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Camping at the Airport

A traveler trades fir trees for flight towers



If there's one thing I've learned writing for this section over the last few months, it's that there's no shortage of places to see and things to do in Central Oregon. But I've also realized that there are some things the West Coast can't offer me.

I'm originally from Ohio, and despite popular belief, the Midwest isn't just flat farmland for miles and miles. OK, that's definitely a large percentage of it.

Like many people, the desire to briefly return to my roots grows stronger as the holidays approach. That means traveling. The word alone can jumpstart a migraine, bringing to mind stressors like traffic, flight delays, baggage fees, strangers crowding your every move, etc.

Still, I have learned that traveling, whether it's to a bustling airport or a secluded forest, requires many of the same skills and planning. And the best way to tackle the urban landscape may be to approach it like I do the wild landscape. Could the tricks I've learned exploring the outdoors around Bend apply to my cross-country travels? I put some to the test on a recent visit home.

Planning Ahead

Everyone has their own personal formula for planning a visit to Crater Lake or an excursion to Smith Rock: Factor in the weather, the crowds, the terrain, the travel time, what activities you want to do, how long you'll be there and so on. Many people claim to have a similar algorithm when it comes to booking plane tickets: Buy tickets at least two months out from your flight, leave on a Thursday, fly back on a Tuesday, arrive three hours ahead of time, never fly Spirit.

The common thread of advice stringing that list together would read something like, "Plan ahead." It's common sense, but like most common sense it can be overlooked because it's so obvious, usually by lazy people like myself.

I used to be the guy who would book a flight a week out from my departure date, pack the night before, and figure out how I was getting to the airport the morning of. (This usually involved waking up an increasingly irate friend, or paying for an increasingly expensive taxi ride.)

While last-minute trips still occasionally pop up, I've improved my preparation skills. Apps like Hipmunk, Hopper and Skyscanner are a big help. Just plug in your travel dates and locations, and these apps will provide available flights from numerous airline and travel sites. You can filter the options by price, airline and time. Best of all, these apps will anticipate the fluctuation in ticket prices, warning you when to wait or alerting you to buy.

They work best the earlier you use them, but can also come through in a pinch. My recent trip was unexpected, but using these apps, I was able to book a round-trip flight for only $180.

Exploring the Terrain

Using my phone's GPS and maps make both hiking the Deschutes Forest and navigating Portland's streets infinitely simpler. Listening to podcasts and audiobooks makes the downtime bearable. And new modes of transportation have changed the way people explore the world.

One of my favorite features of Mt. Bachelor is all the different ways I can experience it; hiking during the spring, mountain biking during the summer, climbing during the fall, and snowboarding during the winter. Cities provide the same opportunity year-round. While it's certainly more convenient to drive around in a car, instead I traveled around Portland via feet, bus, metro train and Uber, all for less than $10. It was fun to see parts of the city I otherwise would've missed by sticking to one mode of transportation.

And I think that idea best sums up my experience: where I once looked at traveling as an arduous debacle, I now treat it as just another adventure. There are definitely fewer trees and tents, more tickets and fast food stops. But it's still another chance to explore and learn about the world around me.

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