For the last two months I have been travelling throughout the USA; and exploring the opportunities the USA has to offer for Digital Nomads. Even though the country is way to big to see in this amount of time, I have listed my experiences in a top 10 for anyone to follow.
1. Most beautiful hike without a car
The USA is spoiled with beautiful parks, waiting to be explored. Most of them are free, but you have to check beforehand as fees can be quite steep. During my stay I have done many hikes without a car, leaving from the city and taking public transport or simply walking.
My favorite hike without a car was Multnomah Falls, located one hour East of Portland. A direct bus line connects the falls with the city, and for $10 they drop you off right at the bottom of the falls. The falls themselves are free, so for $10 you get a great trip. The falls are visited by over a million (!) people a year. But only a handful actually does the hike that is behind the falls. I would highly recommend dedicating at least 3 hours to one of the many hikes behind the falls. You’ll be spoiled by cobbling rivers, majestic waterfalls and a variety of beautiful Trees. There is 2 hour round-trip that does a big loop around the falls. During the trip I only ran into a handful of people, giving you the feeling of really being surrounded by the forest.
2. Most Sustainable city
This would be a toss up between Portland and San Francisco. I have to repeat that I have only seen such a small part of the USA, but it seems that these two cities also have the reputation of being most Sustainable. If I had to choose I would go for Portland, as the community spirit seems more geared towards every part of Sustainability. SF sometimes goes off in Tech solutions, but forgets simple things as reducing waste. Most delivery services have a ridiculous amount of waste (Amazon, I am talking to you), but most people still use it as a convenience. In Portland I had the feeling that people were willing to do more to live in balance with the Planet.
Portland seems to have Sustainability in it’s roots. Almost every person you see seems to be engaged with it, from reducing food waste to growing their own food. Sure, it sometimes get’s a bit of a hipster vibe, but the end goal seems to be a life (more) in balance with the Planet. Most people bike, vegetarian options are always prevalent, and many people are growing their own food using regenerative techniques. If you are into sustainability, Portland will be a great choice to visit.
3. Most beautiful park in a city
This for me is a simple winner: Washington Park. This park is located right in the center of Portland, but gives you the impression you are in the middle of the woods. Public transport connects it by a convenient underground metro, after which you take an elevator up through the mountain to reach the top. After you walk out you’ll be surprised by a big park with a variety of vegetation and wildlife. If you wanna learn more about the trees a visit to the World Foresty Center is highly recommended. For a friendly price this museum will give you a lot of insights in the workings of forests. After an hour of education, pop over to the Hoyt Arboretum. They call it ‘ The slowest changing museum’ , as it showcases plant and trees from all around the world. Several hikes, ranging from 20 minutes to 6 hours will guide you through the park. If you are short on time make sure you check out the Redwood platform, that puts you right in the middle of these majestic trees. Spend some time here and connect with nature. Oh, and Hoyt is completely free!
4. Most beautiful Nature
I am sure that many people will have different answers, as there are so many parks inside the USA. For this answer I will go for the area that not many people talk about, and that was a big surprise to me as well: North Shore in Minnesota. This shoreline starts from Duluth, and goes all the way up to the Canadian border and beyond. You will see miles and miles of pristine forest, untouched by humans destruction. Hundreds of campsites will let you experience nature from within; and are ranging from small campsites right on the lake to bigger sites easy accessible from the roads. If you are going to drive the North Shore along Lake Superior, make sure you do the Oberg Mountain Trail, which is considered one of the nicest in the world.
5. Most affordable city
To be straightforward, the USA is expensive. The EUR/USD exchange rate is currently quite unfavorable, making things worse. You will easily pay 50 euro for a bunkbed in a hostel, 200 euro for a hotel, 20 euro for a main course and 10 euro for a beer. With a country as vast as the USA, it makes a huge difference where you are. The West Coast is considerable more expensive, with San Francisco probably being the most expensive choice. People say you need an income of at least $150.000 a year to live here comfortably. If you are looking for a more affordable city on the West Coast, have a look at Portland. Even though prices have been going up over the last few years, accommodation is still much more affordable. Currently many people from LA, SF and San Diego are moving to Portland to make use of the attractive prices.
On average the middle (fly-over States) of the USA will be cheaper compared to the coasts. And big cities will be more expensive than smaller cities. Nothing new there. If you plan to go to bigger cities make sure you plan your accommodation in advance, or be ready to sleep in hostels sharing a room with 16 others. It’s hard to say the most affordable city, but I’d say that Portland has the most value for money.
6. Most fun trip
I could talk here about on the many roadtrips, or even renting a camper van and sleeping right on the shoreline of the lakes. But instead I will talk about on the big surprises I had: Train travel! Yes, you heard it right. Train Travel can actually be quite the experience! It might not be the quickest way of getting around, but you should see it as an adventure instead of getting from A to B. I took the train from Minneapolis to Portland (38 hours) and from Portland to San Francisco (15 hours). As you are sitting comfortable on the train, sipping a cup of coffee, the landscapes are slowly moving by. As I travelled from Minnesota to the West Coast, I had the opportunity to see the states that most people never visit. The vast flat lands North Dokota, the emptiness of Montana and the stunning mountains as you get closer to Idaho. Once you go through the mountains you enter the Oregon, with lush fields of agriculture and vegation. By traveling over land you really get a feeling for the size and beauty of the country. A experience you would never get flying.
And added bonus of the train is that you can talk to people from all over the USA. Traveling for 38 hours makes people walk around, have a chat and become more social. There is actually an Observer cart with large windows that lets you admire the landscape. All the seats are facing outwards and are setup in a social setting so it is easy to have a little chat, and simply go on when you had enough. The diner cart let’s you enjoy a meal (better than expected) while meeting people from all over the country. I met a lawyer from New York, a farmer from Costa Rica, an Oil Rig operator from North Dakota, an Amish family and many more people! It gives you a little insight in the vast variety of people living in America.
7. Best Museum
In terms of most impressive I would go for the California Academy of Science. This top notch museum offers a planetarium that makes you feel you are in the middle of space or diving among the reefs (no extra charge). There is actually a tiny Jungle in the middle of the museum, showcasing wild butterflies and vegetation otherwise only found in the jungle. The large aquarium shows you all kind of underwater life. The museum is really well set-up and suitable for every age.
However, if you are looking for a more fun and hands on experience, I would highly recommend the Exploratorium in San Francisco. This is a playground meets museum. Unleash your inner geek/scientist/child and go play with the hundreds of experiments. Every Thursday evening they organize ‘After Dark sessions’. Between 18:00 and 22:00 the museum is only accessible for adults (18+), while cocktails, wine and beer is serves throughout the museum. To keep you further entertained a DJ is playing Vinyl in the background.
There are all kinds of experiments, from tricking your eyes to see seeing things that are not there; to playing with electricity to make sparks fly. I spend almost 4 hours here and was impressed by the combination of fun, social and education. A great social activity to with a couple of friends, or even as a first date (yes I have seen many). On Thursday tickets are a little cheaper, costing you $20 to get in.