Theme Parks versus National Parks

florida national park

Last time we visited Florida, we thought about going to a theme park in Orlando, but the prices were through the roof so we checked out a near by national park instead.

We were thrilled to learn that they were conducting guided canoe tours of the river… and thankfully enough other people signed up, so down the river we went.  The guide lead us under groves of mossy trees and I got to see my first alligator in the wild.  (I learned my husband is nuts as he tried to get us closer — but thankfully the person in the back of the canoe got to steer!).

After the tour, we relaxed on the bank of the river with a snack.  The lazy sun darted between the foliage, leaving beautiful reflections on the water.  There was no doubt in my mind that we made the right decision.  The magic and adventure of nature could never be re-created in a concrete theme park.  I’m still amazed that America never tries to sell itself as a nature destination because there are so many gorgeous parks!

What was the last park you toured?

Travel Tips for Long Flights

long flight travel tips

Since I’m from America and my wife is from New Zealand, we have had our share of long distance flights.  Here are some tips for making the best of your plane ride:

Bring Water: In the middle of the night, nothing is more uncomfortable than being thirsty and waiting for a steward to get you some.  Bring an empty bottle through security and fill it up at a drinking fountain before boarding.

Spend a bit extra for a nice flight time:  If I already have to save $1200 for a flight, it’s worth it to me to spend an extra $100 to get the flight with fewest layovers or best departure time.  I prefer leaving before so I can eat their meal and then crash.

Know how you sleep:  What does it take for you to fall asleep?  A comfortable pillow?  Sleeping pill?  Warm blanket?  Snack?  Figure out what you need and make sure you have it packed.  I like a blow up pillow for my neck.

Pick your seat with sleep in mind:  I generally like isle seats because I can stick my very longs legs into the isle so I don’t feel as squashed.  But on long flights, I always take a window seat so I can lean against them.  Pick your seat accordingly.  Isle = easiest for bathrooms, stretching legs, but others wake you when they get up.  Window = colder, better view, can rest head against wall, but not good for small bladders or pacers.  Middle = never really a good option unless you want to sit next to an isle/window person.

Also, be careful where you sit on the plane.  Sometimes the very last row and rows around the emergency exit don’t recline.  Also keep in mind the location of the lavatories.  Will the light and slamming of doors keep you awake?  It’s hard to know where babies will sit, but many large planes have bassinets near the front of the plane.

Do you need entertainment?  My wife knows she’ll never be able to sleep, so she always packs a book with her.  I don’t bother since I’m never up longer than it takes to eat.

Practice sleeping while sitting upright:  Use meetings at work as a great practice for sleeping upright in a chair.  (Just kidding!)

Parents: Good luck.  Make sure you have food, water, entertainment, diapers, pacifiers and blankets packed.  Try to time flights with their nature bedtime or naps.  Tire them out before you leave or in the terminal so they are ready to sleep on the plane.  And if all else fails, claim you have no idea why these kids keep following you around.

Tips For Living Abroad in New Zealand

Milford Sound

I spent two working holidays in New Zealand that changed my life… but along the way I accumulated some practical advice for others who want to live aboard there… Here are all the little things I learned that would have made my working holiday more comfortable.

GETTING YOUR VISA: There are two ways to get your visa: the government or Bunac. You can get a 1 year working holiday visa through the NZ Government if you’re under 30. The form is relatively easy and the fees are very affordable. If you’re 35 or under, you can apply through Bunac. They take care of the visa, have services to get your feet on the ground, but cost a bit more.

TEMPERATURE: New Zealand has a temperate climate (yay!), but because of that there isn’t as much heating, cooling or insulation. 60-80 may sound like perfect summer weather, but bring some warmer clothes and jackets since the homes can dip down at night, in winter or when a dreaded “southerly” strikes. It was strange to be cold INSIDE instead of cold OUTSIDE (like Minnesota).

CELL PHONES: Cells had NO unlimited nights or weekends when I was there (which is changing)… and the DIALER pays cell phone charges. The upside is that all incoming calls are free, but the downside is making a call from your cell phone to another cell phone is really expensive — thus everyone texts. Check out Vodafone for an unlimited texting plan or 2 Degrees for cheap a la cart texting. Be careful or you’ll learn to love texting like I did in NZ.

MEDICINE: If you have any favorite over the counter medicines, I would consider bringing a few days worth with you… nothing is more frustrating than looking for medicine when you’re sick and not knowing where to start (since “Chemists” sell medicine).

SHOPPING: Malls and massive stores are less common. Everything is smaller, more dispersed, more “ma and pa” like. I found it hard to find things since it wasn’t “down just a few isles”. It was surprising to see stores devoted just to nuts, rubber stamps or t-shirts. Kiwis also love their thrift stores (“the sellies”). I got most of my furnishings from the Salvation Army and returned it back there when I left.

COMMUNICATING BACK HOME: My skype phone number was really helpful. It was $5-10 per month and I could contact American businesses and friends. It was handy for giving people a phone number to call me back and leave messages.

WASHING: Air drying clothes is still popular in New Zealand… many of the flats I looked at only had washing machines…. if you do air dry clothes, make sure you start a few days before you need the clothes or you’ll be ironing underwear to dry it. New Zealand is a humid climate and clothes can take 5 days to dry.

HOUSING: I stayed a hostel when I first landed. They had affordable shared rooms with bunk beds. Tell the hostel if you plan to be a long-term visitor because they often have weekly rates or rooms specifically for long term guests. Hostels were also a great place to meet other travelers.

If you’re interested in FLATTING, they rent by the week (so no, that gorgeous room is NOT $150 per month!) If the room is sublet by other tenants (which is common) you’ll be walking into a popularity contest as they pick who they want to live with. Actual landlords and leases have minimum lengths, so only consider them if you’re planning to stay put. THE place for finding a flat (and almost anything else) is, which is half ebay, and half craig’s list.

JOBS: You need an IRD number for most jobs (basically a SSN for tax withholding). You should apply for one as soon as you arrive.

RESUMES: New Zealand seems to like word-ier resumes than America… Instead of staccato bullet points, don’t be afraid to have a 2+ page resume that goes into all the details that would bore American businessmen. The unemployment office helps citizens with resumes (not sure if they help foreigners).

BANKING: I was mortified that you had to PAY MONEY in New Zealand to allow a bank to hold your money (while they earned interest off of it). I eventually chose ASB because they had free “internet banking” — provided you don’t want to use a teller much.

New Zealand’s EFTPOS banking system (think debit card) is wicked cool. It’s everywhere, it’s easy… and it’s so convenient to transfer money to another person at any other bank. I had many friends who would get tickets for a group of people and then ask everyone to transfer money into their account. I’m still waiting for America to catch up with an inter-bank system like this.

ACCESSING YOUR AMERICAN MONEY: Depending on who you bank with in America, how you access your money will vary. My CREDIT CARD offered really great exchange rates, so I charged most things and then paid my credit card with my American bank account online. I also used my ATM CARD to withdraw money. My bank refunds all ATM fees, so it was very cheap for me to withdraw cash from the ATMS (when the exchange rate was reasonable). The final method is a WIRE TRANSFER. It always has the best rate, but you need an American account and a New Zealand account. You also need to be in America (or have someone in America to do it, or transfer your American money to a very trustworthy family member to transfer to your New Zealand account). Because of all the rigamarole to get this transfer to work, I didn’t bother. Plus, it’s only worth while if you transfer a big chunk of money (since it often has a $50 one-time fee).

TRAVEL: If you are planning to travel around New Zealand, here are some good travel websites to start with:

  • (flights between every city)
  • (flights between major cities)
  • (bus travel)
  • (car rentals are cheaper since you don’t need to worry as much about insurance, but gas is pricey)

To get an idea of travel prices, it took about $80 USD and 1 hour to fly from Wellington to Auckland… about 12 hours to bus or car. Buses were about $12 USD and cars were $20 USD/day plus gas.