Monday, February 20, 2012

Whirlwind Weeks on NZ's North Island

Hey there, strangers! I write to you from the Bluebridge ferry heading to the South Island of New Zealand after a whirlwind two weeks of exploring the North Island.

Between Auckland and Wellington, I caught my first fish, went tubing through a cave, rode a horse down a mountain, hiked the 12-mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing, rolled down a hill in a big plastic ball and more.

Attempting to kiss my little snapper in the Bay of Islands (had to throw him back).

A rainbow graces our horse trek at Blue Duck Lodge.
Enjoying the amazing, stark landscape of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the shadow of "Mount Doom."

I won’t lie — I felt extremely lonely for the first 24 hours of my trip. As I roamed my Auckland hostel (my first hostel ever), it seemed like all the other travelers socialized in close-knit groups, and I didn’t have the guts to try to infiltrate one of them.

And then, somehow, I made a few friends, and we hiked up a volcano on Rangitoto Island (in flip-flops…) and later drank cheap red wine on the rooftop of our hostel. My trip had begun.

Auckland as seen from Rangitoto Island.

When I hopped on my first Stray bus up to the Bay of Islands, I made even more friends — British, Irish, German, French, Belgian, Canadian and American, to name a few. And let’s not forget the guy from Lichtenstein.

A night out in Taupo with girls from the Stray bus.

Since then, loneliness hasn’t been an issue. Rather, I’m surrounded by people all the time. And perhaps, of all the elements I’ve had to adjust to in this new life of mine, this has been the most difficult. I like socializing as much as the next person, but I'm used to having much more quiet time to myself.

Wellington was a welcome reprieve. I hopped off the Stray bus to stay three nights and recharge my batteries in New Zealand’s capitol and, although I didn’t do the most exciting activities there, it was one of my favorite experiences.

I loved Wellington's abundant public art.

Which one's mine?

I was able to wander unhurriedly through Wellington’s streets and along its gorgeous waterfront. I stayed with my Kiwi friend Nick White, and his overwhelming generosity took many forms: a cozy couch, a city tour through a local’s eyes, an incredible home-cooked meal, a heap of clean laundry and more.

Nick braves a sketchy-looking swing on Mt. Victoria.

I, too, went flying over the city.
Clean laundry makes me so incredibly happy.

I even ran 6 miles late one afternoon as puffy, crimson-tinged clouds wafted overhead. I’ve had neither the time nor the inclination to run these last two weeks, and the simple act made me feel like myself again.

It made me feel at home.

Part of Wellington's popular waterfront trail.

The logistics of traveling — getting from A to B, booking activities and accommodation, finding food and keeping track of all my stuff — have been easier than I had imagined. Of course, I say this in a place where everyone speaks English, the currency is very similar to American dollars, the tap water tastes great and the food isn’t any more exotic than what I’m used to.

The toughest part so far was saying goodbye to my family when I left on Feb. 5.

The morning was a whirlwind as I organized my gear, showered and packed. I broke a sweat as I tried to zip my pack, and little did I know that it wouldn’t be the last time that day. Far from it.

My dad and brother arrived at my mom’s house right on time, and I scrambled to get all my stuff together as I ate leftover tuna casserole — my favorite meal that my mom had made the night before.

Once I got everything in my dad’s car, it was time to say goodbye to my mom and Don… and my face crumpled into the ugly cry. I hadn’t felt emotional at all up until that point, but I was suddenly gripped with sadness. I tried to make the hugs and last words quick, then jumped into my dad’s car before I could lose it too badly.

The ride to the airport flew by, and I memorized the Seattle scenery as I held back tears. My dad and brother waited patiently as I checked in for my flight, and we took pictures with my pack, which felt so huge and foreign at the time. We said our goodbyes just outside of security, and I couldn’t help but start crying again as my dad hugged me extra-tight.

Finally, I was on my own.

Sweating profusely.

People say that traveling takes a while to feel real. For some time, it feels like you’re just on vacation, and that soon you’ll return home and back to your normal life. I can’t remember exactly when I realized that this is my normal life.

Maybe it was as I kayaked in the moonlight to the darkness of an uninhabited island, where I could see phosphorescent algae sparkling in the water with each stroke of my paddle.

Maybe it was when, on a Monday night, instead of going to bed early for work the next day, I danced like crazy to techno music in a barn in the the woods of Raglan.

Or maybe it’s right now, as I head to another place I’ve never seen, not knowing what exactly is in store for the next few days… or weeks… or months.

Pretty flowers by a waterfall.

I no longer value having solid plans, and knowing the correct date (or even time) isn’t so important. Internet is expensive, so face-to-screen time has significantly diminished while face-to-face time has made a big comeback.

It’s a different life, but a good one, and one that I finally believe I’m capable of leading. In the months leading up to my departure, I feared that I wouldn’t have what it takes to get by. Now that I’ve hiked up mountains and squeezed through impossibly tight cave formations and learned how to jostle for space in hostel kitchens, there’s not much else I fear.

Happy sunscreen.

And that’s what all this is about, right? To see, to do, to meet, to learn. To realize that the world is so much larger than my little, familiar corner. To know more about others and about myself, and to accept that not knowing many things is OK, too.

Bay of Islands sunset.

This new life is absolutely worth every uncertain, fear-gripped moment I’ve felt over the past few months.

And on I go.


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Monday, February 6, 2012

My RTW Packing List

I've landed in Auckland, New Zealand!

The weather couldn't have been better for the first day of my trip. Auckland greeted me with blue skies and warm sunshine, and I was more than happy to don a dress and flip flops while checking out the city.

But let me back up a bit first. I didn't have time to put together my packing post before I left Seattle, and I want to get it up quickly so I can move on to posting more exciting stuff!


I collected everything I needed for my RTW trip over the course of two months. To determine what I needed to buy, I looked at several other bloggers’ packing lists and noted the items that seemed to pop up again and again. I would have been lost without those lists for reference!

So, here’s my contribution to the collection of RTW packing lists already on the Interwebs. I ended up packing at the last minute — literally, about two hours before I left for the airport — and, miraculously, everything just fit in my pack. (Every smart traveler will tell you to do a test pack first, so don’t be like me.)

My DSLR camera and its bag almost wouldn't fit. The bag is wonderful for hauling the camera around and protecting it, but it’s pretty big. I wound up cramming it in my daypack, and I can carry it separately when I’m not on flights in which I’m trying to pass off the main pack as my carry-on and the daypack as my personal item.

I thought about leaving the DSLR behind and just taking my Canon S95, but… but… my heart wouldn’t let me. Those stunning New Zealand vistas deserve a DSLR.

Without further ado, here’s my complete packing list with photos. I have no clue how much everything weighs since I didn’t have time to weigh it.

Also… I don’t want to know! (Edited to add: As of one month into my trip, my pack weighs 11.7 kg, or just about 26 lbs.)

Note: Since this is a very popular post, I edited it in Sept. 2012 to add further details and notes about the items I brought on my RTW trip, as well as links to where they can be purchased. All links to are affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item using one of those links, my travel fund will grow a tiny bit and I'll be very grateful. Just wanted you to know. : )


Osprey Farpoint 55 pack with detachable daypack
Sea to Summit waterproof compression sacks (XS and L)
Eagle Creek packing cubes (thanks, Mindi!)
Large Hefty plastic zipper bags
Small Ziploc plastic bags
DSLR camera bag


15" MacBook Pro laptop and charger
InCase neoprene laptop case
Western Digital My Passport portable hard drive with USB cable
Belkin mini surge protector with extra outlets
Canon S95 digital camera (not shown) with protective pouch and battery charger
Canon Rebel T2i with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens and battery charger
Memory cards (3)
Kindle Keyboard 3G with lighted cover and charger
Outlet converters — Australia/New Zealand and Europe/Asia
Steripen Traveler with AA lithium batteries installed
Energizer Trail Finder headlamp
Samsung Vibrant Android smartphone (unlocked) and charger
Garmin Forerunner 305 and charger


Doxycycline (malaria pills)
Ciprofloxacin (for diarrhea)
Azithromycin (for diarrhea)
Fluconazole (for yeast infections)
Allegra allergy pills
Bug spray with 30% DEET
Antibiotic gel (generic Neosporin)
Muscle gel
Antibiotic wipes
Pepto-Bismol tablets
Multivitamin (not pictured)


Large Sea to Summit DryLite travel towel
Deuter backpack rain cover (I originally bought a Deuter pack, but this cover also fit my Osprey well)
Sink stopper
Silk sleep sack
Point-it dictionary
Carabiners (attached to the outside of my pack)
Pocket mirror
Large Hefty plastic zipper bags
Sewing kit
Portable laundry soap sheets
Ear plugs
Locks (3) — TSA luggage lock, cable lock, combination lock
Safety whistle
Duct tape
Business cards by MOO
Klean Kanteen water bottle

Cross-body zipper purse
Lightweight hat
TrekDek (from the WDS swag bag!)


Body wash
Face lotion with sunscreen
Headbands (3)
Bobby pins
Hair ties
Mini loofah
Wet wipes
Body lotion
Diva Cup — a must-have for female travelers!
Face scrub
Nail clippers


In an extra-small Sea to Summit waterproof compression sack:

ExOfficio underwear (7)
Sports bras (3)
Regular bra (1)
Socks (3 pairs)
Bikinis (2)
CEP compression sleeves (for running)
Sleep shorts

In a large Sea to Summit waterproof compression sack:

North Face convertible pants
Lululemon Groove pants
Champion leggings

Old Navy chino shorts (2)
Brooks running shorts

Old Navy tanks (4)
Lululemon running tank
Old Navy tees (3)

Reversible dress
Forever 21 dress

Lululemon pullover
Lululemon long-sleeved tech shirt

Helly Hanson waterproof shell
North Face fleece hoodie


KEEN Whisper sandals
Flip flops — I started out with cheap Old Navy ones, but bought Havaianas in New Zealand and highly recommend them for comfort and durability!
Tieks foldable ballet flats
Brooks Ghost 4 running shoes


Immunization certificate
Driver’s license
Debit card
Credit card with no foreign transaction fees
Back-up “oh, shit!” credit card
Starbucks gift card (I recently hit a Coinstar!)
New Zealand currency
U.S. currency
Extra passport-sized photos
Eagle Creek travel wallet
Extra copies of important documents
Copies of prescriptions
Folder with printouts of itineraries and confirmations
Notepad, pen, Sharpie (not pictured)

Here's everything all packed in the main pack:

And I packed my laptop, DSLR camera, S95 camera, Kindle, wallet/money and important documents in the daypack, which I kept with me on both flights.

My main pack passed as a carry-on for the Alaska flight from Seattle to Los Angeles, but Air New Zealand made me check it because it exceeded the airline's carry-on weight limit. I'm glad I packed all the valuable items in my daypack! Even so, I locked the main pack, and nothing appeared amiss once I landed in NZ.

I'm still on Day One of traveling, so I'm learning where to keep certain items and how to keep track of things as I move from using my full pack to the daypack to the purse and back again. I have no doubt that I'll learn something new every day!

Aaaand I'm finally starting to feel tired from my big day and night of flying, plus my day walking around Auckland. I have one more day to explore Auckland before I hop on a Stray bus up to the Bay of Islands, and then I'll continue with Stray down through the rest of New Zealand. Time to rest up.

Good night!


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Friday, February 3, 2012

How I Can Afford to Travel the World

If you read my last post, you know that two years ago I was deep in debt and had exactly $0 in savings.

So how was I able to quit my job two months ago to plan the round-the-world trip that I'll begin this Sunday?

And how much money do I have to spend on this trip, anyway?

Here are the short answers for those of you who don't want to wade through this whole post:

  • a lot of self-control, some extra effort and a bit of good luck
  • $26,000

Interested in learning more? Read on, my friends.


I was desperate to find a job after I graduated college, and in the fall of 2009, I began working as a proofreader at an advertising agency. 

It wasn't my dream job — I had studied journalism and was unsuccessful in my this-close attempts to land a job with The Seattle Times — but it was work, and I was in no position to be picky. I had big credit-card payments to keep up with, you know.

This particular ad agency paid quarterly bonuses to all employees once they had worked there for three quarters. I began earning bonuses in July 2010 (after I had already become debt-free), and I collected six bonuses during my time there.

Each bonus was in the mid-to-high four figures, and a few were five figures. Altogether, they more than doubled my annual salary.

I consider that to be very lucky indeed.


I could have easily raised my standard of living to meet the amount of money I was making. I could have bought a new car, upgraded to the latest iPhone every time one came out and updated my closet with nicer clothes. It seemed like many of my co-workers did just that.

Instead, I continued to live on my base salary (less than $30,000) and squirreled those bonuses away in my savings account. Maybe I wasn't the coolest kid in town with my 1993 minivan, my lack of an iPhone and my arsenal of cheap, plain t-shirts, but I had more than $10,000 in the bank by the end of 2010.

I eventually gave myself permission to spend money on some stuff — including expensive stuff — but only if that stuff was really important to me. In 2011, I bought a new laptop and a DSLR camera, entered several road races and traveled to Hawaii, Portland, Vancouver, B.C., New York City and Las Vegas.

Sure, I would have a lot more money in my travel fund now if I hadn't spent money on those things, but I don't regret a single penny. Every purchase and experience was planned and meaningful; none of it was frivolous shit.

OK, maybe this beer was frivolous, but I stand by it, too.

Plus, it kept things exciting when the ultimate goal — a round-the-world trip — seemed so far off in the future.


It was awesome to watch my savings grow by leaps and bounds every three months, but I felt like I could be saving even more.

In July 2011, I took a good look at my fixed monthly expenses and realized I had no immediate need for $350 of each paycheck. That's an extra $700 a month, or $8,400 a year! (I guess I lived wayyy below my base salary.)

I immediately opened an ING Direct savings account — nickname: Freedom Fund — and set it to automatically withdraw $300 from my checking account each payday. I decided to save $300 per paycheck instead of $350 just to give myself a bit of a cushion.

Guess what? I never missed that $300 per paycheck. Not once. 

I continued contributing to the Freedom Fund all the way through the final paycheck I received on Nov. 30. The account now holds more than $3,300. That represents thousands of dollars I never missed, but easily could have wasted on a bunch of little things if it had remained in my easily accessible checking account.


I had planned to continue working through 2012 to become fully vested in my employer's 401(k) match, but I became absolutely miserable and just couldn't stick it out.

By changing my initial plan, I missed out on adding thousands of dollars to my 401(k) and tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses to my travel fund. At first, I felt crazy to give it all up.

But it just wasn't worth another year of my life. In this video, I said, "Over the course of my life, I can make the money back. I just can't get the time back."

You know what, though? I doubt I'll ever make that money back, and I'm not at all torn up about it. I will never regret my decision.

My friend Mike Krass once left this incredible comment on my blog: "No matter how rich or poor, young or old, wise or foolish you are, there is no force powerful enough in this world to recover time for those who have let it pass them by."


See how easy it is to get caught up in the money you could have, no matter how much you already have? Ugh.

$26,000 is quite a bit of money and I'm happy to have it. (This is what I have after being unemployed for two months and paying for all of my pre-travel preparations, by the way). It may not be much to speak of in terms of getting by for a year in the U.S., but it's more than enough to have some fun around the world, especially while traveling in developing countries. (Check out Shannon O'Donnell's detailed RTW budget — it cost her about $18,000 to visit 15 countries in 11 months.)

I'm operating with a fixed amount of money, though, with no current plans to make more money as I go. My travel fund will only go so far, and I have to consider how much I'll need to return home, if that's what I end up doing. Who knows!

It'll definitely be a challenge to keep an eye on my spending while also making sure to enjoy myself. That's why I'm going to New Zealand and Australia first — they're expensive! I want to visit them while I still have plenty of money.

I plan to use these frugal strategies throughout my travels:

  • Stay in inexpensive hostel dorms and guesthouses
  • Couchsurf
  • Cook my own food when I have access to a kitchen
  • Seek free Wi-Fi or use my Kindle 3G to connect
  • Refill my Klean Kanteen instead of buying bottled water (and use my SteriPen in areas with unsafe tap water)
  • Use my credit card that has no foreign transaction fees (Marriott Rewards Premier Visa — also earns points that can be converted to miles)
  • Redeem points and miles for major flights
  • Travel slowly and overland as much as possible

Feel free to add your money-saving travel tips in the comments!

I've loosely planned my trip through July, and the rest of the year is open. If I still have money to travel by then and I'm not sick of life on the road, I'll keep going. If not, I'll do whatever I need to do.

I consider myself extremely privileged to be able to travel for any amount of time, let alone for a full year. I'll do my best to stretch my money far and wide, but no matter what, I'll have a hell of a time.


I plan to put together a post about my packing list this weekend and set it to post on Monday. After that, full blog posts will likely be few and far between due to my uncertain access to Internet.

I should be able to update my Twitter and Facebook page via the Kindle 3G, though, so check them for updates!

There are only two days to go until I depart. While many of you are watching the Super Bowl, I'll be in the air heading to New Zealand!

Let me know who wins. : )


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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Final Days at Home: Couchsurfing, Packing & Eating

When I moved back to my mom's house after college in September 2009, I was more than $8,000 in debt.

Moving home was necessary. With no savings, a small student loan and a big balance on my credit card, I had absolutely no idea how to manage my money, let alone how to afford living on my own.

My mom had turned my high-school bedroom into her office and filled it with big, heavy furniture. I was more than welcome to move my stuff back into the room if I would pay to move the office furniture into a heated storage unit, but I was already so deep in debt. No dice.

Instead, I stuck my bed into a nook at the back of the one-story house and slept there, with only a bookcase partially blocking the area for privacy. I lived that way for 16 months.

The nook. Picture my queen-sized bed on top of this rug. At least I had a skylight!

In January 2010, I began focusing on paying off my debt, and I became debt-free just six months later. I continued to budget and save like crazy, which allowed me to move out of my mom's house that December with more than $10,000 in the bank.

I was so thrilled not only to move out, but to have a bedroom again. Four walls, a whole closet to myself and a door — that locked, even! — seemed like such luxuries. And to top it all off, my room was huge and had its very own balcony. I caught some incredible sunsets on that balcony.

Thirteen months later, I've left that awesome, private room behind... return to my mom's house once again. I sold all this furniture to the next tenant, so I don't even have my bed anymore.

This time, though, I haven't moved home because I have to. I'm just crashing on the couch for a few days as I prepare to travel the world.

Try telling that to the girl who, two years ago, sat in this house sobbing because she was completely drowning in debt.

She never would have believed this adventure was possible.


Now that I've moved out of my townhouse, all I have left to do is pick up a few last travel items and start packing. 

I've been buying things over the past several weeks and collecting them in one big bag. Yesterday I dumped everything out and began removing excess packaging, cutting off tags and organizing the items into categories: clothing, electronics, toiletries, medicine, etc.

No, I'm not bringing that remote control. I was watching Inside the Actor's Studio with George Clooney. : )

I was happy to find that everything fits nicely and compactly into my packing cubes (toiletries, medicine, cords/chargers) and compression sacks (clothes, underwear, socks). This was the first time I actually looked at everything and envisioned how it'll fit into my backpack.

Once I pack for real, I'll put together a detailed post with pictures and a list of everything I'm bringing. I found other travel bloggers' packing posts to be so helpful when it came to determining what I needed for my trip!


I'll be seeing my mom quite a bit before I leave since I'm, well, living in her house, but my dad and I have to make more of an effort to spend time together. We had lunch this past weekend, and last night he took me out to a wonderful going-away dinner at Big Fish Grill.

Lately, I've been torn between trying to eat healthily because I'll probably be wearing a bikini soon and wanting to indulge because I'll be hesitant to splurge on good ($$) food and treats for myself while traveling.

I did a bit of both last night. : )

I had the Big Fish Cobb Salad with salmon, scallops and shrimp, as well as all the traditional Cobb fixings...

...and then rounded it out with the Double Chocolate Brownie, featuring vanilla ice cream, candied pecans and caramel sauce. My dad and I could have split one of these huge, evil creations, but we each got our own and I ate most of mine.

I may not be training for a marathon anymore, but I can still pack food away just like the good ol' days!

A note on food: I love it, and I'll try anything. I hope to sample tons of new, exciting and weird foods as I travel, and I plan to document the highlights and lowlights. The only thing is that I'm a wimp when it comes to spicy foods — hello, Southeast Asia — but I may just have to put on my big-girl pants and suck it up.

Three-and-a-half days until I leave!


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