Travel Wrap-Up: What I learned from 3-Months Abroad

Ninety five days of travel brings some interesting insights. For me, it was all about new skills, new perspectives, and new interests.

Today I'm writing about our trip as a whole, partly to get closure and partly to share my most interesting observations. At least I thought they were interesting! Let's start with similarities and differences.

 

Things that are the same around the world (or at least in the 9 countries I visited):

-Ice cream. In every city, I constantly spotted people with ice cream cones and big smiles. From kids to adults. It just may be that ice cream is the best afternoon snack the human race has come up with so far.

-Parents and kids. Even without knowing the language, it's immediately obvious what's happening as a small child tries to run one way and a parent grabs them to bring them the other way. It turns out that little kids are pretty much the same everywhere and taking care of them is a universal human experience.

-Credit cards and the internet. My Visa worked everywhere and I went to ATMs at banks in every country and put in my card to get cash. The world is so connected now, it's amazing. The traveler's checks I remember from my childhood are long gone! Similarly, I was able to blog post from everywhere and keep in touch via the internet easily. Wifi was so prevalent, I never felt disconnected for more than a day at a time.

-People. Yep, people are actually pretty much the same. I found that even with language differences and cultural differences, folks in other countries are just like me. Everyone's just trying to do their thing, get through their day, enjoy their lives.

 

Things that are different in different countries:

-Timing. Meal timing, travel times, lifestyle - all these change depending on the country. Most notably, in Spain. Why yes, I'll have dinner at 9PM, thank you.

-Flora and fauna. The creatures in New Zealand stole my heart and the creatures in Australia genuinely scared me. In southern Spain, the air was perfumed with the scent of orange blossoms and wisteria. In Croatia, the ocean was bluer and clearer than anywhere I've ever seen. And in Iceland, my heart melted when we drove past each sheep followed by her 2 little lambs. The world is a diverse place!

-Languages, electricity, currency (Ok, you already know these, I just wanted to include them as a reminder). Surprisingly, we got by using English in every country we visited except for Spain. There, we used a combination of our (terrible) Spanish and the Google Translate app to communicate what we wanted. We needed wall adapters for our electronics everywhere and there was one type for Oceania and one type for Europe. During the middle third of our trip, we only needed Euros. These differences can put some people off, but once you get used to them, they are not a big deal.

 

How this trip affected me:

-I discovered I like learning about history when I can see it. I'll admit, I've never been keen on learning history. HOWEVER, actually seeing a spot and understanding it through its history was fascinating! Europe's history is long and extremely complex and seeing the impact of various empires in multiple places during our trip made the history come to life. Whereas before I knew next to nothing, now at least I could hold my own in a simple history discussion. : )

-The quickest way to make things better is to eat. I had a hunch that I sometimes got hangry before this trip, but traveling elucidated the truth. When things felt like they were going badly, it was likely that I hadn't eaten in a while. When I got hungry, my patience went down, my energy went down, and my temper rose. In short, I wasn't very fun. A meal made everything better! Once I realized this, we started prioritizing meals when we could.

-I like traveling to places that aren't crowded. I get pulled out of the enchantment of any beautiful site when it's too crowded. When I can't walk at my own pace or I have to weave through a crowd, I can't concentrate on being open to wonderful things anymore. Maybe this means in the future I'll seek out less popular destinations or maybe I'll travel somewhere popular only during the shoulder season.

-I'm still me. I didn't fundamentally change on this trip. I learned a lot and I saw a lot. The ways I like to travel became clearer and I know I can plan awesome trips in the future. In short, I discovered more about myself, but that didn't change me, it actually made me more me! (If that makes sense).

What's next:

I'm back in the United States (and loving the showers!) and it's time for the next chapter. This trip was amazing, but it was appropriate to wrap it up. I was fatigued from traveling towards the end and looking forward to visiting friends and family. But I also can't wait to plan the next trip, whenever that is!

So what's next right now? Now, my husband and I are moving to Denver, Colorado. We had a plan to leave LA for a long time and we're making it happen. He will be starting graduate school in the fall and I will be....Well, I'm not sure yet. I will be looking for my next job/activity/involvement this summer. I'm so excited to get to know a new city and a new region. Especially one that has a lot going on in sustainable food!

Because I will be focusing on establishing a new home base, I am taking a break from blogging regularly. I've enjoyed writing about out trip, but as my life moves in a new direction, I don't know where this blog is headed. Therefore, it's time to take a hiatus. 

Don't worry, if something really interesting is happening, I'll write about it!

Until then, be well.

Sunshine and Ferns (aka: our awesome South Island weather)

I can't believe it, but today is our last full day in New Zealand. : (  These past few weeks have gone by so quickly! We've seen cities and natural wonders, and we've had the luckiest weather imaginable - SUNSHINE.

Since my last post, we've been bicycling on the South Island. We started on the west coast, following highway 6 along the Tasman Sea (which is the water separating NZ from Australia). After a couple days, we headed slightly inward to see what makes this part of New Zealand unique: the geography and the plant life.

Tired and happy after a long day of riding!

Tired and happy after a long day of riding!

Because New Zealand's southern mountains rise out of the sea only a short distance from the coastline, that stretch of land between the water and mountains gets A LOT of rain. Think about it, all the moisture that builds up over the sea moves toward land and, as it hits the mountains, the clouds move up and dump all their moisture in the same place, over and over again. This leads to rainforest growth and some awesome species of trees and ferns.

A massive Kahikatea tree. This picture doesn't do it justice!

A massive Kahikatea tree. This picture doesn't do it justice!

We spent two nights in the very remote Moeraki Wilderness Lodge learning about the trees and landscape. Much of this land is protected by the government now and it is original growth! That means it was never cut down or messed with by humans. So cool. We saw Rimu trees and Kahikatea trees which were probably over a thousand years old. We saw river eels and herons. And we became snacks for the pesky sand flies that thrive here --- we've still got bug bites! OH WELL. 

New Zealand packs a lot of diverse landscapes into a small country. Once we traveled up over the mountains away from the coast, everything changed. No more lush green, now we were in drier mountain country. This is where the dramatic lakes and mountains are, and this is wine country. We stayed for two days at Wanaka, a charming small town on a lake, and then headed into the larger, "adventure capital" city of Queenstown.

Along the way, the biking was spectacular! Hills (but not too many), sunshine, and even a tail wind -- we were seriously lucky. 

Queenstown at sunrise.

Queenstown at sunrise.

Queenstown at sunset.

Queenstown at sunset.

We said goodbye to our biking group here in Queenstown and hung around for an extra couple of days. There are a dozen ways to get an adrenaline rush in Queenstown (bungee jumping, anyone?), but that's not my speed. Instead, we hiked, wandered the shops, and relaxed with coffee and tea. 

Our final big NZ adventure was taking a day trip yesterday out to Milford Sound. Milford is the northern-most sound (but it's really a fiord) in the Fiordland National Park and it was beautiful. It's the most visited because it's got a road (!) and a lodge. We bussed there, driving around the mountains for hours, then got on a boat to cruise the sound, and then hopped in a tiny 10-person airplane to fly over the mountains and back to Queenstown. 

It was really spectacular. Beyond what I can explain. And what a treat to see the area from the ground, the water, and the air, all in brilliant sunshine. It helped create a cohesive picture of this natural wonder! 

I took like a bajillion pictures of our Milford Sound day, it was so hard to narrow it down to these!!

 

So now we say goodbye to this beautiful and welcoming country and head on to country number two on our trip: Australia! 

 

NZ's North Island to South Island

First Up, A Quick History Lesson

New Zealand was discovered by Europeans in 1642. More specifically, it was discovered by a Dutch explorer named Abel Tasman who was working for the Dutch East India Company. Prior to that, the Maori people lived here for around 300-400 years, having come over from other islands in the South Pacific. When they found New Zealand, they called it Aotearoa, which means "long white cloud" in Maori. Today, people of Maori and European descent both live in New Zealand and you can see influences from both cultures as a visitor. 

 

Next Up, Wellington

A cloudy view of Wellington. 

A cloudy view of Wellington. 

We spent last weekend visiting the city of Wellington! It is smaller than Auckland and sits nestled in between hills at the very southern part of the north island. To me, it felt a lot like San Francisco --- narrow streets, houses close together painted bright colors, and a feeling of everything being on top of each other. 

There are some awesome things to visit in Wellington. We took a cable car up to the beautiful (and free!) Botanic Gardens. We checked out the really well done Te Papa Museum (aka the Museum of New Zealand) (also free!). We walked along the waterfront and tried not to get blown away in the wind -- they do call this city "Windy Welly." We drank beer and sampled some artisan specialty foods -- yum! We toured NZ's parliament building and learned about the government. We visited filming sites for Lord of the Rings. And we toured Weta, the company that did all the special effects for the LoTR movies. 

The Wellington harbor.

The Wellington harbor.

Stopping for a fancy coffee at a cafe in Wellington.

Stopping for a fancy coffee at a cafe in Wellington.

Spotted in the Wellington Botantic Garden.

Spotted in the Wellington Botantic Garden.

If that sounds like a lot....well, it was. I found we didn't have much of a chance to relax in Wellington and that was getting to me by the end of our time there. There were so many things I wanted to do, it was hard to skip activities in order to relax for longer than an hour or so at a time. By the time we reached Sunday afternoon, I wanted a coffee shop and a book. Unfortunately, hardly anything was open! We wandered past a dozen cozy cafes that were ALL CLOSED. Booo. We went back to our hotel to relax instead before heading out for dinner.

 

The South Island

Come Monday, it was time to head to the south island. We flew to Christchurch and spent some time exploring the big, beautiful park in the middle of the city. Then it was laundry time!

Walking in the park in Christchurch.

Walking in the park in Christchurch.

Part of being away for three months means doing laundry and this was the first experience. It was pretty much the same as doing laundry at home. : )

Biking along the Tasman Sea.

Biking along the Tasman Sea.

On Tuesday we hooked up with a group tour we'll be traveling with for 10 days. It's a bicycling trip of the southern island and so far, it's great! We biked along the beach at the Tasman Sea, inland to a small gold-rush town (Hokitika), and now to the Franz Josef Glacier Township. Seeing the sites this way helps me get more up-close-and-personal with the country.

We'll continue exploring the south island on bikes for the next week. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!

 

PS. Again, I apologize for any typos, I am focusing on content rather than spending too much time proofreading on this trip!

Pancake Rocks on the west coast of the South Island.

Pancake Rocks on the west coast of the South Island.