I am more than two weeks late for this post because it has been one of the hardest for me to write. Even with a stash of pre-written stories waiting for edits, I preferred silence because I had something else to say.

There is a side of travel people do not talk about. The not-so-pretty truth that misses all the “top ten” lists and advice blogs. Instead we push the message that travel is easy. That travel is possible. That travel is cheap.

Let me reveal to you the truth.
Even the best independent travelers have seen the bottom of their wallet and I am no different. I too have faced moments when credit becomes my option to “buy” more time. 
There comes a time when the travel life gets real. When the realities of life we tried to leave at home catch us on the road. They came to me as I found myself on the cross roads between working in my passion versus a more balanced “travel” job, making just enough to get by.

Which did I choose?

The latter. It was tempting to take the full-time Event Organizer role—a position so perfect for my skillset—but this time passion did not win. After much contemplation and silence, even to writing, I found an answer deep within me…

I did not come to New Zealand to live the same life I could at home. I came to experience more. I came to get out of the 9-5 rat race. I came to discover and develop a new me.

Since I left the US in 2011 I have yet to get serious. I have lived on-site at every place I worked in roles, from:
  • Peace Corps Volunteer – in Togo (West Africa) to
  • Gracious Organizer – in Florida (USA), the Bahamas, the French Alps, and the Dominican Republic to
  • Marketing Assistant/Coordinator/Festival Co-Organizer – on the North Island of New Zealand…
…and the spaces between are filled with travel.

This time I add Assistant Hostel Manager to the list. Another live-in position that often requires cleaning toilets. It is not glamorous but there are a few things I know for sure: my credit card can stay housed; my work-life balance is great; and this is something I would probably never do in the States.

Do you hear that? It sounds like the perfect combination for success.
In the words of my wise friend, Steven Sola, “travel is my jam.” I love discovering the world and all her splendor but I do it on a budget.

Since graduating five years ago, I have yet to make more than $10,000 a year. I fund my life and trips abroad pinching pennies along the way. 

On my journeys, I meet travelers who follow different methods. Some sell everything to go. Some alternate between saving at home and taking trips abroad. Some work full time and bank on vacation time. Some take the long road and wait for life abroad until retirement.

To integrate travel in my life, I follow four key principles:
Eating locally in Togo.

1: Eat In, Not Out.

Unless I am invited to a friends’ place for dinner, I hardly eat “out”. In places like the US and New Zealand, cooking at home is often better quality and cheaper. 

Other times, in Africa or S.E. Asia, I find host families or the most local cafés possible—i.e. not large dining restaurants or fast food chains.

If you are not sure what I mean, choose a place without  printed menus. ;)

2: Use Miles, Not Money.

I briefly discussed mile hacking in a previous post, including resources on how to start. Use money DURING the trip. Not for tickets to go.

I recommend avoiding budget airlines too. Redeeming miles with them is hard because many are not part of the large airline alliances (i.e. OneWord, SkyTeam, Star Alliance, etc).

Plus, the cheap ticket can quickly become normal price because of hidden fees. I recently got smacked with an $105 NZD charge for bringing 12kg when the limit was a measly 7kg— on an INTERNATIONAL trip—a cost half the original ticket price…

If you decide to take a budget flight travel light and expect nothing. Not even peanuts on board.

3: Travel Slow, Not Fast.

Once I arrive to a new country, I find a “base” rather than hopping around to see everything. In Thailand I was based near Chiang Mai. In Sicily I chose Palermo. For New Zealand I chose two: first a city outside Auckland, then one on the South Island.

Why? Moving to and fro adds up fast—choose monthly accommodation rather than nightly; sporadic bus/train/car rides rather than constant trips.

I maintain a short list of the top 2-3 places I want to visit before leaving. The list often changes as I discover new places or receive insight from locals and fellow travelers.

Less moving = more money. 

I prefer exploring "base" first and limit longer, more expensive trips.

4: Avoid Convenience Purchases.

Though small individually, the convenient things add up fast. Think beyond that $5 cup of tea or coffee (use rule #1 and make it at home).

It can be $2 for 15 minutes of wifi, a $20 upgrade to take a taxi, or the $30 cell phone bill each month.

Break these habits as much as possible—find a café or public library for free wifi, walk/bike/take public transportation instead of the private ride, use GoogleVoice or Skype for local and international calls.
Yes—it might take longer but time is the best currency when traveling with little to no income.


These travel principles have taken me far but remember: they are not hard fast rules. Think of them as instincts and adjust when necessary.

Most importantly ENJOY each trip; travel should not feel like a chore or budgeted routine.
I live and work at a yoga retreat center. I love sun salutations. I owe my splits to yoga practice. It seemed right for me to volunteer for yoga festivals.

Photo credit: James Parsons
Yet despite the daily yoga classes offered at my home, my attendance has gradually dwindled.

I signed up to volunteer at Wanderlust hoping to reinvigorate my practice. The festival is quite possibly the largest yoga gathering in New Zealand, toting professionals from all over the world. 

To boot, it features an eclectic program of styles from aerial yoga to Rock n’ Roll yoga to deeper, meditative yoga. I knew I set myself up for success.

I filled my schedule with classes, squeezing in up to five per day between my volunteer shifts. 

None of them were yoga. I went to sessions about achieving exceptional health and raw beauty, workshops on photography, and even a three-part blogging series.
Photo Credit: James Parsons

Then, a few weeks later came the event I took part in organizing; the 
5th Annual International Yoga Festival & Conference. For six months I managed the marketing for this capstone event, perfectly situated at the site I call home.

Its program was also filled with exciting classes, from acro-yoga to Vinyasa flows. I was much busier working behind the scenes at this festival but I did manage to squeeze in one workshop: Macrame jewelery making.

Still not a single yoga class.

Now with another festival on the horizon, I fear my time for yoga is running out. Life is busier on the festival organizer side of things. When I finish work, I just want to escape the yoga center or retreat to my room.

I know there is something beautiful about living where I work but I find this dynamic also quite ironic. The more I embed the things I love into my life, the farther away they actually become…

I will delve more into this in a future post. Stay tuned.

Photo Credit: James Parsons

Besides their national symbol being a rare, flightless bird who shares its identity with a fruit; there is a whole lot to love about Kiwis. It starts with the beauty of their outdoors and continues with the Kiwi diversity, many first or second generation immigrants.

I find myself falling in love with New Zealand more than any country I have visited thus far and these are my top 15 reasons why:

1: The beach is never too far. 
The longest drives still takes less than 30 minutes. It is a bonus that the beaches are often secluded and diverse—from forests to black sands to hot water and more.

2: Casual work is the norm.
It is common for people to work short-term or on “gigs” then spend the rest of their time traveling before repeating it all over again. 

3: Government forms and processes are simple.
I got my visa online and once in-country, I filled out exactly one page to apply for my NZ Identification number. 
I could tell you horror stories of my experiences with the French system.

4: It is easy to be myself—no makeup or fancy clothes required.
I showed up a professional job interview in business casual and was the most formal one in the room. The Kiwis appreciate a more low-key style.

5: Shoes and shirts are not required.
Nor will service be denied without them.

6: WWOOFing is a term I can use in every day language. 
The Kiwis understand and frequently use volunteer exchange programs to travel cheap.

7: I am never the only one singing along to the in-store radio.
I am not exaggerating when I say that each time I catch myself jamming to a song as I shop, I see someone else doing the same.
Photo credit: James Parsons
8: I still pee in the bush.
Like the beach, the bush is never that far either…

9: Kiwis are helpful and stop to talk.
I routinely enjoy long conversations with complete strangers, all too often ending with invitations for tea at their residence or a place to stay if I visit their hometown.

10: Time off is a thing.
Public businesses run on schedules more in line with the government holidays. It is accepted that everyone take a break.

11: Honesty is accepted, expected, and ok.
Kiwis have mastered the art of discussing strong opinions to even deep-seated issues without dramatically affecting their friendships. I appreciate that.

12: Running is possible at almost any point of the day.
I loved the tropics but the heat of Togo then Florida limited my runs to an early morning or late evening affair. The experience of 'all seasons in one day' offers more flexibility for my running schedule.

13: Organic and local consciousness.
The food standards are high, with a great emphasis on local and organic. All food products are also labeled with their origin and producer/distributor source in New Zealand.

14: No worries.
The phrase "no worries" is synonymous with "thank you" here but I was still surprised that even the road signs have manners in New Zealand. Almost all the roadwork and construction sites say more than “slow down”, they say “thank you” too. Plus, there are virtually no billboards!

15: Acceptance.
The Kiwi’s take people, things, and ideas as they are and hold each other to that standard.

I could go on, adding the fascinating star views (even in cities), glow worms grottos, lack of poisonous creatures, and all the wonderful assets that make this country unique.

It has been less than six months but the longer I stay, I find that New Zealand has picked up some of the best practices from the rest of the world. I continue to marvel in gratitude as I settle into this place I now call home.