What Traveling to the US West Coast Taught Me About Life

Wow. Here we are again: cold Boston, Massachusetts.

I always dreamt of discovering the US West Coast. Just absorbing the vibe out there, the dreams and -off course- the sunshine.

Around 2 weeks ago, that dream became a reality.

I felt gifted since one of my close classmates has family members living over in Las Vegas, Palm Springs and Pasadena (LA). As a result, these 3 places became our go-to destinations.

We started in Las Vegas. (and yeah I know, technically Vegas isn’t part of the West Coast, but let’s make an exception for this blog.)

The clichés and obnoxious stories about this city simply don’t lie.

It’s a crazy place.

Heading down to the Las Vegas Strip, I quickly sensed that this place is so inherently different than other cities. It’s a fantasy world that exposes people to a never-ending waterfall of dopamine rushes.

(For those who’ve never been to Vegas, “The Strip” is what Las Vegas is all about: one big avenue where the big hotel corporations — including the many casinos, bars and restaurants are located.)

On our pathway from one hotel resort to another, I felt like my system couldn’t take a break for more than 5 seconds without the necessary entertainment: bars, fast food, gambling machines, music coming from everywhere, more bars. It was endless.

The whole experience Las Vegas creates is really about one brain chemical, called dopamine. Dopamine lights up our brains when we expect a certain reward, for example: the big jackpot at a casino.

Dopamine has a strong addictive quality. That’s why most people give in to their resistance and just go all in when in a city like Vegas. They feel a reward coming from around every corner. If they don’t act on it, dopamine decreases, typically resulting in feelings of dissatisfaction and regret.

This is how Vegas - yeah, that weird city in the middle of the desert - makes humongous amounts of money.

What also hit me was how smart these casinos are actually located. They’re surrounded by greasy and high-sugar food places and bar serving alcoholic drinks, creating a “spending loop” which is very hard to escape for most people.

Let’s suppose you win a decent amount of money at one of the many gambling machines.

The first feeling that will pop up is: “I want to celebrate! I’m in Vegas!”. So you go order some drinks at the bar.

After a drink of two, you start to feel tipsy. We all know what we crave when we get tipsy. Right: fatty food. So we spend money on food (most of the time: too much for our small tummy.)

Before realizing it, you’ve spent all of the money you won a few hours ago.

But hey, no worries. You’re tipsy and you feel confident that you will win money again, right? So let’s get these gambling machines rolling again!

Wrong. Most of the time, you’re less alert and sharp-minded after some booze. That’s why more than 75% of the people come out of the casino with a lower amount of money in their pockets than before. This is how Vegas’ spending loop works.

Anyway, that was my mental analysis of Vegas.

My friend and I largely stayed at a distance, closely observing all these movements and activities. It makes it easier to write about it afterwards, doesn’t it?

After discovering Sin City, we headed to the State of Dreams: California. First stop: Palm Springs.

Damn, is that place beautiful and totally my thing.

30 degrees, palm trees and snow in one shot. I think that must be one of the rarest combinations mother nature could provide us with. As a European, I’m not used to these kinds of views. Either it’s mountains and snow OR sun and palm trees. Not both together.

After we arrived at our place, we drove to Coachella Valley Preserve: a delightful piece of nature in the middle of the desert with enormous palm trees.

The Reserve is completely free to enter. It’s almost totally untouched, which makes it very beautiful. The Center for Natural Land Management (CNLM) works with a donation system to keep things clean and safe there.

I mentioned ‘safe’, since we saw poisonous snakes crawling around the pathway. Quite scary.

Anyway, the place was beautiful. Silent, sunny and surrounded by natural habitats. I couldn’t let this opportunity slip to shoot some video’s for my upcoming You Tube channel. Wherever you go, there you are. Make the most out of each moment.

After one night in Palm Springs, we headed towards Pasadena — a city in the Los Angeles county, a 30 min drive from downtown LA.

We stayed at a beautiful place — again, credits to my friend’s wonderful family. They hosted us amazingly in their large house.

Walking around in the neighborhood, it struck me time after time how spacious everything is. Spacious houses, roads, gardens and beaches. Everything just seems so much bigger than in Europe. It’s multiplying everything by 2, at least.

I also started to understand why so many people fall in love with LA. It’s a kind of dreamland surrounded by sun, warm weather and good vibes. People are friendly, always smiling and nice. The place just breaths positivity and hope.

But there is one major downside about LA: traffic. Since LA is so big and doesn’t have a very appropriate public transportation system, most people take their car out.

In fact, studies show that only 24% of Angelenos live within a kilometer of a light trail, metro or rapid bus stop.

Isn’t this crazy?

This — of course — declares the humongous traffic lines in and around LA downtown.

For us, it was less of a big deal since we were on vacation, but I can already imagine the frustration of people getting late at work every single day.

Anyway, our upcoming schedule looked tight: Universal Studios, Santa Monica Beach and the Hollywood trail. These we’re the must-see items on our agenda.

In between our activities, I got to know a lot about the Philippine cuisine. (Yep, my friend’s family is from the Philippines. Such nice and hospitable people. For real!)

Philippines basically eat rice the whole day, starting with breakfast. As breakfast, they typically serve rice with meat and eggs. When breakfast was delivered at our table for the first time, I kind of fell in love. The combination of sticky rice with eggs and meat tastes REALLY good, guys. In addition, these meals tend to satisfy you for the whole day. No need for lunch anymore. Credits to the Philippines’s culture.

However, dinner time pleased me a bit less. Here’s the situation: we had our first dinner together at the house with the hosts, my friend and me as a guest. As my friend was serving me a typical soup from the Philippines, I was a little bit too excited trying out the new dish.

Apparently, there was a huge jalapeño hidden in my bowl of soup. Thinking it was a beautiful and healthy new vegetable that I was going to discover, I took the whole jalapeño in my mouth and bit on it.

The rest is history.

I’m not sure which type of jalapeño it was, but I can guarantee all of you that it was no joke. As I bit on it, I immediately felt a spice rush throughout my whole body.

I froze for a second.

That thing had to move out of my mouth as quickly as possible.

I didn’t want to spit it out, since I was a guest and didn’t want to ruin my lovely hosts’ dinner.

So I ran to the kitchen, heavily gesticulating with my arms that this was not a normal bite. Luckily, I was able to spit it out in the garbage bag.

Thank God I didn’t take this green bastard into my body.

After just chewing it one time, my mouth was literally on fire. I could barely talk and my body was trembling for 20 minutes. I started googling ways to reduce the spiciness in my mouth and came across an interesting article.

Huge tip here, guys: Whenever your mouth is on fire, put it out by chewing on sugar. It did wonders for me.

After all the bad was gone, we all laughed. I think this will be story that I’ll always remember. At least, now I now the solution when it would ever happen again: sugar!

<<Anyway, random side story>>

Santa Monica was by far one of our best trip experiences. Sunny, warm, broad beach. The big waves of the Pacific ocean are also tons of fun to swim in; we all are familiar with the “wave wash machine effect”. Well, you can experience it to the fullest at Santa Monica beach.

Again, it amazed me how broad and widespread this beach is. You could literally walk for hours on the beach without crossing anyone, although it’s famous and well-known place amongst tourists. This is rare in Europe.

I realized that this is something I really enjoyed about LA. The spaciousness, together with a mix of sun, nature and positive people. For me personally, an awesome mix to thrive in whatever you’re trying to accomplish.

The Hollywood hike on our last day just reinforced this bigger image: beautiful sights of nature, large houses and sunshine.

Funny fact to keep in mind if you’d ever hike up that Hollywood mountain: people living close to the Hollywood sign will do everything to mislead you — or to not let you pass by their houses.

Yeah, they got extremely tired of tourists.

So they put up traffic signs and all kinds of obstacles that block the pathway to the top. I’m not sure whether what they do is 100% legal, but apparently lots of tourists don’t seem to care and just hike through it.

The view at the top is definitely worth 2 hours of hiking. Highly recommended. Just ignore the traffic signs and get yourself up there.

After our hike, it was time to go back to Vegas and catch our plane back to Boston.

I was totally exhausted arriving back in Boston, but it was all worth it. What a trip!

Hope you got some inspiration after this story :)

Talk soon,