weirdos, and street performers. Hang out in a pop-up drum circle on the beach, or take a stroll along the Venice Beach canals.

BETWEEN: All along the boardwalk from Santa Monica Beach to Venice, there is sometimes a festival or show going on like this car show I stumbled upon.

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HOLLYWOOD: Walk the streets night or day and fight the crowds while following the stars. You don’t need a car to get to the Hollywood sign, just follow a maps app and you can walk there. Head up to the Griffith Observatory, opened in 1935, to have the best view of LA from above, and attend a stargazing night that they put on during the week.

PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY: This you’ll need a car for, so let’s hope you have friends. The PCH is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, so pack a lunch and drive all day up the coast and back.

HIKING: You’ll also need a ride for this, but there is some incredible hiking opportunities just outside of downtown Los Angeles. Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu Creek are national parks close by the city where you can spend all day trekking on and off trails through the rugged landscape taking in the views of the mountains like these below.

<< Getting there >>

Getting to and from the City of Angels can be pretty freakin’ cheap…IF you give effort and search for deals. Los Angeles is a hotspot for domestic and international travel, and being that Mother Nature decides to stay beautiful for majority of the year, it’s always busy. Even with that, there are so many flights coming and going from LAX that airlines are competing for the lowest fare.

Give yourself a few months in advance to look for tickets for flights and trains, and get on a mailing list for airfare alerts when prices drop. Southwest, Virgin, US Airways, and American are the most popular airlines. I’ve personally flown to Los Angeles from DC for $150, but it depends on your timing. If you’re already in the United States, get on AirFare Watchdog and you can schedule alerts for price drops when they happen for the best deal possible.

[x_alert heading=”DISCLAIMER” type=”muted” close=”true”]All links and companies in this article are solely mentioned because I have used them before.[/x_alert]

<< What are your budget travel secrets in major cities? >>

 

 

Weekly Travel Photo: Union Soldiers playing Dixie at Gettysburg

This week’s travel photo comes from Gettysburg Pennsylvania, a place I hadn’t visited since I was in elementary school. After I returned to the US recently, an old friend offered to take me around the battlefield and the historical town and give me an in-depth history lesson.

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought between July 1st-3rd of 1863 was one of the largest battles fought of the American Civil War, and a decisive win for the Union army after forcing the Confederates to retreat.

Here are modern day re-enactors, donning Civil War era uniforms and performing battle songs like “Union Dixie” — songs that were meant to inspire and to raise the morale in war.

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Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?

 

Weekly Photo: Surfing in the fiery sunset in San Diego

 

Before my trip to Southeast Asia, I had a chance to spend a few days exploring San Diego. I had been a couple of times before, but usually just for a day or so, or I was staying just outside the city.

One night I decided to walk to the beach to catch a sunset, and it was one of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever experienced. The smoldering sun sank deeper into the silver horizon, the slow lapping waves reflecting its last bit of fiery reign for the day. Out in the small cresting waves, silhouettes of surfers bobbed up and down hoping for one last finale, one last ride across the rippling silver. A tired surfer retired for the day. Distant clouds split the sun as it descended, each time hiding it briefly until it peaked through again defiantly shining bright once more. And then it was gone.

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Feel like spreading some travel inspiration?! Feel free to share this sunset from San Diego below!

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Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?

Amtrak Across America Day 3: Seeing Clearly

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Another day on the cold steel road, more lessons. The third day of my Amtrak train adventure across America taught me about life in a timeline, and why you should take advantage of every moment.


It was through hazy grey-blue eyes that I felt as though I could travel through most of the history of the United States.

Marge, with those time traveling cloud-like eyes which matched the color of her knit sweater, told in her sweet yet lively voice of days long past.

Long past and disappearing. She smiled, possibly reminiscing about a love of her life once upon a time. Or maybe some trip she had taken in her reckless youth that stoked up a small fire in memory.

Like the trip I was on.

Everything is disappearing so fast. But I do remember some things. The important things. The things that matter the most. It’s never the moments of everyday life you remember when your 80

After she revealed that she had just turned 80 a week prior, I marveled at her sprightliness.

Though the wrinkles in her skin could trace through a long-lived and storied life, her energy was young and her voice was strong.

That’s what it’s about. Doing things worth remembering.” I said.

Over matching spinach omelets we talked. A young lad who has lived through cartoons about infinity and beyond and the fall of human interaction was sharing stories with a young soul who had lived through a World War which brought a nation together, and NASA actually reaching infinity and beyond.

My mother and father were born in the late 1800’s. As a little girl they told me about horse and buggies. About the First World War and the second one. I lived through us reaching the moon and the invention of the television.

You know you’ve truly lived when you think about all of that stuff.

It’s a shame the nation stopped dreaming big.” I said.

Yes, there are so many values we have forgotten in time, so many things that brought us to amazing heights as a people.” She said.

So many things we have forgotten.

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Our waiter Kevin, mid 40’s with a white buzz haircut and a helluva’ cheeky personality, came by the table and interrupted our meaning of life ponderings.

So what do you think those brown cows think about this while BLACK Angus beef craze?!

The dining car erupted in laughter. This guy was one of the big reasons I love train travel. Because the love it. But I was also thinking now about how far away that steak I might eat at a restaurant comes, and how much work the people out here whom we never think about do.

I never expected to be uncovering lost values of a nation, or discovering things I have forgotten over time, or take for granted each day.

The night before I had left my window shades open in that space capsule like sleeper purposely to be woken up at sunrise. And just as I had hoped, the sights outside my window were worth waking to slithering through North Dakota. Reminiscent of 1960’s upholstery, the United States was dressed in green, orange, and yellow brush as far as the eye could see.

Though, as I mentioned earlier, it wouldn’t be only different views visually that would captivate me.

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It was good to be outside again, though it was much colder than the last time I was off that train. The train hissed and chugged while cigarettes of desperate smokers lit up quick.

I don’t have much time left on this earth, but from what I see in this country is a damn shame.

I overheard an older white-haired man talking with the Amtrak attendant while on a rest stop in Milot.

He looked down at the ground with somber glassy eyes shaking his head.

Every other first world country out there has a few main focuses. Transportation, mainly rail. Education. Healthcare. They know that those are the backbone of the country. That it matters for the people who live there.

He had flicked each finger up fiercely to exaggerate each of the three points.

In the US, we’ve been trained to embrace speed and noise. We miss out on everything now. We miss out on the journey in life. We are racing toward death. We fly to get from place to place as fast as possible while being treated like sacks of potatoes on airlines.

He bent over to rub his aged knees, most likely from the brisk North Dakota air.

Just speed and noise, the enemy of life.

The Amtrak attendant shook his head agreeing with the statements made.

And this is why I work for Amtrak…

Later in the afternoon I sat writing all of the days conversations in my journal.

As the ink swirled in cursive along the paper, those conversations set in deep.

The sun hung at 3 O’clock in the sky with the Empire Builder pushing deeper into the plains of North Dakota. Silver pools polka-dotted reed marshes outside the window reflecting cotton ball clouds.

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In moments like these, it is hard to decipher what is upside down and what is right side up. Reality becomes obscured. But in moments where the sky and the clouds blur together with the earth and the water into an infinite symmetry, does it matter?

I was on an adventure, and even though I was nervous and feeling a tad bit turned upside down myself, I was leaving the speed and noise behind. I was listening to the people and sopping up Mother Natures juicy sights like a sponge.

It felt like I was doing something important.

A couple of hours after we had left Milot through the golden plans, silver pools, and puffy clouds, I attended my first ever wine tasting.

And of course I expected it to be pretentious.

Tons of people I know love to go to wine tastings. They love to dress up, sit down, be served a puny amount of wine. They love to swirl it around, snort the aroma into their nostrils as they sip loudly bit by bit. And then they spit it out into a bucket like a California rancher with chewing tobacco.

Pwwwwwting!

The only time I’d go through that much effort to try something would be for whiskey. But I’ve been to whiskey tastings. They give me a full shot, and they never ask me to spit it out…

The dining cart filled up with what would later be described by a lady much older than myself as the geriatric herd. I laughed awkwardly, but it did feel as though I was the youngest in the room by 40 years at least. And it was amusing to me about all of the stares I got from said geriatric herb wondering why a young buck was crashing their wine tasting.

Jim and Dorothy entered the dining car, commanding attention of the eager sniffers and sippers with wine bottles from around the region. And even though wine would normally be a bore, the extensive knowledge each knew about the wine itself and their enthusiasm was surprisingly captivating.

They poured each wine and told us all of the fun tidbits and unique traits of each, but I was there for a buzz and the cheese.

I freakin’ love cheese.

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And as everyone tasted each, I heard no snorting or slipping. As I tried each, I was shamefully enjoying the whole experience. You can be damn sure I was the first to dive into the cheeses too since everyone else was too polite to make the first move.

For the chardonnay, one was floral and crisp and you could smell the rose. The other, dangerously buttery and smooth. For the pinot noir, one had sweet cherry and chocolate flavor, with the other having more of a light sip and after bite.

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And I cannot believe I just described my wine to you…but I had unexpectedly enjoyed the whole experience. Jim toward the end auctioned off nearly 10 bottles of wine. With their years, those wine tasting older whipper-snappers beat me in trivia knowledge as well.

Another small ignorance shattered.

And meet me at a pub quiz sometime for round two! 

The sun sank sadder into the horizon giving the landscape a stark melancholy feel. Bare and gnarled skeleton trees clawed at the white-washed sky. We were passing through the badlands. The wind-swept monochrome plains were broken up by scars in the ground sprouting out armies for the same twisted trees and I fell asleep staring as it all passed by.

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When I awoke in the twilight before pitch night, my disorientation took off to new heights after looking at my clock and not understanding how it was the same exact time as when I had fallen asleep.

The clocks had set back an hour since daylight savings ended, and the clocks traveled further back two hours passing through North Dakota.

As I gazed out my window when we pulled into an unknown station, a small spot illuminated by a dim street light shown a foot of snow on a lonely bench. The feeling was dreamlike and surreal, as if I was traveling through different earthly planes.

The large snowflakes fell slowly, dancing in the lap light like a waltz as they descended and I imagined the song of a wind up music box would be fitting.

Lights and glimpses of snow flashed by as we passed through small blanketed towns. It was slow-moving and quiet. I was away from the speed and the noise. I was alone but didn’t feel lonely.

I was pondering life, and all of those conversations I listened to during the day again.

I was doing something I’d remember when I’m 80, something that might make me smile in my later fleeting years. I was traveling through the forgotten lands of the United States on the forgotten yet romantic way of travel. The train.

I was experiencing different ways of life all the while on the path to change my own. I was seeing reality through cloud-like eyes, and glassy somber eyes, and the eyes of the passionate train conductors.

I was on a journey uncovering the world and my hidden self.

I was on my way.

Like this story? Get caught up on all of the other days on this gnarly train adventure across the United States!

READ DAY 1: Closure.

READ – DAY 2: Discovery.

READ – Ginos East vs. Giordanos: A Deep Dish Love Affair

**DISCLOSURE** I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a free trip courtesy of Amtrak Blog for review purposes. The opinions, photos, videos, and use of the word “gnarly” are completely my own based on my experience.

 

Weekly Photo Mojo: Desolate Beauty in the Salton Sea.

Besides the hungry gulls squawking, an eery silence lays over Bombay Beach. Once a town, floods from the Colorado River submerged the area and only left remnants of a town that once was. The ground is crusted over by salt from the Salton Sea which has a salinity level higher than the entire Pacific Ocean combined.

While exploring California before my big trip to Southeast Asia, my friends and I stopped by to walk around. Just desolate beauty remained besides this ghostly shirt that fluttered in the salty breeze.

(Many more photos coming for this haunting place!)

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Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?