A few years ago, I took my first ever solo trip in the United States. It was thrilling, scary, in the future before me was so unknown and threatening. Yet I realize I never wrote about this or shared my experiences. The famous travel bloggers nomadic Matt has often said that everyone should take a solo trip at least once in their life to learn more about themselves.
This article and stands to share my experience on my first domestic solo trip and hopefully get you something about the mistakes and experiences I made. If nothing else, I think will be entertaining. But I’m sure any young professional should be able to relate and take something away from this.
After college, I spent many months researching travel. Despite how accessible the travel you tubers made it seem, the thought of flying somewhere alone scared me. I knew they said that media made countries seem much more scary than they were. And I knew that certain countries were cheaper than others. It was a dream of mine to travel all the time, but the months turned into over a year, and I still haven’t done anything.
I was stuck in an eternal swirl of various emotions. There was the practical’s side of myself telling me that travel should be put to the side. I need to find a good job and make some good income first. Another part of me was telling me that maybe I should do something now before I got locked down to a job and lose that opportunity to have more then a week or two of vacation time. There is also the fear and desperation of not being able to ever find a job. I had that frantic hope and skepticism of making a big in social media somehow, knowing that there are a percentage of people who do is similar to the percentage of actors who work as waiters in California who make it.
And, of course, I had limited savings that I had diligently built up over the years. But it really wasn’t that much in the long run and I came from a professional background and culture that cared about academics and my future. A lot of the backpacking in nomadic community online subscribe to a different philosophy that I didn’t relate to, which lean more towards just blowing your savings and going with the wind and finding our jobs as bartenders or servicemen as they travel the world, almost with Nick accepted understanding that they would never amount to much on the career or income generating side of things. I wanted to grow my career and earning capabilities and skills.
So, the one thing that tipped the scale for me one day was the vid Summit. Vid Summit is the premier conference for top you tubers. I had been following the creator there were eaves and many other YouTube advice gurus for a while. And he had announced the second ever vid Summit. I figured it was a good enough excuse and reason to purchase Sue something that could drive my future career potential while at the same time fulfilling my travel potential. After’s some serious back and forth in my head, I blew a good chunk of my savings to spend over $1000 on the VIP experience, hoping that I could meet someone at the VIP lunch that may change my life.
I informed my mother about the trip, a little fearful that she would be against it or scared for me. But she was supportive. I bought the tickets to Los Angeles on my own and away I went.
I have to be honest, the day I went to the airport and got on a plane was one of the most exhilarating days ever. It wasn’t just because of where I was going, it was also because of all that I left behind. I had been working as a waiter and busboy in food and dining to add to my savings and do something while I search for other jobs. And the experience will had started to take its toll on my hope, happiness, and morale since I’d been working there so long and hadn’t found a good job yet. I elected to quit that job and it was almost as if I let go and I could just be free them take a risk and do something that actually may have some crazy upside. It felt like I had been working in food and dining for decades since everyday was sold long and monotonous, so I felt like I had broken free of my chains and I was on to a new world.
I was also excited beyond belief because California was the place of dreams. Ever since I was a kid, the best actors, social media influencers, musicians, and so forth usually ended up in Los Angeles. Nowadays, not all of them do since you can start a epic YouTube channel from anywhere. However, it still the Mecca for networking and filming. Up until that point, the palm trees and beaches were just some distant dream that seems so far away. Of course, even then, I was aware of the downsides of the place, superficial people, a very low chance of making it, and so on. But especially then, I just wanted to explore, enjoy, and just being there increase my chances for some thing incredible to happen.
The plane ride was simple and easy. A couple hours on a plane didn’t have any effect on me. I read some books on Internet marketing, which is funny since most of the tips are now obsolete. And there was a cute girl who sat next to me. Although I was courageous enough to talk to her, I got the feeling that she was cordial but not interested so I didn’t push it.
When I landed in LAX, I got goosebumps. Yet, this was the famous airport that’s mentioned in songs and even movies. I saw the big LAX sign and I couldn’t believe it. I knew thousands would go through their every day and it may not be a big deal to them, but it was to me. I really wish I could’ve done something there. Maybe I could film of log or do a music video next to the sign. But I didn’t really have the creative capabilities so I just took a few photos and videos of the sign, but my head was buzzing. Miley Cyrus’s Party in the USA was ringing in my head of course, she mentions LAX right at the beginning.
It sounds ridiculous, but some part of me felt like I had a chance at the big leagues of entertainment just because I was now at a location that the big players have interacted with, even if it is a super common, public location.
The next step was using Cooper for the first time, which I also found thrilling. I saw other people around me do it and being thrifty, I used a coupon to get free credits. I had already resolved to be as cheap as possible during this trip, even if it meant eating from McDonald’s. I knew Los Angeles was not a good choice in terms of budget for first places to go on vacation.
The Uber driver was a middle-aged, portly man who was friendly and fun to talk to. He was inquisitive and I told him what I was up to him why I had come to Los Angeles. I found out he was Russian and he really like the fact that one of the founders of Google, Sergey Brin was also Russian. As I drove into town and saw the Hollywood sign from afar, I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew this Uber driver probably has to deal with Taurus all the time were just starstruck by the tiniest thing, but for me, I didn’t care. It was a huge deal. I couldn’t believe it was real.
Everything freak me out about the place, the palm trees everywhere and the tropical weather. I couldn’t believe the trees were just so different. It’s amazing how different the trees and climate can be. There are all sorts of strange trees that I had never seen before, many of which, look like bad, short variations of up palm tree.
I remember getting out of his car when I arrived and the taxi driver raising his arms up in saying, telling me congratulations and that have arrived in the land of dreams and to enjoy it. I grinned back and said thank you, brimming with excitement.
I think the next hour was when I really started to learn that Los Angeles has some cool stuff, but that doesn’t mean that it’s nothing but sunshine, kittens, and candy. I remember walking around the area a bit trying to find my hostel and looking at a fairly impoverished gas station and surrounding area of buildings. This was a little shocking to me since I guess a part of me saw the Hollywood sign and assume that most or all of this place would be pretty wealthy and posh, like in the TV shows or neighborhoods that they showed.
I realized, well, of course, there’s going to be poor areas. But still, walking around and seen that was kind of shocking. I didn’t want to venture away too much since this was new territory for me and I didn’t know how safe the streets work, even though it was daytime.
Eventually, I found my way to the hostel I had booked, which was probably the best place I could’ve afforded. I was having a hard time finding any hostels that would accept me or couch surfing opportunities. I guess Los Angeles has a low supply and high demand of that. This hostel chain, PodShare, gave me a chance the last moment because I believe I sent a video or detailed letter flattering the owner.
This chain had an innovative bunkbed format. Everyone sleeps in the same room in bunkbeds.
They had just started, and I even had to put a lot of work into my application letter so that they could screen me and accept me.
The location for this hostel was right in the middle of Hollywood. You could walk out onto Hollywood Boulevard and see the stars on the sidewalk, which was awesome. In addition to bunkbeds, they had video games, television, workstations and a long table for your computer, a cupboard, and cramped and stuffed kitchen filled with random ingredients. I didn’t know how to cook at the time, but I was amazed by the pantry of ingredients, even though they were random and probably couldn’t make a meal. I figured maybe I could actually whip something up without having to spend much money, which eased my fears of not being able to afford food.
Later on, I asked the owner and founder how she could afford to stock up this hostel with stuff like Guitar Hero. She said it’s really not that expensive. You can find a console and set used on craigslist for a couple hundred bucks.
There are a few other people there, who were busy and working on their laptops when I got there. I said hello to a couple of the ones who seem more open to talking and they were pretty friendly. It was kind of shocking how matter-of-fact everyone was there. To them, it was just another day. I had asked some clichéd tourist questions, such as how do I get to the Hollywood sign from here and how close can I walk to it. Unfortunately, they didn’t have great answers. They had never done it themselves, and they also said that it was probably too late in the afternoon to get started today. It would get dark by the time I got there. That was disappointing, but I was nonetheless excited.
Instead, I decided to leave my stuff there and take a walk outside. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that strip of road with all the Hollywood stars in the pavement. As I looked around, I realize that for the majority of people, it was just a row to them at that point. They will walk through it and pay no attention to the stars or anything else. To me, I just felt so giddy. I took some pictures with the stars on the ground and the Hollywood Boulevard the street sign. The shining, upbeat son was also just a nice change in weather for me as well. Of course, I’ve experienced summertime weather, but something about how pleasant and bright the sun was that day, the light blue sky, and the palm trees just made everything seem sharper and grander.
I couldn’t remember much about the stores on Hollywood Boulevard, but they didn’t seem anything crazy from what I can remember. They were just stores that you would expect to be there or stores I never heard of. Clothing stores and stuff that people with money would walk into and spend on.
I made my way back to visit the hostel and that was when I met the founder. She informed me that I had landed at the wrong location but the good news was that she was on her way to the other hostel location anyways. So me, her, and another newcomer went together. I believe we took a short walk and then got on the Metro. It had a different feel than New York or anything else since it was bright, sunny, and easily accessible.
The feel of the buildings and gas stations I encountered gave off a underlying vibe and reminder to me that “Yeah, you’re in Hollywood, which is amazing, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s rich here.” That was because some of the buildings clearly needed maintenance and weren’t the most clean.
The Metro brought us a short way before we got off and got into her car, which she drove the rest of the way to downtown Los Angeles.
I remember us in the car waiting for the other resident we were supposed to pick up in the car. She teased us a bit to have a little faith and “our people” are better than that when a sketchy person walked our way and the other person said that might be him. It wasn’t, and eventually, another person showed up.
Looking back, if I could do it again, I would’ve chosen the Los Angeles location for obvious reasons. It would’ve been grand to take a hiking trip and get to that Hollywood sign for starters. But, I don’t think I even had a choice. Spots were limited. The downtown location was sketchier. When we arrived, the founder pointed to the left of the front door and told me not to go that way. She said there’s homeless people that way, and they won’t hurt you, but it’s not pleasant.
Unfortunately, the location was right next to a long strip of homeless people that had pitched tents there for dozens of blocks. Later, I did take a quick peek.
You won’t see the long strip continue on until you walk the block and turned the corner. I was a little scared about that, and it turns out it wasn’t just me as a tourist but also some of the locals. Later on, when I had Uber drivers drop me off, some of them were really sketched out about the area. The good news was that if you walked to the right of the front door, there were more pleasant areas, a few restaurants, and it was close to Little Tokyo, a hot spot for tourists, and a place that many celebrities and YouTubers would go visit for fun.
As I entered this hostel location, I realized it was clearly still in construction. The kitchen was unusable. Many bunkbeds were still just wood boards and there was one bathroom amongst a dozen bunkbeds that we had to share that was good enough for me, but still in construction. By the time you’re reading this, I imagine the entire location has been fully built. I saw chargers by every bunkbed, claimed an empty bunk, and a sigh of relief left my body. This was good enough for me, for now, and I had made it, safe and in one piece!
A bit later, the founder confronted me and asked that I pay for my stay immediately. She didn’t mean offense, but told me how people had burned her in the past by staying and then dipping without paying. I told her that really sucks that people do that, but I understand why you have to be cautious now. She mentioned something like how she couldn’t understand why people would be so cruel, but it happens and she is now cautious and proactive because of it.
After paying, she spent a decent amount of time sweeping a lot of sawdust and junk that was stretched out across the floor. I felt bad, even though I shouldn’t have, about it. The founder of such an amazing chain is also doing all the other tasks, including being janitor. I offered to help, and she refused a couple times, saying it’s not a big deal and she can do it. Looking back, I guess I was just too much of a gentle, sensitive soul. I was here to live it up, not help others sweep, especially since I paid for this!
I told her a story about how I read in the book Grinding It Out that Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s met the founder of a big hotel chain (Marriott?) for a brief moment back when they started just because they were trying to both purchase some industrial machinery. I emphasized how amazing it was that two incredible people just happened to meet each other randomly. I added on about how Ray was in the same army team as Walt Disney as a kid, but they never interacted since Ray was super quiet and drew a low.
The founder just kind of replied that this stuff is kind of to be expected. She figured that’s how it often happens. People bump into eachother. Anyhow, I was off to explore. I supposed I was anxious about venturing out, which is partially why I stayed and talked for a while.
The highlight of my trip was walking through Little Tokyo. Nothing there was super amazing, but the surreal feeling that I was in California still permeated through the air. Sure, a lot of things were mundane in a way. There were hoards of people walking around like it was nothing. The stores were standard restaurants and merchandise stores. But I just felt I had done it, I had landed in a place I’d always fantasized about, where the movie stars and influencers go. There was enough subtle differences that it just had a different feel … the palm trees everywhere, the warm temperature, the grungy city-like area.
I spent the next two days attending Vid Summit, a convention for YouTube influencers created by Derral Eves. I would wake up bright and early, pay for a somewhat expensive Uber ride to the hotel theater room that it was held, eat fast food for the lunch break, then Uber back to my hostel.
It was the second ever Vid Summit. Nowadays, the event has evolved into a massive one where Mr Beast and Gary Vaynerchuk have attended. Back then, I was hoping for something that great, but it was still getting off the ground. There were a lot of marketers who were new to YouTube talking a lot of marketing lingo that I wasn’t familiar with, most of them middle-aged or older with a clear, hungry desire to make more money. I wasn’t too thrilled with that and unsure Derral got them there, but the positive side was that there were a couple friendly, cool influencers there as well. I met a group that traveled around Southeast Asia filming street performers and making money teaching English.
The price tag for the event was massive. I think I paid about a thousand dollars for it, a large chunk of my savings. It didn’t necessary yield much info that I could use or didn’t already know as a YouTuber and growth nerd. But lesson learned. I decided to take a big chance, and at least this time, it didn’t pay off. As other attendees filed off to eat lunch at nice restaurants, I silently went to Wendy’s and McDonald’s to order the most affordable things. It was cool to hear a lot of cool people speak. I saw someone talk about how he turned his music on YouTube into six figure earnings. I saw another person behind the brand CuteGirlHairStyles, who makes a lot of money and gets millions of views from his videos, speak. I was able to get him to review my YouTube channel briefly.
Another reason the price tag was so big was because I opted for the VIP version where you get a “lunch with Derral.” I figured maybe I was one of the few who would consider this option and get to pick his brain. Turns out dozens of people did. I ended up sitting in a large ballroom for the VIP lunch with about 40 to 50 other people.
The lunch was really a chance to connect with other attendees since not everyone could chat with Derral. I basically chatted with some people at my table. I chatted with a photographer who had a sizeable, six-figure subscriber count YouTube channel. He seemed to quickly lose interest and stop engaging me when he found out I had barely any subscribers. Maybe it was my lack of social skills or something else, but we both stopped talking to each other quickly.
Was it worth the price tag? Probably not. I don’t think it was intended for someone young like me. That was a lot of money for me and didn’t yield much in terms of YouTube growth. I couldn’t apply a lot of the lessons to my own brand as I don’t sell or make music. If anything, I learned how tough it was. Derral presented a case study about how he helped this YouTube comedian Piper Bellows grow her channel. She was working a lot of hours a week on top of being an attorney to make it happen. After tons of work, she was only at 35K subscribers. For every standout success they get, there are a lot of people who just can’t make it.
Not everyone was distant or mean. The two guys who were traveling through Asia teaching English and growing a YouTube channel were nice. I met a woman who came there because her daughter had a somewhat established singing channel (a couple hundred thousand subscribers). Her daughter couldn’t make it, but she said just meeting a single YouTuber with a million subscribers that spoke “made it worth it” because she got to pick his brain and set up a potential collaboration.
I even met a marketer who was clearly into a lot of Black Hat YouTube SEO. I was very White Hat and didn’t have the same philosophy, but he was welcoming and friendly to everyone he spoke to, and it was just nice to connect with someone at the event after presentations.
I could tell Derral was really hustling and doing everything he could to pull this together. He was tired most of the event and took naps during speakers.
Arguably, the best parts of my trip weren’t related to VidSummit. I had some fun exploring the areas nearby after I got back to the hostel and meeting the people who were staying at the hostel with me. I met one young Korean man who worked for SKT, the telecom company that sponsors one of the most famous League of Legends teams. He said he chose Los Angeles to go on vacation. It was his first time in the USA, and he wanted to visit the beaches. He got my contact info, and I was told if I’m ever in Korea, I can reach out, and he could introduce me to Faker, the MVP of that League team. I was shocked that he was able to meet Faker, and he says he meets Faker fairly often.
I met a couple other hostel residents that were doing daring things that I couldn’t do. One had moved to LA with no job prospects. He was going to figure it out on the fly. He had secured a part type, menial work, writing job where he would pump out articles for some marketing company. He would find other work while doing that.
Another guy had worked for a local seafood / hibachi restaurant as a cook for a couple years. He was young, but happy. He said he made enough to pay for rent and go to the nearby beach and that was all he could ask for. I asked him if the restaurant paid him insurance benefits, and he said no, unphased.
Who was the foolhardy person here? Was it them for taking these risks with no set up for future income and career growth, barely making it by with the money they had, but happy? Or was it me for being too scared to ever leave my hometown without a job with benefits secured first, yet struggling to find work and destined to never live or work anywhere close to a beautiful beach for years to come?
I wonder where they are now. Maybe one’s a successful actor now. Maybe one or both of them found higher-paying jobs. Maybe they’re still earning the same amount years later, regretting not having foresight. I guess I’m saying is that I want both, not either or. I want a stable, high-income career that lets me relax by a beach if I wanted to — easier said than done.
One of my favorite memories was simply me going out at night from my hostel to walk around the area. I stumbled across a cool Korean War statue memorial. I then walked to a nearby area with a few restaurants to choose from. It wasn’t a large selection, but it was enough. I chose a burger joint I hadn’t heard of. There was old school music playing, and the waitress was a little bored, so I ended up doing a little dance with her and twirling her to the music. I just felt so excited and bold to be somewhere new for a change on my own. Obviously, the underlying elements weren’t all great. If I had walked the other direction while exiting my hostel, I would’ve encountered blocks of tents of homeless people. And I was kind of living off a budget here hand-to-mouth in various ways, the area was a bit grungy and even the hostel was still in construction, so there was a lot of wood panels rather than finished bunk beds.
Despite it all, I felt some ease. I guess there was some tension and anxiety, but just being able to have a good meal at a restaurant and interact with people told me “it’s going to be alright. You’re not going to die here or anything. There’s friendly people and familiar stuff.”
Another great memory I had was just Ubering to the VidSummit venue, which was a good 20+ minutes away from my hostel. I passed through what seems like a couple cities or groups of large buildings clumped together. It was hard to tell which was it. But I was in awe at some of the big buildings, shopping areas, streets, and I even got to see USC from afar while driving down a highway. I got to see tons of palm trees of different shapes and sizes everyone, once again a bizarre feeling since it felt like I was in another world. And I even passed through some areas that were more rural and had outdated, old school burger diners, the kind you’d see in old school movies. I always get a little sad when I see stuff like this, because I feel like the times are behind them, and they’re running out of business, but who knows if that’s really true?
I even chatted with a driver who said she met a crazy woman with colored lipstick who claimed to be a big-time YouTuber and met Obama. I knew who she was talking about and informed her she wasn’t pulling her leg. But I also empathesized with her when she was flabbergasted why people would watch her. I said some people just like watching bizarre behaviors of others, like with the TV show Jersey Shore.
Truth be told, I didn’t do a lot of touristy stuff I wish I had in LA. I should’ve stayed longer than 3 to 4 days and hiked up to the Hollywood sign. I should’ve not cheaped out and skipped going to the beach just because I thought it was too expensive and far away by Uber (I didn’t even check the price. I just figured it was too far away. It was 30 minutes away, which wasn’t terrible.) It was more of a short, rapid trip than a true stay that would let me appreciate the city.
I guess I chose to stay for such a short time because it’s so expensive to live there, I was on a small college grad budget, I had already blown so much to VidSummit (thanks), and I felt guilty spending so much, so I tapered how long I could stay. It also didn’t feel good knowing that I was clearly in a lower income bracket than most of the attendees at VidSummit, who seemed to be mostly middle-aged Caucasian men who didn’t mind dropping a bunch of money to attend the conference. No one seemed to notice, which made me felt bad and not included because I was struggling to stretch out my money and no one else did. Maybe it is my own fault partially for not revealing it. I struggled to get the value I had invested in the event. Maybe one day, I can actually visit Venice Beach, a beach I see so often on social media.
The days went fast, and soon, I was on my plane flying home. I can’t say LA is my dream city, but I can’t say that area wasn’t either. There was something magical about the tropical trees, the temperature, the area. It filled me with wonder, excitement, and some nerves. I couldn’t believe nature could be so different.