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And my favorite place in Melbourne is…

The Carlton Gardens.

My place of peace in the city. I’ve noticed myself drawn here almost every day since I first discovered these gardens a little over a week ago when I first arrived. Back in San Diego, my favorite spot was the Black’s Cliffs, with views of the calming ocean tides below and the freeing paragliders above.

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After spending over a week exploring the nooks and crannies of Melbourne, I can say without a doubt that my favorite place is the Carlton Gardens. I come here to find my happy place, to read, to write, to sit and be inspired by the simple things in life. I like the fact that I’m surrounded by a lush greenery and peace amidst the skyscrapers and busy pace of the city outside my little bubble in the gardens.

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My oasis is the Carlton Gardens.

Being alone vs. being lonely as a solo female traveler

The sounds and smells of the city surround me as I walk the streets. Someone’s performing at an outdoor stage around the corner for the comedy festival that’s in town, the scent of Malaysian food wafts towards me as I cross the road, a street musician plays the riff of one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs, ironically enough called, “Never Going Back Again”.

The tram whirls past me and comes to a stop, a mass of bodies push past me, I jump on just before the doors close and I jolt to another part of the city. Aimlessly I wonder the streets as I go, looking for work or something intriguing to catch my eye or take up my time for today.

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This is how I spend my days, alone in the sprawling city of Melbourne. It’s something I’m adjusting to. I’m used to always having someone to call or to hang out with. I’m used to all my friends and family back in the States being there for me in person, or at least in the same time zone.

I’ve always been extremely independent, but to call me a relationship person would be an understatement. I haven’t been truly “single” for more than a couple months at a time since I first started dating in high school, and even then, I’m usually dating someone casually before another serious relationship begins. I realize that even though I may cherish my temporary alone time, I don’t really know how to be alone for a long span of time. How to revel in that aloneness, appreciate my singledom, my freedom. And what better way to learn than to fly across the world, having a grand total of two friends in the city, forcing me to be left alone with my thoughts for the majority of my Aussie days.

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After almost 23 years, I’m finally learning how to be alone. I don’t know if it’s from living in as vibrant a city as 24-hour Melbourne (bars and clubs don’t even close until 6am), but however much I constantly find myself alone, I rarely catch myself feeling lonely. Perhaps I’ve finally learned the art of how to be alone without being lonely. How to appreciate this time completely for myself, and know that it’s okay to take a step back from the busy pace of life and finally figure some things out.

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Of course, this doesn’t stop me from walking into random hostels to learn how to play poker, not knowing a soul. Nor does it keep me from finding myself spending nights at rooftop bars, having dinner parties with people I barely know, or even just drinking beer and watching TV with my new housemates.

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, or the day after, or any day that I wake up in this foreign place, but I know that it’s exciting, it’s new, and the possibilities are all mine to choose.

Melbourne from a California girl’s perspective

In under a week of being here, I can already feel myself acclimating to the city, the people, the life down under. I wake up every morning with calves that are more sore than the day before, I’ve walked for hours every day to get a feel for the layout especially in the CBD, Fitzroy, and St. Kilda because those are the neighborhoods I’ll most likely end up working in. Yesterday, I had an Aussie come up and ask me directions, and I actually gave him the right ones to get to his desired destination! That was when I realized how much I’ve internalized about the city since arriving at the beginning of the week.

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Last night, I was able to hang out with a local, someone who I’ve traveled around Europe with, and she showed me the quintessential night out in Melbourne: Drinks at a rooftop bar with views that overlook the skyscrapers and Victorian churches sprinkled around the city, and ending the night at a hectic restaurant in Chinatown with hidden staircases that throw you into rooms you didn’t know existed and eating deliciously cheap dumplings. As my friend says, most of the best spots in Melbourne are the hidden ones.

I can already feel myself falling in love with this eclectic city, and so before I’m completely transformed into a pseudo-Aussie, I wanted to write a post about all the things that have intrigued me about the differences in Melbourne with my fading American mindset.

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Extremely Friendly People

Aussies are known to be very welcoming and nice people, but they seriously go over and beyond in terms of friendliness. I’ve noticed this especially in the customer service realm. The other day I walked into a cafe in Fitzroy to grab breakfast, and the owner came out and spent the whole time talking to me and giving me recommendations about what to see while I’m here in Australia. Not only this, but when I mentioned I was spending most of my day looking for work, he recommended his friend’s cafe in St. Kilda, and told me to tell the owner in St. Kilda that he sent me. Clearly, connections are an easy thing to come by in Australia.

Next, I walked into a record store, and the guy spent the whole 20 minutes or so I was in the shop chatting with me and learning about my life story, seeming to be genuinely interested in it. These instances go on, from librarians to people on the tram, it’s incredible how friendly people are, especially in as big of a city as Melbourne. I love this about Australia.

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The Coffee

I’ve already mentioned the difference between American and Aussie coffee, and since then I’ve ordered a different coffee every day (or twice a day) to decide on which one is “my drink”. I’ve ordered a long black (espresso and hot water), cappuccino (chocolate is powdered on top), skinny flat white (a skim latte put in a cappuccino cup), latte (these are still much smaller than American sized lattes), and an iced latte (the only drink exactly the same as its American counterpart). The weirdest one I’ve come across is the Aussie iced coffee. It’s espresso, milk, ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate powder on top. Wow.

The thing I didn’t mention before is that the coffee in Melbourne is the best coffee I’ve tasted in my life, and I’ve tried a lot of coffee from working in a coffee shop for 2 years. It is pure caffeinated deliciousness that I look forward to every day.

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Everything is Expensive

I knew this would be the case, it’s what everyone says when they travel over to Australia, but I guess I didn’t realize just how expensive is expensive. Hence, why I printed out 20 resumes yesterday. Thankfully, the minimum wage here ranges form $15-$20 an hour depending on what job you do.

Here’s a little insight into the prices I’ve come across so far:

Coffee $3-$5

Myki Monthly pass $120

“Cheap” Meal $13-$15

Regularly priced meal $18-$20

Beer $7-$10

The one upside is that tipping is less of a big deal here. Basically the only time you tip is if you go to a more upscale restaurant or if you take a taxi. They don’t expect you to tip at bars or cafes, so that at least is a relief on my bank account.

The Lingo

I never know if someone is just saying hello to me, or how are you, or what’s up. Don’t even get me started on goodbyes. The key to understanding Aussie lingo is to understand that they shorten everything, literally everything.

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Pie Face and other Take Away Places

Pie Face is on almost every corner, kind of like the Starbucks of Melbourne. They specialize in meat pies, and I still have yet to go there, or to try a true meat pie. Maybe today will be the day. There are some of the same chains as there are in the States, I’ve seen a Subway and a KFC. But then there are places called “Hungry Jacks” (the knock off Burger King), or “Taco Bill”. It’s quite hilarious.

Street Art

This is an aspect of the city that I’m absolutely in love with. Almost every alleyway I look down, there is some sort of creative and beautiful street art to look at. Hosier Lane is the famous alleyway to see a lot of the best creations, but you can basically find street art everywhere. Something I wish there was more of in Southern California, where things are just a little too pristine sometimes.

My first 36 hours in Melbourne

My first 36 hours in Australia have been wonderful, yet trying and tiring, and full of hilarious fails that I’ll just label as “new experiences.” It started when I got to my apartment and it looked like a closed up store front. The door was locked and the windows looked like they hadn’t seen daylight in months. When I called my housemate, a little panicked that I was given the wrong address or that this place didn’t exist, he instructed me that the actual door to the apartment was just around the corner, the next door down. Phew, I let out a huge sigh of relief.
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I’m living with two Australian guys, who are both chill and friendly, no complaints here. Although, I’m sure it’s going to be quite the difference from living in a house full of sorority girls in San Diego, to a house of Aussie dudes in Melbourne, but I think it’s going to turn out to be a great living situation. I’m already in love with my room.
And today, I met up with a friend of my brothers, an expat who has been living here for the last couple of years, and who spent most of the day showing me around lovely Melbourne.
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Here are a few things I’ve accomplished in my first day and a half in the city.

I learned that you can’t outsmart jet lag

After I was able to have a few precious moments of shut eye on my 13 hour flight from LA to Auckland, NZ, I downed more than one free coffee on the four hour flight to Melbourne. I figured since I was arriving at 10:30am, if I could last the whole day and not go to bed until a regular hour, I could trick my body into not being jet lagged. I tried, I tried my best and I did pretty well. But by 5:00pm, I was passed out and slept for 14 hours straight. To be fair, the 17 hour time difference is a hard one to adjust to.

Went grocery shopping

It’s always strange going grocery shopping in a foreign land, but I think the weirdest thing about Australia is that it almost feels like I’m still back in the States, but in an alternate universe that has different names for everything and does everything opposite in a cool accent. Going grocery shopping, I recognized similar labels on my favorite food products, but it was as if they were all off brand. Of course, they were simply all Aussie brand names that I didn’t recognize, but I could find almost everything I could find back in the States. 
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Learned how to cross the street

This is something I’m still working on with the whole driving on the opposite side of the street thing that’s so popular in Australia. Crossing the street properly is a skill you learn from a very young age, so having the cars coming in the opposite direction you would expect goes against every instinct in my body. Even when looking both ways, there’s always a car that pops out when I’m least expecting it. It doesn’t help that the way you make a right hand turn in Melbourne is to go to the furthest left hand lane and cross multiple lanes of traffic. As I’ve said, cars literally come out of nowhere.

Ordered coffee the wrong way

I’m sure this is a common mistake with Starbucks cultured Americans coming over to the land down under, but they do not use the same names for coffee as we do, at least for the most part. I went into the coffee shop down the street this morning and ordered a black coffee, “a long black, you mean?” said the girl at the counter. “Yes…?” A long black is not American drip coffee, it is a shot of espresso diluted with hot water (kind of like an Americano but with less water). Note to self, study over Aussie coffee names before applying for barista jobs, or ordering any more coffee. 

Opened an Australian Bank Account

I walked into the National Australia Bank (NAB) and opened an account this morning. Recommended by my expat friend, NAB is nice for Americans to use in Australia because they don’t have any hidden fees when opening an account, such as banks like ANZ do, and there is no minimum balance to open an account (especially ideal for unemployed backpackers). If you plan on working at all while in Australia, I would highly recommend opening a bank account. It’s free, and you get your own local debit card so you can avoid all of the nasty international fees banks and credit cards like to charge you.
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Applied for an Australian Tax File Number

This is a necessary thing to have if you want to legally work in Melbourne, as opposed to under the table (which is actually quite common but also usually less pay). I am choosing to have more of an official presence in the Melbourne work force, so I applied for one of these today. The bummer is that I just finished filing my taxes in the States, and apparently the tax day in Australia is in June, so I have to go through all of that fun again. 

Bought a local SIM card for my phone

Telstra is the recommended carrier in Australia because they have the best coverage, they are basically the Verizon of Australia. So I went into a Telstra store today and for a measly $30 a month, I have a plan that will let me text/call locally to my heart’s desire. And I officially have an Australian phone number, I’d like to think that makes me a semi-local.IMG_3493

Learned how to use the extensive tram network in Melbourne

Maybe I haven’t learned all the ins and outs, routes and timetables like I have in San Diego, but I at least know how to get from my apartment in Port Melbourne to the center of the city (CBD) on the tram. It only takes about 10 minutes. And I also learned that the Metro card in Melbourne is called a “Myki”, and that you’re able to re-load it online as well as at any local convenience store (they have 7-11s here!)

Went sightseeing in the CBD

My expat friend Eric spent most of the morning and afternoon teaching me the ins and outs of Aussie life, and showed me around the major sights in the CBD. According to him, Melbourne is almost exactly like San Francisco, just without all the trash and hobos. I couldn’t agree more. Melbourne is an incredibly clean and safe city, especially when it comes to the public transit. I was able to eat at the Queen Victoria Market, sit at Federation Square, walk by Flinders St. Station, walk through the famous street art at Hosier Lane, and my personal favorite, go inside the State Library of Victoria. I’m also pretty sure I saw Mr. Bean, or at least a pretty sweet look-alike, as I was walking along the Yarra river this afternoon.
I’m sill adjusting and getting used to the subtle differences that Australia has to offer. I was confused when I woke up this morning and heard multiple Australian accents outside my window. I still have to pinch myself from time to time and realize that I’m actually here. That I’ve made the leap and traveled thousands of miles from home to have an unforgettable experience in Australia, but I’m enjoying every minute of it while it lasts.

Australia Travel Playlist

As you read this, I’ll be thousands of feet above the ocean on my 14 hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand, followed by a four hour flight to Melbourne, Australia. The next 24 hours are going to be grueling, It’s hard for me to find ways to creatively keep myself occupied on long flights such as this one. Music is what keeps me going, makes the time fly by and inspires me while I’m traveling on long haul flights.

I have thousands of songs, plenty of playlists, and a lot of new music to choose from, but I wanted to share a few songs that I’m really into at the moment. Keep me company by listening with me and enjoy the following tunes!

1. Mellow Mood – Slightly Stoopid

This song exudes happiness, summer days and the good life. I can’t help but smile when I hear this song, and feel like everything is going to be a-okay.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLnJYtOS34M]

2. Where Will You Be? – Mumford & Sons

Mumford & Sons has been the soundtrack for my last 24 hours in LA. This song in particular resonated with me and my upcoming travels.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqs98atWIe0]

3. Radioactive – Imagine Dragons

I was only recently introduced to this band, but I immediately took a liking to their sound..and this song is about the zombie apocalypse, how could it not be good? This song reminds me of sunny days driving around Southern California.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktvTqknDobU]

4. Rescue Song (RAC Remix) – Mr. Little Jeans

My roommate introduced me to this song on my way to the train station yesterday. It has such a fluid and calming sound, good for any long flight.

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5. Ta DoLeuer – Camille

I love the sound of French, and I love the uniqueness of this song. Just addicting and creative enough to keep me hooked.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7ryxk41HtI]

6. Ride – Lana Del Rey

I’m a little obsessed with Lana del Rey, but for good reason. I love her vision not only in terms of her music and lyrics, but also with the incredible stories she tells through her videos.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78oSuSMmFsE]

7. Cups – Anna Kendrick

This song is basically my theme song for my trip, and Pitch Perfect is a huge guilty pleasure of mine.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ockYyxuou2g]

8. Time to Pretend – MGMT

Although a bit more on the depressing side, I can’t help but adore this song. I find it so real at this time in my life, and my reasons for wanting to take a break from the “guided” path that has been laid out for me since I was young.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9dSYgd5Elk]

9. Undisclosed Desires – Muse 

Muse = epic.

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10. Promise – Ben Howard

Sigh. Ben Howard basically takes everything I’ve felt and puts it into music. I especially like this song because of how gorgeously it sits with me.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aq5S-yt45ZQ]

On leaving everything behind to follow your dreams

The sun is gleaming through the palm trees, I’m riding alongside the ocean, the orange sky as my canopy. What a way to say goodbye to this cherished place I’ve taken for my own, a place I call home even with these restless bones.

The southern winds pushing me onward towards my journey, the new adventures that await. This feels right, even with the tug of nostalgia filling my chest, a montage of memories in my head.

This is my purpose, my path in life. I hate goodbyes, but I don’t see this as such, because those who I’ve met, who have touched my heart in someway, will stay there even after I’m long gone from this place.

Life is such a beautiful art, with its stops and starts, passing glances and what ifs that fade away as the sun descends its last rays.

The man next to me sips on his Corona while in his own space, drawing from a vivid imagination that consumes his focus as we pull into another station . We’re all in our own space, yet connected through our graceful humanity, our innocent fallacies that make us kindred souls as we tackle our independent goals.

The train stops, last call, end of the line. But this ending is my beginning, so I’m going to take it and run into the arms of a soulful passion that is all my own. That is my journey to travel.

I’m finally ready to start.

I believe in

I believe in watching every sunset as if for the first time, I believe in not settling for someone who makes you feel ordinary, I believe in rainy days and the rainbows that come after, I believe in flossing and wearing sunscreen every day.

I believe in music being the soundtrack to life, I believe in spending hours in coffee shops and secondhand bookstores, I believe in trying everything once, I believe in honesty and sincerity.

I believe in reading in the sun, I believe in bucket lists and staying up all night just to plan my next trip, I believe in keeping an open mind, I believe in going to the beach as much as you can, I believe in playing basketball as a way to clear my head.

I believe in the benefits of education and learning new things every day, I believe in still sending postcards and handwritten letters, I believe that everything happens for a reason even if it’s not always easy, I believe that traveling with someone can make or break a relationship.

I believe in being polite, especially to strangers, I believe in karma, I believe in pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, I believe in the benefits of doing things that scare me because every day could be my last.

I believe in midnight adventures and the value of a good California burrito, I believe in the balance that comes with yoga, I believe in taking risks and having spontaneity, I believe in wishing on 11:11.

I believe that every person should have a passport and that they should use it, I believe in discovering the world with the curiosity of a child, I believe that when it comes down to it we are all the same, I believe in the beauty of poetry and prose.

I believe in following my heart.

 What do you believe in?

(Post inspired by C’est Christine)

Travel Resolutions 2013

And so the countdown begins, 25 days until departure, and I’m ready for the new experiences that will come with 2013. Recently leaving behind a 2 year relationship, and my own broken heart to boot, I’ve actually come away with the feeling that there’s nothing left to be afraid of, and a confidence in my own strength to tackle whatever life throws at me in the next year. I think it’s going to be one hell of a year.

I’ve realized the only way to love the life I live is through passion, optimism, and spontaneity. So, this year my travel resolutions will revolve around just those things, letting go of the negative aspects in my life in the process.

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Countries to visit: Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia

Wish list countries (if I have the time and money to keep traveling after the above list): Nepal, Myanmar, Laos, India, Taiwan, Fiji, and although not a country I want to see Hawaii this year.

Travel Resolutions

1. Hot air balloon over Melbourne at sunrise

2. Go paragliding in New Zealand

3. Skydive over the Great Barrier Reef

4. Practice yoga in an ashram in India and/or get my yoga teacher certification in India or SE Asia

5. Find a volunteer program in Southeast Asia that represents one of my passions and genuinely helps the local community

6. Buy a ukulele and learn how to play it throughout my travels

7. Learn how to surf

8. Get my scuba certification

9. Learn how to make authentic Thai cuisine in Thailand

10. Get a tattoo while abroad

11. Hike a volcano in Hawaii

12. Watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia

13. Ride a motorbike through the Vietnam countryside

14. Sail Halong Bay in Vietnam

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

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Postcard from Santa Cruz, CA

I visited my hometown this past weekend for the last time before my travels, and to say a temporary goodbye to my family and friends. In order to celebrate my last views of Santa Cruz and to serve as a reminder to why I love this place so much, here are a few photos of what home means to me.

“What a life I lead when the sun breaks free, as a giant torn from the clouds. What a life indeed when that ancient seed is a-buried, watered, and plowed.” – Fleet Foxes

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What’s your favorite photo from Santa Cruz?

Exploring my own backyard in Julian

Last weekend, I convinced my roommate to take a road trip with me to Julian, CA. I invited a few other friends, and next thing you know we had a full car and were cruising along on a beautiful Southern California day up to Julian to indulge in everything apple related.

I’m talking about the apple pie capital of the world, and it has been an hour and a half away from me this whole time I’ve lived in San Diego! I’ve been wanting to visit Julian since I heard the words apple and pie in the same sentence, and even more so in the last few months of checking off my San Diego bucket list. Unfortunately it’s hard to take those kind of road trips by yourself when you don’t have a car, and even harder to convince college students to spend their precious study time and money on gas when the words Vegas or Big Bear aren’t included.

It was one of those quintessential perfect days, it almost felt like summer until we got up to the snowy parts. Julian is an unassuming tiny town tucked away in the mountains that has the best apple pie I’ve ever tasted, and I’m not exaggerating when I say the best I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve tried a lot of apple pie. If you love apple pie as I do, or just want to feel like an American for a day, this is a must visit destination for you.

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We stopped by the Julian Pie Company, and I had the original apple pie with cinnamon ice cream. It was one of the best moments of my life when I took that first bite. Afterwards, we walked around downtown Julian which consisted of a couple blocks of old western-style stores, and eventually made our way down the street to Julian Hard Cider. We talked with the owner, bought and shared some cider tasters, and I eventually decided on the cider with blackberry and blueberry infusions (“the black and blue”), it was delicious.

As we made our way home, with the sun shining its last rays, I realized that this was one of my favorite days I’ve had in 2013 so far. I also realized how many more days I want to spend this year simply exploring new towns and indulging my taste buds, the simple life of travel and exhilaration of experiencing new things. In my opinion, the secret to happiness.

To listen to our soundtrack for our road trip and exploration of Julian, click here