Selfie at Big Ben #3

Reminiscing on My First Day of Travel Abroad Without a Plan

It’s been many years since my first day of travel, but still feels like yesterday. All I had was a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to London. Nothing else was planned. I only knew that I wanted to travel the world. Originally I planned to travel for 10 years and then reassess my life. It wasn’t long before that changed to a desire to travel for the rest of my life.

That first day was quite the adventure, and one I never really told in full. So here’s the story of where it all began.

Oh, and please excuse the images in this post. I’ve come a long way in my photography skills.

Riding on My First Boeing Dreamliner

My journey really began in Portland, Oregon. After leaving my job in Los Angeles, I went up there to spend a couple weeks with my sister, get my blog up and running, and prepare for my travels. I purchased my backpack – the Grand Tour 85 from REI. Sadly, it’s a model no longer produced, but REI is still one of the best outdoor clothing and equipment providers in the US.

Back in December, I had bought my plane ticket from Los Angeles to London for an amazing $200 (it later dropped to $180 ten days before my flight!). At that time, I hadn’t planned to go up to Portland, so I had to purchase another flight back down to LA. I managed to get a deal for $80, but when I got to the airport, my flight was canceled! Luckily, the airline had great customer support and they put me on another flight leaving only a couple hours later so I could still catch my flight to London. Even better, the replacement airline had free baggage, so I got a $25 refund!

I only had a slight hiccup when I was sitting at the gate and heard my name called over the intercom. Turned out I had left my passport at the security checkpoint! I had a bit of a laugh over that.

In Los Angeles, I only had a couple hours between flights, but I was able to do that whole hassle of picking up my bags and then checking in again for a different flight in just a few minutes, despite LAX (the Los Angeles International Airport) having security lines up to 3 hours long back then.

Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner

And then it started. I was on my first international flight. Well, I’d flown twice to Mexico City, but I don’t think that counts. This was a 14-hour flight with Norwegian Air on a Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner, my absolute favorite aircraft in the skies. I might have only slept a couple hours on that flight, but that was just because I was so dang excited!

If you’ve never flown on one, it’s hard to imagine how good they are. The cabin is pressurized to simulate a much lower altitude than other planes, the windows are digitally dimming and there’s a fantastic A/V system on the seatback in front of you. The disadvantage was that my budget ticket came with absolutely nothing, not even a bottle of water or a blanket, and I was wanting for both by the end of my flight. Live and learn, right?

A Long Walk Across London

I landed in London just after noon. It took me a bit to get oriented and for my roaming data to kick in. I also had an interesting encounter with the immigration officer who didn’t like my answer when I said I had absolutely no plans and didn’t know how long I would be staying in the UK. Visa? Huh, what’s that?

At least I had the foresight to purchase a bus ticket from Gatwick Airport to London before my flight, and I managed to find the cheapest option. Back then, it was only $2.70 to get a bus ticket in advance! By 1 p.m., I was on the EasyBus to Victoria Station. So far, so good!

Bus from Airport

Now all I had to do was get to my Couchsurfing host. He had said he lived in the Golders Green district of London. Google Maps showed me it was almost a straight walk up the road to get there. Somehow the 6.5-mile distance didn’t really register with me, or perhaps I really didn’t care. I was in London after all and nothing else really mattered.

Selfie in Hyde Park

With my backpack filled with over 70 pounds of clothes, gadgets and, well, several items that I really didn’t need, I made my way across London. The weather was freezing, but I had my Craghoppers clothing on. As I was crossing Hyde Park, the snow started to fall. I started to cry. With “Good Life” by One Republic playing on my headphones and policeman riding by on horseback, the pure joy of being in Europe really sank in. I’d left a lot behind in Los Angeles, both good and bad, but this trumped all of that. This was the beginning of my new life!

My First Couchsurfing Host

At the end of 2016, I discovered Couchsurfing. My first time using it was between Christmas and New Year’s when I rode my motorcycle from Los Angeles to Portland and needed a place to stay in between. Ananda was a wonderful host, and I even got to stay with her a year later when my dad and I did a road trip on the PCH.

The circumstances with my first Couchsurfing host overseas were quite different. I had posted a public trip on the website, allowing others to offer to host me. The only offer I got was from a man named Uzi. His profile was impressive and long. He’d been to nearly all the countries in the world, he spoke over a dozen languages, he’d been a paratrooper in the Israeli army, and he was gay.

I made it to his place just before 6 p.m. (yeah, it was a really, really long walk). I was a little nervous, and I had my hand on my phone with my sister’s number on speed dial just in case. Uzi greeted me at the door and led me up to his flat (British English for apartment). It was tiny. I later learned it wasn’t an uncommon size in London, but by tiny, I mean it was one very small room. No bathroom (that was down the hall), a micro kitchen, a tiny office and couch, and a loft bed above the office.

I can’t say I was fully at ease, but Uzi was really hospitable and welcoming, and I was tired. At first I didn’t like the idea of him offering me his bed while he slept on the couch, but I didn’t want to argue either. We had a fantastic conversation before I went out for dinner.

Fish and Chips Indian Style

My travels started with me on a shoestring budget. I actually ended up spending only £100 (about $135 back then) during my first 10 days in the UK. To get started, I went out in search of a cheap meal. I really wanted fish and chips, but all the restaurants were so expensive. I finally found one with a £5 special. The only catch is it was an Indian restaurant. Looking back at it, I don’t think the fish was all that great. At the time, I thought it was simply divine!

Fish and Chips

I walked around a bit more to see the other restaurants, pizzerias, chippies and ice cream parlors before returning to Uzi’s. I was just in heaven exploring London (I think I already said that) and I also loved listening to the deliciously sexy British accent.

Sleeping in a Bar

I had a good sleep that night (not that I could have helped it considering how tired I was) and cleaned up in the tiny shower down the hallway. In the morning, I was supposed to leave early as Uzi had to leave himself, but he ended up sleeping in so I did too.

I wasn’t up for another trek across London, so I picked up my first Oyster Card and made my way back to Victoria Station. I saw Westminster Cathedral (yes, there is such a place) and then Westminster Abbey. I took selfies at Big Ben and saw the giant blue chicken at Trafalgar Square (not an official attraction; a temporary replacement for another statue). I walked past St. John’s and eventually made it down to Cannon Street.

Loose Cannon Bar

Under the train station was a pub called the Loose Cannon (since renamed the Steel Yard). There was supposed to be a Couchsurfing event there in the evening, but I was hours early. I asked the barmaid if I could sleep on one of the couches since no one was really there yet and she was fine with it. It wasn’t dignified, but nothing was about to bring me down from my euphoria.

An Epic Couchsurfing Event

After a great conversation with Adela, the aforementioned Romanian bartender, the Couchsurfing event started. I’d already been to a few in Portland, but those had a dozen or so people in attendance. This one had over 100! It was great because I primarily wanted to find a host for that night. Uzi could only host me for one night and I was daunted by accommodation prices in London.

I hobnobbed with dozens of locals and travelers, telling them of my journey while hearing their stories. I also found a few potential hosts, but they all fell through when their roommates said no. Finally, Mathew (one of my favorite fellow travelers) connected me up with Emily who’s flatmate was gone for the weekend and therefore wouldn’t object to me crashing on the living room couch. I got to stay with her for a couple days before accidentally heading off to Brighton on my way to Bath (it should have been Bristol!).

The Future is History

I’ve since become far more travel savvy, although I still have my adventures with accommodations that fell through (like in Cyprus), and I’ve stayed with dozens of more Couchsurfing hosts, not to mention hosted several times myself (both in Scotland and Thailand). Yet despite everything, the first few hours of my travels will always hold a very special place in my memory.

Why Keep Going?

As I flew across the pond to begin my adventure, my plan was to travel for 10 years in which I would visit every country in the world. After that, I would reevaluate my life to see which direction I wanted to take. It was less than three months before that plan fell through. I quickly realized that my travels would not end in 10 years, but would continue for the rest of my life.

Granted, I’ve slowed down in my country hopping. Instead of the 35 countries I passed through in my first year of travels, I’ve been averaging about 15 a year since then. I also work from “home bases” now, setting up a stable place to keep my bags for a couple months and then doing short trips from that spot.

I never want to be fixed in one spot, but I definitely want a tiny home to travel in, with my own bed, books and a good kitchen. I’ll also have a wonderful woman traveling with me in the tiny home, and someday will have a kid and a puppy too. Those are the plans, and I plan to bring them to fruition in the very near future.

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Further Reading

Enjoyed reading about the beginning of my travels? Here are some more stories about how I got going and the early days of my travels.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

It's been many years since my first day of travel, but still feels like yesterday. All I had was a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to London. Nothing else was planned. I only knew that I wanted to travel the world. Originally I planned to travel for 10 years and then reassess my life. It wasn't long before that changed to a desire to travel for the rest of my life. That first day was quite the adventure, and one I never really told in full. So here's the story of where it all began. Oh, and please excuse the…

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