Sometimes, deviating the norm can be a bit disorienting. When you’re trying to travel authentically, allowing yourself to be internally driven to seek alternative, lesser beaten paths, there are no footprints in which to follow.

There’s no itinerary, no tour guide, no rules about how you should travel, where you should go next, or when it’s time to move on. It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s open to possibility. And sometimes it’s confusing—because you’re confused.

Last time I checked in, I talked about how I was applying for jobs here in New Zealand. I’ve continued doing this with little success over the last month. So I had to take a step back and evaluate why I was applying to jobs in the first place.

Was it for the money? The experience? The excuse to settle down for a while? After discussing with a friend back home, I have reconnected with my authentic travel flow by deciding to do something I’m very excited about: live in Hawke’s Bay New Zealand and work as a volunteer for a while. It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s open to possibility.

Here are the things I did leading to my decision…

What I’ve been up to this last month

Traveling in one place

I’ve been traveling New Zealand for over four months now—and I can’t say I am tired of this country yet. Even though I road tripped the hell out of both the north and south islands, there are still parts of it I want to see or see again—like Tongariro National Park in wintertime.

If you’ve been following along with this blog then you know how much I love Tongariro. I went three times in 3 months and I’m still not over the place. It’s quite possibly my favorite location in all of New Zealand! It’s certainly my favorite on the North Island, but it also has competition with Lake Pukaki—a south island location I have yet to write about. Here’s a sneak peek…

Anyway, New Zealand? I’m not finished with its landscapes or it’s people. After traveling Northland with Jonathan for a couple of weeks, I realized he is a super awesome person and I should probably hang out with him a bit longer in order to allow some of his awesomeness to rub off on me. So now I’m living with him—crazy, I know! Amazingly, he is okay with this random American girl mooching off him for the free accommodation. Well, actually, I’ve been doing my part by helping him reorganize and redecorate his home. We’ve also started a B&B service out of his home here. Our first guests are staying this Easter weekend!

I’ve never lived with someone in another country before. I’ve never reorganized/redecorated someone else’s home before. I’ve never ran a B&B service before. This is all new to me and all of it deviates from my personal travel and lifestyle norm. As my friend back home said (Hi, Erin!), it’s not a typical travel experience but it’s all a part of travel nonetheless.

The decision to volunteer

If all of this weren’t new enough already, I also came to the decision to do something I have never done before: volunteer in another country. The last time I did volunteer work was back in high school when it seemed those who did volunteer work did so mainly because they knew it would look good on college applications.

Never have I volunteered out of a pure and honest interest to help. I didn't even think of it as an option since I am qualified to earn a steady wage in my field of choice. So why did I come to this decision?

Well, for one, I wasn’t landing a job out here as a traveler. The mostly guaranteed job positions out here for travelers are: Greenpeace workers (standing on street corners harassing passersby) and farm hands (mainly fruit picking and packing). I did a fill-in job as an apple packer for one day, actually. It was one day too much! ;)

Otherwise, there’s bartending, barista work, wait staffing, or some other line of customer service work at minimum wage. I have to admit, I didn’t even try applying for any of these. At first I thought I wasn’t applying to them because I was too proud given my skills and education. But then I realized it wasn’t about that at all.

I have experienced a job in customer service before. The purpose of this trip—of traveling around the world—is about new experiences. Instead of minimum wage jobs, I focused on jobs in which I could use the skillset I’ve built over the last 6+ years as a graduate student in positions I’ve never considered before.

I did everything I needed to do in order to get a job out here in a position divergent from being a researcher: I wrote cover letters, emailed the companies/organizations, submitted application forms, edited and tailored my CV, prepared my visa documentation, and met with a justice of the peace to establish myself with a tax number (called an IRD number out here).

But many of these non-minimum wage positions to which I applied are not meant to be filled by travelers. For example, I got a pretty aggressive guy on the phone once when I called to inquire about a position at an aquarium—“I’m only taking permanent residents—PERMANENT RESIDENTS! So please, DON’T APPLY! I have too many applicants already!”

Yikes! But I can’t blame these employers for overlooking or rejecting my application. They want someone steady who will surely be here for an extended period of time. I can’t guarantee I will be able to even if I wanted to—my visa ends in November!

Feeling a bit stuck, I had to start thinking outside the box. A conversation with a friend back home led me to this conclusion: Gaining an experience does not mean I need to get paid for it. Once I realized this, I felt like, “Duh! Why didn’t I think of this before?” The world opened up to me as my mind opened to it. Volunteer work is like a gold mine of opportunity for a vast array of new experiences.

I immediately thought of an organization I was really excited to learn was operating right here in Hawke’s Bay and to which I had just applied for a paid position. I emailed the organization again, this time to offer myself as a volunteer first and foremost. I had a meeting set up for an interview less than an hour later.

Between now and the next check-in, I will be learning more about the organization and my position there. So I’ll save a longer discussion about it until next time. Briefly, it’s a non-profit organization focused on providing citizens and immigrants to New Zealand with information and support for various issues plaguing their lives, from everyday inquiries to deep-rooted social justice issues.

This organization empowers people from an array of demographic backgrounds to seek their own answers and achieve outcomes through the organization's guidance. It’s awesome! And I’m stoked to be a part of it.

It’s about time I gave back, anyway, after receiving such generosity from so many wonderful people so far on this journey.