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What’s Your Lady Traveler Like?

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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.
  • Jeans
  • 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.

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We’re Selling Our Baby!

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!

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The Joys of Renewing a US ID Abroad

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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.

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Rain

We’ve had cold, nasty, nonstop rain for days. Translation: an excuse to bake bread and drink tea all day. Pistachio biscotti, Will’s rye, Gerard’s vegan pumpkin and a fig loaf from work.

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Winter Garden

After a failure with container gardening in our NYC apartment, I’ve been itching to get some dirt under my fingernails and start a veggie patch for a while now. Yeah, I’ve worked on farms and in gardens all over NZ, but they haven’t been my veggies. It’s a bit different when you get to pick, plan and start your own plants. The former residents of our humble shack in Wanaka established a few garden beds over the summer, but since they moved on I inherited the garden manager position and all its heartbreak and triumph.

 

Our winter garden has been a nice project that required very little input and from which we’re already reaping rewards. We’ve gotten a few meals from the leafy stuff (kale, chard, pak choi), and the other things (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts) are ticking along nicely.

It’s been great working on my own little spot, however small it may be, and tasting the fruits of my labor. Oh jeez, another offal pun!

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A good book _____________________________.

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I’m reading Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked. I haven’t read any of his books other than the Omnivore’s Dilemma, but from the first page, I felt like I was spending time with an old friend. If you haven’t read anything by Pollan, do. He will teach you things that will change your life and make you laugh while doing so. In Cooked, Pollan learns how to cook. (Duh.) He divides the book into sections about cooking with fire, water, earth and air.

As he learns about cooking with each element, I feel like I’m learning a little alongside him. Learning about what exactly happens when you are salting or browning a piece of meat. Pollan is takes concepts that I kind of know, or often do, and explains them clearly. For example:

If you begin by sauteing a mince of diced onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil (and perhaps some garlic, fennel, or parsley), you’ve made a soffritto, the signature of an Italian dish. However, a “sofrito”-when spelled with one “f” and one “t”- is a dice of onions, garlic, and tomato in place of celery, and identifies the dish as Spanish. (Cajun cooking begins with a dice of nions, garlic, and bell pepper- “the holy trinity.”) If a recipe calls for a base of diced spring onions, garlic, and ginger, you’ve left the West entirely and made what is sometimes called an “Asian mirepoix,” the foundation of many dishes in the Far east… Even if we’re unfamiliar with these terms or techniques, the aroma of these chopped up plant bases instantly tells us where in the world we are, culinarily speaking. (Pollan, 127)

So while walking home today I was thinking about how to use up the ingredients we have in the house and still eat something exciting. Onions, carrots, potatoes, noodles….. Not exciting. I wasn’t getting anywhere until I came back to that onion. I’ve been been reading about the onion for days. The onion is the base for most flavor profiles around the world. So instead of thinking about what the end product was going to look like, a pile of roast veggies, or a soup, I thought about what kind of flavor I could make with my onion. A woody stub of ginger and some garlic that were hiding in the bottom of the fruit bowl brought me to asian, which reminded me that we have Pak Choy in the garden of winter greens that Zach has been cultivating. Bam! Instead of settling on a random pile of ingredients that need to be eaten, I had an awesome stir fry. It just took thinking about it from a different angle, which is what Mr. Michael Pollan helped me do tonight.

A good book keeps me thinking even when I’m not reading it. It improves real life. And this good book made dinner better. That’s a winner!

485

Freedom ain’t Free

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We’ve been bumming around New Zealand for almost a year now, which is an awesome amount of time to be living and working legally in a foreign country. A trip of this length is only made possible because New Zealand offers a working holiday visa to young travelers. Common in most of the world but completely alien to the US, working holidays are the backbone of international long-term travel. But, reinforcing the stereotype yet again, America can’t play nice with other countries and (usually) doesn’t allow young travelers to legally work for a short time while visiting our fair shores.

Nearly every traveler I’ve met here in New Zealand would love to travel to the United States for six months or a year. But nope, most people (notably, EU residents) aren’t allowed working holiday visas in the US. We’ve got this big fantastic country that we’re so proud of, and we don’t want to share it with a few million young travelers? Ok, they’d temporarily take some seasonal jobs away from Americans, but they’d bring an incredible amount of value to other areas of our culture. Even ignoring the jobs they’d create through spending their deutschmarks and drachmas (ok, maybe not the latter), the cultural exchange and variety of perspectives they bring are invaluable.

In the last year I’ve met people from all over the world and learned something from all of them. Here in Wanaka we’ve had travelers crashing on our couch from France, Chile, Australia, Germany, Israel, the Czech Republic, and yes, even from back home in America, and though we haven’t been actively traveling for the last few months, our lives have been enriched and enlightened. We’ve learned to make real hummus, found an awesome French internet radio station, and been entertained by many, many acoustic guitars. No, freedom ain’t free, but isn’t this worth something?

Isn’t this kind of influx of positive energy and voices just what many of our stagnant towns and cities in the United States need? Isn’t it at least worth a try? Offer a few million working holiday visas to people from around the globe, study it, and see what kind of effect it has on our communities. The risk is low and the reward is high. But then again, I’m expecting rational decision making and action from our political system. Silly me!

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The Next Step

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The next leg of our journey is booked! We leave New Zealand on August 2 and are headed to Indonesia, with a four day layover in Melbourne.

Our NZ Working Holiday visas expire in two months. In visa/gov’t bureaucracy-time, thats not much time at all. We played with several options and seriously considered extending our visas and staying through September to make the most of the ski season here in Wanaka, but the cost and hassle of doing that wasn’t worth the trouble. And the thought of going somewhere new is REALLY EXCITING. So we will leave Wanaka “right at the beginning of the good snow,” as the locals keep telling us.

Our first step is leaving Wanaka in mid July and heading to Melbourne, a city that comes highly recommended by chef friends at Francesca’s and our former room mates. My hope is that Melbourne will feed the little part of me that misses a city. I don’t think it is homesickness; I’m pretty sure it is just city-sickness and that it can be satiated in a few days amidst cheeky grafitti, patterned tights and Edison lightbulbs, funky coffee shops and food trucks.

Before our roomies Robyn and Stephen left Wanaka, they made us a map of Fitzroy and Collingwood, the East Village and Williamsburg, BK of Melbourne. The neighborhood where I’ll live out my yearning for a morning yoga class, long brunch, afternoon aimlessly fondling scarves and trying on earrings before devouring cheap tacos and margaritas for dinner. Just like NYC. Just for a few days. And then we can dive head first into the crazy unkonwn that will follow.

I think our visit to Melbourne will be a bit like a scavenger hunt.

After a week in Melbourne, we fly to Indonesia for some yoga in the jungle, moped excursions, water sports and island exploring. We are going to scope out the best of the best before my best friend, Melissa, comes for a visit at the end of August!

Then in September, we will find some cheap flights on Air Asia and make our way through Kuala Lumpur to India for climbing school at the Himilayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. And after that, who knows what will happen. We’ll have to wait and see. Until then, we will be working and saving and getting ready to pack up our life here in NZ into a backpack.

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A Lovely Day

Autumn in Wanaka is the slow season, which means late starts and more time to hang out at the lake front before work. Laurent from France plays guitar and Eli from Israel is on the home made box drum. No fancy tricks, just a good time on a beautiful afternoon.

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The Spectrum of Travel

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Even though we’ve been living in Wanaka since November, we still think of ourselves as travelers. Yes, we’re renting a house (or, “flat”), but we’ve never planned on staying here so it’s got a very temporary vibe. I like to think of this as just another mode of traveling, somewhere between basic backpacking and dropping permanent roots. On this trip, we’ve experienced most of the what I like to call the “spectrum of travel” and recognize that they all have their place.

Simple backpacking seems like the simplest, quickest and cheapest form of travel, but often it’s none of those things. It requires very little up-front investment, but you’re basically committing to paying for accommodations every night or finding a nice tree to sleep under (often illegally). Hostels can get expensive, and I imagine that fines can add up as well. But for short trips it often makes the most sense. If you’ve got the patience for late buses and can live simply it can be thrifty, but it’s usually uncomfortable. Your mileage may vary.

We’ve spent most of our actual travel time in New Zealand living out of a van. Yes, this has the highest initial cost, but it provides a great deal of flexibility and some comforts. We went where we wanted, when we wanted, and could carry a variety of food and cooking equipment. Hopefully we’ll recoup our investment in the van on the other end, but we’ll settle for a (hopefully large) portion of what we spent.

One less obvious form of travel is the way we’ve been living in Wanaka. We’ve rented a house, have steady jobs, and have built a community of friends, all of whom are also here for a short time so it still feels like “traveling.” This has been a wonderful opportunity to refresh our bodies and back accounts. As awesome as being on the road for a few years may sound, its pretty damn tiring and we’ve relished this opportunity to stop and take a breath.

We’ve also had a chance to make some lasting friendships here in Wanaka, which is a subtle and underrated part of this third type of travel. If you’re constantly on the move, you don’t get a chance to really get to know anyone you’re meeting along the way. Plus you suffer from a bit of introduction fatigue. You get sick of having the same conversation over and over again (“Where are you from? What brought you here? Where are you going next?”) and begin to just not bother. Traveling quickly can be like speed dating for friends: no real relationships are formed.

When we got to Wanaka we didn’t realize that we were missing having a community of our own, but it’s been great settling down for a little while and building our energy for the next step in our travels.

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