Monthly Archives: June 2011

Livin’ La Vida Hostel

Hostel. For some reason, the “s” nestled into the conventional word “hotel” sends shivers up people’s spines. It’s like the “s” of hostel stands for sketchy, shady, or scary. This may be because the only experience most people have with hostels is what they saw in the gruesome horror flick from 2007. So far on our trip, we’ve stayed in a different hostel in a different city almost every night and have really enjoyed the hostel lifestyle. However, it seems like some of our family and friends have expressed confusion about where we’d be staying during the majority our trip; so for those of you who aren’t completely sure what the deal is with hostels, we’ll break it down for you:

What’s the difference between a hostel and a hotel?

The main difference is that hostels provide a budget oriented, community based, social environment for travelers. Hostels also create an environment perfect for fostering new friendships. The shared living style provides many opportunities to connect with interesting folks from around the world. For example, if you’re brushing your teeth in the bathroom, you can awkwardly say hi when someone walks in (only if they can decipher toothbrush talk). Or if you’re hanging out in the kitchen area, you can strike up a convo about what your fellow backpacker is cooking for dinner. Bonus: they let you sample the dish. Because of the social atmosphere, we’ve had the opportunity to learn about the cultural quirks of numerous countries and even learned to speak some Chinese from our new friends.

What is the setup? 

There are a tremendous amount of variations between hostels and locations, but we can speak best to ones in Australia and New Zealand. Typically, you have the option to book a private room or a dormitory bed. The private rooms come with either a double bed or two single beds. The dormitory rooms are generally a room with bunk beds, and the sizes can vary greatly. “The more the merrier” in hostel world translates loosely into “the more the cheaper.” For example, the pricing could go something like this: 12 bed dorm – $22, 10 bed – $24, 8 bed dorm – $26, 6 bed dorm – $28, and you get the idea. When I was in Fiji I even stayed in a 180-bed dorm room, but that is extremely rare. For most backpackers like us, the dorm room is definitely the budget option and therefore, the most popular choice.

The general hostel setup is comparable to a college dorm because there are usually community bathrooms, common lounge areas, and laundry rooms. Some hostels even resemble a big house divided into individual rooms. Hostel services can include: bar or cafe, book exchange, breakfast, desktop computers, Wifi, DVD movie selection, organized activities, hair dryers, pool tables, bike hire, hot tubs, pools, saunas, luggage storage, tour desk, or transportation booking. What more could you possibly need?

Do you have to eat out every meal?  

Backpackers are a savvy breed of people. This means they know that eating out every meal adds up fast. This is why hostel goers often opt to cook their own meals in the community kitchen which is stocked with fridges, ovens, microwaves, and all the cooking equipment and dishes you might need.

Won’t your stuff get stolen?

If you create the opportunity, maybe. But in the words of Elmhurst College Campus Security, “Lock it, or lose it.” Most hostels provide lockers for you to store your precious valuables, and all you’ve got to bring is a padlock. No worries. For the hostels that don’t have private lockers, we’ve found that since everyone is in the same boat there’s usually no problem. If you wouldn’t want your stuff to be stolen then you probably wouldn’t steal from someone else. We did have a minor incident including a dairy theft. About a half a cup of our milk was stolen, but luckily no one on the scene was injured.  However, since almost every backpacker has a half-gallon of the same “home brand” milk, we think it’s quite possible it was an accident.

What type of people stay in hostels?

Again, it completely varies. It’s hard to pinpoint a specific demographic, but you are always surrounded by a group of likeminded travelers. It’s definitely most common for people age 18-35 to stay in hostels, but we’ve also seen families and older couples as well. We’ve found many of our hostel roommates to actually be quite helpful because they’ve often just come from a city or country that we’re going to and are more than happy to offer personal travel advice and suggestions. Don’t think that you have to travel abroad to experience a hostel. We stayed in one when we visited New York City, and they can be found in most other major cities in the world.

So answer this: why aren’t you livin’ la vida hostel?

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Cave Crazy: Black Water Rafting

Caution: black water rafting is not for the faint of heart. I know what you’re probably thinking…black water rafting? Isn’t it called white water rafting? Well, not if you’re in a cave 300 meters below the ground. Black water rafting (also known as cave tubing) is a popular activity at Cave World in Waitomo, New Zealand. Naturally, Kim and I decided to give it a go, despite the estimated 10 degree Celsius temperature of the cave water. Our guide leaders hooked us up with a wet suit, jacket, helmet, and gumboots for the trek and loaded us up into a truck to take us to Waitomo Cave.

When we neared the cave entrance, we picked up inflatable inner tubes and felt the air around us getting colder as we descended. We started the journey by walking through the caves to admire the glowworms’ dazzling galaxy. The scene looked like a dark sky filled with tiny green lanterns glowing brilliantly. Not as cute when you find out the “beautiful glow” comes from glowworm poop. Fun fact: glowworms can only be found in Australia and New Zealand. When we waded deeper into the water we got situated in our tubes. Our whole group was linked together by putting our legs on the tube of the person in front of us to connect together.

Now, we thought this journey would be comparable to a lazy river ride or wave pool, letting the current carry us gently through the caves. This was definitely not the case. Once we came up to the first waterfall, these thoughts were quickly dismissed. Our guide instructed us to hold our breaths, close our mouths, close our eyes, and hope for the best. Then we jumped backwards off the ledge with our inner tubes under us. This was one of the most terrifying parts of the experience because we thought we were done with jumping off of ledges yesterday. Next, we had to individually swim through a dark passageway barely big enough to fit our inner tubes through. The second unexpected moment was the hydro cave slide. I’ll admit, it’s a bit frightening speeding down a slide into a black abyss. Our next feat was to lead the pack of cave crazies on a trail lined with ropes to hang on to. This path led us to the end of the cave, and about 300 steps later, we emerged back into the real world feeling accomplished, yet physically exhausted. When we returned to the site, we were treated with hot showers and hot chocolates, which were much needed after the frigid two hours spent in the cave. So if extreme adventures are your fav, go ahead and brave the cave!

3, 2, 1…BUNGY!

Those were the last words we heard before we plummeted full speed from a 47 meter platform towards the lake beneath us. We jumped at Taupo Bungy to get our adrenaline fix…for the day.

Coley’s Jump: From a distant glance, the jump off point didn’t look so intimidating, but when I got harnessed up and ready to jump…I looked down. I even contemplated turning back, but the person who jumped before me was a ten-year-old boy, so I would have felt pretty lame doing so. I would have never guessed that I would be bungy jumping, considering I close my eyes on rollercoaster rides at Six Flags. But hey, when’s the next time I’ll be in Taupo at bungy jump central? After being strapped in, clicked in, and locked in tight, I made my way to the platform in what could be described as a penguin waddle. Not because I was scared (maybe a little) but because the ankle straps restricted the range of motion for walking. I lined up on the edge, gave a careless wave to the camera, and dove off the platform. The free fall feeling was the scariest part of the jump, but once I felt tension in the bungy, all was good. The view was incredible and the feeling was exhilarating.

Kim’s Jump: Being the adrenaline junkie that I am, bungy jumping was one of the activities that I was most excited to cross off my bucket list this summer. Since I practically grew up riding roller coasters at Cedar Point and went skydiving in Australia two years ago, I thought this would be no big deal. I’d say the most frightening part of the entire experience was the anticipation of standing on the platform waiting. Coley decided she wanted to jump first so I had the amusement of watching my best friend jump off the edge minutes before my turn. Coley was gone, and I was next. I carefully watched the jumpmasters check the bungy cord (twice) and made my way to the edge. This was it…the moment I had been anxiously awaiting for years. I smiled at the camera, bent my knees, and soared. I didn’t want to bungy jump in complete silence, so I started to yell with excitement before my feet even left the edge. However, the speed of the freefall left me speechless, and I couldn’t even get a noise out until I was swinging back and forth between the cliffs. I was surprised that the tug of the bungy cord didn’t hurt, as I hardly even felt it. All I can remember after that was a lot of flying and spinning. I was actually quite disoriented by the time it was all over. I will admit, the freefall of bungy jumping was much more thrilling and frightening than skydiving. Despite the fact that I was much closer to the ground, I didn’t have a professional on my back this time. Ultimately, it was a complete rush and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Check back soon for video footage from this adrenaline pumping event.

The Zorbing Experience

Zorbing: (also known as globe-riding, sphereing, or orbing) is the act of rolling down a hill in a large, inflatable plastic ball for recreation or sport. 

About 15 years ago, this experience was invented in New Zealand when two crazy Kiwis decided it was a good idea to roll down a hill inside the newly developed zorb globe. Obviously, this was an extreme sport that Coley and I knew we must try during our time in Rotorua. Despite the fact that it’s currently the middle of winter here in New Zealand, we threw on our swim suits and opted for the hydro ride. This means that that we had no harness and both of us were in the zorb globe at the same time with nothing but about 3 gallons of water. We literally had to dive into a small hole in the ball and waited until we were released down the hill. I think we can both agree that this was one of the craziest and most fun experiences we’ve had in our lives. The best way to describe the zorb ride is somewhat of a a cross between a roller coaster and a waterside. Imagine us being socks in a washing machine.  From inside, we couldn’t see anything as we rolled down the hill, slipping, spinning, and sliding everywhere at about 30 miles per hour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our ride, I ran into the office and enthusiastically told the manager how incredibly awesome I thought that experience was. To which he replied, that he’d let us go again…for FREE! We did the hydro ride again but this experience was quite different because Coley and I went in the globe with an English bloke that we just met (we didn’t even know his name until after the ride). We challenged ourselves to stand up but with the weight of three people in the ball, we were rolling at extreme speeds and immediately fell down. We spent the rest of the way down the track slipping, sliding, and spinning even more than the first time. More people = more insanity.

It was wet. It was wild. It was completely unlike any other adventure.

Ice, Ice, Baby

This is as chill as it gets: Freddy’s Ice House. That’s where we spent our afternoon in Auckland. Here’s how it goes down: you are given an oversized winter coat and gloves and led into the ice bar. The bar consists of ice sculptures, including an ice moose to take shots of Jagger out of! Literally everything is made of ice (minus the floor…otherwise they’d have to supply you with iceskates.) You can enjoy a drink (in a glass made of ice) from the fully stocked bar, dance to the techno beats, or play ice hockey if your heart desires. The average person can probably spend 20-30 minutes max in the bar, but surviving Chicago winters have prepared us for this very day. During our time inside the icehouse, our awesome Kiwi bartender Kaine mixed us up some passionfruit drinks and answered all of our questions about the establishment (how it is maintained, how you’re trained to work there, etc.) Once you finish your drink, you can slide your glass across the bar to smash it at the end. We also had a mini photo shoot (see below) and enjoyed the -6.6 degree weather. Ultimately, if you want to a pretty cool experience (no pun intended), Freddy’s Ice House is where it’s at!

20 Ways to Spend 12 Hours in the LAX Airport

On the day of our departure, Kim and I had two remarkably different experiences leading up to our flight to New Zealand. We were booked on different flights from Chicago to LA, both scheduled to allow us more than enough time for check in. However, severe weather caused Kim’s flight to be unexpectedly delayed 4 hours leaving her quite stressed out, literally running through the airport to baggage claim, and checking in for our flight only 5 minutes before check in closed. It was a extremely close call. I, on the other hand, had a lot of time to waste. After getting some Oreos and shut-eye on my 7:00 AM flight, my time at the airport was spent lollygagging. So if you’re ever in a similar situation, here’s 20 ways that I spent my 12 hours in the LAX airport.

1. Prime time people watching

2. Getting travel advice from the nice English chap from the Travel Aid info desk

3. Starbucks = iced chai latte

4. Writing blog posts…

5. Wandering around with a heavy backpack on…do-able, but not recommended.

6. Clear up delayed flight scenarios (thanks Amy Griffin from AirNZ)

7. Get lost…a lot.

8. Play Sudoku on your mini Sudoku player *NERD ALERT*

9. Charge your phone in a really inconvenient spot and get curious looks by all who pass by

10. Organize your purse/carry-on to be productive and pass the time

11. Help an Australian man read his plane ticket since he forgot his glasses (He should have read our blog Making a List and Checking It Twice)

12. Spot the most adorable kid’s luggage ever, toted by the cutest lil’ travelers imaginable

13. Have a phone convo with your Mom, Dad, boyfriend, best friend, etc. Exhaust your contact list…hence #9

14. Wonder why people travel in 5 inch stilettos

15. Pick the cutest flight attended uniforms (Winner: purple skirt suit combo with matching hat and green/purple ascots!)

16. Witness movie worthy goodbye scenes at the departure gate

17. Walk outside and enjoy that Cali weather

18. Secretly hope that I’ll spot the TMZ camera crew

19. See the airport staff interact when changing shifts

20. Eat a ridiculously overpriced sandwich, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, and prepare for the trip of a lifetime

Meet the Feet

Since you’ll be traveling with us for the next 7 weeks we thought you might like to get to know us a little bit better…

What country are you most excited for?

Coley: Thailand! I’m a sucker for markets. So just the fact that we’re going to a floating market, flower market, and street markets? SOLD!

Kim: Well obviously I’m excited for each country for different reasons, but if I HAD to pick one I’d say New Zealand because the scenery will be unbelievable and we have some pretty crazy adventures planned. Thailand is definitely a close second because it will be completely unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before.

What are your pet peeves of other travelers?

Coley: Living up to the “American travler” stereotype. For example: expecting everyone to speak English, being loud and obnoxious, high maintenance, etc.

Kim: Ughhh I cannot stand travelers who don’t appreciate culture or who are culturally insensitive. I just don’t see the point in going halfway around the world so you can just do everything exactly the same as at home.

What qualities make a good travel partner?

Coley: Kimmy Kimmy Cocoa Puff is a real go-getter. She is super adventurous and delightfully hilarious.

Kim: Coley Ravioli will be great because she’s pretty go-with-the-flow, has an uncanny ability sleep almost anywhere, and knows how to have a good time.

Do you think something will go wrong?

Coley: More than likely, but every misadventure is part of the experience.

Kim: Yes. That’s half the fun though right?

What is your favorite international dessert?

Coley: I’m a big fan of gelato, but since we’ll be quite a ways from Italy, I’m looking forward to trying pavlova!

Kim: I loved pavlova and Tim Tams from Australia. Also, I hear New Zealand has this awesome ice cream called Hokey Pokey, so I’m really looking forward to trying that.

Favorite accent?

Coley: To hear? English. To impersonate? Southern.

Kim: English!

Describe your travel style.

Coley: Low maintenance. Eager to learn. Ready to have a good time.

Kim: Organized but spontaneous at the same time. I try to do as much as I possibly can in the time that I have. I’d much rather go out, explore, and have an adventure than lay on the beach and relax.

What are 3 things you couldn’t leave home without?

Coley: Camera, chapstick, & comfy shoes

Kim: Camera, journal, and my favorite pair of jeans

If you could choose a celebrity to travel with, who would it be?

Coley: Danny DeVito (preferably as Frank from Always Sunny in Philadelphia)

Kim: Umm…does Jim from The Office count?

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten!?

Coley: Alligator

Kim:  Probably kangaroo…tastes like chicken 🙂

What’s your favorite place  you’ve been so far?

Coley: Innsbruck, Austria. It’s simply charming.

Kim: Melbourne, Australia is the perfect city in my opinion. I’m really excited we’ll be going back to spend 5 days in Melbourne so I can really explore it more. Ask me again after this trip and we’ll see if my answer changes.

What are you going to miss most about home?

Coley: My whole family! My nephew will be turning 1 in July, so I’ll be missing his birthday.

Kim: Mexican food, hot showers, and some privacy

What’s your favorite cereal? 

Coley: Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Kim: Hands down, Cinnamon Toast Crunch…a childhood favorite.

3 things you’re planning to cross off your bucket this list summer?

Coley: Ride an elephant in Thailand, go zorbing in New Zealand, and tubing in Laos

Kim: Bunjee jump in New Zealand, ride an elephant in Thailand, and blackwater raft

Making a List & Checking It Twice

No, we’re not referring to the beloved yuletide hit “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” We’re talking about a document crucial to all travelers in the planning stages of their trip: the packing list. Sure, you can buy toothpaste or a new pair of flip-flops at your destination, but do you really want to leave home without your contacts or most comfortable walking shoes? Being blind and blistery in a foreign country doesn’t sound like the most rockin’ time imaginable. Hence, why creating a precise packing list is a must. So, where do you start?

 1: Pick your pack

What brand? What size? What color? These are all questions to take into consideration when choosing your backpack. It’s all about your personal preference and traveling style. Kim and I fancy ourselves to be “fashionable/flashpack” travelers, so after three separate trips to the REI store, hours of research, and several fittings later, we decided to go with the Women’s Gregory Jade 60.  Durable, stylish, and the perfect size for our 7 week expedition.


Step 2: Yes, No, Maybe

Once you pick out your backpack, you have to pick what goes in it. Luckily, my BFF Kim and I wear the same size clothes. This means twice the wardrobe selection on the trip (remember this perk when choosing your travel partners!). To choose what clothes to bring we went through our closets and assigned every item a “yes”, “no”, or “maybe.” It was kind of like the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter…only not. Then, we compared our lists to prevent similar items on our lists from making the cut. The key to picking the right clothes are to determine if they’re low maintenance in terms of care (no dry clean only, sequins and beading, etc.) and versatility (can you wear that cardigan with at least 75% of the other clothes in the backpack?). If the answer is no, then it’s probably not worth bringing. Essentially, we just picked a lot our favorite clothes because we knew that’s what we would wear the most.

Step 3: Dry Run

Try to fit everything on your list into your backpack. More than likely, not everything will fit. This just means you’ll have to make adjustments to your packing list and remove items. Kim and I went through our packing lists several times before choosing the right amount of items. It turned out that nothing on the “maybe” list even made the final cut and only 50% of the items on the original “yes” list did either. Try putting different items into different compartments on the pack to find the best fit. Put items used most in easy-to-reach spots. Also, don’t forget to leave some room in the backpack for souvenirs and other items you’ll want to purchase on the road. Just figure out what works best for you; you’ve got this in the bag.

So I’m sure you’re curious exactly what we brought on our 7 week trip to 4 countries with vastly different temperatures? Check it out!

What’s in the Bag?

We  know everyone is probably curious just exactly what we’re able to fit in our backpacks and bring on our trip. We’ll be the first to admit, we’re flashpackers more so than backpackers. Generally, we say we’re backpacking because yes, we’re bringing everything in a backpack and traveling on a ridiculously cheap budget. However, a “real backpacker” will only bring about 3 pairs of underwear, 2 pairs of shoes, and you can forget about makeup or accessories. Wikipedia actually defines “flashpacker” as someone who travels with technology and gadgets including cameras, iPods, and laptops. Based on that definition I think almost every traveler would be considered a flashpacker these days. I mean, seriously when was the last time you saw someone travel without a camera?  So flashpacker, backpacker, tomato, tomahto.

The problem with packing for long-term travel is that there is no universal packing list because every person and trip are different. For example, if you’re camping in Madagascar your list will be vastly different than if you were staying in hostels or with friends in Europe. If you’re traveling to Canada in the winter you would probably need different items than Mexico in the summer.  So based on our specific trip and circumstances, this is what we decided will work best for us.

In a few weeks, we’ll reevaluate everything in our backpacks and let you know what was worth bringing, what we forgot, and what we should have left at home. So what’s in the bag?

Clothes and accessories:

K & C:  3 short sleeve t-shirts

K & C: 1 long sleeve t-shirt

K & C: 2 ¾ length shirts

K & C: 2 camis

K & C: 2 tank tops

K & C:  3 cardigans or sweaters

K & C: 3 dresses

K & C: 1 skirt

K: 1 pair of cargo pants

K & C: 1 pair of yoga pants

K & C: 2 pairs of shorts

K & C: 1 pair of jeans

K & C: 1 pair of jeggings

K & C: 1 pair of leggings

K & C: 1 winter coat (that we’ll ditch after NZ)

K & C: 1 zip-up hoodie

K & C: 1 Columbia fleece jacket

K & C: 1 light jacket

K & C: 1 bathing suit

K & C: 5 pairs of socks (also will ditch after NZ)

K & C: 14 pairs of underwear (this is something we just weren’t willing to go less on… but I mean let’s be honest here, they don’t take up that much room)

K & C: 2 bras

K & C: 3 scarves

K: 2 necklaces

C: 1 bracelet

K & C: 1 crossbody purse

K & C: 1 pair of tights

K & C: 1 tam hat

K & C: 1 pair of sunglasses

K & C: 1 pair of winter gloves (ditch after NZ)

Shoes:

K & C: 1 pair of  Tom’s shoes

K & C: 1 pair of flip flops/shower shoes

K & C: 1 pair of sandals

K & C: 1 pair of heels (flashpackers, I know, I know)

K & C: 1 pair of boots (will also ditch after NZ)

Technology:

K: Macbook

K: Nikon D60 SLR camera

C: Small point and shoot camera

K: Travel tripod

K: Video camera

K: Western Digital My Passport external hard drive

K: iPod and headphones

C: Small iPod speakers

K & C:  Flashdrive

K: Unlocked cell phone

K: Outlet adaptor

K & C: Extra batteries, chargers, and connecting cords

First Aid/Heath

K: Ibuprofen and Dayquil

K: 8 Cough Drops

K: 10 band-aids

K & C: 50 Multivitamins (one for each day)

C: Midol, Tums, Benadryl, Claritin, Dramamine, Cipro

K: 30 SPF sunscreen

K: Bug Spray (the deep woods stuff with deet)

K & C: Health insurance and travel insurance

Miscellaneous:

K: Small package of laundry detergent

K: Dryer sheets (to keep the backpack smelling fresh)

K: Duct tape (you never know when you’ll need duct tape)

C: 1 reusable canvas bag (for grocery shopping)

K: 15 wet wipes

K: 2 sharpies

K & C: 3 pens

K & C: 1 journal (thanks Mom)

K & C: 1 quick dry towel

K & C: 1 pillowcase (many uses)

K & C: 1 water bottle

K & C: 1 padlock

K & C: 1 drawstring bag (for dirty laundry)

K & C: 1 small umbrella

K & C: 1 mini bottle of hand sanitizer

K: 1 Tide to Go Pen (I’m always spilling stuff on my clothes)

K & C: Passport (and copies)

K & C: Driver’s license

K & C: Credit/debit cards

K & C: ISIC – International Student ID Card  (offers some student discounts)

K & C: 3 extra passport size photos (for visas and emergency)

C: Earplugs

C: 1 deck of cards

C: 1 swiss army knife

C: 1 small flashlight

C: 1 pad of post-it notes

C: Zip lock bags

Toiletries

K & C: 5 pairs of extra contacts

K & C: Contact solution and case

K & C: 1 pair of glasses

K & C: 1 toothbrush

K & C: Toothpaste

K & C: Shampoo

K & C: Conditioner

K & C: Body Wash

K & C: Deodorant

K & C: 2 disposable razors

K & C: Comb

K & C: Makeup remover

K & C: 100 Q-tips (2 for each day)

K & C: Face Wash

K & C: Moisturizer

K & C: Hair gel and spray

K & C: Tweezers

K & C: Nail clippers

C: 1 small bottle of nail polish

K & C: 3 extra hair ties

K & C: Makeup

What's in Kim's bag

What's in Coley's bag


Are You Ready?