Archive for July, 2010


One thing that motivated me to start my travel blog and write about my experiences, even though most of them happened in the past, is reading other people’s blogs. There are kids out there who are my age and have fantastic blogs and then I read that the first time they left the country was like in 2004 and I am shocked it is so recent! If they can do it, so can I!

I guess you could say, in the way of traveling, I had a very lucky childhood. In the late 80’s we took two family caravan trips with another family to both Mammoth and Tahoe. Then we branched out on our own. In 1990 (when I was 8/9), we did our first major driving trip around the southwest. On our swing through Las Vegas we stayed at the Excalibur when it first opened! We went through Utah, Durango, CO, down into New Mexico, through Arizona and back to LA.

In 1991, we drove up to Crater Lake in Oregon and back down the coast.

In 1992, my parents planned a whole trip up to Wyoming, but at the last minute, when airlines still had fare wars, prices dropped so much on tickets back east that my parents scraped the original trip and we did a whole north east extravaganza. We did NYC to Boston, down to Philly, DC and Williamsburg and then back up to NYC. I remember being so excited to be on an airplane, because while I had been to NYC many times before (my mom is a native) this was the first time in a looong time that I had been on a plane.

In 1993, we drove up to Seattle and Vancouver and back.

In 1994, as gift for my Bat Mitzvah, I got to fly back east by myself and stay with friends for a few extra days but then of course, everyone else flew later (my younger sister even flew by herself as well, so my prize was practically worthless!) and we did a shorter version of the 1992 trip, just NYC, down through Gettysburg to DC and back.

1995 was the trip to end all trips. That was the year we drove across the country. We finally made it to Wyoming and Yellowstone, up across Minnesota (we went to the Mall of America on my birthday!), down to Chicago, over to Detroit, into Canada and down through New England. Originally my parents wanted to fly home, but since we rented a car to do all that, it was cheaper for us all to drive home then pay someone to drive the car back. And this was before cell phones and internet, we were totally cut off from everyone and everything for a whole month. My sister, who is a total social butterfly was miserable on this trip. Imagine a trip like that today! Between cell phones and laptops and wireless everywhere, it would be like we never left. I kind of liked being cut off and still do today.

1996 was a transitional year for my parents (new jobs, etc) so I went to NYC for a week and my sister went to Hawaii (we all ended up going in December 1996 anyway) before hitting the open waters in 1997.

Since at that point we were done with the US, the next stop was Europe. My parents hadn’t been since the 70’s and my sister and I had never been and our first trip was 3.5 weeks in Italy. Cell phones were still a glimmer in most Americans eye at this point and I remember being on a bus in Rome and someones phone rang and I was shocked! How can someone afford a cell phone, but not a car?! Ahh, the good old days.

In 1998, my parents and sister went to France and Spain and I stayed home. I know that sounds weird, but it was a good choice. Some family friends with a daughter who was besties with my sister were also there and my sister hung out with her the whole time and I would have been stuck with my parents. I also (and still) have no interest in Spain.

In 1999 was another family group trip back to Italy. My sister and I only went for a week, hardly saw my parents at all and spent most of our time at the beach with other people in the group we were with who were work mates of my mothers. 9,000 miles from LA and all we did was go to the beach! And that was the end of proper family vacations as we knew them until NZ in 2007/08.

In 2000, I went on a group trip to Czech Republic, Poland and Israel and random trips to the East Coast about 4 times.

In 2001, my sister, my mom and I went to NYC for a wedding.

In 2002 I finally made it to London for the first time in March and then went to UMass for a semester (vacation and traveling in my mind!) in the fall and to Italy in October to visit my sister who was doing a study abroad as well (my parents went of course but during a different week).

In 2003 I went back to Europe alone. I went to The UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Italy.

In 2004 I did a summer internship in NYC.

In 2005 I did NYC and Iceland.

In 2006 I went back to Hawaii.

And 2007-2009 I finally made it to NZ and Australia and here I am!

It seems like a lot of people’s first time traveling is on their study abroad. I could have never done a proper one (hell, I barely survived UMass!) because I associate being in LA with school and work and hell. Everything else is fun! And why would I want to pay to go somewhere when I would be stuck in a classroom all the time? (I didn’t like school very much as it was.) The math of doing a study abroad just never added up for me. I went to a dirt cheap university (a CSU, which is a fairly respected public school system in California) and instead of study abroad, I just saved the money I would have spent on going somewhere new every summer! I worked, interned and went to school from September to May. June, July and August was my turn to have fun! Plus, everyone was like, if you do study abroad, it’s a good excuse to travel and have your parents pay for it. Yeah, it worked that way in my house. I am not against study abroad, it just wouldn’t have economically viable in my situation. But if it gets kids out there, then what the hell! Just keep on moving.

Moral: In regards to traveling, I had a very lucky childhood. And doing a study abroad isn’t the only way to travel!

In Australia, while each part of the country has their own local route, the main one that covers the whole country is Greyhound . Now as an American, Greyhound conjours up the most horrible images ever. There are tall (and true) tales about people getting stabbed every few years. The Australian version has nothing in common at all with the US company. Even the logo and colors are different! They actually call it “Riding the Big Red Dog”. In Australia, loads of backpackers take Greyhound for transport, but like the Intercity, the buses tend to be kind of quiet too. Sometimes, if you are lucky, on long drives, the driver will pop in a video, but I rarely had the honor. For the most part I got really lucky on my trips and had AC for all my rides except my last one, which I wanted to kill myself during because there are no windows to open, but the emergency exits on the roof and while it was steaming inside, it was raining out. And I guess people were afraid they were going to melt if the water touched them because some people kept closing the windows, so there was no air! I could NOT wait! for that ride to end. And luckily, was done with my trip from Cairns to Brissy at that point. Other then that, the buses were always clean and the drivers friendly and organized. If you buy a bus pass, which most backpackers do, you can reserve your seat online, which is super helpful and most towns have more then one bus a day. But since I am super organized, I would book my seat like 2 or 3 days in advance (a lifetime in the world of backpacking) and I never had a problem. When you check in, most of the time, the driver tells you what seat to sit in. I have no idea how this is set, maybe with reservation time? as I always got a window seat. But like I said, I am super organized and would reserve like a few days in advance. You either show your bus ticket or id before load on. And while technically there is a limit to how much luggage you can bring on, when I was “moving” from SYD to MEL, I purposely took the bus to pray on the drivers good nature and stuffed about twice as much as I should have on. I even told the driver what I was doing and he didn’t have a problem at all. And the bus was PACKED. Since this was a point-to-point ride, I didn’t even have a ticket, just my ID. I was a pro at this point.

Moral: Since I am such a planner, should have probably taken the local bus when doing my whole east coast backpackers bullshit tour and saved a few bucks.

In New Zealand, the most extensive bus company is called Intercity. There is also Naked Bus, but I never took them as they could never undercut Intercity on price for me (and I never heard the best things about them anyway). There are also local systems, especially on the South Island (Atomic comes to mind as a big one) but since I never took anything else, I can’t give an opinion either way. Intercity buses are fabulous for point to point transport. The more in advance you book, the cheaper the ticket (NZ$10 one-way from AKL to ROT!). The buses are super clean and the drivers are always friendly. The buses stop every 2-3 hours for a bathroom and tea break as well and that time in factored into the trip. As well with everything in NZ, everyone is trusted and I have never had to show a ticket when I board, I just give the driver my name and on I go! Don’t even need to show ID and not needing an actual ticket is helpful for those too cheap to pay to print (always me).

Since it’s mainly locals on the buses, the rides are usually really quiet but sometimes the driver throws in commentary, which from a tourist point of view was always welcomed by me. One time, on a trip from AKL to WLG, Mt. Ruapehu had erupted earlier that week, so the driver pulled over on the side of the main highway/road (common occurrence) and we all got out and took pictures!! But on the way back, we just had a very quiet drive, which was fine too. The first time I took the bus was my first Easter weekend because I was nervous to drive on the other side of the road and everyone told me holiday traffic would be out in full force. It was a lovely ride, but it was then I realized that my definition of traffic was waaay different then NZ. I went to Rotorua for the weekend and ended up hiring a car for about 3 days once I arrived because the town is so spread out. I don’t regret taking the bus, but going forward I didn’t use it for 3-4 hour car rides that were return trips.

Roadside stop to take pictures of the recently erupted Mt. Ruapehu

Moral: I wouldn’t recommend them as your sole use of transport as a tourist, but they are super useful for those point to point trips.

New Zealand Food

With living in a new country, it took kind of a while to get used to food shopping in NZ. I am not a foodie by any means. I love a good meal, especially when someone cooks it for me. I like a nice restaurant, but I can eat the same thing every day for weeks on end and probably not even notice it. New Zealand was perfect for this because while they have good restaurants, shopping at your local Foodtown was perfect on a day to day basis. One thing I did in NZ that I don’t do at home is buy my lunch every day. My office had a large caf (short for cafeteria or cafe, never really found out) with decently priced sammies (sandwiches) amongst daily specials, so I got lunch in the caf every day. There was also a pizza place across the street, just in case the specials were shite and they ran out of sammies. One of the weird things they did was put cranberry sauce on like all their sandwiches! So weird!

In supermarkets, there is like not choice for anything. Cereal, biscuits (cookies) and crackers all share the same aisle. What the hell?!?! In the US, all three of these things would have their own aisle! The only Cherrios I could find were Multi-Grain (Blah!) and everyone made fun of me for buying Special K. It doesn’t taste very good in NZ, but it was better then nothing. The flakes were just really hard. In the way of sweet snacks that I like, but was probably a good thing they didn’t have was chips that end in ‘ito (Frito, Dorito, Cheetos). I ate so many when I got to Australia! and raw cookie dough. They had this in Australia, but it didn’t taste as good as home, so I didn’t eat it again. My first year in New Zealand, I got my parents to send me 2 packages as well as they brought what we called “the brown bag” full of food when they came near the end of my first year. They didn’t send me anything my second year (though my sister sent me a Reese’s heart for V-day and a small bag of Cheese-itz before I left for Australia but neither was requested) and I survived. I actually got used to the generic brand of cheese crackers Foodtown sold and then once in Australia I discovered the joy of cheese Shapes. Fuck, I can practically smell them now, so good! And of course, Tim Tams, I ate by the tray, especially when they were on sale. Since I am boring with my diet, I would take note when things were on sale and check to when the sale would end and stock up on certain things each week and after a while, know what would sell out fast and try to shop early in the day when everyone was at church (Sunday mornings were the best!).

Moral: If you like a limited choice for food, NZ is your kind of place. I mean, they have everything (sort of) but when it comes to brands, they usually only have two options. Great for those indecisive people!

Hawaii Activities

Used: 2006

Since the concert was canceled, I had to find other things to do. Well, not really, as the show would have been one night and I was there for a long weekend. I knew part of what I wanted to do, was just drive around, stopping at various beaches and just read. I couldn’t bring a folding chair with me, so I bought one there and just left it in the trunk of my car. They really need chair rental places there (business idea anyone?). I had good memories of certain beaches (Bellows and Kaaawa specifically) as well as the Bishop Museum (shrieked with joy when the museum was featured on LOST in those last few episodes where the “concert” was taking place) and knew I wanted to return.

Look familiar? Bishop Museum!

In searching stuff to do, I also found a company that did swimming with dolphins in the ocean. Since I was traveling alone, I knew I wouldn’t get much ocean time as I am super anal on so many levels (don’t like leaving my stuff alone on the beach or swimming without someone I know on the shore, just some of the downsides of traveling alone) and thought this would be a good opportunity to do something adventure filled. Unfortunately, in my internet search, I can’t find the exact company I went with. I have an idea on who it is, but I don’t want to post, just in case it isn’t. I know loads of other companies, especially Sea Life Park come up, but that was too staged (and too expensive) for me. The tour I went on was great. I added transport to my package, so I wouldn’t have to drive (the point of the car being???) and I do remember my driver. The girl was from Brazil, who came to like Virginia or something to work as a nanny and ended up getting married to some American in the army. He got transferred to Hawaii and they ended up getting divorced, but she stayed in Hawaii and was in school at the time. How nuts is that?? There were also other people on my tour that had planned to come to Hawaii for the U2 show and like me booked non-refundable tickets. I love that even though the show was postponed, the island is so tiny that things like this are still a big deal.

(Side story: When the family took a vacation to Hawaii back in 1996, Michael Jackson was on tour at the time and his only US show was in Hawaii when we were there. The place is so small, that EVERYONE was talking about it. We actually went and saw EVITA in some old theater in Waikiki and the guy next to us started talking to us, saying he was having an iconic day, seeing Madonna in the afternoon and MJ at night. Agh, I do love the small town life of Honolulu!)

Anyway, the skipper found some dolphins and we all jumped in. I remember looking down in the water, it being so warm and so clear, I looked straight down and just saw the pod sitting at the bottom near the ocean floor. That is as close as we got unfortunately. But I still had a blast!

Dolphins in Hawaii!

People say they need to get to Hawaii soon, to see the set of LOST, but to me, the whole island of Ohahu is the set of LOST. Every time I turned around, especially outside of town, I kept thinking, ohmigod, this part of the beach/forest was totally in LOST! And this is from someone from Los Angeles, where they actually do film everything around the corner from me. I loved that they could turn this island into any place in the world, that they filmed all but 4 scenes (I know one, but I am DYING! to know the rest) of the entire series on the island. The whole island is the set, in my book.

The hills are alive with the sound of LOST!

A jog from the Smoke Monster anyone?

On this trip, I hit The Bishop Museum (again), hiked Diamond Head, walked around Waikiki and drove around the Island Loop, as I call it. The place is so tiny and on off peak times, so little traffic (compared to LA) that after I checked out of my hotel on my last day, I still had loads of time to kill, so I drove back to a beach near Kaaawa, which is my favorite little spot on the Windward side and read for a few hours before I had to return the car and get to the airport. I was still wicked early.

So, now I have done Honolulu as both a kid and adult. Next up, perhaps going to the Big Island (Hawaii!) for my birthday next year.

Moral: JUST GO!!!

View from Diamond Head

Isn't there supposed to be a 4-toed statue here?

Windward side, my favorite coast of the island

Didn't someone (or everyone) get stuck in these trees?

Hawaii Details

Used: 2006

Ever since LOST came on the air in 2004, I have been wanting to go back to Hawaii. We took a family vacation in December 1996, because earlier that year my sister got invited to join a friend of her’s whose uncle lived there and my mom got jealous since it was one of the last states she had never been too (oddly, Maine was the other one and she has since been, so congrats Mom, for visiting all 50 states!) so we went as a family and my sister went twice in one year. Not bad for a 13 year old! But I split my memories into two categories, going somewhere as a child (aka: my parents paid) or an adult. And I hadn’t been to Hawaii as an adult and wanted to go back. U2 announced they were going to do a concert there in April 2006 so what better excuse to go! Unfortunately, the concert was postponed after I bought my airfare and I went anyway, mainly because I had been wanting to get back to Hawaii. U2 was kind of just an excuse.

They could have totally filmed LOST here

View of Honolulu from Diamond Head - Didn't do this as a kid!

For the first time ever I bought a hotel/airfare combo. I figured Hawaii was kind of the place that packages seemed de rigour and I think I got a decent deal. Funny enough when I was pulling up flights, Delta was one of them, but for half the flights they wanted to route me through Salt Lake City. I am in LA, but to get to Hawaii, I have to go through SLC? Unless the price difference was like nuts, I never backtrack. I probably paid $20 more (if anything, I don’t remember) to go direct. Something like that is worth it in my book. I included a cheapish hotel a few blocks from Waikiki, so I could walk there.

I also booked a rental car, since it’s just so much easier to get around the island that way. Since I was under 25 at the time, pickings where slim. I did some research and found that Thrifty had the best arrangement for under 25’s, meaning I just had to pay a little more, but everything was hassle free. It was funny, when I was at the rental counter, I got talking to the girl and she seemed like she was my age and she admitted that the rule was stupid because even she couldn’t rent from the company she worked for, without paying extra! Anyway, props to Thrifty for making all my rentals not too much more expensive, but always hassle free! Unfortunately, of all things I did on this trip, the rental car was probably my biggest mistake. Since I rented at the airport, I had to pay for parking on top of everything. If I had to do it over again, I would have just taken a taxi or shuttle to the hotel and just hired a car in Waikiki by the day, if needed, because since I had the car, I forces myself to use it every day. In town, they rent to 18 and overs, plus I wouldn’t have had to pay for parking and I wouldn’t have felt like I had to use it everyday, as one day could have just spent around Waikiki and there goes a day. I never fully regret hiring a car, but it would have been a lot cheaper doing it that way.

Moral: Hire your car on just the days you need from various rental agencies in Waikiki (only applies if you are staying in town)

Burger King, Hawaii-style

I love taking pictures of phone booths. They are getting more rare!

Used: 2003

I spent a summer in Europe “backpacking” around and one of the things I did was take the Eurostar from London to Paris. Everyone told me it was so nice and so great that the two cities were now so closely connected! While I do like getting to some places quickly, transportation is part of the travel experience for me. Anything different and slower is okay with me in most situations. While I was in London, I took a train to Dover and then the boat to Calais and it was lovely! I came back to London the same day, sad that my passport wasn’t stamped with a France stamp. Everyone in my family went to France 5 years before and now I had finally made it! Anyway, later, when I was actually going to France to like see stuff (there isn’t much to see in Calais) I decided to take the train because everyone raved about it. I guess I ended up on the two worst days ever for the Eurostar via the chunnel, because I will say NEVER AGAIN!

From London to Paris, everything started out fine, but then for some reason, we arrive in Paris and sat on the tracks for about 2 hours before we finally could disembark. No idea why, we just sat. So freakin’ annoying. Then I wait in the taxi line and when I get to the front the driver starts screaming at me in French and while I don’t speak a lick of it, I am pretty sure he was telling me that my hotel was very close and he didn’t want to take me that close. I knew my place was close, but as I was in a city I had never been to nor spoke the language and it was well after 10pm, I wanted to take a cab. I asked some random cabbie and they quoted a price that I knew was at least twice as much as it should have cost so I said no and stormed off. I figure out which street my hotel is on and just walk with focus and determination. Some guy got my attention as I was walking and was speaking English, so for some reason I stopped. He starts to give me some sob story and wants money. I immediately walk quickly off and he yells after me, are you Jewish? That freaked me out (because I am) and I couldn’t find my place soon enough. I got very very lucky and found my small hotel after a 10 minute walk and crashed out. Moral of the story? I don’t know, I got very very lucky.

Now it’s like 4 weeks later and I am headed back to London. It is the hottest days on record and the train station is deathly hot, as nothing is air conditioned. Trains are running about 4 hours late. I am nearly out of Euros and really don’t want to take any more out of the ATM and some food stand gives me a water even though I am like 10cents short. But the wait is forever until my train is called. Everything is such a nightmare, that they are barely checking tickets and none of the seats are assigned, you just sit as you load. And I had worked so hard to get a window seat! I don’t remember if I got one or not. I just remember waiting for hours and being so thankful to be back in the cool breeze of London. Luckily, I knew the neighborhood where I was staying and while it was kind of a shady place, everything ended up okay.

Moral of the story: Take recommendations with a grain of salt. If I had to do it again, I would have just taken trains and the boat. So much more exotic.

Hostel Accomodation

I am quite selfish when I travel. I like doing things my way on my own time and not worrying about anyone else. Hence, all my big trips are always taken alone. And I don’t know if it’s how I grew up or not, but if I stay anywhere for more then a night, I like need to have my own room. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but growing up in LA with NY-grown parents, I have always been weary of people I don’t know. I hate carrying my stuff around with me and while I am a pretty good packer (if I can’t carry it in one trip, I don’t bring it) and if I am in a shared dorm, I would feel like I have to carry everything that I can’t afford to get stolen around with me at all times. And while it’s less then most people, it’s still annoying. Plus, I am a super light sleeper and the smallest light and/or noise will wake me up and then proceed to take me forever to get back to sleep. I like having a quiet place to go and escape the world. Single rooms in hostels are not only few and far between in most places, but quite more expensive then just a bed as sometimes you have to buy out the whole room (but still usually a lot cheaper then hotels), but that is something that I factor into my travels because it’s important to me so I can have a better time. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just a bed and a door that locks is all I need. I know I am by far in the minority when it comes to this in terms of long term travel, but I am slightly older and not into the party scene at all like most backpackers.

Moral: Like everything when you travel, take into consideration small things like this that might just make your trip more enjoyable. It’ll be a lifesaver!

One of my favorite hostels, Kiwi Paka - Rotorua

Used: 2008

I am not picky about airlines. I’ll take whatever is cheapest. I have flown on some weeeird ones (Kuwit Airways from JFK to LHR for $500, plus I got all 3 seats to myself because like no one likes to sit by the window? Score!), some rumored nice ones (Virgin Atlantic, meh), stopping twice on a cross country trip (Southwest from LAX to BDL, stopping in Texas and BWI), mean ones (Czech Air, where apparently listening to a CD player (this was 2000) will fuck up the air control) and nice ones (AirNZ, VirginAmerica, Frontier Air). But my new favorite airline is Emirates. And lucky me, they fly AKL to SYD! My first time flying them, I found a sweet deal at STA [edited 1/9/2014: I just got an email from digital agency in Sydney asking me to remove the link to STA! So weird, I have never gotten anything like that before. Whatever! No skin off my back.] and but booked it at Flight Centre [edited 3/15/2014: I just got an email from digital agency in Sydney asking me to remove the link to Flight Centre!] because they say they’ll beat any ones price and I needed a visa as well and I just wanted to do it all at once. SCORE! Emirates was great. Little menu when you board, hand towel, leg rests for everyone and a fantastic selection of music, movies and TV! The worst part is, that the flight is only 3 hours! My NZ visa was expiring in a month and when I checked in to return to NZ, the lady reminded me, but they let me on because my visa didn’t need proof of outgoing ticket. As soon as I arrived back in AKL, I booked my outgoing ticket back to SYD for the following month on Emirates again. Did it at Flight Centre again and this time, the guy didn’t want to book me on a one-way because they aren’t really allowed to do that with American Passports. He wrote a novel in the notes about my visa and that I said I don’t need a round trip and he was not responsible for me, etc, etc. Once again, Emirates rocked with the exception of baggage allowance! It’s an international route, but they fly with domestic rules when sending bags through. Since I was “moving” I had so much stuff, so I wore all my sweaters and threw out all my shampoo (just like old times) and I still end up paying like $60 to get my bags on. Annoying. I arrive and didn’t get questioned at all at immigration, as usual.

Not going to Australia

A few months roll by and I am thinking of going back to NZ for the summer hols because Australia just goes a little nuts and nuts in NZ is like so much calmer then anywhere else. I actively look for more Emirates tickets, but they just aren’t cheap. I find a decent one on Qantas (blah) from BRI to AKL and then a few weeks later I find a great one on AirNZ from CHC to SYD. So I am set! When I go to check in at the Qantas counter, the man asks for my outgoing ticket and since I have never entered New Zealand as a “tourist” I was shocked. I didn’t have the paperwork because it was an e-ticket and I didn’t want to pay for the print outs. I tell him I do have a return ticket on AirNZ (which is why he questioned it, it wasn’t a return on Qantas! Kind of funny when I thought about it) but he needs proof, so I freak a little and go to the AirNZ counter and have a nice chat with the guy there and he prints out proof of my ticket (always NZ, always easy!) and I can now check in, minus waiting in line. Hooray! The counter guy said I have to show this to immigration in NZ if they ask, and I keep it with my passport so not to loose it. Of course, I totally forget and in cleaning out my pockets later, I find the paper and realize that immigration never asked for it. Shocking! AirNZ back to SYD the following month was fab as it was my first international flight with them. Nice, new plane! Though my heart is still with Emirates, if it’s going my way, AirNZ was a great 2nd choice.