Tag Archives: travel

Travel snobbery I’m so over

 

Travellers are generally pretty cool. It goes with the territory – chilled, open-minded, etc.

But this is the internet, and it brings out the judgemental worst in us all.  

At risk of biting the hand that feeds (see also: Personal finance topics I’m so over), today’s rant is about the superior mentality some travel blogs like to take.

‘That cost you how much?! We spent way less than that…’

If you want to survive on as little as humanly possible, that’s your prerogative. If you can afford to travel in luxury and that’s the way you want to go, enjoy it. If you are mostly frugal but splash out on food, who are we to judge? Just because it’s possible to spend as little as $10 or 20 a day in some countries doesn’t mean you’re ‘doing it wrong’ if you choose to splurge some days. Even the cheapest countries cost money and I’m inclined to agree with Adam Seper on this one: “You can’t do/see anything on $10/day, no matter where you are.”

Being on the road for six months, we occupied a strange middle ground – one that fell somewhere between normal people who couldn’t fathom how we spent so little, and long-term (often permanent) travellers who berate me for spending so much.

Six months worked in well with legalities (visas and such) for the destinations we wanted to visit and our finances, among other things. It did mean we moved at a fast pace by RTW standards and therefore jacked up daily average spend but it was the perfect length for us.

(Also, the US is not the only country in the world. There are travel bloggers from other countries, who deal in currencies other than the greenback.)

Anyone with a bag bigger than a 25L backpack is doing it wrong

I liked the idea of travelling with only a carry-on, I really did. Then I learned just how tiny the dimensions are for carry-on luggage with some of the budget airlines. There was no way that was going to happen. Plus, our RTW flights (for all the long-haul journeys) included checked baggage anyway – it was only the shorter European flights we had to worry about. So I sucked it up and paid extra for baggage on those flights.

I wouldn’t consider myself high maintenance; I only had a couple pairs of shoes and a handful of pieces of clothing for six months – one of the benefits of travelling in warmer weather. But we did have a few other things like electronics and a sleeping bag to contend with, and I am a lazy, untrained packer who likes to haphazardly squash things in. Oh, and yes, I packed jeans, and yes, I wore them a ton!

We could certainly have bought smaller packs (ours were never completely full until towards the end, when we did all our shopping in the States) and learned how to use packing cubes and the like if needed, but I figured I would rather have the option of more room in case I needed it (this definitely came in handy at times).

Props to the super minimalists and pro packers. Travel is always easier with less stuff to transport – but different strokes for different folks. My 9kgs may seem excessive to seasoned nomads, although non-travellers always balked at how little we apparently had.

The ‘right’ way to travel

Like most things in life, travel is intensely personal. I was itching to get out of the Louvre after an hour; some people dream of visiting it their whole lives. I adore Venice, but plenty of people decry it as a tourist trap.

So-called ‘real travellers’ occasionally astound me with their close-minded snobbery. How about we let people experience travel however the hell they want? Not everyone has the luxury of slow travel – the ability or the DESIRE to travel for long periods – so let’s not give them shit for trying to get the most out of their time. We only had 3 months in Europe as per Schengen visa rules so yes, we were kinda speed-freak backpackers  over there as we wanted to fit as much in as we could – and it was a blast. When you’re from NZ,  Europe is a long and expensive journey away, so this was a one-off/rare shot for us.

Not everyone wants to stay in gritty guesthouses and hostels, no matter how authentic that might be, or volunteer on a farm, or teach English abroad. (We did all these things ourselves and had a blast … but they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.)

Also, not everyone wants to spend months or years in developing nations no matter how cheap they are. After six weeks in southeast Asia we’d just about hit our limit in regards to heat and the environment in general. We spent too much on foreign food when we could no longer tolerate local food for every meal and found ourselves lingering longer in our air-conditioned rooms in the mornings as time went on. It was a grand adventure and amazing experience, but too far out of our comfort zone to spend months in.

I will wrap up with this:  ”You can indeed have a narrow mind and a thick passport.” (Borrowed from William Chalmers, whose excellent list of 22 examples of travel snobbery is here.)

Three Thing Thursday: Incy wincy travel regrets

travel regrets - nyc architecture skyline

Happily, I don’t have any major regrets. But when I do think back, these are the little things that niggle!

1. I wish we’d had more time in NYC. We’ll have to go back and explore north of Central Park, for starters – we only got to see small parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

Technically, I guess we could have ventured up there on the Sunday – our last full day there – but we were zonked after Saturday night out (karaoke and drinks for T’s birthday with our New York friends whom we met in Halong Bay). That was followed by a long walk home when we realised our train wasn’t running and had to catch a different one. We got back to our apartment about 2 or 3am and spent most of Sunday recovering (you’d honestly think we were middle aged or something).

I wouldn’t have minded longer on the East Coast overall, or in SF, but in order to meet some people in particular cities (of COURSE they would be planning to leave town round about when we were coming!) we had to move through some areas a little faster than I’d hoped.

2. I wish I’d tried to talk to the man at that restaurant in Naples, the restaurant that might or might not have been the one we’d been looking for, but I chickened out. He was yammering away at me in Italian, and instead of using my very limited Italian to explain I didn’t understand and did he speak English? I just froze. Then I walked away. I have a feeling that restaurant had been just about to open up for dinner, though not quite yet at that moment, but now I’ll never know – and I bet it would’ve been amazing, because it was tiny and totally untouristy.

3. I wish I’d been quicker off the mark with that word puzzle. On the train from Rome to Salerno, we were seated in a cabin in the middle of a raucous Italian family. Only one of them spoke English with any fluency at all. She and one of the other passengers were playing Guess the City on their iPads – a word scramble with a travel theme. Whenever they had trouble, they would ask me and T if we knew the answer. We were all stuck on one question in particular for the longest time, and we got off before it was solved. I was close – I could see that ‘Iguazu’ was one of the words – but just couldn’t decipher the rest of the letters. Not till about an hour or two later did it strike me – Puerto Iguazu. I wonder if they ever did figure it out.

Four of the best travel apps for your RTW trip

best travel apps rtw trip nzmuse

How on earth did people cope before the digital age? (Rhetorical question.)

Everyone has their own preferences, but here are the apps I lived by on our RTW trip last year.

Trail Wallet

I wish I could be an affiliate for Trail Wallet. I sing their praises all the time and can’t believe not more people know about Trail Wallet.

Basically, it is a slick expense tracker, super easy to use while you’re out and about. It’s ideal for RTW travellers as you can switch between the 218 currencies as you move around. Enter your purchase in the local currency and it will also show you how much that equates to in your home currency. (Current exchange rates are automatically updated as long as you’re online; otherwise you’ll have to wait till you next get an internet connection.)

Categorise your purchases according to your own preferences. Set a daily budget and if you’re under, you’ll get a peppy congratulatory message, otherwise, a sombre but sometimes encouraging one. A running monthly total will keep you in the loop as to how you’re doing with your spending overall, and colourful pie charts are the icing on the app. IT IS ALL YOU EVER NEED.

TripIt

No need to be paranoid about missing your flight or forgetting the date you’re catching that train out of the country. Tripit compiles all those confirmation emails into one handy itinerary that you can access on your phone via the app.

Booking.com

Booking.com is my accommodation search engine of choice. It’s always upfront about taxes and fees, has the lowest prices, is user-friendly and rewards loyal customers. The mobile app is pretty nice, too. You might prefer another provider, though!

You might also want to download the Hostelworld/Hostelbookers apps (hostels for couples in many places are not all that cost effective, so I never did).

Triposo

If like me, you’re not a fan of guidebooks but don’t want to go into new countries totally blind, Triposo is the app for you. It’s based on crowdsourced info from the likes of Wikitravel, so don’t take anything here as absolute gospel, but for a free app it’s hard to beat.

As well as basic guides to countries and cities along with background on their history and culture, Triposo provides maps that can be accessed offline, displays the time zone and current exchange rates, and also includes a phrasebook of key words and phrases so you can learn to greet and thank people – and maybe decipher basic signs too.

Five things you may not know about New Zealand

things to know before visiting nz

Thinking about visiting me soon? (If not, you should be…)

It’s okay to not know these things. The only unforgivable sin is confusing anything Kiwi with anything Australian. You have been warned.

You may burn to a crisp within minutes

Our ozone layer leaves something to be desired. I’ve not been anywhere else in the world where the sun is so intense.  Slather yourself up before stepping outdoors. The worst for burn time is usually between about 10 and 3 during the day, so if you burn easily, try to stay indoors or well covered up during those hours.

UV aside, our weather is really mild

Parts of New Zealand are subtropical and most don’t see snow. Here in Auckland, expect a variance of maybe 15 degrees between the height of summer and the depths of winter – 10 is cold, 25 hot. A lot of visitors land in Auckland during summer and find it chilly – it never gets too hot, really (you may not actually feel the intensity of the sun’s rays until you realise at the end of the day that you’ve picked up a ruddy burn). And our winter isn’t too bad as long as you’re inside an insulated building (a harder ask than you might think). We’re spoiled – if it wasn’t for the rain, we’d have the perfect climate. Everywhere else we’ve been would be too cold for me in winter and too hot for us both (especially T) in summer.

Our water is insanely pure

Clean, delicious and free. Enjoy. (In fact, I think we do pretty well on the beverage front. Our milk is unbeatable. And while I don’t do caffeine or booze, I hear our coffee, wine and even some of our beers are excellent – this ain’t Germany, but our well-travelled friends from Vermont reckon they never had a bad beer in New Zealand.)

The roads take some getting used to

Outside of the most built-up areas they tend to be narrow and windy, and the speed limits are fairly low – think Pacific Coast Highway style. Take it easy and always err on the side of caution. (And yes, we drive on the left hand side.)

Like our roads, the sea is rugged

We have good surf beaches, but watch out for rip tides. The human body is no match for the pull of the ocean. Luckily for you, our surf life guards are pretty world-class.


Three things that stoke my travel itch

los angeles venice beach skate park nzmuse

There are so many things that trigger the travel bug for me.

All those email deals that pop up in my inbox.

Friends’ travel photos, especially of places I haven’t been to yet.

Fond travel memories – triggered by something as simple as hearing a German accent on the bus, which throws me back to the time I had to ask for help figuring out the Berlin bus lines … or the time we all piled onto the last train back to Athens from the ferry port, and tried to help a bunch of European girls figure out where their backpacker’s hotel was.


And of course, smaller, random occurrences like these…

Seeing backpackers trying to navigate my local supermarket

I work in the burbs, so I don’t see  backpackers on Queen St on a daily basis. It’s always a surprise to see them wandering around my local supermarket – we’re a bit of a way out from the CBD after all, but it is a lot cheaper here (the first thing I usually asked any couchsurfers we hosted was whether they needed to make a grocery trip), and a lot of the best parts of Auckland are not in the centre. So props to those travellers!

Using ATMs

It’s very, very easy to live a cashless life in New Zealand. I sure do! But I had to get used to using ATMs throughout Asia and Europe (and once or twice in the States), which was mildly annoying. So the rare occasions when I need to visit an ATM here to get cash can trigger travel flashbacks. (Thankfully, our ATMs are generally big, clean and shiny, unlike some of those tiny, filthy grey ATMS scattered around New York, the kind that look like they were created specifically to spread disease.)

Foods

Pizza (takes me back to Naples and New York). Seafood (takes me back to Naples and the Amalfi Coast). Or the lack of! Example: dreaming of a good sandwich, ala New York deli subs. Or my North American buds talking about certain foods – BBQ, poutine, anything Mexican…

What kinds of things give you itchy feet?

Three Thing Thursday: Tips for a one-way US road trip

tips for a one way us road trip rental car NZMUSE ROAD TRIPPIN USA

It’s the ultimate dream. Driving across the USA, freedom to move at your own pace, answering to no one. Wide empty roads stretching out ahead of you. Wind in your hair. Chilis blasting Road Trippin’…

I highly recommend it. Best way to travel. Here are my suggestions:

1. Scout out the best car rental prices. If you’re going for a one-way car hire, there will be a premium, but it might not be as much as you think. For us, the best car rental booking website turned out to be CarHirePlanet. We paid about $42 per day for 37 days, insurance included, which came out to under $1600 for the five weeks. That was miles better than anywhere else, with the next best being VroomVroomVroom at closer to $2000, excluding insurance.

2. Always research gas prices before filling up. Petrol is insanely cheap in the US, which was one of the big arguments for driving – I’m talking at least half the price of petrol in NZ. (We were filling up our beast of an Impala/Corolla/Charger – yes, we went through three different rentals for various reasons, but all were uniformly enormous by NZ standards – for about $40). Nonetheless, you should still shop around for the best price. Even if you can’t get the GasBuddy app – I couldn’t, because of stupid App Store/Apple account country restrictions – you can still go to GasBuddy on your phone browser and use the web app to search for the cheapest gas prices near you.

3. Get a decent prepaid mobile plan (we went with T-Mobile, which included unlimited data for about $50 for a month) and use your smartphone to navigate around. We did actually opt to buy a GPS – T wanted it for the bigger screen and the dash mount – but it was cheap and crappy and annoyed the hell out of us. As a rule of thumb, I’d just go for the phone + mobile data + Google Maps.

Need ideas for the ultimate vacation? Flight Centre has you covered.

Top three Couchsurfing moments

paris by night

I have some very fond memories from abroad fuelled by Couchsurfing. The late night stroll through Paris via so many landmarks, even if was less a tour and more of a jumble; playing with Oreo, our Toronto hosts’ adorable little dog who considered our sofabed strictly her ptach; hopping on the back of a scooter with a stranger for a jaunt around some local spots in Hue. 

Related: Our first Couchsurfing experience abroad

Here, though, are the three Couchsurfing experiences that most stand out one way or another.

Our first surfing experience

Our first experience as surfers (not hosts) was with a European expat in Bangkok. Getting there was a total headache; I put our taxi driver on the phone with her (I think he thought she was a hotelier) but that didn’t seem to help.

She kept telling me I had to convince him to stop at a 7/11 or similar, as everyone in the area knew her apartment complex, but outsiders don’t. (If you haven’t been to Bangkok, 7/11s are literally everywhere.) I honestly don’t know how we made it, because our driver was not keen on that idea, but eventually we stumbled upon the right place thanks largely to dumb luck.

Then he refused to accept my 1000 baht note, so he drove me back to a 7/11 so I could buy something to break the note and pay him. Later, I realised I no longer had my change and concluded I must have dropped it in the backseat. Talk about throwing money away.

The other problem was the fact that our host was sick. She’d just come down with a cold and thus had turned her air conditioning off. In Bangkok, that isn’t just uncomfortable – it’s unbearable. We were drenched in sweat within minutes and the second night T opted to sleep outside on the balcony.

Good story now, but kind of a hassle at the time. 

Related: Unexpected benefits of couchsurfing (as a host)

Our first Couchsurfing meetup

Lot of cities with an active Couchsurfing community have a regular weekly meetup. Local members host, usually at a bar, and visitors turn up. 

Hanoi is one of these cities, and it turned out that the regular meetup was on during first night in town. We turned up expecting to meet a ton of other backpackers; instead we walked into a den of eager Vietnamese youth all clamouring to practise English with foreigners. It was a blast, just not quite what we were prepared for!

The next day I went exploring in Hanoi with some of our new buddies and one French couchsurfer (one of the few non-locals who turned up later that evening). They took us on a walking tour around the sights and are my Facebook friends today.

 

That time our host’s son gave up his room for us

Iceland is famously expensive (worse than Switzerland, IMO, which wasn’t actually quite as bad as I’d anticipated). And because we knew so little about the country, I was extra keen to find a host for our stay in Reykjavik.

It almost didn’t happen. Our host stopped answering my messages, so I booked a lodge room in town. Then suddenly he replied, confirming we were all on, and I cancelled that reservation. We turned up that evening and found a surprisingly youthful middle-aged couple who were kind of like kindred spirits (Iceland reminded us a LOT of New Zealand), and their young son, who brought to mind the kid in Meet the Robinsons. He solemnly shook our hands, then retreated to his computer. He’d been waiting excitedly for us to turn up – even gelled up his hair for the occasion,  his mother told me slyly, mouth upturned in amusement.

We shared a Bailey’s, watched Sons of Anarchy, chatted about all sorts of things and then went to bed. The next day, I got a peek into the computer room and realised that wasn’t a bedroom – there was no bed in there. Our bedroom wasn’t a spare; it was their son’s room. I’m still stunned by that – I would never have done that willingly when I was young.

Need ideas for the ultimate vacation? Flight Centre has you covered.

RTW and back: An interview with Maddie and Paul of Two for the Road

Contemplating picking up your life and heading abroad for a bit? I’ve yammered on plenty about our RTW travels here, but for a different perspective, here’s how Maddie and Paul planned and tackled their own trip and what it’s been like to come home.

Maddie and Paul are a 30-something couple who hail from Yorkshire in the UK. They have just returned home after spending 18 months exploring the globe, taking in 18 countries and spending more time on night buses than they ever thought was possible. They blog at Two for the Road. Like us, they saved hard ahead of time for their trip and have been back for about three months.

I definitely identify with most of the things they mention below –  like how travel strengthens a relationship, how fast it can quickly fade to feel like a dream, and how you’ll need to get over a fear of the unknown. Read on to see how they overcame all that…

What made you guys decide to embark on your trip? How long did it take to plan/prepare?

We’d always enjoyed travelling and Maddie had dreamt of long term travel from being a teenager. The well trodden path of being a grown-up got in the way during our 20s before we realised that you don’t have to follow the same path as everyone else. We did a couple of longer holidays and then finally made the decision about two years before we started the trip.

It was all a bit hypothetical for nearly a year and we didn’t really get serious until around 11 months before the departure date. The planning stage wasn’t a piece of cake but it was nowhere near as difficult as we expected, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

How did you fund the trip?

We wanted to take a complete break from work and made the decision to save all of our funds before we left so we wouldn’t have to take part-time jobs while on the road. We already had some savings but we saved the majority of what we needed in just 1 year. It’s amazing what you can do when you have a real goal, once we’d paid the bills every month we put the rest into savings and stopped eating out and buying unnecessary stuff. All we hear from people is that they don’t have enough money to do something like this and yet they still have enough for the latest flat screen TV or brand new car, it’s all about priorities.

What do you wish you knew before leaving?

Not to fear the unknown. We had so many worries while planning the trip and then when we started it took us at least 2 months to feel comfortable travelling. People are generally good, things normally work out and you will just get on with it. Stop worrying about what might happen and just go and experience it.

Any advice for would-be RTW travellers?

Just go! Regardless of the fears you have it generally works out okay, listen to what you want from your life rather than what people say you should want. Try to travel slow or take breaks where you do absolutely nothing for a week or so, if you move too quickly you will exhaust yourself and get travel fatigue. The last thing you want is to stop appreciating what you’re doing.

What is something surprising you learned on the road?

Our relationship has grown enormously when travelling, we’d already been together for 8 years when we left but we’ve learned so much about each other. Spending 24 hours a day together for 18 months makes you realise you can tackle anything that is thrown at you. We’ve also realised that people are pretty much the same anywhere you go. Regardless of country or culture we all want the same basic things.

What was your favourite place – or one place you would return to in a heartbeat?

We would quite happily live in the United States. We spent 3 months travelling through most of the states and it cemented a love of this wonderful country, we’re outdoor nuts and the landscapes and national parks are sublime. It has a vastness that we’re not used to in the UK and we love the fact that you can just get in your car and drive from snow to sand, mountains to desert.

What’s still on your travel wishlist?

The list just kept growing the more we’ve travelled! Top of the list at the moment are Alaska, Antarctica and Nepal.

What’s it been like settling in back home so far?

We’ve been back for 3 months and are still looking for new jobs, we have been offered positions but are looking for something quite specific. The job market is a lot more buoyant than we thought it would be so if you’re thinking about going on a trip do not let the fear of finding a job put you off.

We kept our house and rented it out while we travelled, it was a pain to manage but I’m glad we had the security of property and somewhere to move straight back into.

Settling back in has been an absolute roller coaster, some days you are incredibly happy and then other days you are pining for the road so much you wonder what the hell you’re doing. The strangest thing about being back is how quickly travel can almost feel like a dream rather than a real experience, lives have gone on and very few people will be interested in what you’ve done. We’re incredibly grateful to have each other so we can tell stories whenever we feel like it!

Do you plan to stay put – is this your ‘forever’ city?

We have no firm plans for the future at the moment, we’re focused on finding jobs and replenishing the pot of money for the time being. We live in a beautiful part of the UK but we’re not sure we want to be here forever. If we’ve learned anything it’s that your dreams can change in a heartbeat so be as flexible as possible.

On making travel a part of our normal lives…

vegas lights at night How do you continue to make travel a part of your life after coming home from an extended trip?

I’ve been pondering this, since going from 24/7 travel back to a 9-5 with four weeks’ leave is a big change.

One way we won’t be doing it is by hosting Couchsurfers. We just don’t have the space  anymore. We no longer have a spare room. Our lounge is tiny and our current furniture set consists of four separate pieces, not a standard couch (we do have them arranged together but they wouldn’t be any good to sleep on). Our floor is tiled not carpeted, so sleeping on the floor here is not an option.

I’ll be honest: I also feel like I might be done with Couchsurfing for awhile. It was fun hosting, it was intense, and I struggled to say no to people. We also had a few memorable experiences as surfers. But I feel like we’ve done our dash, got out what we put in (to be honest I feel we put in more than we got out, because there are way too many surfers and not enough hosts, and it’s worsening every day). Maybe I’ll revisit this later on but for now we’re enjoying our privacy. And of course, we’d happily find a way to accommodate anyone who’s hosted us.

I will keep reading travel blogs to get my fix, however, and am thinking about starting an occasional Q&A series in which I interview other RTW bloggers. And of course, I’ll be keeping an eye out for good travel deals.

We’re thinking Australia should be our next destination (I’ve only been to Sydney, while T has only really passed through Sydney enroute to areas like Bundaberg to visit family). The Great Barrier Reef isn’t getting any younger, you know. And a good friend of mine has just decamped to Sydney – the first of us to marry a foreigner and move overseas permanently.

I’ve also always wanted to go to Niue, another reasonably close to home destination. And while it’s unlikely, should any deals to Spain, Japan or Hong Kong crop up that we could make work with our budget and schedules, I’ll be all over those.

We’ve both seen most of New Zealand, and I feel about travel much as I do about restaurants – for most places, once is enough. There are just too many other / new options to bother going back to the same place twice. That said, I really love the areas just north of Auckland, and am happy to revisit them often as they are close by. 

It going to be hard for us to get away at all, though, since we we’re back to working almost opposing schedules. I’m Monday-Friday, he usually has mid-week days off. I’m sure we can wrangle the occasional weekend off – it’ll just mean less income because those are prime sales days for him. One thing I wouldn’t mind doing this year is the Tongariro Crossing – eight hours seems a bloody long time to walk but I bet we can do it faster, and the scenery needs no further description.

 

What it’s like to settle down after travelling the world

coming from from a rtw trip nzmuse
You know, I was really worried it would be difficult to return to normal life overnight. But just as I learned on the road, I’m surprisingly adaptable, and so maybe it’s not surprising that I also slipped back into the folds of our old life fairly quickly.

I think we’re both still revelling in coming home to the same bed every night, being able to see friends on a whim, marathon TV shows … I’m even enjoying the leisure of lingering over the stove.

T threw out the idea in passing the other day that we should do another RTW trip when we have kids. I can’t even begin to contemplate such an undertaking … but that sure would be an adventure.

It’s a little scary, actually, how fast those memories fade. I’m glad I kept a diary, and blogged, and took photos, because those essentially all we have as proof now.

Except for the remaining bug bite scars (are smooth unblemished legs a small price to pay for six months of RTW travel?) as a daily reminder, in some ways it’s like we never left.

Home

After nearly three weeks at my parents’ house, moving into our new place definitely came at just the right time. It’s maybe two-thirds the size of our last place, not to mention much closer to the neighbours and minus a front and back yard, but downsizing hasn’t been too hard, since we’ve spent the months in between living out of backpacks, in dorms, motel rooms, living rooms and guest rooms.

Best of all, I could finally wear clothes to work beyond the approximately three outfits I had in my pack!

But we had to buy SO MUCH STUFF. Pillows (which have desperately needed replacing for years, but I was too cheap to do so. After six months in a garage, though, they were definitely beyond salvage). A new frypan (same sad story. Our new one is amazing – corn fritters, pancakes and eggs come out heart-achingly perfect). A good knife (again, turned out to be worth its weight in gold). All the small things – oils, spices, cleaning products….

I quickly found myself nesting, organising the house, finding places for everything, relishing the simple joy of having a place to call home.

The two biggest changes are the fact that we have a dryer in our new place, and no garden. These things combined make me feel like a bad global citizen. I can’t compost as there’s no earth to bury our scraps in (and I’m not going to buy a crazy expensive composting bin system). It’s ridiculous how smelly your kitchen bin gets when you’re putting food scraps into it! We do have one very small clothesline that doesn’t get much sun attached to the side of our house under the eaves, so I’m going to make more of an effort to line dry items like towels and sheets.  But for general use, the dryer is just so handy, especially in Auckland’s climate, and because our stove and water run on gas, our electricity bills are crazy low (around $30-40), even with occasional/regular dryer use.

We’re still working on getting into something of a groove in regards to keeping the house running. Cleaning has always been a source of friction for us. Lots of bloggers brag about how equally they share cleaning duties, so it’s kind of shameful to admit that we don’t (though I would be interested to know if they also split cooking equally).

At first, he did all the cooking and I did most of the cleaning while he was job hunting. Now he’s working 10-20 hours a week more than I am (earnings are another matter; he’s commission based so he definitely has the potential to outearn me). Taking on the lion’s share of household tasks given his schedule has proved the easiest solution thus far.

I don’t like cleaning by any means, but having a clean house is much more important to me than it is to him, unfortunately. Despite being anal about a few select things, like crumbs in bed, he has an insanely high tolerance for filth (and from what I’ve seen it’s a family thing – they occasionally go on cleaning binges but generally exist in a state that I  find  disagreeable). I’m also the one with all the dust/pollen/etc sensitivities. I’d love for us to see eye to eye on cleaning … but I honestly don’t think this will ever happen.

Work

Naturally, I feared this might be the hardest readjustment to make. Not so! It’s like I never left. Afraid I have no real advice for other RTWers coming home on this front. That said, I was able to do a little freelancing while travelling (and of course blogged the whole time) so it’s not like I was totally out of the game for six months. I imagine if you were, say, an accountant, cop, or engineer, things would be different. The first couple weeks were a bit of a shock to the system, but now all is gravy. And when things get frustrating, I remind myself that it’s ridiculous to expect work to be unicorns and rainbows 100% of the time.

Adjusting to work has been harder for T. This is possibly the least physical job he’s ever done, but he’s still on his feet all day, and coming home looking like a limp rag. We’ll see how this goes.

We’re back to working quite different schedules, so our time together is mainly limited to evenings. It’s lucky that we now live within easy walking distance of multiple supermarkets and grocers, or this whole one-car thing would be a huge pain in the ass.

Physical

One negative side effect of travelling, which obviously messed with our routines and eating/sleeping patterns to some extent, is that I no longer seem to know when I’m full. My calibration button is broken. Even when I’m insanely stuffed, I don’t feel the heavy bloat I used to, so I’ve learned to stop and check myself in case I overdo it. Related: my appetite overall seems to have shrunk. I still need decent sized meals at frequent intervals, but I can’t do all-you-can-eats justice anymore.

My palate has totally changed. I can no longer tolerate even the thought of eating a kebab wrap (had way too many of those in certain, less culinary parts of Europe while trying to save dosh). I actually want to eat healthy, because I really feel the difference, physically, when I don’t. I’ve become a lot more sensitive to sugar in my food – for example, I used to adore Patak’s curry, but now it’s painfully sweet and downright inedible to me. I still like to indulge in the odd piece of rich cheesecake, mud cake, brownie, etc, but I no longer want any middling/substandard baked goods to pass my lips. Go hard or go home.

I desperately miss fresh Italian ingredients, Mexican joints, New York delis, and sloppy BBQ. But I am glad to once again have humble Kiwi suburban bakeries in my life (mince and cheese pies! butter chicken pies! custard pies! pizza bread) and real coleslaw (not the creepy sweet stuff that passes for coleslaw in America). Also – unrelated – I miss the amazing, nature-defying, non-sticky sand of Santorini.

On the upside, it’s nice to be back to eating a full variety of foods – while the main allure of travel for me is dining local, eventually you need to mix it up, hence our eating Indian food in Las Vegas, Chinese food in Rome (a city that blew me away in regard to multiculturalism) and Western food in Ho Chi Minh.

I’m back to living inside a hayfeverish hell – such is the price I pay for living in the land of the long white cloud. My sinuses hate this country. Along with the occasional pill, steaming and exercising seem to help – the first time I tried steaming it was like opening up a whole new world. I could breathe through my nose effortlessly, feel the air in the back of my throat, all those connections inside as it circulated, down to my grateful lungs. It’s funny how quickly you get used to things and forget how they’re really meant to work. I haven’t been able to breathe freely like this since 2011. Only wish I’d tried it sooner.

But I AM loving the mild summer and looking forward to an equally mild winter. I don’t own a hat or gloves and I can still wear ballet flats during winter. It won’t be like Iceland, or even summer in London/Scotland, or Canada (guys, stop trying to convince me that Canadian winters are not that bad, I know how low temperatures go there). Just ignore me when I start bitching about the rain, okay?

Life in general

At first, everything seemed so small. All our buildings, so short – the towers, the one-storey houses. Our hills (volcanoes) looked almost low enough to leap over. From Tamaki Drive, the North Shore felt stiflingly close – like we could swim over to Devonport with just a few strokes, or pop over to Rangitoto in a kayak (which I believe you can actually do, but it would be pretty arduous going in reality). 

Yet in the relative absence of terraced houses and streets of apartments, it almost felt like we had more room to breathe somehow. What would previously have felt like a long distance is nothing now; anything within Auckland seems nearby and traffic is pretty dreamy. Drivers are still sometimes rude and erratic but better than anywhere else in the world we’ve been. Tap water here is amazing, and free – it’s nice to dine out without having to think twice about ordering water, or whether it’s worth eating in once we factor in tipping.

Everything is crazy expensive but we’ve learned to grit our teeth – it’s all about tradeoffs.

Auckland is home. On sunny days, as Sense points out, it’s downright stunning. Just this week we headed out to Piha for a post-work swim and chillout session on the beach – it’s afternoons like those that remind me what’s great about living here.

“That’s the problem with only having one real city,” a friend remarked recently as we bemoaned the state of the property market in Auckland.  While that isn’t really true, in some ways it feels like it is. We have a third of the population, after all. And there isn’t anywhere else in NZ I’d live. Beyond the deep ties (our family is here, all the job opportunities are here, the roots of familiarity in general), we have the best variety of food and culture, and in order to find better weather or public transport we’d have to move to a tiny town or out of the country altogether. And from what I’ve seen, there’s nowhere else in the world that would be our perfect city, either.

Even if we criticise it nonstop, we do it out of love (is this a uniquely Auckland thing? Because I noticed that not a single commenter on my post about tradeoffs deigned to voice a complaint about their own city).

Simon Pound sums it up perfectly in his opening letter in Aortica #2:

Ah, Auckland. You immature doe of a city. Nowhere else in the world are inhabitants of a place at once so disparaging about their hometown yet so worried about what a visitor thinks. “There’s not much to do here,” locals will say apologetically, before asking with great pride if you liked the West Coast beaches, Kaurak Gulf, island escapes, coffee, fresh food, mountain landscape, Pacific flavour, Chinese restaurants and so on and so on…

…Auckland is a city where people smile at you on the street and then avoid eye contact on the trains. It’s a small big city with the spread and scope of a metropolis, but often the horizons of a province…

…I love Auckland like any true Aucklander: equivocally. The truth is that you have to work at having a great life here. You can’t simply step out of the door and get caught up in activity. You have to spark it yourself.”

Truer words were never spoken; it’s enough to make you laugh and weep simultaneously.

I’ll leave  you today with a quote from artist Dan Arp’s passage in the magazine:

“After travelling around a bit and coming back here, I realise that Auckland is a city that is made up of lots of little bits that feel very much like a lot of other places, so if you know where to go, it can feel like the place you might want to be in at that moment, but you can always change your mind and go somewhere else, and there is always the beach or the forest or somewhere that couldn’t be anywhere else.”