Hunter Moore is Bringing Sexty Back

5 Dec

hmf

Though this really has nothing to do with my life in Australia, travel, or music, my year-old post on Is Anyone Up?, the website where vindictive exes anonymously submit nude pictures of their former lovers along with a link to their Facebook or Twitter account, is still one of my top-searched entries and I feel I owe it to my readers to do a follow-up.

The now-infamous site shut down after various legal entanglements led founder Hunter Moore to sell the domain to Bullyville.com. In an agreement with Bullyville, all previous content would be destroyed and Moore, addressing the everyday people featured on his site said, “Everything is completely wiped. You’re good.”

But the “professional life-ruiner,” as he calls himself, lied.  Just when his former stars and starlets thought their pornographic careers were over, Moore announced the launch of HunterMoore.Tv.  Not only does he plan to repost the archived content of ‘band whores,’ soccer moms having midlife crises, and ‘gnargoyles’ but he added another feature to the submission process where users can include addresses of the unwitting people, which are then added to maps.

Moore clearly is not fazed by his FBI investigation earlier this year and claims that he’s exempt from liability because all content is user-submitted. On his new site, the 26-year-old who still lives at home, stated:

statement

On the homepage of the old isanyoneup.com, which redirects to Bullyville.com, is this statement:

“Here at BullyVille, we’ve decided to turn this darkness into light.  We’ll soon be launching a brand new site for isanyoneup.com that not only shows the history and eventual dismantling of this disturbing website, but also brings valuable information to people who have been wronged by similar behavior.  We are also putting together a class action lawsuit against Hunter, on behalf of all the victims from Isanyoneup or any other social media that he used to directly harass and intimidate people.  We’re doing this mostly for the completely powerless, underage women who were verbally harassed after Hunter posted their completely naked, unedited photos on his site.”

Only time will tell how long HunterMoore.Tv will survive before lawsuits, stalking claims (thanks to the site’s new maps feature), and further FBI investigations will dethrone the “revenge-porn” king. My bet is this is just the beginning of Moore’s empire. I suggest you think twice before sending those racy sexts to your new lover because you never know who will end up with them. And remember, the internet is infinite. You can’t just rip up the photo and pretend it never happened.

Hold on, I’ve got to get ready for my Skype date…

The Night Of Couchsurfing That Turned Into Two Weeks

14 Nov

“Just to let you know, I collect body parts,” said Kimmii, shortly after greeting us.

My boyfriend and I just finished a long weekend of camping up at the Dorrigo National Park and hadn’t had a real shower in days. We swam in rivers, took sponge baths and wore hats but something had to give. When we drove down the windy mountain road back to Coffs Harbour we had two choices: check into an out-of-budget caravan park and have a shower or send out a last-minute couchsurfing request and hope that someone would invite us in.

I sent out two couchsurfing requests explaining that all we really needed was a shower and that we had a van to sleep in. After waiting for half an hour, our impatience got the best of us and we decided to have an ice-cold shower in the public bathrooms of the local surf club. As we got back into the van, our teeth chattering and our hair soaked, I had a message. Two empty nesters with a couple of spare rooms offered to let us stay and insisted that we sleep inside.

When we pulled up to the house Kimmii came to greet us at the front door while Paulie prepared the pizza dough for our dinner inside. Kimmi was in her mid-40s, a half-Aboriginal bipolar woman whose manic episodes led her to $3,000 shopping sprees on ModCloth for her 20-something daughter. She was short and overweight, outspoken, jovial and completely comfortable in her own skin. Paulie was a balding ex-surfer whose music and book collection filled me with envy. He was a talented cook but rarely ate his own creations, preferring a simple meat and potatoes meal instead.

Within minutes the wine was flowing and we were already telling deeply personal stories and laughing our asses off. Kimmii had this incredible story-telling ability and a wit about her that left Matt and I in stitches (even when she was only explaining what she did for a living!). We told her she should do stand-up and Paulie shouted from the kitchen, “Oh no, don’t encourage her!”

As we dug into the homemade pizzas Kimmii told us we were her first couchsurfers and that she signed up because her daughter would be backpacking across South America in a few months and she wanted to give back in the hopes that someone would do the same for her. She told us that after their four children had moved out they’d had several guests come and go. Some stayed for a few weeks and others for up to 9 months. When Kimmii invited us to stay as long as we wanted I thought it was such a tempting and generous offer but never expected that we’d actually take her up on it.

In a warm, wine-induced haze we said goodnight and crawled into our respective beds. Matt and I wanted to pinch ourselves when we felt the thread-count of the sheets and prefect firmness of the mattress.

A woman after my own heart!

“I really like them,” said a half-asleep Matt.

“Me too. I love it here,” I said in a daze.

“Someone stayed here for nine months!” said Matt.

“I know, but we’re not going to take advantage of their generosity. We’ll keep looking for jobs in the morning.”

And we did, but the day turned into two and then three. Then Kimmii left for a business trip and encouraged us to stay with Paulie while she was gone. He had a serious lung condition that often left him gasping for air and she felt more comfortable knowing someone was there with him. We happily stayed, mowing the lawn, doing the dishes and scrubbing the tubs to contribute.

Paulie made us amazing food every night: Moroccan, Mexican, Greek, and Lebanese. Well-fed and well-rested, we continued the job search with new enthusiasm. I attended an RSA (responsible service of alcohol) certification course and Matt contacted all his old rigging buddies for information on current projects.

At night, Kimmii and Matt talked politics while Paulie and I talked music and watched concert DVDs. I copied all his CDs to my hard drive and he’d pull out biographies of my favorite bands and tell me obscure facts about the members. We became a family and we got used to our routine.

When Matt received a high-paying rigging job offer, the news was bittersweet. We packed up our van the last night and Paulie made pizza for us to take on the road. Kimmii and I watched a documentary about Obama and Mitt Romney before she went to bed and Paulie and I talked about Jimmy Page and Jim Morrison one last time. We hugged goodbye, promised to stay in touch and when we locked up the door behind us in the middle of the night, Matt and I turned to each other and said, “I’m really going to miss them,” almost in unison.

Not every couchsurfing experience is like this but now my Australian family feels larger. We still keep in touch and if we ever make it back to NSW, we know where we’ll stay.

Kimmii also loved collecting sea shells.                                                                                                    I left this one in the guest room so they’d have something to remember us by.

Watch the Australian Total Solar Eclipse Online

13 Nov

In less than 8 hours there will be a total solar eclipse of the sun in Cairns (pronounced cans) in tropical northern Queensland. The rare event, where the moon temporarily comes into perfect alignment with the sun and blocks it from view, won’t happen again in Australia until 2028. Some Australian cities outside Cairns will still see the eclipse but will lose total blockage. Here, in Brisbane, the moon will cover just over 80% of the sun at one time.

The last total eclipse was in 2010 and the next total eclipse won’t occur until 2015. If you’re like me and haven’t properly prepared for this cosmic rarity (or if you happen to be anywhere else in the world besides Queensland) you can stream a live viewing of the eclipse here. Even if you are in Queensland, it’s advised not to look directly into the sun because the irreversible retina damage leads to blindness and watching the eclipse online might be your best option if you haven’t done your research.

Since I waited too long to buy the protective welding glasses that allow you to witness the total eclipse firsthand, I’ll be watching the live stream as well. Also, I don’t really think the pinhole-viewing option, where you have your back to the sun and watch a homemade projection on a piece of cardboard or paper, will really compare. Who knows maybe I’ll make it to Spitzbergen in 2015, Indonesia in 2016, America in 2017 or Chile/Argentina in 2009! Sounds like the perfect addition to my bucket list (and another excuse to travel)!

Halloween Came And Went in Oz

1 Nov

Halloween 2011 – Me as a tourist, Jessica as a porcelain doll, Karen as a ghoulish demon and Lluvia as Frida Kahlo.

I look forward to Halloween all year round and by August I usually have a few ideas about which costume I’ll wear. But this year, half-way across the world from my Californian home, Halloween came and went. I sat on the couch in Brisbane having a few beers with my boyfriend and his friends. We watched TV, but nothing Halloween-related: no horror films, slasher flicks or classics to get us in the mood. Not one trick-or-treater rang the door bell, though I’m sure that even if there were trick-or-treaters they would have passed this house – there weren’t any decorations, all the front lights were off and the only candy on the premises was my chocolate bar in the van.

The changing leaves didn’t fall to the ground and decorate streets because it’s springtime here. Carved pumpkins weren’t on front porches because Australians eat pumpkins all year round – it isn’t an autumnal thing like it is in the States. The few Halloween parties you hear about are in backpacker areas or at bars and most Australians I talk to say locals have only been dressing up for the last five years or so. And if you talk to older Australians they’ll tell you how annoyed they are that this ‘American’ holiday has made its way to their country. When they head to the grocery store and see Halloween decorations for sale they scoff at the idea and consider Halloween another example of America’s consumer culture.

My best friend Kelsey’s pumpkins this year.

From the outside looking in, I think the fact that Americans celebrate Halloween shows our enthusiasm for life, our creative drive and our love of, and unique grasp of, entertainment. So what if we spend a few extra dollars on synthetic cob webs and plastic spiders?  So what if our neighbor wants to spend an entire day converting his front lawn into a haunted house? I don’t see anything wrong with getting excited about a holiday and Halloween is one of the few that people of all religious backgrounds can enjoy. It brings people together in a way that Christmas can’t. It lets you become another person for the night: a shy girl can become a vixen, a nerdy dude can show his sense of humor and people can express their political views through thought-provoking costumes. Everyone gets to show their artistic side and it’s good clean fun (except for when you make out with batman and can’t figure out his real identity the next day).

My best friend Kat dressed as disappointed olympian McKayla Maroney.

I missed Halloween this year. I missed my family and friends. I watched as they posted photos to Facebook and Instagram and for the first time since I came back to Australia two months ago, I felt homesick. And though it doesn’t happen often, especially whilst traveling, I was proud to be American. I am proud to be American.

What To Pack: Beauty Bag Essentials

24 Oct

In my day-to-day life I’m a cosmetic junkie with more lipstick and eyeshadow shades than I know what to do with, but when I pack for a trip I like each item in my beauty bag to serve several purposes. I also consider my location (if I’m going on a beach holiday I probably won’t need much make-up) and the availability of the items once I land (do they have toothbrush sanitizers in India?). These are my tried-and-true beauty bag essentials for when I hit the road:

1. Baby Wipes – This is listed in the #1 spot for a reason: I do not  travel without them. You can use baby wipes to freshen up your stinky body after an all-day outing, wipe your sweaty face, wash your hands when there’s no water, clean up spills and you can even turn the great outdoors into your very own bathroom! I always find new uses and am grateful I packed them!

2. Sunscreen – I’m incredibly fair-skinned and spent too much of my life not taking the damaging effects of the sun seriously but now I won’t travel without a facial sunscreen (I’m prone to breakouts) and giant bottle of two of the regular stuff. Even if you’re nowhere near a beach and just walking around a city for the day, it won’t hurt to smear a coat of some coconut-scented, ray-protecting lube on your precious skin.

3. Mouthwash – If you’re traveling in a country where you can’t trust the water or you’re in a place where there is no water, mouthwash can hold you over until you can give your teeth a proper brushing. It’s also a good substitute if you’re about to crash from exhaustion and can’t will yourself to brush your teeth but still have the consciousness to know you’ll regret skipping that nightly step.

3. Baby Powder – Use to freshen hair when you haven’t had a chance to wash, deodorize shoes, absorb body sweat and help prevent blisters.

4. Snap On Toothbrush Sanitizer – I love these because they not only protect your naked toothbrush from rubbing up against all the other things in your bag but they stop germs from breeding on your bristles!

3. Tea Tree Oil – A tiny bottle of this potent antiseptic will do. Use a few drops for minor cuts, burns, abrasions, pimples, boils, bites and stings. When I was in the Saigon airport a man accidentally dragged a suitcase over my foot and it almost took my big toe nail off. The nail was hanging by a thread and looked like it might get infected. I put a few drops of oil where the nail lifted and the next morning my toe stopped throbbing and the skin looked nice and healthy. I swear by this stuff!

4. Organic Aloe Vera Gel – Apply to sunburns, rashes, stings, pimples, irritated skin and minor cuts.

5. Coconut oil (tightly closed) – Eye, lash and brow conditioner, face, lip, cuticle and body moisturizer, hair oil, eye makeup remover, tanning oil, skin irritation soother, sexual lubricant and cooking oil. It smells and feels amazing and depending on your location you may be able to pick it up at the source. I’ve bought some in Thailand, Vietnam and Fiji for a fraction of the cost. Just be careful to seal it properly and place in a plastic bag if flying because it’s hard to get out of clothes.

6.  Aquaphor Minis-  An eye cream, cuticle softener, extra dry skin moisturizer and lip balm. Especially helpful for wind or snow burn or when your nostrils chap after days of blowing your nose.

7. Alka Seltzer tablets – Fast acting relief for hangovers, heartburn, indigestion, sour stomach related to travel sickness or food poisoning, headache and body aches. It may prevent a UTI from developing if taken at the onset of symptoms since it alkalinizes urine.

8. Blister Band-Aids – Even the most broken-in, comfortable shoes can give you a blister after a long day of sight-seeing. These always come in handy.

9. Apple cider vinegar tablets – Take for digestion, travel sickness, cold/flu, acid reduction and general well-being. I used to take shots of apple cider vinegar mixed with honey every time I had an upset stomach or felt a cold coming on but now I take the tablets instead to protect my teeth from the harsh acids. You know what they say about having an apple a day…

10. Stain To Go Pen -Because accidents happen and these can prolong the time between laundry days and pickup stains before they set.

Skinny Dipping is Good for the Soul

15 Oct

Our two-week house sitting stint in Coffs Harbour was up and we were on the road. We counted on having berry picking work by now but all the farms we called said it would be another few weeks. The bills were piling up and our spirits were sinking so I couldn’t wait to put our computers away for a few days and disconnect.

We told a family friend that we were heading to the Dorrigo National Park for the weekend and she, looking at my boyfriend’s long hair and bushy unkempt beard, told us about a free camping/commune spot near the national park entrance where we’d find lots of other hippies. She joked that Matt would fit right in the way he looked but that they might try to convert me. I almost showed her the ‘let it be’ and peace/heart sign tattoos I have on either wrist but smiled along instead.

After stopping at the Raleigh Winery for a free tasting and having an amazing cup of tea in the artsy and somewhat retro town of Bellingen, we drove inland on the windy roads past dairy and macadamia farms, looking for this communal haven. The main road forked and a dirt track disappeared into the national park. That had to be it.

At the bottom of the hill a middle-aged man wearing loose hippie pants stood in the road in front of his rusting shack, driving a remote control car with his toddler son (who was only wearing a shirt and who, with his doe-eyes and long curly hair, I assumed was a girl until I saw his little manhood). We rolled down the window and asked what was up the road.

“The meaning of life,” he replied with a smirk, and we chatted for a bit and told him our story. He kindly offered to let us park in front of his home and use his shower and washer machine. He introduced himself as Alek and when I told him mine was Alex he said, “far out…,” in a drawn-out, contemplative way.

We hadn’t found our community but we didn’t need to anymore.

Alek told us about a watering hole and my boyfriend’s eyes lit up. We said our goodbyes, parked near the water and set out to find it. We trekked along the river bank on uneven slippery rocks and through thick, spider-web-laden bush. My boyfriend trekked along like it was nothing while my heart pounded as I tried to keep up with him, my eyes glued to the ground. I asked him to slow down and told him he was stressing me out. I wanted to take in the experience, not panic about keeping up. He slowed down (for him) but again I kept my eyes on my feet, nervous every time a rock wobbled under me as we crossed the river. I felt completely out of my element, like my suburban Orange-County roots were showing, like my love of nature was just an affectation I’d used to impress my farm-raised Australian boyfriend.

But carried on until we hit a dead-end and needed to cross the waist-deep water. I didn’t want to get my running shoes wet and was happy to turn around since it was already getting late, but Matt urged me to jump into his arms so he could carry me across the water. I thought he was kidding until he jumped in and held out his arms. I was a little embarrassed that he’d gone to such lengths but made jokes about him being a super hero carrying me to safety. The whole situation was pretty ridiculous and just minutes later we reached a deeper part of the river crossing where the stones were unreliable and I had no choice but to walk through the water, drenching my socks and joggers though I’d tried my best to avoid it.

When we finally found our watering hole we gaily stripped down to ours joggers and jumped in. We heard animals moving around in the bushes and Matt dove in the water and pretended to be eaten by a crocodile. We laughed about what we’d do if hikers found us there, prancing around a national park with only our shoes on, and joked about how this would make this perfect postcard.

How we’d needed this!

I got out early while Matt swam and took in our picturesque surroundings, breathing in the stillness. The sun started setting so we hurriedly dressed because the prospect of trekking back along the unpredictable river banks in the dark set fire to our feet. Luckily the sky darkened just as we made it back to the road, the van barely in sight. We took our soppy shoes and socks off and settled in for the night. The frogs and crickets sang in the background, the occasional firefly zipped past and all the stresses of our reality: the dwindling funds, the lack of work prospects, the mounting bills, the urge to bite each others’ heads off – slipped away.

Mother Earth has such a profoundly soothing effect on my psyche that I sometimes wonder why I even bother with this modern age at all. But then, everything is better in contrast. You can’t have the yin without the yang.

Entering Our Van in a Kombi Fest

13 Oct

One morning a few months back Matt slid open the van door to grab some juice out of the fridge just as a middle-aged man was walking by. He saw our set-up and excitedly chatted our ears off about all things Volkswagen and reminisced about his days of living in a van. Matt proceeded to give him a tour as I lay in bed trying to hide that fact that I was only wearing a skimpy tee and some panties. He oo’ed and awed over our queen mattress, the solar panel on the roof and our pull out fridge.

“Have you ever entered in a Kombi fest?,” the man asked and then told us about the annual festivals in NSW where Volkswagen Kombi or Transporter owners get together to do a ‘van’ show and compete for titles like “Best Presented” and “Furthest Traveled.” He was convinced that if we entered we’d win something and told us it was a great place to get ideas and meet other van owners. Since the festivals weren’t coming up for another few months we put it in the back of our minds and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when we were driving down New South Wales’ coast that we remembered to look it up.

We happened to be housesitting in Coffs Harbour, just a few hours north of the annual Old Bar Kombi Fest, which tries to break the record of getting the most Volkswagen vans in one spot, and though we really shouldn’t have, for practical money-related reasons, we made the drive down.

We registered at the very last-minute, drove onto the giant field that early Sunday morning and parked in our assigned spot. Disappointed with how plain our van looked next to the retro brightly colored ones, we knew ours had its beauty on the inside. Admittedly, we weren’t prepared at all – halfway through our drive down we decided to give the van a quick wash and the morning of the event we scrambled to organize all our things so the van looked somewhat presentable. I was so sad that Matt left our ‘love child’, Twiggy, a Bonzi tree that we kept on the dash, in Mackay at his parents’ house. I knew he would have garnered some attention.

We left the van doors open and strolled through the lines of Kombis and Transporters, noting how ours could improve but generally feeling very proud of how functional ours was. People had trailers with beds, pop-tops tents in the roof, tents that attached to the outside and some had sleeping pads in the back, but no one had a queen mattress and they certainly weren’t living in their vans full-time.

When we’d had our fill we walked through the markets, had a beer and some festival food, and listened to the live music. Later that day when they announced the winners we accepted that the van didn’t win because we knew we’d be better prepared next year. And next year, you better believe Twiggy will be on the dash where he belongs.

Waste Not! Foodies On a Budget

27 Sep

We only have one fork.

Cooking without a kitchen or my usual gadgets has made me a more inventive and skilled cook. My recipes are simpler, my dishes are few and I do just about everything by hand. Living out of the van has taught me to use my resources and to see every bit of food as having the potential for a gourmet meal. My boyfriend and I constantly surprise ourselves when we taste the dishes we’ve concocted and it’s inspired us to waste as little as possible and to stretch that dollar as far as we can.

We can still scratch our foodie itch while on the road and a budget – all it takes is a little creativity. We’ve always got a few non-perishables on hand, such as refried beans, canned veggies, rice, pasta and noodles, but we’ve also got the important stuff, like peanut butter, balsamic vinegar, truffle oil, olive oil, honey, Himalayan sea salt, and my homemade exotic spice kit. (We may be living out of a van but that’s no reason to leave my herbs de Provence at home!)

We also try to limit our trips to the grocery store, only buying fresh food once we’ve used up what we already have. However, sometimes we’re in remote areas and don’t have a choice. That’s when the real creativity blooms! Last week, for instance, we camped in Corindi Beach, NSW and the nearest grocery store was 30 minutes away. There was, however, a tiny corner store within walking distance but the half empty shelves, inflated prices and lack of gluten-free items forced us to see how long we could go before stocking up again. I saw it as a challenge.

Challenge 1:

We had some strawberries that had frozen and unfrozen and were no longer appetizing since they were a mushy mess. We also had some pork chops that needed to be cooked that night. We were coming up with side dish ideas when the light bulb went off and I suggested we mash the strawberries, add some honey and sage, and use it as a glaze for the pork chops.

“That could be alright,” said the boyfriend with a raised eyebrow, and I proceeded to cut off the leafy strawberry tops and mash the flesh with the glass bottom of my truffle oil bottle. I handed him the concoction for grilling and then chopped up some broccoli and spring onion (which was also approaching its expiry date) and tossed it in some truffle oil before giving it a quick saute.

The results were amazing and we mmm’d and smiled the whole meal through. We couldn’t believe how well we eat considering our circumstances. (I wish I had photos to share but it was one of those impromptu dinners made with a glass of wine in hand and some music in the background and, I guess I just wasn’t thinking about it. Sorry, readers!)

Challenge 2:

While looking through our “pantry” I found brown bananas that needed to be eaten two days earlier. Banana bread was out of the question so I made a toastie using our gluten-free bread, extra-chunky peanut butter, the sliced extra-ripe bananas, some honey and a little Himalayan sea salt. The ooey-gooey crunchiness of it all was enough to make me look forward to the next culinary challenge and that’s when I found the blue-brie cheese that expired in two days…

Challenge 3:

With the brie in hand I took stock of our fridge and some items stood out to me: a few slices of bacon, the last of the chicken lunch meat, some lettuce, one gluten-free wrap, a tomato, a very ripe avocado and heaps of condiments. This was a no-brainer: I’d make a chicken-cordon-bleu-style quesadilla! I smeared the wrap with our roasted raspberry chipotle sauce, covered one side with slices of the blue-brie, then layered the chicken and cooked bacon and threw it on one of the public barbies. I let it brown on each side then opened it up and added some chopped lettuce, tomato and avocado.

I surprised my boyfriend with half when he was elbows-deep in some IT work and he looked at me in wonderment, not knowing how I could look at the same half-empty fridge as he, and come up with this concoction. But then, he surprises me too sometimes…

Challenge 4:

Our fridge was empty. We had no meat, no eggs, no milk, no fresh veggies except for two small potatoes and half an onion. We were craving fish n’ chips and considered blowing our budget for the day and ordering some from the corner store. But then my boyfriend spotted the ‘prawn-man’ (think ice-cream man but with seafood, kangaroo, goat and duck meat instead of desserts).

My carnivorous boyfriend chatted up the prawn man and bought a couple of flake filets for the price of one mediocre fish n’ chips meal. He pan-fried some potatoes and threw in the filets, which he marinated in onion, lemon juice and herbs de Provence. It had  a beautiful flavor-complexity and was much healthier than the fried and battered stuff we could have gotten down the street. Halfway through the meal I asked what kind of fish flake was. He looked at me like I was a dumb blonde and said, “Shark, honey. Shark.”

I thought shark would be tougher for some reason but this was light and soft (which must be why Aussies call it flake). I ate the rest of my meal, with sadistic pleasure, happy there was one less shark in the water below.

 I daresay we eat better on the road than at home, but at the very least we enjoy it more because of the strategizing that goes into each meal. When I think of all the times in the past that I threw out the perfectly good leafy tops of a celery bunch or those broccoli stems, or when I let veggies go bad because I bought too much of them, I cringe because I’ve trained myself to view food differently. Now, I’d make a soup, a giant salad or I wouldn’t have bought more than I needed in the first place.

Once you challenge yourself not to waste any food, eating your meals has an added sense of satisfaction to it. Now I’m passing the challenge over to you – whether you’re backpacking, living in a home, on a boat, in a flat or in a van – let’s see how little you can waste!

What are some of your favorite cheap meals that pass the foodie test? Do you have any tricks for minimizing waste?

Australian Wildlife Up Close

21 Sep

The week before I flew back to the states in June, my boyfriend and I had one last road trip from Mackay to Cape Tribulation where the Daintree, the world’s oldest rainforest, and the Great Barrier Reef meet. We stopped at quirky tourist attractions along the way: ordering mango shakes at the Big Mango, stopping for free cheese and yogurt tastings at the Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy, strolling along the Mamu Rainforest canopy walkway and running as fast as we could to see the train as it passed through the Barron Gorge in the Kuranda rainforest village.

My favorite detour, however, was the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary in Townsville. I was leaving Australia and hadn’t seen a koala yet so I begged my boyfriend to pull over when we saw the giant billboard indicating that the sanctuary was only a few kilometers away. He wasn’t interested in going because growing up in Australia provided him with countless run-ins with kangaroos, crocodiles, koalas, dingoes, cassowaries and other exotic birds, so while he had a ‘lay down’ in the van, I ventured into the park, giddy as a schoolgirl, with my camera in tow and some change to buy animal feed.

Once inside I rushed to catch the last few minutes of the croc show and was shocked to find kangaroos wandering everywhere! Not only were there mamas, papas and joeys all around me, but they were incredibly social and persistent. I would stop to feed one kangaroo and then four would surround me, stand on their back legs and shove their way through.

At one point I had three roos eating out of my hand and my heart completely dropped. Time stood still. I’d been in Australia for three months and admired these animals from afar and just as I was about to leave the country I was face to face with them, locked in a cathartic farewell.

I meditated on the experience. I read all the educational signs, I watched the croc, bird and snake shows. I stood in the background as families got their pictures taken with koalas, living vicariously through them. I took videos of my conversations with birds and practically laid on the ground to film a joey making his way out of his mama’s pouch.

On principle I don’t really like going to zoos. It depresses me to see caged wild animals and the thousands of tourists that keep their captivity in demand. But the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary is not a zoo. It comprises 25 acres of bushland, is a certified advanced ecotourism destination and is not overrun by tourists. In the center of the park is a lake, which the birds love to fly over, and the animals, with the exception of the wallabies, kangaroos and ducks who roam free, are kept in spacious, fairly open habitats.

The wildlife sanctuary feels like just that – a sanctuary, and you can easily get lost in the experience of connecting with these animals while spending the day learning about them. If you want to experience Australian wildlife up close, I suggest skipping the overpriced and limiting zoos and spending the day at a sanctuary instead.

For more information on the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary in Townsville, visit their website here.

Trouble In Paradise: A Guide for Traveling With Others

20 Sep

We all like to imagine that traveling with a friend or lover will be blissfully conflict-free, but let’s face it – sometimes you never really know a person until you travel with them… and sometimes you don’t like what you see.

You’re spending 24 hours a day with them, planning your trip, your meals, your stays and dealing with the stresses of unexpected travel inconveniences. He wants to go there but you want to go here and it’s your first time in a foreign country so you aren’t comfortable splitting up. Or maybe it’s just been two months straight of sharing the same room with that person and if you hear them brush their teeth that loudly one more time you’re going to scream!

Traveling with others is a beautiful thing because it gives you someone to share the memories with and someone to turn to if you’re in need of support. However, living in close proximity with someone and developing a dependency on one another can bring out the worst in both of you and can ruin your relationship.

I’ve traveled alone, with a best friend, in groups of friends, with people I just met, and with a boyfriend. These are my tips for traveling with others and keeping your sanity:

1. Discuss how you will address conflict before you leave. 

This is important to discuss before you ever board that plane because you can come up with a system of keeping the peace before emotions get involved. Agree on a statement beforehand that opens the floor for communication (like: “hey, remember when we said no matter what happened we’d talk about things because our friendship/relationship is important?…)

Sometimes when we’re traveling with people we love we try to avoid conflict at all costs and we don’t say how we really feel which only leads to resentment, passive aggressiveness and a compromised trip. A friend of mine is a skiing, snowboarding and kitesurfing instructor who served in the Swiss army and he finds that the best way to teach someone or to handle conflict constructively is to use the “sandwich approach.” With this method you sandwich the concern or complaint in between two positive statements that show what is working so the person you’re addressing doesn’t feel attacked.

For example, if you’re traveling with a best friend for the first time and you feel like he/she isn’t listening to what you want to do, say something like:

“I’ve enjoyed going to all these museums you found but I’d really like to change it up and start doing something off the beaten path. I think we’d both benefit from seeing the city in a different light.”

That will be much more effective than if you passive aggressively roll your eyes and say, “Another museum, seriously?”

Don’t foolishly assume that your relationship is so indestructible that you can handle anything that comes between you. Discuss the possibility for conflict before you leave and you’ll handle it better when it does happen.

2. Come up with a rough itinerary before you leave.

This is your chance to find out what each person is hoping to get out of the trip. Maybe one of your friends is a party animal and can’t wait to see the night scene in Barcelona and maybe you’re more interested in the history of the city. Use this pre-departure opportunity to come to a compromise and establish a few things that each of you definitely want to do, that way you’ll have a balance once you reach your destination.

3. If you need your space, take it. 

Don’t let bottled emotions explode and say things you can’t take back. Unaddressed tension can destroy a trip so if you feel yourself on the edge or you’re just the type of person who really enjoys her alone time, tell your travel partner(s) that you need to take some time for yourself. Then find an obscure cafe and people watch, take your book and head to the beach, or go for a walk to clear your head. A little of space can mean the difference between a lasting relationship and one that crumbles. And remember that little idiom about absence making the heart grow fonder? There is absolutely some truth to that. Test it out if you feel like you’re starting to take each other for granted.

4. Don’t be afraid to meet and travel with other people along the way.

Sometimes the best tension dissolver is the company of a new friend. A new group dynamic brings an air of lightness and before you know it the little things you were bickering about will seem insignificant and your perspective will shift. If it’s just the two of you, try couchsurfing for a night or stay in a hostel and go out for drinks with some of your dorm-mates. It’s human nature for you to tire of your travel partner, especially if this is the first time you’re learning all their quirks or spending this much contiguous time together. Don’t be dismayed, be proactive.

5. Go with the flow. 

Travel issues are bound to happen but it’s how you handle them that determines the quality of your trip. Your purse gets stolen, there’s no record of your reservation,  you get stranded in a tiny town or you get hopelessly lost… all of these situations are common and if you can handle them gracefully and make the most out of a bad situation, months later you’ll laugh back on that night when Charlie didn’t realize he was pick-pocketed and had to do the dishes at that restaurant with that big, hairy Russian woman who kept making moves on him. Some of my most interesting travel stories happen when everything goes wrong but I’m determined to stay positive. Keep your cool and learn from the experience.

6. If all else fails, be the bigger person.

No one said it would be easy but if whatever is bothering you is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, maybe it’s time to suck it up and be the bigger person – for the trip’s sake!

You’re annoyed that your friend has a case of ‘travel love’ and now wants their exotic new lover around all the time? Tell the lover to invite some friends.

All your friend wants to do is get drunk every night? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, or go do your own thing while they recover all day.

There’s no real problem you’re just snappy with each other because you’ve spent too much time together? Have a ‘you’ day and then share all your experiences over dinner.

The annoyances, bickering, and resentment that can come with group travel might not happen to every group but it’s important to realize that it’s one of the most common travel complaints and why a lot of people decide to go it alone. The level of disturbance is directly proportional to the length of travel, the ease of travel, the dynamic of the group and the personalities involved. If you communicate beforehand, address situations as they’re happening and take the time to reassess and get back to what is really important, you’ll be just fine.

I’ll leave you with my favorite lines from Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem, Worth While.

It is easy enough to be pleasant
When life flows by like a song,
But the man worth while is the one who will smile
When everything goes dead wrong.
 
Do you have any group travel horror stories? What are your tips for seamless group travel?
%d bloggers like this: