In defence of touristy places

tourist spots i love - in defence of touristy spots

While I suspect I may lose some cred for admitting to adoring all these destinations, I don’t care. I love them anyway.

Hoi An

nzmuse hoi an

Basically the definition of a tourist town. Were it not for tourism, I’m not sure it would exist. It’s colourful, with fantastic food, a little bit of a time warp in the middle of the country.  As I wrote last year: “It’s all a show, really, but it doesn’t make it any less magical.”

Halong Bay

nzmuse halong bay tourist spot

Yup, another Vietnamese spot!  I had heard negative things about the rubbish and pollution in the waters here, but it was surprisingly clean overall (note that we went during low season). This is a World Heritage site that will leave you feeling humbled and awed.

Santorini

nzmuse santorini tourist spot

The light here is like nothing else. Eat, drink, swim – try to hit the black, red AND white beaches – and be merry. Quite possibly the most romantic spot we visited. Fairly affordable, too.

Venice

nzmuse venice touristy spots

I was prepared for the worst – smelly, grotty, humid canals. But there was absolutely zero stench and while it was rather sweltering in August, I looooved the tiny alleyways, the gelato, and our overpriced gondola ride. ALL OF IT.

Queenstown

nzmuse queenstown touristy spot

Picture-perfect, even if it does get bloody cold down there. (The razor-like winds will cut you almost as deep as Iceland’s gusts.)

 

Link love (Powered by lemonade and spring rolls)

nzmuse blog link love

I got super excited the other week when I saw my bank was pushing a special June offer for its low-interest Visa, with no fees for the life of the card. Anyone in NZ knows that it’s impossible to find a credit card with no annual fees here (though there is now Kiwibank’s Mastercard Zero – I’m not sure when that launched, because I never heard anything public about it and only learned of its existence through a random Quora thread).

Alas, you cannot earn rewards with that card.  Even with account fees, and my bank’s irritating tinkering with the rewards scheme, I still come out ahead overall sticking with my current setup. (And come to think of it, what is the life of a card anyway – is that the life of the physical card, or the actual account? Because if it’s the former, then it would only be a couple years before it expired and I’d have to start paying fees on the new one.)

This week’s links

Ways to be kind to yourself, via Makeup and Mirtazapine

Alexis Grant lays out the cold hard truth: No one will pay you just to write

Kim from So Many Places tries to get her head around returning to the US – and all that entails

Cassie’s turning 30 and has a bunch of astute lessons to share

It’s a fine line … Exactly how confident are you allowed to be before it crosses the line? Via Yes and Yes

Sometimes things happen either all at once or not at all, as Lindsay observes

Athena shares her ‘why’ of personal finance

Here is a pretty awesome and free budget cookbook

A weirdly cool photography project spotlighting mixed race families (though I would consider some of them mixed nationality, not mixed race)

Finally, there are just so many amazing snippets in this piece about Britney in Vegas I have to share:

Single-named DJs pump their skinny arms as women in tight tube dresses and Lucite heels they bought online a year ago straddle mouth-breathing men on VIP couches like they just heard there was an asteroid headed toward earth or just took a handful of Ecstasy; platonic girlfriends decide to make out at no urging at all because we’re in Vegas bitchez! One does not have to go far to feel the erection of a stranger in the rear of one’s jeans. It is in these small, handsy hours of the night that Caesars’ hope for Britney was born…

The first thing you notice when you land in Vegas is all the breasts. Breasts are the shining, veiny centerpiece of the uniforms in Vegas; it’s a city built on the breasts and shoulders of women. The only thing women aren’t in this city are magicians, but they are the people being sawed and made to disappear nightly for the magician’s applause…

They refer to her not as Brit-Brit, which is her family’s nickname for her, but as an assortment of words to describe her made into portmanteaux with her name: When she’s practicing for her show, they call her Rehearsalney. When she’s caught learning choreography or participating in a new sequence, she’s Dancney. When she goes to Target, which is constantly, she’s Errandney. And when she inspires them or pulls something amazing off, which is practically always, if you ask them, she is Godney…

And yes, that does make two weeks of Britney links in a row. Not sorry.

Friday Five: Around the world in flavours

Most couples probably reminisce about their travels over photographs.

We kinda do the same thing … with our tummies.

I’d love to relive (in no particular order):

Flan in Paris

Filo pie in Greece

Deli subs in New York

Pho in Vietnam

All things Italian

An honourable mention also to a few beverages: watermelon smoothies, sugarcane juice, pink lemonade.


Why I love living in the suburbs

There is a certain local blog I’ve started following very closely (with transport being one of Auckland’s biggest growing pains as the city expands, I’m keen to keep up with what’s happening in that area).

One thing that does frustrate me is the sometimes excessively ideological stance it takes. City life = good. Suburbia = bad. Walking and biking and of course, public transport = good. Cars = bad.

Absolutely, we need to reduce car congestion particularly at peak times – and I think that’s our biggest opportunity in regard to public transport. But for the majority of Aucklanders, a car is still going to be almost a necessity for your leisure time. (Even more so for people who don’t work in the CBD and generally need to drive to work.) I don’t ever imagine there being enough demand for a regular bus from, say, town to Bethells beach, and I sure hope there never is, to be quite frank. That would be horrible – I can’t even begin to fathom it.

Most of us do not live in the CBD, and I’d say very few of us want to. (Not bashing the CBD! Just stating a general truth. The most desirable areas are undoubtedly the immediately surrounding suburbs rather than the CBD itself.)

Personally, the closest I’ve ever lived to town is Epsom/Mt Eden (about a 15-20 minute bus ride). Here’s why:

Location/proximity

We have to balance the ease of getting to work for me AND him. We are probably always going to work in very different parts of Auckland, and he will probably never be in a situation where public transport makes sense for his commute. It’s also ideal for us to live close to friends and family, who are all central-west/west. His side of the family has no car of their own; we always go to them. He also spends a lot of time with friends; the time and petrol costs when we lived over in Epsom sometimes got a bit silly.

Food

The best Asian food is found in the suburbs. None of my regular favourite restaurants are in town. YMMV depending on your tastes. Also, grocery shopping is wayyy better in the suburbs, both in terms of supermarkets and cheap grocers/butchers. When T’s sister lived way out west we’d bundle visits with a trip to the massive Lincoln Rd Pak’n’Save, the supermarket to end all supermarkets.

Room to breathe

This might sound a little weird … and I completely understand if you don’t get it. Having grown up in a suburban area, these are the kinds of surroundings I’m used to. We spent about a year living in an apartment building when I was still a student and it just didn’t feel right. It’s not about raw floor space; after all our current one-bedroom flat (which is kinda like a big sleepout between two real houses in front and back) is probably about the same size as that apartment. It’s about little things like stepping out your front door and being outside. A little garden. Not having neighbours literally on the other side of the wall/floor/ceiling. That’s what feels right to me, probably because that’s how I was raised. And while we’re on that note … the beach and bush that we like are an easy drive away. I love that.

I was also actually going to say that it’s cheaper out here, but that’s not necessarily true. There’s always a glut of tiny shoebox apartments available for rent in town, but again for that breathing room/lifestyle aspect, we’d pick the suburbs any day. Caveat: I don’t mean the sprawly, soulless type of suburbia where you have to drive for ages to get anywhere – that end of the spectrum sucks – but the good kind, that’s near transport links and shops and parks.

It’s all about balancing and tradeoffs. Commuting is a bit of a pain, but it’s not like I’m not used to it, like every other Aucklander. We’re not after bar hopping, shows, and going to trendy places. Out of the years that I spent working in the suburbs, I can probably count on my fingers the number of times we ventured into town in our own time. CBD living doesn’t interest us (at least not with the CBD in its current state, for all the progress it’s made in the last decade). I love working in town, but am happy to go home to suburbia.

Link love (Powered by stops and starts)

nzmuse link love roundup

Have I ever mentioned how much I love you guys? Because I do. I really do.

Remember my refried beans dilemma? Well, who knew a little bit of fat could make so much difference? Lard was indeed the magic ingredient. Now we just need to play around with the spices.

Blogging has brought me so many things, but this ranks up there among the best.

Blast from the past

This time last year we were arriving in London (which I found a lot more to my liking than I’d anticipated), having made our way south to north in Vietnam and returning briefly to Bangkok where we couchsurfed (floorsurfed) for the first time.

This week’s links

A million times yes to this: Adjusting today’s financial advice to include unemployment

Maybe one day… How to travel the Maldives on $60 a day

It’s true – even us introverts can cherish those fleeting travel friendships struck up on the road

A lovely tribute to the late Gerry Goffin, half of the Carole King songwriting powerhouse

The Toast brilliantly analyses Baby One More Time, which is still my favourite Britney song ever  (never figured out the ‘hit me’ part – is it like blackjack – ie let’s go one more round?)

The Atlantic examines why we sleep together. Fascinating. (I think I do tend to sleep better alone but I’m a snuggler and hate falling asleep/waking up alone)

Proof that I live in quite possibly the most beautiful country on earth

And my weekly Auckland housing-related link (via economist Tony Alexander)

There is talk that the Reserve Bank could consider putting extra credit controls in place in order to try and stem inflation sourced from the housing market… limiting how much someone could borrow to a multiple of their household income…

If the restrictions were harsh enough house prices could even be pushed lower, though that is not highly likely given that the overwhelming impact of credit restrictions will be felt by the group of people who have already been shut out of the market to a big degree by the maximum loan to value rules – young first home buyers.

Is this something about which we in the lower, middle, and upper middle classes, and those silly enough to self-identify in New Zealand as in the upper classes, will feel greatly worried about? Heck no. We have already bought lots of investment properties over the past few years …

While we will tut tut about how difficult it is for a young person to buy a property these days our incomes will rise and we will, yet again, feel happy that we ignored the many doomsters and kept buying properties the past two decades.

Sorry young folk, but much as you may feel the future belongs to you and your smartphone tapping ways, for now the wealth and the power belongs to us – the Baby Boomers.

 

Haggling in Asia: Tales from the street vault

nzmuse bangkok haggling

It’s hard to believe that a year ago we were waving goodbye to Bangkok, hopping the Airtrain and winging our way to London. Suvarnabhumi was one heck of an airport, I’ll say. I’ll always remember it for the crazy fast travelators, our last fix of Mr Donut and oh, yeah, the fact I managed to lose my boarding pass somewhere between checkin and boarding.

One thing I wasn’t looking forward to about travelling in Asia was bargaining. I’m not used to negotiating, and even if it was expected of me, I just didn’t know how I’d cope.

As it turns out, we didn’t have much to worry about. We weren’t there for the shopping; we were there to eat and sightsee. We did buy a couple of things, though.

Our first haggle came courtesy of T, who took it upon himself to acquire a flip-knife he spotted amongst the treasures at a street stall. (Result: 50 baht off for a total of 300 baht. If I recall correctly. I don’t think that was hugely successful.)

There was also his tattoo, a totally out-of-the-blue purchase. While he’d been bugging me about getting inked in Thailand, I simply kept giving him The Look. Then, one night, we headed out to Khao San Rd for a drink run at about 10.30pm. (I think the hardest part about Cambodia and Vietnam, for him, was the absence of 7-11s and his beloved Big Gulp drinks.) We stopped so he could flip through yet another tattoo parlour’s lookbook. The owner ushered us inside and started doing his sales spiel. To say it was a tough sell would be an understatement – I totally stonewalled him. He threw out an initial quote of maybe 6000 and eventually came down to 5000 in an attempt to convince me… and since T was able to pull up his second family crest online to show the artist, and the price was way less than we’d pay here, I conceded.

And that’s how we ended up going out for a Coke and coming back many hours later with a tattoo.

The other occasion where we found ourselves forced to haggle was with drivers. You might find drivers unwilling to use the meter, for whatever dodgy reason, who quote you absolutely outrageous fares for a 5-minute ride when you KNOW it should cost, at the most, half of that number.

And yet … the sums involved are usually fairly small in the grand scheme of things. There’s the principle; you know what’s a fair price to pay, and you don’t want to get ripped off. At the same time, we may have been budget travellers , but a dollar or two would have meant a lot more to locals than it did to us.

Got any haggling stories to share?

Planning To Travel With Diabetes? Here’s What You Need To Know

Planning for vacations seems like an idyllic endeavour until you start packing. That’s when reality knocks on your head: you’ve filled the carry-on with backup toiletries, a pair of shoes, and a few wardrobe essentials – but what about keeping supplies for your metabolic disease?

Individuals with diabetes will always have more preparations to consider. On vacation, you may be in a new time zone, encounter new cuisines, or not have access to your regular medications. This can make it more challenging to manage blood sugar levels and disrupt your daily routine. But if you’re equipped with the right information and supplies, traveling with diabetes can be smooth and healthy process.

Here are some considerations that will set you off on a stress-free vacation:

Prepare ahead with appropriate food

One challenge of managing diabetes when traveling is that you may not have access to the usual diabetic-recommended foods. Whether you’re traveling by train, car, or bus, the available foods (crackers, packaged juices, etc.) aren’t the best choices for managing blood sugar. They are high in calories and low in nutrition. And after you’ve reach a foreign destination, the local fare may can be a problem too.

To counter these issues, you should take along some healthy snacks to avoid low-nutrition choices at convenience stores and at airports. This could save you money as well. Some healthy snack examples include natural peanut butter, protein bar, fresh fruits, whole-grain crackers, and diabetes meal replacement shakes. If you’re taking the plane, bring a note from your doctor to avoid any issues with the airport security while carrying these food items.

Pack enough supplies

Even if you’re taking spare prescriptions, it’s not a good idea to go without your supplies and medications on the road. For example, you will need to check your blood sugar level before, during, and after travel to avoid high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and the health problems these variations can cause.

So make sure you plan ahead when you are traveling with your insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor for managing diabetes as effectively as possible throughout the journey. Dexcom highlights the importance of portability in a continuous glucose monitor. They and many other companies are making portable models that are ideal for travelers to carry – they take up a mere amount of space and can even be kept inside a pocket.

Additionally, models with long-lasting sensors would offer added value to travelers with long-distance schedules (some companies make sensors that are approved for up to 7 days of use).

Carry identification and discuss your disease

Diabetic patients don’t like to share their condition with everyone. It seems embarrassing, makes you the center of unwanted attention and sometimes just seems tacky. However, it could be a lifesaver in case you’re surrounded by unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar destination. If no one near you knows about your condition and you have an emergency, you might not be able to communicate during that time.

It also means that you should carry details of your disease, medication and identification with you during travel. That could include a keychain fob, an identity bracelet or even a wallet card. You never know they could end up saving you in an emergency.

Traveling in ease with diabetes is no difficult feat. You just have to be smart about it.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

how to balance having a family and career

The more thought I give to having kids, the more I realise we are screwed.

Stay home and miss out on income and retirement contributions (only for a few years sure, but that adds up to a lot).

Keep working and struggle to juggle everything (I find it hard enough to run our lives as DINKs, let me tell you).

If T could increase his income, maybe I could stay home and freelance – I’d earn less, but something is better than nothing .

If I remain the bigger earner, well, I don’t know what he could do on a self-employed basis if he stayed home. If there was an easy answer, his stints of unemployment in our time together wouldn’t have been so bad. Also, I shudder to think what kind of scene I would come home to at nights. Great dinners, no doubt, but probably a filthy house (and grubby, if happy, kids by default).

And what if, as Her Every Cent Counts made me consider, a difficult pregnancy/birth physically affects my ability to work?

I feel totally torn between two trains of thinking: One: I work in an office – the world wouldn’t miss a beat without me – how can that ever compare with raising mini human beings? Two: I really like what I do – even if I’m not saving the world – do I have to feel guilty about that?

Also, I need adult interaction. My tolerance for children is even more limited than for people in general, and needs to be balanced out.

On a slightly different note … My parents were around wayyy too much when I was a kid. They both worked full time when we lived in Kuala Lumpur, but after moving to NZ, they both mostly worked part time or at home. It annoyed the hell out of me back then.  On the other hand, we all know people whose parents were never around. That usually doesn’t end so well either.

Mine were too strict; other parents weren’t strict enough. I am determined to find a balance, but I am well aware I am destined to fail.

Link love (Powered by cannoli and yum cha)

nzmuse link love roundup

This week has been defined by two things.

Amazing food: Arancini and cannoli at Matakana markets. Dessert at Fed Deli (pity their poutine hasn’t improved – it could use a hell of a lot more gravy and soggier chips, but it’s still the best we have in Auckland). Yum cha with work peeps, which I literally haven’t had since we got back to NZ. Egg custard tarts, we belong together…

Amazing TV: We finally finished Angel. I was so upset about the ending to start with but in retrospect think it was pitch perfect. Here’s the best analysis of the final I’ve come across. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones wraps next week, and we’ll be finishing Orange is the New Black this weekend. We watched one movie – Mr Nobody – which was a total letdown. Fascinating concept but confusing in execution and needed a heck of a lot more editing.

How was your week?

This week’s links

Utterly stunning sentiment from Prose and Constellations: “We are here to live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

9 healthy breakfast ideas from my fave food blog, Stonesoup

Renting/flathunting in the Auckland ‘burbs sucks, but sounds like renting in the CBD is just as stupidly painful (thanks for enlightening me, Sense)

Residential parking permits are common in other big cities and were a bit of a pain for us in Toronto, but people here aren’t super keen on the idea…

Nicole and Maggie ask: Does what you do define who you are?

One of Seth Godin’s shortest and best posts ever: “Really tempting to spend time trying to get paid for what you love. It’s probably easier and certainly more direct to talk to yourself about loving what you do.” (I feel bad for having copied the entire post…)

Shonda Rhimes dreamed of being Toni Morrison growing up, and years later, when they had dinner together, all Morrison wanted to talk about was Grey’s Anatomy. I love that. Also, she delivers a great reality check on balance and success: “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life.”

HelpStay: Launching a thousand journeys

helpstay nzmuse The concept of volunteering overseas changed my life. Literally. Had I not discovered the likes of WWOOF and HelpX, odds are we would never have taken our RTW trip. Volunteering (which we did in Italy and Germany) enabled us to extend our travels and gave us some of the richest memories and experiences of that entire journey.

So when Shay Gleeson, founder of HelpStay, got in touch with me, I was intrigued. His twist on the concept is introducing a fundamental layer of quality assurance – vetting, if you like. He’s an Irish bloke who (like us) recently took a six-month sabbatical and spent time travelling in Thailand, Vietnam and Australia, including some WWOOFing in the latter. Not surprisingly, he met plenty of other backpackers supplementing their travels by swapping their skills for lodging and food – there’s plenty of that here in New Zealand too.

The plan is to start small and expand from there. HelpStay has launched with a number of Irish hosts (most of whom he says are also members of other major volunteering sites) and Canada will be next off the ranks.

helpstay logo We had a chat about the birth of HelpStay, what he hopes to achieve, and where he’s off to next…

How he got the idea for HelpStay

I worked on organic farms for 3 weeks in Australia when I was on my travels. The idea started fermenting in my head. I was thinking ‘this is great’ …

Unfortunately I don’t have an inheritance or a nest egg or a trust fund … so you know the trip is going to come to an end sometime and you gotta go back to your home country, work for a few months, get some cash together then you can go off again.

I was thinking there must be an easier way to do this, to travel perpetually. That’s where the whole idea came from … that you can sustain your travel longer and go further.

A good UK friend of mine who is a surfing fanatic spent the whole summer in Australia helping in a surf lodge and surfing in his spare time. He did it all on a very tight budget.

To me travel is all about sharing, learning and growing and I think HelpStay facilitates the traveller to share their skills, learn new ones and grow as an individual. In addition, the traveller is living among locals, creating meaningful social connections and travelling with a purpose.

I guess we are the next evolution of Couchsurfing – you can crash on the couch but you will need to pull your weight about the place.

What sets HelpStay apart

There are other places doing it but where I’m different is that I wanted to actually look at building some trust and security into the system. At the moment, the other places, they don’t actually do any of that, they don’t actually go to the hosts and verify them, interview them and so forth.

If you’re a traveller and want to go to a host you’re taking a bit of a gamble. You don’t really know much about them. It’s a big ask to ask someone to go halfway across the world and stay with somebody they don’t know.

Hosts are only accepted on the platform once I have visited and interviewed them. I am also in the process of photographing all the hosts’ properties. This way the helper will know what to expect. It’s a big ask for someone to travel half way across the world, they need to know what to expect. I want to ensure that each host property and stay is as expected. Trust and security play a massive part and it’s something that is at the forefront of this venture. After all, trust is the currency of the new economy.

The end game

With HelpStay, I want to start 1000+ journeys. I want to entice people to start travelling and exploring the world. I want to empower the current generations to leave the safety of the couch and start a new journey. In the future, I would love to have hosts in a diverse range of countries and regions. How cool would it be to spend a month living and learning fabric weaving in Ireland or on a ranch learning horsemanship skills in Mongolia?

The end game of the whole project is to have hosts in as many countries as possible, in really interesting countries … like Mongolia, Iran or Iraq. If it works the way it’s supposed to work you will be able to travel around the world free, you can go from one host to another and that way travel perpetually (Ed: And a handy excuse to travel there to vet them!).

Once I have Ireland up and running, I am going to start travelling again. I have booked my flights to leave for Australia in early December.

helpstay nzmuse

My thoughts, in closing:

Shay mentions that volunteering can easily turn into exploitation if there’s a lack of communication and expectations aren’t laid out (hence the required approval process here, even though it takes a lot of work on his part). As he says, it really is the little things that can ruin an experience. We got a bit of a feel for our host via Skype beforehand, but were totally thrown by their eating habits (quantity/timing) when we got there. That’s a really hard thing to nail down – what do you call a reasonable amount of food, and does it line up with my perception?! – but I know if we ever volunteer again I’ll be asking about their dining routine early on.