Posted in Backyard Tourism, People, Vagabonding, Wishes, Work, Working Holiday

Get Amongst It

This afternoon, I had lunch with my mother’s banker’s husband’s parents. Yesterday I had coffee with my pen pal’s pen pal. Last week I explored with a gal I lived near my freshman year of college and in different countries ever since. Last month I parked in my former coworker’s cousin’s friend’s partner’s driveway.

Travel gets complicated quickly, but once again, solo travel you are only alone if you want to be. Anymore, I shrug at the six degrees of separation: each of these strange connections is now my own first degree again and the world spins tighter and connections weave more intimately.

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Nina, who after we crisscrossed 21 countries, finally met me outside of the same coffee shop in Des Moines we always went to when we were back home.

Winter is creeping up the islands, and I’ve migrated into the latest phase of my working holiday. Get amongst it, the Kiwi’s call. But the mountains are a bit foreboding in the back of a van, so instead, I’ve gotten amongst them. I signed up for a housesitting website and have started flitting across the north island, staying snug next to the fire with dogs and cats and chickens, sipping on local wine and trying to sort out what I’ll be doing when the other half (!?!) of this year is finished. Every few weeks, I find myself sitting at a new table, talking with families who are leaving their homes in my care. In Auckland, I worked almost exclusively with Kiwis instead of backpackers and explored how they lived their lives and what their concerns were about their own country and their place in the world. I had to make an intentional effort to be okay to be still: my time in New Zealand is so short and there’s so many places to see that I struggled with not going out an exploring much. After all, it’s a bit like Neverland here:

Of all the delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed.

-J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

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Cathedral Cove at sunrise. It was worth waiting for a clear day in order to make the quick hike in the cold early morning. There was definitely a yoga-grammer who had camped overnight at the beach and was getting perfect shots on this perfect morning.

Months ago, I met a hitchhiker with a tattoo that ingrained itself into my memory. We talked about it for several hours as we traversed in the same direction and discussed the philosophy behind it. It read simply, “I can’t wait for right now.” To be so close to so many adventures and not be able to go on them while I saved up cash, I had to reframe my thought process. Right now is just as beautiful and good and surprising as Tomorrow in That Other Place. Surrounded by real people living real lives and having to crawl into the nooks and crannies where the locals find their culture instead of where Lonely Planet tells tourists to go was a challenge and a gift. That mantra allows for the excitement of adventure to bubble up in the mundane. It allows all the hopes of the future and warmth of the past to be held in this moment, a gem in time to be cherished and loved and to overflow. It allows the good and the bad to hold its place, the past and the future to hold their time. It allows for this moment to be wonderful and terrible and all piled up into itself.

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Oh, and one of my housesits was on a dairy farm. These calves are 6-10 weeks old. 

In this space, I feel strange. Housesitting is one of the rare occurrences that is incredibly mutually beneficial: the perfect barter where no money changes hands. Nobody loses, both parties win. I am given shelter, wifi, laundry, and hot showers. They, in turn, have someone keeping an eye on their home and don’t have to put up the cost of boarding their pets. It sounds so simple, but I can’t get over how much the homeowners thank me. In a country where weekly rent is easily monthly rent in Denver, it is they who give me a free roof over my head, but they thank me profusely for cuddling their dogs while they’re away?! I mean, I adore Goldie, but she is just a thin shell against the winter rains and near-freezing temperatures and I’m not a fan of cooking in the wind. So it is I who feel like the winner, being trusted with a near-stranger’s home as my base in each region. Each time I fall asleep in a new house, I’m grateful and the excitement wells up in me. I can’t wait for right now.

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You’d never realize this picture of serenity had cars drag racing on the other side of the gully and a busy park just behind me.

I’m loving traveling in the offseason, to boot. I’ve become acutely aware of the Instagrammer, and know that I’m guilty of it myself. In so many places I’ve wandered, I’ve been surrounded by dozens of people, each scrambling to the tiny plot of space where their friend can snap a picture that makes it look like she alone is on top of the mountain, and he just happened to be doing yoga on the beach at sunrise, and their contemplation wasn’t interrupted by the shutter click in that ‘candid’ shot or the jostling busload of tourists who just arrived. We all pretend we’re here alone when the reality is much busier and much louder than we care to admit. So these few, precious months when the weather is lousy and school is in session and normal people are at work, I am able to slip away and feel like I can breathe. Instead of seventy people surrounding me, there’s fewer than a dozen braving the wind and rain. We shiver together in solidarity as we admire the rocks that carry a stark beauty even though they aren’t bathed in golden light.

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Piha Beach. I’ve seen breathtaking photos from my friends at sunset, but the day I went was like many Auckland days: rain.

It is strange, it is beautiful. New Zealand holds me tighter as together we spin around on this crazy globe, picking up the pieces of stories that tie them together. This year is already half gone, yet it’s only just begun.

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Huka Falls, where the water flows fast enough to fill five Olympic swimming pools every minute. The air was as chilly as the water looks.

 

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Posted in Vagabonding, Working Holiday

Hello, I Love You

… won’t you tell me your name?

One of the most common themes as summer has faded in New Zealand is fellow travelers sighing about how lonely and exhausting it is. Backpacker Standard Time makes it easy to make friends, but every time you go to a new city you start over again. You’re always tearing your heart apart even as you expand it with new people and places.

Sometimes you just need a theme song while you’re traveling: someone else who has experienced the same world and put your emotions to music. So, here’s a 14-song playlist (in honor of first coming to New Zealand in 2014) whose lyrics make so much sense to me this year.

Home  by Matt Gresham

This song wove it’s way into my psyche through a German friend who couldn’t even remember its name.

I picked up my life and I stuffed it in the bag
One way ticket out and I’m never coming back
People say I’m crazy ’cause I left my world behind
There’s no map could tell the world just why I’m leaving
But home is not a place, it’s a feeling
Maybe I’ll find it maybe I won’t I gotta keep on moving even if I don’t
I realized that’s my time so I moved so far away
You know I look back at the city where my dream would slowly fade
I know the road less traveled is the one I’d rather take
But the loneliness is worth it for the memories I’ll make

Anywhere With You Is Home  by Kurt Hugo Schneider
Sometimes you get a partner to travel with.
I’ve run around on the beaches of L.A
Skipped stones by the bay
I’ll take you there some day
Bumped a ride off a cabby in Mumbai
We saw those Northern Lights burning up the night
Got lost on a trail in Peru, took in that Rio view
And I did it all with you
My passport’s thick from everything we’ve done
But, I think we’ve only just begun

Little Wanderer by Death Cab For Cutie
While this song is technically a romantic song of partners on opposite sides of the globe, it is a lot about my relationship with my mom. She’s been on the other end of the Skype call while I keep wandering all over the world.
But I couldn’t make you out through the glitches
It’s how it always seems to go
So we say our goodbyes over messenger
As the network overloads
When the network overloads
You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
Off across the sea
You’re my wanderer, little wanderer
Won’t you wander back to me
Back to me
Always fall asleep when you’re waking
I count the hours on my hands
Doing the math to the time zone you’re at
Is an unseen part of the plan

The Nights  by Avicii

Not quite how my dad talked to me about travel (he called me a boomerang… always leaving, always coming back), but the theme is still striking.

He said, “One day you’ll leave this world behind
So live a life you will remember.”
My father told me when I was just a child
These are the nights that never die
My father told me
When thunder clouds start pouring down
Light a fire they can’t put out
Carve your name into those shining stars
He said, “Go venture far beyond the shores.
Don’t forsake this life of yours.
I’ll guide you home no matter where you are.
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Nine days, 36+ hours driving. Slowly, slowly, me and Goldie.

Chicago by Sufjan Stevens

Domestic travel was what first introduced me to van life. Although I haven’t gotten to New York yet, the western states are mine. So many places I’ve fallen in love with as I’ve woken up to the sunrise.

I drove to New York
In a van, with my friend
We slept in parking lots
I don’t mind, I don’t mind
I was in love with the place
In my mind, in my mind
I made a lot of mistakes
In my mind, in my mind
You came to take us
All things go, all things go
To recreate us
All things grow, all things grow

Woke Up In A Car  by Something Corporate
 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I woke up in a car
I traced away the fog
So I could see the Mississippi on her knees
I’ve never been so lost
I’ve never felt so much at home
Please write my folks and throw away my keys
I woke up in a car
I met a girl who kept tattoos
For homes that she had loved
If I were here I’d paint my body
Till all my skin was gone
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Gisborne and the misty beach

Trip The Light  by Garry Schyman ft Alicia Lemke

My original theme song for this year: keep going.

If all the days come to pass
Are behind these walls
I’ll be left at the end of things
In a world kept small
Travel far from what I know
I’ll be swept away
I need to know I can be lost
And not afraid
We’re gonna trip the light
We’re gonna break the night
And we’ll see with new eyes
When we trip the light

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine
How big, how blue, how beautiful
How big, how blue, how beautiful
And every city was a gift
And every skyline was like a kiss upon the lips
What are we gonna do?
We’ve opened the door, now it’s all coming through
Tell me you see it too
We opened our eyes and it’s changing the view
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Tunnel Beach, Dunedin

Good Life  by OneRepublic
To my friends in New York, I say hello
My friends in L.A. they don’t know
Where I’ve been for the past few years or so
From Paris to China to Colorado
Sometimes there’s airplanes I can’t jump out
Sometimes there’s bullshit that don’t work now
We all got our stories but please tell me
What there is to complain about

Continental Breakfast by Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
An American friend turned me onto this one.
I cherish my intercontinental friendships
We talk it over continental breakfast
In a hotel in East Bumble-wherever
Somewhere on the sphere, around here

Long Way Around  by The Dixie Chicks

People keep asking me this year when I’m going to settle down. I don’t know, I truly don’t.

Well, I fought with a stranger, and I met myself
I opened my mouth, and I heard myself
It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself
Guess I could have made it easier on myself
But I, I could never follow
No, I, I could never follow
Well, I never seem to do it like anybody else
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
If you ever want to find me, I can still be found
Taking the long way
Taking the long way around
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The Coathanger, Picton

Weight of Lies by The Avett Brothers
Disappear from your home town
Go and find the people that you know
Show them all of your good parts
Leave town when the bad ones start to show
The weight of lies will bring you down
And follow you to every town ’cause
Nothing happens here that doesn’t happen there
When you run make sure you run
To something and not away from ’cause
Lies don’t need an aeroplane to chase you down

My Way by Frank Sinatra
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way
Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
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Mt. John Observatory, Tekapo

Now or Never  by Outasight
So last without least…
While it’s a different theme than most of the rest, I can’t have a New Zealand backpackers playlist complete without the song that was always in the background the last time I came here.
It’s time to decide if its worth the fight or letting it slide
And I drew the line at wasting away or waiting to be saved
Yay y’all made my own luck in my head on straight and kicked up the dust
And the money well it don’t mean much I did it for the love and that was enough
The way I dreamed it ain’t the way it played out missed
Every road that looked to be the safe route
No directions I made my way out I don’t give a damn what they say no way now
We don’t care what the people say
And we don’t care what they want to do
And we don’t care about it anymore
We do what we want I ain’t wasting a no more time
Its now or never I’m about to get mine
Posted in Lessons, People, Stories, Vagabonding, Working Holiday

The Life of Lettuce

I’ve been in New Zealand for three months already. It’s just about the same amount of time that it takes lettuce to grow from clay-covered seed to the packaged form you see in the supermarket. By the time my seasonal work ends at Easter, I will be just a few days shy of seeing the seeds I planted my first day on the job be harvested.

During this life cycle of lettuce, I’ve come to appreciate a lot of little things on the rare days when I’m not living in a van.

  1. Floors! Duvets are common here, but mine isn’t 100% square. I haven’t quite figured out which direction the lines on my cover should be going, nor which direction makes the duvet fit in said lines. Do you know how lovely it is to have a floor where it can drape on the ground when freshly washed so I can figure it out instead of trying desperately to keep something longer than I am tall off the mud?
  2. If I get to have both soap AND running water to wash my hands, I’m practically dancing with giddiness.
  3. A proper sink where I can wash my dishes and feel more than vaguely optimistic that they are actually clean.
  4. A bed that is parallel to the ground. It seems like no matter how carefully I park, as soon as I lie down blood is rushing to my head, or I’m sliding to the bottom of the bed, or I wake up practically squashed against the side of my van.
  5. Speaking of lying down – it is really nice to be able to stand up when I’m getting dressed instead of writhing on my back trying not to lay on curtains or decapitate myself with the fairy lights strung across the ceiling.
  6. A shower with hot water that lasts more than seven minutes. It is an absolute luxury to linger after a long day!
  7. Walls! I’m doing physical therapy for my knees and need walls to sit against and know that my knees are in the right position.

Okay, that was fun, but I’m really here to talk about something a little more serious: the practicalities of doing a working holiday in New Zealand. I just got word that a dear friend from college will be arriving in May to start her own visa, and I’ve befriended a Redditor who just got to Christchurch to start his. So for them, and for the curiosity of other readers, here’s some important things to know when you get to this country.

The DON’Ts:

Two things I recommend you skip would be any sort of starter pack if you’re a reasonably competent human being (the address is nice, but that’s the only useful thing I’ve had from it), and an international driver’s license (you don’t need one if your license is in English).

 

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New Zealand Rail has some beautiful history

 

Phones:

You can walk into any phone store or hostel and get a travel SIM or generic prepaid SIM. Make sure that you have an unlocked phone though, if you bring your own from home! Spark and Vodafone are the two biggest networks. Word on the street is Vodafone has the better plans, but Spark has the better coverage. You can also go to the Warehouse and get a cheap phone/plan from there.

Money Money Money:

In order to work in New Zealand, you need an IRD. In order to get an IRD, you need a New Zealand bank account. In order to get a NZ bank account, you need an address.

No worries, dear friends! You can get an address from your hostel. Simply walk up to the front desk and ask for a letter for the bank. They’ll print off a piece on their letterhead that says you’ve been staying there which will be copied at the bank. If you can, set up an appointment in advance so that you don’t have to wander all over town finding a bank that can see you that day.

Now all you have to do is hop online and send off your IRD application. It takes about ten days, and you can opt to have them text you the number when it’s completed.

If you choose to start working before you have this number, you have two options. You can either have your pay withheld until the IRD has been completed, or you can still get money withheld at a higher rate. Most Working Holiday Visa-makers (hereinafter known as WHV) make under $48,000 and are taxed at 17.5%. If you don’t have an IRD or make too much money, you’ll be taxed at the highest rate of 33%.

 

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Dunedin, one of the oldest cities in New Zealand, and quickly becoming one of my favorites

 

But, bills?:

If you’re paying for things using your US credit card, TransferWise is your best friend. You have to make sure your Kiwi bank has verified your account (I literally walked in and asked instead of waiting the 30 days to prove I’m a real person), but after that the set up is pretty straight forward. Just make sure that you do a bank transfer instead of the default debit transfer to save yourself a few dollars!

Take note, though, my US cards struggle in New Zealand. I can get crazy discounts from shopping at PAK’nSAVE, but the petrol station won’t take either of my Visas, my Amex, or my Diner’s Club. If I use the Diner’s Club card at the supermarket, I have to swipe it and put in a PIN. Most places won’t take that though, so I have to use Visa chip and sign for it. New Zealand is all paywave, where you tap your card in front of the reader and the transaction is done… it becomes obvious I’m foreign when my card takes so long! Kiwis are astounded that the US just got chips a few years ago and that it isn’t even common to have a PIN on your credit card chip yet – they’ve moved miles beyond that technology by now.

Finding Work:

I really wish that I were a construction worker. They make bank here, especially in Queenstown and Christchurch. But it’s all good. I got connected with a staffing agency as soon as I got my IRD. We text back and forth throughout the week for various jobs – I call it the sampler plate of life. I’ve done a lot of housekeeping for a few businesses, a lot of waitressing for weddings, and a dishwashing gig. I know someone who got a job at the airport through them, working on the steamship, and they connected me with my lettuce job.

As I’m wrapping up this time in Queenstown, I’m not concerned. I’ll either find another staffing agency or hop into the kiwi/apple picking on the north island for a while. If you’re not looking for a permanent, full-time job, it’s super easy to find a job.

 

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I think this hostel is what backpacking was like 30 years ago: on your way to Stewart Island to find work, make sure to stay here the night before.

 

Living:

I’m actually the wrong person to ask about this as I’ve been contentedly hiding out at Twelve Mile Delta campground since I got here. New Zealand does rent by the week, so I fork over $65 every Sunday to the Warden for the privilege of a long drop toilet and not getting a $200 fine for freedom camping. I get a little cranky when Kiwis moan and complain about freedom campers, because they don’t realize that most of their complaints apply to all tourists living in hotels or vandwellers staffing their businesses. My coworkers tell me “Oh, but you’re not like them! You’re just living frugally!” I pay more for this spot of ground than I did for my first college apartment and I still pay for a gym membership so I can shower instead of jumping in the lake because there’s no public showers or sinks that you complain about. But I digress…

Queenstown is kind of astronomical. It’s a small town that literally doesn’t have room to grow with mountains on three sides and a lake on the fourth. But since everyone wants to live here (and Frankton is a decent hike away), I’ve known people that spend $175/week to share a bedroom with a complete stranger. The utter lack of privacy and skyhigh rent are enough to make me shudder away from trying to stay here over winter, but also most places demand multiple references from Kiwi landlords. Yeah, you can eventually get around that, but with a large bed in the back of my van and the freedom to roam, ‘ain’t nobody got time for that’.

Van Life:

I love living in a van, I really do. And I’m madly in love with Goldie, but she’s not self-contained. Seriously, buy a self-contained (SC) van if you plan on living in it while working. Do it. If you’re just going to go on random weekend adventures and live in an apartment, you can get away with a nonSC vehicle and park in the middle of nowhere. But New Zealand is cracking down on backpackers parking anywhere outside of a DOC site where you pay $5-13 per person per night anywhere near a town.

As for stuff? Stop stop stop stop stop! Your backpack is full enough! Bring ONLY the bare necessities! If you’re buying a van, 99% of them come fully, fully, fully stocked with every bit of camping gear and cutlery and stoves and solar showers you could need. New Zealand is a first world country. The Warehouse is an even lower quality Walmart where you can get anything you need for dirt cheap. But there’s normal malls and stores, too. For online shopping, people use TradeMe (a bit like ebay) and Alibaba (Amazon doesn’t work very well here). You will be FINE, don’t bring so much stuff!

 

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Make sure and invest in some spices, and you can create delicious van meals to share with your new mates

 

Last thoughts:

  • Get WhatsApp. Seriously. Port your US number to Google voice, and then download WhatsApp using it. It is so much more efficient as a way to stay in touch with backpackers. Vodafone freaks out when sending pictures, group messages, or locations. But WhatsApp is clear and simple, and you’ll be able to stay in touch with the Germans, French, Argentinians, South Africans, Uruguayans, Brits, Pakistanis and Canadians you meet along the way. Everyone has their home number, so it won’t disappear at the end of the visa and you can stay in touch as they disappear to Thailand and Bali and Australia for a few weeks.
  • The Salvation Army (The Sally’s, as it’s called around here) is going to be your best friend. That and PAK’nSAVE for your cheap groceries.
  • Facebook groups are super useful for backpackers and local communities. Even if you have deactivated your facebook, make a new useless account just to be able to utilize those resources.
  • Be prepared for the politics talk. I’ve been traveling for over ten years and three presidents: you will be talked to in a drastically different way than you have in the past. During the ’08 election, people asked “Obama or McCain?” and then moved on from the conversation. In June 2016, nobody said a word to me about politics. They do here, they do now. You do not get to escape it here, and even if you try to stay below the radar, you will have Kiwis (and every other continent’s nations) ask you questions about the days news or current events in general. If you want to avoid that conversation, prepare ways to deflect in advance. Otherwise, just go in knowing that for the first time, people will want to know more about your country than which state you’re from and telling you where they’ve been/want to visit there.
  • Seasons – and daylight saving time! – are flipped. I started out 17 hours ahead of my mom. When we “fall back” next week (after y’all already sprung forward), it’ll be 19 hours difference. Momma, Skyping with you is getting difficult!
  • Solo travel: you’re only alone if you want to be. Social butterfly me is getting worn out from being around people so much. I’m taking a few days to wander by myself and recharge. Make sure you take care of yourself!

 

Whew! All three of you that read this massive list, well done! I’ve been having a hard time writing lately – I usually write best when I’m processing something, but life has been so even-keeled that I haven’t needed the outlet of late. So, sorry for the word dump rather than stories. Maybe Easter will change things 😊

 

Always,

Eliska

 

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Posted in Backyard Tourism, Lessons, People, The Barista, Vagabonding, Working Holiday

Both Ways Twice

“Just look both ways, twice,” Kahn quipped with a smirk as we discussed the practicalities of my entire driving career and most of my walking career being on the right side of the road and suddenly transporting myself to the left.

 

It’s not bad advice. Sometimes, no matter where you are, you have to look both ways twice to avoid being gobsmacked by a truck… or your own mind.

 
I’ve been living at a place called Twelve Mile Delta. New Zealand, as a Commonwealth country, is mostly fiercely metric but there’s some holdovers from the hodgepodge of imperial measurements that still plague the UK. (A hitchhiker with a posh British accent was complaining about this recently: “Speed is kilometers but distance is miles, height is in feet and inches, but weight is in stones for no reason at all!”) I think if I were to sketch the most beautiful place in the world for me to live, it would look an awful lot like this Department of Conservation campground. The mountains rise drastically from the glacially-fed and forever chilly lake, and I can see the Remarkables in the distance living up to their name and shielding the population center from my sight.

 

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Twelve Mile is about a ten-minute drive from Queenstown, and then depending on the time of day, it can take another ten minutes to get through the ten blocks that make up the CBD. (Oh, can someone tell me if this is an Oceania phrase? I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to downtown as the Central Business District in Europe.) With mountains on three sides and Lake Wakatipu on the fourth, there is nowhere for the city to sprawl, so the people pile on top of each other in a place that – not so very long ago – sent its citizens to Alexandra for shopping and groceries. This small town has no place to grow: it makes perfect sense to me why they hate freedom campers and tourists.

 
It can get a little suffocating with only one road through the city. Being away from the busyness is like a breath of fresh air every night, staring up at a million stars and waking to fog rolling over the lake as the mountains slowly allow the sun downward to burn it off. But even with a much smaller DOC population, I’ve managed to find myself a bit of community. Probably 70% of the backpackers in a country teeming with them are traveling either in pairs or posses. Those of us traveling solo are much more likely to be male. I managed to find myself two other gals living in vans at my campground, and we park next to each other and invited other solo wanderers into our circle each evening. We share meals (leftovers are an impossibility without a fridge), and drink whatever free beers were handed out at work while discussing our various countries and travels in all their glories and impossibilities. They call me Grandma – the two regular girls are 19 and 20, and even though most of our adopted friends are 26-30, I’m the old soul who turns in when it’s too dark to see and drinks tea while reading books.

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It’s been delightful the last few weeks, but yesterday, I looked both ways twice.
I keep forgetting that I’m not trapped here, and I don’t have to live anyone else’s life. I don’t have to be Grandma and make pleasant conversation every evening. I don’t have to have coordinated plans about which direction to go next. I don’t have to go on long hikes or deep yoga stretches or jump in a freezing cold lake.

 
So after work, instead of going south to camp, I turned north.

 
I picked up a hitchhiker and brought him along the Cardona mountains to Wanaka, slowing my speech and enunciating my words so that this Frenchman could understand me. He offered to cook me dinner as thanks for the lift, but I needed solitude. I dropped him off and spent the next 24 hours without saying a word. I drove up a highway and a long gravel road past sheep and cows and a gray-blue river and shattered mountains until I came to a ford. The sky was darkening, so I settled in to watch the evening come. When morning broke, the dawn showed off just how brilliant Mount Aspiring National Park actually is as glacier feeding my stream reflected the golden light.

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I had a long, slow, lazy morning. I made coffee just for me, I did a little yoga while twitching away from the sandflies, I read The Little Prince. I was hidden from the road, so I watched dozens of vehicles cross the ford and go on into the parkland. Eventually, I joined them. I drove until I ran out of road, crossing half a dozen fords and reminding myself to be patient that not everyone is comfortable on gravel roads. I saw a sheep with a long tail and spent the next ten minutes trying to remember the nursery rhyme about that. And then I got to the parking lot and felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people.

 
“I should hike this trail.” I told myself.

 
“Why?” my inner voice replied.

 
“Well… because Glenna would! Because Young Adventuress would! Because it’s a place you’ve never been before, so that’s what you always do! Because it’s Mount Aspiring and that’s a cool name!”

 
“But neither of them are you. And you don’t want to be around people right now. There’s always going to be something you’ve never done, and there’s always going to be cool names.”

 
It’s a very strange thing, having to give myself permission to not do something. This wasn’t because of the physical limitations of hurting my knee. This was a mental limitation of too much time around people, too much time around noise, too much time around the beaten track. I still needed silence, I needed more time to be alone.

 
I looked both ways twice, and I turned around.

 

 

Posted in The Barista, Vagabonding, Work, Working Holiday

Unhurried

As humans, we seem to go to more effort to avoid trouble and pain than we do to make things better.

-“The Yes Man” by Danny Wallace

I’m accustomed to living by the clock and to living by the rules.

5:45 alarms, 10 o’clock meetings, drinks at 7. A calendar perpetually reminding me where I ought to be and when, a text message exchange cementing plans. GPS leads me where my mental map isn’t fleshed out, google is at my fingertips to answer any question, if there’s a problem the answer is only a phone call away. Always putting out fires, a life of control where the lack thereof is cause for panic and anxiety.

It doesn’t work that way for a working holidayer.

I’m not convinced it works that way for all of New Zealand.

When I walked into my first shift for my first international position, my preconceptions of what the head of housekeeping ought to be like were shattered. A tiny woman was beaming, welcoming all the temp staff and seemed entirely unconcerned that half of us didn’t have the foggiest idea what we were doing. I was shuffled off with an equally blasé leader to start cleaning rooms. She was more interested in telling me about her new year’s celebrations with her grandchildren and peppering me with questions about Goldie than she was with making sure I knew how to properly fold the bedsheets and which materials to use for dusting.

Instead of treading on eggshells wondering which way is up I feel as though there are no wrong turns here, no rules even exist for me to break.

For the first time in my life, absolutely nothing matters. I wake and sleep and wander as a whim strikes me. The sun greets me as it rises, or fills Goldie with a greenhouse effect to remind me to continue exploring. I examine paper maps and trace routes with my finger, still unsure how to gauge the time it would take: is this a twenty-minute drive, or two hours? I pay it no mind: no one is counting on me on the other end to arrive at a certain moment. Goldie is my turtle shell as I carry my home with me everywhere, and leave her at the fringes of the city while my feet carry me everywhere else.

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It wasn’t all that long ago that my daily goal was 8000 steps per day. I don’t even feel as though I’m walking much, but there is too much to see to stay still.

For the second time in my life, I’m not entirely sure where to put my body. When Dad died and I found myself living on the farm, I was confused how to live without a plan. What do I do with my feet? I think I ought to put me here for the moment. My mind was racing through mud, but my body was just kind of in the way. Where do I tether my flesh while my spirit absorbs the beauty around me?

 

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A tree. I can tether myself to the first tree I’ve climbed in… a decade? More?

These days, I still don’t entirely know where I ought to drag my body to catch up with my mind, but I’m in no rush. This entire world is unhurried.

I pick up hitchhikers and ferry them onward, often never learning their name as we glide back into the rhythm of the two-lane road and wind through the mountains. Instead we share where we’ve come from, where we’re going next. They tell me how they’ve only had to wait a few minutes to be picked up every time they’ve stuck out their thumb unless they’re in a pair. I tell them my hitchhiker notebook is beneath their feet and I ask them to sign it. And just like that, they’re gone again.

My heavy bills for the year are already paid, small enough to be done in advance and leave me free to wander. I just need to work enough to pay for the daily missives: a night in the campground, a gym membership (and shower!), petrol for Goldie, a bit of food. I’m not tied to any one place, any one job out of fear of not being able to pay for my survival. I can fill in temporary help wanted positions, work part-time, and spend the time so free wandering among the trees and rivers and stones and oceans. There is so much space, so much time, and so many more people seem ready to accept life as it comes rather than trying to force it to bend to their whims.

I’m in New Zealand, and the world is my oyster. Where shall the wind blow me next?

 

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The Earnslaw making her way back to Queenstown
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I’m not convinced all of these are pure New Zealand, but who am I to argue with wall art?

 

Posted in Something New, The Barista, Travel, Wishes, Work, Working Holiday

Apparently buying a car doesn’t have to be difficult

July 2016, my friends and I started dreaming about starting our own business.

Well, no, actually.

We started dreaming about buying a bus and traveling around the United States in it, and we figured we should probably have a way to support ourselves while doing that.

After a quick discussion with my insurance agent, we bought a 1976 Class C RV instead.

We didn’t start the business.

The RV now sits somewhere in Michigan, and I’m sitting in Hokitika, New Zealand instead.

Tonight I splurged on a budget hotel and have thoroughly enjoyed a hot shower and a flush toilet on a gloomy New Year’s Eve. I’m keeping an eye on the weather, hoping the rain stops and I can head down to the beach for a bonfire to ring in 2018. But even if it doesn’t clear up, in the morning I’ll climb back into my brand new old Toyota Estima named Goldie.

 

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Goldie was the name she came with. I meant to change it, but it suits her.

 

I’m not living in a bus, or in a Breaking Bad motorhome. I’m living in a backpacker minivan. The couple before me pulled out her seats and installed a bedframe and foam mats with storage room underneath for my clothes. Because it’s New Zealand, and there’s an entire culture built up around buying and selling fully-furnished campers for a year of travel, she also came stocked with a table (who knew how useful that would be?!?), cutlery and a tea kettle, a gas stove, and the most darling blue curtains to give me privacy at night. Also, can we talk about how easy it is to purchase a vehicle here? A piece of paper to the post office to put the registration in my name, a quick use of my AAA membership to buy discounted car insurance in a country that doesn’t require it, and BAM. She’s all mine!

I’m quite enjoying the magic of being a proper backpacker. I’ve picked up half a dozen hitchhikers in the last two weeks while traversing Southland and the West Coast (and today decided I really need to get a notebook for them to sign and write which country they’re from). This morning, I accidentally bought a latte that had no espresso in it, so when I pulled into Pancake Rocks I set about making myself a French Press (by the way, thanks for the camper press, Glenna! I’ve gotten so much use out of that old birthday present!). Sadly, I couldn’t find my lighter for the stove to boil the water. No worries, just pop over to the car next to me and ask the gal rolling a cigarette to borrow her lighter in exchange for some coffee. A few minutes later, we looked a bit like the start of a joke: an American girl, German girl, Kiwi guy, and French guy huddled under the back door of a van in the pouring rain while making coffee…

 

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Hardly even the first time that has happened! See here travelers in their natural habitat: huddled over maps with complete strangers, swapping stories of their discoveries. 

 

We all started laughing about the impracticality of being a 21st-century traveler in this country: there is hardly any signal! Sure, we have apps galore for finding places to freedom camp or communicating with our friends and family. But it’s completely useless when you can’t get a text message out to another New Zealand number, let alone access data beyond “H”. I think I’ve seen 3G a total of three times in two weeks, and 4G only once: mountains and tiny towns scattered throughout the countryside make physical maps and a willingness to pull off the side of the road for an attraction instead of forcing a plan the way to go.

And it’s not as though I have much choice at the moment. While I do have a perfectly valid visa, the Christmas holiday means that my tax number is a smidgen slower than usual. I could technically work if some employer were willing to either withhold pay or take out double the amount of taxes. But why? Everyone and their neighbor is hiring as soon as I’m legally able. For now, this island is mine to explore. I drink in her beauty with every breath and listen to the stories of Maui building Aotearoa.

 

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Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) on the, er, Wet Coast. The sun tries so hard, but the greenery does come at a price just off the Tasman Sea.

 

Besides, Goldie and I are just getting to know each other. She has side doors that occasionally refuse to unlock, and I have to keep reminding myself that around every mountain curve there could be another one-lane bridge where I need to give way. She’s a kind old soul, teaching me to drive on the left side of the road and giving me shelter at night. We find places to freedom camp, or as needed pay $20 for a place to park with a shower and proper kitchen. Much cheaper than a hostel, and in the long run cheaper than renting a room by the week. She chugs along merrily as we zip along the only road on the west coast (seriously: not even the scenic route. The MAIN road winds through mountains and along the Tasman Sea). The speed limit is 100km, but we rarely are on a stretch of road straight enough or long enough to even get to 80km. So we wander, taking in the scenery that belongs more in a fantasy novel than real life.

Slowly, slowly, me and Goldie.

 

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Morning comes bright and early with Goldie’s curtains

 

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Fox Glacier… the black to the left of center is ice. More of the glacier is hidden behind the cloud cover.

 

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Hunt’s Beach – sometimes the sun does shine! Tasman Sea to the left and probably Aoraki National Park mountains on the right.

 

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If only they would stay behind the gate at Gunn’s camp… Sandflies: mosquito’s evil twin.

 

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A Backpacker Birthday: My 27th year came into being with champagne in my finest plasticware and advanced ramen noodles.

 

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Kiwi bird prints? Maybe maybe maybe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Changes, Growing Up, People, Working Holiday

Alis Volat Propriis

There’s very little that I counted important enough to tuck into the backpack I’m living out of this year. One such item was a small silver bracelet from my grief counselor that reads in Latin “she flies with her own wings”.

It’s a mantra of encouragement: moving to another country alone with no plan, no job, and no vehicle. I can do this. I can live this madness, absorbing the sunshine and processing the grief lingering beneath the surface. I can fall in love with adrenaline, I can find my place in my altered world.

The only thing is, that’s not the entire story. I may be living a life I’ve dreamed of, but it is hardly only my volition that allows me to soar.

It may be my wings that lift me, but it is the winds of others that give me the space to let go and glide.

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This was the safest “narrow”part of the trail I felt I could take a picture… I swear, the drop off is steeper than it looks!

This afternoon, I hiked the Tiki Trail. It’s a relatively short but very steep hike from Queenstown to the first really good overlook of the city. Four years ago, I was dying: huffing, red-faced, and embarrassed I was holding back Glenna and the rest of our guided group. Today, my legs were giving out before my lungs and I played hopscotch with a group of construction workers. One of them wryly commented that I made the trek look easy. EASY! That simple sentence was like a breath of fresh air for me to fly on up the hill.

I continued hiking, and a gentle older woman was working her way down the trail. We nodded to each other and sidestepped. Ten seconds later, I pull out my music thinking I’m hearing a voice. She’s calling to me, offering me her gondola pass to get back to town after my upward trek. These things are about $35, so a generous gift!

By themselves, these two interactions would have been enough. But that wouldn’t be a very Eliska-like story, now, would it?

Oh no.

Those construction workers were hauling beer up the hill and handed one off to me to drink. I passed them and managed to lose them, only to find them again at the Skyline. They offered me another beer and I struggled to understand what they were asking me with their accents (I have been in the States for WAY too long! I used to be able to distinguish between London, Northern, Irish, Scottish, and almost Kiwi and Australian. Nowadays, I can’t even understand someone speaking non-midwestern English, let alone know where they’re from 😦 )

Halfway through the second beer, this group of Kiwi’s and Brits with a token Frenchman started commenting they needed to get going to go on the Luge and started urging me to come along. No, no, it’s nice to meet you, and I’ll giggle at you from above, but I’m not going to have a job for at least two weeks, I don’t want to spend the money on… Next thing I know, we’re all shoving our bags into one locker and I feel as though I’ve been properly adopted by these men as the foreman happily adds one more 2-run ticket to his purchase and starts passing out helmets for everyone.

The Luge, for lack of a better description, is gravity-fueled go-karts? The first round, you are required to go down the scenic route – going one at a time and a little bit slower. Round two? Utter chaos, turning into more of a bumper car escapade.

And what do Brits do best after self-declared carnage? Pass out another round of beer, of course.

“You. You said words,” I said to one of them in response to sounds pointed in my direction. He laughed, and repeated it, and I shuffled away in embarrassment that I still couldn’t understand his accent and slang.

I may have flown on my own wings to get to the top of the mountain, but I coasted into Queenstown on the winds of absurdity.

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American Gothic: in jelly beans
Posted in Changes, Languages, Working Holiday

Oh. I guess I’m an expat.

It’s the same as going to Iowa City or Fort Collins or Asheville or Berkley and finding out you’re talking to a college student: well of course you are, how could you not? That’s nothing surprising and nothing new.

This world I’m entering? It’s just as obvious as that. To those back home, it looks exotic and interesting.

It’s easy to be impressive when you’re the only one doing something: owning a successful business, building your house from scratch, running a marathon or five, performing for a paying audience.

But when you’re surrounded by people all doing the same thing, it’s a little less sparkly.

Most certainly, there’s a camaraderie: an instinctual knowledge of depth and breadth and love and fear. It’s easy to dive in deep about nuance and common ground.

But you’re not the special and different one when you’re surrounded by people just like you. You become boring.

Today I become boring.

Today I become just like everyone else I talk to.

Oh, you’re just another Working Holidayer.

No big deal, been there, done that.

Just another American abroad.

Just another twentysomething deciding if I’m running towards or running away from something.

Today I become boring.

Today I become that predictable.

Everyone has been elsewhere.

Everyone is on the adventure of a lifetime.

Everyone lives in a van on purpose.

Everyone is chasing passport stamps.

Everyone is choosing this life instead of a house and kids and financial stability.

Today I become boring.

Today I’m just another expat zorbing.

Today I’m just another Midwesterner realizing the difference between artificial sweetness and genuine kindness.

Today I’m just another kid walking the balance between panic and elation, homesickness and sick of being home.

On the road, in the hostel, on the mountain, in the campground, I see my soul reflected on every face.

There’s nothing interesting about me here. Today, there is nothing unique, nothing that catches your attention and makes me different.

Today, my words become my own again. Among those who speak my language and feel my heartbeat, I am my own person. I am not “the traveler” – we all are. So who I am must be richer and more fulfilling, not resting on the easy reputation of being a globetrotter.

So much time to finally discover who I am meant to be when my default is stripped away.

Today I become boring.

Today, I become an expat.

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Posted in Changes, Lessons, Travel, Work, Working Holiday

A Checklist for a Working Holiday Visa

I’ve been on a mission to drag as many people along with me to beautiful New Zealand next year as possible. I’ve gotten plenty of the “Oh, I wish!” comments, but a surprising amount of my friends are eyeing me seriously and pondering joining me on this crazy ride.

It’s all fun and games until they start asking me what they need to do. Honestly? I don’t know. I’m making this all up as I go along. So in part because of that, and in part because I’ve been handing out so many business cards as people ask how I’m going to keep in touch, I thought I’d write a list of what I’ve been up to for the last six months in case you want to come as well.

 

Step 1: Passport

Do you have a passport? When does it expire?

Part of the reason why I’m going this year is my passport expires in April 2019. By starting my visa in December of 2017, that gives me the entirety of the up-to-fifteen-months without having to worry about renewing my favorite document. I’ll have to leave a smidge early of the full timeframe, but as the US has consular representation in New Zealand, I only have to have one month left on my passport rather than the full 3-6 usually required.

If you don’t have a passport, you’re looking at gathering proof of citizenship and ID, passport pictures, filling out a form, sending in some money… It can take a few weeks or a few months, and this is vital to do before beginning the visa application process.

 

Step 2: Visa

https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/about-visa/united-states-of-america-working-holiday-visa

Are you under 30? Do you have no dependents? Okay, sweet, that’s about it. I was kind of surprised when filling out the visa application at some of their questions. For example, apparently being in prison for four years is fine, just not five. Thus far, no one has asked me to prove that I have the $4000 (~$2700USD) nor the health insurance mandated by the visa. For the record, I do have both (and I’ll let you know if they stop me at the border to demand this information!)

The process took maybe 20 minutes to complete, and I got my acceptance three days later. From the date of acceptance, I have a year to show up in the country. My 12-month visa begins then, and I can enter and leave the country as many times as I want for the next year. If I’m working on farms, I can have a three-month extension.

 

Step 3: Plane ticket

I got lucky. I had trackers going from Denver and LA to Queenstown and Auckland (both GoogleFlights and SkyScanner). When Glenna and I went to NZ in 2014, our flight took us via Denver and I wanted to get back to visit my old haunts anyway. All combinations of these flights have hovered around $800-900 for a one-way ticket for the timeframe I wanted. In July, a mere two weeks after getting my visa, prices dropped to $600 for mid-December. February has tickets in the $600-700 range again, but forget getting down south for less than $1000 one way over Christmas and right in the heart of their summer if you’re buying more than six weeks out.

 

Step 4: Forcing the bank to work for you

I knew I was going to be spending a lot of money relatively quickly. I also have a good credit score and knew I could afford to take a couple of hits. I first applied for Bank of America’s Travel Rewards card, and with their signup bonus I was able to knock another $200 off my plane ticket. That’s right: my one-way ticket to New Zealand now only cost $400. I’ve also gotten the CapitalOne Venture card and now have enough points saved up from their signup bonus that if all goes wrong, I can fly home on points alone. My only regret is these both are Visa cards rather than have one as a MasterCard, but I doubt I’ll run into issues with that. I attempted to signup for a Barclaycard Arrival Plus, but they refuse to do business in Iowa: if you’re from literally any other state, you’ll be just fine and this looks like a fantastic card.

My priority in getting cards was to have no international transaction fees, a signup bonus, and no fees the first year.

The second thing I did was apply for Aspiration banking and close down my Wells Fargo checking. I have mostly worked for small businesses who don’t do direct deposit, and you have to keep a $1500 daily minimum balance (which I don’t like having that attached to a debit card) in order to avoid a $10/mo service fee. So signing up for an online bank that doesn’t have the fees served my purpose. I will be getting a New Zealand bank account per the conditions of my visa, but that way I’m not hemorrhaging money in the meantime.

 

Step 5: Starter Pack

https://www.workingholidaystarter.com/

Oh, man, this is something I wrestled with like mad! Is it WORTH spending money to have someone help me do something I can easily do myself? At the end of the day, I decided that especially after coming out of a super vulnerable year of settling my dad’s estate, I did want to have at the very least an emergency contact in New Zealand. Plus, three nights in a hostel, someone else organizing my meeting with the bank and helping me fill out paperwork for getting a tax ID number and making sure my resume is organized in a way that their job board will like? Oh! And they give me a SIM card for my unlocked phone. Sometimes it’s nice to start a new life on “easy” mode.

 

Step 6: Phone Problems

I met two travelers this summer who both extolled the virtues of having an unlocked phone. Show up in a new country, pop in a SIM, and you’re good to go. The first one was telling me how she used an iPhone, and with the iPhone X due to drop in October, I figured I could get an SE for relatively cheap…. NOPE. Fortunately, the second had been using a Moto while literally globetrotting and Amazon had a deal running the week after that conversation on that exact phone.

I needed to cancel my US phone plan and decide what to do with my phone number: after all, it’s attached to everything these days. Grocery stores, two-factor authentication, e-receipts from Square… I think at this point the phone number I’ve had for a decade is almost as tied to my identity as my social security card. There’s a few options out there that let you port your number to park it for a while – take a look around and see which one is best for your situation.

 

Step 7: Health Insurance, at home and abroad

https://orbitprotect.com/

As a US citizen, your visa is too short to allow you to be on the national healthcare system, so you need to buy your own insurance for your stint in New Zealand. I kept things simple and bought mine through the company the Starter Pack recommended – their prices seemed on par with the research I was doing for other travel/medical insurance in the country.

Meanwhile, in the US, I called my insurance provider and let them know I was leaving the country for over a year. They took care of canceling my policy effective January 1, 2018.

 

Step 8: What to do with my car?!?

Do I sell it? Trade it with my sister? If it is in storage do I take the wheels off and disconnect the battery? Do I leave insurance on it? Fortunately, my insurance agent has always rolled with my insane ideas pretty well and we spent a good amount of time talking over options. The car has more value to me as a transportation mode for when I return than it does monetarily. So, as my legal address is my mom’s home as well, I added her to my title and when I leave my insurance will drop to comp only. It will sit in the garage for the next year or so, and she has kindly agreed to once a month run the engine and get the fluids moving, then pull it out from the stall and put it back in so the tires aren’t resting in the same spot.

 

Step 9: Embassy

Now, I feel like at this point there’s enough electronic pathways that it should be obvious to the US government that I’m hanging out in a different country for a while. But more for my piece of mind than anything else, I signed up with “STEP” (Smart Travelers Enrollment Program). This was a five-minute form that lets the embassy in Wellington know that I’ll be spending the year there. If there’s a disaster (think, an earthquake in Christchurch or an accident that leaves me unconscious), they have my contact info in the country and my emergency contact in the US.

I have the embassy saved as a contact in my phone (which is attached to Google so I can access it anywhere), which means should something happen, I have their numbers for standard and emergency contact and their address.

 

Step 10: International Driver’s License

Some people choose to get a driver’s license in country. I may do that, honestly haven’t decided yet. But in the meantime, I went to my local AAA office for an international driver’s license. New Zealand doesn’t actually require this as my native license is in English, but if I should be wandering to different countries, I’d rather have it than not for the interim. It’s kind of a bulky document, and you need to have your US license with it for it to be valid.

 

Step 11: Copies, copies, copies!

I’ve had my passport stolen overseas before. That is not a fun experience, but fortunately the embassy is extremely efficient at taking care of citizens abroad. To make it EASIER for everyone involved, I have so many copies of everything. Copies of my visa, passport, driver’s license, health insurance – all scattered throughout my bags so that if one thing gets stolen I still have the information in other bags.

 

Step 12: Absentee voting

Hey, hey, hey! Your civic duty doesn’t end just because you’re spending one year abroad. As a “civilian voter abroad”, different states have different requirements. Iowa currently has a postcard system for federal absentee ballots – I’ll let you know how the whole process works once I have it officially sorted. Since Iowa just passed a voter ID law effective January 1, 2018, there’s a possibility that things will get complicated.

 

Step 13: The Ugly Stuff

We like to pretend we’re invincible at this young age. But since the reason I’m home to begin with was the unexpected death of my dad, I’ve spent a LOT of time with the attorney this year. He was the one who actually suggested appointing a Power of Attorney. Since I have a simple life, getting a boilerplate fiduciary and medical POA (and in my case, also a will) allowed me to give authority to my mom that if something should happen to me, she can take care of my estate and make the call on my medical decisions if I’m incapacitated. This was cheap and easy – literally, just a notary for the documents.

I also have all of my banking information and online presence in a sealed envelope left with my mom – again, should anything happen, she at least knows where to start. I have a very good working relationship with my family and trust her with this information: if that’s not the case for you, I’ve heard of programmers writing a dead man switch to send important information and instructions to a trusted source should they not log in for a certain stretch of time.

 

Step 14: Packing

I’m not quite “one-bagging” it, but pretty close. During the REI Garage Sale this year, I picked up a Traverse 65 pack. It’s one with supports that you can carry over a distance but also opens from both the top and front of the pack for ease of access. I’m using a few packing cubes to sort my clothes and have a small mess kit and a microfiber towel in the bottom of the bag. All said and done, the backpack weighs 29 pounds fully packed and I still think I’m bringing too much stuff. I also have a bag that counts as a personal item where I can carry my computer and clothes for the five days I’ll be hanging out in Denver. (Shoutout to my friend for letting me store my backpack in his downtown office rather than me dragging it around the city!) Since I’m going to attempt to follow the summer in New Zealand, I’m just bringing a fleece lined jacked – definitely cutting down on the bulk!

 

 

 

That’s about it, folks. There will eventually be a part two of this list describing adventures in transportation, living quarters, job hunting, and getting my ID number to allow me to work in the country. But since I don’t think anyone will be following me to the other side of the planet until at least April, we’ve all got time to let me tread through the waters first 😊

 

 

Posted in Home, Lessons, NaNoWriMo, Travel, Wishes

you let go

I didn’t think I owned much. After I’d left my apartment in Iowa, giving away my table and chairs, my dresser and couch, I’d moved to Denver by myself in a minivan. That was my standard: I can’t have much if that’s how I started, can I?

I’m falling into a point of my life where I want own nothing but what I can fit in my Sentra. A few changes of clothes, a few dishes, a book or two. As I’ve started pushing my earthly possessions into the storage closet in my parent’s basement (sorry, Mom) I’ve realized how even with moving frequently and often from one bedroom into another basement room, I’ve managed to accumulate quite the collection of useless items.

There’s so much stuff. A pair of pants I never wear because they fit me funny. Mismatched socks, some with holes in them I keep meaning to throw out. Mugs with chips in them because I’m too sentimental about where they came from to throw them out. A mini ironing board that I use once a year when I’m in a hurry and forgot to pull my shirt out of the dryer right away. An old college textbook that I thought might be useful someday. A stack of papers from a volunteer program I did three years ago.

Somehow I keep carting them around, address to address, state to state.

I now have in my possession less than a dozen outfits, a few blankets, and my computer. That’s about it.

I now have the ability to pack up my life in a heartbeat. Ten minutes, and I can be on the road with no trace that I even existed. I don’t own pets, merely adopting my roommates’ or friends’ animals for the brief moments we share space.

I think I expected owning next to nothing to be more freeing than it actually feels.

I’m a nomad, so my heart has always been ready to go. While I had more of a physical attachment than I was aware of, the emotional connection has always been held with loose fingers. It’s something I’ve encountered with many travelers: we’re quick to befriend, but just as quick to move on. People will ask you how long you’ve been traveling together, and you’ll admit that you just met twelve hours before when you joined in the same walking tour.

You become accustomed to living out of a suitcase for a few weeks or months at a time. Your four shirts are quickly melded to the exact contours of your body, no matter how often you’re able to find a washing machine and soap. But it doesn’t matter, because those four shirts see so many sights and absorb so many smells of so many cultures. The more you absorb, the less rigid you become.

You learn that you’re not always right. You hear how other countries, other religions, other families operate. You adopt some of their world, and they adopt some of yours. Or you toast each other and your differences, knowing some things won’t change. But it doesn’t matter, because you realize on the other side of the table is a human being, not the enemy.

You start holding on to less.

You hold on to fewer strict opinions, more open to discussion and ability to change.

You hold on to fewer languages, realizing the fluidity body language and how your brain won’t recall the right word at the right time.

You loosen your grip on time, allowing for change and fluctuation, last minute ideas and new companions.

You let go of the determination that something you know is the best or the worst, as you come to appreciate the nuances of home and away.

You start demanding that others speak with respect and facts before making blanket statements.

You let go of the concept of home, because there are people and places that hold your heart all across the globe, scattered like dust in the wind.

I own so little. I hold on to so little.

Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Is it just fine in this precise moment?

It is so easy to accumulate. It is so easy to continue to carry things around that have no worth, whether it’s a broken lamp (I just need to find a new pull string!) or a relationship (we’re not that bad for each other), a job (but what would I do if I left?), an apartment (yeah, everything’s gross and it’s really expensive, but it takes so much work!).

I’m so young, but I’m learning the weight of value. Who do I value? What do I value? When I live in a six foot by four foot space, what is worth so much that I am willing to sacrifice those inches? When friends are a dime a dozen, which relationships do I value enough to fight to maintain when I’m “out of sight, out of mind” and have to make an intentional effort?

My external environment now matches my inner self. Perhaps now my inner self will do some spring cleaning as well. Perhaps I can let go of the past, both the good parts and bad. Perhaps I can begin each day in peace and fresh beginnings. Perhaps I can empty myself and go in to each morning in each city with eyes wide open. Perhaps the past can remain there, and only the lessons follow me into the future.

I have no possessions.

I have nothing holding me down.

Defying gravity.

It’s time to find color in the earth instead of my wardrobe, vibrancy in real relationships instead of the fleeting. Hold on to what has value, release what holds you back, create beauty in each moment.

I didn’t think I owned much. But now I want to own even less.

Now I just want to own myself, to take accountability for my words and actions, and then to move on in freedom.

Live simply.