How to Travel Economically inside the United States

Aug 26
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice, Chile 2014, Travel log

In Bill’s presentation at the University of Concepcion on US history and culture, one of his audience members asked him about some economical ways to travel in the United States. He puzzled over the answer because the US is such a big, spread-out, car-dependent country. Most students who travel abroad won’t have access to a car. But when Bill got home, we started brainstorming answers to this question. Bill and I have traveled all over the world and through much of our own country after all and, aside from airfare, we’ve often managed to travel “on a shoestring.” I told him, I’d write a blog post to more fully answer the question of how to travel cheaply through the States.

I know some of you who wander over to my blog sometimes (particularly those of you who are Marathon Maniacs on a budget) may be able to add even more insight. Do comment below to add websites, ideas, and suggestions!

 

So… here are our thoughts.

 

Travel with Others

The very best way to cut costs when traveling is to go with other people. A hotel room or a rental car will cost the same in most cases no matter how many people sleep or ride in it. Traveling with friends also creates a buffer for safety. To travel cheaply, you’ll have to depend at times on strangers for tips or help getting around. There is always safety in numbers, especially in unfamiliar places!

 

imageChoose One Region to Visit

Since the United States is so very vast, most of its own citizens never see the whole thing. When Bill and I travel, we do it region by region. For example, last year we did a “Southwest” trip to Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. It’s true that we had a car to travel between the national parks we wanted to see, but we were able to see some of America’s most beautiful Southwest sites in about three weeks. We visited Disneyland, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and still had time to attend a few of Major League Baseball’s spring training games in Peoria.

 

Travel in the Off-Season

The busy travel times in the US are between June 1 and September 1. As soon as school starts for most children (the first of September), airfares drop, hotel prices go down, and common tourist sites clear out. September and October are still warm in most places around the Continental Unites States. April and May are also good times to travel if you want to get outdoors. January, February, and March are great times to travel in the far southern regions where it stays warm year-round. Be sure to check weather reports before you make travel plans.

 

Join Couchsurfing.com

Do you know about couch surfing? Couch surfing is when you sleep in someone’s house for a few nights and then move on to sleep in another person’s house. There is a whole community of people who offer their couches or spare rooms for other people who need a place to stay. You have to be a member of the couchsurfing.com website community to participate. Sign up and check it out. The nice thing about this site is that people can post reviews of the places they have stayed so you can see if someone’s house is clean and safe. You have to be a good guest once you arrive. Couchsurfing.com is a relationship-oriented way to find lodging. But it’s usually free!

Contact Old friends

Informal couch surfing is another way to find free lodging. Have you ever met anyone who said, “Hey, when you come to my city, look me up?” Maybe it was 10 years ago. Don’t worry. Look that person up! Tell them you will be traveling to their town, and when they offer to let you stay at their house, say yes!! The best thing about travel is spending time with local people, right?!!

 

Utilize Youth Hostels

Bill and I often stay at hostels. Hostels are not hotels. They have no services; you usually share a bathroom with other people; and they are not always as new and tidy as you might wish. But, they are usually (not always) pretty cheap. When you know where you will be traveling, google “hostels in Seattle” for example, and read the reviews. We’ve stayed at some terrific hostels, but we’ve also found a few I would never recommend to others. Hosteling International will have suggestions for you, but always do your research and read reviews.

About reviews: We are not extremely picky about where we sleep. I have only two important criteria: cleanliness and safety. I don’t mind if a review says, “The staff was not responsive,” because I don’t need people to take care of me. I do mind if reviews say, “There were insects in my bed,” or “A guy with a tattoo on his face knocked on my door and asked to borrow a cigarette.” Decide what you need in a hostel or hotel and look for that in the reviews.

 

Try Camping

In most cities you can find someplace that rents out camping equipment. You can still camp in mid-September or early October. There are many kinds of campsites: KOAs have showers, flushing toilets, and even wifi sometimes. State Parks or National Parks vary in terms of what kind of amenities they offer. All camping sites will cost you something—usually between about $8 and $30USD depending on how popular they are. The local visitor center can tell you where to camp.

 

Contact the Visitor Center

Speaking of Visitor Centers, this is the first stop Bill and I make no matter where we go around the world (we’ve been to the one here in Concepcion several times already). They are sometimes called Tourist Information Centers or Welcome Centers and they usually have a big “i” on the outside of the building. In most places around the United States, these centers are staffed by local volunteers who know the area very well.

 

Create a Ridebuzz.org Account

Like with couchsurfing.com, ridebuzz.org requires that you have an account to participate. Ridebuzz is a network of people who are offering or looking for rides—across town or across the country. As a rider, you agree to help pay for gas in return for a spot in someone’s car. Common wisdom in the United States is NOT to ever ride in a stranger’s car. Ridebuzz.org is working to create a safe way to share transportation. As with everything I’ve talked about here, always look at reviews and comments of other people on the site AND travel with a friend if you share a ride in someone’s car.

 

Discount Airlines

There are a few airlines which do not list their fares on kayak.com or priceline.com (these are both travel sites that let you compare airplaneprices for airfare or hotels). Discount airlines may have cheap fares inside the US, but you have to go directly to their own sites to find them. Below is a list of some discount airlines we have used. NOTHING on these airlines is free. You will pay extra for water to drink, to check baggage, or even to reserve a seat next to your friend. In order to save money on discount airlines, you have to travel light, bring your own food on board, and be willing to sit anywhere on the airplane.

Allegiant Air

Southwest Air

West Jet

Jetblue Airways

 

Greyhound and Amtrak

In many places around the world, busses are more comfortable than trains. In the United States, Greyhound busses can be a good, inexpensive way to travel short distances (say 200 kilometers), but they are not always comfortable or safe for long distances. If you want long-distance ground travel, the Amtrak train will be more comfortable. And train travel can be quite fun. The problem is that Amtrak is not always cheaper than flying. If you want to travel across the country (from Los Angeles to New York, for example), trains and planes may be comparable in price, but the train will give you a better chance to see the countryside.

 

We hope this gets our students thinking about how they might come visit us someday. Anyone else have tips for US travel on a tight budget? Chime in!!

 

 

For My Friend, Ted. If I’m not a (fill in the blank), what am I?

May 25
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice

From my Psychology Today Blog

For Ted.

More than a month ago, I started to feel a dull ache in my left heel. Slowly, over the course of about a month, the ache turned into a sharp, stabbing pain that hurt every time I brought my foot to the ground. I knew it was plantar fasciitis because I’d had the condition once before, but I didn’t want to believe it was back.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-running-shoes-grass-concept-closeup-image-image32803581Determined not to let pain slow me down, I kept running, wincing through each short run I took around town, suffering the consequences of aggravating an already aggravated foot. To ameliorate the pain, I moved my running to the track—softer and more even ground than I usually travel. But that alteration in my practice didn’t help. Each day, no matter that I stretched and iced and massaged and took ibuprofen, the pain in my foot increased. And then one evening, I got up from the sofa where I’d been watching TV, and I nearly collapsed when I put my left foot down and pain seared through my foot with an intensity I couldn’t have imagined possible.

For two days, I could hardly walk.

I made an appointment with a runner-friendly health practitioner in town hoping she would have a magic cure, but guess what she told me? You got it: “Stop running for awhile.”

“Stop running?” I cried. But how will I get any exercise? How will I clear my mental cobwebs? How will I socialize? How will I get the fresh air that keeps my depression at bay? “For how long?” I asked.

“Well, let’s start with a week and we’ll see how it goes.” I think she could see the panic in my eyes and didn’t want to tell me this healing could take months.

During several consecutive gorgeous days (rain would have made staying off my feet easier) following that conversation, as I sat on the stationary bike in the gym, lamenting my bad luck, I kept catastrophizing in my mind, imagining I might never run again. The thought kept coming to me: Who am I if I’m not a runner?

For better or for worse, being “a runner” is an essential part of my identity. My writing, my friends, my weekend activities, and my vacations are planned around running. My marriage is based, at least in part, on a mutual love of and commitment to running. The idea that I might have to organize my life around some other central identifying factor makes me feel disoriented.

As I was trying to wrap my mind around how to draw on other aspects of my personhood to anchor myself (I am, after all, more than a runner—I’m a good friend, a dog-lover, a reader, a deep thinker, etc.), a friend of mine was heading into a crisis.

One day last week, I got a call from “Ted,” telling me his divorce, a long time coming, was final. Ted, someone I love like a brother, said, “I’m so devastated I don’t know what to do with myself. We were kids when we met. If I’m not her husband, who the hell am I?” And I recognized the question immediately. Ted’s question, based on a life change quite a bit more profound than my temporary loss of running, is still the same question.

Who are we when something (or someone) central to our sense of well-being and identity is removed, summarily taken away?

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-drowning-man-image23554982I listened with empathy as Ted told me how he felt like he was literally out in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight to mark his whereabouts. “I’m lost,” he said.

“I know,” I replied. And I do know. When I went through my divorce, I felt for almost a year that there was no solid ground beneath me, nothing to reach for or hold onto. My heart broke thinking of Ted treading water for months to come. “It’ll take some time—maybe a lot of time.”

For some losses, time is the only thing that heals. Though we do everything we can (go to therapy, work through self-help books, meditate, exercise), one cannot rush healing.

 

If and when you lose something or someone so crucial to your orientation in the world that you feel you’ve lost your very self, consider being especially kind to and gentle with your heart. This loss, whatever it may be for you right now, is major, life-changing, self-changing. And it must be treated with great respect and kindness. Your pain is a sacred pain; it deserves the patience and persistence a parent offers a child when teaching a new and foreign skill like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or tying one’s own shoes.

And although floating in deep emotional waters without your usual compass is scary as hell, there are a few things you can do to soothe yourself while you’re learning to navigate at night by the constellations in the sky.

  • Regularly put your hand on your heart and remind yourself that you are still present, still real. You still matter—even though you are not who you think you should be right now.
  • Let loved ones be your anchor. You only need one or two caring friends who can hold hope for you when you can’t hold it for yourself. Let them be solid when you are not.
  • Take brief vacations from your pain when you allow yourself to think about who ELSE you are besides… fill in the blank (his mother, a runner, her wife, a six-figure earner—whatever your loss).

Not one of these things will take away your pain. Maybe even time won’t do that, but there will be a day when you wake up, climb out of bed, and feel like you know who you are—someone different from who you used to be perhaps, but still you.

All That It Should Be

Apr 26
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice

Last year, the Boston Marathon, as we all know, ended in mayhem (for my report from last year, click here). And during this past year, literally millions of people—race planners, runners, volunteers, and fans—have been waiting and preparing to return to the course and redeem/take back/resurrect all that the Boston Marathon is meant to be: a full-on commitment to human achievement and community at its best.

For the first few days after the bombs went off last year Bill and I thought we hadn’t been much affected, but I, at least, found myself weepy for months nearly every time the Boston Marathon came to mind. As a longtime psychotherapist, I knew the symptoms of post-trauma stress, but in myself, the reasons for such a response were a little hard for me to ascertain at first. No one Bill or I knew had been harmed, after all. Why was I so often spontaneously choked up?

I’ve reflected on this question of course, and I think I know the answer. The 20 or so minutes when I stood under the letter “P” (for the last name of my fellow) in the family meet-up area waiting for Bill without knowing if he would emerge from the runners’ finishing area were a powerful 20 minutes. Without any information other than that there had been “explosions” and now there was “blood” (words I was hearing from passersby), I spent those 20 minutes wondering if I’d lost the best part of life. Where were the explosions? Had he been near enough to be hurt? Did he need me? Was he gone? What would I do if I lost him?

The very real possibility that someone you love might never come back to you can rattle your core sense of well-being—even if everything turns out fine.

Bill eventually showed up under the “P,” with dried sweat on his brow, limping in that way long-distance runners do after they cross a finish line, and I exchanged my frightening fantasies for unabashed relief and joy. And yet… an understanding of the fragility of life and the sense that my intentionally-crafted happiness hung by a thin thread took hold of my heart.

In spite of the fact that fate can step in one day and steal everything you care about, a person can’t sleep easily living on the edge of that reality. The only way to move forward after trauma is to do so with some sense of safety, some belief that there will be a tomorrow and it will be fine. But gaining this sense of safety after a scary experience is easier said than done.

The only way for me to move beyond my weepy response to the word “Boston” was to go back for a re-do.

Fortunately, there are VERY few things we cannot get a do-over for in this life. There are some not-to-be-done-over experiences, naturally. Terminal illness. Serious, injury-causing accidents (or bombs). But even love is something we get to try for over and over and over again throughout the course of our years on the planet. I would argue that most experiences offer us multiple chances to try repeatedly to get it right.

So this year, we again headed east and committed ourselves to making the running of the Boston Marathon (and the cheering for it) all that it should be.

Just like last year, I dropped Bill off near the starting line early Monday morning so he could catch the bus to the runners’ village.

Just like last year, I inched my way through heavy traffic to get to the Riverside T Station where I would catch the green line to the Woodland stop.

Just like last year, I stationed myself between miles 16 and 17 and kept my eyes open for runners I knew, sharing stories of previous races with fans near by, and screaming until I lost my voice.

Unlike last year, I had the privilege of watching an American man keep a healthy lead as he raced his way to winning first place with a finishing time of 2:08. (I met Meb Keflezighi once. See my post on this here.)

And then, just like last year, I found my guy amidst the hoard of thousands of runners and convinced other spectators nearby to help me catch his attention. Bill’s son, Jeff, was with me on the course this year. Watch as Bill sees us, kisses me, fist bumps Jeff, and moves on toward the hills in the final 10 miles of the race that would kick his ass.

Bill caught a cold this year before the race and eked out those last miles with a lot of walking. He finished in 4:08 (two hours exactly after Meb!). And Jeff and I were waiting for him under the “P.”

As I stood waiting, I felt the bubbling up of last year’s fear, but I faced it squarely—spoke to it with some equanimity and told it to settle down. And after 20 minutes, just like last year, Bill hobbled into the family meeting area a little worse for wear, but fine.

 

Bill and me at Fenway Park after the race

Bill and me at Fenway Park after the race

 

 

 

A Day with Seals

Feb 27
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice

Thanks to all of you on Facebook who expressed concerns for my well-being after my post about the Jack London Inn. We’re in Zion National Park now. All is well. We escaped the scary, creepy hotel early not much worse for wear, thankfully. But before we left, I called down to the front desk to see if we could get a coffee pot in our room and was told that they were all in use. Maybe when someone checked out I could have one, the clerk told me.

“Let’s get out of here!” I said to Bill. “I have a mind to see if I can get Kayak to take this place off their website.”

“Shhh,” he said. “Don’t say that so loudly. Keep your voice down.”

I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. He wore a serious look of concern.

Anyway, we had a great day planned the day we checked out, so we needed to hit the road. We drove through Berkeley, and I had coffee with Laura M, editor of my most recent publication (with my co-editor, Susan Tive), Beyond Belief. I’m such a relational person that publishing has been a tremendous blessing to me in that once you’re working with a publisher, you’ve got a team of people invested in your book. Laura–and Eva, Seal Press’s publicist–have been important in my publishing journey. I was very much looking forward to putting faces to names and voices I know well on the other end of the phone.

Laura showed me around the Seal Press digs and introduced me to the whole crew. I even got some insight into some of her favorite soon-to-come book projects.

I knew about six years ago. when Seal decided to publish Second Wind, that I’d found a special publisher, but while I was in the office meeting friends face to face and looking at the shelves of quality titles Seal has put out, I felt lucky once again.

After leaving Berkeley, Bill and I drove down highway 1 to see the coast of California.  If you haven’t done this, you should. Our West Coast rivals the Great Ocean Road in Australia or the road down to Cape Point in South Africa. Craggy rocks and crashing sea call out for drivers to stop every few miles just to gaze backwards from whence they’ve just come.

But for me the best part of the drive was just north of the town of San Simeon where the Elephant Seals congregate. I love sea wildlife, and seals are some of my favorites because they’re so unafraid of humans. They’ll look you right in the eye if you can get close enough.

Check this out.

 

So, a hard night was followed by a delightful day. That’s how it goes.

Now we’re checking out Zion and Bryce before heading to Arizona. Stay tuned for more pics.

Success Strategy #2: Creating Accountability

Feb 10
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice, Reflections, Training

One of the most important things we can do if we really want to reach our goals is to create accountability for ourselves. I don’t know about you, but my internal locus of control only goes so far in keeping me honest–even with regard to goals that are truly meaningful to me. Take my goal to shave an hour off my average marathon finishing time. If I hadn’t told people I would blog about my training, I wouldn’t have had any reason outside of myself to stick to my training plan all year.

accountability

Last Saturday I took my last pace run before the Austin Marathon this coming Sunday. I went north to Blaine, WA (just a stone’s throw from the Canadian border) to do a seven-mile fun run. My goal was to keep all seven miles between 10 minutes and 10:30. But one thing I know about myself is that if no one is looking, there’s a chance I’ll say something to myself like, “Well, it’s no big deal if I slow down to an eleven-minute mile on the hill.”

To help keep me on track, I invited my friend Pam to join me on the run and she graciously agreed. For the whole seven miles, Pam stayed perfectly consistent. If I slowed down, she remained solid, which helped me hold onto my own intention to maintain my pace.

When we make a commitment to ourselves and don’t share those commitments with others, we have only ourselves to rely on when we get tired or lose momentum. And while it’s true that no one else can do the actual work for us, sometimes some one else CAN hold the optimism or faith in ourselves that we need to push through doubts or exhaustion.

If you’re working toward a goal and you could use a little accountability to keep you moving, try some of the things that have worked for me:

1.  Create or join a group that meets regularly to support one another (this is a great one for athletic goals or goals related to creative projects).

2. Find a coach who will hold your feet to the fire.

3.  Blog about your journey.

4. Find a partner who is working on a similar goal. Throw out friendly competitive challenges to each other.

5.  Talk about your goals and plans to anyone who will listen. The more people who know what you’re doing, the more people you’ll feel accountable to.

What other strategies do you have to keep you on target, friends? I’m always looking for more ways to hold myself accountable to my intentions.

 

The next time you “see” me, I’ll be in Texas. I’ll let you know how the race goes. Cheers!

texas