“To be prepared is half the victory.” -Miguel de Cervantes
I like to plan ahead. I live and die by my Google calendar, and I have spreadsheets and Internet bookmarks organized by folder for every possibility in my upcoming travels. It’s a strange juxtaposition, because I’m also the kind of person who will decide to move to Portland without knowing anyone or having a job when I arrive. I’m the kind of person who picks up hitchhikers and who went on an entire vacation with a stranger…twice. I’m the kind of person who is ok with the idea of a one-way flight.
Prior to making any plans this summer, my first step was to get a passport. My family was in the military when I was growing up, so I was born in Japan. I had to get a passport to come to the land of my ancestors…the United States. We also lived in Europe for 3 years, so my cute six-year-old self also had a passport. It was very nerve-wracking to send this precious memento, along with my tattered certificate of birth abroad, via the semi-reliable postal system to some bureaucratic office and hope to ever see them again. Luckily, they were returned, safe and sound, 4-6 weeks later, along with my shiny new passport.
My first mini-trip is next week, to Vancouver, Canada. Although I’ve lived outside the country for several years as a kid, and traveled all over the US, somehow, I’ve never been to Canada. I have a couple friends in BC that I met through couchsurfing here in Portland, and I am completely stoked to go visit them and see their lovely city, which I’m told is like a ‘bigger Portland,’ where beer is, sadly, more expensive.
I’m only going for 4 days; a long weekend, basically. I’m taking the bus, because the round trip tickets were only $10 more than I spend on one tank of gas. I’ve recently become a huge fan of the Greyhound bus, because many of the newer ones have WiFi and outlets in every seat. They’re cheaper than both flying and driving, and you can relax and read a book or get some work done. Also, strangely, the bus is the one mode of travel where travelers actually talk to one another. It’s something of a social faux pas to strike up a conversation with the person next to you on an airplane, but on a 12-hour bus ride, most people find it a welcome diversion. I’ve met some very interesting people on buses.
Sure it’s full of drifters and probably some drug dealers, but these people aren’t always out to harm you. They’re just people, and they’ve got some interesting stories. I once had a great time on a bus trip to Montana sitting next to a man who had just been released from prison for swimming over the Mexican-US border. He didn’t speak much English so it was an opportunity to practice my Spanish, and to hear about his experience firsthand. It was a lot more interesting than if I had driven my own car by myself instead.
You can also have a little fun to pass the time. Having lived in England for 3 years, I can do a passable English accent (to Americans, anyway…I would never try this with someone who is actually from England because I know how atrocious it probably sounds to them). So, I’ve done an entire trip with an English accent. I also took the bus as a teenager once and convinced my seatmates that my name was Madison, and I was a computer programmer just coming back from vacation in Mexico. They were also a bunch of young kids and seemed to believe me, although if I tried this false-identity approach today I’m sure I would think of something much better.
Anyway, since I’ve got my tickets, I’m now trying to figure out how to assimilate to Canadian life for 4 days. I changed the temperature setting on my phone to Celsius, and for two weeks have gone around announcing to my friends, ‘Wow, it’s 28 degrees!’ which is invariably met with, ‘…Whatever that means.’ I think Fahrenheit actually makes more sense, because with a scale from 32 degrees (freezing) up to…I guess the high end is something like 115 for people in the southwest, you can be a lot more specific about the temperature than on the Celsius scale, the range of which for the same temperatures would be 0 to 46. It hasn’t been that hard to get the hang of Celsius though. I even devised a cheat sheet for my fellow Americans:
Above 25° = Too hot
Below 25° = Okay
See, not too bad, right?
Next I have to figure out how to use my cell phone in Canada without adding a couple zeroes to my bill (Verizon bills are like puffer fish…they inflate quickly and often, and it’s always prickly). I have not the faintest idea how to change currency into Canadian dollars or how to figure out how anything costs there, despite having passed global finance in business school. Do I know how to hedge currency inflation for a long-term, international corporate deal? Yes I do. Do I know how to buy an umbrella in Canada? No, I do not.
Luckily, I will be in good hands with my friend Mary, who, along with showing me her beautiful city, has also promised to help me navigate the treacherous cultural divide. Updates will follow.