First Adventures Abroad 🚀

by Matt on October 20th 2017

Matt is literally one of the most last-minute people I’ve ever met.

I recall him telling me about some last-minute flights he had booked last year to New York City 6 days before actually flying. Being the super organised freak that I am, this was crazy to me. Although recently I’ve become a tiny bit more spontaneous (his influence, maybe!)

A few weeks ago, Matt met me at work with an excited but also omg-what-have-I-done face. 😂

He booked a flight to San Francisco 10 days before and although this is much better than the trip to NYC last year, it did take me off guard 😂 He went to attend a hackathon, CalHacks, GitHub Universe conference and will spend the remaining days exploring. Jealous was an understatement. Although I had plans to go myself, commitments took priority (I am so excited to graduate and explore more of Asia and America!)

This week’s post is by Matt where he’s looking back at the first time he went on a solo-adventure…

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…to San Francisco 😆


Summer was approaching. I wanted an adventure.

There was a conference in America that I really wanted to go to #HackConIV. Could I justify spending on flights for a single conference? No, but what if I make a huge trip out of it? Yeah. Let’s do this. I had wanted to go to San Francisco and silicon valley for ages. The tech scene. The people. The usual.

So I booked return flights from London to San Francisco. The conference was in Estes Park, Colorado – an hour or so bus ride from Denver. So I took a flight midway through my stay in SF to Denver and back. Major League Hacking (MLH) shuffled hundreds of student Hackathon organisers across Colorado in bright yellow school buses. I’d seen them in American movies but never got to see in real life so it was super cool. This is what they look like inside:


And on the outside:

When I first booked the flights, I was super nervous. It was the first time travelling internationally by myself. And I had to fill up almost two weeks of things to do. This was my pinned tweet for ages:

I was pretty scared of being by myself, so hoped to meet people. Turns out, it was absolutely fine. I spent the first few days travelling SF and Silicon Valley by myself.

When I arrived, I was exhausted. So I took my first ever Uber – and ended up doing a mini job interview 😆

I don’t think it went too well. Still blaming it on the jet lag 😆 Though not sure if I’d want to work there after recently reading about the culture! Anyways, eventually, I arrived at the place I was staying.

I stayed in an Airbnb, listed as “Coder Fun House”. What it actually was, was a startup building awesome things, called AdsOptimal. I slept on their couch. They’ve now completely rebranded as Omnivirt and are doing crazy awesome VR 360 ads for some huge brands. It’s pretty cool to think as they grow that I met them, even if only briefly!

I took this photo when I got there:

Check out their VR kits by the TV! It was super cool. 😎 At this point, I was super jetlagged, after an 11 hour flight, so I’m not looking my best 😝. I was welcomed by a beautiful sky that evening. I was absolutely exhausted so I didn’t get to fully experience it. I literally only noticed it because I was catching up on social media after being away for 11 hours. I saw this tweet:

Then I walked outside the Airbnb. I updated the gram too, which was unusual for me because it was before I met Pauline who taught me all things Instagram.

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It was awesome going from a rainy England to a beautifully warm SF/Bay Area. I was hyped, but tired. So I slept super early and woke up late.


The first day – the valley

So I was staying in Millbrae, which is sort of midway between the heart of Silicon Valley and the big city by the bay. The station there is both a Caltrain and a BART station which was convenient.

I decided I wanted to go down to the heart of Silicon Valley. I started mid-morning because of jetlag and took the Caltrain down to Palo Alto to visit Stanford. It was the first time I’d been to a university in another country, so I was super surprised to see eduroam just work without any configuration. Since then, I’ve connected to loads of other universities around the world and still find it just as cool.

I always find visiting old universities really interesting because the atmosphere just feels different to anywhere else. It feels like everyone around has a deep respect for the knowledge discovered within its walls. Coupled with the Spanish mission revival architecture and it feels even older than it really is. The campus truly was beautiful, and I wanted to shoot that. I was super excited to use this fish-eye lens to try out during my trip. If you spent several minutes aligning it atop the camera lens just-perfectly, it would produce great wide-angled shots! But who has time for that? Needless to say, I didn’t use it again after that day, but here’s some of my very-imperfectly-aligned, questionably framed shots:

Stanford Main Quad – Centre of Campus


Sigma Chi fraternity house

Next up, I took the Caltrain further down to Mountain View to visit the Googleplex. I used to be a super fanboy of all things Google. I was a diehard Android fan. I watched every single Google I/O conference for the past few years. I wanted to work for them. The dream was to work at the Googleplex with all the other smart engineers. If you didn’t know, one Googol is a 1 followed by one hundred zeroes, and a Googolplex is a 1 followed by a googol zeroes. So their campus is a further play on the companies name. COOL RIGHT. YEAH.

So I decided I could totally walk to the Googleplex, which in hindsight was pretty naive. It was a good 50 minute walk in the searing heat across huge highways. When people say the USA isn’t walkable, they’re not lying. When I got there, there were literally hundreds of interns biking around on the Google G-bikes. I eventually found where they were all going to, which was a huge queue of buses waiting to take them all home after a day of work. They all looked super happy and loving life, drinking up all of the Google kool-aid. I felt super jealous. I’d actually applied to work there, in the off-chance I’d get in. I didn’t get any human response, but it was totally worth a shot. I moved on to the centre of campus, saw the Android statue, and took a snap of the Google logo in the central courtyard.

I felt like a huge imposter with all of the employees walking past talking about what-felt-like probably important things. It’s super cool that the campus is open to the public, but maybe it gets annoying for employees with tourists being around all the time. I think there was even a guided tour, but I didn’t end up doing that, as it was pretty late by the time I arrived. By this time I was getting dehydrated and hungry so I tried to get back ASAP. I started walking back when a minibus pulled up beside me and asked me if I wanted a lift. Immediately I thought that was super weird, especially because it was completely empty. They didn’t seem to want any payment anyway. It turns out it was a free local service and seemed more legit as employees of Intuit started getting on. I took the Caltrain back up and that was the day. 👌

Day two – the big city by the bay

So the day before I went south to the Valley, today was the day for the big city! I decided I wanted to go up to Twin Peaks to see the city from above before deciding where to go. The day started off super warm like the day before, but the further north and higher altitude I got, the colder it got. As I approached the summit, the wind was incredibly strong and cold as I was engulfed by Karl the Fog. Yeah, the San Francisco Fog is called Karl. He’s pretty badass.

I wanted to take a selfie up there, but my phone was dying on me. It was super unreliable at the time. If it had less than like 40% of battery, it would regularly just switch itself off. So that’s exactly what happened when I tried to take a selfie at the top. Determined, I sat down shivering behind a rock whilst my portable charger charged the phone. I kept trying to turn it on to take one but it kept turning off. EVENTUALLY, I managed to take a selfie and tried my best to smile despite being freezing and the wind being incredibly strong.

Does my hair look good like this? 😝

On the way down, I bumped into two people who were interning at Fitbit. I ended up getting talking with them whilst they walked back to work. They told me about how they studied at MIT, and all about the internship programme there. Apparently, Fitbit would fly them out for a free trip to China to check out how the devices are manufactured. Cool or what? I told them I was going to HackCon that weekend, and they said they knew someone who was going. Turns out that person ran HackMIT that I wanted to go to. They really encouraged me to apply to it too, which is probably what made me think I could go to more Hackathons around the world. I did apply to HackMIT but got rejected. Fortunately, HackTheNorth in Waterloo Canada accepted me for that same weekend 🙌.

Once they got close to FitBit HQ and left, I was basically close to downtown SF so I started to explore. I didn’t really have any plans so I sorta just made them as I went along. At this point, I remember feeling super independent. I was alone. Walking around the big city by the bay in a country that’s not my own. Nowadays I wouldn’t think twice, but at that moment, it felt good.

All I remember from the start of it was walking through Chinatown, and lots and lots of hills. At some point, I got to the famous Lombard Street, and it hit me yet again that I was in San Francisco. All I wanted to do then was carried on to see the Golden Gate bridge up close. I walked all the way to Crissy Field, and it was beautiful.

At this point, it was super cold. I had walked miles from any BART station so I took an Uber to the nearest BART station then headed back.

Day three

TBH, I don’t even remember what happened this day, other than going back down to Mountain View, where I just chilled in a coffee shop and listened to random people talk about tech. I met Aaron Brzowski in the evening at the train, and we ended up talking about Hackathons until we realised we were both headed to the same conference the next morning.

Day four, five, six

Over the weekend was the conference. I met so many people. HackCon is probably a whole other blog post and different audience so I’ll leave that for another time. But I met Nick Tikhonov who was interning at GitHub in San Francisco and was heading back to SF soon after like me. More on this coming up 👀

At the end of Sunday, I took another school bus back to the airport and flew back to SF. There, I might my friend Jared, who I had only spoken to online. We got on super well which was great!

We stayed in a different Airbnb that night with an old woman who cooked us a lot of food, which was good for the next day’s adventures.

Day seven

We both had too much stuff for our next adventure together. This was before my adventures with minimalism, so I had a huge bag, then I got given a pretty big GitHub bag on top of that. Jared also had too much stuff, so we decided to drop off some stuff at our next Airbnb for when we got back from our adventure.

The adventure was a 3-day trip to Yosemite. It started in downtown San Francisco in the evening where we got picked up by a Green bus named the Green Tortoise. It was a sleeper bus, where all of the normal seats fold flat to create layers of beds. We drove west for a bit until we got to a supermarket, where the people running the trip picked up some food. Then, we folded the beds up ready to sleep and wake up in the morning in the heart of Yosemite Valley…


Photo from PixaBay


Posted under: Explaw🐾


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8 comments

  1. YAY! We love spontaneous trips! I’ve definitely had that look on my face when seeing Ben before haha. I’m constantly looking at flights and planning trips in my head, it becomes addicting! We were just in San Francisco too, but it looks like he was WAY busier than we were!
    You should definitely join him on his next ‘oops’ moment :), you may learn to love it too!

    Susie | http://milehighdreamers.com

  2. Sakura says:

    Wow! A trip to San Francisco is really nice! I stayed there for a month or so and it was awesome. Then again, nothing beats the warm and love I have in Singapore. 🙂

  3. Brandy says:

    It’s good to be spontaneous. It looks like Matt had a wonderful time. <3

  4. Tiffa says:

    San Francisco is such a wonderful place to visit. I love the fisheye lens!

  5. Claudine says:

    Spontaneous trips are awesome! I do that a lot here in Taiwan as well! 🙂

    Looks like Matt had a great time! I really like that bit where he wrote how he felt super independent from being alone in a completely new place. That’s one of the nicest things about exploring a new place on your own. San Francisco looks like an awesome place too; I’ve always wanted to visit it but I don’t know why I never really went for it T_T

  6. Adrianne says:

    I just read this Pauline! I have to thank Matt for taking his time to explore the Bay Area (and this is coming from a local LOL). BART and Caltrain are serious lifesavers for me too with commuting. Right now, BART’s routes are expanding, so if anyone of you (or both) do come and visit sometime next year or a couple of years in the future, you’d be able to visit more areas more conveniently. Caltrain covers San Francisco and the peninsula area (south of San Francisco) up to Santa Clara County/Silicon Valley. BART covers San Francisco to northeast area of North Bay, East Bay (where I live), up until Milpitas (first city in Santa Clara County on the east side of the bay).

    Speaking of Stanford, the last time I was there was last weekend LOL. I was helping mom with her cruise trip shopping at the shopping center there and then we just happened to hang out at the campus for awhile for lunch. Next time too, I recommend visiting the North Bay… after that area is fully recovered from those wildfires (as of this writing, some 89% already contained).

    LOL @ Karl the Fog. He’s actually lingering over the bridge right now, just watching the local weather news here LOL.

  7. […] Matt took over my blog for two weeks, talking about his first adventures abroad to the US. Part 1 and Part 2 can be found […]