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.

I arrived to Auckland after four months of leisurely travel. My motives for New Zealand were different though. I came to earn back the money I spent along the way—even if each dollar is worth just 60% in my home currency.

I planted myself near the largest city to save and only recently started to venture out.

When I arrived, I immediately started work at a retreat center gig I lined up using WorkAway. I signed up for six months to balance the professional experience with some personal time; attending the yoga, meditation, or indigenous culture events offered at the center.

Thus far, it has provided all that and more. Professionally, I gained experience in the events and marketing field including an interim a marketing director during her absence. I also find lots of personal time for myself with almost daily visits to the library, lots of home cooking, and wonderful sit downs with our on-site Maori Oracle.

The next two months will take me out of the homebody life and send me on the road. It is summer here in the Southern Hemisphere and I will spend it volunteering for at least five events—not including the two I am organizing—from eco-festivals to stadium running to large-scale yoga retreats like Wanderlust.

My first was a New Year’s celebration on the beach, alternative-Kiwi style. During the Prana Festival, I camped with more than 1,000 people at a beachside forest, withstanding two full days of rain.

I also celebrated my 26th birthday at this event; where I came to the realization that I could not be in a better place.

After spending two weeks in the Dominican Republic I came back to my home in New Zealand. The trip was short but like all moments resumed after elapsed time, a few things had changed.

Walking up the driveway I immediately noticed differences in the friend who greeted me there. He was thinner. His skin was clearer. Still, his eyes and spirit were as lively as before.

“I've been drinking only water for the past ten days”, he said enthusiastically, “and I feel good.” Even with Thanksgiving dinner the next night, he had no plans to relent.

I soon learned he was not alone. During my absence, many of my friends had started fasting or juicing for various lengths of time. I suddenly found myself following step when a friend at the Thanksgiving dinner party asked if I would fast with him the next day…

This is what it was like:

  1. Excitement and commitment were the first emotions I felt, ready to start a new challenge.
  2. The next morning I drank lemon water and felt okay, probably still satiated from Thanksgiving.
  3. Around lunch time the grumbles came and as the afternoon continued I became irritable. I felt okay physically but it seemed my brain could not rationalize why I would not eat.
  4. Anger and lack of focus set in later in the day. It took me longer to work and I found myself starting but hardly finishing tasks.
  5. Weakness of my body and thoughts came by dinner time. It felt like a strong wind could push me over and thoughts like “I can eat now” tempted my mind.
  6. Elation was the emotion I felt at the end of the day, with the thought that I could fall sleep at any point and resume eating upon waking.
  7. During the night I tossed and turned with thoughts of food.
  8. The next morning I felt more hunger than the entire day before. As soon as I sipped a breakfast smoothie I felt the sensation of blood flowing into my veins again.
  9. The next three days I did a smoothie-only detox. In the following days I gradually incorporated solids into my diet, escalating from raw salads to soups to nuts, beans and eggs.
  10. The results were a leaner body, some amazing runs after four days without, clear and glowing skin (though it got worse before getting better), a sharper focus and strengthened will power.
Only after my day without food I learned it might not have been enough. Some argue the greatest benefits begin only by day three. 

Nevertheless, I see and feel changes physically and mentally. Most of all, I have a greater appreciation for food as nourishment. I have continued until now, a week later, without food processed or packaged outside my kitchen.

The biggest change of all is I consistently consume and crave less—an all too familiar lesson resounding more and more in my life. Now I can truly say, all good changes start with one day.
It started with a farm in France then a year later brought me to a hotel/art gallery in Italy and recently to an eco-lodge beside an elephant camp in Thailand… is one of my go-to travel resources and a great reminder of how much opportunity there is in the world.

To date, I have used the site to visit four countries by doing "work-exchanges", essentially part-time jobs in exchange for food and housing. When done well this can keep international trips cheap or even free.

Plane tickets and in-country transport are the major costs involved but even these can be covered through mile hacking (see previous post). Another cost to consider is the $29 USD two-year membership fee to contact hosts on the site; a great investment but not always necessary...

All hosts can be viewed without paying, so I often use the site to guide internet searches based on common positions. Here are six other tips for using WorkAway:

1: Determine where or what
There are more than 15 000 of hosts to pick from, asking for all types of work. Searching broadly can help formulate ideas but to get the perfect placement, iron out either the where or what questions. What is something that interests you or that you would like to try? Where are the places you want to see or live?

2: Research, research, research
All the research in the world might not feel like enough preparation for new experiences but it never hurts. Without paying the membership fee, good research can often lead to the hosts’ organization or website if there is one. Find out:  1. What other reviews say  2. Transportation to and from the host (some are quite secluded) and  3.Things to do nearby. Remember to be a traveler. This is not just about work.

3: Send succinct requests
Send an abbreviated cover letter to the hosts, specifically addressing the work described in the listing. Offer to send a CV/résumé but keep the initial contact just 1-3 short paragraphs, clearly answering:  1. When you are arriving and  2. How long you can stay. It is also a nice touch to include a question, like “I would love to help make natural soaps with you, what types of essential oils do you use?” That might just give the host an extra reason respond.

4: Set expectations
Be clear with yourself and the host about working hours, schedules for certain times of the day and what you want to do/see in the area. This will make things smoother from the beginning as one of hardest things is knowing when to stop working. Plus, the host is a local who can give you legitimate advice and connections. They can share the best places to eat, how to get a bike, see a show, etc.

5: Give
Make a positive last impression by bringing a gift or finding something personal to offer instead. The best are hand-made crafts, a hand-written letter, or a token to remember you and your country.

6: Receive
The hosts trust WorkAway-ers greatly. I was shocked when one gave me her house key on my first day. They can also provide often a first line of help in-country. Moreover, they might become your host again later or even set you up with your next place. 

Quite possibly the most important tip to remember is that WorkAway provides a great opportunity to spend almost nothing yet learn and grow immensely. Check out the Frequently Asked Questions for more information or these other resources for additional work-exchange, volunteer and job opportunities "away":