Tag: Travel

What to eat and drink in New Zealand

Travel is wonderful, because unlike looking at photographs or hearing someone’s travel tales, actually being there engages all of your senses. You’re able to stand atop a mountain, feeling the breeze across your cheek; you can delight in hearing small village children laughing; you can taste the lusciousness of handcrafted local cuisine.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable things about any trip to somewhere exotic is the eating. Whether or not every single meal is enjoyable, one thing is for sure: every meal will be memorable with all of your senses heightened.

Our recent trip to New Zealand was a foray into exotic cuisine.

Normally, I rely on Yelp in Hawaii to help me find the best places to dine. Unfortunately, Yelp is not reliable or utilized fully in New Zealand.

So how did we get by? Just like any traveler, by asking the locals! We relied on our Airbnb hosts’ recommendations, asked the barefoot hippie bookstore proprietor, and yes, took some chances on some side of the road establishments.

Here’s some of the best things we ate:

Turkish Eggs at Queenies

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Breakfast at Queenie’s included Turkish Eggs and a Prawn Omelette.

The first day in New Zealand, waking up hungry, we walked to a local cafe recommended by our Airbnb host. A funky, artist-type retreat played host to a very memorable and tasty meal.

The Turkish Eggs are Queenies were a trip around the world in its own right: 2 poached eggs atop baba ganoush, yogurt, hot chili butter, and toasted pide. I enjoyed slathering all of the rich flavors over my bread, pausing only  momentarily to enjoy my perfectly brewed hot black – an espresso type coffee.

Fish and Chips at Piha PHA

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Piha PHA is a no-frills VFW Hall or Moose Lodge-type restaurant serving up delicious pub food. We both had the fish and chips which were battered and fried to perfection. My boyfriend added on the fried squid which was light and tasty. I washed mine down with a local red ale which was a great complement to the tartar sauce.

Seafood Chowder at Corelli’s

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By far the best meal we had while in New Zealand was at Corelli’s in the Devonport, a suburb of Auckland. We came here on the recommendation of the barefoot, hippie bookstore proprietor down the street.

Their standout was the rich and creamy Seafood Chowder, which admittedly, was a meal in itself. The chowder was loaded with goodies like shrimp, scallops, squid, clams, and mussels. The New Zealand Cabernet was a great addition to my lamb bangers and mash with onion gravy, as well. We also indulged in their raspberry cheesecake served with a side of cream for dessert.

Blue Cheese at Kai Mai Cheese Company

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If there’s one thing New Zealand does well, it’s dairy. On our way from Auckland to Rotoura, we stopped on the side of the road at Kaimai Cheese Company for lunch. The interior of Kaimai Cheese Company had a production factory inside, a small restaurant, and a retail area for customers.

We ordered lunch from the counter and waited for it to be delivered, but in the meantime, I purchased a block of Blue Cheese and some crackers to snack on. The cheese was salty, pungent, and hit the spot as far as Blue Cheese goes. I slathered it all over my bacon and tomato omelet, as well. I loved it so much, I packaged it up and took it with me to eat during meals on the remainder of my trip!

Lamb Shanks at Fat Dog

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Photo by Ehren Meinecke

On our Airbnb host’s recommendation, we ventured to the casual, funky Fat Dog in downtown Rotoura. My boyfriend ordered the lamb shanks, which were huge and delicious. Served over a bed of hot mashed potatoes and gravy and fresh veggies, the lamb was so tender, it fell off the bone. The icing on top was enjoying the succulent bone marrow from the shanks afterwards.

Wine flight at John Hill Estate

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Photo by Ehren Meinecke

You can’t visit New Zealand without sampling some of its world class wines. The north island is brimming with vineyards and tasting rooms, and John Hill Estate was no exception. While many tasting rooms are very commercial in nature, John Hill Estate is tucked in the mountains just southeast of Auckland. This family-run estate was empty when we arrived, giving us prime seating to enjoy unobstructed views of the vineyard and rolling hills.

They offer wine flights for a very reasonable price tag. We ordered their Pinot Gris, Rose, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet. The standout? The Merlot! This was the perfect ending to a wonderful, and unexpected, culinary journey in New Zealand.

What to pack for a trip to New Zealand in the winter

ESSENTIAL PACKING GUIDE

A trip to New Zealand has been on my bucket list ever since I began traveling internationally in 2012. I dreamed of visiting this Pacific Island nation and looked forward to exploring its gorgeous landscapes and learning more about the people and culture.

Finally, my dreams came true. My boyfriend Ehren and I were able to plan a trip to New Zealand during our summer: July. Things became a bit tricky upon learning July is New Zealand’s winter. Luckily, the north island’s winter is more temperate and rarely sees snow. The best comparison I could think of is Portland in January, maybe a bit warmer.

This is a packing list for the North Island of New Zealand during winter. Our trip was 9 nights, 10 days, and would feature a variety of activities:

  • Museums, shopping
  • Hiking, exploring
  • Dining out
  • Chilling, casual

The weather ranged from sunny to windy and rainy. Weather in New Zealand can change dramatically day by day. The average temperature was mid 50s. 50s and sunny felt different than 50 and rainy, so my best advice is to pack warm clothing and options for layering.

Here’s a list of what I packed (asterisk items are what I call “life-savers!”)
_____________________________________

TOPS:

(1) Light cargo jacket

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My cargo jacket was perfect over some layers. And the brown boots were lifesavers!

(1) Rain jacket* (Recommendation: don’t go cheap here! Thicker is better, something with a hood, and something that will cover the top of your legs as well if possible)
(1) Zip up fleece* (Great for layering and extra warmth)
(4) Knit sweaters (One included for sleeping/lying around the house in the evenings)
(1) Turtleneck
(1) Cardigan
(1) Jean jacket* (Perfect for casual chic, boutique shopping, museums)

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Loving the versatility of my jean jacket, cargo pants and satchel purse.

(2) Tank top blouses
(7) T-shirts* (great for layering!)
(3) T-shirts for sleeping
(1) sleep shorts
(1) Dress

BOTTOMS:

(1) pair of black cargo pants
(1) pair of jeans
(2) pairs of leggings* (One thick one for cold weather. These were lifesavers!)
(1) pair of black pants (Good for dressier days out)
(1) pair of black tights

SHOES/SOCKS:

(1) pair of flats (good for plane, but sadly, nothing else)
(1) pair of ankle boots* (Waterproof is key if you can!)
(1) pair of gym shoes (Something you can use hiking/walking)
(2) pairs of warm socks* (These are essential to keeping your feet warm. The more you pack, the better!)
Miscellaneous other socks
Undergarments

OTHER ACCESSORIES:

(1) Belt (for cinching the dress)
(2) hats (One a Britxon safari hat, one a knit beanie*)

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The Brixton hat is the perfect travel companion.

(2) Scarves (One for keeping warm*, one for fashion)
(1) Pair of gloves*

MISCELLANEOUS:

  • Makeup
  • Jewelry
  • Hair straightener
  • (3) books to read
  • Journal
  • Earplugs* (Perfect for planes and for noisy mornings in the city)
  • Headphones
  • Pens
  • Passport
  • IDs/Credit Cards/Cash
  • Copies of all bookings/travel documents, credit cards
  • Phone charger
  • International adapter
  • Bluetooth speaker (fully charged, as it was not compliant with New Zealand outlets)
  • Toiletries
  • Digital camera
  • Columbia backpack* (Great carry on and wonderful for hiking/outdoor adventuring)
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A backpack was essential for this trip.
  • Satchel purse

ITEMS NOT NEEDED:

  • Hair straightener (New Zealand is a casual country and high fashion didn’t seem important)
  • (2) books – one was enough
  • Dress – I wore it one night out to dinner with the tights, but could have done without it
  • Digital camera – I just used my iPhone the whole time
  • Belt

ITEMS I NEEDED BUT DIDN’T BRING:

  • Sweatpants (Luckily, my boyfriend packed an extra pair and I was able to use them the entire trip for sleeping/relaxing around the house)

Overall, I felt very well prepared and knew that if I forgot anything that I would be able to purchase it abroad.

Have you ever been to the north island of New Zealand in winter? If so, do you have any must have items?

I hope you find this list useful. My number one piece of advice is layers, layers, layers, followed by: bring a pair of sweat pants or two!

Exploring the Big Island of Hawaii

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Have you ever had the pleasure of visiting the Island of Hawaii? Also known as the Big Island, Hawaii Island is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, falling south easternmost in the chain.

Not to be confused with Oahu (where the state capitol Honolulu is located), Big Island is far from metropolitan – in fact, you can’t even drive around the island in one day.

Big Island is my favorite Hawaiian Island due to its sheer enormity. Its varied landscapes are home to not only 2 active volcanoes, Kilauea and Moana Loa, but also a myriad of enchanting, unspoiled places. Word to the wise: Rent a 4×4 vehicle if you ever visit.

Just returning from a 3-day trip, my boyfriend and I had the pleasure of exploring the east side of Hawaii, or Hilo side. Hilo is a city on the bay and a jumping-off point for pleasures ranging from exploring the active volcano, hot springs, black sand beaches, a beautiful coastal drive and more.

Here are some highlights from our recent trip:

Exploring Volcanoes National Park:

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Kilauea Caldera. Do you see the lava in the crater’s rim?

This National Park is not to be missed. Have you ever seen a live, active volcano? Kilauea is actively erupting, and luckily enough for us, a trip to the visitor’s center was enough to see the active lava spurting from the Earth.

Usually, a trip to see the lava flow is an 8 mile round-trip hike through treacherous lava fields, but the day we visited was our lucky day: The lava was spewing from Kilauea Caldera, nearby the visitor’s Center!

After getting our fill of watching red hot lava, we exploring a cavernous lava tube and basked in the mists of volcanic steam vents around the park.

Tips: Stop in the visitor’s center to find out pro tips from the park rangers, and pack a raincoat…it always rains on the east side!

Traversing Lower Puna (including Volcanic Hot Springs):

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Ahalanui’s volcanic hot springs are tucked alongside Puna’s rugged coast. Photo courtesy: Ehren Meinecke

Puna district is southeast of Kilauea volcano, and its proximity to an active volcano can be felt in all senses of the word: Wild, untouched rain forest, volcanic hot springs, funky people, and plenty of room to play.

For a relaxing afternoon, we visited Ahalanui Beach Park, a volcanic hot spring which is about 88 degrees. It’s perfect for taking a relaxing swim and enjoying the rugged coastline it’s nestled up against.

Tips: Bring your snorkeling mask! There’s plenty of fish to observe in the warm pond. Also, stay out if you have any open cuts – a staph infection could easily ruin your trip.

Finding a hidden black sand beach and hunting for opihi:

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These opihi were plucked from a very dicey-looking coastline.

Some places are just meant to be kept for the locals, and Secret Beach is one of them. We were lucky enough to meet up with my friend Matt who showed us an incredible secluded black sand beach.

Around dusk, we all hunted for shells and opihi: a snail delicacy found exclusively on seaside rocks in hard-to-reach places. Wild quantities are a pipe dream on Oahu, and sell for an expensive buck ($18/pound). It was such a treat to harvest and enjoy our own fresh opihi!

Tips: Respect the land. Just because you find an open road doesn’t mean you have the right to travel down it. There is a LOT of private land, much of it ancient and spiritual. When in doubt, “Kapu,” or keep out!

Visiting Hilo’s Farmers Market:

Imagine a place where 200+ vendors gather to sell farm-fresh produce, baked goods, bento lunches, Kona coffee, artisan breads, jams, and handmade jewelry, clothing, and house goods. Enter Hilo’s farmers market!

The farmers market technically takes place daily in downtown Hilo, but for a really good display of goods, we went on a Saturday. We were able to sample all sorts of local treats: from Ka’u district coffee, to taro chips, to roast pork and more, your buck goes far at  Hilo’s farmers market!

Tips: Visit on a Saturday between 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. to really enjoy the full spread of vendors. Bring cash and an open mind for sampling local goodies!

Driving the Hamakua Coast:

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Just one of the many waterfalls on Big Island’s Hamakua Coast Drive- Akaka Falls State Park

Just north of Hilo begins a drive that’s full of lush greenery, waterfalls, valleys, and scenic ocean views. We drove it roughly 40 miles west to reach Waipio Valley, our destination. In the interim, we couldn’t believe how gorgeous the views were.

This relaxing stretch of driving fed our lust for a road trip with epic eye candy all along the way.

Tips: Fill up on gas before you go, pack snacks and turn up the radio. Also: Don’t expect to be able to drive around the entire island in a single day…it’s too big!

Exploring an ancient valley of the gods:

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An incredibly steep and dangerous 4×4 road will lead you to Waipio Valley’s floor.

Waipio Valley is a glimpse into Old Hawaii. Two-thousand foot cliff walls encompass a lush, green valley with taro fields and wild horses. A black sand beach spans the entirety of the valley, and giant waterfalls cascade from the mountains’ sides. Interested yet? Read on:

A trip down to the valley floor means:

  1. A treacherous 2 mile hike down a very steep road you must share with vehicles
  2. Paying around $60/person to jump in a tour van; or
  3. Driving down the 4-wheel drive road on your own and braving the elements.

We opted for choice number 3. It was not easy! The grade is EXTREMELY steep and the road is so narrow, only one car can pass in either direction at a time. We even had to BACK UP the road along the cliff edge to let people pass!

Once at the bottom, you have to ride through several giant mud puddles. Finally on the valley floor, we were rewarded with dipping our toes in the water and observed wild horses in awe. We felt immense respect for a place that used to be only for ali’i – or Hawaiian royalty.

Tips: All visitors can enjoy the lookout for a scenic vantage point and photo opp above the valley. Brave soldiers can take a 4×4 (That means 4-wheel drive ONLY!) down, observing the local “law” of yielding to traffic going up. Take nothing in and leave nothing behind!

Overall, a trip to the Big Island is for the adventurous-at-heart. Pack your best slippahs, hiking shoes, rain coat, and bathing suit, and get ready for whatever adventure heads your way!

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.

 

5 Must-Visit Places for Foodies

FOODIES (1)

Parmjit Parmar wrote in her Huffington Post article that the trend in ‘culinary tourism’ has grown massively, where globetrotters are now planning vacations specifically to incorporate culinary delights. With so many destinations to choose from and food to sample, it can be overwhelming to pick somewhere you should consider for your next trip. Here’s how to select a travel destination for your next foodie adventure.

Spain

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Photo by Feda Wong via Flickr

When it comes to the best seafood rice in the world, we have to hand it to Spain’s classic Paella recipe. Its savory taste mixed with the freshest veggies, shrimp, clams and squid is exactly why people flock to Valencia to try this authentic dish. Although many countries tried copying the rice recipe, there’s nothing like the authentic taste of the original Paella in Spain. It must be the crunchy rice at the bottom of the pan that makes you want to have seconds, and even thirds, of the most flavorful arroz in the world.

China

When it comes to Asian food, China has become the most common destination for food travelers in search of the best of the best. When delving into dumplings, don’t miss the “Xiao Long Bao.” This juicy spiced pork dumpling explodes with just the right amount of spice, heat and flavor. Although you can find Xiao Long Bao everywhere in China, the best one can be found in Shanghai served with other gastronomic delicacies such as the Sichuan Hot Pot which is ideal for extreme spice lovers.

India

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Photo by Paul Joseph via Flickr

Indian food consistently ranks in the top slots for foodie destinations, and is well-known for its mouth-watering mutton recipes and delectable vegan food. With plenty of delicacies to choose from, wherein each region offers a particular dish, the best way to try all of these treats together is by ordering a “Thali,” or a huge plate full of rice, bread (chapatti or naan), curries, papadums, lime pickle, chutneys and a sweet dessert. No need to order them separately as the whole plate combines each tasty dish for one affordable price.

Iran

Looks can be deceiving: The Koobideh Kebab in Iran is a must-try for carnivorous foodie. Made from ground lamb or beef with parsley and chopped onions, the Iranian kebab is reason enough to collect another passport stamp. The classic dish features deliciously fire-toasted meat on a ‘Shish Kebab’ and is served with perfectly cooked basmati rice mixed with a special sauce. Other mouth-watering kebab dishes, as featured by Dream of Iran, will make you want to come back to the country again.

 

Italy

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Photo by Lummmy via Flickr

The land of pizza and pasta has to be on every foodie’s list when in search of the best comfort food in the world. Italy is not only visited for its grand architecture, but also for their irresistible cuisine. You can never find another well-made spaghetti carbonara in the world similar to the ones you’ll taste in Italy, especially those from Rome. There are many variations to this dish, but the most popular involves bacon, cheese and pepper.

There are many more destinations worth traveling to for their authentic delicacies, but to start with the list above will you give you a leg up in the world of gastronomical delights.


The above is a guest post.

 

 

I was published in Mabuhay Magazine!

Great news! I was published in the Philippine Airlines in-flight publication, Mabuhay Magazine! This March 2016’s feature about Hawaii explores why the best things to do in and around Honolulu come with a view!

Please enjoy this spread. I’m proud of this accomplishment, and I know this a testament to the fact that hard work really does pay off!

Enjoy.

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.

Dispatches from Thailand…Vol. 1

I’ve debated for the longer part of 2 years whether I wanted to publish this, either on my own blog or pitch it out. Out of fear of ashaming and outing a once good friend due to circumstances beyond my control, I believe the friendship is exhausted, unfortunately. There’s no reason to keep the following a secret. After all, all the best writers make plenty of enemies.

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I’d never go back for only a week. And that’s only the beginning.

The trip was Madeline’s idea: she’d backpacked through southeast Asia just after high school. She raved about the food, the culture, the amazing scenery. I was all in.

Here we were 23 hours from where started, somewhere on the other side of the world – a far cry from Chicago. Three girls on a half-brained scheme to tour Thailand in one week. The plan was simple: Meet up with Madeline and her flight attendant friend Jess, use their airline benefits (thank you flight attendants of the world!) to jet off to the other side of the world, practically for free, and take in the sights. Stupidly, I had agreed to let Madeline play tour guide, given she had been to Thailand before. There was no backup plan. It was all here and now.

We were hot sweaty and jetlagged at Bangkok’s airport. First order of business: money.

We elbowed our way through the crowds as best we could on the moving platform to the ATM. First rule of international travel? Let your banking institution know you’re going.

Jess and I successfully withdraw the equivalent of $100 US money to play around with. It comes in the form of Baht, the Thai currently. It’s enough for the cab fare to the hotel and a beer and a bite, at least.

It’s Madeline’s turn. Her card won’t spit out any Baht; it’s been placed on temporary lock. She didn’t tell the bank she’d be out of the county.

“It’s okay Madeline, we have you covered this time,” I offered.

“I can’t believe this is happening to me!,” Madeline lamented. “This trip just isn’t meant to be! I’m leaving on the next flight home!”

The luxury and curse of at-your-fingertip flight access is that you are afforded the opportunity to make rash decisions. If she really wanted to, in her frustrated, travel-wearied state, Madeline could have caught the next flight out to Narita, Japan and wait for the next plane back to Chicago. How anyone could manage that, mentally or emotionally, after flying so many miles is beyond me, but it was certainly possible.

I had never seen someone so angry over something so little. Surely neither I nor Jess would leave her at the airport empty-handed. We would spot her some cash until tomorrow.  In any case, Madeline stomped off, leaving Jess and I bewildered and abandoned in a foreign city I knew next to nothing about (*Note: always have a Plan B in case you tour guide loses it).

Jess and I spent the next hour trying desperately to find Madeline in the seemingly endless airport, which was somehow BUSTLING at 1 a.m. After traveling 7,000 miles in 23 hours and dragging around our luggage, we came across the “Lost and Found.” Miraculously, through a combination of broken English and sign language, we were able to croak out, “We lost our friend! She ran away. Can you page her?”

The search was futile. Resigning to the fact that Madeline was probably listening to the safety procedures and preparing for liftoff to go back home, we grabbed a cab from the tourist booth- another mistake that cost us 1000 Baht, about 600 more Baht than the standard fare.

It was hot and muggy, even at 1 a.m. I could tell we weren’t in the states anymore. Hello Bangkok!

We were driving on the left side of the road. Our cabbie didn’t speak a lick of English, nor did we speak a lick of Thai. He tried to find our hotel for the better part of an hour, circling around the immediate vicinity, but not quite able to pin point it. I can’t lie: I was scared. The cabbie drove, backed up, turned around, doing this ugly dance about 10 times, narrowly avoiding a family of five on a motorized bike zooming past us.

We saw the streets. In Bangkok, it’s all about the STREETS. The streets were alive. They breathed and omitted pollution. They sold sex and dinner for 30 baht and offered Thai massage, lottery tickets and turtles in a bag. Stray dogs were everywhere. And so were the lady boys.

Jess, rather naively, questioned: “Who are all these girls? And what are they doing out so late?”

Only the discerning eye could tell that these girls where actually lady boys, or transgender/cross dressing Thai men who make natural women look like dogs. They are every bit as beautiful as natural women, but their disgusting offerings cheapened them to the likes of a whore. Lady boys continuously primp themselves, hoping for a fare, some business. Like robots on a programmed schedule, they pull out their compact, cake on some more powder and touch up their lipstick. A lady boy’s vanity rivals any sane (or insane for that matter) woman’s.  When not putsing around in mile-high heels over open sewers and smoking cigarettes, they traipse over to 7/11 to buy Pepsi, not making eye contact with anyone, but hoping desperately to be seen, if not touched.

We finally make it to the hotel and start a frantic plea to the overnight concierge: “Our friend Madeline’s not feeling good. She went home–” we start, as the room was in her name, with her credit card.

“Madeline from Chicago? She’s already here and checked in,” the concierge offered.

A cruel joke.

We ride up to the fourth floor, our jaws agape in disbelief and anger. We’re speechless. We walk into our room, and there she is: completely showered, relaxed.

“What took you guys so long?” Madeline asks.

She’s been looking for us! What a laugh. We try to avoid an all-out war. My head is spinning with images of the Bangkok streets and in the battle of me versus jetlag, the latter is the promising victor. Madeline offers a lame apology and we all simultaneously collapse into bed.

No one sleeps. Like on the plane ride, I lay with my eyes closed for five hours and think “good enough” around 6 a.m. to head down to breakfast.

By 7 a.m. we’re down at the continental breakfast, happy to be alive, munching on home made Pad Thai, fruit, and fueling up on the best goddamn coffee I’ve ever had. Three cups later we make a loose plan of action.

Madeline suggests the tourist mecca known as Koh San Road to start, so we head in that direction.

Again on the streets. Every other corner is a rummage sale trying to peddal worthless and probably illegal goods. I contemplated buying one of many passports lining the sidewalk. Surely a cool, albeit illegal souvenir.

After a few blocks, a friendly Thai history teacher intercepts us.

“It’s your lucky day!” the teacher began. “Today is a holiday!”

Yes! There was some light at the end of the tunnel after a long and shitty travel day. Little did we know,  any scamming Thai local will lead you to believe it’s a holiday for 20 Baht!

According to our new tour guide, today was the one special day of the year that an extra special Thai temple was open to the public. He even summoned a “Government Official” tuk-tuk for our traveling needs. Our driver agreed to take us all around Bangkok for 15 Baht.

I felt so special. “How could I be so lucky?” I thought as we piled in for the ride of our life.

Tuk-tuks are more of a novelty turned headache. We crammed in, the 3 of us, and zoomed off into the streets of Bangkok, destination and destinies unknown. All we knew was that we were going to see some rare shit, and that was good enough. Who wouldn’t want to be us?

We weaved in and out of traffic, our driver beeping indiscriminately at anyone who dared cross his path or THOUGHT about crossing his path. In a pair of gray Converse, the peddle was to the metal as we whizzed up streets, over bridges and through neighborhoods. It didn’t matter that none of us knew where we were going, where we would end up. We were going somewhere, doing something, somewhere far off, exotic. How many people could say that?

We arrived at our first Buddhist temple. I didn’t quite know how to act. I’m sure this place was sacred, so I just acted cordial, on my best behavior. I heard Monks chanting in the distance.

“I’ll wait here,” our driver said beside his Government Official tuk-tuk.

We took pictures outside of the temple before removing our shoes and entering. There were a few people inside praying along with the monks who make a sea of orange with their cloaks. I stared in awe at the giant Buddha. It glistened in the hot Thai sun. A magnificent sight, surely, but a whirlwind nonetheless.

Back to the tuk-tuk driver. We zoomed through the streets again, choking on pollution, snapping selfies and making up for lost bonding time. We continued to visit random temples. They were all beautifully adorned with gold, statues, and outfitted with chanting monks. All of them were nice, but the trip was becoming repetitive. Jetlag was starting to settle in along with exhaustion.

Madeline piped up to the driver that we wanted to be dropped off at the water taxi so that we might cruise up the river to get to Chinatown.

“We have to get gas coupons first,” the driver said.

We arrived at a tailor shop. Upon walking in I saw expensive coats, jackets, furs, ties and other accessories. It was hot as hell outside, much too hot to think about buying a winter coat. I wasn’t  interested and neither were the girls.

It turns out we had been scammed. We were harassed to buy cashmere coats and silk ties for an exorbitant amount of money. No wonder our ride only cost 15 Baht. When we refused to pay or counter offer them, the shop owner called us stupid and chased us out of the store.

Jess talked to our driver and pleaded with him to drop us off at the river ferry.

“I want my day of pay!” the driver demanded.

He made off with $6 US, obliged to drop us off at the ferry.

We rode the ferry toward Chinatown. The river was pretty nasty. In fact, a lot of areas of Bangkok are pretty nasty. The streets are strewn with litter, people are sleeping in the streets, feral cats and dogs with open wounds and mangy hair are scrounging for food, komono dragons lurch out of city sewer pipes, I mean, you name it.

The river ferry is fun and no-nonsense. Every stop is a dock, and the ferry stops ALMOST long enough for everyone to get on, but hardly. The ferry driver routinely leaves behind around a dozen people who may or may not have had one foot on the boat already. The ferry zooms forth, and poor, unsuspecting suckers are left stranded, scratching their heads with no choice but to wait for the next maniacal captain.

We arrived to Chinatown and I was feeling bad, dizzy. I was tired, cranky and starving: I was hangry (*Note: Hungry + Angry = Hangry).

Asian food is good, probably one of my favorite cuisines.  I have my first of many street vendor meals in Thailand from a Pad Thai cart. Basically the rule of thumb for ordering food in Thailand is to just point to what everyone else is eating and say, “1 please!” Minutes later, steaming hot noodles with mystery meat, peanuts, cilantro and chili arrive. You have to top it off with chili flakes, fish sauce and peppers (all found on any respectable make-shift table in S.E. Asia) and you’re set for foodie bliss. Let the magical ingredient combination wash over you and save your tortured soul! Sweet misery!

I down my noodles and some water and feel better…if only for a moment. My travel companions turn out to be typical women: shoppers. I’m screwed.

We hit the markets of Bangkok’s Chinatown. If you really want to go a bender, go to Chinatown jetlagged. It’s crowded, and I mean arm-to-arm, can’t move, just-get-pushed-to-the-next-place-like-you’re-on-a-conveyor-belt crowded. A veritable labyrinth of stalls, women, junk selling for mere pennies in wholesale quantities. There are women in colorful burkas from the middle east buying purses in bulk, people snatching up umbrellas, fans, stickers, earrings, wallets, shirts, sunglasses, junk upon junk for as far as the eye can see.

In between what appears to be a never-ending alleyway of stores, going deeper and deeper into a dark abyss (sunlight is void the further you meander), turning you into a shopping zombie, the occasional motorbike nearly bowls you over and you come back to your senses and try some meat on a stick or freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.  I opted for a good old-fashioned Pepsi, which was served to me in a plastic bag with ice and a straw. Welcome to Asia: Land of waste and weird.

We escape Chinatown. Jess and Madeline make out with hello kitty stickers, 3 purses each and a menagerie of what I perceive to be worthless shit.  Next on the agenda is Koh San Road.

Bangkok streets never sleep. They’re fueled on haggled dollars, Chang beers, cheap smokes and doomed backpackers like ourselves and Koh San Road is no exception. It’s the stereotypical tourist trap, though I felt a lot of places I meandered to unsuspectingly turned out to be tourist traps, too.  For example, one lady trying to make a buck was wearing a court-jester hat and was draped in every gimmick you’d ever see for sale at a Fourth of July fireworks show in the States. She shoved a wooden frog in our face and wanted us to buy it. I guess those are the experiences you remember when you try to cram a tour of Thailand into one week.

Backpackers inhaled cheap beer and Pad Thai that had been sitting out for hours. Rhianna over the loud speakers reminded everyone that she fell in love in a hopeless place. This place really did feel hopeless in some ways. After getting our fill of cheap thrills, we stumbled home and crumble into bed at midnight, scarred for life, but exhilarated.

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*Names have been changed.