Returning to the USA after three and half years living abroad

Blog, Dispatches from Down Under

Returning to the USA after three and half years living abroad

22 Comments 19 November 2013

I’m going to be honest. The lack of writing on this website over the past four months has a lot to do with the fact that I was afraid of this post. A post that would be a sort of conclusion to the very trip that started the website. A post about my return to NJ after three and a half year of traveling and living abroad.

How do you write the ending to a trip you dreamed about your whole life?

A trip in which I swam with giants, soared from the sky, spear-fished with aborigines, climbed volcanoes and faced my greatest fears. A trip that made me trust in strangers, drop ties with possessions and completely enthral myself into communities that just days before I didn’t even knew exist. One that would have me moving into eleven different residences with a total of 38 different roommates and two cats, plus more hostel beds and dorm mates than I could count.

Rondel. The cat that made me fall in love with cats. – Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

A trip that taught me there is no one meaning of success and that ambition might have been the only thing holding me back from finding true happiness. A trip that would allow me to find answers to my questions on religion and spirituality. A trip that would have me fulfilling every dream I had for myself and my travels within six months and then totally giving myself up to chance.

I came into this trip with a plan: to travel and write. I would fulfil all the little goals that went with that plan only months after the start of my trip. Beyond those plans, I thought that would be it for my long-term travels and vagabond lifestyle. I can honestly remember thinking before going on this trip that I would “get it out of my system”, come home and settle into a career, marriage and children – all the things I thought were just part of life. I thought travel was an itch I could scratch and then move on to the next thing.

That’s not quite how it all worked out.

Once this trip exceeded my plans and expectations – I would no longer be the one dictating my future. I would no longer allow the restraints of where I came from or the ideas I developed in that small space control what kind of life I was going to have. Running out of plans opened me up to see a new way of living, to put my faith in new people, find a sense of true belonging and even to fall in love.

Now I know the most unpopular ending to any solo female travel blog is the one that involves “prince charming”, but that is exactly how my story went. The greatest lesson I learned in three and a half years of travel was how to fall in love and the greatest thing I found was a guy to catch me when I did.

Ric and I cruising in Malapascua. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Ric and I cruising in Malapascua. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I’ve never had a problem doing anything on my own. Being alone was never a bad thing for me. In fact, often times, I preferred it. And before hopping on a plane to Australia on January 26, 2010 – I was content in the possibility that I always would be alone and I don’t mean alone in the physical sense whether that be with friends and family or with a partner. I’ve always had the the most amazing people in my life that would be there for me, no matter what, but in my head – I was still alone. And as for marriage or any type of partnership – I actually saw myself getting married at least ten times – but never really giving into it – always facing my biggest problems and greatest joys in life – alone – at least in my head.

This trip, the people I met throughout it and the situations I was in with them (good or bad) – would change that.

port

When you’re on the road in a new place, away from everything and everyone you know, often times you have to put all your faith into strangers. Whether this be something as small as receiving directions or as large as sleeping on some random person’s couch because otherwise you’d have no place else to stay. What came out of dwindling bank accounts, lack of a home and inability to call the people I had always known at the drop of a hat was a new kind of trust in people and the ability to share the ups and downs with whomever I was with at that moment. Somewhere along the way I realized that I wasn’t alone in it all and as if the pieces fell into place all at once – I met Ric and knew I never would be again.

Ric and I the day after we arrived in New Zealand.

Ric and I the day after we arrived in New Zealand.

I never intended this to be a trip where I found myself or the true meaning of life. I knew exactly who I was before getting on that plane three and a half years ago – in fact, I never would have been in that position if I didn’t know who I was. What I found on this trip was other people – that most of them are actually good and that we are in this crazy life together.

So to Lise and Veronica who taught me that no matter what language we speak (English, French or Italian) there can be understanding (even when cursing about weeding lantana trees in the bush). To my joyful “Shirley” who taught me that the things we have are only as good as the people we get to share them with (even when it comes to Kate Moss tops). To Bobbi Small who taught me that it’s possible to be strong – even when you’re scared and to question any restraints you have for yourself. To Hans, you gorgeous Brazilian man, who showed me compassion and warmth and of course a new way of making carrot cake. To my new English family who accepted me without question. To my family and friends at home who have always loved and supported me. To all the many travelers I met over the course of these past three years – whether we shared a couch at Iron Bar, divemaster training in Malapascua, a dorm room or the weight of my backpack on a long walk. And of course to the bear of the man for whom I get to travel the rest of my life with – Thank You. Thank you for all the little moments and for helping me realize that even though I thought I left America on my own three and a half years ago – I never was.

You were all there with me.

Lise, Veronica and I on a day off from Yoga in Daily Life Dungog, NSW.

Underwater in Low Isles with Milla.

Sailing the Whitsundays with Dorcey, aka Shirley.

With Bobbi Small on the Great Barrier Reef.

How do you write a conclusion to three and a half of the best years of your life?

You don’t.

In the words of my wonderful fiancé (we’re engaged by the way) as I pined over this post in our London flat – “This isn’t the end, just another chapter complete Bobble.”

I did it.

It was my dream to move abroad and go on a trip with no fixed end date and I actually did it. In the past three and a half years I’ve lived in Australia, New Zealand and England. I’ve traveled to the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Fiji, Laos, China and Canada. I even got to explore my own country a bit.

It became clear to me pretty early on this trip that it wasn’t so much the places I was going to – but the nomadic lifestyle and the people I would encounter through that way of living that would propel me into a life of travel.

“Its a toss-up when you decide to leave the beaten track. Many are called, few are chosen.” – W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge’

I lived my dreams in New Zealand

Blog, Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under, New Zealand

I lived my dreams in New Zealand

14 Comments 24 September 2012

As I write this, half my body hangs out the sliding door in my room, being warmed by the sun. It’s Spring in New Zealand and while the grass is always green in this country, you can really feel nature come alive here as the temperature rises.

Big Jet Plane by Angus and Julia Stone is playing, something I always like to listen to when I’m about to go on a big trip. Up until this moment I’ve felt nothing but excitement about visiting Thailand and Malaysia as well as my family in the States and Ric’s in England. But at this moment, it hits me, going there, means leaving here, New Zealand.

My body stiffens up and temples start go tense.

We came, we saw, we created a home and once again it’s time to leave.

I have to say it’s much harder to leave a home made in a foreign country, not because you love the people there more than those of your real homeland or because it’s better, but because you know you might be leaving forever. Ric and I have every intention of coming back, more on that in future posts, but that’s not promised, nothing ever is when your dealing with a home in a place that’s not naturally your own.

I’ve been traveling now for almost three years and have visited and lived in a lot of places, leaving and saying goodbye to people never gets easier.

New Zealand was a completely different experience for me for a lot of reasons. For one, I arrived here with my partner. We made New Zealand our home together and I think there’s a lot of sentiment with all things involving young love. We struggled together when we first arrived and looked after one another throughout our time here. We moved to Wellington together. We played in the Coromandel together. We watched the All Blacks win the Rugby World Cup together. We even put on a Thanksgiving dinner here, together.

Ric and I at the top of Mount Victoria, days before saying goodbye to our first home in New Zealand, Wellington.

I treated New Zealand as more of a home than any other place I’ve ever visited. Prior to coming here I spent a year in Australia, which I can only compare to my childhood. I had no intentions, no responsibilities. I partied and played day and night. While New Zealand had a bit of that here and there, I definitely felt myself grow up here. Maybe it’s because of that, because I treated this place as more of a life than a play date, that it hurts so much to leave.

Maybe there’s just something about this place that feels right, that feels comfortable, that feels…like home. It’s in the kindness of strangers here, the welcome of new friends and the rapture of the land.

New Zealand is the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited. I’ve said that a few times before and I stand by the statement completely. I expected it to be pretty, but not to be in aww of every sight.

Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places I visited in New Zealand. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It’s one of the easiest places I’ve been able to settle into over the years and it’s a place that really gives its people the freedom to be creative, live how they want and do things a bit differently from others.

After winning an Oscar for The Muppets, Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords said this about his native New Zealand to the New York Times, “It’s a great place to grow up, you can do whatever you want there. Whereas I think in America, everyone is obsessed with their careers, New Zealand I think you just get to live your dreams.”

Living here for just over a year, I definitely feel that.

Maybe that’s why so many people do end up staying here. It’s definitely why I’m coming back.

So New Zealand, thanks for the sunshine, for sweeping me off my feet and making me feel at home. It’s not goodbye, but till next time.

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Celebrating one year in New Zealand

Blog, Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under, Moving Abroad, New Zealand, New Zealand

Celebrating one year in New Zealand

13 Comments 09 July 2012

A year ago today, Ric and I arrived in New Zealand, which means tomorrow will mark a new achievement in my travels-spending more than one full year in a foreign country.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here for so long and that I’m still hanging around here for a few more months, but it just feels right.

Whenever I meet locals from the country I’m traveling, one of the first questions they ask is, “Do you ever get home sick?”. Almost always, my answer is “Yes”. But there is something different about New Zealand. I don’t know if it’s that I’ve been here for so long or the fact that I’ve spent my entire time here with a partner, but for some reason, I feel at home in New Zealand.

Which is quite weird considering this country gave me the coldest welcoming of all the countries I’ve visited in the past two and a half years.

Prior to arriving in New Zealand last July, I was traveling on my own rendition of The Endless Summer. It started in Sydney in January of 2010, which is where I first started my current journey. It continued in the farms of Victoria for a few months and after that I worked my way up the east coast, pretty much following the heat. When Winter hit Australia, I found warmth in the tropics of Far North Queensland. And when it became a bit too hot there, I headed back to Melbourne for another Aussie Summer.

Next was SE Asia where it’s always warm and finally the good ol’ US of A in the Summer of 2011, which is one of the hottest Summers I’ve ever felt at home. But my summer was cut short when, as I mentioned above, I headed to NZ in July of last year, first stop-Queenstown.

The snow must have just been waiting for Ric and I too. Prior to our arrival, Queenstown was having a bit of a “drought”. The heavy ski destination was missing it’s number one ingredient to a good season. But the night we arrived, it came in full blast.

Nothing like waking up to snow in Queenstown. This shot was taken from our hotel room the day after we arrived in New Zealand. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I remember waking up at 4 a.m., jet-lagged, and Ric saying, “This is the first time I’ve had to put on all my clothes to go out for a fag in a year and a half.”

We weren’t in Australia anymore. 

But we wouldn’t stay in Queenstown for long, rumor of lack of jobs and friends’ calling up north led us to Blenheim. It’s not the most happening town, but we were in good company. We spent about a month there, then headed to Wellington, where we would make our first home in the country. We had a rough few nights in the country’s capital city to start, but came to love it and stuck around for about five months, the longest Ric or I have spent anywhere since we started traveling.

It was nice to have a home of sorts, but being the constant travelers we are, we had to hit the road eventually. In January we embarked on a six week trip around both islands. After that, I really understood why the people who have traveled NZ, go on about it so much.

Flat out, this is the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited. From kayaking Abel Tasman to hiking Franz Josef Glacier, camping out in Haast to living it up in Queenstown, it’s just a spectacular place to visit.

Ric and I spent two weeks traveling the South Island with my Dad, two weeks catching up with friends around the country and two more weeks with Ric’s family in Mount Maunganui, then it was time to build another home. And I think we’ve built our best one yet.

We’ve been living in the Mount for five months now and plan to spend another two here. During that time we’ve lived with some great housemates, Ric found an amazing job at a cafe and I…well I’ve worked with one of the country’s biggest icons: kiwifruit. It’s not always been an easy industry to work in, in fact working in agriculture is quite tedious, but the work has allowed me to stay here for more than a year.

US citizens are granted a three month extension on their work holiday visas after completing three months of agricultural work in New Zealand.

I started my work in March and was granted my extension, actually on the spot, in late June. I can’t describe just how relieved I felt that day. Traveling for as long as I have, it’s not all a holiday. Money is a constant worry as is trying to stay with a partner from a different country. In fact, one of the things that drew Ric and I to New Zealand is the fact that we were both eligible for working holiday visas here. So being granted those extra few months here, just put everything in order for me.

While we don’t plan to stick around here for too much longer, Thailand in September-Yesss!!!, we would like to return. How, you ask? Stay tuned. My mission has always been to stay on the road for as long as possible and I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve to help me do that.

But today, I’m going to celebrate a year in New Zealand, two and half years traveling and almost two years with my favorite travel partner and best friend.

Home is wherever I’m with you-bad’un.

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I still believe in paradise

Australia, Australia, Blog, Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under, Moving Abroad

I still believe in paradise

7 Comments 19 April 2012

If you haven’t noticed, the theme on Heels and Wheels this week is Port Douglas. It’s been almost two years since I first stepped foot in the this tiny piece of paradise in Far North Queensland, Australia.

I still can’t stop thinking about it.

I didn’t write a lot about Port Douglas while I was there. In fact, I didn’t write much about anything. I was so immersed in the lifestyle there that all I did pretty much was…live. I didn’t waste loads of time catching up on places I wasn’t living or researching places I wanted to visit in the future. Instead I spent my time living like I belonged, as if no other life existed outside the town.

I’m a contradiction in many ways. I like pickles, hate cucumbers. I embrace city life, but long for seclusion. One of my biggest contradictions is that I love travel, but I have a slight obsession with small-town life.

I grew up in the suburbs of southern New Jersey. Sure I was close to small towns, beaches and big cities, but the suburbs where I am actually from was kind of like a limbo to all those things. Where I’m from there are a lot of people, open spaces, strip malls and schools. It’s not the city, but it’s definitely not a small town. Sure you might bump into someone at Wawa, but you don’t see the same barista every day at a one-of-a-kind cafe.

I don’t know if it was shows like Gilmore Girls or towns like New Hope, PA, but something long ago gave me this longing for small town life. A place where everybody knows my name. A place where I can walk into the town center from my house and bump into friends along the way. A place where there is a small enough number of people to feel like you’re part of a community, but more than enough people to keep things lively.

Yet, I also love visiting places where no one knows me, meeting new people and trying new things. I know I’m weird, but I found a place that brought these two contradictions together and it was Port Douglas.

The town is not very big. In fact its center is pretty much just one street. But it’s beautiful. God is Port Douglas beautiful. Plus it’s so relaxing. A visit there almost feels like one to the islands. Port is mainly a destination town, but a small number of people call it their home. So living there, you get a mixture of locals who you’ve known for years and visitors who arrive in bulk every few days.

How small town does this street look? Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It was a job that led me to move there while living in Australia. At first, my time there was not going very well. I wanted to use my time in Port to work on my blog and get in shape. It all started out well enough. I was working, blogging and running. Plus I was meeting loads of people from my hostel, but the fact that I had set up a lifestyle for the town and not the opposite, led me to frustration.

Within a month of living in Port, I was hating the job that brought me there and didn’t feel like I was really getting to know people because I wasn’t going out so I could wake up early and run. Finally, I let go and though I lost that job that brought me to Port as well as my workout routine, I gained something spectacular.

Between the people at the hostel and the people at my new job, I almost felt like I was part of a big family. Every day I’d go to work and come home to find out what mischief “the guys” were getting into. We slept together (by that I mean six bedroom dorms), ate together and played together.

The guys.

After a few weeks the people I recognized from town started to recognize me. I had a coffee shop I visited every day and the guys there knew my drink, my name and a bit about me. I had a friend who I went for regular Sunday breakfasts with. Eventually I also found a partner here. This is where I met Ric, which adds to the town’s meaning to me.

When I was living in Port, that was all I was doing. It was the good life.

It’s been almost two years since I left and I still get choked up thinking about it, because the thing about Port Douglas is, I can never go back.

I said this to a friend as we boarded a bus to finally leave the Port Douglas.

She looked at me funny and replied, “Of course you can. You can always go back.”

But the truth is, I can’t. None of us can. Sure we can visit the town and I’m sure I will visit many times in the future, but the summer that I had there, the feeling, I can never go back to that. It’s sad, but I think it’s just a part of life. Sure Port is special to me, but I’m sure everyone has a place that’s special to them the same way. Everyone has a Port and while we may never be able to go back that place will stay with us forever.

“And me, I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not some place you can look for, ’cause it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something, and if you find that moment… it lasts forever…” – Richard “The Beach”

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Walking and falling on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Blog, Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under, New Zealand

Walking and falling on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

3 Comments 10 April 2012

Last night I didn’t want to even move. Today I ache all over.

After walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing yesterday, well half of it then back, I’m pretty pooped and finding it a struggle to move any part of me. But I had such an amazing day, I just had to share at least a few photos and thoughts from the day.

Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first national park in New Zealand and fourth in the world. I heard and read about the park, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the Northern Circuit before even arriving in New Zealand. However, since I’m not really a heavy hiker, I didn’t think too much about visiting before I arrived in the country.

New Zealand brought out the tramping spirit in me. The country is known for its amazing walks and the Tongariro Crossing is one of its best.

At 2,287 meters, Mt. Ngauruhoe is the second tallest active volcano in the park and was used as Mt. Doom in The Lord of the Rings. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The Crossing takes about seven hours to complete starting from Mangatepopo car park and ending at Ketetahi car park or vice versa. We didn’t want to pay for a transfer back to our car, so opted to start at Mangatepopo, walk to the Emerald Lakes and walk back. I think this actually may have taken longer though.

In this shot you can see the Blue Lake to the left and three Emerald Lakes in the center. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I can’t go on enough about how special this walk and park is. Home to three active volcanoes, it almost feels as if your walking on a different planet at some points on the track. From staring up a brown, black and red ashy Mt. Ngauruhoe all day to catching a glimpse of the Blue Lake settled atop a hill with Lake Taupo in the background to finally reaching the three teal-green Emerald Lakes, the whole day was quite spectacular.

But it didn’t come without a lot of work!

Let me start by saying, that anybody in moderate health will be able to complete this walk. But how long it will take to complete depends on how in or out of shape you are. I am very out of shape. Other than a few runs recently and two hikes up Mt. Maunganui in the past two months, I haven’t really worked out in almost over a year.

I struggled a lot at Tongariro. About half of the walk is on a steep incline and these inclines are covered in rock and gravel, so it’s pretty slippery. As I mentioned, I don’t hike, so I did the walk in running sneakers, which isn’t the best for going up or down a slippery mountain. I fell about three times. The air is thinner on the walk too, so I became short of breath more often than I would on land too.

This is what my water bottle looked like when I pulled it out of my bag today. The last time I opened it was at the Emerald Lakes. Because atmospheric pressure is lower at higher altitudes the bottle crushed when it came back down to sea level.

The walk was worth all the struggle. It felt good to reach Emerald Lakes and make it back. But I have a feeling I’ll be paying for it over the next few days. In my bed-ridden state, I’ll be writing a much more in depth post on the Tongariro Crossing, with loads more photos!

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The long-term travel rut

Blog, Dispatches from Down Under

The long-term travel rut

10 Comments 04 April 2012

There seems to be a trend among travel blogs.

“Leave your 9-5. Travel the world. Break the norm.”

I know on my blog I encourage people to consider this lifestyle, if only for a few months. I’ve lived my life this way for the past few years and you know what, it’s made me very happy.

But no matter what we do, where we are or how we live our lives, problems are inevitable. They bother people and hurt the same regardless of circumstance, but I think living a life like I do, in exotic locations on what some would consider a constant holiday, problems blind side you.

When I first started blogging and traveling on my current trip, I remember reading The five stages of travel on The Longest Way Home. Now I have a serious love for this blog, but I really had problems with this one post, most specifically his third stage of travel.

During this year I found loneliness sneaking up. Along with a loss of purpose. Day to day in normal life we have jobs. An anchored social life, and routine.

I found emails drying up from friends once they realize “Oh, he really is going through with this thing.”

It was a struggle to keep going and stay motivated. I’d not accomplished anything in my mind. Other travelers became less interesting again, as I’d been there and done that.-TLWH

I know it was his personal account, so I respected that, but thought, “No way! Not me. Not in a million years could I feel that way while traveling. I love it too much.”

Well to the man who traveled for years before I even traveled for one, I finally know what you mean.

I’ve been on the road now for exactly two years and 69 days. I didn’t even make it to three years and I’ve already started to feel what I’ve been calling “the long term travel rut”.

It’s a weird spot where you don’t really have a home, but you’re not really traveling. I don’t think it’s possible to keep literally traveling or to keep up the party backpacker lifestyle forever. At some point, you just want to relax and just watch TV. But you feel like your wasting the time you have abroad. Then you feel like your living the life you escaped again. Then there’s the normal worries.

I tried to deny it, but after a skype session with a friend from home in which we both had a small moan about normal stuff like money and boredom, we both agreed, “It doesn’t matter if your in NJ or NZ, things bother you”.

I don’t know what’s led to my rut. I think all travelers are on different journeys, so it will be different things that dishearten different travelers at different times.

I wanted to write a post about this back in October when I celebrated my 25th birthday. At that time I started to look at what people were doing at home, how their careers were going and how they were all living. I have to admit I got a bit jealous of some of those people. I wondered for the first time on my travels, what would have happened it I stayed home and pursued my career from there. Where would I be?

But I think it’s natural to wonder the other side of anything. Inevitably I snapped out of it by remembering how many good things my travels have brought me, how many incredible experiences that I would have never had if I stayed home.

More recently and I hate to admit this, my rut is money and boredom.

I’m not sure what people at home think I do. I think a lot of them believe I’m on a 24/7 holiday.

Well I’m not. 

I’ve done pretty well as far as travel to work ratio goes over the last two years. I think I’ve only worked about 13 months in over two years and volunteered a few more.

I’m not trying to give the “Oh poor me”. I’m just going to say flat out, managing that requires serious work when you do actually work. It also requires serious budgeting at all times. So though I may have spent five months traveling SE Asia doing everything and anything at the beginning of last year, I spent five months living in Wellington doing very little else than working at the end of last year.

Though because I’m still in the travel mindset thinking, “No problems or boredom can occur when I’m on the road,” I wasn’t expecting this to wear on me at all. It has though and it’s scary.

It really hit hard after my last “holiday”. We had six weeks of amazing travel around New Zealand recently. It was honestly one the of the very best trips I’ve ever been on. I saw things I never knew existed and felt so free the entire trip. That ended a month ago and it was back to the grind for Ric and I.

We had done this twice already, so I went through the motions like it was nothing. But I felt the same travel come down I felt returning to the States after my first backpacking trip abroad. I was really sad. I was on such a high the previous few weeks and then everything was normal again.

Worst of all, I didn’t expect it and I tried to deny it.

So where does this all lead me and why am I even writing this post? Like any rut or problem, we work through it, which is what I’ll do. I have plenty to look forward to, I just feel like I needed to vent this to a community I relate to, one with people in it who may have felt the same at some point in their long-term trip.

I try and stay completely positive on my blog, because I want to encourage others to travel as much as possible. But I think it’s important for us all to remember, we’re all human, no matter where we live or how we live our lives and humanity shares the most common of problems.

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Wellington on a whim

Blog, Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under, Moving Abroad, New Zealand, New Zealand

Wellington on a whim

6 Comments 19 January 2012

We arrived in Wellington cold, homeless and hungry.

Yes, five months ago we arrived in this city and it’s hard to believe how much has changed. We had no idea where we’d go or what we would see when we first arrived in New Zealand, but we definitely didn’t expect to make such an amazing home in Wellington. This is the tale of what brought us to the windy city and how it blew us away.

After about five months of jobless travel around Asia and America, we took a chance and headed to New Zealand on a working holiday visa instead of saving up at home. We didn’t have a choice really. Since Ric and I are from different countries, this was one of the few easy ways to stay together and work. Parting was out of the question.

So we boarded a plane for a long flight in early July. Destination: Queenstown, but not for long. Queenstown was our original arrival city, because-well it’s Queenstown; winter wonderland, extreme sports, lots of backpackers. Unfortunately, our arrival date was mid-ski season, making it hard to find work. Further, it had yet to snow in Queenstown that season, making it even harder to find work.

On the way from Queenstown to Blenheim in July.

No worries. Ric had a friend he met in Australia living and working in Blenheim. Biggest legend ever, not only did she let us crash at her house for a long time, but also sorted Ric out with a job before he even arrived.

We arrived at the small town in the middle of Marlborough, a huge wine region, and met our friend for drinks. While at a bar, I met a guy who worked in viticulture and he gave me a contact for a local vineyard looking for workers. Next day, I was sorted with a job.

We thought we made it. We thought we were going to be okay. We thought wrong. Family matters had me on a plane back to the States only ten days after arriving. I spent two weeks at home then was on a plane back to New Zealand. Talk about jet lag.

In that time, Ric was ready to leave Blenheim. It’s not the most active town, plus Ric wasn’t doing his passion, cooking, so he had enough. To add to that he had fractured his thumb, making him actually unable to work for a few weeks.

I arrived back in Blenheim with a choice. Either stay in the quiet town doing jobs that weren’t nessarily our favorite or make a move to Wellington, the closest city, and see how it worked out.

We went for Wellington.

It’s not a cheap trip either. Wellington is on the North Island and Blenheim on the South. People must take either a plane or a ferry to get to Wellington from the South Island because they must cross the Cook Strait, either way your looking at spending about $70.

We came to Wellington with one night booked at a hostel, hoping to find a flat, jobs and a routine in a day. That’s when things started to look up.

It was just me job hunting at that point. Ric couldn’t because of his thumb. I felt so much pressure hunting for jobs that day. Between contacting people on TradeMe and walking into places, I had about seven job opportunities within the first day of looking.

I remember sitting at a kebab shop on Courtney Place, nervous but excited about what would come in this city. The owner gave us one of those “buy-ten-kebabs-get-one-free cards”. I wondered if we would even last long enough in this city to get that free kebab.

Ric was in charge of finding us a room. He looked on TradeMe and Easyroommate. We had a few good prospects in just two days of searching. One room and couple looked like an especially good match for us. That night while I had a job trial, Ric looked at a room. At the end of my trial, I had a message on my phone that said, “Come home.” I grabbed my stuff from the hostel and hopped a bus to Mt. Cook.

Since we arrived so late, we didn’t really have time to make our new room comfortable. Our new roomies were nice enough to give us comforters and pillows, but they were covered in cat fur and Ric and I are both allergic. The room only came with a bed, which is actually quite lucky considering most of the rooms we saw came with nothing. We had to make it work though.

God that first night. The matress was so old that the springs had worn out, so Ric and I just kept rolling into eachother in the middle of it. On top of that we were sneezing and coughing all night because of the cat. I’m not writing this as a complaint, just as a funny note on how ridiculous that first night was.

The next day I did a trial at Fidel’s Cafe, pretty much a Wellington icon, and was hired. The next week we both organized our new room, sorting the bed out, using boxes as tables and dressers and putting some art up on the walls. The following week Ric found a job at Hotel Bristol and was hired to do what he loves, cook.

This little door can be found out the back of Fidel’s. I fell in love with it when I found it. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Leaving Wellington we are in a completely different situation. We both saved up a lot of money, met so many wonderful people here who were so welcoming, got to experience the World Cup in one of New Zealand’s biggest cities, beat our cat allergies (we both fell in love with the little guy) and we’ll even get to eat that free kebab.

Now that it’s time to say good bye to Wellington, I can’t help but look back on how we arrived and just give the city and all the people in it a massive thanks. I can’t speak on behalf of Ric, but I’ve never had a work place treat me so well and the people working there welcome me so much. We made a home here when we were literally close to being homeless. Everyone here was so amazing, it was a true realization of how kind the kiwi spirit is.

My favorite shot of Rondell, the best cat ever. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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My year in travel: 2011

Blog, Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under

My year in travel: 2011

6 Comments 23 December 2011

For the first time in my 25 years on earth, I spent an entire calendar year traveling.

And what a year it was. 

A year of traveling with a partner for the first time. A year that took me to a new continent, Asia. A year that pretty much brought me around the globe. Even a year in which I got to travel around my own country a bit.

This year has been a spectacular one. Let’s have a look back on what I did in 2011.

 Australia

My year actually started with an end. On January 26, Australia Day, I said farewell to the massive country I had called my home for most of 2010. My final days in Australia were spent mainly in Melbourne, where my boyfriend Ric and I lived in a tiny apartment on Chapel Street.

It was really hard to say goodbye to such an amazing country. It was even harder to close one of the best travel experiences of my life, the work holiday visa. I met so many amazing people in Australia, but the best of them all was the hardest to say goodbye to on that last day in the country.

Ric and I bid each other farewell as I headed off to the Philippines and he stayed in Melbourne.

Philippines

Hello Southeast Asia! I never thought or planned on visiting this part of the world, but after hearing how amazing it was from travelers in Australia, I just had to. The Philippines was my first stop, Donsol in particular. I visited for whaleshark season and after three tries I actually got to see one of the big fellas.

From Donsol, I headed to Cebu City where I spent some time with a friend of a friend’s family. After seeing such kindness from total strangers, I was moved to extend my visa to the Philippines by one more month. One month just wasn’t enough.

It’s a good thing I did as my next stop in the country, Malapascua, was just too hard to leave. I visited the tiny island planning to stay three days. I ended up, not only staying six weeks, but also earning my divemaster certification.

And guess who came to meet me in the Philippines?

Only the most special boy in the world. Ric spent about 12 days in paradise with me as I finished up my training. Later, we kicked off our travels together in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong

I wasn’t sure what to expect in this massive city. I thought of it as China, but people would say it’s not really China. At first glance I was just in shock over how many apartment buildings were in the city.

I really loved the place and I especially loved sharing it with my new travel partner. We visited the Big Buddha, went on a bus tour of the city, road the Peak Tram and ate lots of dim sum. It’s an expensive place to visit, so I’m hoping to go back one day with more money.

Thailand

We headed to the mother of all backpacker destinations, Bangkok, in late March. There we met up with my friend Julia who flew all the way out to travel with us for a few weeks. Bangkok is the most pleasant surprise I’ve ever had traveling. I expected it to be this seedy town with nothing but ping pong shows and heavy drinking to offer.

But it’s so much more. 

For starters, it’s an international city with amazing museums, restaurants, malls and more. But for backpackers, it’s something much more. I’ve never seen so many travelers bobbing around happily as I did on Khaosan Road. It made me wish I planned a few more nights in the city, but no worries, we would end up coming back three more times.

From Bangkok, we visited Ko Samet and Ko Chang, where Julia and I became deathly ill for ten days. I think it was bad eggs, but hey, I lost about 20 lbs, so silver lining. We said goodbye to Julia then spent probably more time than we should have in Lonely Beach.

We left the island to meet Ric’s mom and brother in Pattaya. It was my first time meeting them, so I was quite nervous. But they are amazing and we had a great time. There we celebrated Songkran and made a visa run to Cambodia. However, Pattaya is probably a place I’ll never return. It’s pretty much what I expected of Bangkok originally.

After another sad goodbye, Ric and I kept on traveling Thailand. This time we headed south visiting Koh Tao. We mainly relaxed here as we were gearing up for the famous Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan on April 18. We spent the next day recuperating on Koh Tao, then continued traveling south to Koh Samui.

On our visit to the over-commercialized island, we rented motorbikes, swam under waterfalls and visited Ang Thong Marine Park, the real inspiration for “The Beach”.

But we wanted more “Beach” action so we crossed Thailand to Ko Phi Phi on the west coast. A $US10 tour of the islands proved to be our best purchase and best day in Southeast Asia. Also, my best Easter Sunday ever.

After Ko Phi Phi we had to leave Thailand as our visas ran out.

Laos

First stop in Laos was Vang Vieng for its famous tubing. We spent a week in the tiny town on the river and never actually completed the tube route on the Nam Song River. But we had loads of fun, drank lots of buckets and watched an absurd amount of Family Guy.

After Vang Vieng we needed a serious detox, so we spent another week in 4,000 Islands. In this quiet area of Laos, we spent a lot of time lounging, but also did quite a bit of exploring. We rented bikes and visited the largest waterfall in southeast Asia. I also got to see Irrawaddy dolphins. I saw them alone as Ric broke his bike and was too defeated to walk any further.

 Cambodia

The trip from Laos to Cambodia involved two intense bus journeys. It took an entire day, but we finally reached Siem Reap in mid-May. The biggest attraction here is Angkor Wat, which is stunning, but I actually really enjoyed the town itself. We spent about a week there watching football and drinking cheap beer.

USA

It was time to fly our tan selves to the US of A, my homeland and Ric’s dream destination. It was Ric’s first time visiting the States, so the trip home was a really special one for me.

We landed in California, where I surprised a friend. There we drove the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to Hermossa Beach. We also visited Hollywood and ended up on the set of our favorite show, Entourage.


No one from the east coast knew I was in the country at that point, except my Uncle. I had been secretly planning a trip home with him since October, so I could surprise my dad for his birthday. Everything went as planned. We spent one day hiding out at my Aunt and Uncles, that night my dad opened their garage door to see Ric and I standing there with ribbons around our necks.

But we didn’t sit still for too long. After about a week, we were on the road again. We drove from NJ to Alabama for a wedding in which Ric was best man. On the road trip I showed Ric around Washington D.C. and made a lot of fast food stops. He couldn’t get enough of America’s burgers and sandwiches.

It was my first time visiting Alabama and it was good to see the southern comfort side of the States. We spent most of our week there playing on a lake located behind the house we were staying at. We jet skied, tubed, kayaked, even jumped off a ridiculously high bridge. That really hurt. 

The wedding was beautiful, the party was wild. We left Alabama extremely hungover en route to St. Augustine, Florida, where I showed Ric around my first real travel destination.

The rest of my time in the States was spent in NJ and Philadelphia. Erin, a friend I made studying abroad in London came out to visit, Ric climbed the Rocky steps and we celebrated the Fourth of July at the Jersey shore. But the highlight of my trip home was welcoming my gorgeous nephew Jake into the world. I love my life and all the traveling it entails, but it means missing out on some really spectacular occasions at home. I’m just happy I didn’t have to miss this one.

Add another farewell to my 2011 of goodbyes, as Ric and I left the States to go back down under, this time for a work-holiday visa in New Zealand.

New Zealand

We arrived in snowy Queenstown in July, but didn’t stay for long. We spent two days driving up to Blenheim where Ric already had a job sorted. Then a real twist came when I had to go back home for an emergency. I came back to New Zealand two weeks later and we were on the road again, this time only a short journey to Wellington.

After quite a hectic first half of the year, Ric and I were exhausted and broke. So we made a home in Wellington, got proper jobs, worked loads and saved up for our next adventure, the South Island in 2012.

We’ve been in Wellington for four months now and I’ve grown quite attached to the small city. We held back a lot during our time here as we were saving, but we still managed to accomplish quite a bit.

In September we rented a car and visited Lord of the Rings’ film locations in the area. October was all about the Rugby World Cup, so we went to see USA vs. Australia at Westpac Stadium. I got to see the All Blacks parade Wellington after they won. In November I celebrated yet another Thanksgiving abroad. In December we bought a car and started road tripping to nearby beaches and towns. Oh, and I met a good portion of the cast of “The Hobbit” through work.

We didn’t just get to know Wellington, we pretty much became a part of the city. I’ve even started saying “mean”.

It’s been another year packed with adventure and it’s only going to get even more intense in 2012. January and February of the new year will be dedicated to traveling New Zealand. However, February is depending on whether or not I survive the Nevis Jump, so let’s hope for the best.

What did you do in 2011? Have you visited any of the same places? Do share.

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Has my long term trip ruined travel?

Blog, Dispatches from Down Under

Has my long term trip ruined travel?

5 Comments 08 September 2011

I started thinking the other day about my first solo backpacking trip abroad. I was 20 years old and just finishing up a semester abroad in London. After 6 months of city life as well as short trips to European destinations with friends and a few on my own, I still had money left over and was ready go backpacking.

I said goodbye to Garret, a good friend I had made in London and one of the last to stick around the city as long as me, and boarded a plane to Nice, France. What followed was three months of magic that I don’t think I will ever experience again.

Maybe it’s because it was my first real backpacking trip completely arranged and for the most part traveled on my own. Maybe there’s just something about Europe. Regardless, those three months hold a very special place in my heart that no trip has ever succeeded and I don’t think ever will.

My first time was special.

Florence, Italy 2007 by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Florence, Italy 2007 by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I wandered with only my backpack, passport and a point in shoot. This was before I had a fancy SLR or laptop to carry around. I had a journal, which I wrote in every day and used communal computers for maybe 15 minutes a week to tell my dad I was alive. I only had three months so I savored every moment.

I can remember raving about every sight, every taste and every person I met.

Of course I still have had and continue to have those moments I had in Europe, but not as much. I just feel a bit numb to a lot of things that would probably amaze any person on a ten-day trip.

Have I just been at it too long? Have I spoiled travel for myself?

As quick as the thought hit me, I went on the defense.

That trip to Europe was magical. Most people’s first backpacking experiences are. And there is definitely something magical and romantic about Europe. All these reasons made coming home after that trip especially hard. In fact, I’ll say it, I went into a slight depression.

And by slight I mean I gained 20 pounds and barely left my apartment for a semester. But not just any semester. The semester I turned 21 years old, which definitely means something in the States.

Fucking, Austria by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Fucking, Austria 2007 by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I remember sitting in my apartment with my dad a month after returning to Glassboro, NJ and crying about how hard it was to return to my regular routine after the experience I had had. I vowed to myself that night to travel when I could for as long as I could the next time I had the chance.

That leads me to today. I’ve been on the move for one year, seven months and 13 days. In a trip that long, almost everyone will claim a home and start to adapt at various points. And with any form of “home” a bit “travel” seems to go away I think.

It’s almost become more about the lifestyle than it has about the sights for me. But it’s worth it. It’s a fantastic lifestyle. One where I feel stable, but things still seem new.

So maybe this long term trip hasn’t ruined travel for me, but introduced me to a new kind of lifestyle.

You never get over your first love, but you’ll often find one that’s better suited. So just as I may never get over that fling with Europe. I’m happier with my stable commitment to the world. But don’t worry Europe-we’ll rendezvous again!

Neuschwanstein, Germany 2007 by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Neuschwanstein, Germany 2007 by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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Kill sharks, kill the planet

China, Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under

Kill sharks, kill the planet

8 Comments 21 March 2011

Originally a delicacy in Chinese culture, shark fin soup has risen in popularity along with the size of China’s middle class in recent years. Once something only served to the wealthy at weddings and celebrations, today shark fins can be found everywhere from high-end to fast food restaurants.

I first heard about the Chinese meal during one of CNN’s Planet in Peril segments. At that point I was still quite afraid of sharks, so didn’t care too much about the issue until I saw the footage. Like sharks or not, watching thousands fished onto a boat, chopped up then thrown back alive, but without fins, is enough for anyone to feel bad.

Because they have gills fish must swim to stay alive. They need fins to swim. So without fins, sharks float in the water slowly suffocating while in a pain similar to that of a human being losing an ear.

That was about three years ago. When I still was quite afraid of sharks. I faced that fear in Australia and definitely conquered it while doing my divemaster in Malapascua, Philippines for five weeks just before visiting Hong Kong.

The main reason people visit Malapascua is to see thresher sharks. One of the only places in the world these sharks can be seen , the calm sharks appear out of the blue and gracefully move around small groups of divers, if they’re lucky. A sighting is pretty likely, but not guaranteed. I did not see a thresher shark until about a week into my stay on Malapascua.

A thresher shark swims at Kemod Shoal, a dive site in Malapascua. Photo by Mark Pacey

A thresher shark swims at Kemod Shoal, a dive site in Malapascua. Photo by Mark Pacey

Stretching up to six meters in length, one might think it would be a scary experience, but really it’s quite peaceful, even breathtaking. I was hooked after my first time. I woke up at 5 a.m. almost every day for the next two weeks after that to get another chance to see the beautiful creature again.

Going from that, to walking down Dried Seafood Street in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong where store after store sells thousands of dried up shark fins was quite the contrast. I actually felt sick seeing how many places sell shark fins. I always thought it was China’s dirty little secret, but no. There it was in bulk at discount prices.

What makes it worse is that according to the documentary Sharkwater, shark fin doesn’t even taste like anything. It’s just an addition in what is essentially a broth-based soup.

Dried shark fins for sale on Dried Seafood Street in Hong Kong. Photo by Bobbi Hitchon

Dried shark fins for sale on Dried Seafood Street in Hong Kong. Photo by Bobbi Hitchon

Still some people don’t care about the issue, because they think “sharks are mean and kill people.” It’s a well-known fact that you’re more likely to die in a car accident or plane crash than by a shark. You’re even more likely to be attacked by another person than a shark. So does that make it okay to eat people?

Whether you care for sharks or not, you should be worried about basic livelihood, which is affected by whether or not sharks exist. Part of the food chain for millions of years, if sharks go the entire ecosystem will be affected.

“70% of the world’s oxygen comes from plankton in the oceans, which is part of the food web that sharks inherently control as the biggest predators.”-Rob Stewart, filmmaker behind Sharkwater.

Very little is being done to address the problem, because sharks are a hard animal to sell. But with 100 million sharks being killed for their fins annually (according to Sharkwater), it’s definitely an issue that should receive more attention. Visit www.sharkwater.com to see what you can do.

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