Tag archive for "travel"

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

21 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’

Big Sky Country from the Saddle

Destinations, USA

Big Sky Country from the Saddle

No Comments 20 September 2013

Since I’ve had this dream of visiting Montana for so many years – I’ve had a lot of time to envision what my time there would be like. Long days, relaxed nights. Big mountains, tranquil creeks. Friendly locals, wild wranglers.

One of my flaws when it comes to travel is that I think too much into a trip and start to come up with scenarios in a destination that are like something out of a movie. I say it’s a flaw, because I’ve often been let down by places that would have been incredible – solely because I expected too much.

Due to how long I’d been thinking about Montana, I was prepared to have that happen again.

But it didn’t.

And one day in particular went above and beyond any expectations I had for my time in the “Big Sky Country”.

Montana

Erin and I on our horses Happy and Price during a back country ride.

A Full Day Back-Country Ride

The biggest activity or highlight to any trip to a dude ranch – no matter where it is – is obviously going to be the horses. Lone Mountain Ranch makes every effort to ensure that that depending on your experience with horses, you’re paired with one that’s best suited for you and that you become familiar and comfortable with your horse before the main event.

This started long before I even arrived at the ranch. They sent me and my friend a questionnaire to fill out asking whether we had ever ridden horses among other things. Based on that they pair people with the right horse for them. Since I have limited experience with horses, they put me with one that was extremely well-trained and gently on the newbies: Price.

Price is gorgeous.

Pretty much every wrangler said she was their favorite, but I think they say that about all the horses. She was definitely mine though. She followed my commands no matter how lacking in confidence they were and took care of me through a week of riding. Visitors to the ranch can pretty much take their horse out on a ride throughout the day as long as a wrangler is their to guide them. So prior to the big horsey event: a full-day back country ride, I had a few rides to get used to Price and vice versa. It was pretty special that I – as well as everyone else on my trip – got to have the same horse all week, to which I credit the wonderful wranglers at LMR.

Then came the big day.

Montana

Erin and Happy pause to take in the scenery. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

For our back-country ride, Alexia – our wrangler for the day – took myself, my friend Erin and a couple from England to Sage Creek. I was a bit worried about riding that day as it was raining in the morning, but it cleared up by the start of our ride, about 10 a.m., and Alexia said this was the ideal weather to start a back-country ride, because if it was sunny the whole day – the ride would be very hot and a bit exhausting.

Our ride started in a heavily wooded area and just as we hit that “Tall, Wide and Handsome” scenery that Montana is known for, the sun crept out revealing one of the most stunning views I’ve ever had on my travels. A skinny, trickling creek divides wide open yellow land. Purple mountains ahead layer each other. The clean air is slightly perfumed by wild sage plants scattered all around.

The complete silence of this peaceful terrain allowed our group to get to know each other. We all shared first in line behind Alexia so we could pick at her brain a bit about riding and of course Montana. About three hours into the ride we stopped for a packed lunch, turkey and bacon sandwiches on the biggest slices of bread I’ve ever seen, and a quick cowboy nap.

Montana

Bobbi taking a quick nap after lunch. Photo by Erin Jensen

After lunch we turned around to head back to where we started and though we followed the exact same route – it looked completely different. While we didn’t get to see any unusual wildlife on the ride, I did trot and gallop on my horses for the first time. Motioning with the horse as you speed in the open air, hair blowing behind, might be one of the most thrilling feelings I’ve ever had.

I get the whole horse thing now.

They’re such beautiful creatures and so powerful. Though I only had Price for a week, she left a huge impression on me. I am not a fan of hiking, so I usually just end up driving through different areas when I’m touring, say, a national park. I like it, but I always feel like I’m missing out on something by not getting out of the car and venturing into unpaved roads. For this reason – plus my absolute love of animals – I’ve come to the conclusion that horse back riding is easily my favorite way to explore. In fact, I started envisioning Ric and I out on rides on our own – especially when we passed a group of cowboys and cowgirls on horses with a few mules traveling behind with their bags and Alexia told me they were heading out somewhere to camp for the night. It just all seems to perfect to even be true.

Montana

Alexia leads behind a group of cowboys and cowgirls heading to camp for the night. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This back-country ride allowed us to see Yellowstone in a way totally different than all those suckers who follow the paved roads in the park – which is probably why the Yellowstone day trip I wrote about in my last Montana posts, was at the bottom of my list of best activities during my stay. Lone Mountain Ranch allowed me to see the park and Montana in a way that’s not possible to all visitors to the state.

This back-country ride allowed me to see the Montana of my dreams and then some.

Disclosure: I won my week at Lone Mountain Ranch through Passports with Purpose.

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Montana’s treasures: Yellowstone National Park

Destinations, USA

Montana’s treasures: Yellowstone National Park

2 Comments 17 September 2013

Montana’s nickname “The Treasure State” came about because of its wealth of minerals, including gold and silver, but for me that name resonates most in regards to Yellowstone National Park. Though most of this national park, which covers 3,468 sq miles of land, resides in Wyoming, four out of the five official entrances to the park are in Montana – making this great state the gateway to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park

A lone bison grazes yellow fields at Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Given my love of US national parks that spawned from my last road trip out west, you can bet the number one question on my mind after winning a week at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, MT (via Passports with Purpose) was “Will we be visiting Yellowstone?”. The answer: of course! Bozeman is one of the most popular means of getting to Yellowstone. Big Sky was about an hour drive from Bozeman Yellowstone Airport and the West Entrance to Yellowstone about a 45-minute drive from Big Sky.

During my week long visit to Lone Mountain Ranch, they offered two day trips to Yellowstone, which are included in the overall price of staying there. Plus, they drove my friend Erin and I out to the West Entrance for free to see the Grizzly Bear and Wolf Discovery Center on another day.

I took the first chance I could to go on a day trip to Yellowstone. We left at about 8 a.m. and didn’t return until about 6 p.m., so it was a long day – but it kind of has to be if you want to see the park in just a day.

Yellowstone National Park

Petrified wood scatters the volcanic park. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Yellowstone is the USA’s first national park. While I always think of Teddy Roosevelt when it comes to America’s national parks, especially this one, the designation of this space as a national park was actually signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. The park is most well-known for its geothermal activity. Home to Old Faithful and at least 300 more geysers, Yellowstone is placed on top of an active volcano. The park also has close to 300 waterfalls, including Lower Falls, located in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which you’ll see on a lot of vintage posters and post cards from the park.

Yellowstone National Park

Lowefalls can be found on several vintage posters for the park – it’s even better with no filters. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Beyond an active earth – this park also has a very active wildlife scene. It’s home to 67 species of mammals, two of which are threatened (the Canadian lynx and grizzly bear) and one of which is endangered (the gray wolf).

Anyone who has been following this blog will know that I’m more of a do-it-yourself, spend-as-little-as-possible sort of traveler. So going on a week-long trip to what is basically an all-inclusive ranch (minus alcohol and a few activities) was quite the luxury. In regards to things like park tours, I’ve almost never had someone to drive me around, let alone a highly-educated naturalist, so that was quite a treat. Our guide Kaitlyn knew pretty much everything there was to know about Yellowstone as well as the plants and animals there. She knew exactly where to take us and even better spots to see certain sights, like Old Faithful. Most watch it erupt from Old Faithful Inn, but she took us to a less crowded area.

Yellowstone National Park

Since it was foggy on my visit, I only saw steam as Old Faithful erupted. Still loved it. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Kaitlyn drove us around the Lower Loop and made sure to stop at Old Faithful, Fountain Paint Pots and Lower Falls. We spotted one bald eagles, a few osprey and several elk and bison while in the park. Plus, we got to see Old Faithful as well as Beehive Geysers erupt, which was a treat as the latter is bigger and usually only goes off every four hours.

Yellowstone National Park

I was actually more interested in Beehive Geyser erupting in the distance than Old Faithful. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The only criticism I have about this trip, which was in no way Lone Mountain Ranch’s fault, is the crowds. I always like visiting places like this at low season to avoid annoying drivers and congested natural areas. Since Yellowstone is one of the USA’s most popular national parks to visit, I recommend going sometime outside of high season, which can be hard because the park closes certain times of year.

Oh, and one other thing – I saw a guy smoking a cigarette in the middle of a wheat grass field in the park during one of the worst times of year for forest fires there. It really annoyed me. Please don’t be a jackass while in Yellowstone. You’ll ruin it for everyone else.

Yellowstone National Park

The water color in the park’s hot springs is so interesting. A buffalo actually fell in this one and you can see its bones. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It was an incredible day to say the least – but actually it was my least favorite activity of the week. Not because it was bad in anyway – but I just felt the other activities during the week, like canoeing and back country horse back riding allowed us to see the same beauty Yellowstone has to offer without having to be in a bus all day. Still, saying this is my least favorite is like saying Godiva came out last in a chocolate competition. It was still amazing, but means there are even better things to write about in the coming days!

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Dear Bobbi: 21st Century Pen Pals

Blog, Online Goodies, Other, Photography, What I'm thinking

Dear Bobbi: 21st Century Pen Pals

4 Comments 27 August 2013

For anyone who has ever had a pen pal or random travel partner they met in foreign lands who became their best friend – this website is for you.

Those who have been reading my site from the start (LEGENDS!) will know that almost four years ago I was in the running for “The Best Backpacker Job in the World”. There was a YouTube video that involved me scuba diving in a hot tub, which I bothered loads of people to watch to help me win. Sadly – I did not, but weirdly – another girl named Bobbi did.

I went to Australia – where this “best” job took place and ended up “working” it anyway with the other Bobbi (her name is Bobbi-Jo by the way and you can check out her blog here). After surviving shark tanks, monstrous spiders and wild cow stampedes – we parted ways, but never lost touch. In fact, not only did we correspond through emails and Skype over the following years, but we also managed to live in the same countries (New Zealand and England) and even the same city (London) again.

Now that we have the big bad Atlantic between us – as we did when we were just strangers with the same name entering random YouTube contests long ago – we’ve decided to keep in touch as pen pals of the 21st century.

May I introduce – Dear Bobbi.

A tale of two Bobbis. To the left is my photo of the New York skyline, to the right is Bobbi-Jo's of the London skyline.

A tale of two Bobbi’s, to the left is my photo of the New York skyline, to the right is Bobbi-Jo’s of the London skyline.

The website is a transatlantic correspondence between me and my name twin. Twice a week we’ll post photos with the same theme, such as self, skyline and fruit. Follow along as we send photographic love letters across the pond.

Have you ever met a great friend on your travels that you still keep in touch with? Have you ever had a pen pal?

Share your stories below!

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The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, Wine and Coffee

The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

10 Comments 11 July 2013

Whenever I see a swirl of butter cream pink icing, a glistening beige cake beneath and some sort of delicious art on top staring back at me in a London window, I can’t say no.

Hi, my name is Bobbi and I’m a cupcake-aholic.

I am obsessed with the recent cupcake fad that has taken over this city. It’s hard to walk anywhere in London these days without being tempted by this itsy bitsy treat, but where should people go for one serious cupcake in the city?

London Cupcake Tours set out to answer just that with their self-guided tour packages. I spread my tour out over three days across two months and found some incredible places to eat cake in London Town.

The Package

I know what you’re thinking.

“Cupcake tour, what on earth is a cupcake tour?”

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I return home one day to find a hot pink package addressed to me. Wide smile on my face, I run up the stairs to my flat and immediately open it. The first thing I pull out is the London Cupcake Tour Guidebook, which lists six places in London to try cupcakes, maps on how to find each place and popular attractions and sights nearby. Also in the package is six vouchers for one cupcake at each of the bakeries in the guidebook, a reusable tote bag, a few cardboard boxes to fit two cupcakes each, a London Cupcake Tour cover for my Oyster Card and two buttons that say, “I’m on the London Cupcake Tour”.

The gift certificates are valid for three to 12 months, so there is no pressure to do the tour immediately or even rush it all into one day. So I took my time and spread the tour out over three months sharing each day with a friend.

On Tour

Day one, Ric and I visit The Cupcake Bakehouse in Covet Garden to share a Nutella cupcake. From there, we walk to Sweet Couture Cake Boutique and use our voucher for there on a friend that works nearby. It’s her birthday, so we surprise her with a vanilla cupcake with one candle in it. Don’t worry – we also sample some of Sweet Couture’s cakes ourselves. Their zesty lemon cupcake looks too delicious to resist.

London Cupcake Tour

Taking the first bite of my first cupcake on tour. Nutella – yummm. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Almost a month later and I’m having serious cupcake withdrawals, so Ric and I set out on day two of our cupcake tour. After wandering through Portobello Market in Notting Hill, we find a Buttercup Cake Shop location next to Gelato Mia. It’s different from the location listed in the guidebook and you’ll find a few places on the tour have more than one location. There we try a sticky toffee cupcake. Next, we head to Holborn to visit Bea’s of Bloomsbury and try my favorite: red velvet cupcake. This is also my favorite sit-down stop on tour. Bea’s has such a cute and cozy set up. It’s a great place to meet people for cake and a coffee and their icing is so creamy.

London Cupcake Tour

A cupcake tree at Bea’s of Bloomsbury. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The last day on tour I head on by myself, but make another birthday purchase. First stop is Lola’s Cupcakes in Mayfair where I choose a cupcake that looks like a tennis ball. This little shop is celebrating the Wimbledon finals in the sweetest way possible. I’m pleasantly surprised to taste jelly as I bite into the vanilla cake! Last stop is Ms. Cupcake in Brixton, which is my favorite shopping experience. The bakery has a retro feel to it and the cupcakes are vegan, so everyone can enjoy. I take a Ferrero Rocher cupcake to go and share it with a friend later in the day for his birthday.

London Cupcake Tour

A tennis ball cupcake at Lola’s Cupcakes the day before Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Price

A London Cupcake Tours single pack costs £34.50 and can be purchased online. I thought this price was a bit high considering each cupcake would have cost £2-4 if purchased on its own. Honestly though, after looking at a few other food tours in London, that’s actually quite affordable. Walk.Eat.Talk.Eat’s tours range between £50-65. Remember, you’re not just purchasing cupcakes, you’re being guided through different areas in the city while visiting some of its best cake shops.

Final Thoughts

I thought this was the most adorable tour idea I had heard about in London. Cupcakes are very popular at the moment and bakeries just keep popping up in this city. London Cupcake Tour is a great way to experience that side of the city, while also touring it . My major problem with guided food tours is that they pack so much into just a few hours, which can be sickening after a while. That’s why I liked the set up of this food tour, because I could spread it out as much as I wanted. I didn’t have to eat six cupcakes in one day, which would have probably made me hate cupcakes.

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Overall, London Cupcake Tours was a nice addition to London life for me that allowed me to see bits of the city I wouldn’t have, like Brixton. All the bakeries were high quality and had something very special about them. I would recommend this to tourists with a sweet tooth and even locals that want to sample this exciting trend in London.

Thanks to London Cupcake Tours for letting me try out their tour. As always, all opinions are my own.

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15 Things I Will and Won’t Miss About Living in London

Destinations, England, Moving Abroad, United Kingdom

15 Things I Will and Won’t Miss About Living in London

10 Comments 09 July 2013

London seems to be a city that just keeps coming back into my life. I lived here for six months studying abroad in college and returned five months ago for a sort of place to live in limbo as me and my Ric tried to figure out a more permanent living situation.

In a nutshell, I adore this city. I don’t know what exactly it is about London, but the city just has something. Maybe it’s the free  museums and world-renowned art scene. Maybe it’s the city’s lively mixture of cultures and activities. Maybe it’s the city’s intricate and exciting history.

Whatever it is, this city had me at “Ya, alright?”.

And now, probably as you read this post, I’m leaving the London once again with no idea when I’ll return for a vacation, let alone to live, so I think now is a good time to reflect on the ups and downs of living in London Town.

Things I’ll Miss

Getting lost – kind of

My absolute favorite thing to do in London is walk around with no plans or destinations. I could walk this city for hours and hours and not even realize it, because there is so much happening to take my mind off the fact that I’m exercising. Tiny side streets – blue plate homes – hole-in-the-wall cafes – so much has happened in the city and so much has been added that you never know where you’ll end up or what you’ll find on a wander. However, you’ll never actually get lost enough to the point that you can’t find your way back home. There’s always a tube station close by, no matter how lost you get, hop on that and you’ll know exactly where you are again.

Free magazines and newspapers

I’m very old-fashioned with my media. While I do read more things online these days, I’ll take a massive inky newspaper or glossy magazine over a website or kindle any day. It was really nice in London to have that for the same price as online media: Free 99!

Not only am I going to miss picking up my free copy of Time Out outside Shepherd’s Bush Market station on Monday mornings en route to the library or Evening Standard weekdays on my way home, but I’ll also miss the paper boys. The way the guy says “Evening Standard” is always a highlight on my walk home and I know I’m not alone. I hear kids repeating the phrase just as he does at the library, girls on Uxbridge Road throwing it into the conversation in his voice.

Random happenings

I think we can all agree, whether you love or hate London, one thing is certain, there is always something to do in this city and they’re so random and unique. Into art? Head to an auction at Sotheby’s. Love the cabaret? This city is a mecca for it. Want to live in the past? You can do that too – at themed parties. Are you a total foodie? Don’t get me started – the markets here are incredible.

This city literally has something going on every day to suit all types of people. You really never know what you’ll get into or where you’ll end up on any given day in London. They say nobody knows how to party quite like the Brits, they’re kidding.

Free museums and art

London is the city where I really fell in love with art, so I might put it on a pedestal a bit more than I should, but it is a really great city for art lovers. National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern and Britain, Saatchi Gallery, V&A – there is no shortage of art galleries in this city displaying Picasso, Manet, Dali and more legendary artists. And what’s even more amazing, most of these galleries and museums are free. London can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

British TV

This is something I’ll miss, but I know I’ll keep up with long after leaving London. England has some of my absolute favorite TV shows. For chat, shows like Graham Norton, A League of Their Own and Top Gear presented an entirely new and sort of no-hold-back sort of watching experience. It took me a while to completely understand the humor here, but I do now. And on some British chat show people are given wine – so you see a completely different side of all your favorite celebrities.

For scripted dramas and comedies, I’ll start by saying a lot of your favorite American series were based on British ones and often, the originals and a million times better. Shameless was my sort of awakening to how good TV is over here. Then of course there’s Made in Chelsea, which, for better or worse, I am obsessed with.

Curry and Kebabs

I never understood Britain’s bad reputation for food and drink. Sure fish and chips and Bangers and Mash are quite simple dishes, but they should not be used at the entire spectrum of British food. To be honest, I love eating in this country and especially London. Not only is England home to some of the world’s most famous chefs (Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver), but it’s also a melting pot of about a million different foods from around the world.

Two of those melting pot items that my mouth will miss (but my hips will not) are curry and kebabs. Let me start by saying I lived off Uxbridge Road during my most recent stay, where kebab shops and curry houses are literally almost every store front for about 20 minutes of walking. You try dieting when a spinning hunk of lamb meat is staring at you throughout every walk to and from anywhere. It’s not going to happen. We do a lot of food right in America, but we don’t come close to how they do curry or kebabs in London.

Urban parks

I get giddy every time I see a park anywhere in the world, especially England. London does parks right. Whether it be a perfectly trimmed rose garden or a wild forest, this city knows how to help people escape the hustle of the city, if even for just a stroll. It was actually in a London park that Ric asked me to marry him, Chiswick, so obviously that’s my favorite, but some other good ones to check out include, Regent’s Park, Holland Park and St. James’s Park.

Coffee

This is something I never thought I would miss about London, especially coming from New Zealand and Australia. Something big has happened in the cafe and coffee culture since I last lived here in 2007. There is so much focus on coffee here and they’re really producing incredible things with that. My favorite cafe is Wild & Wood in Holborn. Have a flat white there and you’ll understand why I’m not looking forward to going home to suburban chains.

The Tube

I’ve never seen a public transportation system run as efficiently as the London Underground system. If you can pay £7 for a day pass, that’s your entire day set in London with all it’s free museums and parks. You can literally go anywhere in the city with the underground and it always feels like a train arrives as soon as I enter the station. I am not looking forward to going back to NJ and relying on my car to get around.

Things I won’t Miss

Dog pee and poop on the sidewalk

I know it’s a city and sometimes your pets just have to go – that’s not controllable – but I’m not going to miss wondering if every bit of liquid I see in the street is a puddle of pee or water. Pee I can understand. You can’t clean that up as a pet owner, but crap on the sidewalk is inexcusable and so gross. I’m not sure if this was something that only happened in my area, because I have to say I did not see it often in other parts of the city, but for the love of god people – clean up after your pets, especially when they’re messing on pedestrian walkways!

Overcrowded

As much as I love all the hustle and bustle of a city and activities that come with that, I am not going to miss walking down the streets on a weekend in London. I feel like I’m in a herd of cattle a lot of days in this city. Crowded bars, crowded streets, crowded tube carriages…these things will not be missed.

Walking on the sidewalks

To add to my overcrowding and poop winge – I think people need an education in sidewalk rules before they arrive in London. I always walk according to what side of the street a country drives on, but I don’t think everyone else does that. Since the UK is the only country in Europe that drives on the left side of the road and loads of Europeans as well as people from around the world (most of which drive on the right) visit London on a daily basis – no one knows which way to walk on sidewalks. People from the UK/Australia/NZ go left – the rest of the world goes right. It especially annoys me at tube stations when there are signs on the stairs that say stay left, yet for some bizarre reason people are taking up both sides. It wouldn’t be as big a deal if the city wasn’t so busy, but it is and no one know which way to go, which frustrates me like crazy.

Overpriced

As cheap as a person can make London with free activities and discount stores, it is one of the most expensive cities in the world if you don’t bother considering your budget. This is especially troublesome when you’re living here on the American dollar. I can’t help but exchange money in my head and every time I go to the store I feel like I’m paying double on top of something that already costs more than it would in the rest of England, the rest of the world. £16 cocktails ($US24) – £3 triangular sandwiches ($US4.50) – £2.50 coffees ($US3.75)- as much as I enjoyed eating and drinking you, you will not be missed.

Not having the right of way

Cars in London rule the road and they’re not going to stop for any idiot who wonders into the road. Don’t worry, I’m that idiot too. But what always bothered me is at cross walks when I would have the green man and suddenly he would start blinking. Now my understanding in a lot of places is that this meant, “Hurry up, you only have a few seconds to get across, but don’t worry you can still walk”. Not in London. As soon as the green man starts blinking for pedestrians, a yellow light goes on for the cars that are waiting and they immediately start to go or get angry at people for still walking in the road.

Rush Hour

I was fortunate enough to only have to ride the tube or be in central London a handful of times during rush hour and that was enough. This isn’t just London, but in a lot of big cities, people lose all respect for each other between the hours of 7-10 a.m. and 3-5 p.m. I’m not going to miss getting shouldered on the streets and nobody apologizing and I’m not going to miss getting shoved out of the way at a tube station so some jerk who just got there can get home two minutes earlier than me.

Every place has it’s good and bad, ups and downs, and London is no different. Though I had a few erks about living here, I think it’s clear to see that the positives more than outweigh the negatives. Take advantage of all London’s free activities – museums and parks – wander through the city’s side streets as much as possible and avoid the CBD completely at rush hour and you’ll walk away loving this city as much as me.

What are some of your favorite things about London?

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Elephant Nature Park 10th Anniversary: My Bucket List

Destinations, Online Goodies, Other, Thailand

Elephant Nature Park 10th Anniversary: My Bucket List

3 Comments 04 April 2013

Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is the sort place that stays with you way beyond your travels to Thailand. I visited the park last year and was amazed by it. The passion and dedication volunteers here have to animal welfare is incredible. Plus, visiting the park and interacting with rescued elephants is like no other animal encounter you’ve ever had before.

So I was very excited to read that the organization is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary. To do so, they’re calling all bloggers to write a post listing their top ten bucket list items.

I’ve never been one for bucket lists. I kind of just decide what I want to do as I go. But if writing one is in celebration of a good cause, then why the hell not! I’ve already done the usual bucket list items like sky dive, bungy jump and play in a river with elephants (thanks ENP), so some of the items on my list might be a bit unusual or unexpected, but they’re all epic travel goals.

Trans-Siberian Railway

I think one of the first memories I have of world travel is of the Trans-Siberian Railway. There are a few different routes people can take. I would go for the train ride from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia, which is six nights and shows passengers the beauty of an area of the world most never see.

Overland from Laos to Spain

This trip would definitely be more about the journey than any destination, because to be honest I can’t even pronounce most of the places I would take on this route. It would be a struggle and I know I’d have to go through parts of the world where tourism isn’t even a thought, but that’s the fun of it.

Live in South America for one year

When I left the USA to travel over three years ago, I always thought I’d end up in some South American village either for life or at least a few years. Before it was just an assumption, but now I think it’s a dream. I see myself working as a divemaster, walking along the beach to my house for siesta and partying in a hut by night.

Learn a language

I think I’ll have to accomplish this item before the last one. It’s quite a common goal for people and I actually feel like I missed out on a lot of things not knowing another language by now. My biggest problem is picking a language to learn and sticking to it.

Open a cafe in Key West

This bucket list item only came about because I traveled. Prior to hitting the road in 2010, I had very little interest in being a restauranteur or anything in the hospitality industry for that matter. I only started working in the industry in Australia purely because it had the most opportunity for backpackers. Everything happens for a reason. I absolutely fell in love with everything to do with restaurants from waiting tables and meeting people to making coffees and learning about food. Plus, I met my partner working at a restaurant. Our shared love of the industry and experience in it is where this item comes from.

Why Key West? Ummm, because it’s warm and gorgeous.

Attempt to ice climb

I first found out this was an option when I visited Interlaken, Switzerland in 2007. I’m not sure why I became so fascinated with it then, but I spent all my money skydiving there and haven’t had another opportunity to do it. Next time I do, you can bet I’m taking it.

Festival Food Truck in the USA

The problem: my partner and I want to open our own cafe asap, but our feet are too itchy to stop and focus on it. The solution: a cafe on wheels or food truck. We want to open one and travel around the USA for a summer, maybe even a year, hitting the country’s best festivals and concerts.

Shaving my head and traveling India

I’ve been obsessed with visiting India for as long as I can remember. When I go, I want to stay for at least six months, making sure to join the hippy community in Goa, get to a wedding, celebrate Holi and live at an Ashram. The head shaving bit? I dono, I’m weird. I’ve always wanted to shave my head and I heard women receive a lot of unwanted attention in the country. I don’t think I’m going to be one of those people that looks hot with a shaved head (how did Natalie Portman do it?), so maybe it will help with that.

Road trip Western Australia

I don’t know if it’s a regret, because I love the places I visited and how everything turned out during my year in Australia, but I do wish I explored the country’s west coast. It was my original plan actually, so forces must have led me away for a reason. I know what the reason is, so I’m okay with that. It just means I need to visit again and not miss it this time.

Walk across the USA

Call me crazy, but I’m certain that I will accomplish this in my life. Do I need to give reasons why I want to do it? Witness the country’s beauty, challenge my body’s limits, accomplish something only tens of people have done… I could go on and on. This is number one on my life list.

Now it’s your turn! I nominate these ten people to participate in ENP’s blogger carnival. All you have to do is write about your top ten bucket list items and nominate ten more people to participate.

  1. Wonderful Wanderings
  2. Today I’m Bobbi 
  3. The Traveller
  4. Misadventures with Andi 
  5. That Backpacker 
  6. Hayley on Holiday
  7. Christine in Spain
  8. Our Oyster
  9. Bohemian Trails
  10. GlobeTrotterGirls

“My top 10 bucket list post is a part of Save Elephant Foundation’s blog carnival to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Elephant Nature Park.”

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A reintroduction to art in London with Art13

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret

A reintroduction to art in London with Art13

4 Comments 05 March 2013

One of the things I loved most the last time I was living in London was the UK capital’s thriving arts and theater scene. It was during that six-month study abroad experience over five years ago that I saw a different side of art.

From sliding down one of Carsten Holler’s masterpieces at the Tate Modern to watching an auction at Sotheby’s during which the record was set for the highest sold piece by a living European artist ever with Peter Doig’s White Canoe (sold for $11.3 million), I found out in 2007 just how lively the London art scene can be.

So I was eager to pop right back into it during my current stay and Art13 London seemed like the perfect way to do it. This modern and contemporary art fair featured 129 galleries from 30 countries, giving art lovers a chance to meet new artists and see what is happening around the world in art.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

My friend Bobbi and I chose to visit on the Sunday of this three-day art weekend for the talk on Contemporary photography, community and the positive view. The discussion, which was chaired by Charlotte Cotton, was focused on community-based photography efforts. I loved hearing about how photography has created so many opportunities for people and how the line between artist and subject is being crossed in many efforts, giving more insight to the work and allowing for more people to be involved.

Bobbi peaking in on a piece. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Sometime art can make you giggle. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Since both of us were open to seeing and learning about what the fair had to offer, we didn’t have much of an agenda besides that talk, so we spent the rest of our time wandering the massive Olympia Grand Hall, learning about different works and even catching one of the fair’s live performances: Hugo Dalton’s Movement and Mark, which merged the fluidity of drawing with that of dance.

The windows at Olympia Grand Hall, a really beautiful space that gets even better on sunny days. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Hugo Dalton’s Movement and Mark. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

As far as my taste and knowledge of art goes, well, I’m quite immature. I’ll be completely honest and say that I like things that look interesting, sometimes grotesque, sometimes pretty, as well as things that I can play with or walk through. While I do like to learn about what makes good art, for me, what matters most is that I enjoy it. Some works I really liked include Zhu Jinishi’s Boat and Yi Hwan-Kwon’s A Sitting Woman.

Zhu Jinishi’s Boat. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Yi Hwan-Kwon’s A Sitting Woman. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It was the perfect starting out point for an art lover in London in need of a serious update. I found out about a few upcoming exhibitions and events in the same scene, such as the Positive Vew Foundation’s Landmark: The Fields of Photography, which kicks off at Somerset House on March 14.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It’s good to have a friend that’s an amazing photographer. Bobbi captured me walking through Boat in awe. Photo by Bobbi-Jo O’Gilvie

As you can see Art13 was the perfect event to throw myself back into the vibrant London art world.

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Jucy Wheels out West: the good, the bad and the budget

Destinations, Road Trip, USA, USA

Jucy Wheels out West: the good, the bad and the budget

No Comments 01 March 2013

We’ve been driving higher and higher on Highway 180 en route to the Big Stump Entrance of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, elevation markers letting us know we’ve reached 2000, 3000, 4000 feet. The last few miles have not been easy. The fog is so thick I can’t see more than 15 feet ahead. Then it disappears and reveals one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen.

I’d tackle any hard drive for this view. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Rocky mountains and trees fill the scenery to my left and ahead, two my right, the tips of a few mountains peaking above the clouds. I realise I wasn’t driving through fog before, but those clouds below me right now. If that’s the case, then this must be heaven.

It looks like it anyway.

It’s next to impossible to justifiably sum up my three-week road trip with Jucy Rentals in Western USA. I met so many characters, fell in love with so many destinations and the number of moments that almost brought me to tears driving in this beautiful country, well most of those moments will remain within me.

For me, this wasn’t just a road trip through California, Nevada and Arizona, but a chance to reignite the flame with my homeland. I’ve been away from it for three years now. In that time, I started to forget just how incredible it is. This trip was a serious reminder of that.

So while I can’t possibly share with you all my best moments and stories from the road, I can explain this trip in terms of numbers and figures and a few of my favorite things along the way.

Route and destinations

I kicked off this three-week road trip in Los Angeles, headed straight for the Pacific Coast Highway and never looked back. After a night in Santa Barbara, I continued onwards to Morro Bay then to Big Sur with a quick stop at Hearst Castle. After a three-day love affair in Big Sur, I headed up to San Francisco, to visit Alcatraz and take advantage of all the free things to do in the Bay Area.

Sunset at Morro Bay made me wish I had more time to visit the waterfront town. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The furthest north I hit on this trip was Napa Valley. From there I headed east to Yosemite National Park, then along the west side of the Sierra Nevada to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, after which I spent a night in the Mojave Desert. I spent one day cruising through the state of Nevada and one night in Lake Mead National Park.

I drove for about an hour on Route 66 on the way to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. A night in the national park there and I made my way back to the Pacific Coast with a few stops in between.

Three nights in Las Vegas, a day in Joshua Tree National Park then I was spreading my toes in the sand at Huntington Beach, CA. I beached it up during my last weekend with my Jucy Champ, visiting Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Malibu.

Distances and travel times

Altogether I covered just under 3000 miles around three states in Western USA: California, Nevada and Arizona. This took about 44 hours driving time in total, but fitting it all in three weeks was really tight. My longest drive in terms of distance was from the Grand Canyon South Rim, AZ to KOA at Circus Circus in Las Vegas, NV, 277 miles over about four and a half hours. The longest drive in terms of time, excluding inside national parks, was from Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA to Fernwood Resort in Big Sur, CA, only 66 miles, but took about five hours, because of the routes winding roads and I kept stopping to take photos.

We made it to the Grand Canyon just before dark. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Budget (fuel, accommodation, food, activities, rental and insurance)

I spent a total of $559.94 on fuel. It cost me $505.71 to camp out 15 nights during the trip. I stayed with a friend for three nights in San Francisco, got a hotel room for one night at $70 in Napa Valley and used American Express points to spend two nights in a hotel in Las Vegas, which would have costs $60 total.

I went to the grocery store three times on this trip, which cost a total of about $150 in total. I spent about $400 between snacks, eating out and alcohol.

Between five National Parks ($90), various tours and tastings ($111) and one show in Las Vegas ($89), the total of activities adds up to $290.

Three weeks with my Jucy rental with unlimited mileage ($1,410), plus 21 nights of partial insurance ($189), since I was already covered for Supplementary Liability Insurance because with my own car in the USA cost a total of $1,599, plus taxes etc. All trip prices vary depending on how long you’ll be renting for, how many miles you’ll be traveling and what kind of insurance you require, so it’s best to get a quote for yourself.

This brings my trip to a grand total of $3,574.65. This is a basic budget you could use if you are interested in doing a similar road trip of the USA, but consider how many people will split the cost of fuel, camp fees, entrance to national parks, etc. Plus you know yourself best, how often will you be eating out or going out for the night. I did very little on both.

Favorite drive

There’s a reason why my drive from Hearst Castle to Big Sur was the longest in terms of time. The drive alone is stunning, sun setting on the Pacific Ocean to my left, rocky mountains to my right and to add to the thrill of it, this drive is along a cliff with a massive drop to the sea. But I also got to see some really cool things at stops along the way, elephant seals, whales, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Henry Miller Memorial Library.

I must have stopped ten or twenty times in Big Sur to look at the sights. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Least favorite drive

After a long day of driving through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, I went through the worst driving conditions I’ve ever experience on Route 58 in the Mojave Desert. Fog so thick, you could only see about two lines on the middle of the road ahead. This happened at night as well, when all I wanted to do was park up and sleep.

Favorite stop

This is a very hard one, but overall Joshua Tree National Park was best for me. I’ve wanted to see the National Park for a very long time and it was even more interesting than I anticipated. The town of Joshua Tree is small, but quality. The people in this area are really unique and fun. Plus we came across some random things in on our drive through here, like a drummer in the desert and an old western Hollywood set.

Make like a Joshua Tree. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Favorite RV park

During my trip I stayed in 13 different campgrounds and RV resorts. I can honestly say that they were all friendly and special for different reasons, but my favorite is going to have to be Fernwood Resort in Big Sur. The woods there are beautiful and I was parked up right next to the Big Sur River. The bathrooms are heated. Plus the Redwood Grill attached to this resort is cosy and filled with really friendly and interesting locals to talk to.

Colorful lights line the bridge across the Big Sur River at Fernwood Resort. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Best lesson

Buy a national park pass if you plan to road trip Western USA. The $80 “America the Beautiful” pass will allow you to enter and leave all National Parks in the country for an entire year. It be dumb not to visit National Parks in the USA and they each cost $10-25 to enter. We visited five in three weeks, which cost a total of $90, which means we could have saved $10 if we had known about this pass.

Want to read more? All posts about my trip out west can be found here. Enjoy and safe travels!

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As always, all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

The road tripper’s guide to cooking like a champ

Destinations, Road Trip, USA, USA

The road tripper’s guide to cooking like a champ

4 Comments 27 February 2013

Being a budget traveler and just enjoying cooking in general, it means a lot when I can cook while traveling. That’s why the best thing, for me, about traveling with my Jucy Champ in California had to be the full kitchen in the back. I loved waking up and making breakfast in the middle of a Cachuma Lake Recreation Area or cooking as the sun sets next to me in Big Sur.

The nice thing about cooking on the road is not only that you eat more affordably, but also that you can pick the best seat in the house.

I mainly ate what was cooked from the back of my Champ on my tour out West. No matter how equipped the kitchen, cooking from the back of a vehicle is a lot different than cooking at home. This guide will name the essentials that should be on your first shopping list, things to keep in mind and my personal road trip recipes.

Cooking essentials

Do you often catch yourself saying, “Oh no, I forgot….”? Road trippers should purchase these three things on their first trip to the grocery store to be used throughout the trip.

  1. Salt and pepper
  2. Dish soap and sponge
  3. Olive oil or butter

Boiling some water from the back of my Jucy Champ for coffee in the morning at Cachuma Lake. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Make sure you have

You think soup would be something inexpensive and easy to make on your road trip, until you get back to the car to find you don’t have a can opener! Luckily, my Jucy rental came fully equipped, so I didn’t have to buy any extra appliances, but it’s always good to be sure. Before planning out your meals, make sure you have these key items.

  1. Can-opener (soups, tuna, sauces)
  2. Sharp knife (meats, vegetables)
  3. Cutting board
  4. Colander (pasta, rice, vegetables)

Tips and reminders

Some things that are obvious to seasoned road trippers are unknown to newbies. Keeps these things in mind when cooking in your RV or camper van.

  1. No illegal dumping. This applies to anything and everything coming out of your vehicle, not just bathrooms. If you are emptying your waste tank ask people on the campground where to dispose of it.
  2. Consider how long things take to cook. The butane gas cartridges used for portable gas stoves pack quite a bit of cooking time, but be realistic with how long your meal idea with take.
  3. Wash up immediately. This is the golden rule in all kitchens, but especially those in cars. It’s not a good idea to drive with things floating around. Wash up and put everything away after eating, so you can go as soon as you want to.
  4. Cool off. Make sure your stove top and any pots or pans have cooled down before putting them away.
  5. Plan ahead. Purchase all your groceries etc. in advance of visiting national parks or secluded areas. These places have few choices and most are more expensive than say in the suburbs or big towns.

Three meal ideas

There are so many things you can cook from the back of your camper van. My advice is to keep it simple, but still have fun. These three videos were all shot from the back of my Jucy camper van and will give you some ideas of things to cook on your road trip.

Breakfast: Eggs California

Lunch: Nachos Grande

Dinner: Creamy fettuccine with three-cheese sausage

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As always all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)


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