Tag Archives: San Diego

San Diego Hiking Guide: Torrey Pines Hike

Torrey Pines Hike | San Diego, California

If you’re looking for an easy hike in San Diego that offers drop dead gorgeous views of the glistening coastline, look no further than the Torrey Pines Hike.

I lived in San Diego for five years and luckily had a chance to tackle quite a few hikes around and just outside the city.

The thing is, San Diego is full of beautiful hikes and opportunities to get outside. It has fantastic weather year-round, and the city itself is full of outdoorsy people who love to get outside and tackle a new challenge on the trail.

This means that most trails you’ll find around town are well kept, although vary in how busy they get.

There are a variety of hikes to choose from around San Diego, from the grueling all day adventures to the relaxed ones full of good views and easy inclines.

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My 28th Year: On the Places I Once Called Home

Solo traveling through Sydney, Australia in 2013 - The Atlas Heart

You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place. // Miriam Adeney

I’m currently on a train in Scotland, rolling through the lush green countryside. There are deep blue-grey lochs on my left and clean white light filtering through the many windows in my car. 

This is my life, or at least it has been for the past 5 years. I somehow find myself in the most beautiful places, usually by myself, or all to myself, if you frame it that way. 

It’s my 28th birthday this Saturday. The past years have been a whirlwind of travel memories, some of my strongest friendships, losses, and countless new beginnings. 

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Postcard from the Flower Fields

The Flower Fields in Carlsbad were the last stop out of San Diego on the Pacific Coast Highway. I had been wanting to see these famous Flower Fields since I started university in La Jolla, when I would constantly see the colorful and picturesque photos on my friends’ Instagram.

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The Flower Fields are made up of 50 acres of every color of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers imaginable. These flowers are part of the buttercup family, but I don’t think I have seen them before in the wild, or at least not in this way.

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Ranunculus flowers need very little water – a good thing for dry and desert-like Southern California, a place that has endured an endless drought.

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The Flower Fields are only open from early March to early May, which makes the experience just feel all the more special.

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I can’t think of a happier way to spend an afternoon than frolicking through a colorful garden with a view of the Pacific Ocean as the backdrop.

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It was a whimsical way to say a goodbye to the place I used to live. It gave me pause to be inspired by new growth, new beginnings, and a colorful outlook.

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I also want to say that today has truly been phenomenal. With the recent US Supreme Court Ruling, I can only express my most sincere congrats to all of my LGBQT friends and inspirational role models. I’m glad that I was able to witness this change in my lifetime. #lovewins

4 days in the Desert: from the Salton Sea to Joshua Tree

I’ve been off the radar a bit more than usual as of late, and you may be wondering what the heck I’ve been up to! Well, I’ve been a little bit everywhere, more specifically a little bit all over the desert.

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I’m currently in a busy pizzeria in North Hollywood, overpowered by the hustle and bustle that comes with a city like Los Angeles. that is constantly on the go.

I just spent the last 4 days exploring the Colorado and Mojave Deserts in Southern California, without a recent shower or run-in with civilization, I feel a little out of place. But hey, at least I have some great stories to tell.

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I’ve actually spent a lot of time in the desert recently, with another Coachella Music Festival under my belt, and a week and a half of life in San Diego, I’ve again become accustomed to the dry, relentless heat that comes with Southern California.

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After some temporary farewells (I’ll be back soon y’all!) to some close friends in San Diego, my boyfriend and I took off in our new home: a 1996 Dodge Cargo Van, having no smartphones and using an outdated map from the year before I was born: 1989.

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We first drove up the 101 Hwy, stopping in at one of my favorite haunts in Solana Beach: Pizza Port.

Pizza Port is a little pizzeria that makes delectable pizza and brews their own beer. Oh, and it’s located in one of the most scenic areas of San Diego. What more could you ask for?

Without a doubt, go there if you are in San Diego.

After filling up on a spicy pie filled to the brim with jalapeños, we continued up the coast and reached The Flower Fields in Carlsbad.

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The Flower Fields is a jubilant place filled with 50 acres of colorful Ranunculus flowers, a relative to the Buttercup. We had a grand time walking around the fields and taking pictures of the diverse colors on hand, and the perfect weather of Southern California.

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With San Diego behind us, we hit the road properly, winding our way through the mountains and the town of Julian, famous for the BEST apple pie in the West.

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Within a couple of hours we had successfully driven ourselves to the middle of nowhere, or in other words, right on track to where we wanted to be.

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Looking for other great weekend getaway ideas from San Diego? Check out Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico.

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Day 1 – The Salton Sea

Think of that standard horror movie that includes a dive bar where everyone stares at you when you walk in, and directs you out of town for accommodation even though they call themselves an inn.

That in a sentence was the Salton Sea that we experienced.

We arrived around dusk and we were the only people camping along the entire eastern shoreline of the lake, so it had the serial killer vibe to begin with.

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In the morning it was a nice view, but we also realized how our first instincts weren’t entirely wrong about being surrounded by death.

There were countless dead fish, and a even a few birds littered around the shoreline, increasing as you crept closer to the water. Also, the sand was made of crushed fish bones. Weird.

The water itself felt slimy, and had a greasy sheen to it.

I don’t know if I would recommend swimming close to shore, or even staying the night if you easily get the spooks, but it would be a scenic picnic spot on your way past.

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It’s a favorite muse for many photographers due to its post-apocalyptic nature and desolation.

Day 2 – Salvation Mountain/Joshua Tree

Leaving the Salton Sea by mid-morning, we backtracked a little ways to see the famous Salvation Mountain in Niland, California, and it did not disappoint.

Salvation Mountain has a ton of colorful artwork that clearly took a lot of patience and perseverance to construct.

Made with adobe, straw, and paint, Salvation Mountain stands high with its cross and has bountiful bible passages and Jesus love everywhere you look.

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Beside the mountain there is another section to walk through, with crevices and corners of artwork to look at as well as cats that may jump out at you for a little surprise – just ask my boyfriend.

There were no other people around when we were there. Located in a squatter city with dilapidated motor homes and dust in the middle of nowhere, it was hard not to feel a little creeped out. The repetitive religious fervor and stray cats only added to the effect.

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With that said, Leonard Knight, who created the colorful mountain, is said to have been a fascinating human being by visitors who met him before he passed away last year.

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Even still, I don’t think I would feel comfortable camping in the area overnight.

Day 3/4 – Joshua Tree 

Joshua Tree, are you joshing me? Sorry, I know that was lame. It was what I said all week, so I had to get it out of my system one last time.

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Joshua Tree, the place that U2 wrote an album after, a place that everyone always raves about.

And I can now clearly see why: it’s elegant and moving.

From our first drive into the southern entrance through the Cottonwood Mountains we knew this was worth coming out to.

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I never would’ve thought a desert could be so beautiful, but Joshua Tree National Park changed that. I had never seen a Joshua Tree before my trip to the park, and they quickly became my favorite (read: only) tree to look at.

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The southern section of the national park is at a lower elevation in the Colorado Desert. Dry, hot, with an abundance of shrubbery, there is only one traditional campsite in the area.

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In the transition zone, there is a change to elevation, a mix between the two deserts – Colorado and Mojave.

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We stopped at the Cholla (pronounced “Choy- ya”) Cactus Garden, and found ourselves surrounded by Teddy Bear Cholla. They were adorable, but not something you’d ever want to cuddle.

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We camped at Hidden Valley and Indian Cove in the Mojave Desert elevation. Hidden Valley was higher up so it was freezing at night in our van, but Indian Cove was much more temperate.

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Even with the lower temperatures, Hidden Valley was my favorite place to rest for the night. It’s in the middle of the park so you have countless hikes and lookouts available to you.

What I really enjoyed was watching all of the rock climbers that are popular in this campsite in particular.

Being higher up, the constellations were absolutely stellar – pun intended. It was the first time I had looked up at the stars with no light pollution since coming back from the Southern Hemisphere, and that moment alone really brought home back to me.

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Other highlights of Joshua Tree included Keys View, which looked out over the spanning desert, back to the Salton Sea where we had come from, and even over the Coachella Valley and Indio where I had spent the previous weekend.

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We hiked around the Hidden Valley campsite, climbed huge rocks, found the Skull Rock near the Jumbo Rocks campsite, and even wandered down a trail called the Wall Street Mill that showcased an old gold mining operation.

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On the same trail we found a couple of old cars from the early 20th century left to dust in the desert.

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I can see why Joshua Tree is a place people come back to time and time again, I look forward to going back myself someday.

Every time we’d look out to the horizon, it almost looked superimposed or like a painting, it was that unrealistic and unique.

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It felt so easy to disconnect from all the worries and stress of technology and cities, because there was so much in the desert to be enamored with.

It was exactly what I wanted after an overpopulated festival like Coachella that made me question human behavior and the extent of the word rude, even if the music was amazing.

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Joshua Tree was our first National Park on our trip, but it won’t be the last. I’ll be getting lost in many a redwood forest up north.

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I can’t deny it, it feels damn good to be home.

Thoughts on coming home

When I first left home, I wrote this post the day I left San Diego.

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When I left San Diego on a train taking me to LA, which would be my departure city from the States, I remember watching the sun fade under the canopy of palm trees, and feeling like I knew, at least I was 95% sure, that I was doing what was right and leading myself to where I was meant to be.

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I feel that way again now, but in the opposite direction. I have an underlying notion, a hunch I can’t shake, that my life is meant to be at home right now.

In a month, I’ll be walking on a plane that will take me back to the US. I’ve never felt the ache of homesickness as much as I have since I’ve been in New Zealand.

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There are little reminders, a quote, a picture, little things that come back to me and remind me of a specific memory of home, and I get an ache like I’ve never felt before.

An ache that something is truly missing.

I never thought I was someone who got homesick, but then again, I had never been abroad for (almost) two solid years before, with nothing so much as a visit.

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I consider myself incredibly fortunate that my life has lead me to where I find myself today, and that I’ve had the tenacity to keep myself financially afloat while traveling the world.

But, without a doubt, it’s time for me to see home, at least for a little while.

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It was not an easy feat to leave San Diego behind, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to see it again very soon.

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The taquerias with the best Mexican food I’ve tried in my life, the sandy beaches that are perfect at anytime of the day, but especially at night when you can look up and see all of the constellations lit up in the sky.

The microbreweries, my college friends, sorority sisters, and Taco Tuesdays, even La Jolla, the slightly snobby suburb of San Diego where I went to school, I spent 5 years of my life there and it still holds a lot of fond memories.

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North Park, with one of the best live music venues and hip bars filled with whiskey, mustaches, and black and white movies. A suburb brimming with art, or at the very least, a unique take on society.

Even with all this love for San Diego, I think it would be hard to move straight back to the last place I left, so I’ve decided to try out a new city. You can bet I’ll be spending my brief time in San Diego to the fullest, and seeing it in a new light I never appreciated when I actually lived there.

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Instead, I’ll be going into unknown territory, probably Portland, Oregon, and bringing my Kiwi boyfriend with me who has never seen the West Coast before.

I’ve never lived with a boyfriend before now, let alone moved across the world with one, so it’ll be an interesting next year, but one that is sure to be heaps of fun.

He has been planning on coming to North America to explore the craft beer in the US for over a year now, it was actually one of the first things we bonded over when we were still just friends, and now that we’re a couple we’ve decided to plan our trip together, it worked out quite serendipitously.

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There’s also the case of visas and everything that comes with a multicultural relationship, but his dual Canadian citizenship should hopefully help a bit, we won’t know until we actually get to the States.

It may still be up in the air, but we’re just happy to be able to travel with each other, and hopefully he’ll find a sponsored job in a brewery once we arrive in Portland.

With that said, being able to show someone I love where I come from, where I grew up and went to school, my family and friends, it’s a profound feeling of joy, an experience that I’m greatly looking forward to.

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With the unknown bits and bobs that make life interesting, I sometimes feel that I’m more excited than I should be to be coming home. I have had a lot of time to build it up, after all.

Maybe after spending two years of life abroad, I’ve realized how much I appreciate and love where I’m from in sunny laid-back California, but perhaps I’ve been away long enough to sugarcoat it as well. I guess I won’t really know until I’m physically back home.

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Most people dread the thought of having to go home after an extended time abroad, but I guess the difference is that I’m choosing to.

Just imagining seeing the look on my mom’s face when we see each other again, walking the dogs and playing guitar with my dad, going out for Thai food with my stepmom, drinking a beer with my brother, and laughing at another inside joke with my sister while devouring delicious Mexican food. I can’t help but get the feels.

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I guess those thoughts make me think I’m not building it up in the least, that it’ll be just as good as I think it’ll be, as comforting as a steaming plate of mom’s homemade enchiladas.

The reason for this post is to emphasize how important home is to me, and how honored I feel to be able to write about it for you readers as it’s something clearly very dear to my heart.

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Regardless if you’ve never wanted to visit the States, I hope my writings about Hawaii, California, Oregon, and American culture in general will touch you in some way that’ll make you keep coming back.

I’ll be back to the Northern Hemisphere in a month’s time, full of new adventures, plans, and experiences. You can bet I have a lot of further travels planned along the way to keep things interesting.

Near our apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Recap: a year in Australia and Southeast Asia

Australia….

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Where do I even begin.

I apologize in advance, this is going to be one of those long-winded posts, however, I wanted to give my first travelversary the time it deserves, so here it goes.

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It’s funny, Australia was never at the top of my list of destinations I wanted to visit pronto. To be completely honest, it was always a place I wanted to see someday, but there was never anything that stuck out to me about the land down under.

That all changed when I traveled through Europe. In addition to just starting to get a taste for my endless wanderlust, I met countless Aussies through backpacking all over the continent. I was intrigued by the Aussie mindset of travel as such a big part of one’s life, of gap years, and the normality of traveling the world at any age.

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It was a stark difference from the mindset I was inundated with growing up in the States.

This cultural difference and appreciation of the more worldly things in life convinced me that I needed to visit Australia soon.

Although inspired after my initial European adventures, once I arrived home, I soon fell back into the swing of things. Immersing myself even more in my sorority, getting excited about my new classes, rekindling a relationship I put on hold when I left the country. The passion I felt initially for Australia slowly began to fade away and it became less urgent, it became a trip to take someday when it was more convenient.

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I became closest with two women in particular in my European travels, an English and an Aussie girl. We remained in contact even when we all made it back to our individual home countries, and that’s when my inspiration was sparked once again. My English friend casually mentioned that she would be backpacking through Southeast Asia in a year and a half after spending some time in Australia.

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I immediately asked if she would be keen for a travel buddy and volunteered myself to be that companion to see Southeast Asia with her. She gladly accepted, and we started planning every now and then about what our trip would consist of. I realized during this planning that what I really wanted was something more than just a two month trip in Asia, I was after a bigger challenge.

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When I did more research and found out how easy it is to get a working holiday visa in Australia, I knew now was the time to make a huge leap and do something I always said I would do in my life, move abroad for a solid amount of time.

I initially planned to move to Australia for just 5 months, and then backpack through Southeast Asia and head home in the Fall. Well, I still haven’t come home, and by the time I do, it will have been almost two years since I left.

It was a hard thing to accept, that this was really what I wanted to do with my life. I had a wonderful life built up in San Diego: I had just graduated from a top-notch university, I had a supportive and close-knit group of friends, and a boyfriend I loved very much. But in between the lines, there were flaws in that perfect picture, and I knew if I didn’t leave, at least for a little while, I would find myself unhappy in due time.

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So, I booked a one-way ticket, watched my relationship disintegrate as the pressure of the departure date crept closer, and found comfort in my undoubtedly supportive friends and family, who encouraged me to do what I wanted, even if they maybe didn’t understand it themselves.

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San Diego, with all of its memories and baggage attached, was a very hard place to leave.

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And when I finally arrived and started traveling around the unique and hauntingly beautiful landscape of Australia, I realized I never should have underestimated it.

I made a video of my year abroad when I first left Australia, as I couldn’t put into words at the time what that year meant to me. I think I’m finally ready to try and put into words the highest highlights and some very disappointing lows, the many ways I fell in love, grew as a human being, and finally realized what it means to be completely free.

Here’s a recap of my first year abroad, a year I cherish and hold dear for how much it opened up my perspective and confidence in the world.

Melbourne, Australia 

Bleary eyed and tired from the long haul flight from Los Angeles, I stumbled off the plane, quickly made it through customs, and hopped in a Taxi to find my new place for the next couple of months.

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I lucked out in finding a sublet through a friend of a friend of a friend before I left. This 3rd degree friend was traveling to the States for a couple of months just when I was landing in Australia, and she was looking for someone to rent out her room in Port Melbourne. The timing worked out perfectly.

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I lived with two Aussie dudes who were into music, house parties, and watching The Voice Australia almost every night. They were good blokes and we got along well. It was a great set-up for what I needed right when I arrived.

I met up with the Aussie girl I knew from my European travels, and who was based in Melbourne, for coffee or drinks at least once a week. And, I had the luck of having a pseudo big brother of sorts. My actual big brother back home had a good friend permanently living in Melbourne with his Kiwi partner. They ended up being my family away from home, inviting me to dinner parties and introducing me to their groups of friends.

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My pseudo big brother, Eric, made my transition abroad so much easier. I am so grateful that I had him there my first week to show me the ins and outs of the tram system, how to open an Aussie bank account, the best places to find cheap and delicious food, and to answer any of my other million and one questions about the differences in culture.

After my two months was up, I still had another two months in Melbourne before Asia, so I found another sublet on the other side of town in Carlton North. I fell in love, not only with the coffee shop vibe and tree-lined neighborhood of Carlton, but with my new little apartment that had the best sunrise view in town, and found myself grateful for how well I got along with my housemate.

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This is when I really started feeling like a local. I had my daily coffee shop, my neighborhood for local gigs, my weekly habits. I knew where to find the best street art around Melbourne, where to go on a rainy day, and how to get anywhere in the city via tram.

Highs

  • The people – The amount of open-minded people I met my first few months in Australia, they really helped make the transition abroad seamless.

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  • The cultureImmersing myself in the ridiculous amount of culture to be found in Melbourne, and realizing how many free museums there are around the city. Score.

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  • Walking around the city any dayAnd realizing my love of street art.

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  • Dating Finding the fun in dating again. After a two year relationship, I wasn’t planning on dating anytime soon when I got to Australia, but somehow in the short span of four or so months, I ended up going on a multitude of dates with all different types of nationalities. It was a great way to see the touristy attractions around Melbourne, and enjoy good company at the same time. 

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  • The coffee – I didn’t really know what a good latte was until l I arrived in Melbourne. 

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  • Footy Going to my first footy game with a local, and getting into footy mania while I was living there. I even bought my own pair of Carlton Blues socks. Yes, I’m that cool. 

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  • Being surrounded by creativity – Melbourne is one of the most art forward and creative cities I’ve ever been to. There’s live music to be seen any night of the week, street artists can be found in any odd spot painting a new mural, and there’s an overall appreciation of the arts. 

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  • A visit from a best friend Having my best friend from back home visit me my last couple weeks in Melbourne, and showing her the life I had created for myself abroad. This was the only person to visit me from home during my whole time abroad. Major props. 

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  • Finding my job at Deja Vu Bar It was my saving grace in the casual job market that can be hell in Australia. It didn’t take long for my coworkers to become some of my best friends in Melbourne. 
  • Craft beer  Learning about Australian beer for the first time, and immersing myself in the craft beer culture down under.
  • Rooftop bars Melbourne is hip like that.
  • Trying meat pies for the first timeI know I’ll miss these HEAPS when I go home.

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Disappointments

  • Casual employment 

Casual employment in hospitality (bars/cafes/restaurants) can be a complete horror in Australia. With the exception of Deja Vu Bar, I had never been treated worse by employers than I was when I was working in Melbourne. Not only is it hard to find full-time work, but if you’re a “casual” worker you can be dropped by your employer with no forewarning or reason.

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I never realized how good I had it working at the jobs I did back home. People may give Americans a hard time about their health care system, but when it comes to the work force, the States is better at protecting an employee from unfair treatment by an employer, no matter if they’re part-time, full-time, or a casual worker. This was something I constantly struggled with, the cold side of casual employment.

I was screwed over twice by two separate employers that both put me into a dire financial situation, it was to the point of feeling like they didn’t actually see me as a human being, and it was a major negative I took away from my time in Australia. 

  • My computer 

The logic board on my MacBook Pro failed when I was half way through my time in Melbourne. As a travel blogger, you can imagine this created a bit of a freak out at the time. I had nowhere near the money I thought I would have saved for Asia at this point, and now I had the additional expense of buying a new computer on top of it. 

I remember calling my mom, on the verge of tears, asking her if there was anyway I could borrow some money or else I would need to buy an emergency plane ticket home. She graciously gave me what I needed, and I was still able to go travel Asia, but it was never something I wanted to have to do, asking my parents to bail me out of a hard financial situation. 

  • Being constantly worried about money 

Due to the above two disappointments I was almost always worried about money and my lack of savings. Australia is an expensive place, and I was exhausted working two jobs and trying to still have a social life with new friends.

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I also had two months of unemployment backpacking through Asia to think about, and I knew towards the end of my time in Melbourne that I would want to come back to Australia instead of going home. Clearly, it all worked out in the end, but at the time I had no idea how things were going to turn out. 

  • The pretentiousness of the city 

The one disappointing aspect I found about Melbourne was the “hipster” attitude I found around the city. Although I loved the art and creativity to be found, it also came with a pretentious side that made outsiders feel unwelcome at times.

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  • The 18-year-old drinking age 

Not to be ageist, but there’s a 21-and-over drinking age for a reason back home, and I quite like it. I don’t think 18-year-olds in bars is something I’ll ever get used to. I can’t tell you how many times I came across drunk-off-their-face young-uns puking in public, yelling at each other from across the road, breaking glass, running out into the street in front of moving traffic, and hitting taxis with their fists or purses in a drunken stupor as to why they didn’t get picked up. 

I’m not saying the 18-year-olds around America don’t partake in that kind of behavior as well, but it’s not quite as noticed to the public eye, because most underage drinking happens at house parties or at home. Australia also has a very different drinking culture than the States though, so that is something to keep in mind. 

Savings

My savings were’t too good during this time. Despite working more than one job, moving abroad is always going to be more expensive than you first think, and I don’t think I quite realized just how much more expensive Australia is compared to the States.

My computer failing was a big chunk of my savings out the window, but thanks to my mom, I got it up to just enough again before I left for Asia. Even still, Asia was much more of a tight budget than I originally imagined it would be, and I had to adjust to my lack of funds as best I could.

Travels

I didn’t travel the amount I wanted to with my lack of funds and working two jobs, but I managed to take a few day trips away when I could, these were my favorite trips and the travel posts to go with them.

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  • A week spent in Sydney with my friend from home before heading to Asia

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My happy places in Melbourne

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  • The waterfront at night – Melbourne is a very pretty city lit up at night. Don’t miss out on having a drink on the waterfront under the reflections of the big city lights, or above them at one of the many rooftop bars.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia was whirlwind two months. It was the first time I started traveling with another person again after being a solo traveler for awhile, and it was also the first time I traveled to multiple developing countries since my backpacking trip in 2008 to Costa Rica.

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Although traveling with one of my closest friends from Europe, we both realized how hard it is to travel in a pair after getting used to solo travel, and therefore had a few struggles along the way.

I became used to long bus rides where I had no comfort, definitely no leg room, and usually no room to breathe. I became used to sweltering humidity and the stark differences between countries even when just a few feet over the next border.

I also became used to the kindness and cheekiness of smiling locals, especially in the faces of the Khmer people in Cambodia. I became used to US$0.75 beer in Thailand, and a meal of the most delicious bowl of steaming Phở in Vietnam for the equivalent for US$1.

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I loved Asia. With its vibrancy, colorfulness, and unique cultures. It was so much different than the States or Australia, and I only wish I had more time to explore each individual country. I’m already convinced that I’ll be back soon, both to revisit some of the countries I loved, and to take on some new cultures as well. China, Japan, and the Philippines are high on my list of what to see next.

Highs

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  • Indulging in some of the best fruit smoothies I’ve had in my life.

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  • Spending 18 hours in Singapore – seriously such a cool place. Going to Gardens by the Bay was like being in my own personal Avatar world, mind blown.

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  • Ubud, Baliyoga mecca and healthy food cafes everywhere you look, with the occasional escaped monkey roaming the streets from the Monkey Forest.

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  • Seeing the ancient Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and being blessed by a monk.

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Disappointments

It was my own fault for traveling to some of the most touristy spots in Bali, but I was less than impressed by the lascivious taxi drivers and hawkers, and the complete lack of respect found along the popular beaches and unknowing tourist traps I walked into.

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  • Getting groped in Kuala Lumpur

It was my first time traveling to a Muslim country, so I made sure to dress accordingly in more conservative wear. Unfortunately, I still managed to get groped by a passing motorcyclist in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was not fun, not fun at all.

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  • The uncomfortable bus rides

I don’t know if I’d classify this as a disappointment as I knew pretty much what to expect with Asian cross-country bus rides, but still, they were the bane of my long-legged existence. Every bus we traveled on was different, and you never knew what to expect until you stepped on.

The worst one by far was a 10-hour bus in Cambodia, where we didn’t have seats, just a tiny compartment to lay down and share with another person. I had to curl up into a ball to be able to fit inside the compartment with my travel partner, and it was one of the only times I’ve felt extremely claustrophobic in my life.

  • Having my money stolen on a bus to the Thai islands

On my way to the southern Thai islands for the Full Moon Party I had money stolen from my wallet on an overnight bus. We were warned ahead of time about the notorious bus thieves that are found on the overnight buses in Thailand, so I knew to watch my stuff.

I don’t sleep on buses, so I didn’t think it would be that hard to prevent a thief from stealing from me. However, we made the mistake of putting our bags on the floor at our feet, thinking they were safe because they were covered by our blankets. Even though I was wide awake, a thief was able to take my wallet out and steal almost all of my cash.

On the next overnight bus I was on, I actually caught a thief in action stealing from my neighbor and woke him up to tell him to check his wallet as the thief ran into the darkness at the back of the bus.

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If there’s any advice I can give, it’s to watch your belongings on buses in Thailand, thieving is a huge problem and plight of many tourists, especially those traveling to and from the islands for the Full Moon Party.

Savings

Not working obviously meant no income during this period, but I was still astounded with how affordable it is to travel Asia. Especially compared to Australian prices, traveling two months in Asia was the equivalent of a few weeks up the East Coast of Australia.

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I still had to be careful with how I spent my money with the financial troubles I had in Melbourne before I left. I hardly went out drinking most nights, I chose to save my money for big ticket items instead, like the Full Moon Party and getting my PADI certification. I saved on the hangovers so I could still partake in early tours and walks around the city I happened to be in that day.

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I realized during my time in Asia that I had changed my travel style a lot from my 21 year-old party days in Florence, Italy, where I would go out every single night to a new discoteca and sleep until noon the next day. That kind of travel, or lack thereof, didn’t appeal to me as much anymore.

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Buying visas in each individual country, apart from a couple countries that didn’t require one, was probably one of the more expensive spends.

Travel

We hit 6 countries in total: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. I wanted to see as much as possible in Asia during this trip to get an overview of where I’d want to go back to, but I think I finally came to the conclusion once and for all how partial I am to slow travel and taking my time in places.

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All my preconceptions were challenged once I started traveling Asia. The countries I thought would be my favorites, Indonesia and Thailand, ended up only making me weary and disillusioned (note: I believe this is due to the areas we visited in these two countries, and when I go back I’d want to do it differently).

Instead, Cambodia and Vietnam moved in to take my favorite spots in Southeast Asia.

Sydney

I wasn’t expecting to like Sydney. It’s probably due to the bias I heard time and time again against Sydney from Melbournites, and although I wanted to see the Opera House, I too thought it would just be a vapid city with looks, but no culture.

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I wasn’t expecting to like Sydney, but I fell in love with Sydney. It is one of the prettiest cities I’ve been to and it’s a city that has the added benefit of being surrounded by beautiful beaches. I didn’t realized how much I missed a big city beach culture (à la San Diego), until I started living in Sydney again and started smelling the salty sea air.

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In terms of vapidness, there were a high number of bleach blonde, plastic surgery types compared to Melbourne, but probably the same amount you’d find around Los Angeles. I even saw a woman carrying her lap dog in a doggy backpack once, because she didn’t want his feet to get dirty. Um, what?

But there was still a vividness and culture beneath the beauty that was seen in the many festivals I went to or heard about throughout the summer. There’s always something going on in Sydney, and it’s really hard to find yourself bored, in fact, you’d have to try pretty hard.

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Sydney, dare I say, was probably my favorite 5 months out of my year abroad.

Highs

  • Being in Sydney for the summer 

After shivering through a cold Melbourne winter and sweating through two months of humidity in Asia, Sydney was a perfect place to settle down for the summer.

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Most days were absolutely perfect in terms of weather, and there was always a festival or event going on every weekend in different parts of the city. I spent so  many of my days off hiking or going to the beach because the weather was just too damn good. A Sydney summer was just what I needed to end my time in Australia. 

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  • My job at the Local Taphouse and Cookie Cafe

I lucked out in finding a job at the Local Taphouse my first full day in Sydney. Between the staff, the type of bar it was and the clientele, and my job as a bartender, it became one of my favorite places to work of all time, It was also a great place to learn even more about Aussie craft beer – it was even voted the number one craft beer bar in all of Australia at one point.

I also had a job at an adorable cookie cafe in the artsy neighborhood of Newtown. It’s where I spent every Saturday morning and where I devoured some of the best cookies of my life. And I’ve tried a lot of cookies, believe me.

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  • Volunteering at multiple music festivals

I’ve thought on and off about going into music event planning for festivals, and last summer I was actually able to see a start to that dream come true. I went to three separate festivals, which all had very different vibes and experiences. It made my summer in Sydney that much better, and all the friends and memories I met from those musical days I’m not soon to forget.

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If you want to check out my experiences via my festival series go ahead and click on Part I, Part II, and Part III

  • New Year’s Eve  

Mainly because I went with my best friend in Sydney, camped in beautiful Byron Bay for a week, and saw some amazing live music at the Falls Fest. It was by far my favorite New Year’s Eve to date, and there are so many good memories I brought back from it.

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On one of my last days in Sydney, after feeling a bit melancholy one day, I decided to finally treat myself to a show at the famous Opera House in Sydney. It did not disappoint. I saw the band, Yo La Tengo, and had a wonderful and classy evening on my own listening to beautiful music. It was my way of saying goodbye to a place I had started to call home for the last few months. 

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Disappointments

  • The cockroaches

I don’t think I had ever seen a live cockroach before I left California, actually, before I arrived in Sydney. Cockroaches are EVERYWHERE. You have been warned!

Besides being a lovely seaside city, Sydney has a major cockroach problem. I stayed in all different types of houses (when I was couchsurfing), and all different neighborhoods, and it didn’t matter. There were cockroaches, no matter if you lived in a nice house or a dump.

I mean, there were cockroaches that would scurry across the street on any given Saturday night while I was walking home. Seriously, there’s no hiding from them.

It was definitely something to get used to, but after finding 3 or 4 cockroaches in my room during the first month I moved in, I got pretty used to them as well, and disposed of them as best I could.

  • My living situation

As opposed to the awesome living situations I had in Melbourne, the one I had in Sydney was less than stellar. It was in a really good location (Double Bay) and cheap for Sydney. I was even able to afford having my own room, which I wasn’t expecting for pricey Sydney.

However, the building itself was so old, one of my Aussie friends commented on the fact that he wouldn’t be surprised if convicts still lived in the top floors. From the outside, hands down, it looked like a haunted house out of a horror movie.

Inside was only slightly better, but every night I would come home finding the kitchen counter littered with at least a few cockroaches. See, my house was even worse than the rest of Sydney with having a cockroach problem.

My housemates were nice enough, but mostly kept to themselves and didn’t come out of their rooms, the only exception being my one housemate, Ashleigh, who was actually incredibly friendly. It all went down hill when Ashleigh moved out and one of the guys in the house had one of his friends move in.

I’m fairly certain this new housemate would go into my room at night while I was at work and do god knows what, because I came home a few times with my door wide open and my light on. And I was almost certain he was a psychopath at one point, but it thankfully all turned out okay. Needless to say, I wasn’t sad to say goodbye to that place and move on to a better living situation.

  • The romantic side 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of Aussie guy friends who I get along with famously, and I don’t want to say I’d never date an Aussie guy again…but really, I don’t think I’d date an Aussie guy again.

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Sydney was the first time I actually started dating Aussie blokes, and I don’t know what it is exactly, but me and Aussies, we don’t mix romantically. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, or simply my own personality, but let’s just say by the time I left Australia, I was very content to be doing my own thing.

Savings

I was paid so much better in Sydney than in Melbourne, and watched gleefully as my savings slowly started to build up again. Sydney is slightly more expensive than Melbourne, but honestly not by much.

Sydney was great for pay. If you worked past 11pm, you made extra. (Um, a bartenders dream). If you worked weekends, you made extra. If you worked Sundays, you’d make even more than you did on Saturday. If you worked public holidays, you basically just paid off a flight to Fiji.

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The only reason I didn’t save more was because of the festivals I volunteered at throughout the summer. Not only did I lose money on those weekends I could’ve been working at the bar, but the cost of getting to the festivals which were quite far away, took a big chunk of my savings. They were definitely still worth it, and I was still able to travel up the East Coast for 3 weeks, and have a bit of a buffer saved up when I moved to New Zealand.

Travel

I don’t know if it was due to the good weather or the increase in wages, but I spent almost every day off to its fullest while I was in Sydney. I’d take day trips of all sorts, go hiking to a new lookout, or go on another one of the many coastal walks to be found around the city.

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I was bummed I didn’t get to see more of Australia, it’s so big! But I know I’ll be back again someday to see all that I missed. Here are a few of my favorite travels from my time in Sydney and the blog posts to go with them:

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  • Backpacking up the East Coast of Australia for 3 weeks at the end of my visa

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My happy places in Sydney

  • The Bondi to Coogee walk – I seriously don’t know how a place can be so breathtakingly beautiful

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  • Circular Quay – no matter how touristy it may be, it still takes my breath away when I’m standing in front of the Opera House and looking out at the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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  • Newtown – the artsy, kind of hipster suburb of Sydney. They had the coolest cafes, op-shops, and street art.

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Conclusion

There were a lot of ups and downs to my first year abroad as was to be expected. The year turned out better than I could’ve imagined, and made me believe even more whole heartedly in the philosophy that everything happens for a reason. There were so many times throughout the year where one thing different could’ve meant me coming home earlier than expected, but I’m so happy I was able to continue out my year and do it the way I wanted, for the most part.

My year abroad also opened up a lot of thought patterns on what I really want out of my life and how free I feel while I’m on the road. It made me seriously think about music event planning, but also about taking this blog to a new level and new perspectives.

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Instead of satisfying my wanderlust, I’m afraid to say, it has only made me realize how easy it is to keep on traveling if I want to. And that’s a very dangerous realization.

Did I ever tell you how when I was 12, I once spent a good couple of hours writing down every single country in the world, and what order I would want to visit them in? I have a feeling my journey is just beginning.

What Now?

I’ve been living in Wellington, New Zealand for the last 5 months or so, and I can’t help but be surprised at how very different my life is here from the life I led in Australia.

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I finally bought a plane ticket home this week. I’ll be flying to Hawaii for a week at the end of March, and heading into San Diego, California after my tropical getaway. From San Diego, I’ll be attending my favorite Coachella music festival, and taking an epic road trip up the coast of California, and all the way through to Portland, Oregon.

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From there, I’ll just have to see what happens, but there are a lot of travel plans on the horizon, which I look forward to sharing with all you lovely readers as soon as they become more concrete.

And of course, there will be plenty more travels around New Zealand before I leave.

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As always, thank you from the bottom of my atlas heart for taking the time to read my blog. It means the world to me, literally.

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 toward 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.

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