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How to have fun in Australia and New Zealand

4 Apr

Walk on a glacier.

Check out the Tilted House at Wanaka, New Zealand's Puzzling World

Go on an epic road trip along the south island of New Zealand.

Hang out with the locals.

Fly a freaking plane.

Go paragliding. Just kidding. I did not do this. Yet.

Disturb a sleeping koala.

Get to know some kangaroos.

Check out the Little Penguin parade! (Not my picture, since you can't take photos. This one is from True Wildlife.)

Hang out with one of your best friends who you miss a lot because she moved across the world! (Also, go to an Aussie Rules football game, even though it just looks like grown men trying to pants each other.)


Five Unexpected Benefits of Travel

14 Jan

Additional benefit: photos like this one.

In case I haven’t mentioned it recently, I really love to travel. Of course, there are lots of great reasons to travel, and plenty of life-changing benefits. You get first-hand experience with people and places you’d only read about before, you learn patience and flexibility, and you get a fresh perspective on your own life. Each time I’ve traveled abroad, I’ve expected to get all of that. But there have also been surprising and unexpected rewards. Here are five benefits of traveling that I wasn’t counting on:

  1. You get good stories. Hands down my best stories come from my travel experiences. They make great fodder for first dates, parties, job interviews, etc. I love listening to other people’s stories, and it’s nice to have a few of my own in my back pocket.
  2. You have a memory of yourself being brave that you can draw upon during stressful times. If I have to do something scary like give a presentation or drive a car (these are the things that are scary for me), it’s useful to remember that I’ve been completely lost in the Dominican Republic, I’ve been stranded in the Italian countryside, and I’ve jumped out of a plane. Whatever it is I’m facing, I’m pretty sure I’ll get through it.
  3. You have a source of great gifts for friends and family. I’ve written about how I am an inconsistent gift-giver. One trick for no-fail gifting is to bring back awesome souvenirs from your travels. Now I pretty much plan to buy gifts when I travel, and don’t worry about it otherwise. Sweet!
  4. The world really does feel like your oyster. I’ve found that the more I travel, the more I want to travel. I think the feeling I crave more than anything is freedom, and travel provides an endless supply of it.
  5. It feels like an accomplishment. I’ll admit that traveling is difficult for me. It’s often hard for me to eat well when I’m abroad (much of the world isn’t yet gluten-free-friendly). It’s hard for me to be out of my regular routine, to not speak the local language, and to not know where I’m going. It’s really hard for me to not have alone time. But all of these things are the reason why when I come home from a travel experience, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

What are your unexpected benefits from traveling?

p.s. My current top five destinations are:

  1. Antarctica
  2. India
  3. Finland
  4. New Zealand
  5. Vietnam

30 Days of Indie Travel Project: Late to the Party

11 Nov

At the beginning of this month BootsnAll launched the “30 Days of Indie Travel Project,” a daily travel writing prompt for bloggers. I have been meaning to participate, but I keep getting sidetracked by my friends’ babies, learning a new job, and really important things like watching episodes of The Cosby Show on Netflix.

Even though the project is ten days old, I’d like to go back to the first day’s prompt which was:

What were your travel goals last year? Did you accomplish them? What travel goals do you hope to accomplish this year?

Good questions, BootsnAll! I did accomplish many of my travel goals last year, most of which are documented in my sabbatical series. The one big adventure I’d really been hoping to have that didn’t pan out was a trip to Antarctica. I’m not counting on it happening this year either, but I’m more committed than ever to making this happen at some point in the next five years.

I'm pretty sure I'll get to see some of these in Australia. Photo stolen from Maddie's Facebook pics.

I did recently book a ticket to visit my friends Maddie and Mike in Australia next March, and we’ll take a trip to New Zealand while I’m there (super bonus!) For that trip, and for any others that I take in the coming year, I hereby officially announce the following goals:

  • Get better at photography. The photos from my sabbatical were the first photos I’d taken in many moons. For years I had subscribed to the, “But how can I live the moment if I’m trying to capture the moment?” school of thought. On a whim, I bought a good camera from a friend at an affordable price, and I lugged that thing across multiple continents. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed taking photographs, and that, instead of taking me out of the moment, it actually allowed me to see things in new and interesting ways. Taking photographs made me look at things differently, and more deeply. I imagine many people will read that sentence and say, “Duh.” But for me, that really had never clicked before. I’m looking forward to getting some pro tips from Maddie (a super talented photographer) while I’m in Australia and NZ.
  • Write about my experiences. I’ve been keeping a journal for about ten years, so I always write. But one thing I’ve noticed is that when I’m traveling, I don’t really write about my experiences. Like most things I do, my writing is super cerebral. I write about what I’m thinking rather than what I’m doing. My friend Jennifer has inspired me to try to write more about what I’m seeing, hearing, and tasting, and who I’m meeting, and all that stuff. If a little bit of the cerebral stuff sneaks in, so be it, but I think it will do me good to try to convey a sense of place and time and mood. It sounds exciting!
  • Volunteer, dammit. For someone who expresses a lot of interest in volunteering, I certainly don’t do enough of it. I truly believe that, if done responsibly, it’s one of the best ways to travel (if you don’t believe me, check out the International Volunteerism Resource Center on that my friend Erin curated). I’ve always felt that if I was going to volunteer abroad, it should be for a long-term project, but, screw it, no more excuses.
  • Make friends. I’ve realized that finding ways to meet and hang out with locals has become a pretty important aspect of travel for me. I mean…it’s kind of the whole point. At various times in my life travel has been about seeing pretty things, or changing my perspective, or doing something scary. Those are all worthy goals, and they are all great by-products of travel. But for me now, at this time in my life, travel is about becoming at home in the world. The idea of having friends all across the globe is immensely appealing to me (I would also like to have friends on the International Space Station, but that’s another story). It makes the world seem a little bit smaller, and a lot more wonderful.

Going Round the World

16 Oct

My travel map.

Ever since my sabbatical I can’t stop thinking about the idea of dropping everything and taking a year or two to travel around the world. Or, becoming a true nomad, and joining the ranks of perpetual travelers. I know it’s not for everyone, and I’m not yet sure it’s for me, but I’m planning to sit with the idea until I figure it out one way or another. In the meantime, I’ve been living vicariously through the written accounts of other adventure-seekers and world-travelers.

I’m also working on some short trips. My tentative 2012 plans including visiting Maddie in Australia (side trip: New Zealand!), and going to Vietnam with my sister. I’m also looking for travel buddies for trips to India, Romania, or Finland in 2013. Any takers?

For those of you who also have the travel bug, here are a few resources that may be helpful:

  • I highly recommend joining the Travel Hacking Cartel to start building up your frequent flyer miles (if you decide to join, please join with that link, so that I can get a frequent flyer mile referral bonus!). This is a project of Chris Guilleabeau who is nearing the end of a personal mission to visit every country.
  • Here’s a Twitter list I created of round-the-world and perpetual travelers. Inspiration in 140 characters!
  • Get a free downloadable guide to Instant Adventure by Tyler Tervooren of Advanced Riskology.
  • BootsnAll has a fun Round the World Trip Planner (to search for fares) and an incredibly useful Planning Guide (with all sorts of logistical information).
  • For saving up, I like SmartyPig as a social savings account service. They have a great interest rate, and you can make your progress public to friends and family who might want to contribute to your savings account.
Happy travels!

Sabbatical in Sum

2 Oct

This is Part 5 of my sabbatical series, where I’m posting photos from the trips I took during my two month sabbatical. During August and September I visited Alaska with my friend Brandon; went on a road trip down the Atlantic Coast of the United States to Savannah, GA with my friend Amber; attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama; toured Egypt with Intrepid Travel; and visited Paris and Honfleur with my mom and aunt. See previous entries hereherehere, and here.

To close out this series, I want to share a photo from each part of my trip that I think best captures how that place felt to me.

Driving up to Denali. (Brandon's photo. Duh.) It was just so beautiful. 🙂

Spanish moss in Savannah, GA. Savannah lived up to its reputation - it was both spooky and sultry.

Some of the main simulators at Space Camp. Zarya was my team's Space Station. You can see the orbiter in the back, including someone hanging out on the Canadarm. I can't tell you how excited I got when I saw this for the first time.

Swimming in the Nile with Danielle and Cat just before sunset. Magic.

A moody afternoon in Honfleur. Rainy grey days really are my favorite.


1. I strongly recommend a visit to Egypt to anyone who has any interest in Egyptology or who wants to witness an emerging democracy. Now is a great time to go; not because it’s cheap, but rather because the economy is suffering in part due to a lack of tourism. I booked my trip with Intrepid Travel, and cannot recommend them highly enough as a travel agency. The company has a strong emphasis on responsible travel, and you’ll see that reflected in everything they do. My tour guide was phenomenal and I’m grateful to her and to Intrepid for providing so many opportunities to spend time with locals – those interactions ensured that this was a more memorable and more meaningful trip than I had even hoped for.

2. To anyone who dreamed of going to Space Camp as a kid, but missed their chance: Go Now. You will have more fun in a week than you have had in a long time, I promise. You will meet astronauts. You will jump off of a 32-foot pole. You will run around Rocket Park at night. You will make friends. You will feel what it’s like to walk on the moon.

3. A note on Bucket Lists. I know that how I spent my two-month sabbatical seemed a little random to some people. Why not spend more quality time in one place? Why travel all the way from Alaska to Egypt? I asked myself those questions, too. I wanted to make sure that I was fully experiencing each moment, and not just checking things off a list. From my first day in Alaska, I knew my plan was working. I was totally in the moment, engrossed in a particular adventure, without focusing on the next one until the transition day. Once I was in the airport, I would feel the previous adventure start to fade a little bit in my mind (in a good way), and I would get excited about my next stop. It was seamless. I couldn’t believe that I got to keep going and move on to the next awesome thing. I didn’t feel like I was chasing anything. I just felt very….present. And very, very fortunate.

Self-portrait on the first flight of my trip. Excitement!

(This is the official end of my sabbatical series, but stay tuned for a sabbatical super bonus coming soon!)

Sabbatical: Art, Music, and Hieroglyphics

29 Sep

This is Part 4 of my sabbatical series, where I’m posting photos from the trips I took during my two month sabbatical. During August and September I visited Alaska with my friend Brandon; went on a road trip down the Atlantic Coast of the United States to Savannah, GA with my friend Amber; attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama; toured Egypt with Intrepid Travel; and visited Paris and Honfleur with my mom and aunt. See previous entries here, here, and here.

This entry is about cultural stuff like art and music. And hieroglyphics!

This is the face of a sculpture outside of a college in Valdez, Alaska. It was a grey, rainy day (my favorite kind), and I loved this face.

Lots of street musicians in Savannah, GA.

I found this great gallery/café in Savannah.

Not exactly art, but kind of like it. This is a carefully reconstructed boat made from pieces found buried near the Pyramids at Giza. Egyptologists think there may have been five of these buried near the Pharoahs at some point, though the others were stolen.

The Temple at Philae in Aswan, Egypt. I got a crash course in Ancient Egyptian Gods, This temple is dedicated to the godesses Hathor and Isis.

I learned that artists starting carving hieroglyphics in relief so as to make it harder for future Pharoahs to deface them. (I'm looking at you, Rameses II.)

This was a cool piece on the contemporary floor at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. You could move different colors of glass panels around to view the black and white room behind.

Here's another great face, this time from the Boudin Museum in Honfleur, Normandy. I found her a little intimidating.

One of my favorite finds was from a little room at the top of the Boudin Museum where I saw a kind of comic book about the creation of the world. This is the page about the creation of snowflakes.

A standout from the trip to Honfleur was my visit to Les Maisons Satie, the house where musician Erik Satie was born, which is now an incredible interactive museum. I would call it an "experience." I normally find player pianos to be either tacky or spooky, but this one was charming...and spooky. (Photo credit: Susan Kane)


27 Sep

This is Part 3 of my sabbatical series, where I’m posting photos from the trips I took during my two month sabbatical. During August and September I visited Alaska with my friend Brandon; went on a road trip down the Atlantic Coast of the United States to Savannah, GA with my friend Amber; attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama; toured Egypt with Intrepid Travel; and visited Paris and Honfleur with my mom and aunt. See previous entries here and here.

This entry is all about the animals I saw on my trip!

The wolf was definitely the star of Denali. Brandon and I totally lucked out and saw FIVE wolves during our several days in the park, which, according to all of our guides, is virtually unheard of. There are only around 70 in the entire park. We stopped telling other people we met, because we figured no one would believe us.

Brandon got a great shot of this eagle that we had gone on a quest to find. We almost gave up!

Here's another of Brandon's great shots. Caribou!

I made friends with this dog when we took a day trip to Homer.

Amber and I spent a couple hours at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. We saw lots of birds!

And we saw a lizard on a mailbox in Charleston.

In Egypt, I got to ride a camel for the first time. Such funny animals.

We visited Animal Care Egypt in Luxor, where injured working animals, like this one, are given care.

This guy was pretty excited about getting his photo taken with this donkey at ACE.

My mom snapped this picture of cats and a dog in Honfleur, Normandy. Pretty cute.

Other animals spotted include: bears, moose, and a coyote in Denali; tons of ponies in Chincoteague, VA; lots of cows and horses everywhere along the Atlantic Coast; and a bunch of cats wandering around various places in Egypt. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any Nile Crocodiles.

Next up: Art, Music, and Hieroglyphics. Stay tuned!