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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

Q&A #2

New Zealand in a Flash

Nom, Nom, Nom New Zealand Style

As our time in New Zealand comes to an end, it seems only fitting to look back on some drool-worthy moments we experienced in kiwi country.

Yum #1: Fergburger

This place is infamous. Ask anyone for a food recommendation in Queenstown, and you’ll hear the resounding response “Fergburger.” Serving up dishes such as the “Cockadoodle Oink” and “The Codfather,” it is a packed house any day of the week at all hours of the night. Kim and I had the luxury of visiting this popular joint twice while in Queenstown. Round one we tried the Bombay Chicken sandwich topped with mango chutney and smothered in aioli sauce, and round two was the Cockadoodle Oink sandwich sporting bacon and avocado. Huge portions, great fries, crowd favorite.

Yum #2: Kaffe Eis

Best. Gelato. Ever. Seriously, Italy should be worried. Kim and I managed to conquer the following flavors during our time in Wellington: golden kiwifruit, forest fruit yogurt, bon bon, caramel, chai, pannacotta, mixed berry, passionfruit, caffe latte, chai (take two), coconut, and chocolate. Whether it’s in a cup or a cone, the only word to describe these decadent treats: heavenly. Next time I see a shooting star, I’m seriously wishing for a Kaffe Eis opening in Chicago.

Yum #3: Cookie Time

Warm cookies in a variety of flavors. Insanely good. Gives Mrs. Fields a run for her money. Stop by during cookie “happy hour” and get two for the price of one!

Yum #4: Golden kiwi fruit

Everyone knows the kiwi fruit from back home–furry skin, green on the inside, tart taste. Well, the golden kiwi fruit is like the awesome cousin of the green little guy. Smooth outside, golden inside, and deliciously sweet.

Yum #5: L&P

This Kiwi classic is a soda with loads of fresh taste. The L&P stands for “Lemon & Paeroa,” and the drink began back in the early 1900s when local blokes found an underground spring in Paeroa, New Zealand. The taste could be compared to a mix of ginger ale and lemonade. Sorry friends, but this baby can only be purchased in New Zealand.

Overall, it’s been quite the treat sinking our teeth into the sweet, salty, and savory dishes of New Zealand. Now we’re off to see what culinary delights Australia has to offer.

Q&A #1

Up Up & Away

How Sweet It Is

As a child, I always dreamed of being one of the golden ticket winners in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, so you can imagine my excitement when I found out we were visiting a real life chocolate factory in Dunedin, New Zealand. Labeling myself as a chocoholic would be an understatement. A more accurate title would be something along the lines of “self-proclaimed chocolate connoisseur.” My qualifications? Gobbling down an obnoxious amount of sweets for twenty-one years. So obviously, I was pumped. Kim and I ventured out to find the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. When we saw it, it was like one of the moments in movies when the choir of angels sings “Hallelujah”, and there is golden light surrounding the prized object. The purple banners hanging from the building were waving triumphantly, luring chocolate lovers passing by to its entrance.

When Kim and I entered the building we checked in for our tour and took a lap through a mini maze showcasing the history of chocolate. It started with chocolate’s humble beginnings as a mere cocoa bean and continued on to the spectacle it has become today. When the clock struck three, our tour guide Pat appeared. Pat was a jolly lady rocking purple overalls, pockets overflowing with an assortment of candies. She equipped us with hairnets (yet another flattering piece of clothing) to wear throughout the factory. She also gave us a purple bag of numerous Cadbury confections (including one of my Easter favs: crème eggs). At different points of the tour Pat would ask chocolate trivia questions and the winner would receive (what else?) chocolate. In the Easter egg wing, we saw workers handling delicate chocolate eggs in preparation for next Easter holiday. At the end of this wing stood a replica of the world’s largest chocolate Easter bunny…basically a dentist’s worst nightmare. Pat said the oversized figure still holds its placein the Guinness Book of World Records. Perhaps the most impressive and “Willy Wonka”ish moment of the tour was the voice-activated chocolate waterfall. As we screamed “we want chocolate” gallons of melted chocolate cascaded into the vat below.

The sweetest part of the day? The goodie bags. Cadbury sent us home with heaps of chocolaty treats to enjoy and offered more options in the outlet store. So the moral of the story is: follow your sweetest dreams. Just beware of cavities.

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.

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?