Oh man, I think I’ve missed the whole New Year’s resolution and recap-of-the-past-year blog post bandwagon. But just for giggles, I’m gonna try it. Since I’ve been so slack giving you the latest on my life, here’s what I got up to this year…
2017 was all about making that change from full-time, carefree, backpacker-style traveling to freelancing. That meant camping, housesitting, and having our own car and (at times) our own temporary home. It came with some struggles and rough edges, and it was not always as pretty as these photos entail. But the flexibility to live in a different country every other month is just incredible.
Destination wise, while it was awesome and beautiful, I found that New Zealand isn’t my most favorite travel destination in the world, that I’m still in love with Southeast Asia, that Portugal is really all it’s cracked up to be, and that it’s still good to go home occasionally.
Marko and I rang in the New Year sending off a paper lantern into the unbelievably beautiful night sky of Chiang Mai, Thailand surrounded by tons of other glowing lanterns. We ate great tons of khao soi and fried chicken, joined a gym, rode a motorbike around town, and soaked in the last couple weeks of oh-so-cheap and delicious Thailand in a studio apartment.
On the 13th, we began a new chapter of travels. So far, it’s been a month in this country or that one, but with Working Holiday Visas in hand, we flew to New Zealand. With no plan really. Except that we would maybe get jobs and housesit. So we bought a car and meandered around the North and South Islands, picking up housesitting opportunities as we went.
Our journey started in Auckland with a visit out to the west-coast beaches and then down to Matamata (home of Hobbiton) and on to the Coromandel and its beautiful beaches like New Chums and Cathedral Cove.
We ended the month with a two-week housesit in Rotorua. While not a terribly gorgeous town, we had a great dog named Rags who went on daily walks to the lake, several places to hike or swim nearby, and an awesome backyard with a firepit, grill, and hammocks. It was our first taste of the good life that is housesitting…
After having a house to ourselves for a while, we set off for the beach towns of Tauranga and Mount Maunganui… another place I could totally settle down in New Zealand. Life in a tent started to get a bit stressful as we both tried to pick up little work projects along the way to earn money. As you may be aware, there’s no wifi in a tent.
It rained and I cried. We headed south. Whitewater rafting cheered me up a little.
Our strategy for traveling around New Zealand on a budget ended up working a little too well. We easily racked up strategically-located housesits all over the country, camping and exploring in between. Our ol’ Toyota Caldina station wagon held up and took us where we needed to go.
In February, we opted for an Airbnb to get a real feel for Wellington, the hip little capital on the coast, promising we’d return to live there when we needed to get “real jobs.” Yeah, that didn’t really pan out…
Then we hopped on the ferry to the South Island with all of our belongings in our little car. We spent the first few nights in the Marlborough wine region (which is still one of my most favorite memories of New Zealand) before heading onward to the Tasman District with all its clear blue waters, rocky cliffs, and kayaking. Seriously, I could’ve stayed at that beachside campground – The Barn – for many more days chilling, reading, hiking into the national park, and having pizza and beers next door.
Yeah, we did a lot in February.
Zooming through the beauty that is ALL of New Zealand’s South Island, we saw some of the west coast (like the Pancake Rocks), camped in Arthur’s Pass, stopped in the surprisingly cool coastal town of Oamaru, and headed to the small village of Outram for a housesit just outside of the university-centric Dunedin. We learned to collect eggs from 90 free-range chickens, feed ducks, and make sure the lambs stayed in their field.
And weirdness beyond weirdness, the next housesit we booked was in that same little city of Outram. So we took three weeks to do a loop through the wild Catlins, random (but cheap!) Invercargill, Bluff for oysters, and Te Anau from which we explored the famous Milford Sound.
We spent St. Patrick’s day in the always-popular Queenstown and even hit a wine festival while we were there. The drives around here are ridiculously beautiful, and this was yet another stop where we could’ve totally just settled down. There were lots of other foreigners thinking the same thing… And it was the same with Wanaka. Awesome lakefronts, restaurants and bars, social scenes, and hikes like Roy’s Peak.
Oh, and we spent hours at each stop searching out places to keep up with the basketball games of March Madness. (With success, I might add.)
March was our longest time spent camping – over three weeks in the tent and car – and no, I didn’t cry at all.
We headed back to Outram for a quaint, quiet stay in a little cabin with a German Shepherd puppy and a wood-burning heater. I’d say this is when the freelancing stuff started to get a bit more serious. We had relatively consistent work, lots of time on our hands, a home, and great wifi. Oh, and cable TV…
We watched a lot of college basketball, celebrated a win for the Heels (I made chicken wings), hiked with the puppy, and went to a rugby match in Dunedin where we got to briefly experience the college bar scene there. Not gonna lie, we were a bit sad to leave this area that I originally thought was gonna be wayyy too rural.
En route to the north of the island, we spent three nights over Easter weekend taking care of some of the cutest dogs ever (where have you been all my life long-haired dachshunds?!) in Christchurch in a beautifully decorated house. The owners left us wine, chocolate rabbits, and a whole chicken to roast! This is where I learned that Kiwis are the nicest people on earth when the battery died in our car and within the span of 10 minutes four people offered to help us out!
From there, we made the surprisingly long drive back to a place that I may or may not have cried about skipping the first time through… Nelson. The sunniest place in New Zealand. Literally.
We spent a few nights in an Airbnb which was basically an awesome converted shed to explore Nelson. The whole area is filled with breweries – it’s the “beer region” of NZ, kinda like the wine region we already visited – and it’s located along the coast and beaches, which I obviously love. It was getting a bit too cold to swim, but we were at least able to check them out.
There was also a happening weekend market in Nelson with food trucks, produce, preserves, cheeses, hot sauces, beef jerky, and just so many other things. The weather lived up to expectations and we even picked up playing tennis after moving on to our next housesit in the neighboring town of Richmond
Staying in the same sunny area, we luckily bounced from one housesit to the next, a two-weeker in the cute little town of Motueka, where we did the most minimal housesitting job ever for two cats. The older couple – a South African woman and her Kiwi husband – became what we jokingly refer to as “the best friends we made in New Zealand” because well, they were.
They let us spend an extra night with them before they left and even a few nights after they returned home from Thailand so we wouldn’t have to camp. They cooked dinner for us, had drinks with us, met us for coffee, and even invited us over to watch the rugby a couple weeks later. They were the coolest.
At the end of May, we headed to Upper Moutere… which was luckily just down the road. This was the mother of all housesits, which I mentioned here.
This month was basically all chilling, working, cooking, and dog-walking in the most fabulous house. We spent a week getting to know the dogs while the homeowner and professionally trained chef got to know us and cooked for us. We had wine, learned new card games, and I even made homemade pasta and pizzas with her.
Seriously, the nicest people ever live in New Zealand.
But yeah, during June there was a lot of working going on in an attempt to save up money. “Buckling down” as they say. Except, of course, during our Thursday nights becoming regulars at the pub quiz in town. And our final day trip to the beaches of Golden Bay.
When it was time, we sold our car for only $100NZD less than we bought it for, which was a nice little cash infusion for our final month in the country! We needed it for our last couple days of splurging in Auckland during the Lions Tour and subsequent flight out to Thailand.
Lots of plane tickets were booked this month. We said goodbye to New Zealand and wintertime – Marko a little more sad about it than I – and flew to back to the old standby, Southeast Asia.
Thailand never gets old. Exploring a new corner of Bangkok – On Nut – was just what I needed. Plus a pool, gym, warm weather, and spicy, affordable food.
Marko’s friend Steve came and spent a few days in BKK with us, we took a cooking class, shopped, drank on Khao San Road, and then spent a week on the island of Koh Tao, which I’ve already written about. It felt like a real vacay.
Days before our flight out of Bangkok, I had a momentary freak out that I’d gotten dengue fever again. I started googling incubation periods and symptoms and YouTubing videos of mosquitos, but thank god, it was a false alarm. Yes, I cried. Like a moron.
And just like that – thanks more to the 30-day visa-on-arrival limit in Thailand than my own free will – we were off to Portugal!
The last few days of July and the beginning of August we spent in Porto, the culinary capital and the smaller but still very popular city three hours north of Lisbon. It was filled with great good, a great apartment, and my family members who pushed us to get out and do touristy things!
We moved on to Lisbon where Marko and I ended up staying for the next several weeks. Because it’s incredible. But you can hear more about Portugal here.
Christina and Mary Ann visited and we ate and drank and ate and drank and finally visited the Algarve. We based ourselves in the little beach town of Praia de Luz where we had nice dinners, days on the beach with juice boxes of wine, nights of absurdly fun karaoke, and little trips to Lagos for the dramatic Camilo Beach, one of the most impressive ever.
Back in Lisbon for a couple of weeks, Marko and I got back to work and “regular” life. If there is such a thing.
(Again, it’s just so livable and lovely there.)
Another friend – Mary Clare – visited us for a few days. We cooked. We tried to stop drinking and eating so much. We failed. Soaking up the last few days of summer, we took the train to nearby beach in Cascais (another awesome thing about living in Lisbon, btw), before it really started to feel like fall.
There were plenty of outdoor drinking hours at the quiosques around town for pints of Super Bock. We wandered around the city more, checking things off the list like the Campo do Ourique food market. I tried to get out as much as possible during my “lunch breaks” to see the city and soak up the sun.
For a belated celebration of Marko’s birthday, the two of us had a drunken feast at Cervejaria Ramiro, the renowned Anthony-Bourdain-visited-it-so-I-had-to-go place. Oh, and we of course had to have a roommate goodbye dinner. Anything for an excuse to go out and splurge on a nice meal, right?
On the 20th, I flew to England to stay at Marko’s home in his little village about an hour and twenty minutes from London. I met his family, and we chilled out in between visits with his friends in London, hangouts with others from his hometown (er, another village a little drive away), and one very fun-filled wedding.
Post-wedding, we spent a couple nights in Bath so I could check out Marko’s university town, see his old haunts, and have a proper Sunday Roast. Aside from the rain – I swear I’m getting used to it – it was great and I loved how incredibly funny every English person I was introduced to seemed to be.
After two more weeks in England, visiting pubs, going on walks in the countryside, marveling at how old everything is, and taking the train into London for some sightseeing, pints, and The Book of Mormon (which is LOL hilarious btw, 10/10 would recommend), it was time to head back to the good ol’ U.S. of A. for the first time in a year!
And I can’t say the welcome wasn’t amazing. We spent a couple nights with Mary Ann in New York upon our arrival. We had an oyster happy hour, beers on the Staten Island Ferry, lunch at Katz’s Deli, and a boozy night of stand-up comedy. (Yeah, we really packed it in!) On our last day, we checked out the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, pretended to be Kevin McCallister in the Plaza Hotel, and lounged in Central Park before flying back to NC…
…Where we had to hit the ground running. It was still hot and sunny (I’m starting to sense that this is something that really matters to me) so we headed to Beaufort to get on the boat with my fam, chilled on the beach, visited some of my favorite bars, and ate shrimp and grits with grandma. After a few days decompressing at the beach house, we headed to Raleigh to prepare for Christina’s wedding… which was at a SUMMER CAMP in the mountains.
Nothing better than sharing a cabin with your college friends and not having to drive or get a hotel room for a whole weekend! There were bonfires, barbecue, beers on the porch, boiled peanuts, dancing. Thanks, Tina! We had a little too much fun… which we continued with some time in Asheville with friends.
Yes, this month was exhausting.
We rested. We stayed in La Grange. We went back to Beaufort. We worked. We joined a gym.
I dragged Marko to a Carolina football game in Chapel Hill to relive my glory days, favorite spots, and even a fraternity party. Not done with sports yet, we also went to Raleigh for the NC State game a few days later. Yes, Marko
says he loves college sports. It’s just not a thing anywhere else, and oh, how I’ve missed it!
As you may know from Instagram, I was able to partake in my family’s usual Thanksgiving festivities back at home – that means drinking beers and shooting guns in a field in La Grange. I’ve missed Thanksgiving the past two years, so it was pretty special to spend a lot of holiday time with the fam.
Oh man, I almost forgot we went to Vegas. Marko has a friend from England who lives out there, so we stayed with him two nights and then spent two nights on the Strip. Turns out I like gambling a lot more than I thought… And I’m kind of in love with the hip downtown Vegas area.
And that was it for travel in 2018.
The rest of the year was spent between La Grange, Raleigh, and Beaufort for Christmas. Thank goodness for that.
I had a few hangouts in my hometown. Worked. Rested. Watched Movies.
Then I hopped on a flight back to England and spent New Year’s Eve in London at party with Marko’s best friends. I stayed up way too late and resolved to
do a little better in 2018 have a lot of fun in 2018 too!
So that’s it for this year. Thailand, New Zealand, Portugal, England, USA.
Yeah, sometimes I wake up and have no idea where the hell I am. But that brief moment of panic subsides when I realize I’m really living my best life and loving every minute I get to keep up this freelancing, travel-packed lifestyle. I really think it suits me!
As I type this, I’m sitting in Marko’s tiny village of Shotteswell, England. It’s quaint, it’s gray, it’s wet. And I have no plans for the next two weeks. It’s glorious.
Next Post: What’s on the Books for 2018.
Well, once again this was intended to be all be in one post, but since I have a habit of writing too much, my future travel plans will have to til the next one. Don’t worry, this time it’s already partially drafted!