Homeward Bound

 My beloved Melbs

My beloved Melbs

As we all know, 2016 was a crazy year- a whirlwind of WTFs, PADS (Post Alcohol Depression Syndrome, aka Sunday Scaries), and FFS (FerFuxSake) moments. But we made it, so on to the next!

Last year, I moved back to America from Australia, started a job in the city, left said job, started a new job at my former company, commuted to NYC from CT for 3 months, lived out of my suitcase, found an apartment, and completed my dream of having an NYC zip code. In between these adventures I also drove across the country with a long time friend, nearly peed myself driving through what I thought was a tornado in Kansas (we’ll get to that later), camped out along the way, camped out at Coachella as well, stayed in a dreamy airbnb in Palm Springs afterwards, went to London, FINALLY made it to Canada, and went back to London to finish off the year, (as you do).

The first big action item of my year was, of course, moving home from Aus. It was a tough breakup, and I have to say it was me, not Aus. But my visa was expiring and I felt like I was meant to be closer to family and friends once again. However, that is not to say the Melbournites (just made that up) I met were not my family and friends. My coworkers had absolutely become a family to me, and I attribute the happiness and the genuinely grand time I had there to them. Thank you to my Encore family – words will never be able to express how much you all mean to me!

 Photo taken in the Encore office in Melbourne...Destiny?

Photo taken in the Encore office in Melbourne...Destiny?

My friends in Aus were just as special, but a different breed of special. A let’s-surprise-Alex-by-paying-for-her-tattoo-before-she-knows-she’s-getting-a-tattoo kind of special (read: crazy). For the record, I submitted and got the tattoo. Instead of the rhino riding a skateboard Melbourne Tram symbol they hoped I’d get, I chose a drawing by my friend Taylor, from a card she wrote me the day I left Bali to head to Australia on my own.  It’s three little elephants walking, and it has more meaning than just a love for the gentle beasts. To me, it’s a combination of so many things- the carefree feeling we had having quit our jobs to travel around Southeast Asia, the confidence we found from actually doing it, the fulfilling feeling of being entirely lost but not afraid, the companionship of friends with whom you’d shared these incredible memories with. But G damn, did that tattoo hurt. If it wasn’t already obvious, you have a lot of nerve endings in your feet, and obviously not a lot of fat/muscle/ANYTHING in between your skin and bones. So obviously I decided to stick an electrically vibrating pen straight through the sensitive spot.

When I did finally board the plane from Melbourne to LA, I was an absolute wreck. My eyes were so bloodshot and puffy I looked I had been attacked by hornets who only sting directly on your eyeballs. I was suddenly funemployed again, but didn’t have a real plan. Continue traveling or make my way home and settle down for once? Keep on gypsy-roaming, or pay off the credit card debt I had amassed by being an extreme YOLO artist in Aus? So I did what any free-spirited gen Y-er would do, I booked a ticket halfway to halfway answer my questions. I would get from the west coast back east somehow, but I would figure it out as I went.

 San Diego vibes

San Diego vibes

This “strategy” somehow worked out perfectly. I’ve always wanted to drive across the country, and suddenly had a friend who would be in San Diego at the same time I would be and wanted to do the exact same thing. Next thing you know, we were traversing Route 66 in a solid all-weather Ford Fiesta. Our first stop was the Grand Canyon. We camped outside a few miles from the North End (North side?) and I mildly slept, convinced that coyotes were right outside our tent about to eat us.

From the GC we went to Albuquerque, my first time stepping in to New Mexico. I have to admit, I enjoyed the city more than I thought I would. It was very funky, and had an authentic feel to it. It was like a hipster Brooklyn without the pretentious hipsters. (I also couldn't stop thinking about how High School Musical was set in Albuquerque).

Before heading out of NM, we stopped for lunch in Santa Fe. It was a cozy little spot with fresh Mexican served with a local American twist. Next up was the lovely state of Kansas. We drove through Oklahoma, so therefore I am counting my visit to OK completed. We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Dodge City, right next to the Chili’s our host recommended (as it was the only bar that stays open past 10pm in the entire city). We had the absolute pleasure of meeting THE Deputy Sheriff in the morning, who greeted us as we ate breakfast, and told us the many wonders in the history of Dodge City. This includes, but is not limited to, killing 10,000 heads of capital per day. Yes, you are reading that correctly – PER DAY. I nearly threw up. I’m 100% sure the phrase “Let’s get the hell out of Dodge” comes from this godforsaken city in the middle of America.

 THE Deputy Sheriff of Dodge City everybody

THE Deputy Sheriff of Dodge City everybody

Luckily, after Dodge City, came Kansas City, MO, a more civil place where humans do not breed millions of cattle. We stayed with my friend Stephen, who I met studying abroad in Spain back in college. We had a brief stay in KCMO but I loved it! Great BBQ, chill people and a somewhat busy city.

We spontaneously changed our route after KCMO to visit another friend of mine from Spain. Nick lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and I was happy to check off Arkansas from my list while also having a reunion con un viejo amigo. For those who don’t know, Fayetteville is the city where the University of Arkansas campus is. And everything to do with Walmart and the Walton family. At one point we checked out the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It was free and had some interesting architecture, but what was surprising was the amount of famous paintings inside, too. Go Arkansas, get yo culture on girl.

With our tastebuds now craving more barbecue, we decided the obvious next stop should be Memphis, TN. We feasted like we'd never feasted before at Corky's BBQ. Now ever the barbecue connoisseurs, we knew the next stop had to be Nashville. I can safely safe it is one of my all time favorites. It's got everything I love - live music, great BBQ, warm weather. The energy there is so buzzy, I couldn't get enough. We ate at Jack's and I knew I was no longer going to fit into any non-stretchy pants. #WORTHIT.  

 Dreams of Central BBQ (Memphis)

Dreams of Central BBQ (Memphis)

Next up was Asheville, a beautiful little nugget of a city in rural North Carolina. It’s all good things hippie and outdoorsy and crunchy granola barefoot or jesus sandal-wearing (Birkenstocks) people. We tried to camp that night but quickly realized we should’ve booked a campground beforehand. Everything, and I mean literally everything, was full. We ended up at a Ramada Inn which was fine, but far out of our previously-made budget. Our main activity in Asheville was visiting the gorgeous (and massive!) Sierra Nevada brewery out there. I love that city and am craving to see a bit more of it.

Our final stop on the road trip was an accidental pitstop in South Carolina, just for the heck of it. We jumped out of the car in need of a break from the car and wandered on a hiking trail near a lake. It was gorgeous and quiet and the exact opposite of Dodge City, which made me happy. 

 Wilmington, NC

Wilmington, NC

We ended in Wilmington, NC, an adorable beach town with perfect weather even in the early spring. I checked off my bucket list of making a cross country trip, and realized I still needed to figure out my next moves job-wise. I was in no rush, so I picked up a book, grabbed a towel and headed to the beach. Some things you simply cannot rush. 

Manifest Destiny

A little over a month ago, I landed back in America. My Working Holiday Visa had expired in Australia, and Immigration Officers quickly deported me. Just kidding, I left a day before it expired so nobody got hurt. (I even asked the officers at the airport if they would stamp my passport since they normally don't for electronic visas. The guy goes, "No I can't. But YOU can!" And hands me the stamp. Reason #349018 why I LOVE Australia). 

I flew in to LAX, and not having an immediate job set up, I decided to stay awhile! I met up with Ray and we ventured into the unknown waters of Venice Beach. Meaning, we rode hipster bikes and ate at delis filled with pretentious yuppies. At the first lunch spot, we overheard the guy in front of us asking if the salmon was wild, where it was caught, did it have other salmon friends, and did it have nuts in it. 

 Pretentious sandwiches : Pretentwiches

Pretentious sandwiches : Pretentwiches

At the second Venice spot, I almost lost my cool when Giada DeLaurentis (newly single) walked in. In Australia, no one takes pictures with celebrities. That would be uncool. So, fresh off the Australian scene, I didn't take any pictures with her (despite my internal FOMO). 

From Venice, Ray and I began our camping trip into the desert. We were heading to Joshua Tree National Park to explore and camp out for a night. Unprofessional campers that we are, we didn't reserve a spot at the campsite and we're almost SOL when UUUUUNIIIII (the universe) swooped in and pointed us to an expired spot. Meaning, it was time to google how to set up a tent. Meaning, it was time to break out the wine.

We were lucky enough to witness one of the famous desert pink skies that night. But we were unlucky enough to have super annoying, inconsiderate societal rejects on their Spring Break being loud right next to our tent. So we popped some mellys (Melatonin) and tried to knock off. But instead I had to pull a mother-like SHHHHHHH and was laughed at .... I'm getting so old. The fact that if you interrupt my much needed beauty rest I call you a societal reject should say enough...

After epically camping and living the true nomad way, meaning dirtily, we decided the next stop would be a bit more glamorous. Because you always gotta treat yo self! We booked an AirBnb in Palm Springs and called it a day. We were staying with two lovely ladies who naturally informed us that in Palm Springs, "you're either grey, or you're gay". Being super non-mainstream as Ray and I are, we happily announced that we are neither.

 

Post-Palm Springs adventures, we drove down to see my long lost travel gnomes, Taylor and Liz, in San Diego. I hadn't seen either of them since we parted ways in Indonesia literally a year earlier. To say I was excited IS A MERE UNDERSTATEMENT. They were still living the dream in the mansion Taylor's family inherited (no, I'm not making this up). Once we dropped our bags in our respective bedrooms, because why not, we headed out to drink cappuccinos the size of our heads, feast on brunch, and have a luxurious day of drinking that is only acceptable in places like San Diego.  

My entrance back into the States has been exciting enough to reduce my severe PADS (Post Alcohol Depression Syndrome, or newly, Post Australia Depression Syndrome), and I'm excited to announce I'll be reducing them (or just distracting myself from them) even further by traveling across country next week. Leaving from San Diego, I plan to drive all the way from the West Coast to the East Coast, and stop for some eats along the way (obv). 

Back with the updates post-trip!

Safe Solo Travel on A Super Slim Budget: 5 Tips to Get By On The Fly

As an American who has spent the last year living in Australia, and 3 months traveling through SE Asia prior, money was definitely an obstacle along the way- but never a complete roadblock. Before that I studied abroad in Europe in undergrad - so I was especially on a tight budget then. Here are 5 tips on my insights to traveling solo and on the cheap - 

1. Stay in hostels / Couchsurf / Airbnb

 Our Airbnb flat in Hobart, Tasmania

Our Airbnb flat in Hobart, Tasmania

Stay with Locals and Make Travel Friends - Couchsurfing is NOT as sketchy as it sounds. Even as a solo female traveler you can safely stay on a fellow travelers couch for free and learn heaps more about the city than you would in a fancy hotel paying extortionate amounts.

If you're still a bit hesitant, hostels are cheap alternatives to hotels. You're surrounded by like-minded travelers (often on similar budgets), and some are actually quite accommodating. Check out the reviews before you book on Hostels Worldwide - Online Hostel Bookings, Ratings and Reviews and Hostels, Hotels & Youth Hostels at hostelbookers

And lastly, my new favorite, Airbnb! A cheap alternative to hotels, Airbnb allows you to stay in other people's homes (and usually meet the owner's as well - providing lots of insight and local advice on your current city). I've recently stayed at Airbnbs in Tasmania as well as London and couldn't be more satisfied with each experience!

2. Be a backpacker

 Backpacking through the ancient city of Bagan, Myanmar

Backpacking through the ancient city of Bagan, Myanmar

There is a nomadic lifestyle associated with simply using a carry-on size backpack while traveling, in lieu of a rolly suitcase. You'll skip the airlines charges for checked luggage, you'll learn to prioritize when packing, and you'll skip the impulsive travel buys simply because you don't have the room in your bag.

3. Pack a water filter (and reusable bottle)

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When traveling through Asia, my friends and I saved heaps by simply packing a water filter. This way we were able to refill our water bottle wherever, and not have the worry of getting sick in the case that it was contaminated water. These days there are even water bottles with filters attached within them. However, I used a simple life straw and never once got sick. Amazon.com : LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

4. Set up your networks prior to leaving

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In this day and age of social networking, you're bound to know someone (or someone who knows someone) in the destination(s) you're headed. Reach out to friends and let them know your travel plans. Most likely they'll give you a connection in the area, and if not, they might just be able to give you some tricks of the trade for traveling solo there. There's nothing better than meeting a new friend in a new destination, and having them show you around. You get the perspective of a local but still have the feeling of an explorer.

Be sure to check out local groups on Facebook, Couchsurfing events & groups, or even just websites like Hommily, a social network specifically made for travelers.

5. Eat the street food!

 Food stall vendors on the west coast of Krabi, Thailand

Food stall vendors on the west coast of Krabi, Thailand

Pad Thai off a cart anywhere and everywhere in Thailand is usually around $1 and equivalent in size to that of 3 dinners. And, as if that wasn't good enough, it's DELICIOUS. While you should always have your guard up regarding the cleanliness of street food, if you dismiss it altogether, you will truly be missing out on a good chunk of the best part of traveling - experiencing other cultures. My personal recommendation - just stick to the most popular street carts. If there is a line, it's legit (specifically if the line is made up of locals)!

5A. Find alternate forms of transportation (Less safe, more money-saving)

Depending on the mode of transportation, usually the cheaper the expense, the less safe the vehicle. I've ridden motorbikes in Thailand, electric bicycles in Myanmar, unstable TukTuks in Cambodia, highly unregulated buses in Northern Vietnam, non-airconditioned overnight trains in Southern Vietnam, uncomfortably packed vans in Laos, etc. If you can dream it, (and you have good coordination) you can most likely cheaply ride it. 

 Riding (and photographing) through Koh Phangan island, Thailand

Riding (and photographing) through Koh Phangan island, Thailand