Just Keep Swimming

This has been a week full of the unexpected. I don’t mean the good kind of unexpected, the kind that pleasantly surprises you with new friends or awesome experiences, I’m talking about the kind that sneaks up behind you and knocks you down while laughing in your face. I’ve said it before (and have repeated it to myself a thousand times over the last few days), this is all just part of the adventure. Things don’t go well, and that’s ok. There’s a season for everything.

Essentially, my job at the apple orchard is finished and I am having an insanely rough time finding another job while I’m in Hawke’s Bay. My knee wouldn’t hold up to the work of the orchard anymore unfortunately (40lbs hanging off your chest on a ladder for 10 hours a day with a bad knee is a pretty poor combo apparently), so I had to quit. I’m now jobless, can’t stay on the property I’m on anymore, and need to sell the van so that Nate and I both have a place to live and transport so we can be at our respective jobs.

Things are a struggle right now, but nobody ever said traveling was going to be easy. Although I’ve applied to dozens of places in the area that I’m in, not many people seem very excited to hire a backpacker (which I totally understand, but it’s still a bummer being on the receiving end of that conversation). There is but one course of action for me to follow…

Just keep swimming.

Although life is rough, I’m not standing still. I’m living off of the Russian proverb “A shark that doesn’t swim, drowns.” basically meaning that if you don’t keep moving forward, you die. I haven’t stopped job searching, and haven’t stopped staying busy. Being a backpacker doesn’t just mean you have extraordinary experiences, it means you persist. You strive to do the best you can in any situation. You adapt and learn to live off of the minimum, thriving in an atmosphere completely foreign to your own. Being a backpacker is so much more than just traveling and having fun. Those who wish this life for themselves, be sure that you’re up to the challenge.

I don’t mean to scare anyone off from taking on this lifestyle, because I find it to be extremely rewarding. These difficult times of uncertainty only highlight the positive experiences I have had thus far (and undoubtedly will have in the future). Had I known what difficulties (emotional, mental, and physical) await me on this adventure, I still would have jumped into it without hesitation. Despite the storm that is raging in my life right now, I’m still finding the ability to smile and appreciate it. Storms can be beautiful sometimes.

While the unfortunate circumstances seem to stack up around me, there are the bright spots that stand out. One such moment is the friendships that are growing between myself and my coworkers (or now ex-coworkers technically). We all still spend nearly all of our time together and have grown to become a family here. Although we are from all over the world, we fit together well. Another good thing that has happened is that, as of today, I’m a featured artist in one of the local coffee shops here (shout out to Sutto Caffe)! After asking around and showing some of my work, the café gladly accepted a painted guitar that I just finished. They will display the art, and sell it if someone is interested. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a bit of income this way, and becoming a featured artist in a public place is something I’ve always wanted to do!

I fully understand the wildness of my life, and that I am not alone in this journey. Countless backpackers before me have experienced this very same thing, and I’m glad to have gained this experience, because it’s forcing me to grow in new ways. I have learned a lot about myself during this tumultuous time, particularly this week, and am glad to see the changes that are being wrought in myself. Yes, I do want this unfortunate season of life to end, but I’m determined to push through and learn from it.

 I’ve just got to keep swimming.


The Life of an Apple Picker

Life doesn’t always go as planned. That particular reason is, of course, why I embarked on this adventure in New Zealand. I’m here to experience a different side of life, and live out the ridiculous. I must say that this first week of being an apple picker on an orchard has been just that. It’s not the most exciting work, but it does place me solidly outside any other experience I have had in the workforce.

Essentially, my entire job is exactly what the title “apple picker” sounds like. I wake up at about 6AM every morning (which is not the easiest if you’re not a morning person), and eat breakfast with the other workers before heading out to start picking for the day. Altogether, I work between 9 and 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, picking apples and placing them in large bins to be shipped away to stores. For now, we are paid hourly, yet that changes next week when we begin to be paid for each full bin of apples.

The work itself is not the most interesting thing in the world, yet it is work that needs to be done. All of us strive to make the few hours after work as much fun as we can, which has led to quite a few ridiculous conversations and a $2 buy-in poker night using black beans as poker chips. Saturday night promises to be the most fun yet, as we are planning a beer pong tournament with different teams representing their country of origin (France has a bit of a head start considering there’s about 9 of them). Sitting around the table with people from many other countries is what I will always associate this job with. The work itself isn’t worth raving about, but the people that I’m doing it with are an incredible group. We spend most of our time talking about/comparing our lives growing up in different countries, and learning all the rude phrases we can in each of our languages (which we say to each other frequently). This will definitely be a group of people that I’m going to miss when this work is over.

The area that I’m now working in (Hawke’s Bay) is an absolutely gorgeous area. In fact, it reminds me quite a bit of my home in Northern California. The vineyards stretching away to the rolling hills covered in trees sometimes fools me into thinking I’m driving on one of the roads back home. I haven’t had too much time to discover what’s around the Hastings/Napier area, yet what I have seen so far is fantastic. Nate and I were able to take a walk through Napier and check out the “sea walls”, a collection of murals along the walls of the city that promote marine conservation. The last mural in the series was on the side of a small shop, and the owner of the shop saw us checking out the art on the side of the wall. She invited us inside to chat about it, and it turns out she knows the artist and the person who organized the whole movement. Apparently, all of the artists will be returning to the city next month for a second round of murals, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with and have a chance to watch them work.

The coastal cities of Hastings and Napier are probably one of the places that I feel the most at home in so far. They aren’t huge by American standards, yet they are a comfortably large size (about 130,000 together). They are both distinctly different and interesting cities with a lot to see in them, and I can’t wait to explore this place. Although I don’t have much time off of work each week, I’m determined to use it well.

This apple picking experience has instilled in me one particular lesson so far, and that is the value of time. I have been busy before, but never to the degree that I actually don’t really have time to do anything. I have about 4 hours after work each day, and one day off each week with which to do something other than work. This may be standard for some of you, but this is a new experience for me.

If I learn nothing else from this job, at least I’ll have learned the value of time. With so little time off, I must pick and choose what I would like to do with the spare shards of time that I have. I’m looking forward to the future shenanigans that my fellow apple pickers and I get into while I’m in this area, and the friendships that will continue on after we go our separate ways. Having friends around the world is becoming a common thing here, and I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever see any of them in their own countries. That, however, is an adventure for another time. For now, the rest of New Zealand awaits and there’s far too much to see for me to leave now. I’ve been here nearly two months already and have learned a lot about myself and my place in the world around me. I still have a little over ten months left here and plan to learn and experience at least a thousand more things. How about them apples?

(I had to have at least one apple pun in this)

Car Trouble, Hastings, and A New Job

This has been another week of transitions. After having spent three weeks on a dairy farm with an incredibly family, it was time to move on to a new adventure. However, as I found out within 12 hours of leaving the farm, not all adventures start out with smiles and laughs. After attending a church in Rotorua on Sunday morning, it was on to Hawke’s Bay for our job interviews the following morning (or so I thought). Unfortunately, I wouldn’t get more than an hour from Rotorua that day.

As Nate and I drove on towards Hawke’s Bay, passing through Taupō and off onto the unknown roads, we were excited to be in a new area with new experiences awaiting us. About 40 minutes past Taupō was when things took a dark turn. We pulled over after a particularly bumpy part of the road to ensure our side door wasn’t going to fall to pieces (it’s come off the tracks and we are looking to get it fixed shortly), and realized quickly that there was a bigger problem: smoke was coming out from our engine.

Needless to say, smoke is never something you want to see emanating from a car engine.

We quickly checked the engine and found oil all over the place. This in itself wasn’t too unusual due to the fact that the last person that had topped up the oil on the car spilled it everywhere, however the smoking was a new thing that was a bit worrisome. After coming to a decision, we turned around and made for Taupō again, abandoning our plans to make it to Hawke’s Bay. We stayed overnight at a free campsite outside the city that we were familiar with and spent the evening playing poker and laughing with a few other travelers. This lull in stress for the day was much needed, and led to an even better following morning.

We took the car into a shop and instantly got bumped to the top of their list, bypassing all the reservations for the day. After a rather inexpensive engine cleaning, the mechanic said it seemed that nothing was actually wrong except perhaps a slow oil leak, but nothing serious. With this good news, we set out once more for Hawke’s Bay. We drove straight to an apple orchard that we had had some brief contact with, and were hired on the spot. There are 24 workers at the orchard, and 600 applicants, so we are excited to have the opportunity to work at the Willowford Alma Alta orchard. We spent the following two days just outside of Hastings at Te Awanga Holiday Park, a fantastic campground sitting on the best surf spot in the area and enjoyed exploring the area.

We have now officially parked The Banana Van at the accommodation that we will have for the next 10 weeks (provided by the orchard). We are sharing the camp with ten other workers, and have met six of them so far. We are a crazy group from all over the world that have somehow found our way to Hastings for the picking season. We have representatives from Argentina, the UK, Lithuania, Holland, and the USA, with more workers coming in to stay with us later. I can’t wait to see how this season of work and life will change my time here in New Zealand. I can’t wait to start working for pay again, and to be doing so with the friends that I have already made here.

It’s odd to think of how things work out sometimes. Last month, Nate and I were stuck in a campground due to a major storm that blew through the area and forced us to abandon our plans of visiting another city. If it hadn’t been for that storm, we wouldn’t have made a new friend that recommended us to this job.

 I’ve been on the lookout throughout this trip for ways that negative situations are used in positive ways. Every time something goes wrong, I strive to find something good or unusual that happens because of that situation, and remember it. The storm last month was one such situation that has led to our current job, and I’m sure there will be more situations in the future. Call it what you will (God, luck, karma, fate, etc.), but I’m determined to recognize these small acts of God (as I see it) and be grateful. This is something that I’ll take home after my adventures in New Zealand. To find the good, or potential for good in all situations, is one of the most useful mindsets I have been forced to develop here. When things go wrong, and they inevitably will, it is unbelievably useful to find that small positive shard amongst all the terror that’s going on. It’s kept me sane throughout this trip, and I’m sure it will continue to do so.

No matter where you are, continue to look for the good amongst the bad. It’s ironically harder to do while you sit safe within your comfort zone, but it’s a mindset that must be nurtured if you hope to survive any of the twists that life throws at you. If a 25 year old living out of a bright yellow van in a foreign country can find the good in poor situations, so can you.

The Crossing, Luge Tracks, and the Next City

There are certain points in life that become etched in the mind. These can be moments so unbearable that you can hardly breathe, ones so full of joy and wellness that you feel you’ll burst, and nearly everything in between. While it’s foolish to assume that all good moments will become ones that will stick in your memory forever, there can be a hope for such things. This past week has been packed full of moments such as these (ones of the good variety).

Over the weekend, and where I left off with my last blog post, I decided to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with a few friends. This 19km trek is known for the stunning scenery that it provides, and I must say that I wasn’t disappointed. The morning began at 5:00 with a two hour drive through the mist and fog from Rotorua to Tongariro National Park. We started on the trail just after 7:00 with a stunning amount of other hikers and worked our way through the rocky terrain and up hundreds of stairs before coming to the base of an active volcano called Mt. Ngauruhoe (also known as Mt. Doom from Lord of The Rings). We discussed summiting the behemoth before us, and unanimously decided that we would forever regret not climbing it.

Anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of hiking up sand and scree will understand me when I say that literally every step up that volcano was “one step forward, half a step back.” There is no path to the top of the mountain, instead hikers must content themselves with whatever way looks the most stable to them. A procession of wary climbers made their way with us up to the top, stopping every minute or so as someone above shouted “ROCK!” while a rock would come careening down the mountainside towards us all. This may sound like a poor way to spend the day, but I wouldn’t trade that climb for anything in the world. The rough climb was rewarded at the top with incredible views of brightly colored lakes that ranged from the bluest blue that you can imagine, to bright green pools that hardly seem to be possible. Spending a few hours at the top of the mountain eating and talking (and warming ourselves by standing in the steam vents that shot out of the mountain) is a moment that I hope will stay with me forever.

I’m sure you have all heard the saying “what comes up, must come down,” and so it is with climbing. We were all a bit cautious about the descent of Ngauruhoe since it was such a loose and crumbly climb up, yet there was one crucial thing we had forgotten about climbing scree up a mountain…

You can literally sprint down the mountainside on the descent.

Scree running is something I have wanted to do for quite a long time, and this was a chance that I was not about to pass up. I’d run through scree on a few occasions, but nothing on this scale. After the first 20 meters or so of crab walking my way down past a few large boulders, I finally hit the scree and sand of the mountain that had so frustrated me on the ascent. I figured that if I was going to make quick work of getting down the mountain, I may as well go all out. I ran down that mountain as fast as I could, passing many other climbers as they walked carefully with the ground sliding beneath them. I regret that I didn’t time my descent, but what took seemingly forever to climb took mere minutes to get down. Was sprinting down an active volcano a foolish thing to do? Possibly, but sometimes foolish things must be done. While the rest of the hike was insanely gorgeous, I will always associate the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with that mad dash down the side of a volcano.

The rest of the hike was beautiful and took us until around 5PM. We arrived at the car, and drove back to the start of the trail to pick up the car our friends had driven us over in. We hiked 32km that day with the addition of Ngauruhoe (plus a few random trails on the side), almost 20 miles, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

The Crossing wasn’t the only adventure in store for this week though. Two friends drove down from Auckland to hang out on the farm with Nate and myself for a few days earlier this week. It’s Nate’s birthday on Friday, so we decided to celebrate a little early and go do something special. Rotorua Skyline is an adventure area just outside the city that Nate and I had been eyeing since we got to the area. We bought tickets for the gondola to get to the top, and spent the entire day riding the luge tracks down the mountain for his birthday. We finished off the day at the Fat Dog café in town with massive burgers, our appetites and sense of adventure sated for the moment.

While there has been some incredibly good experiences during my stay in Waikite Valley, all things must eventually end. This Sunday, Nate and I will be leaving the area to head southwest to Hawke’s Bay for our next job. Of course we are going to miss the friends that we have made here, but the itch to move has gotten too strong for us to stay in this place. Adventure is waiting in the next city, and we are determined to meet it.

Communities, Conquering Fear, and Self Discovery

When you move to a new area, you hope to have a solid community of people.  I’m incredibly grateful that nearly every place that I have travelled to in this country has had a community of people for me to join. Whether it’s fellow backpackers, firmly established residents of an area, or random strangers met on the street “just passing through.” There’s always someone to befriend. This past week has been a good exploration of those communities that I have already established, plus the creation of another amazing one here in Rotorua (the closest place to Waikite Valley for me).

I have been frequenting a coffee shop in Rotorua for the past few weeks (shout out to Capers Epicurean for free Wi-Fi and delicious food), and Nate made a friend here that recommended a church to us. Figuring we may as well give it a try, we headed over there that Sunday. This random encounter in a coffee shop became the basis for a new friend group in Rotorua. While nobody in New Zealand has been particularly unwelcoming, I have found this group of individuals to be the most welcoming yet. We joined them for a day at the lake about twenty minutes after meeting them at their invitation, which turned into a dinner at a house. They took us to the hot waterfall which turned out to be hidden pretty near the farm we are working on as well.

Side note on the hot waterfall: If you ever have the opportunity to get to experience the glory and majesty of a natural hot spring/waterfall combo, don’t you dare miss out on it.

A few members of this same group are planning on doing the Tongariro Crossing with Nate and myself this weekend as well. This is, from what we’ve heard, the “most New Zealand” hike on the North Island. For my fellow Lord of The Ring’s nerds out there, you may know this area as the place Mt. Doom is found. We plan to be half dead and fully sunburned by the end of the hike, but it’ll be worth it.

I have also had a chance to spend more time with the family that I’m working for, and strengthen the friendship with them. Nate and I decided to cook a meal for the family as a thank you for all they have done for us so far, so we prepared a feast for them. We served sandwiches on croissants (made from scratch), a fruit salad, and deviled eggs. We had some mouthwatering chocolate croissants (again made from scratch) for dessert, and the family could not have been more pleased with the meal. We were surprised it turned out as well as it did, and were pleased to serve them. The entire meal took three days to prepare, and was completely worth it.

Aside from the family, Nate and I also had the opportunity to spend some time with their friends in the valley. One of them took us out fishing at 6AM a few days ago, and it was awesome to be able to spend some time with him and form our own bonds aside from those with the family. I haven’t been fishing since I was a child yet did surprisingly well, bringing home the biggest trout of the group (close to 2 feet). Nate and I are hoping to pick up a few poles to get ourselves some dinner after moving on from this area.

While learning to fish all over again and looking forward to Tongariro Crossing are incredibly exciting outdoor activities, there are plenty of other new things that I have experienced while here. One example of this is mountain biking, which I’m terrified of. Those who know me well may understand my background and fear on this, yet I’m proud to say that I’ve spent the last week working to overcome it. This may sound like a tame activity to some of you, but it’s been a constant fear of mine for years and I’m nervously defeating my fear it hill by hill.

Taking on new challenges is something that I am striving to do this year. The entire move to a new country is a challenge in itself, yet I have been trying to push my own boundaries further during this time. If I’m already outside my comfort zone, I may as well continue to walk further away from those comfortable boundaries to grow to the fullest extent. When it all comes down to it, that’s what this whole adventure is all about. Growing and pushing myself to the fullest extent in every capacity that I can think of (mentally, physically, spiritually, etc.).

Often it is stated that travel changes you. While I understand the idea behind this, I would phrase it quite differently. I believe that travel reveals you. It pulls to the surface all the imperfections, impossibilities, and intricacies of yourself. It pushes aside all the unnecessary pieces of life so that you can truly focus on completely understanding who you are. I don’t believe that people come back a “different person” after travel, I believe that they come back a truer version of who they are.

Do I expect to come back a different person from New Zealand? No, I do not. I expect to come back more myself than when I left.

Working For My Food

I have begun work at my first job in New Zealand! I’m currently working on a dairy farm in the incredibly beautiful Waikite Valley, found between Rotorua and Taupō. The work is unpaid, yet food and accommodation are provided in exchange for four hours of work each day. I’m doing land maintenance on the 377 hectare farm (which, in case you were curious, is a MASSIVE piece of land, about 930 acres). The majority of my time is spent walking across the land pulling up ragwort, a toxic plant that sprouts up in the fields and can become pretty unmanageable if left unattended. Though unpaid, it feels incredible to actually be a productive human being again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to be able to travel and not have any particular responsibilities, but I have found that too much vacation is actually pretty awful.

What I appreciate more than the simple act of work though, is the family that I have had the privilege to get to know. The young couple that I’m working for is unbelievably welcoming. They have really done a fantastic job of making Nate and I feel truly at home here. We have our own little separate house (nothing “flash” but luxurious to those who have been living in a van), and three meals a day. The couple has two young children (ages 6 and 8) who are constantly asking questions and want to spend every moment they can with us. The entire family (two parents, two children, two dogs, a cat, a sheep, and 1100 cows) has fully embraced us two insane foreigners wholeheartedly.

I have found that having only spent a few days in this valley, I’ve already come to appreciate it as more than just a place to work. The community here is incredible. Being able to have simple and real connections is one of the main things I was looking forward to when I came to this country. Yes, I was excited for the scenery and the touristy things that can be done, but the everyday connections is what I was looking forward to. To have a personal interaction with someone, an interaction that is so very human, is one of the greatest joys I have had in New Zealand thus far. The opportunity to live with a family and trade a bit of work for a conversation over a meal is far more valuable to me than any sort of paid job.

Despite the fact that this job is incredible, I do recognize that eventually I’ll have to start making some money to survive. This job at the dairy farm only lasts for another week and a half (it’s already flying by), then it’s down to Hawke’s Bay to try to get a paid job picking fruit on an orchard. Before Nate and I head down further south though, we have decided it is high time we gave our van a much needed face lift. The paint is a bit worn (and is actually multiple shades of yellow), the interior can do with a bit of customization, and some extra personality can be added to make it truly our own. The two of us have begun the process of sanding down the rougher sections of paint on the car and should be repainting soon! The Banana Van, as it’s formally known, soon won’t just be a hippie van, it’ll be our hippie van (don’t worry, pictures will come eventually).

I think that after the completely crazy first few weeks that I have had here (refer to previous posts for details), I at last feel more settled. However, as we enter into February, I have felt the changes that a new month brings now more than ever before. Each new month brings an entirely new rush of feelings for me that I haven’t quite felt before. As this is not my first time having moved away from my hometown, it’s not a total shock to me. It is however the first time I’ve moved away without the option of simply jumping on a plane to go home for a weekend or a holiday. I have found that this makes all the difference in the way I consider time here.

Each month is one month closer to having to leave New Zealand. It’s one month closer to getting to go home. One month closer to seeing family. One month closer to seeing old friends, but leaving new ones. One month closer to “starting life” in the traditional American sense.

I never thought that the simple changing of a page on the calendar would inspire such thoughts in me, but I guess that’s one of the things you learn while traveling for an extended period of time.

My time is flying by here, and I still feel like I have so much left to experience here. I don’t know what adventures await me in the coming months, but I’m determined to meet them with a smile on my face, friends at my side, and a bright yellow van to carry me there.

Today, I’m working for my food and a place to sleep on a dairy farm pulling weeds.

Next month, who knows? But I’m ok with that.

Houseless but not Homeless

The process of moving to New Zealand is almost complete for me. All the details that must be rushed through in the beginning (banks, tax stuff, a place to stay, etc.) has all been finished. The last few days have been spent simply enjoying the freedom of living in a new place. I can’t even begin to try to guess the number of new people I have shared conversations with and laughed with throughout the past few days. The day after getting the van, Nate and I spent some more time back at the campground we had been at. The Ramarama campground provided us with quite a few new friends from all over the world, and that was just the beginning. After battling through a crazy storm that almost dropped a tree on our van, we said goodbye to the area and made our way further south.

There are certain tourist things that must be done, even if you refuse to consider yourself a tourist. After leaving Ramarama, we headed down to Hamilton to prepare for our adventures in Hobbiton. Seeing this permanent film set is the one unashamedly tourist thing I knew that I needed to do in New Zealand, and it didn’t disappoint. Nate and I took the 8:30AM tour and it completely blew us away. Hobbiton was an incredibly beautiful place that can be appreciated even if you haven’t seen the movies or read the books. The skill and care that was put into this set was jaw-dropping. The two hour tour around the area ended with a stop in at The Green Dragon, the pub seen in the movies, for a beer and some food. For those of you who don’t know me super well, Lord of the Rings is my all-time favorite film series, so having a drink in this pub was a dream come true (and the beer was quite good as well).

As much as I was obsessed with this incredible tour, I was also surprised by the place we decided to stay for the few days before and after the tour. The hotel by the Okoroire hot springs was a phenomenal experience for only $10 a night. We parked our van near the hotel, which looked as if it was out of an episode of The Twilight Zone, and enjoyed the quiet of the country and the hot springs just down the path next to a hidden waterfall. Over the few days spent in Okoroire, I spent more time than I’d like to admit sitting next to the falls and just listening to the total lack of any humanness. There’s something incredibly peaceful about being feeling like the only human in the midst of nature that was perfectly achieved in that space. We spent our nights there looking at the southern night sky, and talking to groups of French, German, and Swiss campers.

Unfortunately, peaceful places like this can’t be stayed at forever if you have a constant curiosity and a heart for adventure. The move from Okoroire placed Nate and myself in Rotorua for a few days. I had heard others say that the city stinks of Sulphur, and I figured it was a bit exaggerated. Nothing could have prepared me for the smell that assaulted my nose upon my arrival in the city. The entire city has an incredibly powerful odor of Sulphur due to the geothermal activity around the area. So while the smell was bad, at least it provided some fantastic hot springs and geysers to see. Leaving the city behind, we took to the surrounding forests for some entertainment. Lake Tikitapu provided us with a few hours of hiking in the fresh air away from the stink of the city, and the redwoods gave us a good ending to our time in Rotorua. Being from Northern California, the redwoods will always make me feel home. I felt as if I was walking back in the forests by my home for just a few hours, and didn’t realize how much I missed it. I don’t think I have ever appreciated or felt more connected to any species of tree more than I did on that hike.

Despite the feeling of home that the redwoods provided, the smell of the city prompted Nate and I to move on further south. We drove a bit further south, and settled in a free campsite to be greeted by a huge group of Germans that were insistent that we join them for drinking games and a few hours of talking (almost everyone we meet here at a campsite is German, and it’s incredible). As citizens of the USA, we seemed to be a bit of a novelty to them since there are absolutely no others from our home country here (seriously guys, step up the traveling. The rest of the world is shocked by the fact that we are here for some reason and it’s depressing). As happens almost every time someone hears about the fact that we are from the states, we were asked about what’s going on with us politically, a topic which we try to avoid in general. I won’t get into politics on this blog because this is not the place for it, but I encourage those from the states to speak to someone living in another country to get their perspective on what’s going on because we can all do with a little outside perspective. Meeting people from other countries and hearing their stories has been the biggest joy of this trip so far, and I’ve found that those living in a similar style (out of a van) tend to be just as relaxed as I am. The last week has been a lot of moving around, yet it’s been a joy to meet new friends and experience this country as much as I can.

I have found that there is a certain joy to the simplicity of living out of a van. This was something I expected, yet was pleasantly surprised by exactly how much freedom one has when living out of a car. Adapting to any situation becomes much easier when you know that you at least have a roof over your head, a bit of food (mostly rice, pasta, and PB&J), and friends around you to laugh with. Life slows down to a crawl in the best possible way, and the small get gloriously delicious things can be appreciated to the fullest extent (shout out to hot showers and café food). As I sit in a small café on the edge of Lake Taupō using their Wi-Fi shamelessly and eating a lamb pie (I challenge you to find anything more New Zealand than a lamb pie), I can’t help but feel how lucky I am to be houseless in a foreign land.

I believe “homeless” and “houseless” to be two very different things. I may not have a house to live in here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be at home here. True, my real home will always be in California, but our van has a simple and important message written on it: Home is where you park it.


Headaches, Costal Adventures, and My New German Family

This has been one of the more stressful weeks of my life, although as I have said to myself at least a thousand times, it’s all part of the adventure. This all began when Nate and I crashed at a friend’s place for two nights, only to unintentionally offend the host (still not sure what we did) and make a quick escape from the area. We appeared at a tumultuous time in that household, which of course makes for a stressful and awkward beginning of a trip. After our speedy departure from there, it was back to camping. Claudia and our new friend Kristina (who is part of the best Kiwi family ever) decided it was time we took a road trip for a few days up to Cape Reinga, far out in the North of the island.

The first leg of the journey was a three hour drive out to Whangarei from Auckland. We took a break at the local waterfall for a dip in the insanely warm waters, and to take a quick shower under the falls that Nate and I desperately needed. We all piled into Claudia’s car for another few hours of driving (and belting out songs at the top of our lungs on the drive) to end up at the Cape.

 This was a truly phenomenal place. This edge of the island is where the Māori believe their spirits depart this world, and enter into the underworld. It also happens to be the meeting place of the Tasman and Pacific, which was incredible to see in itself. The two bodies of water are different colors, and the point between them is clearly visible as it snakes away into the turbulent waters off the coast. Spending sunset here at the lighthouse on the edge of the island, watching gulls and the slow sunset, was the most peaceful time I have had in this country thus far. There are some moments in which one cannot help but feel as if they are small. I think these are the moments that we must chase relentlessly so that we keep ourselves in perspective.

Following this 6+ hour drive up to Cape, we decided that a new adventure was in order on the way back down to Auckland. Our first stop off was at the massive sand dunes of Te Paki. This was one of the most visually odd places I have ever encountered. After driving through lush rolling fields for hours, we suddenly encountered what appeared to be a desert between the tree line and the ocean. The dunes here were huge, and a popular sandboarding place. Unfortunately we had no boards, but that didn’t stop us from walking out into the “desert” and leaping down the dunes for a while! Our excursion eventually had to end though, and the drive down south continued. We continued on to the mermaid pools (basically excessively large and deep tide pools) for a taste of ocean. We ended the day with another great night of talks, beer, and the incredible stargazing that New Zealand provides. This trip was a great distraction from the awkward position that we had left, yet there was still one problem that needed to be solved.

 We needed accommodation. We needed a van.

Our worries have finally ended though! We are now in possession of a bright yellow, incredibly hippie, surfboard toting, 1990 Toyota Hiace. This absolute gem of a car has provided Nate and myself with not only a place to stay, but with two incredible new friends. Our new friends, the lovely German couple named Lasse and Marisa, sold us the van and camped with us for a few nights. We all got to know each other quite well, and bonded over stories, ping pong, and countless games of pool (one of which determined the price of the van). These two new friends left for their home country of Germany, and entrusted us with the care of their beloved Helios (now known as the Banana Van). Making friends (we consider each other distant family now) from all over the world, has been one of the greatest experiences thus far in New Zealand. No matter where you go in the world, people are people. We can always find ways to laugh together, bond over random things, and create memories together. Nate and I were sad to say goodbye to our new German family, yet are confident that one day we will see each other in one of our homes.

The board has been set for New Zealand. All the pieces are in place. All that is left for Nate and I to do is play the game.

Within 24 hours

I’m officially in New Zealand. The 11 hour flight to Nadi (with the worst couple ever that reclined as far as humanly possible in front of me), 3.5 hour flight to Wellington (most terrifying and turbulent landing of my life), and a 45 minute flight to Auckland (delayed 5 hours), finally got me here. Unbeknownst to me, I was in for a far better first day in this country than these ghastly flights led me to believe possible.

First off, it must be stated that when travelling, Murphy’s Law (“everything that can go wrong, will go wrong”) is usually in full effect. The many issues that took place before, and during the flights to New Zealand are evidence enough of this (thinking of you reclining couple). The accommodations set for the first week in this country fell apart the morning I was to get on the plane, so Nate and I were gracefully scrambling whilst in transit to our new home. However much we should have felt stress, we were keeping in mind the spirit of adventure and letting these discomforts simply become part of the experience. It hasn’t stopped us from making friends with random people in the airports, and realizing that all of this just makes the start to a stay in New Zealand that much more exciting. I came here looking for unknown surprises and adventure, I just didn’t know that would be delivered so soon.

Upon landing, Claudia (the contact I have had over here for the past few months) picked up Nate and I. She took us to the family she was staying with, who promptly bombarded us with kindness, food, and beer. This was honestly the most welcoming experience either of us have experienced in a foreign place. The kindness of the Kiwi is legendary, yet it was still a shock to get the welcome from these people that we received. To Claudia and her host family, we will always be grateful for making the first few hours in New Zealand some of the most memorable.

The kindness to us two weary travelers was nowhere near its end. Claudia informed us that a group of her friends were camped out of the city about 45 minutes away, and we were welcome to join them since we didn’t have a place to stay. We gratefully accepted, and the first gloriously spontaneous decision was made. Having our accommodations drop out was the best thing that could have happened. We drove out in the dark to the campsite, all the while really not knowing what we were surrounded by in the darkness. Upon reaching the campsite, we were greeting with warm welcomes and new friends. Ben, Rachel, Brittany, Josh, and Michael, became our first New Zealand friend group (along with Claudia who had to work the next morning, so left us to their mercy). These individuals have been the biggest blessing Nate and I could have imagined. We shared a camp, stories, and plenty of laughs. Nate and I slept the sleep of the exhausted, finally content to be anywhere but on a plane.

The next morning (beginning at 6AM because of the birds) revealed an absolutely gorgeous scene. I knew that New Zealand was beautiful, yet it hadn’t occurred to me just how much so until I stepped from the tent. The morning quickly led to multiple walks out to the waterfalls in the area, making breakfast together and enjoying the outdoors, and driving out to the beach at Piha to climb Lion Rock above the ocean and watch the paddleboard competition going on below. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that this is my life for the next year. Yes I’ll be working, but the freedom to explore this country and all the things that it has to offer is an absolute dream. As Nate and I prepare to buy a campervan within the next few days (fingers crossed that we can get a good deal on one), we have come to realize that all the preparation for this trip has already been worth it.

Throughout the difficulties, it’s become evident that this was something I drastically needed. The entire process so far, whether that be saying goodbye to family and friends, travel struggles, or just uneasiness in general, have begun a refining process in myself. It is one thing to believe that you are ready for something, yet it is quite another to know that you are ready for it. Going through this first 24 hour period of unfortunate circumstances mixed with the pure joy of this new adventure, and coming out the other side unscathed and completely energized, is an amazing feeling to have. The new friends, new scenery, and incredible hospitality that we have received thus far is worth everything we have done so far.

While I’m Away

Despite the path that culture has taken in recent years on social media, I still find it hard to write something with the expectation that people will enjoy reading it. We have somehow moved  into a world where everyone fears that everything they do won’t be watched and listened to by everyone they know (thanks Facebook and Twitter), and somehow I never really got onboard with that. I’ve never been one to really enjoy posting photos of my food, or to constantly let everyone know what’s going on in my life because quite frankly I know most of you don’t really care about 99% of what’s happening.

Despite my aversion to the idea of letting everyone know what’s going on with me, requests for a bit of information on my life has lead me to this. My upcoming adventures and people’s desires to hear about them have given birth to a blog, something I never actually thought I would participate in. Through this writing, I will attempt to give a bit of information on what’s actually going on in my life, and allow myself to record what’s happening so that I can remember what this drastic change meant for me at the time. Bear with me as I ramble throughout this ridiculous period in my life, because I can almost guarantee that I’ll go at least partially insane by the end of this.

Honestly though, everyone can do with being a little more insane. After all, that’s what led me to my current place in life.

For those of you who aren’t aware, I’ll be moving to New Zealand for a year starting January 10th, 2017 with a friend from college (shout out to Nate Payton). We are going without much of a plan, but knowing that that’s the best way to have an adventure. Is an adventure really an adventure if it’s planned out? Plans remove all the interesting twists and turns that you run across, all the divergent paths that can be taken, and all the opportunities for completely ridiculous decisions. Although yes, there’s a certain amount of planning that must take place such as getting work visas, figuring out flights, etc. Everything that had to be planned out has been done, and now it’s just time to wait and see what happens.

This decision was made solely out of the desire for adventure. After asking a few friends who are a step or two ahead of me in life what they wish they had done in their twenties, quite a few said that they wish they had travelled more. I’m determined not to be one of those people who looked back on life and only see what could have been instead of taking advantage of the situations in which I have found myself.

I currently don’t really know what it is that I want to do with my work life (I have some ideas, but nothing concrete), but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what I want to do with my life. The distinction between the two, work life and simply life, is an important one to make. Since childhood, we are constantly asked what it is we want to be when we grow up. Why is it that nobody asks who someone wants to be when they reach adulthood? Isn’t it enough to say that you desire to be someone who is: adventurous, spontaneous, loving, friendly, accepting, wise, influential, ridiculous, and overall just generally good? When looking at life through this lens, the work life becomes far less important. I do think that one should do what they love as a career, but a career isn’t who you are. Why do we treat the work section of our life as the thing that defines us?

Many people will claim that their career isn’t at the very top of their list of priorities, yet they seem to fill their calendar with work and only then start filling the gaps with the rest of life. I understand the practicality of this, but what would happen if someone decided to reverse that trend? If the person you desired to be took precedence over work, that being what filled in the metaphorical calendar of your life, only then to have the gaps filled in with a career? This move to New Zealand is not, by American standards, the smart thing to do. It pushes back my career (that I haven’t really begun) and probably isn’t the most financially smart decision. I have found however, that by sitting down and thinking of all the reasons not to go only seems to make me realize that all of those are not truly good reasons. Making a shift and drastically changing my situations in life is my attempt to make the switch from the career-based life, to actually living life. This isn’t to say that I won’t pursue a career after I get back, just that I know I must learn to live life as an adventure instead of merely doing what everyone else says I’m supposed to do (i.e. start a career, settle down, white picket fence, etc.).

For those of you who have made it this far, well done and I’m actually a bit surprised that you’re still here. If there’s one piece of my mid-twenties knowledge that I’m trying to impress upon you through this, it is this: Your life must not be defined by how others perceive the world. Notice here that I say “must not”, and not “cannot.” People allow the worldview of others to shape their world all the time, and I find that to be a tragedy. Don’t allow yourself to miss out on an adventure simply because someone else believes it’s not something that should be done.

Taking an adventure is something you’ll never regret. Yes it’s scary, it may be irresponsible, and there may be a thousand fake reasons that you shouldn’t do it. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Learn that new skill you’ve been considering. Take that trip you’ve secretly wanted to for the longest time. Conquer that fear that has paralyzed you for far too long. Whatever it is that you have to do to live, do it. Take the leap into the unknown and realize that it’s just as likely that you’ll hit rocks at the bottom as deep water, but that that’s ok. If you break yourself, you’ll just have to take time to heal before finding another place to jump. Already I’ve heard too many times “I wish I could do that” when I discuss my upcoming trip. My constant advice to them is just to do it. Stop wishing you could make the leap, and just jump already.

So here’s the first of (hopefully) many posts to follow. My next update will be from the other side of the world! Hope you enjoy hearing about my adventures while I’m away.