It’s a strange feeling trying to acclimatize to a new culture, new meal times, new language, while also planning for our return to the states. For the past year, we’ve moved from one country to another and learned a new set of customs every month or so. Next week we’re returning to what we call our home, what is supposed to be normal, except it hasn’t been our home for a long time.
When traveling, you’re always planning the next step. In Indonesia, we were looking into how to get a SIM card in Nepal. In India, we were making plans for Turkey. You are booking flights and researching hostels, looking at exchange rates, local foods and significant cultural sights.
But planning for the next chapter of our lives is much different. Our planning involves researching health insurance, used car prices and reading profiles of cities in the US that might be our next home. We have been doing all of this from farms in Spain. In the morning we have been working outside harvesting beets, sorting dried beans, or cleaning out silos. But at lunchtime, I’m Skyping with Leticia at the Maryland Health Connection office and Zach is sending out applications for farm internships in North Carolina. We are returning to our country, but starting something new.
I have to admit, I have a whole boatload of feelings about coming home. I’m dying to see my sister and my niece that I haven’t yet met. I’m ready to have a living room again. There are bits of American culture that we haven’t seen (or eaten) in a year and a half: chicken wings and a Lagunitas IPA, Netflix and Midol and well paved highways. But every country has it’s pros and cons and spending time living with folks in other countries has helped me realize that there are more ways of living than the go get ‘em culture that is so common in the US. In New Zealand, we learned to slow down and have a chat with the neighbors. This often involves tea and cake. Nepal made me realize how easy and comfortable and clean we have it in the States, but also how many regulations we have (you’d never be allowed to take a sheep on a bus at home).
I’ve come to enjoy the small towns that we’ve stayed in and hope, as we transition out of our backpacks, to make our home in an adventurous place where kind people work hard and enjoy their lives. So though our trip abroad is coming to a close, our travels continue as we find a new hometown in the US of A.
Today was the last of our trips to Queenstown to get shot full of vaccinations. We’ve gone three times over the last month, slowly driving over the snow covered Crown Range, to visit the medical center for consultations and “jabs” as they call them. Each time, we sit watching the clock as the harried nurses shuffle papers and vials around.
“So Christina, you’re getting Hep B and Japanese Encephalytis…”
No. That’s Zach.
“Okay and you’ve already had it, but still need your second rabies.”
No, third rabies.
Once we sorted out who gets what, it’s needles, bandaids, credit card rape, and you’re off! Then back up the switchbacks and into Wanaka just in time to go to work. Between the requirements for Indonesia and India, we have been vaccinated for just about everything out there (Hep A, Hep B, Typhoid, Rabies, Polio, and Japanese Encephalytis). Which means now we can go just about anywhere with the peace of mind that the diarrhea is probably just diarrhea and not typhoid fever.
With vaccinations out of the way, we have started researching visas. It turns out that obtaining visas has been a driving force in our decision making process. For example, my friend Melissa is coming to visit us in Indonesia in August (!!!!!). Amidst the excitement to see her, I think I said something like, “Whatever, whenever, ohmygod yeah, just come,” forgetting that we only have a 30 day visa. As I realized later, our visa expires in the middle of the days that she requested off from work. Woops. I emailed a representative at the Indonesian Embassy and asked what to do and she suggested leaving the country and coming back on a new visa. So that’s what we’ll do. We’ll hop a flight to East Timor for a week and come back to Indonesia on a new visa.
When we leave Indonesia, we will make our way toward India. We plan to head to Kathmandu, Nepal to apply for a six month Indian visa. This looks like it will be a more complicated process, but the internet is a wonderful tool and we have taken notes from fellow travelers (check out Ryan Beale’s Super Trip of Awesome), government agencies, and Lonely Planet alike.
There is a spectacular feeling of freedom and adventure to be able to change plans at the drop of a hat. But it requires constant communication between the two of us, a willingness to be flexible, and to be able to trust that things are going to work out. We get excited to go somewhere, but after looking into the logistics, figure out that the plan isn’t going to work exactly how we had thought. Because our plans change all the time, long term planning is pretty difficult, but this also allows us to take advantage of opportunities that we didn’t know were going to come our way. A month ago, neither East Timor nor Nepal were anywhere on the radar, but now they are and that’s fantastic. We are ready to go!
My friend Gunta travels with a hair straightener and heels. She bops from city to city, Queenstown to Bali to Tokyo, and can jump off a flight, check into a hostel and hit the clubs, lickety split. Courtney is a badass rock climber and currently lives out of her van. She travels with mascara. Meike carries nail polish and a tiny bottle of remover in her backpack. And my friend Fran tried to argue with airport security when they took her tweezers, “You just don’t take a girl’s tweezers!” It’s true. You don’t.
There is a whole spectrum of packing and traveling that ranges from your ultra light backpacker, not concerned with showers or shaving (known more commonly as a dirty hippie) and a super posh vacationer, loaded down with bags of shoes and accessories. Some of how you travel and what you carry is based on the length of travel and what you plan to do. Obviously, you can’t cram a business suit into a backpack, but you might be surprised what some folks pull off. Most of what you pack has to do with being comfortable. Pack too much and you’re uncomfortable trying to carry stuff. Pack too little or don’t pack what you actually need and you may find yourself feeling a different kind of uncomfortable. (The kind of uncomfortable you’d feel when you’re trying to go out to dinner in running shoes.)
When I left New York, I left behind bras and bangles. I chucked my Diorshow mascara, hair spray and beloved bronzer. My saggy crotch long underwear doubled as leggings, I embraced my missing tooth and experimented with not shaving for extended periods of time. I learned just how feral I can go. But somewhere in there, I forgot how good it feels to feel good about yourself. I forgot that some little things (like razors and dangly earrings and the occasional haircut) can make a big difference. That Lululemon leggings make me feel like Lara Croft, like I can conquer the world, even when I wind up wearing my hiking boots in a city.
We have been away from home for a year and are packing our bags again. We are packing for a week in a hip city, summer in the jungle and winter in the mountains. All in one bag. The key is in having versatile layers, things that are functional and lightweight. Each item has to make you feel comfortable, fit well, and be able to be work with anything else in the bag. What this means is that your long sleeve shirt should be something that you can layer when hiking and also wear to the bar because when you only have one and it is cold outside, you’re going to wear it. May as well like it.
Some of the things that WILL be in my bag:
- One of very kind of shirt (tank, 2 tees, longsleeve)
- Lululemon leggings. Judge away, they’re stupid expensive, I love them, the end.
- Patterned tights and a black mini skirt (to be ditched after Melbourne and Bali)
- Shoes (hiking boots, running shoes, Vans)
- Socks and underwear, including a thong
- A real bra. Just one. Uniboob is fine 80% of the time, but sometimes you need two. Like when you go out to dinner.
- A scarf that doubles for style and warmth
- A pair of dangly earrings
- Fleece and rain jacket
- Electronics (Kindle, Computer, Phone)
- Toiletries (Toothbrush and paste, Khiels SPF face lotion, Mach 3 razor, emergency medical kit, small stash of daily contacts, sparkle nail polish)
- Ziploc bag of of important things (passport, vaccination records, visas, back up Credit Card, etc)
Some things that WILL NOT be in my bag:
- Books. Heavy. I came to NZ with 3, but am fully wedded to my Kindle.
- A purse. Pockets do just fine.
- Shampoo. I’ve been using baking soda instead of shampoo since November. Easy to pack, doesn’t spill, works the same and you can get it anywhere.
- Nice sunglasses. I’d rather have cheap ones that I can lose or break.
- Camping gear. Didn’t use it at all this year. Having talked with others, we won’t need it in SE Asia or India, either.
I feel pretty confident about living out of a backpack, but I am also quite aware that I’ve only ever lived in a 1st world, non-Muslim country. My Czech friend Iva told me a story that started with, “I used to say ‘ay fuck’ to the Muslim way, but after week in Turkey, I say okay, it’s easier just to cover the body.” So on that note, I’m looking forward to seeing how this incarnation of my lady traveler evolves as we set off to explore totally different cultures.
Alas, the time has come to sell Serena Williams, our 1992 Nissan Serena that served as our home for the first few months of our trip here in New Zealand. She has treated us well, but as Immigration has kindly reminded me via email, it is time to go.
Nissan Serena 1992/ 240,000 km/ Manual Transmission/ Petrol Engine/ Loads of extras!
1992 Nissan Serena in excellent working condition. Starts up first time, every time. Good engine and smooth manual transmission. WOF and Rego valid until 09/2013. Timing chain drive so no cambelt to worry about! Showing superficial wear, but has been treated with care.
Save time and money by buying a van ready to take you on your adventures around New Zealand! Front and rear moon roofs and Ipod/aux input make for a great ride. Comes with a comfy foam bed big enough for two, pillows and duvet, cooking equipment (gas stove, pot, pan, knife, cutting board, plates, mugs, utensils), a fishing pole (!), cooler box, Mountain Hardware two person tent (retails for around $300USD), large water jug, North and South Island road maps, and loads of other extras!
Just before we left for New Zealand I happened to notice that my New York State driver’s license would expire in about a year, while we were still planning to be away.
“Oh good,” I thought. “It’s great that I noticed this now, and can take care of it while I’m still home.” I was so naive.
So I told the DMV my license was “lost” and needed a renewal. I filled out some paperwork and happily sent in some fees, and a few weeks later they mailed me back a new ID. Unfortunately, it had the same expiration date as the old one. “Ok, DMV, you win this round.” And in my finest Aaah-nold, “I’ll be back.”
Well, the reckoning is upon me. I looked into renewing by mail from abroad and the steps were intimidating. So then I investigated getting a New Zealand ID, just so I had something to prove I could drive and an official photo identification other than my passport. But, because my NYS license was issued less than two years ago (because I tried to fool the NYS DMV into renewing it early, silly me) they wouldn’t give me an NZ driver’s license. I considered forging some US government documents proving I’d had a license for more than a decade (which is true), but chickened out at the thought of deportation, a treason charge and ending up in Guantanamo Bay.
My only alternative was a bitter pill to swallow. I had no choice but to renew my NY driver’s license by mail from New Zealand. Deep breaths. No reason to panic. Serenity now. After several days of skittering between the library, post office, bank, and office supply store, I believe I have crossed all my t’s and dotted every i. Here’s a snapshot of the nightmare I’ve endured:
- Print MV-44.pdf and MV-619.pdf.
- Complete MV-44.
- Have MV-619 completed by a licensed optometrist or physician.
- Photocopy passport, old license and credit card.
- Get a bank check for $80.50 USD (harder than it sounds from abroad).
- Include a pre-paid (from the USPS), pre-addressed envelope (also harder than it sounds from abroad).
- Write a letter explaining why I’m renewing from abroad and where I want the renewal sent.
- Mail it all to Albany.
- Wait patiently.
And here’s what it’s cost (in NZD):
- Printing: $3.40
- Packaging: $1.70
- Eye exam: $47
- NYS DMV fee: $103.50
- Bank Draft fee: $25
- Postage, NZ to US: $44.50
- Postage, US to NZ: $12.60
TOTAL: $237.70 NZD, or about 20 hours of work at minimum wage here in New Zealand.
Let this be a lesson to you. And I guess that lesson is, when dealing with the DMV, the game is expensive and rigged against you.
If you have been following along with our adventures (we love all of you who are!), you can see that we split our time between working on farms and traveling in our tres chic van, Ms. Serena Williams. You may also know that our plan is to be here in New Zealand for about a year, with no income other than the occasional odd jobs here and there. One thing we are constantly minding is how we spend our time and money. There are endless opportunities to spend money on really enticing looking adventures like rafting, zip lining, jet boating, zorbing, and alpine climbing expeditions, but we would be flat broke after a week of that. We didn’t save for that. We saved enough to live very simply and to see the country by exploring on our own. This post is a break down of how we are making it work without an income.
By balancing our time between working and travel, we get different benefits and can live fairly inexpensively. WWOOFing (working on farms) gives us the opportunity to learn valuable skills, get to know people, and our meals and lodging is provided in exchange for 4-5 hours of work. We have been lucky enough to stay with farmers who want the work to be something that we are interested in, while also being of use to them. They ask questions like, “What do you want to learn and do while you are here?”
While WWOOFing, we spend most of our time on or very close to the farm. We get to know the surrounding area well, taking occasional afternoon trips to the mountains or the beach. Our only expenses are on extras, which are usually just wine and cookies. Except that our current hosts provide plenty of both. (Thank you L&S!) Who needs packaged cookies when Lyndal made mousse au chocolate on a Tuesday night?
In the last two weeks of WWOOFing, our expenses totaled $74.50:
- $50.00 Doctor’s visit and antibiotics for my foot (which is slowly, but surely on the mend)
- $20 Torlesse Vineyards Pinot Gris
- $4.50 Foccacia from the Farmer’s market
While traveling in the van, our costs are higher, but we have the freedom to make our own schedule, to sleep late, to spend the morning sitting on the beach, wearing my straw hat and sewing up the holes in the armpit of my denim shirt, or to keep going on a dirt road just to see what is at the end of it. With that freedom also comes the challenge of stretching the dollar by buying day old bread and brownish bananas and finding activities that are free. (Hello, hiking and biking!)
Our costs for one week of living in the van and exploring come to around $600.
- $400 gas
- $50 campsite fees (Freedom camping when possible and shelling out for a Dept. of Conservation campsite when we really need a shower)
- $100 camping food (box of wine, pb&j supplies, oats, nuts, canned beans, lentils, farm stand veggies)
- $20 entry to Lake Tekapo Thermal Pools (50% off thanks to bookme.com, kinda like a Groupon)
- $25 breakfast at a farm stand cafe.
It is the balance of these two ways of living that makes our long term travel work financially possible and rewarding. Balance between time spent with new people and time alone. Balance between boxed wine and vineyard tastings. Balance between sleeping in the van and in a bed. It all evens out to make it work pretty well so far.
Oh, and the money we save by eating canned beans will allow us to afford a few splurges like bungee jumping and knife making
Our departure was an awesome month long celebration, and while sometimes exhausting (169 bar, I’m looking at you!), we have felt so much love. Our friends took vacation days off of work just to go watch Batman together. Others rearranged client dinners to have drinks with us, came in from out of town to take trapeze lessons, took half days to go on boat rides around the city, and stayed out late on a Tuesday just because it wouldn’t happen again for awhile. And while I am a staunch believer in ditching work to have fun, I understand that this is also a very big deal.
We also received some really awesome gifts. As if our departure was Christmas or something! But, the best part of that was that every one was incredibly thoughtful. Often when people say, “It’s the thought that counts,” it is like a consolation. Like you missed the mark with your effort, but at least you sort of tried. Even if that card was a week late. Not with this crowd. Whether it was a gift card that takes up no space in a backpack, or a tiny leather man tool, or a text message on the day of our departure, it really is the thought that counts. It is that someone is thinking about you, thinking about how to express something, and then picks the best way. So many people did that and it feels awesome.
We have arrived safe and sound and couldn’t have asked for a better send off. Thanks guys!
Moving sucks. It is expensive and exactly how I don’t want to be spending my time. But, in one week the move will be over and we will be cleaning our empty apartment. As of right now though, nothing is packed and we still do not know how we are going to move. The kicker in our situation is that it is not just a move. Everything is going into storage for two years (translation: moving = $, storage = $$$). At this point, I think I have looked into just about every option for moving and storage that is out there. And there are lots of them.
Here are some options we have explored and thoughts we have thought:
PODS: $175/month plus $500 for pick up, $500 for drop off, $500 for this, $500 for that, and $500 for the other thing. Oh yeah, and they may not be able to actually drop the pod anywhere close to the door of the building, depending on the street regulations. Clearly, this option isn’t going to work.
Store our stuff in the basement of a friends office that may or may not flood. Where we may or may not get a bunch of moldy stuff back. I mean, if we used tarps and pallets…. so cheap, so tempting… But, no.
Use a moving company to move and store our stuff. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Here, take it away. We got a reference from a friend, who knows a guy, who knows a guy, who came over for an estimate. After tallying our belongings and tapping away on his iPad for an hour, he came up with an estimated $10,000 to move and store the contents of our one bedroom apartment. Hold on, let me go see how much is on my money tree. Nope, not that much. Thanks anyway, asshole.
The good old fashioned way looks like the most realistic and cost effective. Rent a UHaul, get some dudes to help us load the truck and schlep it to a self storage facility, where Mom and Dad will help us unload it. In Brooklyn, a 5×15 ft self storage unit is $250. In PA and northern Jersey they are around $100. In Atlantic City however, we found one for $50. Guess where we are headed? AC, baby!
We have one final estimate this week. It is being done by a guy who suggested that we use his moving company to help us move into a self storage unit instead of using a UHaul. This would be ideal. Keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t break the bank.
And thus, the packing begins tomorrow. All of my makeup is going in the garbage. So is my strapless bra that claws at my ribcage. And the pilly sweaters and dingy camisoles. It is time to PURGE! Gal pals come on Sunday to help empty the liquor cabinet and pack up the kitchen
Don’t get me wrong — I’m beyond excited to GTFO of New York City and start adventurin’ (patent pending), but as the date of our departure approaches (August 1) I’ve come to dread the inevitable shock of not being able to drop $50 on dinner if we don’t feel like firing up the stove on a particularly sweltering evening (like today in NYC). We’ve been fortunate; with no kids and steady gigs, we’ve rarely had to sacrifice a fun time for the sake of saving a sawbuck here and there. But soon, when the paychecks stop coming in, we’ll have to make some tough choices about what we can and can’t spend our money on.
At least initially, the plan is to live frugally and find free and fun things to do. Our expenses should be pretty minimal, considering we’ll be WWOOFing in exchange for room and board. Fixed monthly costs should be limited to cell phones and student loans (student bailout, anyone?). At least, I think so. It’ll be interesting to revisit this after a few months in NZ, to see what our real monthly costs are. No doubt I’ve forgotten something already.
Transportation is obviously another consideration, but that’s closely tied to entertainment. My grand vision is that we’ll be within a stone’s throw of awesome beaches and hikes and just hang out, write, talk, read, and enjoy the slow life for a while. Sounds…perfect! Right? RIGHT?!
I’ve lived out of my (and by my, I mean my sister’s) H frame backpack twice and learned valuable lessons about packing with each trip. In 2010 it was for a one month trip to Hawaii. During my Hawaii trip, I learned that make up is unnecessary. To most people, this seems obvious. But, to a citified gal, this may seem unnerving. Turns out I got citified, but didn’t realize it until I was sitting on a farm on the Big Island, embarrassed by the fact that bronzer and mascara were in my toiletry bag. Yes, I brought bronzer to Hawaii. I am now stretching the last of my mascara through the last of our summer weddings and parties and can’t wait to dump it in the garbage before we ship out. In 2011, Zach and I took a week long backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. While schelping the contents of my backpack up and down the mountains, I learned that you don’t need to carry 4 shirts when you can get away with just taking 2 and washing them as needed. I’m catching on.
A. Hiking Boots
B. Flip Flops
C. Bunch of underwear
D. Bandana, bathing suit
E. Sports bras
F. 2 Tshirts, 1 tank top
G. 1 long sleeve, 1 sweatshirt, 1 denim button down that I can’t live without
J. A dress
K. Mesh shorts, Jean shorts, Jeans
N. Sleeping bag
O. Fleece and Rain Shell
P. Kindle, Journal
Q. Spork, Leatherman, headlamp
R. Pack towel, camp stove
*Not pictured: first aid kit, toiletries, slackline, computer, guide book, camera, chargers
The good news is that it all fit in my backpack. Okay, well I didn’t feel like taking the tent out, but Zach and I are going to split it up and I’m pretty sure it will fit. We will also be bringing day packs for shorter jaunts, to be worn front ways like a marsupial baby while we travel to and from the airport.
The bad news is that we have a ton of stuff to put in storage and to ditch. Ebay and Goodwill, prepare thy selves! Friends, come drink the contents of our liquor cabinet!