No Challenge is Too Grape: A Picking Story

Whether you’re looking to apply for your second year working holiday visa in Australia or just looking for work to get you to your next destination, grape picking is a pretty grape option!!

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I really didn’t hate the days I spent in the vineyards, sure you walk into a lot of these bad boys pictured above, which takes some getting used to to say the least, but I wouldn’t change my experience. I believe every situation in your life happens to present a lesson, whether it be something you’re meant to realize and learn from right then and there or perhaps there is something in the experience which you will reflect on in the future and put to use the wisdom and knowledge you’ve gained from that experience. I can name probably a million things I learned from life on the vineyards, and not necessarily just about grapes. Every situation in life presents a lesson, it’s just a matter of understanding and appreciating everything each situation has to offer. I say all this because I find people tend to believe such experiences in your life are unimportant and meaningless because, “It’s just another labouring job…It’s just something to pay the bills…. It’s just getting me to my next destination” etc. To me, experiences such as these are amazing and humbling. I know it isn’t a glamorous job, the most fun, or the most interesting, but sometimes you take the most away from situations you wouldn’t expect, in the end I was very grapeful for this opportunity. A lot of hard work and dedication goes into farming and I believe that is highly overlooked and unappreciated. Anyways, that’s my brief little spiel on appreciating your situation and farmers especially.

Grape picking is an awesome opportunity for backpackers. Well, fruit picking in general is a great option for backpackers as there are so many job opportunities around the country. Also, 88 days of regional work (or farm work) are necessary to be completed if you wish to extend your stay and apply for a second year working holiday visa in Australia. The seasons vary from state to state so you can line it up with your travels and follow the season. The thing with grape picking is you’ll be looking for a company that gets contracts for different vineyards around the area, most vineyards go through  company like this for their pickers as it makes more sense because if you only approach one vineyard and inquire about picking sure they might employ you, but once you’ve picked all their grapes that’s it for the season and your employment. grapeeeee nejnrjeIt doesn’t take long to pick grapes and another reason you want to go through a third-party company is because every vineyard’s grapes are going to be ready at different times. So to ensure you’re not out of work for a week or so waiting for them to ripen enough, these companies will already have schedules with various vineyards on when they need to pick their grapes, so all you have to do is show up and pick and the work is steady. I found a company in Dunsborough, Western Australia that did this and it was a great job with a great manager. Super helpful, they even provided rain gear and stuff for us which was kind of them. The map pictured to the left shows all of the different wine regions in South Western Australia alone. We would travel between various regions day-to-day between Margret River, Geographe Bay, Manjimup,  etc. All the vineyards we worked at through the company out of Dunsborough were pretty much within a  40 minute radius of where we were. We stayed in Dunsborough during this time.

 

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Unreal West Coast sunsets in Western Australia. Yallingup, WA

The Picking Part

So a typical day would start out very early as grapes need to be picked when its cold (or as cold as Australia can be haha). So we’d get to the vineyard at about 4:30-5 AM, and oh my gosh what a drive it would be every morning! We would honestly see at least 50 kangaroos/wallabies on the way to the vineyard each morning. No matter which 17332432_1658603737779814_4769822329104498688_ndirection we would go, we were sure to see so many of these funny guys every morning, I loved it! Scary sometimes as they’d just jump right out in front of the van without warning. But honestly I hadn’t seen so many kangaroos in the whole duration of my stay in  Australia thus far (and at this point I was about 1 year into my Aussie adventure). South Western Australia is Kangaparadise!!!

So we’d get to the whichever vineyard the boss told us to meet at bright and early, and he’d give us our numbered tickets for the day. Every morning every picker is assigned to a stack of plastic tickets with a number which are used to count the amount of buckets each person picked at the end of each day.  As you go along, you just stick your ticket with your number in your full bucket to be collected.

grapeeee jnefjksSo basically, there will be empty buckets laid out throughout the vineyard for you to grab as needed. You have a partner who is on the other side of the vine to ensure no grape is left behind. (Unless it’s rotten/diseased).

grapeeee mnjerngrape hjsdfnwelkmfgrape osnfkls

You obviously want to work as fast as possible to make the most money, you almost have to look at the other pickers as competitors while working because the faster pickers are going to get all the grapes. I always just kick my bucket along and don’t even really bother looking up or further down the vine. We had a bit of a system, so my partner would go at a bit of a slower pace and make sure no grape is left behind on either side (still moving quite quickly), and I would hurry along as quick as possible grabbing the largest bunches and filling up my buckets very rapidly so others lose the opportunity to grab the largest bunches of grapes before we get to them.

You are paid by the bucket, some places might be hourly but most likely not with grape picking. So this can be good or bad depending on your work ethic. I really loved being paid by the bucket, because this meant I could smash out my picking and just go in hyper-speed for maybe like 3 hrs and that’s my day done. The only downfall being I often cut my fingertips off working so quickly and needing to cut each bunch of grapes with extremely sharp cutters. grape djjrhr16906229_233345513803151_7700144065509064704_n

I ended up taping my fingers up with electrical tape or medical tape every morning for extra safety (extra finger tips haha). Gloves would have helped but a decent pair just didn’t fit in my budget and a cheap pair would just get in my way and slow me down. (Note the stickiness/dirtiness of life as a picker…what can you expect to look like when constatntly being covered in squished grapes and dirt).

I would make the same amount of money at the end of the day if I was being paid hourly and worked an 8 hour shift, but I completed this work in 3 hrs. I found this was such a great lifestyle!!

Who wouldn’t want to be done work for the day by about 8 or 9 AM, drive straight from work to the beach and run into the ocean and wash away all the dirt, cobwebs, and stickiness that cover you after picking.

Some days the boss would ask for additional help with pulling nets off of vines (nets keep the birds from getting to the grapes), pruning vines or counting tickets at the end of the day, or even chasing birds out that have snuck their way into the nets and found themselves stuck (I’m extreamly terrified of birds so my boss never made me stay to help with this one haha) etc. These extra jobs were always paid by the hour which is a great bonus! These jobs usually go to the people who have been on the team the longest (everyone wants work so obviously priority goes to those who have been there the longest). So it does help to inquire with these companies before the season even starts. The company I worked for had other backpackers working for them for a couple of months prior to the season even starting, just in preparation, but that is something I never even realized at the time and therefore didn’t bother inquiring about work until I knew the season was about to start.

The Spiders

Everyone knows Australia is the land of poisonous snakes, spiders, and other deadly creatures. Luckily we didn’t come across too many poisonous snakes or spiders on the daily, however we would run into orb weavers every two seconds. They’re everywhere!!

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I’m honestly not even 100% sure what kind they were. People had different opinions. But this is what they looked like. One of the guys working at the vineyard said the spiders in the vines are orb weavers, others have said they are Christmas spiders. Either way, they’re huge reddish colour and FURRY.

These suckers are so big and juicy that you can see their leg hair! Oh what an adventure haha. Some days I’d just feel a little tickle and look down to find one of these guys taking a stroll up my arm. A little bit distracting when you’re trying to work as fast and efficiently as possible. The other thing is the spiders create large webs spanning from one vine to the other, and when you’re working at a very fast pace, you’re not going to be looking up every time to move further down the vine….but you will 100% walk right into their giant webs and might find a hairy friend in the process, or perhaps find it playing in your hair later on. Oh the joys! spi

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What you walk into

I would combat this problem by running down my vine waving a stick in front of me like a magic wand before I started picking each row. Or I’d send my partner down the line first but he felt foolish walking down the vine waving his arms up in the air like a wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube-man.

Finding Work

There are tons of ways to find work. A lot is just word of mouth from other backpackers you’ll meet. Asking different farms or checking job boards online. Also you can find farmers looking for workers on Gumtree, which is the Kijiji of Australia. The Backpacker Job Board can also be helpful and even job postings in backpacking groups on Facebook will be helpful! There are also tons of working hostels around Australia which is awesome because they provide cheap accommodation and also have a bunch of connections with employers around the area frequently looking for workers. Also a bonus if you’re alone as it’ll be a great communal place for you to make new friends. Honestly, the relationships you build in these experiences are so unique because there are so many days you’ll just look at each other covered in sweat and dirt, in a random field in Australia, and you just have to laugh at how random some situations can turn out and how you’re both there in that moment of time in that corner of the world. These hostels are sometimes a bit more expensive, but geared towards a longer stay and will be cheaper than renting your own place/renting a room and usually provide you with transportation to and from work as well. (Most grape picking jobs will require you to have your own transportation to get to and from each vineyard).

Check out these sites for working hostels around Australia;

Workstay

Farmwork23

I also did other forms of farm work before grape picking such as packing tomatoes, picking and packing pumpkins (squash in Canada), and picking mangoes (my favourite picking job, but short season). They are all definitely very different jobs with their own pros and cons. When you’re looking for farm work to complete your 88 days in order to apply for your second year WH visa in Australia,  keep in mind you’re going to be doing whatever task is involved for 88 days, or three months (if you switch from farm to farm). Some jobs are definitely much better than others, but I will go into a more detailed comparison of my experiences another day.

Happy Picking!!!

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I’ve Got a Pocket Full of Shells… Not Much of Anything Else

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Backpacking on a Shoestring Budget

I’m always being told how lucky I am for being able to go on these backpacking adventures and experience the world. However, I don’t see it as luck and it kind of grinds my gears when people look past all of the hard work, dedication, research, and guts it takes to go backpacking whether you’re alone or with someone else. It is scary, it is stressful, and it’s not always relaxation and fun times. But you have to realize that going into it, things always work out best for those who make the best out of the way things work out. Now in saying that, I do consider myself lucky in regards to my good health, my education, the love and support of my family, and being born in such a free country like Canada where we have these opportunities.

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People always assume I have a large savings, or some kind of secret money tree, but I don’t… backpacking is just my number one priority. I haven’t gone shopping for clothes (other than just running to Target or something for a necessity) in honestly over two years, and that’s because a full closet isn’t a top priority for me. I used to spend all my money on new clothes, and I’ve realized that they’re just things that take up space. I think most people’s savings are probably much greater than mine.  It’s the fact that every dollar in my savings is a dollar that’s going to be used on my travels. I can see a purpose for that dollar. That dollar could be used to buy a meal in some countries. It’s really important to change your outlook on even the smallest amounts of money because it all adds up! And traveling really isn’t that expensive. I’m not afraid for my bank account to say $0.00, but that is something I just don’t stress myself out about. I know jobs will always come, there’s always work. I always just have faith that things will work out, even when I’m totally out of money and having a hard time finding work, I don’t stress myself out. I see it as part of the journey, a time to re-gather and reorganize what I want/where I’m going/what I need to do etc. You gotta have faith, trust the journey!!!! Most trips I go on I end up coming home with not a whole lot, but absolutely priceless experiences, amazing new friendships, and a little bit more wisdom and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

“Traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”

Setting a Budgetplan

Setting a budget can be pretty tricky because it’s going to differ for everyone, every place, and every situation. So there are a quite a few things I keep in mind when it comes to managing my budget.

First I’ll talk about how to set a budget. It’s always going to depend on where you’re intending on traveling, obviously, as some countries are much more expensive than others. For example a budget for three weeks in Argentina is going to be greater than a budget for three weeks, probably even six weeks in Thailand.  So do your own research online (Lonely Planet is great for this) for each destination you’ll be traveling through so you have an idea of what you should set your daily budget for in each place. There are so many forums and posts online about other people’s experiences with budgeting in different countries all over the world. So get a few different opinions and average out what they’ve budgeted as some people are likely to spend more or spend less than you will. When you’re reading other people’s advice on budgeting, take into consideration what kind of backpacker they are. Some people will do whatever is possible to just scrape by, others don’t mind spending a little extra here and there for little luxuries.

So that is the first step, research online, even just by literally googling, “budgeting tips for 3 weeks in Thailand” for example. Read a few and average them out for your own needs.  If you’re going to be crossing through multiple counties, you may find that even if they’re close to each other some are still much more expensive than others. So make sure you prepare yourself for increases in your daily budget when you’re on the move.  What you’re really looking for in this research is average prices to base your trip on. So look for articles that talk specifically about cost of food daily, cost of groceries, cost of transportation, cost of accommodation, cost of entertainment/activities etc.

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What I do to simplify budgeting for myself is to think about it day-to-day. So I know I need a coffee in the morning, I consider that in my budget. Next I know I’ll need breakfast, so I’ll google average costs of meals out. It’s honestly going to be much much cheaper to buy all your own groceries and make your own food rather than eating out, but you might prefer the convenience of eating out. So give yourself an idea of a daily budget on either option. Try to break it down to what your daily expenses are.  See table as an example;

keep calmHostels with kitchens are YOUR BEST FRIEND. People always leave behind food that they don’t want to bring along with them, maybe they’re heading home or perhaps it’s just too much to fit in their backpack. But there is always free food in hostel kitchens… I’ve found half a cake one time that was only a couple of days old. What a win when cake and other luxuries don’t make their way into your budget!! Take advantage of this but never take other people’s food without their consent. I have made full meals out of other people’s left overs.  Sometimes you have to be creative. Again this comes into what kind of backpacker you are. I’m a sharer and I’m comfortable with scrounging.  I always just give myself a rough idea, and will usually give myself some room in my budget for mishaps or a well deserved beer.

General Staying-Within-Budget Tips

Use local transportation!!! Seriously you will save so much money. It can be a little bit more challenging if you’re in a country where they speak a different language. But try your best to learn the language, even just basics, because you might not run into as many English-speaking people or bus drivers on local transportation. The price differences between local transportation and more touristy transportation will shock you! Plus it’s an added adventure and a taste at how the locals live; which I think is just a better way to experience a county. Chicken-Bus-by-David-Dennis

Funny story about this actually, when my friend and I took a night bus to Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador and seriously almost got off the bus multiple times through the night in the pitch black because the driver would stop and yell, “Baños!” Neither of our Spanish was very good at this point and we didn’t realize, “Baños”, also means washroom.

Make your own food!! Don’t get me wrong, I love to go out every now and then and treat myself and I love food!! But I try to always make my own with leftover food found in hostel kitchens, or buying groceries for the week or so cooking(depending on if I’m staying in one hostel or moving around). You’ll save a ton of money doing it this way and likely to eat healthier. Buying the cheapest options available and avoiding name brands will help you as well (most countries will have a “no name” option).  It’s fun to use local ingredients, trying fruits and veg that you’ve never seen before, learn some new local recipes and expand your taste bud horizons! Also, a lot of countries will have super cheap fruit and veg markets which are absolutely amazing! All the fruit and veg you could imagine. Peru was amazing for fresh local markets. (I have been lucky in the past and have met a few chefs on my travels from different countries that have taught me a lot about cooking different cuisines.)

  • Use Hostel World to determine average costs of hostels per night in each place you’ll be staying
  • Save on accommodation and take advantage of night buses/night trains/night flights!
  • Use Couch Surfing when you can. A great option for FREE accommodation, just remember to always always be respectful of your host and their home, and also it’s a nice gesture to offer to cook a meal for your host. That is general couch surfing etiquette.
  • Hitchhike when you can! People are always traveling and a lot of times will have an extra seat. Make sure you’re in a safe location, trust your gut; if it doesn’t feelhitttttright to get in someones vehicle,  obviously don’t. But do trust that there are good people out there, you never know who you’ll meet and the stories you’ll hear! I’ve honestly hitch hiked in a few different countries, people are generally good and want to help you.
  • If you’re not so keen to hitchhike but want more affordable transportation check out ride share groups on Facebook, people are always posting in backpacking groups around the world regarding ride shares etc. Simply type, “Ride share (your destination)” into Facebook or even google, you could stumble upon some pretty convenient ride shares.

Finding Cheap Flights

This is usually going to be your biggest expense, but there are some tricks! First and foremost, don’t even bother going to a travel agent! They are there to find you the most convenient option for you, not necessarily the best price. Travel agents often wont bother searching for cheaper prices, different date combinations, etc. So find your own flight, it’s so easy, and I will include links below to some of the best sites for finding great flight deals. I even go so far as to search my flight and then do an additional search after that one to find cheaper prices by splitting up the flight (once you know where possible connections will be).  If you do it that way, you can also give yourself more time to explore the city the connection is in! So its like a bonus trip! (But keep that in mind in your budget!!).

Another trick I’ve heard about is to book your flight on a Friday the 13th as a lot of prices drop, and Tuesdays are also usually the cheapest departure date. So if you’re flexible, look for a Tuesday! Another thing a travel agent probably wouldn’t do.  I’m not trying to bash travel agents, but for backpackers they’re not ideal. You could always go in and talk to someone to hear their opinion, but always do your own research!

fly.pngPeople are always so shocked to hear how little money I’ve spent on long backpacking trips, round the world flights, etc. That is why I am writing this, so people know and realize that it is possible of afford travel even when you just make minimum wage!! It’s not expensive.  I take a lot of time in researching flight deals, different date combinations, different departure/arrival cities, etc. Whatever you can adjust is worth a look just to see what your options are.

For example, flying into major airports is convenient, but if you split up your flight and make it so you fly internationally into a not so major city then book a domestic flight, you could save hundreds! Again this falls into how flexible you are as it will require more time. I booked a flight from Toronto, Canada -> Lima, Peru -> Sydney, Australia for $1400 after tax. Meanwhile in my initial searches for just Toronto -> Sydney I was looking at $1400 after tax, one way.

So definitely take your time in searching and booking flights! On the way back from Australia I did something similar and figured out one possible connection would be in Japan, so I then booked the flights separately to give myself a trip to Japan included in my journey back to Toronto. So from Brisbane -> Toronto I was originally looking at roughly $1300, one way. Then after splitting up the flight, and including a trip to Japan, I ended up paying $1250 after tax.

Here are some helpful links to great sites for flight deals!

skyscanner.ca

flighthub.com

kayak.com

 

So once you have an idea on a daily budget multiply that by the number of days you’ll be there, and viola, there’s the budget for your trip! Remember to then include your airfare if you haven’t purchased your flights yet.

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Tips and Advice for a Smooth Solo Backpacking Journey

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Tips in Planning

  • Always do your research on the country you’ll be visiting! Familiarize yourself as much as possible with the language, culture, customs, traditions, history, religion etc. beforehand so you’ll be prepared and avoid coming across as disrespectful and/or ignorant
  • This research will also allow you to get a better understanding of the various places you’d like to visit, trips and tours you’d like to go on, and secret gems to check out on your travels!travel
  • Allow for that to be the stem of your planning and then map out the different locations you know you want to see so you have a guideline of an itinerary for your trip and wont end up disappointing yourself by missing something you really wanted to experience
  • Try to figure out a rough idea of how long you’d like to stay in each place, (some tours you may want to go on may require more than one day), and also whether or not there is accommodation available

*I say rough idea because a lot of the time if your schedule is flexible it’s best to avoid booking too many things and rather go with the flow because you never know when you might love one place or hate another or meet people you really want to travel with…so allow for some flexibility and just have a plan as a guideline/bucket list

  • A lot of the time hostels in the city will help you with finding and booking tours out of the city that include transportation, so don’t stress yourself out too much if a certain tour or location seems difficult to reach. Research your hostels on Hostel World so you’re aware of what they have to offer especially in terms of tours, trips, and help desk information. (Most hostels will have a tour desk with tons of local information) hostelworld.comtour__information_desk

Going with a local tour company that you find through your hostel or through your own research will more than likely be a lot cheaper than it would be to pre-book the same tour with another company beforehand from overseas or from a non-local company.couch

Hostels and Couchsurfing are your best bet for affordable accommodation and will also allow you to meet tons of new people, many of whom will also be solo travelers. Check out what others have had to say on the reviews of a hostel to ensure it’s a place you’d like to stay you can also check out the photos to give yourself a better idea of a hostels vibe.  couchsurfing.com

Free Camps are another good and obviously affordable option, you can find free camps all over the world using apps like Wiki Camps (its about $8 but definetely worth it!) and Wicked Campers (has a lot of the same things as Wiki Camps, not quite everything, but still very useful as a FREE alternative to Wiki Camps). A great option if you have your own transportation whether it be van/car/bike/roller blades/pogo/legs/hover board etc.

It is not always necessary to pre-book your hostels! Depending on how “legendary” the hostel is and depending on if it is the high or low season, you will want to plan accordingly. Many hostels you can just show up to and they will accommodate you. You can get a better idea of whether or not you should book in advance by checking out the hostels on Hostel World by rating or availability. Be advised some places require a booking in advance.

Most hostels will offer dormitory style rooms which will be the most affordable in price. I find this is usually the best choice for meeting others anyways because you’re sharing a living space rather than having a private room. However, if you do want more privacy most hostels will have private room options with en-suite bathrooms available, check online with the hostel if this is something you require. I have always personally felt a bit of “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) when staying in a private room alone. (Did it once and never again).

Tips for Safety and Security

  • Travel-Advisory-300x246Make sure to do your research on the countries you will be visiting. I always just check up on security warnings, possible severe weather concerns, and other travel advisories there might be. The Government of Canada website has a travel advisory page with a lot of helpful information:  travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories
  • After reading up on a country, I make sure to take extra measures depending on their security/crime rate such as;
    • Placing “mug”  (decoy) money in my pocket (not a whole lot) just in case someone mugs me I can quickly access that money and not have to stress after losing itmugging
    • Try to avoid looking lost, even if you are, also try to avoid looking naive. It is best to act as if you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing. (Walk confidentaly, avoiding carrying maps/anything that makes you stick out as a tourist, avoid wearing new/clean/fancy shoes and clothing in poorer areas, avoid fancy jewelley, avoid using your phone and other electronics in public, and obviously don’t be flashing your money around etc.)
    • Placing other money in my bra to have in the case that everything else is taken
    • If you’re a male, placing extra money in your shoe or another hidden spot
    • Some people even go as far as carrying a gag phone on them (an old phone/cheap phone/broken phone) to give to a mugger who is persistent in having your phone
    • Always listen to the mugger, if they want your phone give them your phone, if they want your wallet give them your wallet, don’t be tough and don’t fight with them, that will likely never work in your favour.

I was travelling with this larger-build-burly type man from Australia while I was in South Africa and he was actually living in South Africa and working as a local tour guide. So you would think this man is used to dealing with mugging situations, and is aware of how to handle them, however one night a mugger was very persistent on getting this mans necklace, the man stubbornly refused and the other guy ripped it off his neck. This followed in a chase, and eventually when the Aussie man rounded a corner the mugger was then standing there with a gun. So moral of the story, listen to the mugger/thief don’t dig yourself in deeper trying to be tough. It is not worth it.

Yes, unfortunately, these situations do arise. I’ve been lucky *knock on wood* so far to have not been mugged in all of my travels. But that is not to say I haven’t been travelling with other people who’ve been mugged in the same place, different time. Countless times at our hostel in Cape Town people would come back at night after getting mugged just around the corner from the hostel or out around the bars and streets at night.  In the end, it is always wise to be wise!!

mec

Keep your passport safe!!! I keep mine in a VERY useful document holder so I can keep it protected and organized along with other travel documents and important information (insurance, copies of ID/passport, health information). I bought mine from MEC a few years ago, they still sell them but different designs. Here’s a link to the travel wallets from MEC: www.mec.ca/Transworld-Travel-Wallet

  • Always keep a lock on/in your backpack (combination style is best so you wont lose any keys) so you can securely lock things away in a locker if necessary such as cameras, laptops, phones, passport etc. so you can have peace of mind when you’re away from them. Not every hostel will offer locking doors, so make sure you give yourself this option. Some hostels wont even have lockers available so be prepared for this. In these situations I would usually just take my importants (camera, phone, passport) in my day pack and leave my large backpack behind in the room

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  • If you feel unsafe walking around the streets with your backpack because of pick pocketers or thieves, simply put locks on the zippers you do not need constant access to. I usually don’t go as far as putting any locks on my bag, but I do keep it zip tied sometimes when I’m walking around because a pick pocketer is less likely to try to cut your tight zip ties especially in a busy place it will draw attention to them as it will take some effort. Another advantage of using zip ties vs locks is the fact that zip ties can easily lock buckles (some backpacks don’t have any zippers)
  • Zip ties are also very handy for quick fix repairs on broken buckles on your backpack, closing broken zippers, securing things to your backpack etc.
  • I usually hang a carabiner from my backpack as well so I can attach things to the outside of my backpack such as my water bottle and/or shoes I’m not wearing to save space in my backpack

Tips in Packing

  • I like to ensure my backpack is organized so I am not leaving myself to become frustrated when looking for something
  • I always sort my clothes into a couple different categories, usually something along meshthe lines of;  Shorts/pants, shirts, PJ’s/comfy clothes, socks/undies/bikinis, and I put each category of clothing in its own mesh bag (you can use a pillow case if you don’t want to purchase mesh bags…added plus: you’ll then have extra pillow cases to use if sharing pillow cases grosses you out). The mesh bags will keep everything categorized so you don’t have to pull everything out every time
  • I always keep a little flash light “bug lit” clipped into one of my smaller main pockets in my day pack for situations when you have to go through your backpack in the dark (at night on a bus, in your dorm, on a hike etc …it happens A LOT). That way you arent fumbling through your backpack creating a mess or disrupting others by turning main lights on. Also very handy for reading in your bunk, reading at night in general, camping and when your phone is dead. You can find these little flash lights from any camping store, I got mine from MEC : mec.ca/BugLit-Flashlight

I always try to keep a change of clothes in my carry on so that after I check my larger backpack I still have the option to change if need be. Also keep in mind what the weather might be when you’re arriving because you’ll likely not want to dig through your larger backpack in the airport. It’s important to keep extra clothes in your carry on just in case your luggage is lost you will still have some clothing options. I also keep most of my toiletries (other than liquids over 3oz) in my carry on so I have access to them on the flight and in the airport to freshen up. I also keep warm socks in my carry on as planes get very cold as well as other things to occupy my time in flight and important/delicate objects I don’t want to check (camera/laptop/souvenirs).

Picking a Backpack

There’s a few different things you’ll want to consider when picking out a backpack. First is the volume it holds. I personally usually go with my 50L Terra North Face backpack on the majority of my trips. I find it is the perfect size for me, I have a slight problem with over-packing so this size of backpack allows for just enough wiggle room for extras while also being practical in size. One of the most important rules of backpacking is DO NOT OVER-PACK, you will regret it. Depending also on how long you plan on travelling, what activities you might want to involve in your trip, location, etc. you will be looking at different backpacks.

terra

*Keep in mind laundry services are usually available in most places for a very reasonable price so don’t go packing an entire months worth of clothes, for example. Also, get two birds stoned at once by saving space in your pack and purchasing a cool sweater per say in a different country and then have it also count as a cool souvenir. Win win!

One of the most important things I look for in a pack is how it opens. If your pack only opens from the top you’re probably going to become frustrated looking for anything at the bottom without having to take everything out. Some packs will open from the top and bottom which is more useful but also having a zipper at the bottom can weaken your pack. So you want to consider the weight of the contents, any equipment you will be taking along, and durability and ruggedness. Many packs will open from the side which is very useful, and they even make some backpacks now that open suitcase-style so you can have it totally opened up to see its contents. Suit-case style openings and side opening are going to be better for someone who is going from hostel to hostel. Top opening packs are going to be better for hikers and adventurers as you wont have all of your gear falling out if you open the pack from the side.

day pack

If you know you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking you’ll want the most lightweight backpack you can find, nothing too big, but also large enough to hold all of your equipment. You’ll also want a water-resistant pack or a backpack that includes a rain cover to protect everything inside of your pack. Rain covers can also be purchased separately if the backpack you have is not water-resistant. Make sure to ask for assistance when trying on and picking out backpacks. Have the sales rep show you how to properly size your back to ensure you’re getting the right size for your back. (Most backpacks come in Large and Standard sizing this relates to your size and back, not the volume the backpack holds). Also, have the sales rep fill the backpack with some weight (tents/gear) so you can get an idea of what the pack feels like when it is filled and adjust all the straps to comfort.

MEC has a useful informative page on choosing backpacks located on their website : mec.ca/explore/choose-and-fit-a-backpack

Useful Apps to Download

Text translation: Translate between 103 languages by typing

Offline: Translate with no internet connection (59 languages)
Instant camera translation: Translate text in images instantly by just pointing your camera (38 languages)
Photos: Take or import photos for higher quality translations (37 languages)
Conversations: Translate bilingual conversations on the fly (32 languages)

Duolingo is a freemium language-learning platform that includes a language-learning website and app, as well as a digital language proficiency assessment exam.

WikiCamps is the ultimate camping companion, whether you’re heading away for a weekend camping trip or planning a big adventure, WikiCamps will be your guide.
The best part is, it works completely OFFLINE so you don’t have to worry about phone signal or a WiFi connection.
Simply download all the content (and map) to your device before you go and you’ll have it in the palm of your hand, no matter where you are!

Spend more time exploring Australia/New Zealand and less time stressing with the new WICKED CAMPERS App.
The app uses GPS to show your location on a map, then has a huge database locations such as toilets, hostels, free wifi, petrol stations, supermarkets-the list goes on.
Got the munchies and need to find the nearest supermarket? Need to find the nearest wifi so you can update ya FB status? Find a campground? The Wicked Campers App is gonna help you out! The app even displays real-time road alerts, so if you’re planning a roady you can make sure the roads are open.

All the world’s currencies at your fingertips! This free edition of the XE Currency Converter App not only provides live exchange rates and charts, you can also set an XE Rate Alert to monitor your favorite currencies for immediate notification.

With WhatsApp, you’ll get fast, simple, secure messaging and calling for free*, available on phones all over the world.

You have friends around the world, you just haven’t met them yet.
Couchsurfing is the best way to stay with amazing locals, make lifelong travel friends, or host travelers coming to your hometown. Over 12 million travel enthusiasts use Couchsurfing in more than 230,000 cities around the world.
Use the Couchsurfing app to plan and manage your trip itinerary, and take it with you.

Thanks for reading!! I really hope you’ve found at least something useful in these tips and will use some of this advice in the future to ensure a smoother journey on your backpacking adventures!

Cheers everyone!

❁Megg❁✌️

adios

 

Tips and Advice for a Smooth Solo Backpacking Journey

cultures

Tips in Planning

  • Always do your research on the country you’ll be visiting! Familiarize yourself as much as possible with the language, culture, customs, traditions, history, religion etc. beforehand so you’ll be prepared and avoid coming across as disrespectful and/or ignorant
  • This research will also allow you to get a better understanding of the various places you’d like to visit, trips and tours you’d like to go on, and secret gems to check out on your travels!travel
  • Allow for that to be the stem of your planning and then map out the different locations you know you want to see so you have a guideline of an itinerary for your trip and wont end up disappointing yourself by missing something you really wanted to experience
  • Try to figure out a rough idea of how long you’d like to stay in each place, (some tours you may want to go on may require more than one day), and also whether or not there is accommodation available

*I say rough idea because a lot of the time if your schedule is flexible it’s best to avoid booking too many things and rather go with the flow because you never know when you might love one place or hate another or meet people you really want to travel with…so allow for some flexibility and just have a plan as a guideline/bucket list

  • A lot of the time hostels in the city will help you with finding and booking tours out of the city that include transportation, so don’t stress yourself out too much if a certain tour or location seems difficult to reach. Research your hostels on Hostel World so you’re aware of what they have to offer especially in terms of tours, trips, and help desk information. (Most hostels will have a tour desk with tons of local information) hostelworld.comtour__information_desk

Going with a local tour company that you find through your hostel or through your own research will more than likely be a lot cheaper than it would be to pre-book the same tour with another company beforehand from overseas or from a non-local company.couch

Hostels and Couchsurfing are your best bet for affordable accommodation and will also allow you to meet tons of new people, many of whom will also be solo travelers. Check out what others have had to say on the reviews of a hostel to ensure it’s a place you’d like to stay you can also check out the photos to give yourself a better idea of a hostels vibe.  couchsurfing.com

Free Camps are another good and obviously affordable option, you can find free camps all over the world using apps like Wiki Camps (its about $8 but definetely worth it!) and Wicked Campers (has a lot of the same things as Wiki Camps, not quite everything, but still very useful as a FREE alternative to Wiki Camps). A great option if you have your own transportation whether it be van/car/bike/roller blades/pogo/legs/hover board etc.

It is not always necessary to pre-book your hostels! Depending on how “legendary” the hostel is and depending on if it is the high or low season, you will want to plan accordingly. Many hostels you can just show up to and they will accommodate you. You can get a better idea of whether or not you should book in advance by checking out the hostels on Hostel World by rating or availability. Be advised some places require a booking in advance.

Most hostels will offer dormitory style rooms which will be the most affordable in price. I find this is usually the best choice for meeting others anyways because you’re sharing a living space rather than having a private room. However, if you do want more privacy most hostels will have private room options with en-suite bathrooms available, check online with the hostel if this is something you require. I have always personally felt a bit of “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) when staying in a private room alone. (Did it once and never again).

Tips for Safety and Security

  • Travel-Advisory-300x246Make sure to do your research on the countries you will be visiting. I always just check up on security warnings, possible severe weather concerns, and other travel advisories there might be. The Government of Canada website has a travel advisory page with a lot of helpful information:  travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories
  • After reading up on a country, I make sure to take extra measures depending on their security/crime rate such as;
    • Placing “mug”  (decoy) money in my pocket (not a whole lot) just in case someone mugs me I can quickly access that money and not have to stress after losing itmugging
    • Try to avoid looking lost, even if you are, also try to avoid looking naive. It is best to act as if you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing. (Walk confidentaly, avoiding carrying maps/anything that makes you stick out as a tourist, avoid wearing new/clean/fancy shoes and clothing in poorer areas, avoid fancy jewelley, avoid using your phone and other electronics in public, and obviously don’t be flashing your money around etc.)
    • Placing other money in my bra to have in the case that everything else is taken
    • If you’re a male, placing extra money in your shoe or another hidden spot
    • Some people even go as far as carrying a gag phone on them (an old phone/cheap phone/broken phone) to give to a mugger who is persistent in having your phone
    • Always listen to the mugger, if they want your phone give them your phone, if they want your wallet give them your wallet, don’t be tough and don’t fight with them, that will likely never work in your favour.

I was travelling with this larger-build-burly type man from Australia while I was in South Africa and he was actually living in South Africa and working as a local tour guide. So you would think this man is used to dealing with mugging situations, and is aware of how to handle them, however one night a mugger was very persistent on getting this mans necklace, the man stubbornly refused and the other guy ripped it off his neck. This followed in a chase, and eventually when the Aussie man rounded a corner the mugger was then standing there with a gun. So moral of the story, listen to the mugger/thief don’t dig yourself in deeper trying to be tough. It is not worth it.

Yes, unfortunately, these situations do arise. I’ve been lucky *knock on wood* so far to have not been mugged in all of my travels. But that is not to say I haven’t been travelling with other people who’ve been mugged in the same place, different time. Countless times at our hostel in Cape Town people would come back at night after getting mugged just around the corner from the hostel or out around the bars and streets at night.  In the end, it is always wise to be wise!!

mec

Keep your passport safe!!! I keep mine in a VERY useful document holder so I can keep it protected and organized along with other travel documents and important information (insurance, copies of ID/passport, health information). I bought mine from MEC a few years ago, they still sell them but different designs. Here’s a link to the travel wallets from MEC: www.mec.ca/Transworld-Travel-Wallet

  • Always keep a lock on/in your backpack (combination style is best so you wont lose any keys) so you can securely lock things away in a locker if necessary such as cameras, laptops, phones, passport etc. so you can have peace of mind when you’re away from them. Not every hostel will offer locking doors, so make sure you give yourself this option. Some hostels wont even have lockers available so be prepared for this. In these situations I would usually just take my importants (camera, phone, passport) in my day pack and leave my large backpack behind in the room

zip

  • If you feel unsafe walking around the streets with your backpack because of pick pocketers or thieves, simply put locks on the zippers you do not need constant access to. I usually don’t go as far as putting any locks on my bag, but I do keep it zip tied sometimes when I’m walking around because a pick pocketer is less likely to try to cut your tight zip ties especially in a busy place it will draw attention to them as it will take some effort. Another advantage of using zip ties vs locks is the fact that zip ties can easily lock buckles (some backpacks don’t have any zippers)
  • Zip ties are also very handy for quick fix repairs on broken buckles on your backpack, closing broken zippers, securing things to your backpack etc.
  • I usually hang a carabiner from my backpack as well so I can attach things to the outside of my backpack such as my water bottle and/or shoes I’m not wearing to save space in my backpack

Tips in Packing

  • I like to ensure my backpack is organized so I am not leaving myself to become frustrated when looking for something
  • I always sort my clothes into a couple different categories, usually something along meshthe lines of;  Shorts/pants, shirts, PJ’s/comfy clothes, socks/undies/bikinis, and I put each category of clothing in its own mesh bag (you can use a pillow case if you don’t want to purchase mesh bags…added plus: you’ll then have extra pillow cases to use if sharing pillow cases grosses you out). The mesh bags will keep everything categorized so you don’t have to pull everything out every time
  • I always keep a little flash light “bug lit” clipped into one of my smaller main pockets in my day pack for situations when you have to go through your backpack in the dark (at night on a bus, in your dorm, on a hike etc …it happens A LOT). That way you arent fumbling through your backpack creating a mess or disrupting others by turning main lights on. Also very handy for reading in your bunk, reading at night in general, camping and when your phone is dead. You can find these little flash lights from any camping store, I got mine from MEC : mec.ca/BugLit-Flashlight

I always try to keep a change of clothes in my carry on so that after I check my larger backpack I still have the option to change if need be. Also keep in mind what the weather might be when you’re arriving because you’ll likely not want to dig through your larger backpack in the airport. It’s important to keep extra clothes in your carry on just in case your luggage is lost you will still have some clothing options. I also keep most of my toiletries (other than liquids over 3oz) in my carry on so I have access to them on the flight and in the airport to freshen up. I also keep warm socks in my carry on as planes get very cold as well as other things to occupy my time in flight and important/delicate objects I don’t want to check (camera/laptop/souvenirs).

Picking a Backpack

There’s a few different things you’ll want to consider when picking out a backpack. First is the volume it holds. I personally usually go with my 50L Terra North Face backpack on the majority of my trips. I find it is the perfect size for me, I have a slight problem with over-packing so this size of backpack allows for just enough wiggle room for extras while also being practical in size. One of the most important rules of backpacking is DO NOT OVER-PACK, you will regret it. Depending also on how long you plan on travelling, what activities you might want to involve in your trip, location, etc. you will be looking at different backpacks.

terra

*Keep in mind laundry services are usually available in most places for a very reasonable price so don’t go packing an entire months worth of clothes, for example. Also, get two birds stoned at once by saving space in your pack and purchasing a cool sweater per say in a different country and then have it also count as a cool souvenir. Win win!

One of the most important things I look for in a pack is how it opens. If your pack only opens from the top you’re probably going to become frustrated looking for anything at the bottom without having to take everything out. Some packs will open from the top and bottom which is more useful but also having a zipper at the bottom can weaken your pack. So you want to consider the weight of the contents, any equipment you will be taking along, and durability and ruggedness. Many packs will open from the side which is very useful, and they even make some backpacks now that open suitcase-style so you can have it totally opened up to see its contents. Suit-case style openings and side opening are going to be better for someone who is going from hostel to hostel. Top opening packs are going to be better for hikers and adventurers as you wont have all of your gear falling out if you open the pack from the side.

day pack

If you know you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking you’ll want the most lightweight backpack you can find, nothing too big, but also large enough to hold all of your equipment. You’ll also want a water-resistant pack or a backpack that includes a rain cover to protect everything inside of your pack. Rain covers can also be purchased separately if the backpack you have is not water-resistant. Make sure to ask for assistance when trying on and picking out backpacks. Have the sales rep show you how to properly size your back to ensure you’re getting the right size for your back. (Most backpacks come in Large and Standard sizing this relates to your size and back, not the volume the backpack holds). Also, have the sales rep fill the backpack with some weight (tents/gear) so you can get an idea of what the pack feels like when it is filled and adjust all the straps to comfort.

MEC has a useful informative page on choosing backpacks located on their website : mec.ca/explore/choose-and-fit-a-backpack

Useful Apps to Download

Text translation: Translate between 103 languages by typing

Offline: Translate with no internet connection (59 languages)
Instant camera translation: Translate text in images instantly by just pointing your camera (38 languages)
Photos: Take or import photos for higher quality translations (37 languages)
Conversations: Translate bilingual conversations on the fly (32 languages)

Duolingo is a freemium language-learning platform that includes a language-learning website and app, as well as a digital language proficiency assessment exam.

WikiCamps is the ultimate camping companion, whether you’re heading away for a weekend camping trip or planning a big adventure, WikiCamps will be your guide.
The best part is, it works completely OFFLINE so you don’t have to worry about phone signal or a WiFi connection.
Simply download all the content (and map) to your device before you go and you’ll have it in the palm of your hand, no matter where you are!

Spend more time exploring Australia/New Zealand and less time stressing with the new WICKED CAMPERS App.
The app uses GPS to show your location on a map, then has a huge database locations such as toilets, hostels, free wifi, petrol stations, supermarkets-the list goes on.
Got the munchies and need to find the nearest supermarket? Need to find the nearest wifi so you can update ya FB status? Find a campground? The Wicked Campers App is gonna help you out! The app even displays real-time road alerts, so if you’re planning a roady you can make sure the roads are open.

All the world’s currencies at your fingertips! This free edition of the XE Currency Converter App not only provides live exchange rates and charts, you can also set an XE Rate Alert to monitor your favorite currencies for immediate notification.

With WhatsApp, you’ll get fast, simple, secure messaging and calling for free*, available on phones all over the world.

You have friends around the world, you just haven’t met them yet.
Couchsurfing is the best way to stay with amazing locals, make lifelong travel friends, or host travelers coming to your hometown. Over 12 million travel enthusiasts use Couchsurfing in more than 230,000 cities around the world.
Use the Couchsurfing app to plan and manage your trip itinerary, and take it with you.

Thanks for reading!! I really hope you’ve found at least something useful in these tips and will use some of this advice in the future to ensure a smoother journey on your backpacking adventures!

Cheers everyone!

❁Megg❁✌️

adios

 

Landing in Guayaquil, Ecuador at 1am


We landed in Guayaquil at around 1am without having made any plans once we got there…must have slipped our minds. Exhausted, we decided to hop in a cab and ask the driver to take us to any nearby hostel. We really hadn’t given this part much thought prior, and unfortunately didn’t speak any spanish which made things rather difficult since the driver couldn’t speak English. Guayaquil does not have the best reputation to be so unsure at 1am without being able to properly communicate with people.

The driver ended up bringing us to a “hotel”, where we got out of the cab and he said something in spanish to a man inside. The man inside then came out and we gave him $40USD before he let us into a building which was definitley unlike any other hostel or hotel I’ve ever seen. It just seemed more like a dark concrete building where we walked down a couple hallways and he showed us to a room which had two beds (…and the doorknob fell off our door). We figured it was good enough ( not for what we paid), but having not planned this part and being tuckered out after landing at 1am in a foreign country and feeling a little buzzed from the airplane beers.

image
The view from our window

We woke up early the next morning and went to “check out”, and there was a different man outside this time. This man could speak english and looked puzzled when he asked us if we were staying there last night. Oh great, we figured we’d have to repay because there was no confirmation of us doing so last night, or this is just this guys house. Nope, he just smiled and shrugged and got back to what he was doing.

image
A little plane fiesta!

Needless to say, it was a decently successful arrival.

My First Day in Venice Beach… “If you have a couch, then you have a friend”

So after my interesting arrival, I woke up in the top bunk in my 4 bed girls dorm. Our window was facing the ocean and directly below our window was a surf shop surrounded by surfers just hanging around with their boards, not a bad sight either. I went down stairs and got breakfast in the restaurant/bar below the hostel. After breakfast I decided to grab my longboard and explore Venice.

I started out skating towards the skatepark. The sound of skateboard decks and trucks grinding against steel, and rickity wheels smashing down against the cement has always been melodic to me, so heading towards the skatepark was just natural. I sat there watching the guys (and girls) drop down into the bowls. Surrounded by palm trees and sand, with the ocean and mountains in the background, this was the most beautiful skatepark I had ever seen. So incredibly smooth and some of the edges of the cement resembled flowing waves like the ones the sea carried to shore in the distance. It was easy to just sit back and take in this Californian Dogtown culture.vb

I was taking pictures with my DSLR, when a shaggy surfer looking man, in his late 40’s early 50’s, playing guitar randomly asked me to take his picture. So I took his picture, then asked him if I could take a video of him playing and singing the song he was singing. He told me he made the song up, but he was more that happy for me to video tape him playing it. The lyrics went,

 “I’ve been on a couch tour time and time again, If you have a couch than you have a friend”.

   He sang another one for me and the lyrics went,

“I was born in water please don’t ever dump in it, I like to surf in it. I was born in water please don’t ever sh*t in it, I like to swim in it”.

      So after taking videos and pictures with him at the skatepark, he asked me if I wanted to go to his friends house to see his art. I was feeling pretty trusting that day, so I decided to go with him. While walking to his friends place, we were talking about all sorts of things, he also told me his name’s Tonan. I quickly found out he was homeless and a meth addict…then I started rethinking my decision to go to his friends place alone with him. I wasn’t scared though, I kept in mind that people are generally good and to just trust my gut. We walked through narrow alleyways and balanced along the edge of brick ledges against walls between buildings. We finally arrived at his friends house, and this guy was probably in his late 50’s, very well off.

vbb

     I believe he was in real estate, but Tonan told me this man is part of the Illuminati and that he is ridiculously smart. He told me that the cement tiles in his backyard were cut and in scripted in special code…. I just figured it was the meth addiction talking.

vbbbbbn

    Tonan showed me his art, he paints palm leaves like waves and finds little toys (trolls, barbies, GI Joe’s..etc), and glues them down into the wave creating a pretty cool scene. He then attaches the palm leave to a fishing line and hangs it from the ceiling. I told him he should sell them to surf shops, I thought they were pretty wicked pieces of art, especially considering he’s homeless he could make some money off his hobby. He told me he doesn’t care about money, “you can have time or you can have money”, is how he worded it.

  vbbbvbbbb

  We sat in this rich man’s backyard, drinking Budweiser mixed with Caesars, talking about the Illuminati and different issues in California. Tonan told me about the planes that fly above the state spraying chemicals to control the weather, mostly precipitation I think. I have heard rumours like this one before but I’ve never heard real facts about it so its all hear say.

vbbbbb

   Tonan then asked his rich friend if he can borrow twenty dollars to take me out for lunch. I told him no but he wouldnt listen, so he brought me to this Mexican place and we each had an enchilada. He then took me on a “local” tour of Venice. Everyone knew Tonan everywhere we went, which was pretty cool. We went into this one marijuana dispensary and the guys working in the shop warmly welcomed Tonan. All Tonan said to them was, “Hey guys I need a bandaid!”, and he went into this room I wasn’t allowed to go into. He came out with a couple joints and a couple brownies, then we were on our way again.

    We took a “break” to sit down and relax in this one park. While relaxing, Tonan mentioned that a lot of homeless people hang themselves in the tree we were sitting under. Not the most pleasant thought.. But we climbed the tree a little bit. Then decided to go boarding along the Venice canals.

    He then brought me to a spray paint and glass blowing shop where we watched one of his friends blow a beautiful glass pipe and adding in different colours to the glass. These guys gave me a handful of Venice stickers.

    We started heading back to the skatepark, but Tonan wanted to bring me on to a rooftop of this building in Venice. So we went up and had an amazing view of Venice, the boardwalk, and the ocean.. it was pretty amazing. We finally made it back to the skatepark when a  nother local skater came up to Tonan and I and asked Tonan who his friend was (me). This guy’s name was Sky, and he was just a year older than me.  Sky, Tonan, and I decided to go listen to the band playing in the bar below my hostel and have a couple beers. A couple turned into several, next thing I know Sky and I are standing outside the bar and Tonan was sitting in a large rowboat with wheels being pushed up and down the road by a couple other skater guys…so random, but a perfect ending to my first day in Venice Beach.

    vbbbbbbf

First Day Solo in California….LA Bus Problems

Venice Beach has been my dream destination since I got my first long board. Finally I made that dream a reality, and traveled alone in a different country for my first time. I started out with three of my cousins, going on a road-trip from LA to San Fran. We camped at different spots all along our coastal drive, which was truly amazing especially for an ocean lover like myself. I said goodbye to my cousins in San Fran, as they were heading back to Canada, and I hopped on a train with my backpack and long board en-route back to LA to stay in Venice.

Of course I didn’t plan very well and I ended up getting into LA after midnight, and being dropped off by a bus right downtown. I knew downtown LA wasn’t close to Venice so I walked to the nearest city bus stop and waited for a bus heading towards Venice. While waiting at this bus stop, there were only two other people there. One was a homeless woman leaning against a streetlight with a downcast face and arms crossed. While we were all standing there waiting for the bus, a pickup truck drives towards us, looking like he was just going to drive by but he was very close to the curb. As he passed the bus stop, the guy in the passenger’s side of the truck opened the door, while the truck was moving, and smashed the homeless woman into the pole with the back of the door. I have never witnessed such harsh actions in my life. The woman began yelling some sort of gibberish at the men in the truck as they drove off. She was not hurt, but wow was I in shock.

The other person at the bus stop was a man, clearly tweaking out on some sort of drug, running into the middle of the road and pretending to fire a fake gun at me and the homeless woman. He would run into the street, turn around and pretend to aim at us shouting gibberish, then stumble back onto the sidewalk. He repeated this about three times. Then a group of rats came scurrying out of no where it seemed, and that’s when I decided I’ve had enough of that bus stop and to hop on my long board and find a bus stop with a different vibe.

I lucked out at the next bus stop I found. I met a guy who looked like he was around my age and decently trustworthy, so I asked him if he could show me how to get to Venice. He was extremely helpful and very friendly, he invited me to a party that night but I was beyond ready for bed at that point. We ended up exchanging numbers and meeting up for coffee a few days later in Venice anyways.

He got off at a stop before me, he gave me clear directions as to which stop to get off at, and yet of course I missed it. So I got off at the next possible stop, hopped on my long board, and skated through the dark LA alleyways lined by homeless people at around 2am. So exhausted and unbalanced from my backpack, this was not the funnest cruise I’ve ever gone on with my long board. I finally made it to the hostel that night, checked in, and fell right asleep..snuggling my long board.

Wakeful Tea

Wakeful Tea

Short Story by Meghan E. Brown

         The sun was beaming through the sheer curtain hanging by a few wilted nails above the thin and uneven window. The sound of sparrows welcoming the morning drifts in with the summer breeze through the opening of the window. The air is fresh coming in off the lake and filtering itself through the delicately intertwined vines of the the willow trees. The smell of melting cinnamon sugar dances from the kitchen, under the door and up through my nose, filling my body with a warm sense of comfort.  I can vaguely hear mom and dad’s smiling voices mumbling through the whistling of the steaming kettle. Mom always makes tea, not just in the morning, “There aint a heart in the world a cup of tea can’t awaken.” She lives by that, and she’s not even British.  Dad even became a tea fanatic after they got married. My taste buds have never fancied the dullness of that drink.

Mom would love England. I spent the summer there last year living out of my friends “flat”. She wasn’t even British and she razzed me anytime I called it her apartment. Jane was my best friend growing up and all through high school; we were next door neighbours until she left. She was a wanderer, not like me. She had so many dreams that she didn’t even have a plan. She worked at Valu-Mart that whole year she should have been working towards earning some credits to graduate, and then when she had enough for a flight and a little extra for the adventure, she left. “Schools not for me. I don’t wanna live how everyone else does and how everyone says I should, ya know? Go to school to get a good job, to make good money, to pay for the things you need to stay alive.” And I knew what she meant. It is a total assembly-line life they’ve drilled into our heads. But I like that comfort.

Jane hadn’t even changed when I saw her that summer. It was as if no time had passed. Maybe because we’re best friends, or maybe because that’s just Jane’s destiny and maybe your destiny is what makes up your soul. I don’t know what that says for me. My destiny is looking like I’ll be working at Photo-Hut for the rest of my life. I don’t mind though. I’m kind of like a magician anyways, the way I make the negative images appear on the roll of film with some chemicals. The way I enlarge the negative images of strangers cherished memories. It’s magical to me, nothing I would have dreamed as my destiny, but I’m comfortable here.

“Elsie, darling, rise and shine!”  Hollered my dad melodically as he opened up my old wooden door and turned on the light hanging above my bed. The light was so brilliantly white behind my eyelids, how tired am I? I didn’t open my eyes because I knew they wouldn’t adjust until the light beaming down on me adjusts from behind my eyelids. Typical morning, but man that light was bright today.

I was feeling great today, after my eyes adjusted, I threw on my black pants and my royal blue Photo-Hut golf shirt and headed downstairs towards the kitchen.

“Good morning Angel”, my mother said dearly as she sipped on her lemon balm and honey sweetened tea. The warm aroma of cinnamon sugar and citrus filling the kitchen. “Good morning Mom” I replied gently as I kissed her on her the cheek, my lips being numbed by the frigidness of her skin. I walked over towards the kitchen table where my father was sitting with his cup of tea reading the newspaper. He had it all folded up because he only likes certain articles. I could see a headline on the back of the folded paper reading, “Car Totaled by Drunk Driver”. Dad’s reading the other side about the upcoming election.  I give him a kiss on the cheek, again being numbed by the coolness of his skin. I didn’t think much about it, the breeze from the lake was coming in through the kitchen windows.

I hopped on my bike and cheerfully peddled into town. It was a beautiful sunny day in Wicksteed, the trees were dancing in the wind, people on the streets were smiling and laughing, children playing, it was picture perfect. I left my bike at the side of the shop like I always do and I headed in to work.

“Hey Elsie, pleasant day, isn’t it?” asked my manager Finn. “It’s a beautiful day!” I replied with a generous smile. Finn was tall and thin, kind of lanky. He liked to read Marvel comics when there wasn’t much else to be done in the shop, today it was titled “The Silver Surfer”.  He wore thick black framed glasses and had dark curly hair, which was usually hidden under a backwards Boston Bruins cap. “There’s a couple rolls of film needing to be developed, they’re on the counter in the back, wanna get started on those? They’ll be coming back in a few hours to pick them up.”

I make my way into the back room, where the chemicals and developers are. I turn on the amber lights in the room to protect the negatives, turn off the main light and I begin to load the film onto the processing reels. After processing the negatives, I took them out of the chemicals and off the reels, and just as I was about to wipe the strips of negatives dry, I notice the photos all came out black. The worst possible thing that could happen. Somehow I mustn’t have been paying attention and mixed the chemicals wrong, or left them in too long. Finn will kill me. The customer will kill me; I just ruined their photographs… What if they were wedding photos! I quickly scan my eyes over the foggy negatives hoping I can make something out. Then on the third strip of negatives I can see a faint image. It’s a photo of a smashed up car. Although it is just a negative image of a smashed up car, it looks familiar to me. It was my parent’s car… Suddenly I crashed down onto the floor.  Finn must have heard me fall and came rushing right in. All I seen was the main lights turn on above my head; the light was even more brilliant than it was when my father woke me up this morning. I was blinded from behind my eyelids. I could feel Finn holding my hand tenderly, as if he truly cared about my well-being, as if he loved me.

I opened up my eyes to the brightness surrounding them; I could faintly see faces surrounding mine from behind the light. They all had blue masks covering their mouth and nose. They were all touching my head.

“Dr. Stanley, we need to put her under again, her eyes are open it looks like she’s responding.” Shouted a stern voice from above my head. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream. What happened when I fell?

*****

      I woke up, with no warm cinnamon aroma, no sparrows singing, no fresh breeze blowing in off the lake. I felt constricted in tight stiff sheets. My pillow was flat and cold. I could hear beeping coming from a tall machine standing beside me. I slowly opened my eyes with confusion, there was a tube plugged into the beeping machine standing beside me, the other end was plugged into my wrist. The smell of hospital lingered in the stale air.

“Hello Elsie, how are you feeling this morning?” asked a graceful looking woman as she entered the room. She was wearing a pure white coat with a stethoscope around her neck.

“I don’t know, I fell at work, did Finn call my parents?” I uttered as my voice cracked like it hasn’t been used in days.

“Elsie, there was a terrible accident. Your parents had picked you up from a graduation party in town when the vehicle was struck by a drunk driver”, she said sympathetically as she glanced into my eyes and reached out to hold my arm. “Your parents and your friend Jane were killed instantly; there was no pain it happened very quickly. I’m so sorry for your loss Elsie, we’re all here for you.” No words anyone wants to have to feed someone as they’re just waking up.

“Your boyfriend said he will be in this afternoon.” She added empathetically.

My body sank into the firm hospital bed. This had to be a nightmare. Jane didn’t even live in Canada anymore, she’s been living in England the past year. And my parents can’t be dead, I just seen them this morning before I left for work. There was no party. Graduation was years ago. I need to wake up.

“I need to wake up!!” I shouted at the woman in white. “I just seen my parents this morning, you’re lying! This is a dream and I need to wake up!!!” I yelled even louder with so much force, I don’t think I have ever been more terrified in a nightmare.

“Elsie, this isn’t a dream, I’m so sorry. You suffered from a brain injury after the accident. You were still alive in the car and you were brought here.”

“How long have I been here? I just fell at work…” I said in a daze with anger in my voice.

“The accident happened last week; we’ve been preforming surgery on your brain and just finished yesterday. You didn’t fall at work, Elsie.”

“But I just saw my parents… I kissed them both.” Tears began to form in the corners of my icy blue eyes and trickled down my cold cheek. “And Jane has lived in London since I finished high school. This isn’t real!!” I proclaimed with a lump in my throat, trying desperately to convince her she was wrong. I lied motionless on the bed, was I paralyzed? I quickly glared down at my hand and tried to move my fingers as if I had to be looking at each individual finger to raise it, but they moved, all of them. I wasn’t paralyzed.

“There was a chemical released in your brain at the time of the accident, dimethyltryptamine, also known as DMT. It’s a psychedelic compound that creates dreams. It eliminates your concept of time and place. It’s usually only released in amounts like this when a person dies, but you were still alive. We haven’t found any signs of severe brain damage, but we want you to come back in a few weeks for some testing, just to monitor your healing process.”

“I can’t believe this, I just dreamed the past two years of my life in a week, and my parents and best friend are actually dead!? How…..” I had lost my breath and began to sob. I gasped for air as if this strange woman in a white coat had come in here only with the intentions of stealing every bit out of air out of my lungs. My world had been crushed in an instant. How did I dream these years and believe them to be so real. How did I feel my parent’s cheeks this morning? My heart feels like it has just died.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Elsie, and if there is anything I can do for you just let me know.” She said with ease as she rubbed my arm.

A tall man appeared in the doorway. It was Finn. Finn went to my high school, but he graduated before me, I didn’t know Finn in high school, why was he here? “Hey Elsie”, he said gently as he walked towards my bed. He carried in a bouquet of pale pink and yellow carnations wrapped in purple tissue and plastic wrap, and he set them on the table beside my head.

“I’ll leave you two alone, sorry again Elsie.” Said the woman kindly as she left the room.

“Hello Finn” I said, still unsure as to why he was there.

“Look Elsie, I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but I spent the last two weeks in the hospital, yesterday I was allowed to leave, it’s a personal issue I was in here for. A mental issue, the doctors wanted to monitor me. They had me up in 3 North B.” He explained, as if I was an expert on the different sections of the hospital. “But I’ve been staying here, and I’ve seen you at school before, and since I’ve been here you’ve been showing up in my dreams, and one day I was walking around the hospital and I saw a couple doctors pushing you on a bed to another room, but I recognized you. I came back to the hospital yesterday to check on you, I heard about what had happened to your parents in the newspaper. I just wanted to come check on you. I know that sounds creepy, but that’s not how I mean it, I swear. These feeling are so weird, I feel like I’ve always known you. I had to tell the doctors you are my girlfriend so they would let me visit with you.”

I lied there, still, like a deer in headlights. My eyes were puffy and red, I could feel it. I’ve never felt so lost and confused; my whole world had just fallen to the ground. How can these dreams feel so real that Finn thinks he knows me and I created a life in my head.

“I didn’t expect you to say anything”, he said discouraged, “I just wanted to see how you were doing, I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

“Finn, did you touch my hand yesterday?” I asked inquisitively, remembering my fall in the back room at Photo-Hut when I felt his hand on mine.

“They were just finishing the surgery, they thought you had woken up, I’m sorry. I just wanted to make you feel at ease.”

“I felt you.” I replied, as goose bumps began to expose themselves up my arms and down my neck.

He smiled at me like my words made him feel assured. It was like we didn’t have to talk at all, it was like we were connected. For that split second our eyes sank into one another’s I had totally forgotten about the accident. But somehow, I didn’t feel quite so alone. Maybe my parents were real in my dream too.

“There’s a Cuthbert’s Tea Room here in the food court, what do you say you get out of this bed and join me for a cup? You’d probably feel more awake if you drink some.” Finn asked with hope in his voice.

“I’ve never needed a cup of tea this bad.” I replied with a smile.

12.20.14

 When my lungs empty

and my chest hallows

I can feel your presence lingering, still.

I can feel my soul reaching out through the depths

of all that has left me broken

trying to grasp at

something that’s left me in reckless abandon.

-Meghan E. Brown