Blog Archives

Updates and Announcements!

With the one year anniversary of our big trip this past week, we wanted to let you know that The World at Your Feet is not dead! We are still here and ready to bring you more! We apologize for being MIA lately. Here’s an update with some of our highlights from this past year.

1. We both graduated from Elmhurst College (Magna Cum Laude!)

2. Keeping with our travel interests, Coley snagged a travel writing internship with Premier Tourism Marketing and Kim interned at Hostelling International in Chicago. Coley was even lucky enough to have a few of her pieces published. Yep, that’s right, we’ve got a real published travel writer amongst us.

3. While we haven’t been out of the country since we’ve been back, we’ve managed to fuel our itchy feet with mini-trips in the US. Coley traveled to Boston and Cape Cod while Kim visited Philadelphia. We also spent countless weekends in Chicago exploring new foods and neighborhoods, wandering around resale shops and bakeries, organizing coffee shop crawls, learning about Chicago’s rich history and architecture, exposing Coley’s sister Dana to her very first hostel experience, and attempting to be “tourists in our own city.”

4. In December, we were excited to host our Australian friends, Adam and Freya, while they visited Chicago during their trip across the United States. We had a lot of fun playing tour guides and taking them to the iconic Chicago attractions as well as our favorite spots in the city. I’m pretty sure Adam is still talking about Chicago deep dish pizza to this very day. Sometimes its good to take a step back from your own culture and realize that ice hockey, snow, and free refills in restaurants aren’t “normal” things to everyone. Also, Adam was an awesome host while we visited Brisbane, Australia on our trip, so it was nice to repay the favor. Travel karma.

5. In October, we were honored to be featured as Lost Girls of the Week on The Lost Girls website. The Lost Girls (Amanda, Jen, and Holly) are basically our travel idols, so this was super exciting for us!

6. Our friends at Magic Bus New Zealand featured some of our travel photos and blog posts on their website and Facebook. Sweet as.

Magic Bus Promotion

And finally, the big announcements!

1. For the coming year, Coley will be working for her sorority, Phi Mu, as a traveling chapter consultant. This job will bring her to Texas for National Convention in July, Georgia for training later that month, and then off to California where she’ll be temporarily living for a few months as she works to found a new chapter at California State University Northridge. After that, she will be traveling around the country spreading Phi Mu sparkle.

2. In September, Kim will be moving to Thailand to teach English for a year. She’ll be living on the island of Phuket for a month while she earns her TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate and then she’ll begin her teaching job in a school in the Bangkok area shortly after.

On the long journey over to Thailand, Kim is also looking forward to making a few pit stops. First, she’ll stop in Southern California to visit Coley (of course) and our good friend Erik in San Diego. Then, she’ll be jetting off to Taipei, Taiwan to visit another good friend Tz Shun (well, we just call him Alan). After Alan bluntly told us in a hostel kitchen that we made our rice completely wrong, we befriended him during our adventures and travels in New Zealand on The Magic Bus. Every single time we speak to Alan he asks us, “When you visit Taiwan?” so when offered a flight with a stopover in Taipei, Kim knew it was the perfect opportunity. Hopefully some of those Mandarin Chinese phrases he taught us on the bus will come to good use!

3. In 2013, The World at Your Feet will be back in full swing! What exactly does that mean? It means Kim and Coley will be dusting off their backpacks and traveling together again and of course keeping you updated along the way. Coley is planning to visit Kim in Thailand and let’s just say that we’re hoping to cross a few more places (and possibly countries…) off our list! That’s all we can say for now. Stay tuned.

Do any of these updates and announcements surprise you? Let us know what you think!

What Are You Waiting For?

Meet the Feet: Post-trip Interview

Well, it’s hard to believe but our trip has finally come to an end. Now it’s time to take a look back and reflect on the last 7 weeks.

Trip Recap: 

Countries: 4

Flights: 9

Hostels/guesthouses: 23

Motels/hotels: 3

Homestays: 2

Minor injuries: 3

Lost items: 2

Stolen items: 0

Means of transport: 18

Favorite Airline?

Coley: Emirates. Great food and fabulous flight attendant outfits.

Kim: I really enjoyed flying on Thai Airways, but Emirates definitely had the best food. Air New Zealand and Quantas were nice too….I can’t decide.

Favorite hostel or place you stayed?

Coley:  This is the hardest question!

Favorite hostel/guesthouse: Charlies—a charming little guesthouse in Chiang Khong, Thailand with a pool, bikes for cruising around town, and homemade pancakes in the morning!

Favorite hotel: Aiyara Palace. Its modern design and amenities made for a luxurious night’s stay right in the heart of Pattaya.

Favorite home stays: Tan’s family in Thailand and the Hutchinson residence in Australia. Both families spoiled us beyond belief and showed us around their amazing cities.

Kim: Accents on the Park hostel in Nelson, New Zealand felt more like a home than a hostel. It was clean, comfortable, and the owner Royce was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They even had heated floors in the bathroom!? Talk about luxury hostel.

Favorite place you visited?

Coley: Thailand. I really just loved everything we experienced here from elephant rides to the floating market. It is just an incredible country filled with the nicest people imaginable.

Kim: I think it’s difficult to pick a favorite country because each one is so different that they’re too hard to compare. So instead, I’ll tell you my favorite place in each country: Wellington, New Zealand, Melbourne, Australia, Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Luang Prabang, Laos.

Favorite adventure activity?

Coley: Ziplining in Chiang Mai—a definite thrill without the scare factor

Kim: Ziplining in Chiang Mai definitely wins, but zorbing in Rotorua, New Zealand would come in second place.

Favorite moment?

Coley: Dancing in the rain while tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

Kim Teaching a newly ex-monk how to dance for the very first time in his life in Vientiane, Laos

Favorite food you tried?

Coley: I had some rocking crab curry at a beachside restaurant in Pattaya, Thailand.

Kim: I had the most amazing chicken parcels meal in Ashburton, New Zealand. I’d also like to give honorable mentions to Fergburger in Queenstown, New Zealand, the banana chocolate roti from a random street vendor in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Pancake Manor in Brisbane, Australia, and the homemade stir fry our friend Allan made us in a hostel one night.

Least favorite food you tried?

Coley: These crazy little pork balls with beans in the middle that we had at a restaurant near Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

Kim: Squid is absolutely disgusting.

Favorite drink you tried?

Coley: Most definitely Thai iced tea. Seriously, that sweet little concoction is addicting.

Kim: Thai iced tea is the bomb.

Favorite dessert you tried?

Coley: Gelato from Kaffe Eis in Wellington, New Zealand. My personal favorite was coconut in a cone. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Kim: It’s a tie between the cookies from Cookie Time in Queenstown, New Zealand and the Chai gelato from Kaffe Eis in Wellington, New Zealand.

Best purchase?

Coley: Scarves from markets in Thailand and Laos. My family and friends loved them…wish I had bought more!

Kim: I bought a prosperity cat on the street in Bangkok, Thailand and within a week of having it I won $50. Hopefully it keeps working!

Favorite quality about your travel partner?

Coley: Her ambitious nature—if there’s a way for us to see the best parts of a city in only one night, she will find way to do it.

Kim: I love that Coley just totally goes with the flow in any situation. She also doesn’t get easily annoyed or frustrated like I sometimes can.

What will you miss most about traveling?

Coley: No responsibilities except waking up to catch your bus!

Kim: I honestly just love living the backpacker lifestyle. Backpacking is really a culture of its own and you get to meet so many interesting and like-minded people. I’m also going to miss never knowing what day of the week or what time it was, and it not really mattering.

What skills did you acquire on the road?

Coley: Making PBJs with inadequate utensils, being super quiet getting ready in the morning as not to wake hostel roommates, and just going with the flow.

Kim: Distinguishing where people are from based on their accent, grocery shopping in Australia and New Zealand without spending more than $3 on any single item, using chopsticks, mixing and matching outfits to make it appear like I owned more clothes than I actually did, learning how to properly cook rice, and learning how to speak some basic Mandarin Chinese.

If you were to go back and plan your trip again knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

Coley: I would want to explore more of Southeast Asia because the culture is fascinating and cost of living is ridiculously cheap.

Kim: I would visit less countries and stay for longer amounts of time. Because we tried to fit so much in in 7 weeks, we didn’t have much flexibility in our schedules. There were a few cities that we really loved and wished we could have stayed longer to explore them further. It is also quite exhausting to be traveling for a minimum of 4 hours almost every single day.

How many items did you cross off your life list on this trip?

Coley: Too many to count.

Kim: 28

What were some of the best items you packed?

Coley: Flashlight, green zip-up hoodie, and mini speakers. Best items I didn’t pack? Warm socks and green oil.

Kim: Columbia fleece jacket, padlock, and the UV filter on my camera lens (see Q&A #5).

What advice would you give to someone thinking about planning a trip like yours?

Coley: Do it! Pick where you want to go and start saving.

Kim: If traveling has always been a dream of yours, then it’s up to you to create the opportunity and make it happen. Save your money, buy a plane ticket, and go. No excuses.

Sum up 3 things that you learned on the trip?

Coley: 

  1. American backpackers are the minority among travelers. We heard from several people that we were some of the first backpackers from the U.S. they’d met so far on their trip. Let’s change that!
  2. Living out of a backpack is easier than expected. We had plenty of wardrobe choices, and having everything in one spot was nice
  3. If you need help with something, just ask. Most people are super willing to help travelers. They’ll recommend great places to eat, give directions, and genuinely hope you have a fantastic time exploring their country.

Kim: 

  1. While I loved Australia and New Zealand, you can travel much longer and much more comfortably if you pick a cheaper destination like Southeast Asia. For example, in Laos, we got an hour long full body massage, herbal sauna, bungalow suite accommodation, and three meals (including drinks and desserts), all for less than the price of one nights accommodation in New Zealand.
  2. We’re extremely lucky to grow up as native English speakers. I really admired the motivation and determination people have to learn and practice the English language.
  3. The best experiences are a) the unexpected ones b) the ones that require you to step out of your comfort zone

Totally Tube-ular

Tell any backpacker that you’re visiting Laos and they’ll fire this question at you: “are you going tubing in VangVieng?!” What started off as a few travelers floating on inner tubes down the river with local children has turned into an infamous floating bar crawl. How it works is you stop by the tubing office to pay admission and a deposit for renting an inner tube. A tuktuk drives up to the start of the Nom Song River and drops you off. At this point you can hop on your floating device and coast along the rapid river to find a specific bar or just follow the crowd. The first bar on the water was pretty bumping, so we decided to stop. As we climbed the stairs, we saw a water gun filled with whiskey to welcome the party people in. The crowd consisted of fun-loving backpackers decked out in neon colored clothing, spray-painted bodies, and buckets of drinks in hand. Everyone was chilling and talking when someone shouted “whiskey train!” We stepped back and observed a mass of travelers assemble into a line sitting on the floor while bar employees ran up and down the train pouring Tiger whiskey into the thirsty travelers’ mouths. When the crowd started dwindling, we grabbed our tubes and crossed to the second bar where Lao guys threw out ropes to pull us in. We spent a bit of time here dancing in the rain before our crew moved on to the next spot. We decided to travel to the “bar with a slide” so our group could give it a go. This bar had a huge waterslide, lots of dancing platforms, and a volleyball mudpit. After getting the waterslide fix, our final bar stop was at Mr. LaoLao where the rain was pouring and the music was rocking. Kim and I started the party by dancing on the platforms to lure tubers in. Mr. LaoLao’s was cranking out a killer playlist filled with Chris Brown, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha and passing out headbands sporting “I Love Laos.” When the sun started to set, we organized our group to cross the river, get a tuktuk back into town, and return with tubes in hand to receive our $40,000 deposit back. Let’s just say easier said than done. We made it back muddy, soaked, and exhausted after surviving our totally tube-ular adventure.

Tarzan in Thailand

Well, Coley and I thought that we left all the extreme adventure activities back in New Zealand, but I guess we were wrong. During our time in Chiang Mai we unexpectedly decided to partake in a once in a lifetime opportunity to zip line through the 1500-year-old Mae Kompong jungle in northern Thailand. The Flight of the Gibbon experience is advertised as the best attraction in Thailand and “perfect for extreme fun lovers.”  We were sold.

We were booked on the sunrise experience, so we arrived at the Flight of the Gibbon office bright and early after an hour drive up the mountain on the windiest roads imaginable. They got us set up with a harness and helmet and we met our two Thai guides for the day named “Big Daddy” and Joe. We were lucky that our group was comprised of us and seven of our new friends that we met in Thailand earlier in the week. Finally, we were driven high into the canopy where we walked to the first platform and were ready to go.

Since this was a last minute decision we honestly didn’t know much about it and thought that we would get to go on maybe three different zip lines if we were lucky. Well, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we’d be spending 3 hours soaring through the rainforest on three kilometers and 39 different stations of zip lines.

We started out with a few short lines and worked our way up to the longer and obviously more awesome ones. As we made our way through the course, first Joe would zip to the next platform and Big Daddy would stay with us to hook us up and send us down the line one by one. The funniest part of zip lining was the landings on the next platform, most of which were not too graceful. Joe (who was nearly 5 foot tall) would try to catch us as we came flying towards him, sometimes at ridiculous speeds and sometimes backwards or sideways. On some of the lines we would fly into nets and then climb them up to the platform like we were in some type of obstacle course. Another nice surprise was that there were many different types of lines and ways we could fly across. There was a two person (“honeymoon”), a few abseil (“mission impossible”), a head first (“superman”), a zigzag swing, and even an upside-down line where we hung by our feet.

The zip lining experience is called Flight of the Gibbons because there is a chance that during your time in the jungle you can see gibbons, which are apes native to Southeast Asia. The only time we’ve seen gibbons before was on Planet Earth so we were really excited about this possibility. We were told that our chances of seeing one might be slim since it is currently the rainy season in Thailand. However, we were extremely fortunate that we spotted a father, mother, and baby gibbon hanging out in a tree above us. The gibbons are known for their loud hooting calls, which are oddly enough quite similar to the “woo” sound we make as we’re on the zip line.

Coley and I both agree that this was hands down our favorite activity we’ve done on our trip thus far because it was a perfect combination of thrilling and fun without being too scary or life threatening. It was also an incredible experience alone to spend three hours in a jungle and see a family of gibbons in the tree above us. Lesson of the day: sometimes the best adventures are the ones you didn’t plan.

The Secret Revealed

After following our travels for the past few weeks, some of you may be wondering…how can two college students possibly afford to travel the world for 7 weeks? Well, get out a pen and paper because we’re about to let you in on our secret. No we didn’t win the lottery, we don’t have trust funds, and trust me, we’re not rich. If we can afford to travel, so can you. Here’s the magic formula:

Travel = save + sacrifice + budget.

1. Save

Well, having a job and income is step one of this component, so if you don’t have one you might want to work on that. If you’re looking to take a longer, multi-country trip like us then we might recommended 2 part-time jobs (or 3 or 4…). When your boss asks who wants to go home first, resist the temptation because that extra half hour or work can really add up. When you get those annoying texts and emails from your coworkers about picking up shifts, pick them up. Also, ask around to see if you can make some extra cash by babysitting, walking dogs, or even house sitting. Sure, it might suck to work a few weekend nights, but trust me, when you’re having the time of your life traveling, it will all seem worth it.

Just because you receive a paycheck from work doesn’t mean you have to run out every Friday and spend it. Save it (or plan to save a certain percentage from every one). You know the extra cash you get around holidays or your birthday? Save it. Do you have any clothes, old textbooks, or random junk lying around that you don’t use? Sell it, and then save the money.

If you don’t already have one, we also recommend setting up a savings account specifically for your travel funds, and tell yourself that once money goes in, it doesn’t come out until the trip. It’s much harder to spend money that you can’t see.

2. Sacrifice

Sure, we know some people can’t function without their daily Starbucks fix or have a nervous breakdown from not visiting Nordstrom once a week. We’re not saying to go cold turkey and cut out anything that’s not necessary for survival. It’s just about finding a balance of how often to indulge and enjoy these daily luxuries. However, if you really, truly are interested in traveling you’ll need to closely monitor your spending and make sacrifices in your life. That way you can have enough money to indulge while abroad. I mean, isn’t much cooler to eat gelato on the streets of Italy then on your couch at home? If you’re serious about it, you need to make a travel a priority in your life. That is key. For the past year, Coley and I have made this trip a top priority in our lives. Numerous people have said something to us along the lines of, “I could never afford to take a trip like you.” Well, we did the math and want to put some things into perspective for you:

5 beers at a local bar = 1 zorbing experience

1 Apple iPad (16gb with 3g service) = 5 weeks accommodation in New Zealand

1 large Starbucks coffee everyday for 1 year = 1 roundtrip planet ticket to Australia

2 pairs of jeans from Express = 1 bungy jump + pictures and video

2 movie theatre tickets = food in Thailand for a week

$5 fast food runs 2 times a week for a year = 1 week boat + accommodation island hopping trip in Fiji

Dinner at a sit-down restaurant + tip once a week for 1 year = black water rafting + mud bath and spa + skydiving + elephant trekking + glacier hiking + zip lining + scenic helicopter flight

You get the idea…pretty shocking right? It’s amazing how much money you can save when you make a few sacrifices.

3. Budget

The final component is budgeting for your trip and actually sticking to it (or under it) on the road. I think there’s a misconception that traveling is a glamorous and expensive affair. We’re walking proof that it is possible to travel on a ridiculously cheap budget. During our time in New Zealand, we spent $4.50 a day on food and drinks (yes, that’s for 3 meals a day) because we limited the amount of times we ate out and instead went grocery shopping and cooked for ourselves. Personally, we like to keep our food budget low and our adventure budget high, but this just depends on your personal preference and travel style. By staying in dorm rooms in hostels and with family and friends in some cities, it was possible for us to keep our accommodation budget low and actually slightly less expensive than the price of rent + utilities of an apartment back home. You read that right, depending on your destinations and budget, life on the road can sometimes actually be cheaper than life at home.

So now that the secret is revealed, when’s your next trip?

Up Up & Away

Ice Age: Glacier Hiking 101

When did I think I would hike a glacier? When hell froze over. Appropriate, right? Okay, don’t feel bad if you didn’t realize glaciers were still in existence. There are actually only a handful of locations around the world to climb one, so today, Kim and I hiked the icy paradise in Franz Josef, New Zealand. Before letting us hellions loose on the ice, the guides provided us with some ultra stylish equipment. From head to toe this included: hat, rain jacket, gloves, over trousers, wool socks, hiking boots, crampons, and fanny pack (aka bum bag).

To reach the glacier itself we took a shuttle bus, hiked a steep inclining path through a rainforest area, walked across a flat glacier valley covered in rocks, and finally, conquered a winding mountain path to reach the terminal face of the glacier. It’s strange to be in such an environment because one minute you’re walking on rocks and the next minute you feel like you’re in Antarctica. Surprisingly, the time spent actually getting up to the glacier was probably the most strenuous part of the day. Another surprise was how warm it was on our way up. Many hikers (including myself) shed a few layers and hiked the mountain in just a t-shirt. (Don’t worry, Mom. I put my coat back on when we reached the ice.) The path we took included several sets of chiseled ice stairs and a path that resembled an ice maze. Blue ice caves, glistening ice crystals, and sparkling waterfalls made the scene more picturesque than a postcard.

The secret to walking on the glacier without tumbling down the slick sheets of ice was our crampons. These little guys are metal shoe spikes (resembling a bear trap) that attach to your hiking boots for traction on the ice. By putting your weight on the shoes with each step the cramp ons were able to dig into the ice for a stable walking surface. We felt quite like little wilderness trekkers while walking around with these on. Our buddies at REI would be proud.

So after trekking, hiking, and stomping on ice all day, we saw something incredible. It truly was like a scene straight from the movie Ice Age as the glacier sparkled in the sunlight. It was nearly perfect. The only thing missing? That lovable crazed squirrel.

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.