Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Just a glimpse into daily text conversations with my dad:

Me: How do I learn to be happy in the moment instead of always planning for the distant future?

Dad: Sometimes we try to make things happen instead of letting things happen. When you force things, as soon as you stop exerting the pressure, it falls apart. When you let things happen, it will be easy and effortless. It all comes from within. You have to learn to trust your inner voice.

Me: But what if my inner voice isn't speaking up?

Dad: It may be a voice, a feeling. It may be something or someone who comes into your life. You need to set the direction, and you will be guided. Listen and be aware of what shows up. If you don't know the direction, ask for guidance and then listen and be aware. You have to trust that the all-knower within you provides your every answer as you need it.

I've been told by many people that I think too much and that I'm my father's daughter. To be honest, I wouldn't have it any other way. I want to constantly improve and grow as a person so that I can then pay it forward to others as my dad has to me.

In the past year or so I've been trying to get away from planning and instead listen to and follow my heart. So, I've taken my dad's advice and set the direction. Now I'm going along for the ride. It's interesting, my eyes are starting to open up to things I didn't see before.

This week, one of my major "aha moments" was when I was helping the little girls I babysit do their homework. I LOVED helping them learn new things and teaching them tricks I learned as a child to understand better. And every night, I'd read to them for at least 30 minutes and then after a few days, they wanted to read to me.

Personally, I know education equates to confidence. I was always a straight A student and because of that, it filled me with pride to be able to transfer and share knowledge with others. Even now, I love to teach people of all ages things that I've learned throughout my life, whether from school or my travels.

I have a feeling I need to listen to my inner voice that keeps reminding me how much I love knowledge-sharing. This doesn't mean I'm going to head back to school to become a teacher, but it does mean I somehow need to creatively incorporate it into my life.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

American Marketing (Brainwashing) at its Best

It goes a little something like this: you don't know what you got til it's gone. And this time, I'm not talking about being away from my supportive and amazing family and friends.

Instead, I'm referring to my heartache for Whole Foods. Yes, I understand I can spend an entire paycheck there in 15 minutes flat and that the company has brainwashed America into thinking it's the ONLY place to shop for groceries and health products, but they back up their word with quality and experiential shopping that is hard to duplicate.

You know what I miss most about Whole Foods? Just going there to walk around and look at all the different options and product packaging (can you tell I've dabbled in marketing??). It was thrilling to see what new gluten-free products were on the market!

Additionally, Whole Foods has always been a comfort for me. I've spent many nights at the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, Chicago just reading, working, or people-watching. I even brought this ritual to London when I studied abroad because I lucked out and lived only a 10 minute run from one of the largest Whole Foods in the world (at the time). My friend and I told ourselves that if we jogged to Whole Foods, we would treat ourselves and then take the train two stops back to our flat. I even remember what I used to get every time: coconut water and banana yogurt.

I know this sounds like an odd thing to miss but this store has been my comfort blanket for the past 5+ years and it's like someone has just stolen it away and stuck his or her tongue out to taunt me.

In Australia, people don't "experience" grocery stores. They simply go in and get what they need. At least, that's what I've seen in Queensland so far. Maybe it's different in other states. Furthermore, Australian grocery stores don't have an overabundance of product choices. There's usually a couple name brands and a generic brand. That's it. Yes, it makes choosing easier; however, what if the choices are terrible?!

In conclusion, I miss Whole Foods and now further appreciate the endless possibilities there are when choosing a product in America. I like analyzing, comparing, and then making a decision. But in the meantime, while I'm abroad, I'll learn to appreciate resting my brain and just pulling a product from the shelf.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lesson of the Day: Community

As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I've begun to develop a group of friends and family I've dubbed the Positive People Crew (PPC). Essentially, it's a like-minded community of people I can call on no matter the circumstance.

In my inbox today, I received this blog post:

This article outlines exactly what the PPC represents! It's not a religious group, a cult, or anything's just genuinely good people making the right decisions for themselves in order to live a happy and healthy life. How great does that sound?!

Okay, so who's with me? Who wants to be in my Postive People Crew community? We will eat, drink, and be (purposefully) merry!

You Know You're in the Sticks of Australia when...'re lying by the pool at a holiday resort and the office attendant casually mentions, "Watch out for the brown snakes while you're lying there in the sun."

For those of you (like me) that have no idea how serious a brown snake is, let me fill you in. If you're bitten, you have to get to the hospital and get the venom out or you're dead in 20 minutes. Lovely. It's the second most deadly land snake in the world.

That being said, I spent yesterday afternoon lying by the pool in fear that every tickle was the slithering of a brown snake across my skin.

New goal: lose my paranoia of all things obnoxious, deadly, and poisonous in Australia.

Oh, I also forgot to mention that I saw my first jellyfish yesterday, too. It was huge and blue in color. I heard the sting is "uncomfortable, but not deadly." After this explanation, some locals invited me in the water for a swim. No thank you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Really, Magpies?? REALLY?!

I think I may be forever scarred by these godforsaken birds. It's 2am here and I've just been jarred awake by a body-numbing (literally) nightmare, which involved one of these terrible creatures biting my toe so hard that it actually woke me up to my body being completely tingly, like when it "falls asleep."

I am going to credit this terrible experience to one of two things:
1. The fact that I completed a hardcore 90-minute boot camp tonight under the Queensland stars in which I left with my body barely still intact, OR
2. The fact that in an entirely new area of Brisbane that I (yet again) had an encounter with two (count them, TWO!) magpies today. We stared each other down, I had a few choice words, and then I skinned my forearm yet again when one swooped. As blood started to emerge from my arm, a local asked me if I was okay and all I could do was scurry all paranoid to safety.

I really think I may need therapy after this trip. The doctor will ask, "So what brings you in today?" And I'll look around his office, eyes bugging out of my head will dart back and forth at the bird statues and wall calendars he has, and I'll whisper, "...magpies."

But hey, as long as I can get a couple laughs out of my readers, I guess the torture is worth it!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lesson of the Day: Appreciate What You Have

On Saturday, I had a great conversation with a guy at the Global Illumination event I volunteered at. Here's the story he told: There once was a rich man who traveled all corners of the globe to find "The One." He brought his female servant along with him to guide him in his search. They spent a year's time searching for the right girl. City after city, he turned down every woman. As they visited the last place, the rich man looked around in disappointment until his eyes locked in on his servant, who he now saw in a different light. They traveled back home and lived happily ever after. 

He told me this story after he had asked me why I decided to travel to Australia. I told him I wanted to learn more about myself and experience a new part of the world, while opening my eyes to all the things back home that I truly appreciate. I know that I learn about what I value most once I'm out on the road for a prolonged period of time. It gives me time to reflect and learn how to incorporate things into my life that fulfill me. The funny thing is, like the rich man in the story, I often find that it takes a trip around the world to open my eyes to what's been in front of me the entire time.

Here's a couple things I'm learning:
-I need to do a better job surrounding myself with optimistic, like-minded people. They say in your mid-20s you start to reevaluate the people you have in your life and begin to weed out the duds. I've cut out a handful of toxic people over the past year, but when I get back to Chicago, I'm looking forward to really solidifying my Positive People Crew :)
-I need to find a foundation or organization I can volunteer for on a regular basis that incorporates something I'm passionate about. I'm thinking something to do with kids and/or health and wellness. It's the best way to meet more like-minded people and give back! In fact, when I volunteered this past weekend, I met Pip (the Brisbane version of myself). I just wish I could pack her in my suitcase and bring her home!
-Travel is a huge part of my life. In fact, it's essential that I continue to keep it in my life. Additionally, I can now confirm that I want Chicago as my homebase. I want to be able to establish a life back home in Chicago and be able to take frequent trips to California and then one big trip a year (I'm thinking my first one when I get home will be Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver!).
-When I get home, I want to start a dinner and wine club where we pick a country or area of the world and everyone brings either a dish or wine and teaches everyone else a fun fact about what they brought. Then, we listen to music from that country and/or watch a movie. I love this kind of stuff! AND it's way better than spending my Friday and Saturday nights at bars :)
-I want to master a Chicago city tour. I'm passionate about my city and I want to share this passion with people coming into the city. If I can lead tours in other countries and still maintain this passion, I can't even imagine how much it will show when I'm leading Chicago tours...
-I want to become fluent in another language, more than likely Spanish. How cool would it be to accomplish something like this? I have Rosetta Stone for Spanish...I need to start using it.

Before I left for Australia, my brother wrote me a letter and reminded me that "Home is where the heart is." Yup. My heart will always be in Chicago. And I'm now a better person for getting out and exploring- this tends to be the way I learn best. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

When I Grow Up, I Want to be...

...a killer whale trainer! At least that's what I used to tell everyone when I was little. One trip to SeaWorld-Ohio and I thought I had found my life calling. I wanted to be the girl flipping off Shamu and teaching the audience about this majestic animal. However, there was only one small obstacle standing in the way...I don't know how to swim. I was that girl that failed out of swim lessons because I didn't want to go in the arctic Chicago water on a cold summer morning. Being wet and cold is the quickest way to put me in a bad mood.

Looking back at my childhood dream, I now know why I chose this particular career path. Yes, I loved killer whales more than the average kid, with an entire bedroom of collectibles to prove it; however, the bigger reason is I love to entertain and teach people in a nontraditional setting. I have a constant thirst for knowledge. I want to learn as much as I can about something and then passionately tell people all about it.

Maybe this is the reason I love to lead tours. As of yesterday, I have now led tours in four countries: United States, Canada, England, and Australia. I've led student tours, private family tours, coach-full-of-foreigners tours, etc. It genuinely thrills me to learn about a city, country, or particular topic and then regurgitate this information to a group of people, big or small. Learning is addicting. Once I start, I want to learn as much as I can! I bet I was one of those kids that always asked, "Why?" and genuinely wanted to know why things were the way they were.

Leading my first tour in Brisbane!
"We have a hunger of the mind which asks for knowledge of all around us, and the more we gain, the more is our desire; the more we see, the more we are capable of seeing."- Maria Mitchell

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lesson of the Day: Find an Outlet

It's going to be hard to admit this one, but I feel it's necessary in order to grow and learn. Today was one of the hardest days I've ever experienced while traveling. I felt my first bout of homesickness while traveling...EVER. A major contributor to this gloomy feeling could have been the massive chocolate bar and large glass of wine I enjoyed the night before OR it could mean something a bit deeper.

Ever since I put in my resignation over a month ago, there's always been a part of me that feels guilty or that I'm letting people down. And for those of you that know me well, one of the things I dislike most is people being disappointed in me. I often heard from others, "But we saw you doing big things at that job! You were so good at it!" Just because I'm good at something doesn't mean I'm passionate about it. That was the battle I had to face. I wasn't happy at my job and travel has always helped clear my mind as well as open it to new possibilities I didn't even know existed.

Yesterday, this guilt creeped its way back into my head and took over for the day. I found myself questioning, "Why am I here when I can be back home making more money? Why am I doing jobs now that I did years ago? Am I taking a step backward?" And what I learned from all this questioning in my head was that it was not my voice asking these questions, it was the voices of all the people that doubted my decision to travel abroad for 6 months.

I didn't take this journey to make money. I chose to travel to gain riches in the form of knowledge and experiences. That way, when I return next spring, I'll know exactly what I want in my future career and I won't settle for a mediocre job "just to pay the bills." Americans spend so much time at their jobs, which is why it's important for me to have a job that fulfills me. Yes, I know that everyday will not be rainbows and butterflies. However, as long as I'm doing something I'm passionate about, I know that passion will get me through the hard days. And at the end of the day, I'm passionate about travel and education of oneself and others. It's the constant in my life that continues to give me something on a daily basis: memories, knowledge, happiness.

After spending most of the day inside embracing this homesickness and guilt, I got out of the house and  decided to test out some of my new creative outlet, photography. My friend Eileen took me to Kangaroo Point Cliffs and Story Bridge to take some night shots. Here's my first attempt at night shooting:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lesson of the Day: Nerf Guns

Last night, I went over to Eileen's twin sister's house for birthday celebrations. There were around 20 friends and family in attendance.

After a home cooked meal and a couple glasses of red wine, Nerf guns were pulled out. Before I knew it, a Nerf gun war had begun and I suddenly became an American GI Jane. I hid behind corners, below tables, and anywhere else I could find shelter to protect myself from two other gunmen (ages 40-something and 11). Photos were being snapped left and right.

I learned a lot about myself on the battlefield last night, and I'm not talking about the fact that I surrender easily or that my aim may not be the least bit impressive. The most important thing I took away from this Nerf gun war is that...acting like a kid is really fun :)

Photo Session in Redcliffe

One thing I always aspire to improve upon is my photography skills. It's one of my creative outlets I've only just begun to tap into. I dream that one day when I'm ready to settle down I'll have photographs all around my house of the places I've visited and the photographs I've taken along the way. This way, I'll always feel connected to the places I've lived, worked, and traveled.

Today, I spent the day with my friend Eileen's sister, Carmel. She is a professional photographer and offered to teach me more about her trade. We headed out to Redcliffe and used the local scenery as inspiration. After an hour tutorial on a picnic bench beneath a hoop pine, I tested out my lesson on photography firsthand. We started at a beach nearby. Here are a couple of the photos I shot:

After shooting around awhile, Carmel drove me around the various parts of Redcliffe. We ended our journey at Morgan's in Scarborough, the place for seafood. We placed our order and 15 minutes later we had a picnic lunch ready to bring to the beach. We feasted on prawns, Moreton Bay Bugs, and chips (fries). Carmel taught me how to properly shell a prawn as well as add just a bit of lemon to bring out the flavor. With a gorgeous breeze coming off the water, we enjoyed the end to a educational and fun morning together.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Wicker Park in Brissy

I don't know if the rest of you are like me, but whenever I travel, I like to find areas of where I'm traveling that remind me of back home. It's a good way to establish comfort as well as compare and contrast a bit.

For a long while, I loved the Wicker Park area of Chicago. It's the first area of the city I called home. I went through many ups and downs in that neighborhood, but at the end of the day, I loved the independent shops, the music scene, and the food. More recently, I've begun to love Lincoln Square and Ravenswood more. As people in Chicago put it: it's where the hipsters go to have babies.

Yesterday I spent the day in West End, which is a very hipster area of Brisbane. There's independent shops everywhere and a lot of quirkiness. Just to paint a picture for you: as I was drinking my coffee at an outdoor space at Blackstar, a woman under the influence of probably many many drugs came up to me and asked me to put her earring back in her ear. Awkward. Nonetheless, I tend to gravitate toward these hipster areas regardless of the types of people it draws!

Blackstar is known for its cold-pressed coffee. Look how beautiful that bottle of coffee is! Or maybe it's what's inside that I'm more excited about... Either way, huge fan.

While at Blackstar, I started chatting with two guys after I overheard them talking about one of their friends that traveled for 8 years straight. Then they started talking about extended traveling and where they should go and of course I piped in and said (without looking at them), "Chicago." A conversation then fully emerged and I told them all about how wonderful Chicago is and that it is America's Best Kept Secret from travelers, since everyone goes to either NYC or LA instead.

After Blackstar, I walked around a bit and popped into shops in the area. I found one really cute one that reminded me of a shop I absolutely love up in Ravenswood called Hazel. What drew me into the store was their reusable lunch bags and cloth change purses. Ha! I'm a sucker for that stuff.

Then it was on to Archive Beer Boutique to have an Australian gluten free beer. I chose Pickled Pig's Silly Yakk. It tasted like every other gluten free beer I've had, but since I've grown to love them, I enjoyed this one as well. What I really liked about Archive is that it reminded me of a mix of one of my favorite coffee shops in Chicago called Filter and a bar called Maproom. There are random couches and seats throughout and consist of a hodgepodge of "things." There was even lines and lines of bookshelves with books to take and read while drinking. Heavenly. (At Maproom there are volumes of National Geographic instead).

Overall, I had a great day exploring West End and now know where to go to get my Chicago fix. I also learned that Melbourne is essentially entirely like West End. I have a feeling I'm going to fall in love with Melbourne!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Where's All the Coffee?!

Birthday celebrations! On Tuesday, it's my friend Eileen and her twin sister's birthday. To celebrate, a group of us went out last night for dinner and dessert. Dinner was at a London staple of mine, Wagamama. More importantly, dessert was at a place called Freestyle Tout. For nearly $16, you can get the beautiful creation below. I chose the Cocoluscious Sundae, which had coffee, chocolate, and vanilla coconut ice cream with organic chocolate coconut sauce. Amazing! Best part? It wasn't overly sweet like American desserts, even the honey comb-like part. There's been so many times in America when I've had a couple bites of a sundae or sweet treat and had to stop because I was getting lightheaded from the sugar rush. It was refreshing to avoid this feeling! It's weird, if I have too much sweetness, my mind gets foggy and my mood changes for the worse, which is why I am extremely cognizant of what I put into my body and how it makes me feel.  

As I sat at the table enjoying my treat, the topic of coffee came up. I had heard Australia was a "cafe culture," but to be quite honest, I hadn't had a good cup yet! For those of you that know me, you know how important of a role coffee plays in my everyday life. Time and time again I've tried to cut it out of my diet, but it continues to creep back in with defiance! So I've just settled on that fact that it makes me happy and serves as a comfort, especially on cold Chicago mornings. For the most part, it is the thing I enjoy no matter where I travel. I love trying new types and new ways of preparing, which is why I need to keep searching for a good cuppa (yup, that's how they say it here!). I keep hearing that Blackstar Cafe in the West End of Brisbane has the best coffee in the city. I'll make my way there tomorrow and report back...

Does This Mean I'm Officially an Aussie?

This morning, I babysat for a family of three boys. First thing when I got to the house, I had to walk the oldest boy, Patrick, to school while pushing the other two boys in the pram (stroller). As soon as we left the house, Patrick warned me about the Magpies, which are black and white birds in Australia. He mentioned that just last week he had been "swooped." I had heard the word before but couldn't pick out a Magpie if I tried, so I didn't think twice about the warning. We all know where this story is going...

As we strolled along Grafton Street toward Patrick's school, I heard birds in the trees, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then I heard Patrick scream and turned to see sheer terror in his eyes as a Magpie swooped from behind and started attacking my head! My hair was in a pony tail and the Magpie continued to pull strands out and peck at me. I swatted and screamed and I'm pretty sure my life flashed before my eyes (kidding...kind of...).

I grabbed Patrick, the stroller, and booked it out of there! When my heart finally stopped beating out of my chest, I caught Patrick's eyes and we bonded over Magpie attacks.

I've been told I am now officially an Aussie.

For future reference, here's what you should know about magpie swooping:
- It happens mostly during the Australian springtime (August-October)
- Male magpies are most often the attackers
- Magpies become aggressive when you get too close to their babies' nest
- Magpies will usually give you a warning, which consists of alarm calls and distant swoops
- After the warning, they go to the next tactic (which is what I experienced): the close swoop and occasional pecking at the face, eyes, head, etc.
- Then, if you still don't understand that they want you to leave immediately, they dive-bomb at your head with their chests (YIKES!)

The one thing I did right was flail my arms, scream like a schoolgirl, and get the hell away from its nest! In fact, Wikipedia informs, "Once attacked, shouting aggressively and waving one's arms at the bird should deter a second attack." Now that's what I call excitement!

I've heard about Redwing Blackbirds doing a similar swooping thing in Chicago, but seriously?!

***UPDATE: This afternoon, I was riding my bike to the grocery store when I was attacked AGAIN by a Magpie. This time, it swooped at me numerous times until I had to jump off my bike mid-cycle. See battle wounds below:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Reoccuring Theme: Relax

Before going on my trip to Australia, I mentioned that one of the main reasons I was going was "to learn how to be worry-free in a no worries society." This theme continues to reemerge as I meet more and more Australians.

For instance, on Friday night while waitressing, the other employees asked how long I had been in Brisbane and when I told them two days, all of their mouths dropped. I told them it was my American mentality that I had to work right away. Additionally, the family that I met yesterday kept reminding me, "Just relax. It's okay to just enjoy a day (or two or three) at the beach without working."

It's not easy for me to do nothing. Even when I'm doing nothing, I'm thinking about all the things I could be doing instead. I think this is the reason I don't sleep. It's almost as if I think I would be more efficient doing something else other than "wasting my time" sleeping...yikes! What a terrible way to live!

So I will say it again and again until it sticks...I'm learning to relax and enjoy life day by day.

Lesson of the Day: To Doodle or Not to Doodle?


I found out the hard way that "doodle" means a male's private parts.

As I was walking with the two little girls along the beach, I saw a Labradoodle dog and said excitedly, "Oh! A doodle!" and the little girl looked at me in shock then looked at her dad and her dad couldn't help but laugh. He saw the bewilderment in my eyes and stuck up his pinky finger indicating that I had essentially just said "dick" to his daughter...oops!

I now know that doodle is not appropriate to say in front of little ones :)

First Trip to the Sunshine Coast!

For my first Saturday in Australia, I lined up a babysitting gig up north on the Sunshine Coast. The family consisted of three girls under the age of 10. I fell in love with them instantly! Here's a photo of me with two of the three girls.

I took a train from Brisbane to Petrie, then a bus to Caboolture (the train wasn't running between the two train stops), then the family picked me up in Caboolture. From there, they took me to three different  areas/beaches. First stop was King's Beach in Caloundra. We sat on the beach eating fish and chips and the girls took photos with Out and About for Tessa and Colton. As we were sitting on the beach, there were helicopters flying above the water. I asked the dad if it was for rescues and the dad said it was mainly to spot sharks...YIKES. Needless to say, I didn't go in the water...

Next up was a quick stop at a lookout over Moffat Beach lookout:

After the lookout point, we drove to Point Cartwright, which is on the Mooloolah River side. There was a wedding that afternoon overlooking the water. The day was perfectly sunny and warm; that bride sure lucked out! As we walked across the sand on the beach, I noticed that it was making a squeaking sound-it was the strangest thing. At first I thought it was the sound of my feet against my flip flops, then realized the sound was coming from between the sand and my sandals. I'm still trying to find out exactly why this happens..

Our final stop of the day was Mooloolaba Beach. The sun was getting lower in the sky at this point, so the lighting was beautiful. The girls buried my legs in the sand and we just sat back and enjoyed the rest of the day's sunlight.

Before dropping me off at the train station, I took a final photo of Mooloolaba Beach from a spot called "Loo with a View." I want to make a mental memory of this part of the world and keep it forever.

First Friday of Work

My Australian visa allows me to hold a variety of jobs throughout Australia. The visa is strictly for people ages 30 and under who want to get experience in tourism, healthcare, and a couple other industries. Since I have a background in tourism, I wanted to explore this industry in another country to see how it compares as well as gain more expertise to bring back to the States. Plus, it's the best way to meet new people! Before I left for Australia, I decided I wanted to have multiple jobs versus working at one place for six months.

Last night, I worked for a company called Dalton Hospitality. I was a server for an event for the College of Surgeons at the University of Queensland. The college had just moved into their new space in Kangaroo Point and they were having this event as a ribbon cutting ceremony. The gig lasted 5 hours and led to some new (and exciting!) gigs in the future. (I'll tell you more once set in stone).

I was essentially hired as a server, so I had to make sure beverages and bellies were full...easy. The best parts of last night were talking with the guests and learning more Australian words. At one point in the night toward the end, I had captured the attention of an entire table and spoke with them a good while about America (they originally thought I was Canadian).

Here are a few word differences I learned: fairy floss is what they call cotton candy, "no dramas" is another way of saying "no worries," what we know as appetizers is what they call canap├ęs, and most importantly, don't ask people if they want cream and sugar in their coffee (cream to them is kind of like our sour cream- same consistency and not good to drop into liquids!).

Overall, really fun and enjoyable time at work. It reminded me of when I used to work at the Scout Lounge at U.S. Cellular Field 5 summers ago. High-end event and clientele.

Yesterday afternoon, I volunteered for the McGrath Foundation with Eileen. McGrath is a breast cancer awareness foundation and I was excited to help out! The high tea event was held in Brisbane's CBD. I helped with the mystery prize portion of the event. Guests made $50 or $100 donations and in return received a sealed envelope. In the envelope was a number that correlated with prizes donated from local businesses and McGrath Foundation supporters. Giving back is such an important part of my life that I was happy to do so in another country!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lesson of the Day: Australia IS Expensive but...

...don't give in to the temptation! I've found that I'm much better off grocery shopping than eating at restaurants, cafes, and even food marts.

For instance, yesterday I was starving midday and needed something to hold me over until dinner in between volunteering and working, so I stopped to grab a small coffee and Snickers bar at a cafe. I spent over $7 on it, which would have been $4 tops in the States. The Snickers alone was $3.50. Soft drinks and coffees are nearly $4! Things are double the price and I'm quoting these in AUD (which is essentially equivalent to USD).

Overall, high prices have led me to ask myself regularly, "Do I really need that or do I just want it?" This type of conscious decision making will be beneficial when it carries over into my life back in Chicago once I'm back, too! Win-win.

In summary, shop at a grocery store as much as possible or at farmers markets and always carry a snack on you; otherwise positive decision making skills diminish as hunger elevates.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lesson of the Day: Voting

In Australia, a person is fined if they do not vote.

What do you think would be the outcome if America made voting mandatory and people were fined if they didn't? From my own experience, not enough educated people vote in the U.S. Could you imagine how this would change things? We fought so hard for our voting rights, especially women, so why don't more people exercise their right to vote? Is it that we feel that our voice doesn't make a difference?

Food for thought.

Vegemite- the Spam of Australia

My first video post! Experience Vegemite firsthand with me. Enjoy!

Lesson of the Day: Jacaranda Trees

On our way from the airport to Eileen's, I saw a beautiful tree with purple flowers on it...

Of course I asked her about it and she told me it's called the jacaranda tree and that every year New South Wales has a Jacaranda Festival around this time of year when the trees are in full bloom. These trees grow in the U.S., Spain, Italy, etc. but I have never seen them before. They only grow where there is no threat of frost, so Australia is the perfect growing weather for this tree.

Another fun fact I learned was the blooming of these trees signifies a time of intense study in schools around Queensland, specifically the University of Queensland, due to the end of the school year!

London Mixed with Santa Monica with a Side of Chicago Summers

After a two-leg 18+ hour journey from Chicago to Brisbane, I finally made it! To be completely honest, the 14 hour segment from LAX to Brisbane was not nearly as terrible as I anticipated. The only unnerving part of it was the fact that I was traveling entirely over the Pacific Ocean the entire time. Even when I had traveled to London, we flew close to the Canadian coast, then Greenland, then Iceland, then Ireland. Whenever I checked the map portion of the touchscreen during the plane ride, all I could see was the slow-moving airplane making it's way across a large, never ending blue mass.

Something I learned on the flight: Aussies are very well-traveled, even kids. Due to the extended time they have off from their jobs throughout the year in addition to the fact that they have to travel far to get anywhere, travel tends to be a large part of their lives.

So Eileen picked me up from the Brisbane Airport just before 8am this morning, then we headed to her apartment in Northgate, which is around a 20 minute train ride outside the CBD (central business district). I unpacked some of my stuff, took a shower, then we headed to a nearby shopping center so that I could get an Aussie phone number and bank account as well as stock up on some groceries. It was so exciting to become an (un)official Aussie!

One of the biggest realizations I had today was based upon something Eileen said. She said, "Americans are too busy worrying about what they look like; Aussies just care about the character of the person." I love this! Why can't it be that simple? For the rest of the day, I made a mental note to look at Australians' physical appearance and came to find that a majority of the people I met or saw were not fitness-obsessed. They had everyday human "flaws." And I have to say- the character of these people definitely outshone their looks. Each that I interacted with was helpful, genuine, and friendly. Another thing I noticed was that Aussies looked a lot less stressed than Americans. Nothing was that important that they let it affect their overall easygoing demeanor.

Later today, I ventured out to the South Bank by myself to check out its man-made beach called Streets Beach. As I walked around the Brisbane River that splits the city, I saw the Wheel of Brisbane along the beautifully lined Arbour in the Parklands. The Wheel of Brisbane reminds me of the London Eye. It was a gorgeous spring day (southern hemisphere), a memory I wish I could capture in my mind forever. These photos don't do justice to the beauty of this part of the city.

Biggest success of the day? Not letting jet lag get the best of me! I made it past 8pm without even a tiny nap. Point, Christina!

Aussie Brands vs. U.S. Brands #1: Rice whaaaat?

One of my favorite things about living and traveling to other countries is going grocery shopping to see the differences in products, specifically names and packaging. My friend Eileen kept asking, "Do you like Rice Bubbles?" I questioned, "Like rice puffs?" As we continued to go back and forth to try to understand what the other meant, she finally brought me over to cereal isle and pointed at the following: 

She meant Rice Krispies :)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bubbling Over

As I sit here at LAX waiting to board my flight to Australia, I'm literally bubbling over with happiness. Yes, I'm happy to be going to a country I've always dreamed to visit. However, that's not the reason I'm in this euphoric state.

The reason I'm glowing with happiness is due to a flood of emails, texts, cards, etc. from friends and family all over the U.S. I feel so supported and loved...and when I'm surrounded by this kind of support, I will never feel alone, even halfway around the world!

I'm so lucky to have the friends and family that I do. Each person adds wonderful things to my life. Until you step outside your comfort zone and do something off the beaten path, you never test boundaries with the people in your life. From my decision to go abroad, I've realized how amazing my core group of friends and family really is. They accept and support me for who I am. Without them, I wouldn't have the strength to go out on an adventure of this caliber.

Okay, okay. I'll try to subdue the emotional posts. I'll make the next one about Vegemite or kangaroos or something else very cliche!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

How to Incorporate the "Intangible Goods" Reasoning

As I rode down tree-lined Damen filled with various shades of reds, greens, and yellows with two good friends riding ahead of me, I couldn't help but feel happy. It was one of those moments I wish I could photograph mentally to be there whenever I need it. These types of occurrences are the ones that feed my internal happiness.

As I think about my trip (that starts tomorrow!), I want to capture these same types of moments over there that I can bring back home and have to get me through anything. It's always been more fulfilling for me to talk about all the wonderful experiences I've had versus what kind of car I'm driving or what kind of penthouse loft I'm living in downtown. Neither mentality is right nor wrong, but personally I get more out of life with richness of experiences not richness of personal funds!

So here's my thought: I want to try to live in Australia as "cheaply" as possible. I dislike using the word cheap because of its negative connotations, but what I mean is I'm not going to buy my happiness there, I'm going to experience it.

For instance, instead of shopping for things I don't need (or have room for), I'm going to meet locals who can teach me all the fun, free things to do in each city. Bike rides, swimming and surfing, bushwalking, hiking, free concerts and movies, etc. If Australian cities are anything like Chicago, I know there will be an over abundance of activities!

That being said, it doesn't mean that I won't buy myself or friends and family things or NEVER go out to a fancy meal. Instead, I am going to teach myself to think twice before purchasing things and see if there is something else free that will feed my happiness more.

Either way, I think this will be a great exercise in budgeting and finding what I value most! Open to suggestions :)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Old Stompin' Grounds

There's nothing that brings back better Chicago brisk Autumn weather memories than an afternoon at the Grind in Lincoln Square. Since the first time I visited four years ago around this time, I fell instantly in love. The employees are pleasant and welcoming and there is a shelf of random books people have left for others to enjoy.

Today I'm enjoying a cafe au lait while I read "The Slow Food Guide to Chicago" (2004 version, mind you) that I pulled from the shelf. I can't help but flip through and see how Chicago has changed since then and how much it will change in years to come.

Before driving to Lincoln Square, I stopped in Evanston to pick up Australian and New Zealand dollars for my trip. I found myself looking around more as I walked through the town, breathing in the crisp air and admiring all the color changes in the leaves that have emerged in the past couple weeks. Days like this make me appreciate my Chicago area upbringing. I set out today to take a mental picture of home that I can bring abroad, and I ended up with a couple actual photos, too.

These past couple days, I've been at ease with my decision to explore abroad again. More and more I realize this ease is because I know it's not permanent. I can see myself living in Chicago again, but still keeping travel a large part of my life. I need a healthy balance of exploration and stability. This adventure ahead of me will balance out the monotonous stability I had the past two years so I can come back with a new, open-minded view on what to do next that incorporates the two simultaneously.

3 days to go!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

And So It Begins...Networking

One of the jobs I hope to have while in Australia is working in a winery, preferably a mom and pop one where I can learn a ton. I want to learn the wine process from planting to bottle. In order to make this happen, I cold-emailed about 100 wineries on the eastern part of the continent explaining what I was looking for. There were a handful of "no's" and a majority just didn't reply, but there were also a handful that did reply...and were very open to the idea!

Since August, I've been emailing back and forth with a guy from a small winery outside of Brisbane. Upon checking out their website, I knew the winery was exactly what I was looking for. Finally, last night, this guy and I Skyped to discuss when I could go out to the winery and in what ways I could help them. I offered anything from picking grapes to crushing grapes to selling the wine to marketing and events.

After we talked shop for awhile, I asked him about what I should be doing around Australia and told him that another one of my bucket list items is to learn how to surf...and be taught by an Aussie. The guy then proceeded to tell me that his good friend teaches just south of Brisbane (and used to in Portugal, too)--DONE! We arranged it so that I can get some one-on-one surfing lessons from a fit Aussie. Well on my way to checking off another bucket list item..

Another interesting thing that stuck from our conversation: to look into traveling to New Calcedonia. This guy told me he was on his way there and it's a French territory that still uses Francs! It's halfway between the northeast corner of Australia and Fiji.

Some things I've learned over the years:
1. Don't be afraid to ask or to put it out there in the universe: someone will hear it and want to help you.
2. The best way to find out where to travel next is to talk to the people around you. Word of Mouth is one of the most powerful tools and aids in decision making.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Weekend of Emotions

It was until 4pm on the last day of work that the emotions set in. Until then, I had been running at full speed (on empty, mind you) and hadn't had a chance to face my decision to travel abroad for 5 months. For the past year, I've kept my mind and body busy with my 9-to-5, babysitting, contracting with a startup, and traveling. In the past year alone, I've traveled to LA twice, Petaluma, Jamaica, Boston, New Orleans, London, Madrid...and that was just for fun. For work, I was in Houston, Maine, San Francisco, Detroit, Indiana, and D.C.

Last fall, after a trying and life-changing breakup, I decided to start pursuing the Year of Christina. I promised myself that in the year ahead, I would achieve (or at least start making steps toward) the following goals:

-Travel when and where I wanted
-Do yoga regularly for mental clarity
-Find a creative outlet
-Get in shape
-Learn how to cook
-Filter out the toxic friends and people in my life
-Find a job that fulfills me
-Date men that are "marriage material"

I have made strides in each of the goals above, but the biggest one I'm on the road to accomplishing is traveling to a "bucket list" destination in pursuit of a job that fulfills me. For me, the "perfect" job is one that allows me to have stability in an office setting but allows me to travel extensively in various parts of the world. This position is challenging and constantly changing. It also allows me to utilize my skills and education in a way no previous job has. At the end of the day, it won't feel like a job because I will be fulfilled. I don't care how many hours a week I put into this job, as long as it's something I believe in. I want to show people the world. I want to teach them about the history so we can make for a better future. I want to help change people's lives and help them become their best selves.

There are critics who say that this job does not exist, but I know better. The people who don't believe this type of job is a reality are the ones that won't take chances in order to find it. But you know what? I'm about to take that chance. I'm feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I'm going outside my comfort zone and traveling for 5 months in a country I've never been. And I'm doing it without a plan. I'm going to go off the beaten path and find the greatest things in Australia and experiencing them firsthand so I can send other people there in the future to take them outside their comfort zones, too.

The reason I became so emotional on Friday is because I know I'm finally on the right track. When you pursue your passions, you can't fail. I was stuck for so long in a job that didn't fulfill me that it was hard to see the silver lining. All I needed to do was change the momentum for the better. I made a leap of faith, bought a plane ticket, and am about to embark on a journey of a lifetime. This trip signifies more than an extended vacation; it represents me reaching deep into my soul to let the real Christina show and shine. I'm going to work various jobs and volunteer for multiple organizations and companies to build upon the different facets of my passions. I can't wait to share these experiences with all of you!