Tag: Australia

Why Helpx Still Excites Me 4 Years Later

It’s been 4 years since I’ve traveled full-time using Helpx.net, but after curiously poking around on their site again, it looks like things have only grown and gotten better and better for them – and for the travelers who use their site.

You might remember this throwback post: Workaway vs. Helpx: Which do you use when planning a working holiday?  This post is actually my most popular to date, and it’s easy to imagine why: Who wouldn’t want to live in and work in paradise (From Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Austria, France, the U.S. and more) for a nice family/farm in exchange for somewhere to stay…all while having the time and money to explore?

 

 

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Check out all of these thousands of listings in Australia.

 

 

I’ve used Helpx twice and had the best experiences of my life.

In Australia, I stayed with a family in Ipswich, Queensland, not a far train ride from Brisbane. For two weeks, I had my own room, was fed gourmet meals (the dad was a chef!), was taken to locals-only swimming holes, parks, and beaches. I had the time of my life. All I did was work 4 hours a day/a few days a week, and I had the richest, most local experience ever. I remember one day, while relaxing on their outdoor porch, seeing a flock of wild cockatoos fly by. I’ll never forget it!

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This is one of my favorite shots taken near the Gold Coast in Australia. Who took me there? You guessed it: My host family!

Then there was Hawaii, a Helpx experience I loved so much, I still live in the state 4 years later! I lived and worked at a eco-hostel on the Big Island. I picked fruit, built trails, planted trees, but best of all, made amazing lifelong friendships and one-of-a-kind memories. I had free WiFi, and it was under the thatched roof my dwelling I published some of my first travel stories. My time at Hedonisia Hawaii will go down as some of my best memories to date.

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Wild tropical flowers foraged from around the property – perfect for Ikebana! Look at those rare orchids! (Left)

If anyone is on the fence about a Helpx experience, I highly recommend you go for it. Pay the membership fee: it’s totally worth it. Weigh the following options:

  • Proximity to a city
  • Transportation
  • Accommodations (Plenty of places offer private rooms and even private bathrooms!)
  • Are meals included? My stay in Australia had meals included, but I was on my own in Hawaii. There were always plenty of shared meals, though.
  • Responsiveness/helpfulness of host
  • Will there be other travelers there to meet?
  • Is there WiFi? Many places have it.
  • How long are they looking for you to stay? Many hosts actually prefer longer guests.

With all the talk nowadays of being a digital nomad, Helpx is certainly a viable way to achieve that. If my lifestyle hadn’t shifted and I was still on the road, I’d do Helpx again in a heartbeat. Please use it and travel deeply!

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This post was not sponsored, nor am I getting compensated for it. I really just love Helpx and the memories it helped me create.

 

How traveling made me a low maintenance girlfriend

 

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I learned the value of a dollar

When I checked my bank account before I left for a month-long backpacking trip to Australia, I had a little over $1,000 at-the-ready for everything and anything I wanted to do. What I didn’t realize before I left was how expensive traveling in Australia would be.

Instead of buying souvenirs, I routinely told myself, “I don’t need it.” As it turns out, enough “I don’t need its” turned into saving up for a trip to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef.

Today I still routinely tell myself, “I don’t need it” so I can save up for a future with my boyfriend. I’m grateful that he’s mature enough to not spend frivolously, and he remarks how refreshing it is to have a girl not obsessed with just going to the mall, keeping up with the latest brands and spending needlessly.

I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and do things for myself

There used to be a time where I kept my fingers perfectly manicured: a time where my life fit neatly into a little box. Then I gave it all up to volunteer on a farm in the jungle of Hawaii.

My days transitioned from dressing to the nines at my office job to excavating and planting, weeding, and transplanting soil around the Big Island. I had more mosquito bites than I could count, and my fingernails were constantly caked with mud.

While I’ve moved on from living and working on a farm, I’ve never forgotten the value of hard work. When I need something done, whether it’s changing a light bulb, moving furniture, or simply taking out the trash, I roll up my sleeves and do it myself.

Going with the flow is often better than having a plan

It wasn’t very long ago that I was extremely caught up with having a life plan. After graduating college, I’d marry my college sweetheart and we’d live happily-ever-after in the suburbs.

After spending a year sobbing over said college sweetheart who dumped me, I decided to change my life. I packed my car up, moved away from home, and never looked back. I didn’t have a plan other than I needed an adventure. Five years later, I’m living the life of my dreams because my “plan” was foiled.

Living through that breakup caused me to appreciate what could happen to your life when you surrender control and “go with the flow.” I stopped chasing a fuzzy illusion of what I thought my future could or would look like. My boyfriend appreciates my adventurous spirit, and open-mindedness brings excitement and opportunity to our relationship.

I’m not afraid to pee outside

I traveled to some of the remotest areas in the American West without a soul, or bathroom, in sight. I trained myself to use our R.V. toilet (more akin to an outhouse than a toilet), gas station restrooms, bushes and whatever hole I could relieve myself in. I gave a whole new meaning to the phrase, “When you gotta go, you gotta go.”

One of the first times my boyfriend and I went to the beach together I remarked, “I have to pee.” He looked worried and offered to find me a bathroom. Instead of cutting our excursion short, I simply relieved myself in the nearby bushes. He was impressed that I wasn’t a prissy pisser.

Having a positive mindset is everything

While traveling, I sometimes found myself in risky and dangerous situations. Once while hiking the woods in rural Pennsylvania, I became lost and had to be rescued by the nearby fire department. I was found 11 miles off course in bear country. I vowed to remain calm and believed firmly things would work out okay. They did.

It’s that same mindset that I bring to my relationship. I believe in the good things to come for us, and when we have a misunderstanding, I realize that staying positive is definitely a choice that leads to learning a valuable lesson. This has been instrumental knowledge in growing together from acquaintances to exclusivity.

I realize that some of the best pleasures in life are the simplest

It wasn’t until I was floating on my back in a volcanic warm pond in Hawaii did I realize some of the best things in life are free.

My boyfriend and I enjoy similar pleasures in one each other’s company. We like to go out, see movies, and dine out like the next couple. But the most gratifying moments happen when our wallets are buried deep within our pockets, when we sit side-by-side watching sunset with our arms around one another’s waist.

How to explain gaps in your resume because of travel

I have over 15 versions of my resume on my hard-drive. Being on-the-go full-time for 4 years was an incredible experience, but I am not independently wealthy. I had to work along the way to finance my travels. Many of those jobs were in the hospitality industry which exist worldwide.

My experience is all over the map. Depending on the job I was looking to get, I usually had some explaining to do.

Here’s a version of my current resume:

Resume Jillian Blog

As you can see, my experience is literally all over the board. It starts in Illinois, takes me to Hawaii (two different islands, now living on a third), back to the mainland in California, to Colorado and Wyoming. This doesn’t even account for a year I spent on the east coast in Philadelphia or my gap year where I traveled to Australia and Thailand.

Typical reactions I’ve received:

1. Why all the moving?

2. Hawaii? Why would you ever leave there?

3. What’s in Wyoming?

4. Looks like you’ve had a lot of fun! (This one I like!)

5. If I hire you, you aren’t just going to up and move again are you?

In my years of trying to get jobs and interviewing with every personality type you can think of, I’ve devised a way to make my travels work to my advantage. I want my prospective employer to see my frequent moves as as positive, not a negative.

Just to let you know, more than half the time, there is a stigma in the professional world when it comes to frequent travel. Some employers might let on that they think it’s cool and they wish they could travel. Some more positive interviews I’ve been on, owners and interviewers actually recount their travels with a gleam in their eye: they “get it.” I’ve actually got my job in southern California by just walking in the restaurant and handing my resume to the owner. My travels and world experience impressed him so much, he wanted me on the team. He was a world traveler himself and knew firsthand how travel makes you a more well-rounded employee.

I loved my bosses at my job in Southern Cali. I was able to taste and help order wine, eat cheese and photograph for the local newspaper!
I loved my bosses at my job in Southern Cali. I was able to taste and help order wine, eat cheese and photograph for the local newspaper!

More often than not though, people in the “real-world” are usually in a bubble. They can’t understand why you would choose to live in a jungle in Hawaii or still can’t comprehend WHAT, exactly, Wyoming has to offer. It becomes a little exhausting explaining myself to people, but hey, I DO need a job after all!

Many of my jobs have been “seasonal.” Many people I talk to don’t even know that seasonal jobs on the mainland exist. A seasonal job is one that lasts for just that, the season.A great resource for seasonal jobs is Coolworks.com. You work a summer in Yellowstone National Park, then the job ends. Then you work a winter in the Colorado Rockies at one of the ski resorts, then come April, that job ends. It’s a great way to see beautiful places all over the country while making money. It requires frequent travel, interviewing and job hunting for your next gig.

Why WOULDN'T I take a job in Wyoming where I can explore Yellowstone National Park on my days off??
Why WOULDN’T I take a job in Wyoming where I can explore Yellowstone National Park on my days off??

Making the leap OUT of the seasonal world causes you to encounter employers who don’t understand the seasonal lifestyle and wonder why you’re a vegabond that can’t hold down a job. For those people, you have your work cut out for you.

Here are some tips to get you through an interview where you have to explain gaps in your resume because of travel:

1. Make travel seem essential: When someone starts the conversation, “Why all the moving?” that doesn’t exactly sound like the most welcoming invitation to hear about my galavanting. In fact, it sounds like a threat, like they’re standing arms crossed waiting to judge my response. I found that the most effective way to soften up my interviewer is to make the strong argument that travel was essentially required for my jobs.

My response: Because the hospitality industry is world-wide, opportunities, often better opportunities, are presented to hospitality professionals who are willing to relocate. I don’t have any children and find it easy to take promotions and new positions in new locations. Plus, I have a Journalism degree, so on the side I’m a travel writer. I’ve been published in The Huffington Post, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and more. I wouldn’t be able to pursue my writing or advance my career if I didn’t take new jobs all over the country.

These publishing bragging rights didn't exactly come from sitting on my butt in my hometown
These publishing bragging rights didn’t exactly come from sitting on my butt in my hometown

2. Highlight the positives of travel and how it translates to “real world” experience: I always get the question in an interview along the lines of: “Tell me about a time where you couldn’t get along with or see eye to eye with a fellow employee. How did you handle the situation?” When you travel the country or the world, you’ve probably problem-solved your way out of some gnarly situations with all types of personalities. Use this to your advantage!

My response: (Start off with a specific anecdote). When you travel as much as I do, you are presented with unique problems in which you have to solve in order to survive. You meet a variety of different personalities from all over the world. I’ve become really good at reading people and getting along with others from all walks of life. Travel has opened my mind to different ways of living and respecting others’ opinions and ways of doing things. I believe my experience leads me to be an excellent team player with an open mind who is focused on nothing more than solving the task at hand quickly and efficiently.

3. Don’t be afraid to talk about your experiences: It’s pretty obvious that you’ve traveled based on your resume. There’s no reason to hide behind a wall of shame. You should be proud that you’ve been able to organize a life where you’ve been able to achieve individual goals. Highlight that. All travelers, especially solo travelers, are self-starting individuals who are smart, savvy and usually great leaders.

During my tenure as a hospitality manager at a tropical agriculture farm. I managed bookings, reservations, managed volunteer work shifts and more!
During my tenure as a hospitality manager at a tropical agriculture farm, I managed bookings, reservations, lead volunteer work shifts and more!

4. When in doubt, turn the conversation around: If the specific job you’re looking at doesn’t involve travel one bit and the person interviewing you is looking at you practically dumb-founded, chances are this isn’t the right job for you anyway. In order not to thwart an opportunity, take the time to interview your interviewer. A lot of people fall in the trap of thinking an interview is all about drilling a candidate. Make sure you ask questions and interview the company. You need to know that this is the right fit for you, after all. Here are some sample questions I like to ask when it’s time to take the focus off myself:

a. What is your company culture like here?

b. What benefits do you offer your employees?

c. How does your company invest in the health and wellness of your employees?

d. What do you like about working here?

Letter d almost always puts the interviewer and I on a level playing field. I love asking that question! It usually catches my interviewer off-guard and makes them ponder, usually rather uncomfortably, what they like about working at said company. I get to sit back, smile, relax and learn about their experience and gauge whether or not this company is the right fit for me.

Overall, I’m not afraid to ask the hard questions during an interview. I’ve had so many jobs that I know what I’m looking for in a position. Travel has led me to experience many different work cultures, some excellent, some bad, and I’m able to read a company’s vibe pretty well during an interview.

The point is, don’t be scared to interview just because you have a non-traditional resume. Chances are the right person will come along and see your world experience as a huge asset. That is the person you want to be working for anyway: someone who recognizes your talents and values that you care about personal growth and experience.

How to travel as a couple and not kill each other

If there’s one takeaway from the book and movie Into the Wild I will always carry with me, it’s this:

“Happiness is only real when shared.”

When I first starting traveling, I trekked solo for the better part of 2 years. It was great! I was able to come and go as I pleased, see anything I wanted to see at any time of day, eat whatever came to mind and experience total and complete freedom.

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Something that came with that freedom, though, was loneliness. One day as I swam alone at the Cairns Esplanade Swimming Lagoon in Australia, I saw a couple playing in the water together and kissing. I tried to not let it affect me, but it shook me. I was completely lonesome. I wish I had someone by my side to experience all the amazing things I was doing: snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, hiking in the rain forest, jungle expeditions and meeting new friends.

Later that year I met my current boyfriend Jonathan and we’ve been together ever since. We fell in love with each other and both loved traveling. The perfect storm brewed and we became a couple that traveled full-time together.

Jonathan and I at the Grand Canyon
Jonathan and I at the Grand Canyon

Traveling with your romantic partner is something every couple should do. Traveling tests your limits and expands your mind. Having new and exciting experiences with someone you love keeps things interesting, fresh and fun.

But, all the benefits of traveling with my boyfriend came at a cost. I could no longer saunter into parties and flirt with wild men. Gone were the days of perusing clothing markets (I couldn’t bare the site of Jonathan in the “husband chair” just waiting for me to be done). If I wanted to eat Mexican food, I didn’t stand a good chance as Jonathan prefers Asian cuisine. Times: they were a changin’.

Traveling together as a couple meant learning how to navigate through the ever-changing and exciting world as a team, not solo. I learned a lot about what it means to make a meaningful relationship work even in the thick of it.

Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way:

1. Make sacrifices: You might not want to hear this, but I believe if you want to successfully travel the world as a couple, you have to sacrifice. You might not to be able to visit a certain site or eat the specific cuisine you had your heart set on. More than once you’ll have to put off getting your haircut or buying yourself a cute pair of shoes because your partner’s ATM card isn’t working abroad. You’ll probably resort to PB&Js for a night or two just to get a private hostel room, whereas before you didn’t mind cramming into an 12-bed room. When you travel as a couple, you have to think of yourself as a collective whole, not as two individual people.

Living in a camper wasn't always easy, but waking up to these views made it always worth it.
Living in a camper wasn’t always easy, but waking up to these views always made it worth it.

2. Practice patience: Whenever Jonathan and I road tripped across the U.S., I was like my dog- my head was out the window and I wanted to stop every hour or two to take pictures, go to the bathroom or stretch. Jonathan was the king of “keep driving,” even at the cost of me whining about “passing up all the sites.” I finally learned that Jonathan was simply waiting for the right moment to pull off so that we could have privacy, use the bathroom AND refuel or find the ultimate scenic spot for a photo opp. Biting my tongue and practicing patience when all I wanted was my way proved difficult, but the payoff always trumped my impatience.

3. Go with the flow: Shit happens on the road. You’ll get a flat tire. You’ll get robbed. You’ll run out of money. Someone in your group will get in a fight and you have to hitchhike home. When traveling, you have to be the master of expecting the unexpected. Letting a little adversity that isn’t anyone’s fault come between you as a couple is a sign of naivitee. To point fingers and blame your significant other during a tough time only widens your gap and decreases the effectivity of safely solving a problem. If you can remain calm and encourage your partner to follow suit, you can take on any challenge with a clear mind.

Sucking it up and finding a way to survive winter before moving to Hawaii
Sucking it up and finding a way to survive winter before moving to Hawaii

4. Respect each other’s alone time: I can’t stress this enough. Yes, you’re in love and you love to do every lovey dovey thing together. We get it. Now that you’re done suffocating, take some time for yourself. I used to get upset when I’d go swimming and Jonathan didn’t feel like getting in the water. It made me feel like he didn’t want to enjoy something with me that I enjoyed doing so much. I realize, now, that his version and my version of “enjoying” vary a great deal sometimes, and some experiences are saved just for me. Those special moments when I can get away and practice yoga, write, swim, go for a jog or do anything that brings me peace is a gift and vice versa.

5.  Make time for just the two of you: You might be thinking: “Make time for the two of you? You’re traveling the world together! What more time do you need?!” Travel is not glamorous. In fact, it’s a full-time job. Between balancing finances, dealing with interesting characters you meet on the road, calling home, arranging stays, dealing with unruly passengers or moody gas station attendants, sometimes you forget to look next to you, see your partner and fully comprehend that you’re in this together. Don’t let the world bog you down. Find alone time to reconnect. If that’s catching a movie together, preparing a meal with each other or simply taking a walk hand in hand, it’s important to find time to celebrate one-on-one the reason why you decided to travel the world together in the first place.

Together in love and travel
Together in love and travel

Are you a traveling couple? What tips do you have for staying sane on the road? I’d love to hear your feedback. 

Overcoming the Four Letter Word

Nothing’s certain. Nothing’s perfect. The time is now.

So often before I took the leap of faith and starting traveling around the world solo, I wanted all the stars to align. In my mind, I fancied every aspect of my life lining up in perfect harmony so that it would make sense to quit whatever I was doing and travel. After all, I had what all college graduate Americans had: a decent job, an apartment and a modest budget to purchase the important things, like a night out at the bars to forget about the monotony I signed up for.

I was living in Philadelphia, working a restaurant job and daydreaming, as I cleaned tables, of faraway places, places I would surely never see, especially on a waitress’ salary. When dealing with a difficult customer, I’d imagine taking a zip line through the rainforest somewhere, maybe Costa Rica, or even Hawaii. Hell, I’d take a zip line in my own backyard if it meant a few moments of serenity.

This yearning inside of me was new and in my mind, fairly controversial. . I was afraid and that four-letter word, fear, held me back.  How, as a woman, could I travel the world extensively solo? I would probably get raped, or mugged, or worse, end up back at home, empty-handed, broke and unhappy. These are the scenarios your worst enemies plot out for you. Unfortunately sometimes your worst enemy is your own psyche.

I took to the internet and gained an immeasurable amount of confidence. I discovered Matador Network, a travel writing community and signed up for their courses. This way, I could not only put my journalism degree to use (finally!), but I could gain some valuable insight and resources into how to make a round the world trip possible.

Through my travels, I learned that the power of manifestation is the key driving force behind our life’s biggest ambitions. I yearned to travel. It hurt how bad I wanted it. I saved up and signed up for my first US Passport. I didn’t know where I was going or when, but I was going.

I then emailed a childhood friend who had been traveling alone around the world since high school. I scrolled enviously through her Costa Rica and Thailand pictures. I emailed her asking in my naiveté, “How did you do it? Do you have any advice?”

She told me, and I would subsequently tell people who emailed me asking the same thing after my travels, the only thing holding you back from traveling is you.

A lot of people have the misconception that to travel you have to be rich. This isn’t the case. With resourcefulness and a bit of savings and bravery, you too can make your dream of traveling a reality.

After mustering up confidence, I was ready. Where should I choose first? The world was an awfully big place. I had never traveled internationally besides Canada and Mexico. The scope seemed so large and I was woefully overwhelmed.

Then it dawned on me: I could go anywhere. I didn’t have anyone to tell me “no” except myself. That realization sparked the enormous boost of self-confidence I had needed. My adventurous spirit was alive and well. I no longer had to wait for all the stars to align, because perfect isn’t real.  I manifested the most perfect situation for me to take a leap of faith. I was brave. I was ready.

I decided on one of the farthest places from home I could think of: Australia.

I researched ways to save money while I traversed the land down under. I organized a few home stays and hostels. The rest I would figure out as I went along.

As I was sitting on the long flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and think that I was starting my journey of self-discovery while kicking fear’s ass.

Fear is the most debilitating emotion there is. It puts ideas in your head that you aren’t worthy, that you’re stuck where you are. Fear makes you believe you are less important, weak, scared and futile.

I decided to throw fear out the window and start doing my own thing. I was starting with Australia.

When I arrived on the other side of the world, by myself, backpack on, all I could think as I headed into the warm, February air was “I did it.”

I took a bus to King’s Cross and checked into my hostel. From there, I didn’t immediately fall asleep because I was so wired from the 18 hour plane ride. I took to the streets, camera in hand, and started to get a better idea of what Australia was all about.

A few hours later, I collapsed into bed. The next morning offered a pleasant surprise: befriending other travelers.  A girl from Belgium and I hit it off right away and decided on a day excursion to one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches, Bondi Beach.  As we walked along the coast to Coogee Beach, stopping along the way for a dip or a taste of gelato, I was in awe at my “luck.” How did I end up here? I wondered.

A view from the Coastal Walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach
A view from the Coastal Walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach

In front of my eyes were such beautiful sites, so many amazing, kind people. Is THIS what I had been afraid of? Having an amazing time? Meeting people from halfway around the globe who share similar interests as me? It all seemed so silly now. It’s true that nature loves courage.

From Sydney I continued my travels north to Brisbane. I stayed with a lovely young couple, their daughter, and a French exchange couple. In the few weeks I stayed there, I learned about Australian gardening, canoed, went on a day trip to the Gold Coast to watch some of the world’s best surfers and saw the first of many kangaroos.

After my stint in Brisbane, I craved more. I took a flight up north to Cairns. I wanted to see and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I wanted to be the only person I knew personally to witness one of the Seven Wonders of the World. My thought was, “If not me, then who?”

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef
Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

I also wanted to take my bravery a step further and do something I saw people online in the travel writing circle seemed to do with ease: couchsurf.

I wrote a few couchsurfing requests from a hostel in Cairns and was accepted by Nevan, a 20-something world-traveler and aspiring skydiving instructor. He took me in for 10 days it was one of the safest, most sincere encounters of my life.

While staying with Nevan, we cooked, went to the beach and explored the rainforest village of Kuranda together. I had the freedom to come and go as I pleased and was during the time I was able to have one of the best days of my life snorkeling with sharks and various precious sea species in the Great Barrier Reef. 

Through couchsurfing with Nevan, I met Linnea, a fellow German traveler. She and I became quite close in the short time we had together and she even joined me on a rainforest tour in Cape Tribulation. The day ended in a giant rainstorm where we played in the rain and jumped in puddles. It was the quintessential carefree moment. I loved the way Linnea was always humbled and pleased by life’s “real” moments by exclaiming, “This is life!” or “This is really living!” It’s not every day you hear that.

Nevan, Linnea and I at Kuranda
Nevan, Linnea and I at Kuranda

When I finally left Australia a month later, I already felt like a seasoned traveler. Nevan told me to bring one thing back to America with me – a message to other fellow travelers. He told me to be an ambassador of international travel to my friends, family and anyone who will listen. He said:

“For so long, the world has been looking at America. Now it’s time for America to look at the world.”

The Gold Coast, Australia
The Gold Coast, Australia

Since my trip to Australia, my wanderlust became insatiable. I traveled all over the U.S., lived in Hawaii for a year and visited Thailand. By overcoming my fears, I discovered my life’s passion. Following your bliss and overcoming fear can produce some amazing memories and ah-ha moments. Fear is one four-letter word I won’t let hold me back. I’d only be restricting myself from the uncertainty and beauty this world has to offer.  And now, I know better.

Heading West: The Great American Road Trip Commences

Jon and I souped our truck and finally put the Northstar 850 SC slide in camper on top. It took two days to pack everything we own (I thought not much, but after cramming everything into every little crevice, it turns out we have a lot of crap) and finally hit the road.

Jon and I getting ready to hit the road in our Northstar Camper
Jon and I getting ready to hit the road in our Northstar Camper

We started traveling west from Chicago on I-80 with one destination in mind: The Northstar Camper factory in Waterloo, Iowa.

I’ve traveled the world over and have had lofty destinations like Sydney, Bangkok, Honolulu, San Francisco. Waterloo, Iowa was the first stop on our list, and honestly it didn’t sound like much. The idea was to shoot straight through Iowa and Nebraska and just hit up the Rockies. But as usual, travel offers you unexpected delightful surprises.

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We made an appointment to meet with Rex, a co-owner of Northstar, so that he could help us iron out the finer details of our camper since our dealer had zero experiences with our model.

After 5 hours of driving through boring Illinois, we arrived in Waterloo. We pulled into the Northstar Factory, and Rex greeted us with open arms.

He immediately grabbed a forklift to move other models of slide in campers out of the way and made us his first priority. The minute we got out of the car, he started caulking the roof, nailing in loose bits and firing off very useful pieces of information.

As it turns out, Northstar operates a very family-oriented business out of a smallish warehouse off a country road in Iowa. Rex, the co-owner recalled growing up on that very block.

“The carnival would roll into town and my dad was friends with the carnies. They would set up a ride in the parking lot and we’d eat hot dogs and funnel cakes and just have good old-fashioned fun,” Rex said. “Then they’d show us their RVs.”

The RV culture is alive and well in the USA. I always chalked RVers up to be bored, retired people, but once you get an RV and start going places, you realize how many awesome wanderers are really out there. A lifelong passion for building campers for lovers of RVs was born in Rex at a young age.

Rex took 2 hours out of his day to show us how to use our awning, the fridge, power system, stove, hot water heater, furnace, toilet and water system. Where we had left a valve open in the water system, he plugged it up and filled us up with 40 gallons of water with a wink of the eye. His 21-year-old cat slunk around the workshop, drinking our drained (clean) water off the floor. Meeting with Rex was like visiting an uncle: He told us stories of the road, gave us tried and true tips and even gave us an awesome alternate route to Colorado along US 30 (runs parallel to I-80, but has those small little towns to stop off at along the way).

He told us that over 40 percent of his business is overseas, with a huge interest in Australia. I recalled fondly the beautiful, wild landscapes of Australia when I was backpacking last year. One day maybe we can take our Northstar down under and really live off the grid!

After Rex fixed us up, we walked around a bit and saw the different models of Northstar campers being built. It was a really neat, home-grown production facility epitomized by sincerity and quality.

So many campers, so little time!
So many campers, so little time!

I’m very happy with our purchase and would recommend anyone to get a Northstar Camper. Also, if you have the time and you’re heading west like us, stop by and talk to Rex. He will give you all the pointers you need in the world. After all, he built the thing!

After stopping in Waterloo, Jon and I head south to Cedar Rapids and then continued on our journey west on 30. We stopped in Tama for dinner, a very small farmer town in rural Iowa before making camp at Outback Campground on top of a hill.

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It was a fun day full of unexpected surprises. The best feeling is the open road. Although we only finished one day on the road, we already realized the best plan is no plan. When leaving the factory, we asked Rex how much we owed him for his time. He said those golden words:

“Just get out of here and have some fun. Consider this a great start to a great trip.”

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If you are interested in Northstar Campers, visit their website at http://northstarcampers.com/

A Day at Wivenhoe Dam, Australia

We packed up a barbie, some chairs, an inflatable kayak and we were off, driving on the left side of the road on the other side of the world.

I had just arrived in Australia, my first out of country experience, and I was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed for who I’d meet, where I’d go and what I’d see.

I decided to check out Brisbane for about 2 weeks during my stay in Oz. In order to fit my budget (and to learn what was like for an Australian family), I did a home stay which I organized through Helpx. *Side note: I can’t say enough about Helpx, travelers! Don’t be put off by the subscription fee. It’s been worth every dime and more!*

I stayed with a youngish, modern and hip couple called Angie and Gary. Angie worked for the local government while Gary was a chef at a nearby college. They met in London years ago and since had traveled the world together. They opened their home to travelers in order to show Clancy, their young daughter, the ways of the world.

Meet Clancy. This girl has style!

I arrived as Fresh American Meat. When Gary picked me up from the train station and we arrived home he announced, “I found an American!”

That day I was greeted with a lovely lunch and some introductory conversations. But then we were off to explore.

Wivenhoe Dam was on the agenda, about 50 miles from Brisbane. We ended up at a place that’s actually an artificial lake, which made swimming safe (no crocs to worry about!)

A day at the dam

As Gary inflated the kayak and Clancy put on her lifejacket and immediately took to the water, Angie pointed in the distance.

“Look there they are! Some kangaroos!”

I almost fell over in shock. Wild kangaroos were galloping and bouncing about. I definitely was somewhere far away from home.

Where was I? What day was it? How was I on the other side of the world where marsupials bounced around freely? I grew up in the Midwest of America with the likes of squirrels and deer. To be honest, kangaroos are a bit mangy and not very cute.  They’re just as common as deer back in the U.S., but that didn’t make it any less cool to see them hopping around.

Straight up chillin’. Australia’s hot, yo!

Gary and I paddled in the kayak around the lake, taking in the scenery. He was very curious about me and admitted to adoring America and Americans.

“So what do you think of this place?” Gary asked me.

I could see were enormous, beautiful bluish grey mountains in the horizon. The sun was hot on my face and the sunglasses I had borrowed from Angie kept slipping off my nose. All I could conjure up was that this area of Australia reminded me of a tropical Vermont.

I think that observation amused Gary because I heard him repeat it several times throughout my stay with them. Having traveled America extensively, he was very familiar with the North east and I think his laugh was in a surprised agreement. What a strange pairing, Vermont and Australia. But what can I say? It worked.

We had a delicious barbecue next to the lake as the sun set. Typical fare was had like sausages, bread, steaks and chips.

Fire up the barbie

Shortly thereafter, I went to the bathroom and almost sat on the biggest toad I’ve ever seen camped out in the toilet. I then saw an enormous spider, the likes of something you’d see in a zoo. To Ozzies, that’s the norm. They’re just part of the Australian package.

Let it be known: if you’re weary of wildlife, exercise caution when planning your Australian holiday! I never let it get the best of me, but the squirmish better beware.

After sunset we left and I felt lucky and happy to be taken in by such a kind family who wanted to show me their little slice of Queensland heaven.

The uncertainty of the travel flow

Traveling opened up about a million cans of awesome, and almost as many cans of worms.

This year alone has been my greatest success. I conquered continents. I traveled here, to there, to here and to there again.

A lot of people ask me, “What are you running away from?”

I like to answer, “It’s not a question of what I’m running away from, but what I’m running toward.

The line, though, my friends, becomes pretty blurred after months on end on the road.

I think I’m suffering from travel burnout.

Correction Sydney airport, home is where I lay my hat

Sounds like a pretty nice problem to have, huh?

Traveling is great and has afforded me some awesome opportunities. I burned my tongue silly on the hottest goddamn pepper in the world. I cuddled koalas in Australia, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef (saw some sharks!), swam with dolphins, surfed wild waves, learned Hawaiian permaculture and enjoyed my fair share of California sunsets. I have juggled the most amazing friends and lovers all over the world.

I’ve seen things people only dream about. I woke up from a reality that I perceived to be my only way of life. Then I realized how much more there was out there to see. A dizzying amount of opportunities. How do you know which one is right?

Who is who?

Like I’ve decided earlier, I’m calling Hawaii my home. I’m in search of something more permanent. I loved meeting and creating contacts all over the world. I love having friends that I can stay with or call or share a memory with, but saying goodbye time and again has become so very difficult for me.

I think Anthony Bourdain said it best:

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

In Hawaii, I met some amazing, life-altering soul friends. We shared many philosophical conversations, resources, adventures, work life, the works. Leaving them was especially difficult. Are these people meant to come into our lives to make an impact forever? Certainly. How do I cope with feelings of greediness?  I want them all in my life always.

Part of my jungle family

I think it comes down to making decisions and following your heart. It was a difficult choice to leave home to travel in the first place. I remember after my going away party, I cried for hours wondering why forces were pulling me away from a comfy, lovely and perfectly wonderful support system: my family and friends. But cutting that cord offered me a million unique opportunities I would’ve never had otherwise.

Is that always the compromise? While traveling, I missed my family and friends and wished they could be with me. But I know that can’t be the case, because when I’m alone, I’m a free agent. I can re-invent myself somewhere totally different. I can go my own way without preconceived notions of who I was before. It sounds bizzare, but your reputation, even when it’s good, follows you and hinders you in some ways.

I’ve been able to let go and be completely me on the road, getting into shenanigans & cars with “strangers,” eating exotic foods in exotic locales, learning about things I might not have been exposed to before. That to me, was worth the pay off of leaving home.

Dragonfruit..tastes like a hot pink kiwi…who knew?

But now, the new experiences have become a bit daunting. Experiences end as quickly as the they began. New faces become old friends on Facebook in the matter of months, days even.

I’m ready to set up shop. I’m ready to set up a support network. I’m ready to hang up the vegabond hat for a while in search of the elusive dish-all over coffee or a beer best friend. I want a dog. Hell, I even want a partner. I want people I can look at at the end of the day, smile with and feel a piece of my heart and soul growing, rather than having to have it all torn away week to week, day to day.

C’mon, let’s share the view

After all, happiness is only real when shared.

How do you cope with the  travel blues?

Life as a full time traveler

I’ve been traveling full-time for almost eight months.

I’m humbled by all the experiences I’ve had. This has been the best year of my life in so many ways. My mind’s been opened to the big wild world, and it’s love, my friends.

Never thought this year would have me chillin’ with ‘roos

Couchsurfing around the world, camping on remote beaches and calling wherever I lay my hat my home has been the name of the game this year. But the time has come for me to go out and get me one of those J-O-Bs!

I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively this year, taking time off from the grind to really concentrate on the next chapter of my life. As I went, I was able to scope out different living situations so that at the end of my year I could pick somewhere to live and settle in for a while.

From Philly, to Chicago, out west to L.A., San Francisco, Northern California, out to Australia and back, Portland and then Hawaii, I’ve seen a lot of places I’d love to call home for a while for a variety of reasons.

Where the road goes

But nothing was as special as Hawaii.

Like a good love, the islands swept me off my feet. I came and could hardly bare the thought of leaving right away to continue on my round-the-world trip. Coming here for a 2 week trip turned into a four-month travel-venture that leaves me wanting more.

home

After living in the rainforest for four months on east side of Big Island in Hawaii, I’m ready for an upgrade of awesomeness. My next chapter has me going back to the mainland to sell off some final things I left behind this year and transplant myself in Maui. The scene is burgeoning, the food is good and the jobs a lot more plentiful than Big Island.

I’m not ready to say goodbye to the islands. In fact, I just arrived. I’m stoked to see where my future lies here. I’ll continue to travel as much as possible.

I’m definitely not ready to hang up the old hat. Not yet. There’s just too much good world to take in. But for now, I’m going to stay on island time.

The cost of travel besides MONEY

I”m not shy about giving out details about my personal budget, because, believe it or not, just like you, I had to work for my money. I still work for money and I will continue to work for money.

So many people have it wrong. It’s not all about the money. Admittedly, I drained my bank account in order to finance my traveling lifestyle. Sure, I’ve created many a marvelous memory by not working and spending money, but that’s not the only cost to consider when choosing a traveling lifestyle. The other costs include:

1. Physical- This year alone, I’ve done so much flying that I’m exhausted. I’m truly suffering from burn out. That doesn’t mean that I still don’t enjoy flying off to new places, emerging from the plane bright eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for adventure, but it leaves your body physically exhausted. Jet lag is a serious concern. When I left Australia earlier this year, ready to engage in a 4 flight, 23 hour fly-a-thon back to the U.S., I left on Wednesday morning, February 29th, leap year, traveled for 24 hours straight and landed in L.A. Wednesday morning, February 29th. Believe me when I say it took WEEKS for my body to adjust to THAT time travel!

Tired.

My good friend the flight attendant is constantly on the go as well. One time I asked her what day it really is for her because of all of her traveling and time zone differences. She opted for “no comment,” saying that trying to figure that out would drive her insane. It would drive anyone insane!

The road burns your body out. Toting a 50 pound backpack after a shitty night’s sleep in a hostel isn’t for the faint of heart. Trying to sleep when others are partying is even worse. I combat this by trying to maintain a relatively normal sleep schedule (by normal I mean at LEAST seven hours/24 hour period), eating healthy and maintaining a healthy attitude.

2. Emotional- I’ve gotten good, I mean REALLY good at saying goodbye. That doesn’t mean I like to say goodbye, but I have to force myself in order to move on. Luckily it’s not goodbye, just see you later. Part of my goals when traveling the world have been to create contacts all over the world. As I start on that goal, I often grow close to and have to say goodbye to many people that I love. I love their generosity, their kind hearts, their laugh and their unique life perspectives.

My Hawaii friends, aka Family

I also have to deal with feelings of homesickness. Like every traveler on the road, the pangs of homesickness haunt you when you least expect it. You miss birthdays, graduation parties, engagement schindigs, holidays, you name it: any occasion where the family gets together to make mirth and merriment, it seems you’re sleeping in a tent 3,000 miles away. These are the sacrifices we make. 

Aloha until next time!

3. Mental- It’s no secret travel changes you. I’m dealing with this right now. I’m trying to hash out how my life goal’s have changed, how everything I’ve been spoon-fed growing up doesn’t exactly jive with my old interests, now that I’ve seen how other people live successful, happy lives alternate to the “American Dream.” I am dealing with how these differences are changing me as a person, how to reconnect with others who still might subscribe to my “old way” (not wrong, by any means, just confusing and different), and trying to explain my “gypsy” lifestyle to my parents. It’s an on-going struggle. I have to be an ambassador for my life’s decisions. If I won’t stand up for me, who will?

On my magical mystery tour

As a good friend told me, luckily you don’t have to figure it all out today, or tomorrow. The questions I’ve been asking myself are some huge, philosophical, transcendental questions about life, questions people don’t often ask themselves until their midlife crises. Thinking and obsessing over my observations and how they will manifest themselves in my future is unhealthy mentally.  I am prepared to think of life as a mysterious journey, and although I can’t possibly perceive my future right now, I think that through travel, my future will be a brighter place. Growing pains.

I will leave you with an Anthony Bourdain quote, one that describes how I’m feeling in this moment. Just because you can’t strike gold every day while blazing the trail:

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”
— Anthony Bourdain