Four years ago today, I stood sweating and swearing in the middle of a busy train station in Perpignan, trying to figure out which train would go to Argèles-sur-mer, a small town nestled between the mountains and the Mediterranean ocean close to the border of France and Spain.
Three months prior, I’d received a job offer to work as an Assistant Manager at a campground in said little town. The journey ruined my first ever and incredibly oversized suitcase and ended with a very painful twisted ankle before I even worked a single day. Not even a month later, I found myself home bound in a bus, defeated and ashamed.
My travel story starts about seven months before that moment, researching Canada and Working Holiday Visa’s online. I’d wanted to go to the US but I couldn’t work there and I soon became obsessed with all things Canada.
I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to just do it; I don’t recall clicking the button to confirm anything. I only remember the years of dreaming about traveling, I remember the conversation I had with Edward, a guy I worked with at my first job at an Irish Pub, that instigated the thought that maybe, just maybe, it’s not as impossible as people make it out to be. After all, if you can work and earn money to support yourself, why would it be so unfeasible?
So when I got fired from my second job as a Sales Advisor, I applied for a seasonal job in France, not thinking I would actually get it, while waiting to depart to Vancouver in Autumn. The whole experience was confusing, exciting and terrible at the same time. There were many days where I felt homesick, but there were also days where I regretted booking that return ticket. Most of all, I felt incredibly unprepared.
I considered cancelling my flight to Canada, but pride and determination stopped me from doing so. Nervous as hell on the way to the airport, I was thinking about all my past failures. What if I don’t like it? What if I don’t make any friends? What if I can’t find a job?
Four years later, I’m living in New Zealand and have done for the past two years. Getting on that plane was the best decision I’ve ever made. My life has changed immensely, in more than one way. The past four years have offered me so much, not all necessarily good, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I cannot express the gratitude I have for this life.
So what exactly have I been up to for the last four years? I use to update weekly, sometimes even daily when I first started out and now I barely manage to update once a year. So here goes!
July – August 2012 : Argèles-Sur-Mer, France
Well, you know how the trip started and ended but what about those 30 something days in between? I spent a lot of time on my bike exploring the neighboring towns, lounged on the beach a few days, went horseback riding and got lost while running and consequently ran my first 10K. Oh yeah, and I did work for like 5ish hours a day. Although I did get along with the other girls at the campground (I had no real co workers, they worked at the neighboring camp but lived in the same place), I made no lasting friends and have not heard from any of them since. I was kinda a loner …
October – December: Traveling around British Columbia, Canada
It was raining when I arrived in Vancouver and jet lagged as I was, I blocked my own credit card and was now stuck on the other side of the world with no money and only two days accommodation sorted. My first reaction was the wallow in self pity like I’d always done before. “Why does this always happen to me?!” It all worked out in the end, sorta, and I ended up traveling around BC for three months until the situation was mostly resolved.
I WWOOF’ed in Vancouver, Victoria, Grindrod and Killiney Beach. I took care of elderly people, babysat young kids and every now and then, I’d actually do some farm work in between. I sorted through my first bout of homesickness after two and half months and wrestled my way through convincing myself to go home yet again. I drank copious amounts of coffee and discovered Tim Hortons; I bagged carrots, felted my first hat and made my own muesli; I learned how to make my own fruit roll ups, discovered Bowen Island and made friends I am very much still in touch with. After three months, I decided I wanted to stay and booked a ticket to Banff, Alberta.
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December – March : Work for stay, work for money and jobless in Banff
I arrived in Banff on the eve of the supposed end of the world and made even more friends on the bus and at hostels. Despite my reclusive nature, I was making friends left, right and center and snagged myself a work for stay gig at the HI on Tunnel Mountain Road. The HI is where I met my good friend Radka, whom I’ve met up with in France, New Zealand and Fiji since then.
Those few months were filled with hilarious sober and not so sober work days, Sunday Fundays with the locals, impromptu (terrible) movie nights, amazing dress up pub crawls, sunset hikes on Tunnel Mountain, bathing in hot springs, tobogganing nights where I got concussed .. all round hilarity and fun with fellow ‘vollies.’ I got myself a real job after a few weeks but quit after only a week (haha!) and stayed at the YMCA Hostel for 7 weeks where I completed my first novel, Asphyxia. Well, I pretty much completed it while drinking coffee at Tim Hortons. After which I went back to volunteering at the HI.
History repeated itself when I booked a bus ticket to Seattle when I first got to Banff and I found myself not wanting to leave this little mountain town, but I was also really excited to travel down the West Coast of the USA!
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March – June 2013 : West Coast USA
Ah .. How do I recap those three months in a short paragraph? So much happened in so little time, both physically and psychologically. I guess I’ll never be able to really explain any of my adventures in a few short words, so I’ll just .. recap it haha.
I started off in Seattle where I met a few goofy characters, walked to Kurt Cobain’s old place, went up the Space Needle, visited the Gum Wall and chilled at Pike Place Market.
After that I spent a few weeks at Milktopia, a wwoof’ing gig 10 miles outside of Forks, Washington (yes, the Forks ..) where I was responsible for watching goats eat grass for eight hours a day. The shack made out of recycled materials had no running water or electricity. It took some time to adjust, but once I did, it became an amazing experience. I drank out of the river, ran in the rain forest, bathed in the Bochagiel River, had some enlightening talks with my hippie hosts, and drank some moonshine with an old man who turned out to be an amazing conversationalist.
Oregon brought with it the lovely, green and hipster Portland where I spent many days running and hiking in the woods. It’s one of my favorite cities I’ve visited so far and would love to go back there one day.
After my week in Portland, I ended up 10 miles outside of Gold Beach and 3 miles up Kimball Hill at a place called ‘Cloudplay Homestead.’ It was the best wwoof’ing experience I had out of all of them. Brent and Scott, my hosts, were extremely inviting, open minded, generous and kind. A fellow wwoof’er joined me a few days later by the name of Heather, who also made an incredible and lasting impact on my life. There are no words to express how happy I was in that place .. The simplicity of those few weeks hiking in the Redwoods, drinking wine while playing cards, swimming in the river and enjoying the sunsets on the hill were divine.
I’m actually still in touch with my hosts and they have recently sold their property which really saddens me (but I’m happy for them) because I really wanted to go back there one day. I ended up extending my stay, thus shortening my stay at the last farm in California.
Video: Hipster Portland<3
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Fort Dick is situated next to Crescent City, the place where my book takes place (and yeah, the reason why I went there) and home of Ocean Air Farms. Short but sweet, I had a lovely time on this farm planting onions, exploring the Redwoods and running alongside the ocean. Chris, an intern at the farm, gave me a ride to Eureka where I got a bus to San Francisco, another favorite city of mine. I ran my first race and earned my first medal here and fell in love with the unique city after only three days. I ended my three month trip in Santa Monica/Los Angeles and ran my first half marathon. The week in Santa Monica was a bit of an anti climax to the trip. I was mostly bored and spent my birthday alone, without any of the many friends I made along the way, on a Hollywood Tour in LA. I was happy to go back to Vancouver, a 36 hour bus trip away …
June – August 2013 : Vancouver – Banff – Vancouver Island – Montréal
I spent a few days in Vancouver visiting friends I made while I was there 7 months prior (see, I did make friends!) before I headed back to Banff. I spent a few weeks in Banff while I experienced my first flood and went back to doing work for stay.
Pretty spontaneously, Radka decided to quit her two jobs for the year and we hitch hiked our way to Vancouver (because no busses were running due to the flood) to eventually end up on Vancouver Island. We spent the following three weeks traveling around the Island to Victoria, Nanaimo and Tofino and eventually went back to the mainland to Whistler and Oyama.
These few weeks of traveling are very dear to me and I think of them very often. Hiking, running, ocean biking, lake swimming, laughing, cherry picking, hitch hiking, all round foolishness and my first ‘Canada Day.’ It was all pretty freaking amazing. Ah yeah, I also lost my purse containing my wallet, phone, passport, everything and my first reaction wasn’t the usual self pity .. It was “Alright, I’ll contact the right people to block my bank account and get the embassy to sort out the passport thing and you know .. that’s all I can do” and relaxed for the rest of the day. Like, for real, that’s what I did. Talk about growth!
After a quick stop in Banff (snuggle party!), I boarded a 3 day bus (!!!) to Montréal to work on my last farm. Days were spent getting up early to cycle 20K to the farm, pick some beans, get eaten alive by sandflies, goof around on the field and cycle 20k back to the house and eat some delicious meals after a cool swim in the pool.
The last 10 days in Canada were spent getting a septum piercing, running my first Color Run and spending my last few dollars on an oversized Incubus sweater I never wear. I also took a metro and a bus to an abandoned building, went to the top and sat there for a few hours with a bunch of strangers and some beers (filed under: maybe not the best decision but I didn’t die so its okay?) I ended up underestimating the bus fare to the airport (blocked bank account, no money!) and scrambled together a few euros I found in the hostel I stayed when I first arrived in Vancouver (!!!) and exchanged them in the bureau next door. And that pretty much concludes my time in North America.
Holy shit, this post is getting too long already.
December – February 2014 : Saalbach, Austria
I spent a few weeks in my hometown in Belgium, and adjusting back to normal life proved to be a little challenging. I felt out of place and restless; I felt disconnected from my friends and unsatisfied with the regular routine. So I found myself another seasonal job in Europe.
I worked at a ski lodge in Saalbach, Austria alongside one co-worker and two bosses (a couple) from the Netherlands. They paid for a seasonal mountain pass, my boarding equipment, stay and food included while I worked split shifts and divided my time snowboarding, training for my first marathon and editing my first novel. I left after only two months when my mother informed me my granddad’s cancer had come back (I first learned about it when I got to Banff, Canada.)
A part of me wanted to stay, but another was eager to leave again. My granddad ended up living for a reasonably long time but I’m glad I went home to see him because he died while I was here in New Zealand.
I made a pit stop in Paris to meet up with Radka before flying to Auckland, New Zealand after running my first marathon. Needless to say, I spent those two days barely being able to walk to the Eiffel tower and around Montmartre.
May 2014 – Present (July) 2016 : New Zealand
February – March 2015 : Fiji (Vacation!)
Two years and two months.
I’ve been in this country for over two years. Radka was supposed to be here with me but ended up not getting a visa but I did have another friend over for a few weeks. We pretty much came straight to Queenstown and apart from one month of traveling up North, I’ve been here ever since. She left after a few weeks and it’s been just me ever since .. Well, me and a bunch of awesome fucking people.
I moved into a 10 people share house in June after securing a job at Shoe Clinic. I didn’t like the job much so I left after only 5ish weeks and became an Au Pair on Waiheke Island. I lasted even less with that job .. Barely two weeks before I decided I didn’t want to live with any boss, needing some independence, I got myself a job with Greenpeace. It seemed perfect on paper and the managers were so impressed that they decided to put me on the travel team. And yeah, this job I kept for just one week. I hitched a ride with my ex co-workers to Queenstown and crashed at my old place for about a month until I found another job at Eichardts Private Hotel. This is when my life changed forever.
I’d booked a flight during my first two weeks in Queenstown (can you spot the trend yet?) to both Fiji and Vancouver. I’d had every intention of immigrating to Canada … somehow. All of those plans changed the day I fell in love with the love of my life, Dane Aaron Dixon. I vividly remember meeting him for the first time when I first moved into the house in June and even blogged about him 🙂 When I moved back in August, we became pretty close but it was all very innocent. One thing led to another when we became roomies and it all went really fast after that. I cancelled my flights to Canada and asked my boss if he could sponsor me.
The last two years have been so life altering and filled to the brim with so many new experiences, I don’t even know where to begin. 15A Huff Street has given me friendships and memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. I laughed and cried and screamed and talked and tickled and snoozed and sung and … just everything. Summers were spent going on road trips, going go carting, cliff jumping, hiking, drinking cider on the beach/field, rock climbing, dinners out, nights out … Winters were mostly filled with nights spent playing music, watching ridiculous tv shows and movies and .. well, drinking. Lots and lots of drinking. Did I mention drinking? Yeah, lots of that.
Dane and mine’s relationship got increasingly serious as we started going on trips around the South Island, getting a car together and searching for our own little place. April 29th marked the day we got engaged and it took another 10 months for us to move out of the house into our new place alongside Lake Wakatipu. We’ve seen pretty much all of the South Island and recently explored the North with Dane’s dad and step mom. We’ve said goodbye to all of our friends and pretty much keep to ourselves nowadays. February 1st 2017 is the day we will finally leave Queenstown and travel Asia for 7ish months before heading to Australia to find jobs there. The first year I lived here, I couldn’t wait to leave and now I can’t imagine myself going.
It’s been a packed two years even though I’ve spent a lot of it working and just living a routine life like I did back home, yet it’s not the same. I’ve had six different jobs and boarded 15 planes, took 3 vacations all together (one to Fiji with Radka) and have been on business trips. I’ve become the person that gives directions to tourists and offers advice where to go to co workers who want to travel New Zealand. I am the local.
It’s been two years of laughter but also growing. Two years of a lot of new experiences, both boring and exciting. Skydiving, cliff diving, paying taxes, buying my/our first car, getting promoted, paying rent and moving house, raves and psychedelic drugs (which deserves a whole blog post on its own but I might just keep that to myself ..), caving, making jade necklaces, seeing kiwi’s, surfing, walking on glaciers, going vegan and losing 15kg (yah totally!), bathing in my first natural hot springs, trying to sleep next to someone you’re angry with (haha), seeing many natural wonders all over New Zealand …
It’s just been … Amazing.
Despite the fact that I’ve been in New Zealand for over two years, I haven’t gotten around to making any decent compilation videos. Keep telling myself that I’ll start editing when we depart but it’s gonna be horrible considering I’ve now got over 291 videos to look over ..