I spent July 4th, my last night in the southwest, in Flagstaff, Arizona. That night, I celebrated America's independence with my couchsurf host, Jeremy. Before my flight the next day, I made sure to pay my respects to the indigenous peoples of the region.
Before America became an independent nation, native tribes and cultures were involuntarily eliminated. We often forget this.
So, in this post, I touch on information about Arizona's native peoples. I visited some of the Hopi ancestors' preserved sites near Flagstaff. I also experienced the Diné (Navajo) peoples' modern presence throughout my stay in Arizona.
A few weeks ago, I visited the island of Oahu in Hawaii while a transition of power took place back on the mainland. Former President Obama gave way to the Trump administration. On the day that followed, over 2.5 million people marched for women's rights, human rights, and more across the world.
I marched with Hawaii.
In the middle of my vacation, I drove to Hawaii's state capitol to join over 8,000 others marching. The woman who created the original Facebook invite calling for a march after the election back in November is from Hawaii. So I felt being present at this particular march, the birthplace of the idea, was extra special.
Below, I share photos and video from the march and the rally afterwards which included messages unique to Hawaii and its culture. I also share my perspective as a world traveler participating in this worldwide protest that united cities and even some political opponents.
I have a confession: I accidentally broke into the Audubon Zoo while visiting New Orleans.
Well, perhaps breaking in is an exaggeration. I wandered in through the exit without realizing I was bypassing the admission fee.
Sometimes people make honest mistakes in their life. Sometimes they take advantage of loopholes. My situation fell somewhere in between. And I'll tell you why I felt guilty about it. No, I did not feel guilty that I didn't pay. I felt guilty because I had an epiphany: The caged animals in that zoo are a mirror image of the human race.
Allow me to explain.
There’s something incredibly meaningful when your friends and family make a special effort to stay connected to you when you’re apart. This is true for relationships you leave behind back home and in the places you visit after you move on or return home.
I lost touch with many people after traveling or while traveling because I was traveling. But there are many individuals with whom I remain very closely bonded. How did those close bonds stay close? Reciprocal gestures of loyalty—large and small—sustained those relationships.
Drawing on an example from my recent trip to Nashville, this post explores when loyalty is revealed especially as a traveler and after travel.
There is nothing quite like having photos to remind you of the good times from your travel adventures. But you know what's even better? Having video of it.
I was not exactly religious about taking video of my experiences in the beginning of my 15-month journey in 2014 to 2015. I was barely familiar with my new camera during my first stop in Iceland. I also did not really have any ideas in mind about how I should film or what I should film. What resulted was a random selection of moments—what I think perfectly summarize my time in Iceland.
In this post, I share the raw, uncut footage from these moments. You'll see the Blair Witch-style in which I film and you'll get an idea of the carefree mindset I was in. The following are a sequence of videos from the start to the end of my 9 days in Iceland. It includes my starts and stops and the times I let the film roll when I suddenly felt the urge to capture the moment. It's random. It's fluid. And I think I naturally ended up capturing some of the best moments from my time in Iceland.
On my last full day in Bali, I hopped on the back of a motorbike with a local who showed me the highlights of the lower Karangasem Regency. My tour guide was Han, a local who offered to take me around the region. His tour turned out to be the perfect wrap up to my time in Bali.
There really is no experience like the one you can get from a local showing you around. I got a personalized tour of the region with opportunities to learn about Indonesian culture and take in some of the sights on my own terms. Han ended up driving me to 5 separate locations, including a traditional Bali village, two water palaces, a chocolate and soap factory, and a chilled-out, sandy beach. Below, I describe my experiences visiting each of these places, but the real story to share is how wonderfully well-rounded Han had made this tour.
When we travel the world, our own beliefs and comfort zones are often challenged by the cultural differences we encounter. I was reminded to keep my own beliefs in check one morning in Bali when I stumbled upon a cockfight outside of Ubud. After my attempts to engage with Macaque monkeys in an ethical manner the day before, I now found myself standing as an observer to a bloody, testosterone-charged death match between beautiful roosters.
In my opinion, it's an incredibly inhumane tradition—one I felt uncomfortable taking part in as a reluctant voyeur. At the same time, it was just that: A tradition. The cockfight is one of those travel moments that reminded me about how much our culture shapes our beliefs and behaviors. You don't have to agree with those of others, but you can try to understand them.
On a remote island like Niue, getting to know the locals is as easy as stepping outside your guesthouse door. A cultural exchange with a local was bound to happen—we just had no idea when or how. We met the Tongia family from nearby Tonga on our 3rd day in Niue. Palemia, a shuttle driver for Matavai resort, gave us a ride home from dinner.
He then offered Jono a chance at free diving with a local spear-fisherman. As a thanks, we offered to help him and his wife, Louna, with their farm work. We ended up planting potatoes through the middle of the night and enjoying other wonderful cultural exchanges with this delightful little Tongan family who live and work in Niue.
I was expecting Niue to be a small country. But there was no way I could have anticipated just how small and remote it is. Jono, my Kiwi partner, and I traveled from New Zealand to “the rock” of Polynesia at the end of August.
Upon our arrival, we realized the entire country is the equivalent of a rural village dropped onto an island in the middle of the ocean. With its approximately 1200 human dwellers (and possibly twice as many chickens), we felt like we were getting a true getaway from the fast pace of life. You’ll understand why if you ever have the chance to go, or you can just keep reading.
Never heard of Niue (pronounced “new-ay”)? I hadn’t heard of this island country either until about 2 months ago when I booked my trip there. Niue is a tiny little island in the South Pacific—and it’s so special you’re going to be longing to go by the end of this post.
People don’t come to Niue for its beaches and resorts—there’s only one sandy beach and one resort there! Instead, the few visitors to the “Rock of Polynesia” fly there for its exceptional diving and snorkeling, its unbelievable geography and coastal views, and its vibrant culture and friendly people. These and many other unique characteristics have easily made Niue my favorite travel destination yet! I wish I had known to put it on my bucket list sooner.
Once I dropped Roojin off at the airport in Brisbane, my road trip adventure became even less fixed than ever. I had 6 days and 6 nights to spend as I pleased on the 1800km drive to Cairns. And I could end up spending it with just about anyone!
Through advertisements online, I connected with other travelers who were interested in sharing the journey (and the gas expenses) with me. Both on my own for part of the journey and with my travel companions, I discovered many natural wonders along the way. Unbelievable mountains, interesting rainforest vegetation, and unique waterfalls made up the best stops on the road from Brisbane to Cairns.
Ever wonder what the rest of the world thinks about Americans and the USA?
After traveling for nearly 11 months (7 of which were spent in New Zealand), I’ve compiled some of the most common assumptions or stereotypes people tend to have about “the States” and its people.
Eradicating stereotypes through travel is a two way street. Typically, we think of traveling the world as a chance to inform ourselves about other cultures and people. What I’ve found is I have equally become a teacher, informing others about from where I come.
That’s right, for the 10 month anniversary of my travels around the world, today marks the first day I will set foot in Australia. I am writing this post in advance of my landing and have scheduled it to appear while I am probably still in-flight over the Tasman Sea!
But this post is less about Australia, and much more about my final days in New Zealand. After over 7 months there, I still have several stories to share. This story is about leaving and why it was so difficult to go.
The Northern point of New Zealand’s North Island has great significance among the native Maori people. The land there is predominantly Maori owned and untouched with plenty of native vegetation growing wild.
Once we passed through the last town of Kaitaia and began the 100km drive up the Aupouri Peninsula, I could already see and feel its sacredness.
The world around me and the people who live in it. These are the two things I find myself constantly appreciating more and more as a travel. And the Central Otago region of New Zealand has the perfect example of both.
Carolina and I explored this gorgeous region from our campsite on Lake Dunstan.
Eventually, we got an offer from a connection I had made on the North Island to stay with a local for a couple of nights.
A bit of miscommunication about our arrival time led us to seeing even more stunning scenery en route to a new campsite and meeting some unexpected, hobbit-sized locals!
Since I started traveling around the world in September 2014, a lot of people have asked me how I’m financially able to travel for so long and whether or not I get tired of constantly traveling. In addition to saving tons of money on airfare by travel hacking my way to earning thousands of frequent flier miles, I also spend a fraction of the money other tourists do on accommodation.
I don’t get tired of traveling because housesitting and couchsurfing have allowed me to deviate the norm from my travel routine—and at little to no cost. The only thing I end up spending is time; time doing the things I do at home, like watching movies, cooking food, and hanging out with friends. The difference is I’m hanging out in a totally new place with new friends—and sometimes their pets!
There are lots of ways to get around New Zealand. So far I’ve only really talked about traveling with other travelers who have bought a car, buying one yourself, or renting a car. But there’s another way: Hitching a ride with a local! Some travelers search for ride shares around New Zealand using online listings like Carpoolnz or Catchalift. I have tried this before without much success. Hitch hiking better suits the spontaneity of the on-the-go travel lifestyle and it can be a safe alternative if done cautiously.
The best part is the potential to connect with friendly locals. For example, I was lucky enough to get a ride from a few locals on my way to Christchurch for my second house-sit. Even better, they were not only locals but Maori descendants—the native people of New Zealand. I love talking to and hanging out with all kiwis, but these are a special group of people who have a culture all their own from a time long before Europeans arrived on the shores.
The Arahura was late. I had already been waiting in the terminal for over 4 hours. I was hungry and eager to board the ferry which would bring me 3 hours across the Cook Strait to the port town of Picton on the South Island. I had to make it to the South Island tonight. The Crakers were expecting me to arrive in Christchurch tomorrow. I was a stranger to them—a solo female traveler whom they were entrusting with their pets, home, and vehicle for a week while they took a trip to Australia.
For the first time in weeks, I was without the company of other travelers. I was ready to make my own way from one island to the other. Little did I know, the experience getting there would be yet another example of the benefits of solo travel: Doors otherwise closed suddenly open.
“Want to come with us to Raglan for New Years?” Jenny, my couchsurf host, asked me after less than 24 hours into staying with her and her two roommates. A couple, Calle, a Swedish guy and Mahlia, a French Canadian girl, are roommates with Jenny who is from Massachusetts. All of them have been on working holiday here in New Zealand for several months. They live together in their 3-bedroom apartment in the city center of Wellington. I had just finished a week-long housesit in Karori where I hiked and played with a kiwi family’s puppy over the holidays. Now I was trying to figure out what I would do before heading to the South Island in the New Year.
One night of playing Cards Against Humanity with these three roomies and we were quickly bonded. They reminded me of my friends back home. “Sure. I’d love to spend New Years with you guys.” I told Jenny. We left on Wednesday to make the 6+ hour drive up North to the West Coast beach town called Raglan. I had missed it on my previous two road trips around the North Island, but I heard it was a laid-back hippie town where surfers and skaters like to hang. We were just hoping the weather would hold out enough to camp, enjoy fireworks, and swim at the beach.
Tall peaks and steep valleys covered in native plants and trees with huge rocky outcrops sticking up out of forested mounds stretched from either side of the winding highway 25. I could see the Bay of Plenty on the Pacific Ocean running along the horizon ahead. We had made it from the West Coast Taranaki region to the Coromandel Peninsula. Famous for its beaches and ecotourism, the Coromandel is a popular vacation spot for kiwi locals and foreign tourists.
Today, we had driven all day to make it to Hot Water Beach where visitors dig holes in the sand which fill with thermal water from hot springs underneath. Tomorrow we would find an overnight hike to do in the steep inland tropical forest. With nowhere to camp for free on the Coromandel itself, we ended up pitching tents just south of the Coromandel on district land with one of the most unique and hilarious public toilets I’ve ever encountered.