Browsing Category: Travel

Walkabout: Sydney edition

I heard about the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk before I even left California, thanks to the extensive collection of travel bloggers I follow. It was one of the first things I wanted to do whenever I made it to Sydney, and I did just that on a perfect day during my week in Sydney. It’s 6km in distance and it took me about 2 hours to complete, including taking a lot of pictures along the way. There are heaps of cafes, swimming pools, and benches on which to rest your weary legs and take in the view.

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I plan on walking it many more times when I go back to Sydney, it was simply beautiful. I love walks that overload you with daily doses of beauty, and the Bondi to Coogee Walk is one of the most gorgeous I have been on.

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I’ll even go so far as to say that during this walk is when I first started to appreciate how much I love Sydney, partly because it reminded me of my weekly walks to the cliffs in La Jolla, San Diego, partly because of the perfect temperature of the day, and partly because I was grateful to feel right at home in a place across the world from everything I know.

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I don’t think I can truly put into words the impact my year of travel has had on my life as of yet, but it is something profound. I left San Diego a bit bruised and directionless, and I’m not saying that I’ve “found myself” because I believe that’s a lifelong journey in itself, but I am such a stronger and more confident person now than I can ever remember being in the past.

Perhaps that’s what growing up is supposed to feel like, all I know is that the realization of your inner strength is one of the most important discoveries you can make about yourself.

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These were the thoughts that were running through my head as I took in the views on my walkabout from Bondi to Coogee, and mused about my journey around the world this year, and maybe even a more permanent life in Australia. I guess time will only tell if my nomadic heart will ever rest in one place for good, right now I’m happy soaring above all the expectations and judgements, both from myself and others. As always, it’s important sometimes to just be free

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I think my favorite artist, Bon Iver, said it best, “Ain’t this just like the present to be showing up like this?“.

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First impressions of Malaysia, it’s rad

Hot. hot. hot…and my backpack feels about 15 pounds heavier than when I checked it in this morning. Okay, but let’s be real, Malaysia is rad. I know I’m skipping around a bit because I haven’t even written about my time in Sydney yet, or the few more posts that I had planned about Melbourne, but I just wanted to give a quick, dry, and dirty run down of my first impressions of Malaysia while they’re still fresh in my mind.

It’s a bit surreal that we’ve actually made it – It’s exactly as I imagined Asia to be, but better because I’m actually here experiencing the crazy vespa drivers, the street food, the random vendors blasting Top 40 from about 5 years ago (yes, that includes some classic Pitbull and Chris Brown). It’s literally a party in the streets.

But let’s start from the beginning. It was a crazy day from the get-go. I made it to the airport an hour later than I was supposed to because I got off on the wrong stop in the CBD in Sydney for my train connection. When we finally arrived at the check-in counter for AirAsia, my carry-on was too heavy. Apparently you’re only allowed to carry the weight equivalent of a small book for discount airlines. I stepped aside to repack, and stuff more of my things into my backpack, a seemingly impossible feat, but I somehow made it work. I think sitting on it and using every ounce of my strength to squish it down helped a bit, and I’m sure I was great entertainment for everyone else waiting in line watching me.

I let out a big sigh of relief when we finally made it to our gate about 15 minutes before they started boarding. Laura, my British friend whom I’m currently traveling with, and I were two rows apart. We soon realized that in the row between us sat the most annoying children I have encountered on a plane – or as Laura so eloquently put it, “the demon children”. When they weren’t poking Laura in the back of the head, they were stealing my bag underneath my seat or staring me down without blinking, it was creepy.

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After 10 hours on the plane, we stepped out into some of the most humid weather I have ever experienced, I don’t even think Italy in the summer rivals it. And then it was on to tackling the public transit. Our plan is to stay as cheap and authentically local as possible, so I’m sure I’ll have some hilarious stories to ensue shortly. Us and one other girl were the only non-locals on the bus, I especially liked the Bollywood ringtone that kept going off from the man in front of me for the hour long journey into the city.

After we stepped off the bus and into the humid rain, we found the monorail, and ended up in the Golden Triangle neighborhood where we walked around aimlessly going into random places and trying to figure out where we were. We had one hostel in mind, but we were so exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated at this point that we just started going into guesthouses until we found one that clicked enough for one night. I don’t even know the name of the place we’re staying in, but it’s cozy and pretty decent for the equivalent of AUS $10 a night in the heart of the city.

Also, Kuala Lumpur is a gorgeous city at night. There are so many colorful lights everywhere, this was especially apparent on the monorail.

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I had my first wonderfully delicious Asian dish at a street stall called “Frog Porridge”. They do in fact sell frog porridge, Laura and I are going to try it our last night in Kuala Lumpur. Tonight, however, I stayed with the safe choice (fingers crossed), of the spicy green vegetable curry. It was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G., and I’m not even in Thailand yet. I already know that the food is going to be one of my favorite things about this whole trip, I absolutely love Asian food.

Trying my first real Asian dish in Malaysia

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Fun facts I learned while reading about Malaysia on the plane – it is home to the largest species of cockroach in the world. However, it’s also the greenest (aka most jungle-esque) country in Southeast Asia, so I guess the pretty scenery makes up for the first fun fact? I hope. If I see one of those cockroaches I may reconsider.

And so, the Asian adventures begin…

4 month wrap-up, my life in Melbourne

Although I didn’t travel in Australia as much as I thought I would for my first 4 months, due to a lack of finances and trying to save for my upcoming travels to Southeast Asia, I still have had a hell of a time so far in the land down under. I’ll be coming back to Australia in October, whether I’ll make Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane my home base from there on is still to be determined, but I’m happy to find my way along the ride. There’s always a romantic notion attached with moving abroad, and although it is one of the top experiences I’ve had in my life so far, I think that I’ve come to realize that it’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows. Here are my thoughts on the last 4 months of my life abroad.

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Places Visited

Melbourne,  Victoria

Geelong, Victoria

The Great Ocean Road

The Yarra Valley

Sydney, New South Wales

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Highlights

  • Finding my bartending job at Deja Vu bar. It has been a beacon of light through the turmoil that is casual work in Australia, and my coworkers were some of my first true friends in Melbourne.
  • Celebrating my birthday in a foreign country for the first time, and actually having people to celebrate with after only being here a month.
  • Having my first motorcycle ride at 3 in the morning
  • On-the-road romances. I originally thought this year was going to be my year of being alone, but I’ve found that I go on more dates abroad than I ever did back home. I think it’s the general attitude I hold while abroad, “Well, why not?”. I’m young, free, and single for the first time in a long time. I’ve dated Brits, Italians, Kiwis, and of course, Australians, in the last four months, and those memories and good times are some of the best to look back on when I think of my time in Australia thus far.
  • Making so many close friends in a short span of time. I never thought I would have such a great network of people in my life after only being here for a few months.
  • Having my friend from California come visit me for a few weeks, and being able to show her my love for the city I now call home
  • My first time ever going wine tasting, and being able to see the beautiful region that is the Yarra Valley

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  • Going on one of the best, most epic and hilarious road trips I’ve ever been on, the Great Ocean Road
  • Lucking out with finding my housemate in Melbourne on Gumtree (the Australian version of Craigslist), and immediately becoming best buds. She is the person who is always there when I need advice or simply someone to talk to.
  • The coffee. Once you come to Melbourne, or really, anywhere in Australia, you’ll understand. There is no going back.
  • Going to my first footy game with an Australian, having him explain the rules of AFL, and sharing his love for the game with me.
  • A gorgeous, sunny time in Sydney for my last week in Australia for awhile. I felt right at home, although slightly nostalgic, about the beach culture I found there.

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Lowlights

  • Losing not one, but two of my jobs without any notice, and realizing how poor the casual workforce is treated in Australia.
  • Having the logic board fail in my MacBook Pro, and thus having to use my travel savings to buy a new computer.
  • Getting a call from my mom that my grandmother had a stroke and was in critical condition, and feeling so incredibly helpless being so far away.
  • Waking up to news of the Boston Marathon bombing.
  • Not being able to do the one thing I’ve been looking forward to for about 6 months simply because I didn’t have enough money, hot air ballooning over Melbourne at sunrise (still hoping it will happen when I get back!)
  • Finding out my backpacking backpack was going to cost $700 to send overseas, and thus having to buy a new one in Australia.
  • My budget. Realizing just how expensive it is to live in Australia (even when making Aussie dollars), and that discouraging feeling I get every time I compare my bank account to all I want to do while I’m here.
  • Sending my passport to Sydney for my Vietnam visa, only to find out that my friend sent me the wrong address…don’t worry, it’s back in my safe possession now (I can still go to Asia, yay!)
  • The weather. I didn’t think it would be a big deal living through two back-to-back winters, but I can definitely feel 6 months of winter weather affecting my daily mood, and especially with how cold it has been in Melbourne this winter. I’m ready to feel the sunshine for days on end, and to chase summer to my heart’s content.

What’s Next

I’m flying to Malaysia tomorrow morning, the next two months will be an adventure of a lifetime backpacking through Southeast Asia. Keep checking back, it is sure to be an interesting next few months ahead! And as always, thank you to all my readers for following along on my journey, I appreciate each and every one of you.

Backpacking through Costa Rica at 18

Three Americans, One Great Ocean Road

I decided to tackle the Great Ocean Road my last week in Victoria, luckily I had two friends who were willing to split the cost and share the experience with me to make it an unforgettable two days. We rented a car, booked one night in a hostel, and hit the road. The Great Ocean Road turned out to be one of the best road trips of my life, and that’s saying a lot coming from a state that’s home to the gorgeous 101 highway – yes, that’s the one in the OC theme song!

It’s probably an even prettier drive in the summer with nice weather, but since it was the down season we basically had the road and the hostel to ourselves. We stopped at the little seaside towns along the way and learned about the history of its inhabitants, of the Great Ocean Road, and we were able to see another side of Victoria besides just the city of Melbourne.

The hostel we stayed at was the charming Surfside Backpacker in Apollo Bay, I would recommend it for the home away from home feel. Other highlights of the trip included seeing our first wild Koala, driving on the opposite side of the road for the first time, and experiencing basically every type of terrain on the same road…oh, and the Twelve Apostles were pretty cool (although false advertising, there are only seven left now).

Here are some memories from our epic road trip. It was a great way to end my time in Victoria before saying goodbye and moving on to Sydney. I must say, Australia has some of the most beautiful natural scenery.

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Have you ever been to the Great Ocean Road? What’s your favorite road trip memory?

Wine tasting in the Yarra Valley

Wine tasting in the Yarra Valley, Australia

Even though I’ve spent the majority of my life a 2-hour drive away from one of the best wine regions in the world, the Napa Valley, I had never been wine tasting before last week. Crazy, right? Partly because I’m usually broke or saving for travel, I’ve always been much more of a beer girl, and I’m the furthest thing from pretentious – what I used to think wine tasting was all about. Still, I realized this was something I had to check off my life to-do list.

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A few things brought about my good fortune to allow me to go wine tasting for the first time. I was checking my credit card points and realized I had enough saved up to do a wine tasting tour in the Yarra Valley, just a 45 minute drive outside the city of Melbourne, at no extra cost to me! Also, as I said in my previous post, my friend Kelsey is currently visiting me, and I knew we would have a fun time with free tasters in the beautiful countryside.

The company we used was Yarra Valley Wine Tour Co., and I couldn’t be happier with the service, our tour guide, and the variety of different wineries we went to for the day. In the winter, they offer a $99 mid-week special, so do it now, just do it. We were the only Americans on the tour, but we met some great characters in the form of Australians, Brits, Japanese, Irish and Canadians.

Here was our day in the Yarra Valley.

9:30am  Picked up from the CBD, in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral

9:45am – 10:40am  The guide gave us a detailed history of the Yarra Valley and the different wineries we would be going to, as well as a general itinerary of when we would get food (probably a good idea so we could pace ourselves with the wine).

10:40am – 11:45am Yering Station Winery. The Yarra Valley’s first winery, it looked like something out of a bridal magazine. The winery had a modern yet rustic feel to it, and the inside was flooded with natural light and cool wintery breezes. Very adorable and picturesque. This is where we learned how to properly sip, slurp, sniff, and look at the wine in the light. When I saw that hardly anyone on our tour spit out the wine after a taste, I knew it was going to be a fun day.

Wines tried: 12

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12:00pm – 1:30pm Balgownie Estate. This winery didn’t have as much character as the last one, but the expansive windows with a view made up for it. We had an elegant lunch with a full glass of wine, of course, right in front of the huge windows overlooking the gorgeous rolling vineyards. I had my first taste of red bubbly here, it was delicious. By this time, we were definitely feeling happy, we even went down to the kangaroo statues at the foot of the vineyard and took some embarrassing pictures in view of our whole tour.

Wines tried: 7 + 1 full glass with lunch

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1:45pm – 2:30pm Yering Farm. This winery took us back to the rustic feel, and was probably the least pretentious one we went to all day – we were literally wine tasting in an old barn, it was awesome. And as always, the view looking out on the vineyards was phenomenal. I think it helped that in the middle of winter, we were somehow blessed with a slightly brisk yet warm blue sky day.

Wines tried: 10 + 1 cider + 1 homemade apple juice

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2:45pm – 3:30pm Domain Chandon. Probably the most beautiful winery we went to all day. The outside had rows and rows of vineyards, perfectly manicured lawns, ivy-lined passageways to get lost in, and all framed by the outline of the mountains surrounding the property. The inside was much more industrial, but we were able to take a tour to learn about the detailed process of how to make sparkling. We didn’t do much more tasting here, but we were provided with bread and cheese and a full glass of the sparkling of our choice. The British girl next to me, clearly already good by that time, spilled her bubbly all over me, and even still, I couldn’t have been happier. Probably in large part to the great amount of wine I had that day, but also simply because it was one of those perfect days you look back on with beautiful places, beautiful people, and beautiful slightly hazy memories.

Wines tried: 1 full glass of sparkling

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4:30pm Arrived back in the Melbourne CBD. Nap time!

Overall, it was a great experience, and for me it was free! Even for Kelsey it only cost about $100, which for a full day tour, transportation to one of the most beautiful places in Victoria, 4 wineries, and that much free wine is still pretty damn good.

Have you ever been on a wine tour? What were your impressions? 

Declare your love – Melbourne Open House 2013

One thing I love about traveling is that feeling you get when you arrive in a new city. The feeling of wonder, excitement about all the new intrigues that the city has to offer, and the little daily wins – learning how to use the local public transit, walking around in the city and knowing exactly where you are for the first time, even the ability to give directions after only being there for a few days. It’s hard to keep that feeling once you’ve lived somewhere for a good amount of time, I’ve found that I’ve lost it a bit since acclimating to my life in Melbourne.

However, I’ve recently found myself feeling that brand new wonder in Melbourne again. One of the reasons why I love giving travel recommendations to people going to the places that I’ve already been, is because it allows me to see certain cities in a different way, with a new perspective. One of my close friends from California, Kelsey, is currently visiting me in Melbourne, and it has been the perfect way to rediscover the city I’ve grown to love through a new set of eyes.

She asks me questions I remember thinking when I first arrived, she points out the differences between the States and Australia, a comparison that has slowly faded from my mindset. She reminds me of me four months ago. It’s refreshing, it’s a way for me to start anew in Melbourne and to appreciate the city before I leave it in a couple weeks.

One of the ways we appreciated the city recently was through the Melbourne Open House. On the first weekend Kelsey was here, we found out about the Open House located all over the city in interesting and historical buildings. 111 buildings opened their doors to the public, some even offering free tours, all to showcase the architecture and history these hidden or not so hidden gems have to offer. Best of all it’s FREE! We only had one day, and we took our time with each place we went, so we were only able to visit a few places around the CBD, but even still it was a great day to rediscover your love for Melbourne.

Here are the places we went:

Council House 2 – CH2

Kelsey, a structural engineer from San Diego, was of course interested in seeing some of the sustainability buildings the city had to offer, I happily agreed to check out the Council House 2 when I found out it had a rooftop terrace overlooking the city. It ended up being the most informative and organized building we went to of the day, there was even a short presentation on the specific inner workings of the place and how exactly the building stays sustainable. It definitely makes you respect the thought that goes into engineering these types of buildings.

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St. Michael’s Church

One of my favorite aspects about the architecture around the city of Melbourne is the combination of old and new buildings usually right alongside each other. Some of my favorite building are the incredible Victorian churches, they’re a beauty to look at. So when I saw that St. Michael’s Church was opening its doors and offering a free organ recital, I knew that I wanted to check it out. While there, I even had an enlightening conversation with an 80 year old man who has lived in Melbourne his whole life, and who explained the detailed history of the church. One thing I like about St. Michael’s is that you can practice your faith in the church regardless of what religion you belong to, they accept everybody and respect whatever beliefs you may hold. Also, I haven’t come across many churches that have their own meditation room, pretty cool.

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Melbourne Town Hall and Offices

The Melbourne Town Hall, one of the first historic buildings that catches your eye when you’re in the CBD. I always wanted to go into this building and stand on the 2nd floor balcony overlooking the main street in the city, Swanston St., and I did just that at the Open House. We explored the Council Chamber where you could even sit behind the judge’s bench and hold the official gavel, the Portico room, and my personal favorite (because of the view, of course), the balcony.

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131-141 Buddhist Temple

Being into yoga and meditation, I was excited that there was a Buddhist Temple on show for the Open House, and it had a rooftop garden! Although the garden left a lot to be desired, besides providing some good views of the city, the actual temple was so peaceful and heartwarming. I loved walking in, going up to the Buddha on display, and taking a moment to silence my mind for the day.

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Overall, the Melbourne Open House was a great way to spend the day, and to declare your love for the city – both, for someone completely new to the city and also for someone who has been here for almost half a year now.

Have you ever been to the Melbourne Open House? Have you ever been to a city that offers a similar event?

My top 5 places to get lost

I have been to 3 (soon to be 4) of the 7 continents, 15 countries, I’ve lived in 3 of those countries, and I’ve seen so many beautiful places in the last 23 years. I’m sure this list will continually change as I add more countries to the list, but as of now, these are my top 5 places in the world to get lost.

Costa Rica

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Jungles, waterfalls, blue sand beaches, and nighttime vespa rides. What better place to get lost than the tropical paradise that is Costa Rica? There is so much beauty, fauna, different types of species at every turn, you really can’t go wrong with finding yourself completely immersed in this country. The Pacific Coast is a bit more developed and touristy, although still incredibly gorgeous. However, to get truly lost in this country, I would recommend heading over to the Caribbean side, where things are just a little more overgrown, untouched, and serene at times.

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Austin, Texas

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You may not think of Texas as a glorious place to get lost, there’s a lot of dust and a great amount of nothingness for hours on end, and to be fair I haven’t traveled anywhere else in Texas yet, but Austin is one of my favorite cities in the world. Whether it’s checking out the live music capital of the world based on Sixth Street in downtown, heading to retro South Congress to go back in time and support local boutiques and the numerous amount of food trucks, or venturing to the Congress Avenue Bridge to see the 750,000 bats that live underneath it in the spring and summer, you won’t be disappointed with the versatility of this Southern city.

My favorite place to get lost in Austin is the Zilker Botanical Garden, also known as “the jewel in the heart of Austin”. You can spend a whole day exploring the well-planned gardens, learning about the local fauna, and simply taking it all in. Although a bit colder in winter, when I went here with my boyfriend at the time in the off-season, we were pretty much the only ones in the garden, leaving us to get lost in our own secret paradise for the day.

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Melbourne, Australia

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Melbourne, Australia is the perfect place to get lost. There are so many alleyways, secret bars and cafes where you’d least expect, it’s actually one of those places where it’s better to find yourself lost because you usually find the best that the city has to offer. When I first arrived, my friend, a Melbourne native, told me that the best places in Melbourne are the hidden ones. And when you venture outside the city, you find even more adventures to be had of losing your way, my favorites being the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the oasis that is the Carlton Gardens. I’m sure by now you can tell that I have a penchant for getting lost in beautiful gardens.

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Florence, Italy

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Florence, probably my favorite place in the whole world (so far), and a lot of that has to do with my memories of getting lost in this Tuscan gem. My style when I get to a new place is to just start walking and to center myself through walking the city streets. There are so many cobblestone streets to explore in Florence,  just allowing myself to get lost by following the smell of garlic, the sound of an accordion player, avoiding the crazy men on vespas, I found myself having a different experience as I got lost and found my way again on my daily expeditions.

At night, going out with the roommates, looking for secret bakeries and the mouthwatering Nutella croissants that follow, trusting Italian locals to lead us to the “best” places to go out, and even indulging in my own whirlwind Tuscan summer romance. Florence is a gorgeous place to get lost at night, devoid of the usual herds of tourists and crowded streets.

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Santa Cruz, California

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I may have a bias since Santa Cruz is my hometown, but I think it’s says something that I can still get lost in the place I’ve spent 18 years of my life. What I love about Santa Cruz is the proximity to so many different terrains that you can go explore, whether that be the beaches, the mountains, the giant Redwood trails, the town itself, or even the city of San Jose and San Francisco just a stone’s throw away. I owe my adventurous and outdoor-prone spirit to growing up in this wonderful small beach town, where so much natural beauty is constantly at my fingertips. For a detailed list of my favorite places to get lost in my hometown, check out my 6 Free Things to do in Santa Cruz, CA.

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No matter where I end up, I always find a way to get intentionally (or not so intentionally) lost. Getting lost is my favorite way to travel and to see the world, discovering new and unique experiences along the way that I never would’ve found in a guidebook.

Where are your favorite places to get lost?

Walkabout: Ferntree Gully edition

As I looked up at the trail ahead of me, I contemplated turning right around and hopping on the first train back to Melbourne. The steep incline in front of me was daunting to say the least, but I consoled myself by repeating that it was only 1,000 steps, it couldn’t be that bad, right? Well, it was definitely the most intense hike I’ve had in awhile, but once I made my way to the top and found myself on the fern engulfed path on the way down, the expansive views and feeling of accomplishment were worth every pain I felt in my legs initially.

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The 1,000 Steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk is located in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, about an hour by train outside of Melbourne. The 1,000 steps are a memorial to the Australian soldiers who died in Papua New Guinea fighting the Japanese in WWII. The walk up is more of a workout than a leisurely stroll through beautiful scenery, but the trail down is the complete opposite. It is something out of Indiana Jones. The path consists of winding, treacherous, and soaked-through stairs. This is Ferntree Gully. Everything incredibly green, lush, the path taken over by king and baby ferns. It was the perfect way to cool down after the rigorous hike up.

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Being that I took on the hike by myself, of course, I found it a perfect time to reflect and find a metaphor for this journey that I’ve taken as my own this year. I thought back to all of my travels, and how much they have benefited my character, my life, my being, already at the young age of 23. I stumbled across a quote when I arrived safely back from the Australian wilderness that resonated with me greatly:

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” 

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I’ve already talked extensively about what it means to be a solo female traveler, and I think why I find it such an important topic to touch on, is because the majority of women I know back home are legitimately afraid of traveling alone, and with good reason. There are hate crimes constantly in the news, violence against women, rapes and murders of women who find themselves alone, even just being catcalled or aggressively talked to by men can be intimidating. But I think even more than that, it stems from the fear of being alone, and to an extent ending up alone.

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One of my favorite travel bloggers, Adventurous Kate, says it best:

“In early September, I had been secretly struggling in my relationship for about a year. I had come to the realization that staying in this relationship would mean staying in Chester, a place that I found suffocating. But what if this was as good as it got?

Finally, I whispered to myself, “If you end up alone, it’s okay. You’ll have a wonderful life.” I had never admitted that to myself before, and it brought me peace.”

I love that. Although it’s not necessarily anyone’s goal to end up alone, to be so completely comfortable and happy with the way you’re living your life as to make such a bold statement, I respect that to no end. I still remember the wall decor my step-mom gave me when I was still in my early teens stating that “well behaved women rarely make history.” I’ve always adored that quote, and if I do know anything about where my life is going at the moment, I know it’s heading furthest from direction of the mundane, and that’s good enough for me.

Maybe these are just random musings that won’t mean that same to me in a year, but at least right now, I’m happy to be walking amongst the ferns and finding my daily doses of beauty in the every day.

What makes you content in the present?

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Living the life of an American Abroad

Since the Fourth of July landed on a Thursday this year, I figured I would make my Throwback Thursday post about my first experience celebrating American Independence abroad in Italy, and in general what it means to be an American overseas when we don’t have the best reputation to begin with.

Stereotypes are commonplace in our society. They are an easy way for us to put places and people into organized categories. However, it does seem that Americans have more negative stereotypes than most, and to be fair there are definitely Americans I’ve met on my travels who have made me embarrassed about my nationality and do fit into the worst possible stereotypes, but there are so many more who don’t. That can be said for any nationality stereotype, I’m sure.

I think those who feel animosity and irritation towards the States tend to forget at times that all those judgements are generalizations, and each person you meet no matter what nationality is still going to be their own individual entity.

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There’s an ongoing “joke” that everyone hates Americans. It’s something that I nonchalantly grew up hearing in school in the States, something that I’ve always believed, and used to not really question because it was just a fact of the world. Even now, I still catch myself saying I’m Californian as opposed to American, when I’m abroad and someone asks me where I’m from, as if Californian has less of a negative connotation somehow.

When I was in Italy for American Independence Day, I was a little worried that it would just turn into a trash talking-fest of anti-American sentiment. Instead, there was a huge concert in one of the main piazzas, people were lined up for blocks on end, all in celebration of America. It gave me this gushy feeling of togetherness, like maybe this world isn’t as screwed up as I think it is, and maybe not everyone hates Americans as much as I think they do.

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I can understand the underlying resentments against Americans due to our history, our politics, Bush, our need to get involved in things internationally that we really shouldn’t be sticking our nose into. Our consistent issues with health and obesity, a great amount of plain ignorance, and our general ethnocentric attitude instilled in American society, especially when it comes to reporting world news and understanding what else is going on in the world besides just at home. Oh and of course, our lack of holding valid passports.

With that said, it’s a horrible thing to grow up feeling ashamed of your nationality, feeling that other people want you to be ashamed of calling yourself American. Traveling the world has caused me to face this head on, to take a step back and think of what it really means to be American, and in a way, to try and prove the judgmental naysayers wrong. It’s quite the task when you don’t find that many Americans to begin with on the backpacker trail, and all anyone has to rely on is the negative stereotypes, but I hope I’m proving at least a few of those stereotypes wrong.

Even just the other day I went into a bottle shop in Australia to buy a bottle of wine, and the Australian behind the counter asked me where my accent was from. I told him I was from California, and he replied that I should really tell people I’m from Canada because Australians like Canadians so much better. I get that kind of half joking banter constantly while I travel. Thankfully, I don’t take myself too seriously, so it’s usually just something I accept as I travel, that I just laugh off and make myself numb to, unless it’s said maliciously, in which case there is no way I will let it fly.

It’s an unsettling thing when people attack your nationality, because it’s not something that you should be ashamed of or that you can change. It’s something that you’re stuck with, like your personality, your appearance, and especially for Americans, it’s a part of who you are as a person.  

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When I was in Europe, there were a few cases of anti-American sentiment. One instance in Budapest, an old Hungarian man sneered something about stupid Americans at our group because the Irish girls at the front were talking a bit loud and animatedly. They told him they were Irish, and suddenly his scowl turned into a smile and he said thank god, well Irish is better at least. Me, being the only American in the group, completely quiet and hanging at the back watching all this go down, spoke up and let him know that I was American, thank you very much as I walked past.

What I always remember is that there will always be closed-minded and ignorant people in whatever country you travel, and if they want to categorize millions of people into one negative stereotype than that’s their issue. Although I’m not proud of a lot of aspects of my country’s past, and my nationality is something I’m constantly aware of when traveling abroad, I’m not ashamed to be American.

Now in Australia, it’s my 2nd time celebrating the Fourth overseas, so we’ll see how it pans out. It’s always strange celebrating a national holiday abroad, but as odd as it sounds, experiencing the Fourth of July in Italy changed the way I saw my nationality and how I believe outsiders to view it. It made me proud again to be an American, and to be thankful for my roots, my passion and pride that comes with being a Yank.

Life is a journey, not a destination

Warning: If you’re opposed to mushy and slightly cliché posts, I would avoid reading this one. 

At a recent get together with my bartender coworkers, there was a point in the night where we had all drank a fair amount of craft beer and were dancing ridiculously to Hot Chip, like the kind of dancing you usually save for being alone in your bedroom when no one will ever see what kind of moves you truly possess. That may seem like a weird time to have an epiphany, but I remember taking a second to just look around me and realize how lucky I felt to have met all of these people, and to feel so close and at ease with them, when a few months ago I had no idea who they were.

The words “life is a journey, not a destination” by Ralph Waldo Emerson came to mind.

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As common as that quote may seem, the most important life lesson I’ve learned from traveling is exactly that idea, especially when it comes to the people you meet and the bonds you form while on the road. I should’ve realized this sooner, being a psychology major and all, always in love with the idea of understanding people on a deeper level, yet it has taken me awhile and a few hurtful relationships to realize that attachment does not always have to hold a negative connotation.

I remember writing my piece a few months back on being alone vs. being lonely as a solo female traveler, and now when I read it, it feels as if I’m in a completely different city. That’s because the places you travel, no matter how beautiful and exciting they may be, are different to everyone depending on whom you meet along the way.

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A few months ago, I was still healing from an emotionally draining, yet profound two year relationship, I wasn’t really planning on making any attachments to Melbourne as a city or really to anything in my year of travel. And I’m not saying that the aftershock from that relationship has magically evaporated away, but I’m in such a different mindset now than I was when I first arrived in Melbourne. Although I still value my alone time greatly, and I will always be extremely independent whether I’m single or in a relationship, I don’t think I use it as a crutch as much as I used to.

I’ve always considered myself to be gregarious, friendly, and open, yet it still takes me awhile to completely be myself around someone new and to not put up a wall in order to hide myself away from judgement. Besides a few exceptions, my new housemate included, it takes time to truly be myself around new friends and groups of people that I meet.

Comparing where I was when I arrived and only had two friends in the city, to where I am today just a few months later, the changes are extraordinary. I’ve somehow built up my own friend base, a support system from scratch in a completely foreign place. I must say, that is one of the most reassuring realizations you can make in life; that you can start over anywhere and be more than okay, you can be genuinely happy.

My coworkers at the bar were the first ones who opened up to me and welcomed me into their inner circle. From my boss giving me my first ever motorcycle ride at 3 in the morning after my first week, to him offering to drop off my birthday card right before midnight so that I could have it before my birthday ended (let alone, my coworkers even getting me a birthday card after only working there for a month!), to playing Halo and drinking beer together on slow nights, to beer line parties, and house dinners, to going to gigs to support each other since a couple of my fellow bartenders are in bands. It literally feels like a family at times.

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And there have been so many others I’ve met on my journey so far. Jeff, a fellow American friend I randomly met in my RSA class, has become one of my best guy friends in the city. He is my partner in crime for tackling most of the tourist attractions around the city, or someone who I can just text randomly to go to a gig with me, or to check out the new exhibit at the Melbourne Museum.

I clicked immediately with my housemate from the day I met her, I knew we would be close friends from the beginning. She’s someone who’s always down to go out dancing, or just have a wine night after a busy weekend, and most importantly is cool to be a dork with me, even singing along with me while watching Moulin Rouge. The test of a true friendship.

These are just a few of the friendships that have had an impact on me since arriving in Australia, but there have been so many other instances of grabbing coffee with a new acquaintance every week, and even a few dates here and there, and I’m sure there will be so many more as I continue to travel around the world. I originally thought this year was going to be my year of being alone, but I find that I don’t have the time to be alone like I used to, and I’m okay with that. I’m finally completely immersed in my life in Melbourne, and I love it.

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I shouldn’t be surprised, it was the same with Europe and the lasting bonds I made through that trip. Two years later, I’m not only still in close contact with one of the girls I met in Europe, but I’m traveling through Southeast Asia with her for two months. Another one I met in Europe, was one of my only friends when I arrived in Melbourne, and still someone I hang out with on a regular basis.

The bonds you make while traveling are like no other, because at no other time will you be as vulnerable when you have nothing to fall back on, no comforts of home to keep you closed off from making new connections.

It’s funny when I think of how differently things could’ve turned out if I hadn’t found the job at the bar, or if I’d chosen a different house to live in, I could be writing a completely different post right now. But I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and although I still have awhile left in Melbourne, I can already tell that moving abroad was one of the most important things I could’ve done for myself.

I used to think negatively of attachments, always drawn to the Buddhist philosophy of living an attachment-free life, and I still believe the reason behind those teachings to an extent, because nothing in life is permanent. Yet now, even though I still hate saying goodbyes, I realize that attachments and the bonds you make along the way are what make life worthwhile and meaningful, at least to me, and why it’s so important sometimes to just allow yourself to live in the present. Hence, why I love traveling so much, because it constantly keeps you in that mindset.

When I pick up and leave Melbourne for Southeast Asia and continue on my journey, I think it’s going to be just as hard to say goodbye to my new life here as it was in San Diego, but I don’t regret it for a second, I’ve already learned so much from the people I’ve met along the way.

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“Getting lost isn’t something to avoid, but to embrace. The only leaps of faith you’ll ever regret are the ones you don’t take.” – The Lost Girls