Archive for August, 2010


Used: 2007/2008

So after nearly 10 months in New Zealand, pretty much working the whole time at 3 awesome jobs that I loved it, was time for a big road trip. Since arriving, I had taken a few weekend trips as well as a week in Wellington in between jobs but now it was time for something big. As soon as it was discussed that I would be taking on another long term job that would take me through the end of my visa (and beyond) my parents booked tickets to come visit over the holidays in December. They had to come in December because my mom is a teacher and this is the only time she had off, besides summer. And winter in New Zealand is kind of miserable. I mean, if you have people to visit or like winter sports, it’s not that bad. But if you need good weather on your side to do stuff, June-September is not the best time to come. Within a week of my parents booking their airfare in July for a December trip, my sister whined that she wanted to come too and another ticket was booked. FYI, the holidays mean nothing to us. I’m Jewish so Christmas is our holiday to go to an empty movie theater and eat Chinese food (let the record show that I have never had Chinese food on Christmas. Pizza, yes, but never Chinese. I don’t know where that cliche got started). Tickets were booked for this reason because if you leave LAX on 24-December you don’t arrive in NZ until 26-December, skipping Christmas and saving like $200 a ticket on airfare. Sign my family up! Plus my mother got her Christmas wish of skipping the day entirely. The rest of us don’t mind the holiday but she flat out hates it. Anyway, timing was good and I had buckets of holiday time saved up, so off we go!

My mom had a list of places she wanted to see and with only 2 weeks to see everything, I knew it was going to be a tight squeeze. I made the executive decision that we would fly to CHC the day they arrived, to recover a little and then jump in the car the following day and go. Originally my mom was a little weary of this, she wanted to spend a day in Auckland to recover from jetlag, but because of time we had, there was none to waste. Besides, I told them that there was hardly any jetlag. You maybe a little tired the first day and we’ll take it slow, but by the next, you’ll be fine. I don’t think they believed me at first, but it ended up being true! I made a good choice. The weather also had to be near perfect every day because we didn’t have time to sit around and wait for the weather to clear (as the ideal NZ trip would allow you to do). In addition to the time crunch, we were going to be spending a lot of time in the car (a la the trips we took in the 90’s) and no one except me would/could/want to drive and my sister was going to be all sorts of miserable in this situation. The minute I drew up a rough draft of the itinerary I emailed my sister and asked if she could stay a extra week. I knew she had buckets of vacation time saved up as well and there were some cute towns in the north that I had already been to and knew she would love so she paid the fee and extended her ticket and extra week. I kept telling her, we are going to spend hours in the car, be prepared and even still, like the typical little sister, she arrived and started to complain. But thank GOD for for that extra week! We didn’t have the best weather that week, but we had like no plans, so it was fine, it evened out.

The plan was we (or should I say I) drove from Christchurch over to Queenstown, up to Piction and Wellington and then straight through to Rotorua and Auckland in 12 days. And we actually had time to see stuff! With the exception of our night in Queenstown, we had great weather so everything went off as planned.

Even though they drive on the left, driving in New Zealand is insanely easy. It’s the best place to learn and make mistakes, because there is no one there to hit! We are all over 25, but no one else wanted to put their name down to drive the car when we picked it up. My parents had been in the UK earlier that year and drove around the countryside and apparently my dad freaked the shit out of my mother with his driving that she put her foot down when they came to NZ. So no Dad. My mother hates driving in the US, so she was automatically out. I was surprised my sister didn’t volunteer because she likes driving, but this was her first time in a country where they drove on the left (she’s never been to the UK) and just didn’t really want. But of course, once everyone saw how freakin’ easy the roads were, they calmed down a bit. By the last day my sister wanted to drive, but since she didn’t put her name down, I only let her drive around the block. This trip had so much driving. It wasn’t until the 5th day (out of 12!) that we didn’t drive for at least 8 hours. The roads are very easy and traffic is pretty much non-existent, but things still take time and since we had so much to see and so little time, we had to keep moving. I did love that it was like days in between when we saw traffic lights.

Booking hotels was another issue. My parents aren’t super classy, but staying in hostels is not for them. New Zealand does have proper hotel rooms in most towns, but another option for large groups or families of any size is something called the family rooms. Loads of hotels usually come with a couple of these unusual rooms. They usually include 3 or more beds in one or two bedrooms (usually one of the beds is in the main room), an in-room full bathroom and small kitchen with microwave and fridge. These rooms usually cost about 2/3rds the price of 2 full priced hotel rooms, so they are a bit cheaper. Since we were traveling around the peak time and we had a sort of unusual situation, it was just easier for me to call around in each town we were going to be in and book everything directly. Everything in New Zealand is so small, that I would call, talk to someone at the hotel directly, explain the situation (A family, parents with two grown children) and they could tell me exactly if they had space or not. I would always follow up every booking with an email that included date, price and occupancy to confirm. Everyone got back to me within a day and even one place said that the person on the phone quoted me the wrong room price and if I still wanted to keep my booking with a higher price. Normally in America, you would fight for the lower price, but since the towns were so small and the options so much less, I reconfirmed the booking at the higher price. There wasn’t really much I could do. I don’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t in the country. Trying to find lodging would have taken forever over email with our requirements. I mean, most of the year, you can just drive up to any town and find a place, but since it was the summer holidays and we were on such a tight schedule, I wanted to book everything in advance. But then we probably wouldn’t have been in this situation if I wasn’t in the country anyway.

Moral: All in all, a good time. But the time constraints were not ideal.

Sister, Mom and Me striking a pose at Milford Sound (Dad never changed the date on his cam, so everything is a day off!)

My expression behind the wheel for 12 days

The Green we (I) drove in 12 days, the Yellow is the last 5 days

Used: 2007/2008/2009

A lot of Americans, especially the ones still in college, are totally hung up on Europe. What is it about our country that everyone has the dream to live and work in London? I’ll admit, I have been there, but after a summer bumming around, I am kind of off the continent and UK. It’s expensive and crowded! And in regards to working, the rules have changed to make it nearly next to impossible to do without having sponsorship. But you don’t speak another language and want to go somewhere they speak english? Oddly enough, it’s about as hard to get into Canada with no job as it is to go to Ireland. I think because of the map we see on everyday basis, we think Australia and New Zealand are soooo far away! But, at least from the West Coast, mentally, they are actually closer then Europe. And both countries have very open work visa requirements for the 18-30 (and in NZ, 35) set.

The point of the Working Holiday Visa (WHV) is to earn money in a country to be used for traveling within said country, so the money just gets poured back in. Don’t go expecting to earn your fortune. If that is your goal, this scheme is not for you. The dollar in both countries is weaker then the US and the goal for everyone should be to break even, to leave with no foreign money.

New Zealand

Why every American doesn’t take advantage of this work visa is beyond me. It’s open to all Americans ages 18-30 (if you are 31-35, you can get the same thing via BUNAC for a fee) as long as you answer some questions, there is an unlimited supply and the visa is FREE. That’s right. All you do is register your deets on the New Zealand Immigration website and if there are no black flags on you, almost everyone is approved within a day or so. I was approved within 24 hours. You then have 12 months to enter New Zealand and you are stamped with the permit on arrival which the immigration agent hand writes in the expiration date for another 12 months. And did I say that all this was FREE?! You are allowed to take any job for any length of time for the duration of your permit but don’t forget to budget in travel time as this is included on the permit because what is the point of traveling all this way and not seeing anything? New Zealand has tons to see, so there is no excuse. You only get one WHV in your life, so apply and travel wisely.

This is a picture of my WHV. No fancy stamps or stickers for New Zealand!

Australia

Up until fairly recently Americans were only limited to a 4 month WHV and it really encouraged fruit picking. Yeah, that really isn’t for me. When I got my final work assignment in New Zealand and started looking at traveling to Australia, I found out that Australia finally opened up the WHV scheme to Americans for 12 months! I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that. And not only do you not need to go through some sort of service, but like the New Zealand visa, can be applied for directly on the Australia immigration homepage. Because we are not part of the commonwealth, technically we are on something called the Work and Holiday visa, which is essentially the same thing. We are roped in with a couple of other random countries (like Turkey) but since we speak english and have a fairly decent university system, we are exempt from a lot of the requirements to get this visa. When I got the visa, the cost was AU$190, you needed to enter within 3 months and you needed to be in university or have graduated. I went to Australia on holiday and the moment I returned to New Zealand, I applied for my WHV so I could return in a month and was approved in like 5 hours. I even spent money and got my college transcript, but they never asked for it. I know now the price has gone up, you have 12 months from approval to enter and I think they took away the uni requirement. Check out the immigration website for all the latest details. The two downsides of the Aussie visa (v. the NZ one) is that this one costs (but still really cheap) and you are only allowed to stay with the same employer for 6 months (hardly a hardship when the point of the visa is to earn a little cash to travel around Australia!), Unlike our Commonwealth counterparts, we are not eligible for a 2nd year. When you enter Australia all they do is stamp you with an entry stamp. I would recommend heading to the nearest immigration house and getting an official sticker popped in your passport, so you have something to show your job, though it’s not required. I had a lot of entry (and exit) stamps in my passport, so it was handy. Plus, it’s a little souvenir for you!

I have a bunch of entrance and exit stamps and they all look the same but this is my "official" permit stamp

Sticker you should go and get once you arrive in Australia


Moral: Unless you have a really good reason to come back home after you finished one visa, you might as well do both! My one year away “accidentally” turned into 2 years and 2 weeks (Whoops!) and actually could have been longer, but that is another story for another day.

Used: 2008

It was time to get out of Dodge (AKA: Cairns). I say that my choice for adventure is staying close to the Earth. I have no interest in jump out of things or off things (I jokingly say that they barely let me out of New Zealand because I hadn’t jumped off of anything) but in general, I do love me water activities. And I love rafting. If it was available in New Zealand, I did it. Unfortunately, Australia is a very dry country and there are few places to do it, but one is outside of Cairns on the Tully River. They do have transport from Cairns, but to save time on a bus and just to visit somewhere new, I took my first trip on the big red dog down to Mission Beach and left from there to go rafting for a full day. I purposely arranged the trip on Wednesday, November 5, 2008. Can anyone guess why this day was important in Australia? The answer is: it isn’t. But it was still November 4th in the US, election day and I didn’t want to be anywhere near a TV that day because I knew I would never leave. I wanted to be fully distracted that day and a full day of rafting was the best distraction for the area. The trip was pretty awesome. I ended up in a raft with a family from France who were on holiday because years ago the mother did her big OE in Australia and wanted to bring her kids back. They actually own a ski chalet in the South of France, so now I have a reason to visit! The guide in our raft was Australian but had on a Maori bone carving necklace so I knew he had spent some time in New Zealand and we talked about that and rafting in California a lot. I have done more rafting overseas then in my own country. I really need to get out more.

There are a few rafting companies on the Tully, but I chose the one I went with because they were owned by the same company I went to Cape Tribulation with and because of that, I got 10% off my rafting trip. Discount! I also saved a little money by leaving from Mission Beach then in Cairns, but I paid for my bus ticket anyway, so that evened out.

I stayed at Absolute Backpackers in Mission Beach and was the only hostel in all of Australia that I stayed extra time in because I liked it so much (and also because I was in no rush to leave). The place was awesome. I got a double room for about 5 days and it was great. It smelled a little funny, but my nose is really weird anyway, so I blame myself. Huge lounge with tv and videos, Huge kitchen that never seemed crowded. Places to eat inside and out and a fabulous pool area I spent many a day at. It is also the hostel closest to the town supermarket so you could walk their at leisure and not need to count on anyone for a ride. It was also walking distance to the beach and stinger net for swimming, A couple of days, including November 6th, I walked into the main part of town and used the computers because they were slightly cheaper then the hostel and splurged on an hour of internet time.

Moral: A great alternative to Cairns in either a pre or post mentality. A great place to do nothing!

Typical Mission Beach scene, Dunk Island

More Big Things! A Big Cassowary in front of the bus drop off

Used: 2008

I flew up from Brisbane and into Cairns. After months of desert and very LA-like climate, landing in Cairns was like landing in Hawaii. Humid, lush, tropical. I loved it just from the view from the plane. I had prebooked a room at Castaways hostel a few days before because they had single rooms pretty cheap and the place was okay. A bit out of town but they had a shuttle while I utilized every day at least to get into town and ended up walking back on most days. No AC in my room, just a fan, but it had a desk, chair and fridge (!) in addition to bed, which is more then most places offer. I loved it when there was a chair in my room as I love a quiet place other then the bed to read. So already, SNAPS! The public areas were kept very clean and I really enjoyed the pool area! There was a free computer which I used a little bit too.

Cairns is a backpackers mecca. Everything in town is targeted towards tourism of all budgets. From a backpackers point of view, the place was nuts. Every travel store seemed to be giving away free internet or a free meal at this pretty crappy backpackers pub, but free food is free food. Every store seem to advertise “best deal on sailing The Whitsundays!” (a stop at about the halfway point on the East Coast) and “best deal on the Great Barrier Reef!”. I know I said before that the more you buy up front, the more you save in the long run. But I didn’t pay for things that way. I knew want I wanted to do and bought almost everything a la carte with smaller deals thrown in. I don’t know how much extra money I could have saved if I had pre-bought all my East Coast activities, but I feel like I got a fair deal on the stuff I wanted. Stores package popular activities together but half the things included, I didn’t want. The only thing I pre-bought more then a week in advance during my whole time was a tour and diving trip of Cape Tribulation. My favorite travel store was having a massive sale and I got a free tour upgrade plus a free intro dive which ended up being my most favorite dive of the whole trip. So I was in Cairns for a night, then off to Cape Trib as the “locals” call it for a tour, a night and my dive trip.

The tour was fabulous. So beautiful! And a wonderful local guide as well. After a day of taking it slowly up the coast, I tucked into a quiet night. I would totally recommend bringing some sort of food for dinner with you as there isn’t much choice and the choice is EXPENSIVE in the Cape. For one meal, it didn’t kill me, but I am glad all my meals the following day were provided on the boat. As the boat sailed out to the Reef, I sat in the dive lecture required by all intro drivers, but after a while did not feel well on the boat. I am not a car/boat/airplane sick person. Pretty much the only reason I have puked in the last 15 years was alcohol related (geeze, what does that say about me?) and I wasn’t going to change it now. Luckily, I got through the lecture in one piece, but when we got out to the reef and everyone was gearing up for the dive, I decided to sit it out. I just couldn’t take it at the moment. I jumped in with my snorkeling set for a bit though. We moved to another part of the reef and asked if I could dive this time and jumped in. I was totally nervous as this was my first time diving and the instructor was fab. She held my hand the whole time, which I needed. The whole day was great. The biggest downside was this was my first time in the sun in a looong time and well, can you guess what happened next? I got the worst burn I had ever gotten in my life. I seriously thought I was going to get the skin cancer from one that one burn. I couldn’t sleep on my back for nearly a week. I actually still have it, nearly two years later, if you look closely. Like, I can still see it. Any plans for the Great Barrier Reef in your life? Start putting on the sunblock NOW.

The next day, back in Cairns, after getting to know the town a bit and knowing what was there to do, I booked activities for the next few days, plus one free day to do nothing. I also originally casually booked my hostel for 2 more nights not knowing what my plan was and as soon as I knew what was going on in that town, I booked the rest of my time. Yeah, that is how I rolled for most of my stroll down the Coast, whatever! I booked another diving tour as well as a day trip to the town of Kuranda where you can take a 7km sky bucket ride up to the rain forest and a classic train ride back to town. It was in Kuranda that I bought my most expensive souvenir, a wind chime that I saw the moment I got to town and kept coming back to it all day. I just loved it. Since it was so big and awkward, when I got back to town, I mailed it home, sending it GROUND and they said it would take 2-3 months to get back to the US. I mailed it 1-November and I got an email from my dad around the beginning of March saying they finally got it. It barely made it home before me and thankfully in one piece. I also went out on another dive trip from Cairns, but since the boat advertised that the price included one dive, nearly everyone did it and we had to go in shifts and it just wasn’t as good as the trip off Cape Trib. Thankfully I was prepared for all the “tests” they put you through, so it was fine for me, but if it was my first time, I would have been freaking out. I only went out once and spent the rest of the day in the shade. I spent my last day in Cairns just sitting by the pool at the hostel and reading around town. Cairns was the first place that I saw those free city pools. Since you can’t swim in the ocean off the reef, each town has these really nice new public pools for people to swim and hang out in. Imagine a sort of lame water park, but for free they are actually really cool. I kind of wish we had them in the US, but people would go nuts here and they would be packed all the time. Ahh, the joys of a smaller population!

Moral: Cairns, like Las Vegas, is really fun, but only for a short period of time. I was there for nearly a week and that was enough for me.

Wind chime I got in Kuranda

Part of the public swimming pools in Cairns

NYC Sublet

Used: 2004

I know I talk a lot about my time overseas and while most of my adult traveling has been done outside the US, the summer of 2004 was spent in New York City. It was the summer before I finished school (December 2004) and I had blown about 3 years of savings on a 12 week trip to Europe the year before, so I had a lot less saved in 9 months. Plus I was finally buckling down in my last year of school and doing a bunch of internships. I wanted to get out of LA, but still do an internship and have wanted to live in NYC long term, so I decided to try it out for a summer.

My mom grew up in the city, so I had been there more times then I could count throughout my life, but this was going to be the summer I lived there. I arranged an internship at a tv production company (nothing I couldn’t have done in LA, but a change of scenery makes it even more exciting!) and everything was set. I knew a lot of people in the city and surrounding boroughs where I could stay for a short time, but nothing long term, so about a week before I was to leave, I started looking at sublets on Craigslist. It got quiet frustrating very fast as real estate in New York City can be. One place fell through before I left LA and I was devastated. One place dragged me a long for a long time and actually I don’t even remember what happened, I probably gave up. I arrived in Brooklyn and stayed with my sort-of aunt until I found a place. Arrived on Memorial Day and started my internship that Wednesday and looked for a place all that week, while working. I found a place I loved in Brooklyn and it fell through and I got so frustrated that I started crying on the street. I remember calling my mom and wanting to come home. Even though I had only been at my internship 1 day, I could tell I didn’t love it either. Throw it all in, plus the crappy humid weather, it was a hard week for me. I gave myself 2 weeks to find a decent place and if not, I would just leave it all and come home, no harm done. The first Saturday I lined up about 5 places to look at and found an awesome place around lunch time. With my checkbook in hand, ready to write a deposit right then and there, I think I was a little pushy for the student who was subletting her place, but I had learned my lesson during the previous 2 weeks. You gotta get in or it will be gone. They didn’t want to take the money then, so I left my number and went out to Queens to look at another place. On my way there, they called me and offered me the room and I said YES! I’ll be in later that day with the deposit. Since I was nearly at the next place, I went anyway and the guy subletting was fantastic and we hit it off really well, even though it was his room I would take. I felt sort of bad stringing him along, but I had learned my lesson. He had other people who were coming to see the room and I said fine and as soon as I paid my deposit at the place I loved, he actually called me to tell me, forget it, he wanted me to take the room and I felt a little bad that I had to say no. But such is the life of NYC reality!

When looking for a sublet, know what you want. Ideally I wanted to pay $700-800 a month and for it to include everything (remember, this is in 2004 dollars). I needed a bed (you’d be surprised how many sublets in NYC don’t come with it!), shared bathroom, tv and ideally A/C but a fan will do for the apartment. I needed it to be realistically walking distance from the subway. You should have seen what some people were trying to offload! $1000 (plus utilities!) for a room that only could fit the girls bed in the East Village. Just very weird people out there. I don’t remember what else I saw. I was shooting for Manhattan (of course) but totally open to Brooklyn and even Queens, but no Bronx, too far. I looked at a lot in Brooklyn but oddly, the place I ended up getting was not only in Manhattan, but in my favorite neighborhood, the Upper West Side!

I know people my age should hate the UWS, but I love it. It’s not as loud as downtown and I see being away from everything as a plus. The apartment was owned by Columbia University Grad School and the girl was an international student going back to Hong Kong for the summer, so I was definitely not legally supposed to be there. The other people in the unit were a Spanish girl, who unfortunately ended up going back to Spain and subletting her room to a Spanish guy who spoke no English and an Asian-American girl who grew up in Florida and was working at a law firm all summer and was hardly ever home. It was slightly more then I wanted to pay (they smartly priced it at $880/month) but it included everything as well as the most awesome cable tv package that I have ever seen! (I saw the bill and it was like $250/month!) This was the summer that on-demand started and I thought that was the most amazing feature ever! The room didn’t have A/C or a fan, so I just bought one and it worked fine. The room had simple dorm room furniture and it was perfect. The best thing about the room is that it was HUGE! It was by far the largest room I looked at and besides that and the neighborhood and the utilities included, I was sold.

Another tip is don’t bother looking more then a week or two in advance. Most sublet postings are looking to fill immediately so there is no point in getting stressed about it far in advance. If I hadn’t known anyone to crash with while I looked, another idea is to stay in a hostel for a few days while you find a long term place.

Moral: A great place to visit and even stay for a semester or summer while in college even when you are broke, but I wouldn’t want to live there now.

Used: 2007/2008/2009

Something I should really care about more but just don’t is health insurance. I always have it, but I just never use it. I am an insurance companies dream! So when it came time to deal with it while overseas at the same time, I was very very lazy about it. I usually don’t even think about it, but since my travels to New Zealand was having me quit my job and I was going to be gone who knows how long, I figure I should deal with it somehow. It wasn’t until I finished with my job and realized that COBRA was fucking expensive that I bought an individual plan through Kaiser which I had been paying for through my company for years. I called to ask how their insurance covers you when you are overseas and the women on the phone said if anything happens, just pay for it all out of pocket, save every receipt and deal with a refund when you get home. This worked well for me because (knock on wood) I have been very lucky in my health and traveling that nothing has really ever happened to me, so why should this trip be any different? And for the most part I was fine.

While in New Zealand, over Easter weekend of 2007 I cut my toenail kind of funky and things started going down hill from there. After a couple of weeks, I realized I had an ingrown toenail. Not wanting anyone to deal with it, I did home remedies of keeping it very clean and soaking it in iodized salt every day for a few months. It started to get better and over Labour Day weekend at the end of October, 2007 I went caving in Waitomo and had to wear booties on my feet all day with water slushing around. After this, my toe went down hill fast. Right before my family came in mid December I found a podiatrist in central Auckland to get it checked out. There, I saw the price for removing the nail. NZ$450 plus 2 follow ups at NZ$50 a pop. FUCKING HELL! I did not want to spend my money on that. I told the doctor that and he gave me some over the counter stuff and advice and I did that. The trip with my parents was a little hellish (from my toes point of view) but somehow we all survived. In mid January the toe was just not getting better. I called the doctor and made an appointment for the following day, but it just got too painful that I left work early and had them deal with it right then and there. I screamed like a banshee and refused to watch, but I didn’t care. Thank god I was the last patient of the day in a town that I knew hardly anyone and wasn’t going to stay forever. I could scream as loud as I wanted! It was painful, but a few hours after the surgery, felt so much better. I went back for my follow ups and paid for 2 additional appointments because the toe wasn’t healing as fast as the doctor wanted (funny enough with the exchange rate changing all the time, all the appointments cost like NZ$45 each, but in USD, they changed every time) and since podiatrists at the time in New Zealand couldn’t prescribe antibiotics, I had to go to a GP, pay them NZ$70, just for her to look at my toe and write the RX and then go and buy the antibiotics. It was funny, after she looked at my toe for like 20 seconds and wrote the script, she tried to bandage my toe back up, but since I had been doing it for nearly a year at that point, I did it so much better then her. So with all the medical care towards this (not even including all that salt and 18 months worth of plaster changes twice a day plus the exchange rate fee I had to pay in using the credit card) it came to nearly NZ$1000. Christ.

How did I pay for this and what does this have to do with health insurance? Since Kaiser told me to pay for this all out of pocket and deal with it when I got home, that is what I did. I put every doctor thing on my US credit card, so it would transfer automatically to USD and I could get a supposedly quick refund. I paid for it in USD and printed out every statement and photocopied every bill and even my antibiotic bottle, so it was easy to track. Over a year later, when I finally got home, it was time for me to deal with it. I found the paperwork I had to fill out on the Kaiser website and included photocopies of everything. I included copies of my passport and all my exit and entry stamps to both New Zealand and Australia since Australia was my last stop before I came back to the US. They asked for original copies of my plane tickets as well, but I didn’t want to include them. Oddly, I found my out going ticket (nearly 2 years old) but I could not find my return ticket. I told them this, included a copy of my outgoing ticket and included all my stamps, fingers crossed that this would be okay, because if the rumor about insurance companies is true, they’ll do anything in their power not to pay. Nearly 30 pages of documents, a trip to the post office and my fingers crossed.

And what a surprise! Just when I was about to run out of USD, 4 to 6 weeks later, I get 3 checks in the mail and they all add up to exactly what I asked for!

Moral: Get your ingrown toenails fixed NOW. It wasn’t worth a year of pain. And insurance companies aren’t as bad as they seem:-).

Used: 2008

From Brisbane to Cairns most people usually fly one way and take the ground the other. It’s a small (for Australia) stretch of land from Brisbane to Melbourne that most of the population of Australia jams itself into and there is a lot more to see and more competition for transport so people may bus, train, bike or fly in all sorts of directions around here. I knew there was stuff to see between Sydney and Brisbane and I wanted to take ground transport for that leg and then fly from Brisbane to Cairns and bus it back to Brisbane. The most popular ground transport from Sydney to Brisbane is doing a surf tour. These are huge sellers for the plane loads of Europeans coming over to a sun drenched country. But not for me. If I wanted to learn to surf, I would have years ago. There are a small number of tours that do inland country tours from Sydney to Brisbane and I really wanted to do that so I settled on Byron Bound Tours.

The tour was super cute. It ended up being me and 2 German girls, one who flew for JAL airlines so we chatted about the airline industry a lot. The other German girl hardly spoke any English, which should have warned me what was to come, but I was eager and naive and excited to be out of Sydney and seeing something new! The first day we stopped at the Australian Reptile Park, the first of what would be many animal reserves I would visit and saw the usual line-up of animals. After a quick tour through the Hunter Valley wine region and all of us proved to be super lame and didn’t buy any bottles, we spent the night on a farm, which wouldn’t have been my first choice of accommodation, but since we were the only group there in a huge dorm, it ended up being okay. It actually was really cold! The next day was farm-filled and we went horse back riding which was fun. The rest of the day I spent lounging around the fire and reading. The next day we drove inland, panned for gold and went on a rain forest walk before spending the night in the super cute little town of Bellingen. The weather the two previous days had been kind of crappy and our activity the following day was weather dependent. We woke up to a beautiful blue sky and went canoeing on the Bellinger River. After two quick stops at the Big Banana and the Big Prawn we drove in to the super cute town of Byron Bay!

Me at the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour

Me at the Giant Prawn in Ballina

For all reasons, I should haven’t have really liked the town. Beachy, fully of bars and close by to the town of Nimbin, which is known for pretty much being full of pot. But I loved! Byron. It incorporates the wealthy and backpackers really well and there is something for everyone here. On my first day, I did nothing but book a snorkeling with turtles tour for the following day and the next a day tour of the area with nothing planned for my last day before I had to catch the bus to Brisbane for my flight up the Cairns

(I was skipping Surfers Paradise because while everyone I talked to loved it, I knew it was totally not for me. New Zealanders loved it because it was hot and sunny and beachy and has all the countries amusement parks, of which NZ has one and it’s really lame looking and Australians love it because it’s like their version of Las Vegas. With knowing all that, it seemed to me like if Las Vegas and Orlando and Los Angeles and Miami mated and out popped Surfers Paradise, I decided to take a pass. And I don’t regret it)

So the 2nd day, I rise early for my snorkeling tour only to find out they have overbooked it and if I would like to come back later they’ll give me a full refund, plus I’ll get to take the afternoon tour. SCORE! So I am up for the day and I wonder around town before my tour in the afternoon. The tour was so much fun! They took us out in small boats to Julian Rocks and throw us in with the turtles and we swim around and can see them in our goggles. Totally awesome.

The next day, I rise early again and wait outside my hostel for the tour. The guy comes around at the arranged time only to tell me that the tour had to be canceled because the big group he had booked ended up canceling on him at the last minute and it was not financially viable for him to only take out one person! I was kind of pissed about this, but understood. He usually didn’t do tours on Monday (the next day) but said he would call me later in the day to see if anyone tried to book them but if not, I could go back to my point of sale and get a refund. So there went my day! I took a hike back up to the lighthouse and just sat around town and read all day. Plus, my hostel had a great rooftop to sit around on. And dorkily, there was a Baskin Robbins and they had my flavour, so of course, I had to get a sundae. So the day wasn’t a total waste! The guide called at the end of the day and said the tour was canceled for the following day. It was funny how my time in Byron worked out. If only I had switched the tour bookings, they probably would have both gone off without a hitch, but because I booked them how I did, they both ended up a little screwy! The next day I went back to Backpackers World and got a refund and had one more day to do nothing around town. But it wasn’t that bad! Byron is a great town to have nothing to do it. It’s so beautiful!

Moral: Byron Bay is a great mix of something and nothing to do, as well as price range. Everyone mixes quite peacefully. One of my favorite towns in the country.

Lighthouse at Byron Bay, the Eastern-most tip on mainland Australia

Expirenced surfers only at Byron Bay

Used: 2008

After kickin’ it in Sydney for about 4 months, it was time to move on. Jobs had run dry and I had about 2 months to kill before I wanted to go back to New Zealand to spend the hols. I didn’t know anything about Australia’s East Coast but I knew a lot of people my age traveled it. After heading into a travel shop for the first time and getting someone to just give me an overview of it all, complete with loads of flyers (I came to love these things, no matter how much paper I wasted) I finally started to have a grasp on what the dealio was. All in all, with the exception of Carines and the Great Barrier Reef, most of the middle didn’t hold that much appeal to me. The West Coast of Australia actually appealed to me more, but that would be a lot of extra cost to get there and then all the way back to New Zealand and I couldn’t tell if there was enough to do for 2 months. Also, since the West is still a little wild, I came to the conclusion that I could go back and do it later in life while the East Coast was very much geared toward the younger traveler and as I already felt way older then most of the kids out there, I figured I better do it now or never.

The title of this post says it all. The ‘trail’ runs the East Coast of Australia, from Cairns all the way down to Melbourne, loads of backpackers travel it, it’s kind of bullshit since everything is so mapped out, but do at your own pace. And because it’s so mapped out, it’s kind of a tour. Yes, of course adults can do it, but most drive the whole way or fly to every big town and I didn’t have the money nor would I want to drive that alone and I can’t count on anyone showing up in my life anytime soon to want to do it with me. So might as well! The whole thing seemed geared to the European who wants to spend every day at the beach and the sun. Another thing that totally isn’t me. I am not a fan of the beach and being from LA, we see the sun 350 days a year. It was the activities that drew me in. Most backpackers fly one way and use ground transport for the other. There is no right or wrong way to travel (north bound or south bound). I took an overland route from Sydney to Byron/Brisbane and then flew up to Cairns and worked my way back down to Brisbane from mid October to mid November and I think I made the correct choice in this. The wet season in the far north runs from like November to April or something, so I was working my way away from the rain in theory instead of towards it. I also did it this way because I was considering getting SCUBA certified and I figured Cairns would be a good place for that and then I would have my certification for my trip south. I ended up not getting certified but did 3 intro SCUBA trips during my tour and enjoyed them all for different reasons. I may go back at some point, but not in the current future. Also 2 months was way more then enough time to do and see everything. The best thing about having that long a time, is I didn’t stress about ANYTHING! Very weird for the typical American, but one of the greatest things I brought back with me.

Moral: I don’t regret doing it, but I can’t think of anyone I would recommend it to either. Unless hanging out at the beach or pool every day with drunk 18-25 year old Europeans is your thing. There are certain towns I think that certain people would like but the trail as a whole was kind of blah.

Rainbow Beach, near Fraser Island

New Best Friend Alert!

The Green in Australia's Green and Gold

Two weeks in Venice

Used: 2003

When my family traveled to Italy for the first time back in 1997, Venice was my favorite city on that trip. It was so different from anything I had ever seen, I had been wanting to go back since. I had been to Europe a few times since as well as Italy again but I hadn’t made it back to Venice. On my first big solo trip around Europe, I knew I wanted to spend longer then the average tourist in Venice, no matter what the cost. I just wanted to experience it!

Since it was the height of summer season when I was going to be there, I booked everything before I left London. I booked through STA because to me at the time, it was just easier that way. Since I was being super selfish on this tour, I booked a hotel in the “suburban” island of Lido because for every 6 days I paid, I got one night free! Originally I was going to do a week in Venice and a week in Lido, but the price of Lido drew me in, plus seeing and staying where the locals live for that long a time was appealing.

I stayed in a lovely place called Hotel Helvetia, which was walking distance from the vaoaretto stop and on the main drag of the island that lead to the beach. I was reading recent reviews of the place and I am glad to see it is still up to par! The hotel itself was fab. Super cute, very quiet, fantastic daily breakfast. Yes, it did get loud on the weekend nights, but it’s Italy and a large town! What do you expect?

During my two weeks there, I didn’t really do all that much. I had done the whole tourist thing with my parents, so I just hung out mostly. I didn’t even go into town every day. A couple of days I just stayed on Lido and hired a bike and road around the island a few times. I went to the beach. I read. A lot. I did make it into town and just wondered around. I went to Mureno and watched glassblowing. I took a tour around the Jewish quarter. I did laundry at a proper laundromat. It was great. At this point now, I am kind of over Venice, but I know if I hadn’t done my two weeks there, I would be itching to go back.

The town has also found itself in a catch-22 situation recently. Old people are dying out but it’s too expensive for the young people to move in, so the whole city seems like an amusement park you can stay in because it’s almost all tourists at this point. Who knows what the place will be like in 20 years. Even though I am kind of over it from a tourist point of view, if it was easier to live there, I so would.

Sorry about my lack of pictures. The first time I went was 1997 and was not even close to getting a digital camera. When I was back in 2003, I kept it klassy with film and scanned these pictures in for a school project, so this is all I’ve got.

Moral: I tell everyone they have to get there soon or the place is going to sink (don’t worry, it won’t in our lifetime). But still, there is no city on Earth like it.