(Short list at the bottom of article)
I just got back from a weekend trip to Portland, Oregon. I try to go there once a year to soak in the strangeness and remember what fresh air in an urban environment feels like. I don’t have a ton of money, so I wanted to see if I could travel to Portland for under a grand.
I’ve been into lifestyle vacations for a few years now – meaning I like to go to culturally significant cities and behave like a local. That means I watch regulars cross the street to determine if I need to hit the cross walk signal or not (surprisingly this varies from city to city), I watch exchanges between strangers to see if it’s appropriate to make eye contact and smile or keep to myself. If I’m biking, I need to know if it’s cool to ride on the sidewalk or if I should stick to the bike lanes. Are Crocs even in the question? After a day of observing, I dive into my own personal experience of being a regular in a completely foreign environment.
This was my third time to Portland, so I had a basic knowledge of the layout in terms of what parts of town I wanted to stay in.
I stayed for 5 days and 4 nights. I split time between airbnb and hotels. I ate at restaurants, coffee shops, co-ops, and Whole Foods.
I took yoga classes, intermediate hip-hop (yikes to body rolls), saw the X-Men movie premiere, and had a past life analysis with an esteemed tarot card reader.
I bought self-help books, listened to Deepak Chopra meditations on iTunes, rode lots of public transportation, walked approximately 15 miles, and got a lift to the airport in a Towncar (because I’m classy).
At the end of the trip, the damage to my wallet wasn’t as bad as you might think.
Here’s how to do Portland for under a grand.
The 2 most backbreaking expenses on most vacations are 1) flights and 2) accommodations.
I set a price alert through Spirit Airlines (what you fly when you enjoy being treated like crap (which I do, for the right price)), Virgin Airlines, and United. I live in San Diego so it’s only 1100 miles, but it’s not uncommon to come across $250 round trip tickets on all 3 of those airlines. For whatever reason, Dog Shit Airlines was feeling generous and sent me an alert for a $158 round trip ticket.
In most major cities hotels are insanely expensive. It helps to have some insider knowledge on the neighborhoods to know where to stay. A city like Portland is so commutable that it’s not essential to be in the dead thick of downtown. As long as you are close to a bus or light rail line that travels across 1 of the major bridges into downtown, then you are always under 10 minutes away from the action.
Portland is divided into essentially 4 quadrants – NE, SE, NW, SW. There’s a river running through the middle of the city that separates East and West. In my opinion, the most desirable quadrants are the Northeast and the Northwest.
For the first 2 nights I booked a 1 bedroom apartment in the Alberta Arts District (NE) through airbnb.com. Airbnb is an online network of people that rent out rooms or entire apartments/houses. They go through a fair enough screening process so it’s unlikely to be murdered by one of the rentors and the places end up being 1/2 the cost of hotels. My apartment was approximately $125/night and 2 blocks off a busy hipster street. The apartment was really nice, modern, and spotless (thanks Aysha). And a bonus because the wifi was lightning fast and I really dislike traveling and not being able to upload content quickly. It was good to be able to get some work in during the evenings.
I spent my first 2 days exploring the Alberta Arts District, sticking to the East Side of the river. Alberta has a grocery co-op right on the main street. I went there right away and spent about $20 stocking up on some essentials that would supplement restaurant meals. I bought kombucha, a can of soup, rice chips, cashews, seaweed, and a 1/2 pound of turkey. Every time I was in the proximity of the apartment I swung by and had a snack instead of going to a restaurant and ordering a full priced meal.
I went to a yoga class at Sun Gate Studio led by a woman that had such a beautiful singing voice (Niema). The class was $13, which is cheap for yoga. And most of the studios in town have an intro special which you can save $ on if you’re going to be committing to one neighborhood or studio.
I had a sandwich at Random Order then eggs, bacon, and salad at Petite Provence a few hours later. There was also a very cute white van slinging juice called SIP, and I was able to score a green juice during my rainy walk.
My favorite part of the Alberta leg was the massage I got at Written on the Body. I told the therapist straight away that I was a little neurotic and that seemed to make her empathetic and give me the massage of my life. Thank you (Bethany). Also, the reception area was filled with creepy portraits of Wes Anderson movie characters.
I didn’t have an apartment or hotel lined up for the last 2 nights so I spent my final night in Alberta sending out bids on airbnb. I didn’t have any luck as the site usually works better if you’re planning in advance. I wanted to stay in the Pearl District so I could feel fancy and sophisticated during my final 2 days.
Unfortunately, all the apartments were asking for $250/night and the hotels were no cheaper. I pulled up a map of the public transportation system and opened up my trusted app, Hotel Tonight (which sells vacant hotel rooms at a discount for last minute travelers). I found a hotel in the SE that sat right on a light rail line that ran directly into the Pearl District. Transit passes were $5 for the full day and it was an 8 minute ride into the city. The Courtyard by Marriott on SE Grand was only $109/night so I booked for 2 nights.
I strolled into the Marriott, dropped off my stuff, and bought a bus pass off the TriMet App and pulled up the Portland Bus app to figure out the pick up times for the nearest stop.
I cruised into town early in the mornings and stayed all day before riding the train or walking back over the bridge to my hotel home.
I took a yoga class at Yoga Pearl for $12 (they offer a $20 intro week FYI) and stayed after to eat dinner at their cafe “Prasad.” I ate quinoa, avocado, beans, and kale because it’s their “suggested donation” bowl and they only accept $7 for it. Plus a green juice that was another $6.
Then I talked myself into another massage. I was by myself on this trip so I admittedly felt like paying for human connection. I went to COMMA (which is was pronouncing coma in my head) downtown because they had an appointment available 30 minutes after I called. I had a male therapist, which I’m not a huge fan of, but things could have been worse.
He also happened to be gay, which is fine by me, but when he complimented my back muscles 5 minutes into the massage I felt my butt cheeks clench involuntarily. And when his hairy forearms ran across my lats I had a moment of sensory overload that nearly left me with permanent brain damage. But then he said something clever – he mentioned that I was guarded and controlling and that I needed to let go and be vulnerable to life. I liked him quite a bit after that considering I was on a journey to mend a busted heart and even managed to fall asleep for a few minutes during the massage. $90.
After that I treated myself to a film, because it’s damn fantastic to see a movie by yourself at a downtown theater. I ate an entire large popcorn and then felt nauseous for the remaining 2/3 of the movie. I’ll do it again.
The next day I stumbled onto NW 23rd Ave, possibly one of my new favorite streets in American. Blocks and blocks of old craftsmen houses converted into restaurants and retail stores. I had fried rice at Tara Thai, quesadillas at Pepino’s, and a green juice from this little hobbit shack in the middle of a parking lot – Greenleaf Juicing Company.
And finally, I stumbled into the New Renaissance Bookshop (thanks to a recommendation from my friend Jenny) where I would have my mind blown for literally hours. Without reminiscing on too many details, I was dealing with a pretty brutal patch in my relationship, so I made my way straight to the self-help section, which was quite interesting because I usually spend much of my time making fun of people for reading those books (sorry to those that I’ve wrongfully judged, I’m not better than you). I bought 6 books including The Novice by Thich Nhat Hahn, What Makes Loves Last? by Dr. John Gottman, and Drawing Your Life by Michael Nobbs (which is the most awesome book in the world). We don’t need to talk anymore about the Deepak Chopra chakra meditations I was listening to on my iPhone either, because that would be too embarrassing for me to tolerate.
Just as I was about to leave the store, I noticed there was a guy giving tarot readings. When you’re emotionally cracked open you might as well just go nuts with it. Sure enough, he only had 1 opening left, and it belonged to me. $72 on books and $60 on a reading. The dude made me cry with a past life assessment and upon leaving 23rd Ave I felt like I had just received a thorough ass beating followed by a decent hug.
I almost forgot about the intermediate hip-hop class I took at Vega Dance + Lab. I’ve never scaled up to intermediate before, and I’m not sure I ever will again. I have some moves, but body rolls are not included. And we body rolled for an hour straight. The studio was beautiful though, warehouse with exposed ceilings and brick walls, I was drooling over the thought of doing a photo shoot there.
I took a final 4:45am Towncar to the airport to catch my 6am flight and felt that sweet sadness in my stomach.
Oh shit, almost forgot, ate a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit at Burgerville in the airport. Low moment for me but it was the only place open.
Portland is such a strange land and it can touch you in so many ways. I consider it a great spiritual friend.
Here’s the short of all that –
1. Price alerts for flights ($158) – Spirit, Virgin, United.
2. Accommodations ($509) – Airbnb: Alberta Arts District | Hotel Tonight: Marriott on SE Grand.
3. Transportation ($65) – Trimet App for tickets, Bus App for schedule, your feet as a last resort, Towncar to airport.
4. Food ($115) – Alberta Co-op, Whole Foods, Prasad, Greenleaf Juicing Company, Petite Provence, Tara Thai, SIP Juice, Pepino’s, Burgerville. (:/)
5. Activities ($375) – Yoga: Yoga Pearl, Yoyoyogi, Sun Gate Studio | Massage: Written on the Body, COMMA | Movies: Regal Pioneer Place (downtown) | Dance: Vega Dance + Lab | Books/Psychics: New Renaissance Bookshop, Powell’s Books.
Total – $1222
$972 without massage and tarot reading.
And that’s how you DO Portland for under a grand.
Almost forgot – if you hang around long enough you can watch people get their legs chopped off by the light rail for free.
“Just Do It, Bro” (jk, he was unharmed somehow, wouldn’t have posted if he lost his leg or anything dramatic).
And to make your Portland trip complete, you must listen to these 2 songs on repeat to set the mood. It was my personal “emo playlist,” and it rocked my world consistently for 58 total plays over 5 days.
Judge only if you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, in Portland.
Enjoy Portland friends, it’s a beautiful place.