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My tips on staying healthy while traveling

One of the biggest challenges I came across when I first started traveling was how to stay healthy while living abroad. Through setting simple goals for myself and focusing on the three aspects I find most important to a healthy lifestyle (food, exercise, and well-being), I think I’ve finally found the perfect balance that keeps me feeling awesome and happy, no matter where I might be in the world.

Food

Food is something that is personal to most everyone. When you’re traveling and everything around you is different, it probably seems easiest and most comforting to stick to what you know. Unfortunately, this usually means universal fast foods and corporations, such as McDonalds or Starbucks. Food is one of the best ways to connect with the culture you’re visiting, and there are so many great new flavors for your taste buds to try located throughout the world, it would be a shame to pass those up.

Flavors that will be completely new to my palate are the delicacies I will be trying in Southeast Asia, such as duck embryos in Cambodia and snake blood in Vietnam. I’ve always lived with the philosophy of trying everything once – although the grilled tarantulas in Cambodia may be even too far for me, I’m not the biggest fan of spiders.

Working bartender hours, it’s sometimes hard to keep a balance of healthy eating in my life, especially with free beer constantly at my disposal and a free pub meal with every shift. Luckily, I’ve learned how to reign in my self-control since starting work, and I’ve found a balance to my eating habits now that I’m used to the land down under.

The key I’ve found to staying healthy while traveling or moving abroad, is taking advantage of the local markets, such as the Queen Vic Market in Melbourne. You’re able to find not only organic and fresh foods, but you’re also supporting local business. More often than not, you’ll also find the local specialties to the region you’re visiting at the market, and thus become even more immersed in the culture. Triple win.

And the nice thing about markets is that they’re universal. Every place I’ve traveled, whether the sprawling city of Paris, or the Tuscan countryside, has had a market of some kind.

And remember, don’t forget to splurge on your favorite foods now and then. For me in Melbourne, this includes dumplings and even Pie Face at times. My general rule is to keep everything in moderation, even the food that may not be considered the best for you but makes you happy eating it.

Exercise

Everyone likes exercising (or not exercising) in their own way. Although I love sports such as basketball and volleyball, you will never see me willingly want to go for a run or choose to run on a treadmill at the gym over tackling a difficult hike outdoors and getting my vitamin D for the day. Depending on how long you’re staying in one place really decides what type of exercise will be at your disposal.

No matter if you’re constantly on the go or staying a little longer in one place, public transport is a great way to stay in shape with walking to and from stops. I’m within 2o minutes walking distance to my waitressing job at a cafe, as well as a few minutes away from the nearest tram stop. Add that to my love of just walking around Melbourne to see the new art installations around town, and I must walk at least an hour and a half every day.

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Having a daily routine or “on the road” workout that you stick to is also beneficial. Since coming to Australia, I’ve undertaken the goal of doing at least 300 sit-ups every morning when I wake up, and I stick to it. It’s easy when I dream about laying on the beaches of Thailand in a bikini. And a strong core is something I can always value growing up as a lanky, tall woman with balancing issues.

If you’re able to stay in one spot for awhile, be proactive about finding an activity you like and would want to sign up for. For instance, I love yoga. Recently, I emailed all the local studios in Melbourne and found out which ones do a work-study program. Basically, I volunteer at the studio in order to get free yoga classes, and most importantly, I’m able to keep up my yoga practice while I’m on the road and only have a backpacker’s budget.

If you are more on the different city every day boat, focus on the active and adventurous sightseeing activities. One of my favorite things to do in a new place is hiking. It’s one of the best ways to explore the natural settings around you, and it’s a perfect way to immerse yourself in natural beauty, find peace and stress-free moments in the sometimes stressful life of traveling. I also love taking bike tours when I get to a new city, in my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to see a city. One of my favorite memories from Europe is still the bike tour I went on in Amsterdam, riding through Vondelpark and around the beautiful canals.

Luckily, Australia is huge on nature reserves and gorgeous landscapes, beaches and views. Southeast Asia is going to be even more of an adventure, trekking through jungles in Vietnam, learning how to surf in Bali, and getting my scuba certification in Thailand. There are more than enough activities to keep me fit and active on a daily basis, and I’m sure that can be said for anywhere you travel in the world.

Well-Being

A strong mind and healthy well-being are key to a happy life. Again, for me, yoga has a huge impact on my psychological and physical well-being. Don’t lose your passions and hobbies just because you’re traveling or constantly on the road and they’re not as easily attainable. After a long week, when I do get a day off I like to just chill out at a cafe with a good book and coffee in winter, or lay on the beach during summer. Relaxation and simply taking a little time for yourself is just as important for keeping a healthy lifestyle while abroad.

Don’t lose contact with your loved ones at home, especially if you’re away for an extended amount of time. If you’re lucky enough to have internet connection, unlimited Skype minutes are only a mere $8/month for the country of your choice. Music is another passion that keeps me happy and balanced. I’ve been lucky enough, or maybe it’s just because I live in Melbourne, to have access to a guitar at every place I’ve lived thus far, and I plan on buying a cheap ukulele when I get to Southeast Asia. And thankfully, I can write lyrics wherever I travel.

Even when in foreign lands, remember your passions and the little things that make you tick. Find ways to still include them in your life abroad, or maybe even find new ones that are unique to the place you’re visiting, it makes all the difference in your overall happiness, and acts as a way to ground you even when you’re thousands of miles away from home.

Adventuring to the edge of the world

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When I stepped off the plane in Dublin, I thought to myself, what have I gotten myself into? Traveling to Ireland all by my lonesome, not knowing anyone, and staying in a hostel by myself for the first time. These were the thoughts of impending doom swirling around in my head as I made my way closer and closer to the city, imagining my roommates were going to be some sort of coke addict junkies.

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When I arrived at the hostel, the door was locked. Apparently it was a buzz system, so the guy at the front desk had to buzz you in. He buzzed, I pulled. Nothing. He buzzed, I pushed, a little too late. Nothing. Finally, he buzzed a third time and I stumbled into the hostel. The gruff Irishman at the front desk barely looked up or acknowledged me; and I was a sight to see, with my glasses, volleyball sweatshirt, and hair matted down and frizzy from the plane ride.

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He had already marked me off as an annoying American, who clearly had no idea how to travel. I made my way to the desk, struggling with the suitcase, which I realized had become way too heavy in the last couple months of traveling through Europe, and somehow managed to trip over it and almost fall flat on my face. I caught myself, smiled, and told him my reservation. With what dignity I had left, I made my way to my room on the third floor, only to realize that the stairs were my only option after the elevator made it clear it wasn’t coming. I struggled with all the energy I had left to get my massive suitcase up the stairs and into my room. I looked around and sighed, knowing from the belongings splayed out on the bed, I would be living with guys.

Even with my instinctive initial prejudice, I lucked out with Aussie Tony. He was my roommate for the week, and he was an awesome guy to room with. We connected immediately with our love of music, he introduced me to the friends he had made in the hostel so far, and we all went out for an epic night of barhopping and live music our first night in Dublin.

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One of my favorite experiences in Ireland was when Tony invited me to come with him on a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher, or the edge of the world as it’s fondly called. And believe it or not, it really does feel like the edge of the world. It was so windy when we jumped off the bus, but the beauty of where we found ourselves overcompensated for any discomfort from the piercing cold wind.

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We wondered around the cliffs, making sure to get to the best view on the other side of the “Do Not Go Beyond This Point” sign. Let’s be real, the best views are always where you’re not supposed to be.

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The edge of the world is definitely something to see and experience for yourself, I don’t think the pictures quite do it justice.

Finding a ruin bar in Budapest

There is so much to love about Budapest – except for it being the place where I experienced the most anti-American sentiment. I knew from researching the city beforehand that it would be one of my favorites in my journey through Europe. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to (Florence is still number one in my book), and I love that it’s an even more hipster alternative than Berlin. There’s a huge student population in the city, as well as very public displays of affection by the locals – the aftermath of living under the iron curtain of communism for so long is overflowing love in the present.

The thermal baths were glorious, except one incident where we accidentally wandered into the men’s changing room and were yelled at by an old Hungarian man. The architecture was lovely, and the history of both the Nazi and Soviet occupations was incredibly interesting and heartbreaking to learn about. Clearly, I loved the enchanting city of Budapest.

One of my favorite experiences in my whole trip through Europe was finding a ruin bar in Budapest. Ruin bars are the new thing for the young twenty-something indie crowd in Budapest. As the name suggests, they’re bars located in random ruins around the city. I gathered a group in the hostel, and asked if they wanted to go exploring with me to find one of these cool ruin bars.

The one we found our last night looked like it was an old communist house, it was awesome. Getting there was exactly how I had imagined, going down a closed off sketch street completely in rubble that smelled like piss, only to find an amazing bar in a dark corner of some random street in Budapest.

There were so many nooks and crannies, different rooms that had the most random and quirky decorations every direction I turned. There were four different bars, two outside, two inside, TV Screens playing random scenes, a DJ that only played off the chart chill indie music, hookah everywhere. At one point in the evening I was sitting in the front of an old car from the 60’s that was cut in half, the lesbian couple was in the back part of the car a few feet away from us.

 

I wouldn’t be able to tell you the name of the bar (they don’t really do labels), but still to this day, it’s the coolest bar I’ve ever been too. Similar to finding the secret bakeries in Florence, finding your own hidden ruin bar is the thing to do when you visit Budapest.

Melbourne tourist attractions, to go or not to go?

Melbourne may not have as many of the world famous sights as other parts of Australia, such as the Opera House in Sydney or the Great Barrier Reef up in Queensland, but there is always something to do in the city and I’ve found it to be a pretty great city to live in (actually voted one of the best cities to live in the world). Let’s be real, I love it here.

I’ve already reviewed most of the free activities to do in Melbourne, but as to not overlook the ones that do cost money, I have a few touristy experiences to share from my first month in the city.

Melbourne Zoo

Compared to the San Diego Zoo, one of the best in the world, the Melbourne zoo may not seem like much, but if you have time on your hands and you’re looking for a place to spend the day, the zoo is not a bad idea, especially if you’re traveling with kids.

Going to the zoo is always a bittersweet experience for me. On one hand, I love animals and going to see so many unusual ones up close, but at the same time it makes me sad, seeing all these living creatures that inhabit such small enclosures.

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I was invited by an American friend whom I met in my RSA course (Responsible Service of Alcohol – a necessary certification for bartenders in Australia) a few weeks back, and I must say we had a great day at the zoo, and it’s worth checking out if you have the money and time, but it’s not necessarily something I would do again. Honestly, I’m much more excited to see some of these animals (i.e. elephants!) up close and personal in the wild when I visit Southeast Asia.

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New animal I saw: African Wild Dog

Favorite animal to watch: Meerkats (hilarious)

Best part of the experience: seeing the great variety of kangaroos

Price: $26.10

Overall tourist attraction rating: 3/5

Note: Thank you to Jeff for graciously offering to pay for my zoo admission and inviting me to partake in the Melbourne zoo experience with him. 

Eureka Skydeck 88 and the Edge Experience 

This was one of those attractions I looked forward to even before I got to Melbourne, because I love gorgeous views (as you can tell from my Postcard from the top of the Empire State Building). I mean, who doesn’t, unless maybe you have acrophobia. Eureka Skydeck is the tallest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere, and even if you are afraid of heights, this experience is not the least bit scary. The elevator took a matter of a few seconds to get to the top, and the majority of the top level is completely enclosed.

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I actually experienced this attraction on a date with an Italian guy I met while grabbing lunch in St. Kilda last week. I had been thinking of going to check this out in the next week, now that I actually have an income, but I was waiting until I got my first paycheck. Instead, Andrea surprised me by taking me to see the best view in Melbourne after a lovely Italian lunch alongside the river.

Just the views from the Skydeck itself made the experience worth it, and we lucked out with the weather, going on one of the most beautiful, 75 degree days in Melbourne.

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The second part of the attraction is the Edge Experience. You’re put into a (slightly claustrophobic) glass cube and at first the glass is clouded, but after being projected 3 meters from the building, the glass clears instantly and you have a 360 view of the city. It was particularly fun laying face down on the glass and contemplating just how far up you are.

Even still, I don’t believe for the added price of the Edge Experience that it was worth it. For one thing, you’re not far enough out from the building to really get the best view of the city, and the glass was a little scratched and beaten up from so many people, making it less clear to see through than the actual windows at the Skydeck. I would say experience the Skydeck at least once, but pass on the Edge Experience.

Best part of the experience: The view of Melbourne on a beautiful day

Price: Skydeck – $18.50

The Edge – $12.00

Overall tourist attraction rating: 3.5/5

Note: Thank you to Andrea for offering to pay for my admission to the Skydeck and the Edge Experience. 

AFL game at the MCG

By far my favorite costly experience to have in Melbourne is going to a footy game. I’ve already written about my love of AFL in Tales from my first footy match, but I had to include it on this list because besides being a way of life for locals, footy is also a huge tourist attraction for those who are visiting Melbourne (where footy was first established).

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I went with an Aussie friend, and the whole experience has been one of my favorites in the last month. From drinking beer at a local pub dressed in our team colors before the game, to actually watching my first AFL game at the MCG while enjoying hot chips and hot dogs. If you’re traveling to Melbourne, pick a team and jump on the footy bandwagon. It’s an experience you won’t regret paying for.

Best part of the experience: Having a local Australian explain the rules of AFL and share his love for the game with me.

Overall tourist attraction rating: 4/5

Cost: $26.00-$36.00

Note: Thank you to Will for getting my AFL ticket free of charge for me, buying multiple rounds of delicious Aussie beer, and taking the time to explain all there is to know about footy. 

Clearly, I lucked out in experiencing these costly attractions for free (thanks to generous friends), but I still think that some of the best tourist attractions in Melbourne are the ones that come with a free price tag.

However, now that I’m working not one, not two, but possibly three part-time jobs, I’m hoping to soon be able to afford the attraction in Melbourne that I’m looking forward to most, and on my bucket list for the year, hot air ballooning over the city at sunrise.

Escaping from a salt mine in Krakow

As a way to incorporate my past travels that took place before I started this blog, I’ve decided to start Throwback Thursdays, where I’ll post about past adventures that I’ve had in other parts of the world.

I backpacked through Europe a couple years ago, and one of the most unique (and unsettling) experiences I had was exploring the salt mines in Krakow, Poland. Here is my take on the Medieval city.

Krakow, the land of cobblestones, horse drawn carriages and post offices in old school buggies. Honestly, I hadn’t heard much about Krakow before visiting, but I found myself enamored by the relatively small and historical city. My most notable story by far was exploring the salt mines, the oldest in the world and in operation for 700 years.

It was pretty amazing, discovering another city far beneath the earth. It’s seven levels altogether, the first level was about 400 steps down, we only made it to the 3rd level and that took 3 hours. It is a massive testament to the strength of human intellect and what we are capable of. I would not recommend going down there if you’re at all claustrophobic, however.

Once you get to the first level with a tour guide, it’s impossible to simply get out whenever you want. Part way through the tour, half of our group broke into a run to try and get to the elevators (a big no-no in the salt mine – and being that I was in the group that didn’t know about the plan to escape the salt mine, we were constantly left with the blame for the rest of the tour).

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Once our three hour tour was finished, it took another 45 minutes of waiting in lines for the two elevators that take you up to the top level in a swift 45 seconds. The elevator was another experience in itself, they squeeze eight people in a small lift with hardly any room to breathe, the only thing protecting you from falling far below are shaky wooden planks that you can see in between when you’re going up.

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I don’t think Poland is as big on safety requirements as the States. The lines themselves were a clear sign of that; hundreds of people were lined up in a small tunnel for almost an hour with no way to escape if there was an emergency. Thank god I survived to tell the tale. After spending much longer underneath the ground than we had originally planned, we went off to enjoy the rest of what Krakow had to offer for the day.

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It may not have a hundred famous sights as many of the other cities I’ve visited in Europe, but it has a charm about it that remindes me a lot of Florence, Italy (my favorite place in the world), especially the main square with street art and performers everywhere. Taking a taxi home that night, looking out at the city of Krakow, our driver started randomly blasting Backstreet Boys with the windows rolled down…yeah, Krakow is pretty sweet.

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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.

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.

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

Considerations when moving abroad

Considerations When Moving Abroad - The Atlas Heart

My big move across the world is a little over a month away, and this realization has made me consider a few different aspects that have continuously been popping up in my stream of consciousness recently. Here are the main issues I’ve been thinking about while getting ready for my travels.

Budget

The elephant in the room, and the one that makes up most excuses for why people don’t travel. I’ve been saving for about a year for my trip. Although I’m not a trust fund baby, I have a good amount of student loans, and I don’t like giving up on the things that make life fun and exciting (i.e a night out, coffee dates with friends, movies, etc), I’ve worked two jobs for the majority of the year, so as to be able to have a good time in the present but still be able to put a little away each month.

Granted, I still have a ways to go in order to travel for most of this year, but I’ll be spending the first 6 months of my travels in Australia using my work visa. Luckily, the minimum wage is also a lot higher in Australia than it is in the States, and the Aussie dollar is actually slightly stronger right now as well. Even though the cost of living is higher down under, I’ll still be making more money while living abroad than I would be staying at home. Truly a win-win situation. 

Selling your stuff vs. paying for a storage unit

This was a question I went back and forth on constantly, until I realized how freeing it would be to get rid of the majority of my possessions. Since I’ve been a college student for the past four years, I don’t have very expensive belongings and hardly any furniture with moving almost every year from dorm room, to apartments, to townhouses. I came to the conclusion that I would actually be spending more money on a storage unit for the year than I would if I just bought what I needed when I get back.

The hardest possessions for me to give away were my clothes. But let’s be honest, I had way too many to begin with since I’ve just collected more and more since high school, getting rid of very few in the past years. I love having a great selection of clothes, but I came to the conclusion that between working most days (with a restricted dress code) and the amount of clothes I haven’t worn in over a year, that it was time to pass my wardrobe on to someone who would actually use it. Last weekend, I delivered three huge trash bags full of clothes to Goodwill…and it felt good, I felt lighter in a way.

I’m also in the process of selling my nightstand, desk and bed. I’ve found friends who are willing to look after my guitar, piano and bike while I’m traveling, so kudos to having good friends. All of the other material things I’m holding on to will be flying home with me next weekend in two big suitcases, when I visit home for the last time before I leave. Somehow, I have successfully managed to find a place for my things without a monthly storage fee.

Travel insurance, to buy or not to buy?

A question that I’m still in the process of deciding how to answer. I know the safe thing to do is to just buy the insurance, but I will only be traveling with a few electronics and I’ve realized that the cost of travel insurance for the whole year would be more than the cost of those electronics put together. I’m thankfully also blessed with having incredible health insurance while abroad, thanks to my dad’s time working for the city, so my health will at least be covered. Travel insurance is expensive, and right now I don’t think that’s a luxury I’m willing to give into. I may buy some later on in my trip, but for now I’m giving it a big resounding no.

To be fair, it really depends on your individual situation and budget. If I didn’t have health coverage abroad I would probably be leaning more towards the benefits of purchasing travel insurance, so it all depends on a multitude of considerations.

What electronics to carry while traveling

I’m a travel blogger, I’m bound to carry around a handful of electronic trinkets to help with my blogging, keep me connected, and get the most out of sharing my travels. I’ve minimalized as best I can, and I think I’ve finally found the perfect balance.

1 Canon Rebel T3 DSLR

1 shoot and point camera (or iPhone depending on if I can afford to buy one before I leave)

1 MacBook Air (I’m in the process of trying to find someone to buy my MacBook Pro 15″ so that I can carry a lighter alternative with me)

And that’s it. I’ll be living out of one suitcase for the year so this will have to suffice.

Finding the best way to stay in contact with those you’re leaving behind

You’re bound to leave those most special to you behind when you decide  to go on a round the world trip by yourself. For me, this comes in the form of my family, my friends from high school and college, and an off and on relationship I’ve been in for the past two years. It’s important to think about the best (and cheapest) ways to keep in contact with these people once you make the big move, and follow through in keeping those connections you hold dearest to you.

I think one of the scariest aspects of moving abroad is having your social network and safety net of connections grabbed from underneath you. To bridge the gap as much as you can between people who are continents and time zones apart, without sacrificing your travels, is a delicate balance and one that I’m sure I’ll constantly be working on in the next year.

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Don’t expect the road to be easy, but also don’t expect the worst

It’s naive to think that you’ll immediately feel at home in a foreign city, that you’ll have a solid group of friends in no time, and have an easy transition abroad. Don’t get me wrong, this can definitely be the case as it was when I moved to Italy for a summer. But there’s also a possibility that you’ll have a rough time when you first move abroad, while you’re still getting the hang of everything that is so foreign to you, such as my first year of college away from home.

The famous Lao Tzu once said to act without expectation. This is some of the best life and travel advice I’ve heard. Don’t expect things to be easy when you first move abroad, but also don’t expect the worst. You will have the best time of your life, and learn so much about yourself in the process, but it may not come as easily as you think. Hence, why it’s  important to always keep an open mind and a balanced heart while traveling.

Your plan (or lack thereof) once you get to where you’re going

When I first backpacked through Costa Rica at the age of 18 with two of my best girl friends, we planned out almost everything and all accommodations ahead of time. It was my first time abroad and I was a little nervous about things not going exactly as I imagined. Well, as I’m sure anyone who has traveled can attest, things hardly ever go exactly as you think they will when traveling. There were many instances of that in Costa Rica, including being stranded in the middle of a dirt road, miles from the nearest town because we got off on the wrong stop, and having to hitchhike with a couple locals the rest of the way. That experience ended up being one of my favorite memories from Costa Rica.

I realized with that trip, that if you just go with the flow everything is bound to work out fine, and even better in some cases. My summer in Tuscany was also fairly planned out. I did a culinary program for the first half of summer, and went on a backpacking bus tour across Europe with other 20-somethings, only traveling by myself to Paris and Dublin. Australia is the first trip I’m taking where I don’t really have a plan except to get a job and my own apartment, and I couldn’t be more excited (and a little nervous) about all the different possibilities that lie before me. I think it’s important to try out different types of trips so as to figure out what kind of traveling you like to do, whether that be a strictly guided tour through Europe or taking off and backpacking by yourself through the Amazon.

What are some important things you consider when moving or traveling abroad?