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How is that possible with such fresh, nutritious, reasonably priced food?

My cooking skills were a serious joke

My cooking skills were a joke

The problem, my friends, lay in Trader Joes’ freezers, where a selection of delicious, pre-made meals was always on display. It was so much more convenient to grab a few frozen burritos than to collect the ingredients necessary to concoct this dish on our own. Also when we got home late on a weeknight night it was a hell of a lot easier to cook (a.k.a microwave) these than make something from scratch. It was takeout quality food at supermarket prices. What can beat that in NYC?

In NYC ovens are used to hold sweaters. Are people really expected to cook in these crawl spaces?

In Manhattan ovens are used to hold sweaters. People do not actually cook in these crawl spaces

Living in NZ has torn Eliott and I away from our precious TJs and eating out at restaurants is quite expensive so we’ve taken to the kitchen with a new vigor. Our experiments have been mostly edible; of course there was the watery pumpkin soup and the not-so-pulled pork. But it looks like our cooking skills are on the up-and-up thanks to all the practice we’re getting this year and the obstacles we’ve encountered while cooking on the road.

They say 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert, but we've lost track of time so we'll have to go on taste

They say 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert, but we’ve lost track of time so we’ll have to go on taste

Learning to cook while traveling presents a number of challenges to any chef- especially a novice one. Every kitchen is truly unique. They’ve got their own selection of pans and every stove cooks at it’s own temperamental pace. However, learning to cook in an ever-changing environment reveals flaws in your technique that you might not have noticed in your own kitchen. It makes you hyper-sensitive to all the various factors involved in the cooking process. While you may over-cook the steaks one night, you end up a much more careful and conscientious chef in the end.

Lisa and I hard at work on some curry while traveling through Picton on our road trip

Lisa and I hard at work on some curry while traveling through Picton on our road trip

Another challenge is the lack of a pantry. Believe it or not we don’t have room for a bag of flour and spices in our backpacks so we have to make use of the pantry provided. When we were traveling to a new place every few nights we also had to buy ingredients that we’d be able to use before leaving. This particular challenge has forced us to hone our culinary creativity. Take for example our roast chicken and all the extra ingredients from Thanksgiving. How do you stretch out the leftovers and keep it interesting? Make chicken dumpling soup with the bones and some pot pie cupcakes or a curry with the meat and veggies!

So we didn't exactly starve on Thanksgiving...

We didn’t exactly starve on Thanksgiving…

The last impetus that has pushed our culinary education forward is the company we’ve shared. As we’ve marveled before, New Zealanders have an almost universal “do-it-yourself” attitude and a laid-back disposition. In the kitchen, this means that they cook often and they tackle seemingly difficult dishes with ease. For example on Waiheke, Zion, the 11 year-old, offered to cook breakfast one morning. We came down to the smell of caramelized apples served in elegantly wrapped crepes. I was astonished and remarked, “Crepes are so difficult! You’re a amazing cook.” To which he replied, “They’re just watery pancakes…” He had a good point, and so when we finally had access to some flour in Wellington we conjured up our own chocolately crepes for dessert one night. You don’t need a fancy crepe machine as I’d previously thought, just a pan and some watery batter.

The chocolate crepes may have been a success, but nothing beats a TimTam for dessert over here

The chocolate crepes may have been a success, but nothing beats a TimTam slam for dessert over here

Needless to say, my preconceptions about the difficulty of cooking have been smashed. I’ve come to realize that cooking is not a mystery to be solved. It’s a skill to be practiced. And if all else fails, salt can make almost anything edible. So when we get home you will still find me browsing the aisles of Trader Joes, but I’ll only be stopping at the freezers for ice cream.

And speaking of WHEN we get home, we’ve finally booked our return trip to Boston! Since there was a sale on flights to Honolulu the itinerary had to include a three-day layover in Hawaii- just another of the many sacrifices we’ve made to keep our trip sheap…

Herrro America!!!

Herrro America!!!

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Since moving to Queenstown we have “flatted” with three Kiwis and two Brits. We have learned a lot about their cultures–New Zealanders love Pat Benatar; British people have tea upwards of five times a day. And I’m sure they’ve learned a great deal about ours–Americans make snarky comments at the television during reality cooking shows.

But the most interesting thing multi-cultural cohabitation has taught us is that we speak three different kinds of English. Here’s a list of unique New Zealand words and phrases. Just like a middle-school vocabulary list, we’ve included definitions and used each word in a sentence–specifically, a sentence pertaining to our trip.

bach: a cottage

Last weekend, Meg went to a lakeside bach with two of our flatmates. (Our other flatmate and I had to work 😦 )

bbq at the bach

bbq at the bach

boot: car trunk

The boot of our subaru is filled with tennis racquets and beach towels.

capsicum: sweet peppers (red or green)

Meg and Sarah recently planted capsicums in the communal garden.

car park: parking lot

On our Milford road trip, Cate did calisthenics in the car park.

entree: appetizer

The prawn entree at Fishbone comes with two jumbo shrimp.

flash: sensational or fancy

Our subaru is very flash.

Our subaru is very flash.

fringe: bangs

Most girls would agree, Zoe Deschanel has enviable fringe.  (that sentence doesn’t have anything to do with our trip, it’s just a true statement about fringe)

gutted: emotionally distraught

To say I was gutted when the Patriots lost would be an understatement.

jandals: flip flops or sandals

November through March is jandal season in New Zealand.

lemonade: sprite or 7up

During the brief period I quit drinking soda, I ordered a lemonade at a restaurant and it caused a relapse.

piss: beer

Flat photo: everyone's drinking piss.

Our flat went to Atlas and we all drank piss.

piss-up: a social gathering involving alcohol

our

We had a piss-up on Lake Wakatipu and drank out of a watermelon.

rattle your dags: hurry up, get a move on

Rattle your dags, “My Kitchen Rules” is almost on. (MKR is an addictive Australian cooking show; we think they put MSG in it)

scull: to chug a drink (beer)

Meg sculled both of these...just kidding!

Meg sculled both of these jugs…just kidding!

serviette: napkin

Cleaning up after guests at the restaurant has made Meg appreciate her mom’s enthusiasm for serviettes.

taking a piss: having too much to drink

Last weekend our flatmate Tom was taking a piss at his favorite pub, 1876, and woke up with this:

Glory lasts forever. So do tattoos.

Glory lasts forever. So do tattoos.

tomato sauce: ketchup

Fergburger makes their own tomato sauce.

Fergburger makes their own tomato sauce.

whinge: to complain

During road trips I frequently whinge about the cleanliness of hostel bathrooms.

zed: Z, the last letter of the alphabet

If you pronounce Z like “zee” rather than “zed,” people will laugh at you.

*********************************************

Don’t worry, there won’t be a vocab test on Monday. But if you ever plan a trip to New Zealand, save yourself some confusion and brush up on this list.

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Despite quitting my advertising job back in New York City, I have not been able to escape some of my duties as an account manager, namely timelines and budgets. One might think that a mandate of the backpacker lifestyle is to, “live by the seat of your pants,” which is one of the beauties of backpacking. However, for all its benefits, it also comes with drawbacks. We met a backpacker like this on the BrogTrip. He was our first hitchhiker (see what I mean) and he entertained us with stories of his travel throughout Asia and New Zealand. However, we saw the drawback of his lifestyle when we checked into our hostel and he was turned down at the door because the place was full. So there is certainly something to be said for drawing up a bit of a timeline.

While we put our feet up for the night, our hitchiking friend was out room hunting

While we put our feet up for the night, our hitchhiking friend was out room hunting

Eliott and I are naturally inclined to plan ahead. I mean, we were the kids bringing college brochures to our parents during sophomore year of high school. So while we want to embrace the “vagabond lifestyle” we are still doing some planning as we plod along on our trip. It’s helped us save money (we’re living “sheaply” remember) and also ensure that we maximize our experience in each new destination.

NERD ALERT!

NERD ALERT!

However, there is a major catch-22 with mapping out a timeline for your trip. If you plan too far in advance you risk closing yourself off to opportunities that present themselves on the road. Each stop along your trip will offer new and different options that you had not considered before. We’ve found that half of the battle to find exciting and unique experiences is just showing up.

The Bridal Veil Falls, a beautiful pit stop we found on our drive from Raglan to Rotorua

The Bridal Veil Falls, a beautiful pit stop we found on our drive from Raglan to Rotorua

So here are a few tips that we would offer from our experiences- planning and budgeting are useful but when practiced in moderation.

  • Try to plan at least 2 weeks ahead of your travels, but no more than a month. We say a minimum of 2 weeks because this allows you to live in the moment wherever you find yourself, but also gives you enough time to plan your next steps. When we got off the plane from San Fran we only had 2 weeks mapped out and it was the perfect amount of time to enjoy our local surroundings as well as set up our next stops.
  • Devote a lot of your research efforts to finding accommodation. The place where you lay your head each night will often be the most expensive cost, and it has a lot of influence over your experience. If you feel comfortable and secure in your accommodation you’re much more likely to enjoy that destination. If you’re in a place that lacks social opportunities or the weather is keeping you locked inside, a well-planned hostel or hotel can be your salvation. Bonus tip: find places that offer cooking facilities and wifi to ensure your trip is budget friendly!

You’d be surprised how much a poor night’s sleep dampens your travels

  • Research activities near your destination, but warm up to locals once you arrive and pick their brains for hidden gems. You’d be surprised at how much is NOT online. The stuff that you find online will be tourist traps. They’re the most expensive and busiest options, but unfortunately they’re not always the best. Sometimes you can’t escape the traps, like the Fox Glacier hike, but oftentimes the best hikes will come from notes scrawled on a napkin while talking to your hostel mates. For the times when you can’t avoid tourist traps use local review websites before booking. Rankers has been a great resource for our trips (and best of all we had dinner with the creators while wwoofing in Gisborne)!
Sometimes you just have to suck it up and pay the big bucks for an experience like the Black Water Rafting in Waitomo. YOLO!

Sometimes you just have to suck it up and pay the big bucks for an experience like the Black Water Rafting in Waitomo. YOLO!

  • Budget yourself at the beginning of your trip. This is a really dreadful exercise when you’re planning how to spend your money as opposed to your clients’ money. But if you’re planning on travelling for a while it is vital! Eliott and I didn’t draft a budget until we got to New Zealand because we took a few days to assess how much everything costs here and what we’re spending on (i.e. you may need to have a water section in your SE Asia budget, but not in NZ). Don’t be concerned with getting exact amounts. Generalize a day or week depending on the type of expense. For example: you’re going to eat 3 meals every day, you’d like to go out 1-2 times a week, you expect you’ll travel locally 3 times a week and extensively once a month, etc. etc. By generalizing your experience you give yourself flexibility so if your transportation costs are light one week you might see your accommodation costs go up. This is a really helpful exercise because it also helps you figure out what you’re willing to skimp on and what you’re not. That way, spur of the moment decisions will come easier. Eliott and I knew we wanted to splurge on unique experiences so picking up a surf lesson in Gisborne was an easy decision despite the unexpected expense.

In the end, I’d much rather do backpacker account management than what I was doing back in New York. It’s scary and stressful at times, but as people always say- “If it isn’t tough it’s not worth doing.” Besides, that other kind of account management was equally scary and stressful. I must admit though, the one drawback to backpacker account management versus advertising, is that I don’t get free toothpaste on the reg, but my teeth haven’t fallen out yet!

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The “Southern Hemisphere’s premier four season lake and alpine resort.” As Eliott noted in his last post, we settled into Queenstown last week and we plan on being here for the long haul- well at least until our visas expire.

To help you get your bearings and understand where we’ve chosen to settle, here are some basic stats. Queenstown is nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. It is bordered on its other three sides by the Southern Alps, so basically it’s picturesque from every angle, including ours.

We'll let you know if waking up to this view ever gets old

We’ll let you know if waking up to this view ever gets old

For you cartographers, we’ve also mapped it out here. Queenstown was originally settled by Europeans in 1860, but it was traversed by Maoris in search for pounamu (or sacred greenstone) for many years before that. The local population is roughly 29,200 so while it’s only twice the size of my quiet hometown, Duxbury, MA, it’s still considered a major city on the South Island. This odd statistic is a testament to its vibrant tourism industry.

Some people refer to Queenstown as the “adventure capital of the world” because of the many activities you can enjoy here which include: skiing, snowboarding, heli-sking, jet boating, whitewater rafting, bungy jumping, mountain biking, skateboarding, tramping, paragliding, sky diving and fly fishing. Whew, deep breath. For after hours entertainment Queenstown offers a bevy of bars that provide the answer to our longstanding question, “where are all the young people at?”

World's most dangerous cartwheel- only in Queenstown

World’s most dangerous cartwheel first attempted in Queenstown

So I guess I’d now pose the question to you all- why wouldn’t we want to live here? Queenstown has always piqued our interest, but the truth is we finally pulled the trigger on QT because I was able to get a job. One of our goals for January was to find some work and settle down for a few months. We enjoy our roadtrips and sightseeing, but staying in hostels can get old and quite expensive.  On our latest road trip, with Eliott’s mom, we stopped in Queenstown for a few days and pounded the pavement hunting for jobs. We passed out a lot of resumes and got passed over even more. So at the end, when I thought I couldn’t handle any more rejection I decided to hand out one last resume at a seafood restaurant called Fishbone.

I got a call back that night and after a stressful trial run the following day I received the offer. And today, I’m happy to announce that  Eliott was offered a job at a clothing store called Wild South. We are now both happily and gratefully employed locals. While traveling New Zealand we’ve found the job search to be somewhat challenging, but it mostly boils down to timing and persistence.

 

Oh wait, did you guys ask for a closer shot of the view from our balcony? Here you go

Oh wait, did you guys ask for a closer shot of the view from our balcony? Here you go

A few quick tips for any backpackers that are looking to get some work on the road:

  • Don’t look like a backpacker because everyone knows they’re unreliable…
  • Change your resume to fit your situation. Our engineer flatmate is working as a dishwasher and he didn’t get that job listing his GPA.
  • Be bold. Always ask to speak with the manager and be quick to explain why you’re a good fit.

It’s a squirrel-eat-kiwi world and there are only so many jobs and so many months in the tourist season. You have to pounce on any opportunity, but luckily in a busy place like Queenstown there are a lot of chances to hone your craft.

Once landing the job we started to look for housing the next morning. Similar to the job hunt, the apartment search is all about timing and persistence. We were very selective about the location, setup, and price of the apartments that we pursued so while trademe.co.nz was filled with options we had to look hard for the right fit. Luckily we found Pete and Sophie offering their room in a large house on Queenstown hill. It was the perfect fit- private bath, private deck, huge living area, a ping pong table, walking distance to town, and most importantly AWESOME roommates! Pete and Sophie are moving to Whistler to catch the North American ski season so we slipped into their room at the perfect time and may, if we’re lucky, be able to swap back with them during the NZ ski season. If you couldn’t tell, they’re big skiers, something we’ll be getting back into this winter too.

Boozey brunch with the new flatmates! Reminds us a lot of our weekends in NYC

Boozey brunch with the new flatmates!

So we are now officially moved into our new flat in Queenstown. We kicked off the first weekend with a goodbye bbq for Pete and Sophie, which reminded us a lot of the shenanigans we used to get into at home.  We’re really looking forward to staying in one place for a while. I think it’s an important part of the travel experience. We spent the first four months of our trip wandering across the country, but you only see so much as a tourist. Now we’re ready to experience the kiwi lifestyle first-hand. And as always, we’ll be sharing almost all of the gritty details with you back home!

Climb every mountain, ford every stream....

Climb every mountain, ford every stream

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On our last day in Wellington I was almost literally swept off my feet during a morning run with Eliott’s mom, Lisa. While jogging along the waterfront we were stopped in our tracks by gale force winds. But it’s not a physical sweep I want to talk about here. It’s a metaphoric one – the way that New Zealand swept me off my feet with its culture and beauty.

May the road rise up to meet you, May the wind be always at your back

Lisa has just flown in to join us on our NZ adventures for the next month. We are taking her to uncharted territory- the South Island and then Sydney. Before making our pilgrimage across the Cook Strait we took her on a whirlwind tour of the capital city. Seeing Wellington through Lisa’s eyes has rejuvenated our travelling spirits. After living here for almost two months we feel like we’ve become jaded Wellingtonians. We’ve fully adopted the relaxed vibe that permeates NZ and perusing vintage shops along Cuba Street just feels like a normal afternoon for us. So hearing Lisa marvel at all the unique features of New Zealand reminded us of our early days here and how invigorating the whole experience has been.

Rediscovering the calming and restorative effects that a tramp through the great outdoors has on the body and mind

Rediscovering the calming and restorative effects that a tramp through the great outdoors has on the body and mind

Believe it or not, it’s still easy to settle into your daily routines and forget the bigger picture on a trip like this. Lately we’ve been filling our thoughts with the little things- what are we going to eat for dinner? where are we going to settle in February? how is the budget doing? etc. etc. Now granted, these are pretty nice concerns to have in the scheme of things, but they do distract you from the bigger picture: we’re backpacking through a foreign country with nothing but each other and our savings. Lisa has brought back memories from the months leading up to this trip. We were filled with so much excitement and enthusiasm, but also an overwhelming notion that we had no idea what lay ahead of us. We vowed that we would never take a day for granted and when given the option we would always chose the risky, the new, and the bold.

Embarking across the Cook Strait with only a vague idea of what will lay ahead of us. The sky is the limit

Embarking across the Cook Strait with only a vague idea of what lies ahead. The sky is the limit

Lisa’s visit makes us realize that as a traveler you have to continually remind yourself of this bigger picture and not get bogged down by the day-to-day things. This reminder can be anything, a visit from an old friend, a brief conversation, or even a small token you keep by your side. Regardless of the form, it’s vital to find one that works for you and stick with it. It’s important to keep the ideas and aspirations that originally inspired you fresh in your mind so that you don’t pass up opportunities for discovery. While travelling you must make the most of every day because each one is a gift to be treasured, not time to be wiled away.

Nothing makes you value your days like the awe-inspiring Queen Charlotte Sound

Nothing makes you value the day like the awe-inspiring Queen Charlotte Sound

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But it’s been difficult to maintain this notion in New Zealand. Eliott and I have been living a much quieter lifestyle over here. At first we accounted our early bedtime to the wwooffing lifestyle. It’s hard to stay up late in someone else’s house. Then we assumed it was living in the suburbs- there’s just no where to go. Then we got to Wellington where we lived on our own, in the middle of a big city. On most nights we made it to 11 before crashing. At that point we decided the lack of nightlife was due to our particular situation. As a couple, it’s awkward to sit at a bar for very long where you don’t know anyone. As two guys or two girls you at least have the option of flirting with strangers. As a couple, that’s just weird.

The essence of cool

The essence of cool

So we were really excited when Broghan came to visit. We figured with a third member of our crew we’d be able to make our own party. I envisioned our group seated at a table laughing like hyenas at our own cheeky jokes. Laughing so hard that nearby tables pulled their stools up to ours and we became the largest, loudest, most fun group at the bar.

I know right? And this is when we're sober. You can only imagine the fun after a few drinks

I know right? And this is when we’re sober. You can only imagine the fun after a few drinks

However, that dream never really came true. It was certainly not for lack of trying. On the way to each destination we researched the best bars and picked up a case of New Zealand Lager for our pre-game. Time and again, our plans were foiled. The pre-games at the hostels often ended up becoming the full game, and on one of the best nights that game became Monopoly. Honestly, our night of Monopoly in New Plymouth was the closest we came to my vision. We were the loudest, most fun group in the hostel and we even attracted a crowd of on-looking Germans.

Flashback: is this the outbreak of WWII? American capitalists dominating while hungry Germans chomp at the bit to join?

Unlike every Monopoly game of my childhood, this one did not end with me flipping the board over…I just threw my cards

So we adjusted our expectations and just made the most of the opportunities that presented themselves. For example, the Raglan hostel had a lot of fun-looking guests so we brought our NZL’s into the common area where we found a large group of boys mesmerized by the “Planet Earth” dvds. We awkwardly enjoyed our drinks, watching quietly, until a woman in her late 50’s joined us at the table. We never did get her name, but we refer to her as Verushka, because it just seemed like it would fit. Verushka entertained us for hours with her stories. Kiwis are notoriously good travelers and she was no exception. She regaled us with tales of opium tripping in Thailand and beating back wild hogs with a stick while on a bathroom break in Vietnam. We had intended to visit a bar that night, but for obvious reasons we abandoned that plan in favor of Verushka’s company.

NZL- the unofficial sponsor of the BrogTrip 2012

NZL- the unofficial sponsor of the BrogTrip 2012

Over the course of two weeks we learned some valuable methods for coping with un-vibrant nightlife scenes. First, make dinner a production. If you’re going to cook at home, take your time at the supermarket- carefully select ingredients and when in doubt buy the bigger one. Always drink while cooking. It makes for very interesting decisions and a convenient painkiller if that grill flares up. If you’re going to a restaurant order appetizers, eat slowly, and make sure to stuff yourself to the point that you’re unable to stand up. This will prolong your dining experience.

The grill master. A regular bobby flay here

The grill master. A regular bobby flay here

Let's just zoom in here and take note of the burger size. America really does do everything bigger

Let’s just zoom in and take note of the burger size. We chose the bigger ones obviously

Secondly, be sure to survey the company surrounding you. There are unsuspecting gems here, but also some potential landmines. If you look at someone and think, “what the hell are they doing here,” you should make a point of hanging out with them. They will supply hours of entertainment. If you find yourself surrounded by 19 year-old Germans that arrived at your hostel on a bus blasting techno music, you should stay in your room and create a drinking game to a movie like “Mean Girls.” Know your surroundings and know your limits.

So what if we did feed the black swans? That might make for an interesting night

What if we did feed the black swans? That might make for an interesting night

So in the end, it always came back to the three of us. We had to make our own fun a lot of the time, and New Zealand offered up some unconventional resources to work with. I have a feeling that other backpackers have had similar experiences so these are lessons that we’ll bring with us as we continue to travel and may even have to use at home depending on where we move!

Just like the good old days

M&B, Just like the good old days

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Now we’re moving to some advice that is more specific to our trip here in New Zealand. We arrived in mid-September, and we definitely underestimated the significance of the spring season. Needless to say, we were cold for the first two weeks of our trip. It’s warming up every day now, but the summer highs average in the mid-70’s so it’s by no means sweltering. If you’re planning a trip to visit NZ (maybe to visit us?) than here are some tips to help you navigate the weather and fit in with the locals.

Bring layers: The relatively small size of the island makes it susceptible to strong winds and quickly-changing weather patterns. However, there is also a massive hole in the ozone layer that sits right above the country. Al Gore may have been onto something because you can really feel the power of the sun beating down on you. So it’s important to bring layers because on any given outing you can go from shorts and t-shirts to sweaters and rain jackets very quickly.

Scarf? Rain Jacket? On such a sunny day? You should’ve seen the clouds before we left

Go casual: This is our favorite aspect of the attire in NZ- it’s generally pretty casual. You do not often have to make the decision between function and fashion. Function is always respected, even in bars and restaurants in the major cities. Leave your high-heels at home, a dressy shirt and jeans will get you in the door anywhere.

Don’t be “that guy” at the party

Think outdoorsy: Kiwis love the great outdoors. Everyone enjoys a good tramp through the bush or a day on the beach. Don’t forget to bring sneakers, comfortable pants to walk in, and shirts you wouldn’t mind breaking a sweat in. The best views and the most genuine experiences that we’ve had have been out in the environment so it’s important to have clothes that you don’t mind getting a little muddy.

Watch out for that tree! A quick tramp outside of Wellington

Versatility is key: This is a pretty universal tip, but a good one to keep in mind no less. We’re on the move a lot here, and any good overseas trips will be like that. It’s important to pack as lightly as possible, but still feel comfortable in your constantly changing settings. A sweater and a scarf can turn three t-shirts into six different outfits, and (with a shower) they can transform you from a tramper to partygoer easily. That’s right white people, break out your scarves- go nuts!

Bad hair day? Wear a scarf.

When you finally sit down with that empty bag think about comfort, warmth, and packing light.  Here’s a short list of items we’d recommend bringing on your trip to New Zealand, if you are so inclined to visit us 🙂

  • Sneakers
  • Toms (or similar casual, lightweight shoe)
  • Jeans
  • Athletic, moveable pants (break a sweat, get a little dirty)
  • Shorts
  • Bathing suit
  • A few simple shirts
  • Athletic shirts
  • Sweater you can dress up and dress down
  • Sunblock
  • Lightweight Jacket
  • Rain jacket
  • Good book
  • Camera

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