I remove my laptop and pile my coat, backpack and zip locked cosmetics onto the conveyor belt in 30 seconds flat. I begrudgingly comply with the explosives test—an all too familiar request that I think is linked to racial profiling… but I digress.

Photo Credit: Liz Chrisman, May 2011
Then I walk toward my terminal with a realization that I know certain airports better than people; a trend soon to change. After all, my intention for 2018 is to settle and build. 

Four months later that seems like a cruel joke. Since setting that intention I’ve been on a whirlwind of adventures—10 flights that circled back to where I started:

1. Rhythm Hut; 2. India (Delhi, Agra & Varanasi); 3. Japan (Tokyo); 4. Rhythm Hut; 5. Blue Mountains; 6. Woodford Folk Music Festival; 7. Melbourne; 8. New Zealand (Kawai Purapura Retreat Centre & Tauranga); 9. Melbourne; 10. Rhythm Hut

It all began with one of the most spontaneous journeys of my life (and there have been a few). This time I set off to undergo three reconstructive surgeries in India. I know this may be fresh news for you but the thought has been on my mind for five years.

Photo Credit: Amy Charles, Apr 2018
The back story is: I lost more than 35 kgs (approx. 80 lbs) leading up to / during my Peace Corps service and was left with excess skin on my breasts, stomach and thighs. I wanted to delay the surgeries until I could fully fund them but impatience got the best of me.

I will skip the details to say I am $10,000 in debt but I have no regrets. :D Body image has been a constant struggle of mine to the point that it affected the clothes I wore, activities I did, and relationships I started.

Until recently I was scared to open up about it because I always thought I was the only one in the room with this problem. When I overheard a woman sharing her story of breast reconstructive surgery; I saw a rainbow in the clouds as Maya Angelou would say.

Photo Credit: Amy Charles, April 2018
Not only did I learn I wasn’t alone, my friend Amy showed me a beauty I never knew existed. One of our most cherished moments together was a photo shoot on a nudist beach. Prior to this I had never worn a swimsuit in public. It was a huge leap for me.

The experience was equal parts empowering and uplifting. Just a glimpse of the photos revealed a beauty I didn’t know was there before. Scars and all.

Now I find myself a quarter in to the year and not at all on track with my intention "to settle and build". Ha! I don't even know where I will live next week. Perhaps what I found is something greater. Within the whirlwind I found a rainbow in the clouds… and here I am... back at the beginning.

"Prepare yourself so you can become a rainbow in someone else's cloud." - Maya Angelou
Just when I think I’m getting good at goodbyes a new one rips my heart open. Last June I left Melbourne cheery and eager start my next adventure. This time, tears came three days before my departure from Nhulunbuy.

Photo Credit: Sebastian Vitis
I wasn't crying because of all the ridiculously hot days, the boring days, or the drunkards that plagued my life there. I cried because somehow I felt like I belonged. Like people cared about me. I cried because I was leaving behind my community.

My sense of belonging was different in Melbourne. I had traveler friends, work friends, gym friends...connections that seemed so disjointed it felt like I scheduled my time on a Rolodex. It didn't feel like a community

In Nhulunbuy friends were a default part of The Territory (pun intended). Personal chats happened at work, running errands, or at any community event. Even when I wasn't a willing participant, social time happened. No schedules necessary.

Life is much better together.
All the chats and friendship meant my social circles intertwined too. Everyone was a friend of a friend and it wasn't odd for people to do things like lend their car to strangers for a day trip.

Even before I knew what was happening, I wrote in my first journal: “Nhulunbuy is wrapping its arms around me so tight I don't want to let go. Each day shows me its beauty or leaves me amazed with how wonderful people can be. It feels like they care so much and yet it feels effortless.”

Three months later my sentiment hadn't changed. I walked away from Nhulunbuy teary eyed because it felt like I was leaving a part of my family. I feel confident it was the right time for me to go but I also feel confident that one day I will return.
With winter creeping in and my work contract nearing an end, I decided to leave my home in Melbourne last month. This meant organizing the geographical shift, handing over my tasks at work, saying goodbyes to friends and the inevitable dip in funds (roughly $2500 from home to home and everything in between)…

But leaving is the easy part. Taking a step forward always means leaving things behind. What’s next is drowned in uncertainty.

Where would I live? How would I get there? Would I find a new job?

Photo Credit: Shulu Chen
Two and a half weeks of (impatiently) waiting revealed the answers. This post is a two minute debrief. For further reading check out my tips for settling in fast.

My new home is in Australia’s Northern Territory along the Gove Peninsula—not part of my original plan. I first tried to settle in Cairns, a gateway town to the Great Barrier Reef; but its overrun backpacker scene did not feel right for me.

Since the Peace Corps I crave adventures off the beaten track; often even a few kilometers farther and to the left.

My heart felt at ease by the proposal to work in a town with less than 4,000 residents (70% indigenous), inhabiting land where the Didgeridoo was invented. This could be an adventure different than “living in the US with an accent”, as my sister would say.

From the two weeks since my arrival, I can confirm: it is something different. No more nine to five. No more at-home wifi. No more tram tracking.

I stepped into 5am starts, sitting in parks to connect and a very valid fear of buffalo, crocodiles and jellyfish.

The greatest difference? Time feels like the strongest currency.

I unpacked my bags again last week. It feels like the millionth time since graduation but now there is a sense of certainty. For the first time in five years, I committed to a place. I actually pay bills too.

Where about? Melbourne, Australia. Months ago I claimed it as my next home and a rush upon arrival made it so. Within two weeks I got a (few) jobs, moved into a flat, and immersed myself into the city life.

That was 3 years ago??!!!
This two week whirlwind is a process I will call "The Express Moving Guide". In addition to examples from this move, it combines lessons learned from my five years of moving around the world. I think it can be applied to any new city and hope it is beneficial for your journeys!

1. Book a temporary place to say.
Find a hostel, a friends place, couch surf, or even try a work exchange. This gives you a local address for mail, your CV, and important registrations like national ID numbers and bank accounts.

Lock in a deadline at this place to plan around. I booked one week at a city hostel and would either extend a second week or find a work exchange while sussing out work and long term housing options. 

2. Get a local number.  
The sooner you have one the sooner you get call backs. 
I wasted no time and purchased a SIM at my first Australian airport. Then I spent the 3 hour connection updating my CV and applying for jobs.

Week 1:
3. Open a bank account and get a national ID.
The rules for these vary by country but in Australia they can be done from the first day of arrival. Applications for a Tax File Number (TFN) are available online. Bank accounts require solely a passport/photo ID.

I received the TFN at my physical address in about a week. The bank account was quicker, ready in less than 30 minutes at a Bank of Melbourne branch. Appointments can also be scheduled in advance.

4. Work 9-5 looking for work.
I find job hunting as intense as actually having a job. 
My first week was devoted to researching jobs, stalking websites (like seek.com.au & ethicaljobs.com in Australia), and meticulously tailoring my CVs and cover letters. 

Bonus tip: Apply for the most time desirable positions/organizations first. For me, these positions required more back end work and had longer processing times. I find quick jobs are not the most desirable (though necessary sometimes).

5. Step away from the computer. 
Spend "business hours" primarily glued to job sites and emails but by mid-week start scoping the land.

I did a free city tour to get oriented, keeping my eye out for staff vacancy signs. Getting out also gave me a feel for different neighborhoods and helped narrow down the most interesting for housing and work.

6. Make a new plan.
How did the first week go? Were there any patterns in work locations or sectors? Determine whether or not to extend your current housing based on your callbacks and general observations of the job market. 

Week 2:
7. Meet people.
This week, I spent less time applying for jobs and more time attending interviews. I expanded the job hunt to include leads from friends, locals, and fellow job seekers in the hostel. I also signed up with several recruitment agencies.

8. Find a flat.
Think seriously about which part of the city to live in. If you are fond of a specific area, start there (GumTree and FlatMates are great resources). For the cheapest flats in Melbourne look inside the CBD— yes living inside the city is cheaper than the suburbs here.

Otherwise, consider this great advice I received from a friend: live near your work. Even short commutes in Melbourne can become long with public transport. I chose a place half way between my job and the city.

Week 3:
9. Work or wait.
By the end of the second week I had some job offers and others with real potential. While I waited for confirmations from the more interesting positions, I took up casual event/waitress work with a staffing agency. The money helped tie me over before starting something more serious, “Student Experience Officer” at a university.

10. Settle In
By now the hard work should be done. Relax. Get to know your housemates. Organize your flat. Make more friends.

At the end of week three I applied for more than 50 jobs, received about 15 call backs/interviews and accepted 3 positions. I plan to work two jobs at any given moment and continue receiving callbacks.
With good effort and persistence, living and working abroad is achievable. Especially in a country like Australia. I look forward to the next couple years here, beginning in this beautiful Southern Hemisphere summer.


"Please swallow your pride if I have faith you need to borrow. For no one can fill those of your needs that you won't let show..." ~ Bill Withers

The literal light to my fires on a 60km trek
It is not easy for me to ask for help. In fact it is one of my greatest struggles. I avoid asking for directions when I am clearly lost—I can find my own way, thanks. Nor do I like asking for favors—I do not want feel like a debtor, sorry.

Inside I crave independence. I pride myself on it actually. That was until New Zealand knocked me down. 

My first year in the country was cruisey. I worked mostly part-time, travelled a fair bit and spent most of my time in good company.

Then I hit a series of unfortunate events… I found myself with nearly two months and nowhere to go. I got terrible, terrible hives. I broke my phone then I lost my phone. I even got lost in a forest overnight.

These were some of the lowest as well as the loneliest moments in my travels thus far; a combination that forced me open and receptive to help.

I said yes when strangers invited me into their homes. I hitchhiked. I called in favors. I accepted gifts. Quite simply, I relied on others and all I could do was hope for the best.

A surprise river crossing made easy with this group
It was a shock to me at first but when I put pride to the side solutions surfaced. Most times things worked better than I could have imagined. To boot, I met wonderful people and leave with fonder memories during these tough months than the rest of the year.

There were some big curve balls and I am glad I took the hits. Bill Wither's song says it best: "sometimes we all have fails, we all have sorrow. But it wouldn't be long till we're gonna need somebody to lean on."
Day 21 : ~25 kms
(Kraak road to Puhoi)

This was a day of trials. First I discovered I went 4 kms in the wrong direction (from Smyth's Reserve go down, not uphill!). Next was the weather-- all day rain.  It was forecast for a week but I decided to take my chances in "light, scattered showers..." I arrived to Puhoi completely drenched and ready to call it a night.

The only place I could go was the town Pub. They offer rooms at $60/night and while I took one it was a matter of convenience rather than value. Sure the building is a bit rustic but the place is comparable to a city hostel of $25-30 value.

The last major setback was discovering my phone water damaged. I put it in a ziplock of rice and woke at 1 am to discover it mostly functional again. I did not sleep well and spent the rest of the night catching up online.

Day 22 : ~30 kms
(Puhoi to Stillwater Motor Camp)

It's funny how much can happen in a day. This time I started on the freeway, feeling like frogger as I walked a few kilometers. At one point I tried hitching but soon relented. It was prime "running late to work" time--6:45 am--on the direct road to New Zealand's biggest city. 

Later the path involved some beach but was more hopping rocks than walking on sand. At the end of it I find myself up 60 steep steps (yes, I counted) and in someone's personal driveway. She gave me a lift to the public road and back to the beach I went. This is still before 10 am.

Then I made it to the first city of the day (Orewa) where I stopped to splurge on a soy cappuccino ($5.50 NZD). I had a lovely chat with the café staff who were quite curious about the walk. One basically convinced herself to start as soon as she finishes her studies (let me know when you do, Megan!).

The rest of my day can be summed up as: more chats with curious strangers, more road walking, a bit of getting lost, wonderful trail angels, and a very long day with lots of stops. The best thing was coming to the motor camp in Stillwater. The owner lets walkers stay for free (indoors!) and tops it with lots of great tips and info about the trail and outdoor survival. Before turning up here I planned this post to have a sour ending. One act of kindness changed it all.
Day 23 : ~8 kms
(Waiake Bay to Albany)

I wanted to stay in Stillwater to rest but the weather seemed okay for walking (overcast but no rain). I figured it best to keep moving while I could and took a lift with the motor camp owner to bypass track closures. Bad idea.

Light rain started before I even got in the car and continued for the first hour. It grew stronger and I arrived to Brown's Bay soaked. From there I had the choice of continuing at least two hours in the rain, or waiting it out and calling in a few favors... I took the latter. I stopped over at the library to get myself organized then headed off-trail to my old workplace, a retreat centre 5 kms away. There a friend warmly welcomed me to her place, offering me a chance to recover until the storm passed.

Day 18 : 25 kms
(Cove Rd to Te Arai Beach)

I started early today to avoid getting in trouble with my makeshift camping spot. The weather got hot on the road sections but the last few kilometers ended on overcast beach.  A local guided me from horseback and advised me to camp at Te Arai point. Although there were signs stating this was not allowed I took her word for it. I was comforted to notice camper vans also sneaking in to the area after dark.

Day 19 : 31 kms
(Te Arai Beach to Matakana)

Long, tiring day! I took my time but walked from sun up to after sun down. Lots of the up and down hills I despise! This combined with a muddy off-season track lined with thorn bushes made it dirty and painful too! Instead of hitching, I walked the extra 6 kms to Matakana until after dark, thinking all hope was lost. Fortunately, another kind kiwi saved the day, offering me a room in his beautiful 200-acre farm home.  :)

Day 20 : ~15 kms
(Matakana to Kraak road)

Today was short in distance but a full on day hike. I started out feeling fantastic after my night indoors and a delicious breakfast (poached eggs, potatoes, and mixed veggies). This combined with a better formed track made all the difference in my mood through all the up and down hills. Just before dark I lucked out when a family offered their garage to me as protection from the rain. I'll just keep my fingers crossed so I can walk tomorrow!!
My wet weather gear. Photo Credit: Marjolein
Day 14: ~25 kms
(Ngunguru to Patau)

The day started well with blueberry topped porridge plus some delicious coffee! Rather than start down 8 kms of road, the campground owner took me directly to the Mackerel Track on his way to work.

The walk was easy enough but it was my wettest day so far. The weather alternated between sunshine and rain basically the entire time. Fortunately my $3 poncho made for the perfect bag cover (thanks for that tip, Maya). I arrived in wet shoes to TideSong where I called it a day. Lovely place and lovely people who have also done the walk!

Day 15 : 25 kms
(Taiharuru to Urquats Bay)

Although a southerlie brought strong, cold winds recently, the day was quite bright and sunny. The Tidesong owners graciously drove me around the estuary so I could start the track without wet feet. It was well formed putting gorgeous views of rolling hills and ocean at my back.

I continued down the coast to beaches way more scenic than 90-mile. The water was clear and reflected beautiful hues of blue in the distance. Next was the most tiring bit--uphill 400 meters--the highest elevation climb so far! 

At the end, in Urquats Bay, a local picked me up with the offer of camping near his house. It was cold, windy and near dark when we arrived so he ended up allowing me to stay indoors instead. As a former Dept of Conservation employee, he shared lots of information about the plants and animals in the area, tools for tramping, and fun anecdotes about other Te Araroa hikers he's met.

Day 16 : 10 kms
(Marsden Point to Uretiti Campground) 

The local who hosted me last night was a life saver again today. He took me in to Whangarei for a resupply, a library visit (to print the more detailed daily walk guide) and even to the local market. Then he dropped me on the other side of the harbor to restart the walk. 

The path continued on the coast with a bit of road walking to avoid yet another boat crossing. During this section I crossed my second TA walker. This one came from Germany just a few weeks ago and decided to start backward, from a city less than 100 kms away. He carried all the things he brought with him to New Zealand and looked quite tired and overloaded. I offered him a few tips and for once thought I was adequately prepared for this journey.

Day 17 : ~31 kms 
(Uretiti Campground to Cove Rd exit)

Beautiful sunny weather and at times hot! The path went from beach to road to bush. All quite well formed. I was tempted to stay in the cute town called Waipu, where I picked up my Asics runners (thanks for dropping them off there, Maya!). However, it felt like walking on clouds with them on so I continued until sunset. Still, I was 3.5hrs away from the nearest town and I stopped in a vacant development site to pitch my tent.

Day 6: ~15 kms (Mangamuka Bridge to Apple Dam Campground)
I slept so well in Kaitia (Main Street Lodge - $30). If only I would have slept longer! I woke at 5:30am naturally, ready to start the day. Once I prepared lunch and dinner (rice), I stopped by the Pak N Save for more food and visited the Te Ahu iSite.

The representative there confirmed I should skip the Herekino and Raetea forest sections. "We don't advise anyone to go there. Especially if they don't have to", she told me.

I hitched a direct ride to Mangamuka within minutes and started to walk around noon. It was mostly uphill along a combination of paved, gravel and dirt roads. Apple Dam felt forever away but it was a clean, simple campsite. No apples though.

Day 7 : 26 kms (Apple Dam to Puketi HQ/Recreation Area)

I woke up cold and wet from the moisture of the dam. Once packed, I set off around 7am for my most challenging day so far. It included a 2km river walk and getting wet couldn't be avoided. I tried without shoes but the rocks were too painful. The water reached mid-thigh in some spots but was generally mid-calf or less (I'm 161cm).

Then it got dangerous. In the forest section I  climbed, slipped, slided, squatted, and descended backward at many points. I felt like I was rock climbing more than hiking.

After 11 hours I arrived to the hut, where a small group was celebrating the end of their "farms skills" course. I learned all about possums (they must die!) and Kauri Die Back disease (they must live!). When I feel asleep, their conversations lingered in the background. Drunk people don't know how to whisper...

Day 8 : 29 km (Puketi HQ/Recreation Centre to KeriKeri - Aranga Backpackers & Holiday Park)

I woke at 4am ready to start but after stepping outside to pee, I realized I still wanted to stay in bed. My feet ached from yesterday and while I slept deeply, it wasn't enough.

The trail started on a gravel road and after a fence hop I was on farmland. I passed many lamb, cows, and eventually a person too. My first Te Araroa cross! The Frenchman started backward, from Bluff six months ago. 

Most of the day alternated between dirt roads and hopping fences through pastures. The markers were a bit more distant than the forest and there wasn't paved through trail. I had to double checked my path often.

At the end of the day my shoes and socks were wet from the muddy cow printed land. My feet began to ache as I approached KeriKeri. I called it a night at the Aranga Holiday Park. The fee was $18 --too much for tenting, so I snuck in the lounge area to sleep.