10 Things Learned From a Random Adventure Throughout the Midwest…
A few months ago I got a text from my high school friend, asking if I would be interested in going to his friend’s wedding in Iowa; She will be wed to a man named Prince, from Liberia. Naturally, I was extremely interested.
We spent hours upon hours mapping out the cheapest way to get from New York City to North Clinton, Iowa— with as many stops and sites we can see along the way. By utilizing Megabus, Airbnb, Spirit Airlines, and friendship, we made this a week-long adventure for only $200. Starting in Philly, we then traveled to Chicago, Davenport, North Clinton, Des Moines, and Omaha.
On the surface, the plans seemed insane… and in many ways, they were. But, when all was said and done, it was the most well thought out, successful adventure I’ve ever embarked on.
10 Things Learned from a Random Adventure Throughout the Midwest:
1. Wear comfortable shoes:
I thought I already learned my lesson the hard way in Vegas. I often boast about not making the same mistake twice. Unfortunately my toes had to learn the hard way… again. For this week long adventure, I lived out of a backpack (actually, it was VS tote bag), so my travel shoes were my one and only pair. Yes, I’ve worn these shoes countless times before— but never trekked across airports, bus stops, and cities in them. Oops. On the bright side, Band Ade has an amazing product (Blister Gel Guard for Toes) that was a life saver during this journey. More expensive than your everyday bandage, but cheaper than new shoes!
2. Midwestern Hospitality is a real thing (especially in Des Moines):
We were against the 10 hour bus ride from Omaha to Chicago, so we decided to break it up with a day trip to Des Moines. We had no expectations for this city… except for what I saw on Chris Soules’ season of the Bachelor. Of all the cities I’ve ever visited, I have never felt as welcomed as I did in Des Moines. The whole trip, we did a great job of rationing our budget, which meant limiting drinks to happy hour (or brown bagged whiskey bottles). In Des Moines, the phrase “put it on my tab” rang throughout the air. If you’re thinking— ‘ok little blonde girl, aren’t you use to people buying you drinks?’ think again. I was traveling with a male friend, who was treated to the same amount of hospitality as I was (actually, he was treated to one more beer than I was!). We were over-hospitalitzed to the point where we actually had to leave a beer behind (I know, tragic). With each beer came a promise to deliver the message of Midwestern Hospitality with my friends back at home, so here it is: Midwestern Hospitality is alive and well in Des Moines!
3. Overnight buses are not as uncomfortable as they seem:
Taking two overnight buses: one from Davenport to Omaha, and another from Des Moines to Chicago made this trip as affordable as it was. Besides the epic saga of “One Night In Davenport”, these overnight trips were painless. With every trip I take, my red travel pillow is right along side me, and recently, I began bringing a travel blanket along as well. I must say, packing a week’s worth of clothes & necessities AND a travel blanket was no easy feat… but it was worth it. Whether the bus was empty and we were able to sprawl out (ideal), or crowded where we were confined to our allotted seat (not so ideal), I woke up well rested and ready to take on the next city.
4. Megabus does not have a 24/7 line:
Back to the epic saga of“One Night In Davenport” …. Waiting for a bus at 1am in a city that you’re not familiar with, not sure if you’re early, late, or just plain screwed, is not a good feeling. The message from the Megabus hotline telling me their offices won’t be open until 9am was maddening. This is not so much a lesson but a plea to megabus to be more accessible, especially when you have buses running at odd hours. Maybe an app will be in your near future… hopefully? I’m a big Megabus advocate, but their lack of customer service leaves much to be desired.
5. How to think like a local:
If there’s one thing I can consider myself an expert at, it’s blending into any environment. Growing up as an introvert, the power of observation has guided me throughout life. You may be clueless to your surroundings: but fake it until you make it. Drink locals beers. Shop at local stores. Talk to people at coffeeshops. Pretty soon, they’ll be asking you for directions.
6. Have situational awareness:
Don’t be naive to your surroundings. Think like a local, but also think like a human being responsible for your own safety. Pick up on situational cues to help you answer the question: is this a neighborhood I should be walking around in? If you hear irate, nonsensical yelling down the block… don’t walk down that block. There are times to walk around and explore, and there are times to call an Uber— learn how to distinguish them based on your senses, and your common sense.
7. There’s no bond quite like a vagabond:
Having a good travel buddy makes all the difference between a successful trip and a disastrous one. While I am an advocate of solo travel, adventures with friends could be even more memorable, hilarious, and exciting— if, of course, you are traveling with the right person. The ultimate travel buddy is one that has the same type of temperament as you. Generally, you enjoy the same things, and are on the same wavelength when it comes to decision making. During this trip, I learned the most important trait a travel buddy should have: someone who won’t turn on you during a high stress situation (like that one night in Davenport)….
8. The United States has a lot to offer:
When I told people I was going to Omaha, they naturally responded with, “why?” Well… why not?! Don’t get me wrong, there are a plethora of places abroad just waiting for me to explore. However, there are so many places within my own country that I am excited to see! Johnny Cash names Davenport in his song, “I’ve been everywhere”, which makes me want to embark on whatever other travels he’s mentioned. After seeing the wonders the midwest had to offer, I set a personal goal to visit all 50 states before turning 30!
9. You can live out of a bag for a week (if you send home your dirty laundry):
Over the years, my packing skills have gotten better and better. My goal for this trip was to have my $30 spirit airline flight remain $30— avoiding “carry on luggage” fees at any cost. In one Victoria’s Secret tote I was able to pack a variety of outfits (including overalls… which are quite bulky), a curling iron, a travel blanket and pillow, and an outfit to wear to a wedding, and some other incidentals. Before traveling home (with a 12 hour day in Des Moines… with no place to drop my stuff), I mailed home 5 lbs of laundry to avoid lugging that extra baggage around with me. Special delivery… dirty overalls!
10. Plan enough (but not too much)
With such a jam-packed, near-ridiculous adventure, there was much room for error. We had each mode of transportation booked, and accommodations ready for us. Thanks to the help of fellow travel blogger Sher Bondurant (The Ageless Traveler) we had a great general idea of what to do and where to do in each city. With a low-stress daily plan, we were able to accomplish so much more. Rather than focusing on an over zealous “to do” list, we were able to take the trip day by day, and see things based on recommendations and neighborhood hype. In one short week I was on the top of the Sears tower, face to face with giraffes at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, ogled the capitol in Des Moines, and rode a John Deere tractor in North Clinton, Iowa. Never in a million years would I have put that group of things together on a preemptive to-do list.
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