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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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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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Packing for this trip was quite daunting as you might remember. So after two months on the road how are we feeling about those decisions? What would we recommend to others embarking on their own backpacking trip?

We’ll break this advice into two posts, the first featuring five tips for any backpacker on an international trip. The second post will be geared towards a trip to New Zealand- as we do have some visitors coming in the next few months!

1.) Even if you’re not planning to sleep in tents, don’t ignore the camping gear. These two items are lightweight, easy to pack, and have been very useful despite our indoor accommodations. For some shut-eye we recommend the REI Travel Sack sleeping bags. They’ve kept us warm in the campervan and clean in the hostels. The REI quick-dry towels are also no scam. They’re truly quick-drying and super absorptive. Buy the original version not the Lite, it works much better and is still the size of a face towel.

Good night moon

2.) Go for the hiking backpacks because when have you ever bought a rolly-bag that actually rolled? Choosing the right bag is important because it holds your life. Purchasing one may seem a bit daunting if you’ve  never owned one before so here are three suggestions for a first-timer to think about:

  • Comfort counts– be sure to get fitted by someone at the store. It gets heavy.
  • Simplicity– Our bags have 3 pockets each- one on top, one on the outside, and the main storage section. The main section has an opening on top and on the side so when laid-down you can easily access items from top to bottom. Very clutch!
  • Buy the Duffel Cover– It’s an extra $20 on a $200 purchase and it’s well worth it. The cover will protect your bag from careless handlers on buses and planes. It also provides extra space to store a heavy jacket or boots if you can’t fit them into your backpack- we’re looking forward to this on the way home!

Backpacks deliver on their promise. They always fit on your back

3.) Think simple when it comes to the power adapter. We were attracted to our Dynex power adapter because of its all-in-one attitude. It’s got plugs for three continents, but it’s massive. In fact it’s so big that it falls out of the socket when any charger is plugged in. You have to prop it up to keep it in the wall.  Don’t get greedy, go simple.

Gravity wins again. Thanks for all the product testing Dynex.

4.) Don’t underestimate the importance of a few spare plastic bags. Think wet bathing suits after an impromptu swim or stinky, muddy sneakers and dirty laundry. Smell is airborne, plastic is the solution!

That smell will clear a room. Better to zip-lock it up

5.) Bring a carry-on sized bag that’s easy to carry with your primary bag. I brought a purse and Eliott opted for a small backpack. These are important for all kinds of transit because your big bag will be stashed below somewhere. It’s also great for a weekend trip. Trust us, if you have a place to store your big bag for a short trip, you’ll want to!

A small bag is clutch for quick trips to the beach or a walk around town. Just look at this happy boy.

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Our last three days in Gisborne were more action-packed than the latest Bond movie. All-hallows-eve in New Zealand was fun, but less of a spectacle than we experienced growing up. The loot was pretty tame compared to the monjo-sized candy bars we used to collect. #americanobesity

face paint in broad daylight just didn’t feel the same

Luckily, the lack of sucrose on Wednesday helped us squeeze into wetsuits for our surf lesson on Thursday. That’s right, a truly Endless Summer. We were a little nervous because kiwis are renowned for their extreme take on sports, but it all turned out for the best. The waves were pretty mild. Surfing with Frank was amazing! He drilled the basics, but got the both of us standing within 20 minutes.

unparalleled form right here

We even advanced to surfing the “green faces” and turning, which he said was pretty good for first-timers. “You’re freaks,” was the actual language he used. We hear that there’s good surfing outside of Wellington so we’ll try to keep our momentum going. Who knows, the surf may now be a factor to consider when we look for our home-base back in the US!

hanging ten-ish

We ended our lesson with a dinner party hosted by Greg and Sue. We enjoyed some local fermentations, a massive pork shoulder, and a signature NZ Pavlova with some of the neighbors. Our crew included a surprising number of Americans who had moved to NZ, including the Putnams from Cape Cod and Kris from Michigan. After spending 3 weeks in Gisborne we weren’t at all surprised by their moves, but don’t worry everyone- we still miss you too much to stay here permanently.

we’re growing a taste for the local flavors

Which brings me to our next and last piece of business, the highly anticipated announcement of Sheap Travel’s political endorsement. Well the wait is over folks:

the ballots were a bit confusing this year

So while our votes won’t be counted in Massachusetts (little snafu with the absentee ballots on our part), just know that the outcome on Tuesday might sway our inclinations towards NZ a bit further….

Just Kidding! Politicians couldn’t really influence our plans that much. In the end they’re all just a lot of bark, and never much bite.

too bad Rover’s not a citizen, he’s 44 in goat years and his foreign policy is second to none

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It was a cloudless day last Sunday and the temperature was 22 degrees…celsius (or 72F). Meg and I were getting ready to clean out the gutters when Sue, our wwoofing host, came up with a better plan.

with Eva at the Rere Waterfall

Sue said she couldn’t stand to see us work on such a nice day, so her husband Greg packed a picnic and we joined the family for a day trip to Rere. Our first stop was the Rere Rockslide. Sue and Greg talked up the perilous slide for the entire half-hour car ride, so when we arrived we were thoroughly intimidated. But after watching Greg bomb down head-first on his boogie board we followed suit.

YOLO

After lunch we stopped at the waterfall. Sue prodded me to venture under the fall. I tip-toed to the entrance and quickly encountered slippery rocks and angry, whirling water. With my tail between my legs, I returned to the group and said I didn’t think it was possible.

Enter Meg. She promptly threw her wet suit on and led me back to the tempest. Sure enough, it was possible. We made it to the middle of the waterfall. Yet again I realized how lucky I am to have such a brave and adventurous companion. It’s hard to describe the view looking up at the sky filtered through the cascading water, but it’s an image I won’t forget anytime soon. And I would’ve missed if it wasn’t for Meg.

it felt like the inside of a car wash

Eva, admittedly more courageous than me, urged her dad to venture out after us.

All in all, our Rere excursion was a fitting end to a perfect weekend. On Saturday we cheered on Eva at her first tee-ball game, then donned costumes at night to attend a Halloween party with the family. Meg was a Native American and I went as a Blues Brother.

Our stint in Gisborne is wrapping up but we’re not slowing down. Greg helped us arrange surf lessons with an American ex-pat tomorrow and Sue planned a big farewell dinner with some of their friends that we’ve gotten to know over the past three weeks.

There are so many things we’ll miss about Gisborne–the sun, the people, our amazingly generous hosts–but we will stay in touch with all our new friends and make even more memories in Wellington.

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Eliott and I were apprehensive before arriving to Gisborne. We didn’t know the specifics of our work/stay, just that we’d be on a farm. I imagined docking sheep in a mud pile, while Eliott saw himself riding a motorbike across fields herding a flock. We were surprised and relieved to discover that the “farm” was actually just a lifestyle block with chickens and fruit trees. Lifestyle blocks are common in NZ. It’s basically a family home with a patch of land, a few animals, and a larger-than-normal garden. The “fruits” of the farm are used primarily to sustain the family. The idea of self-sustainable living is popular in NZ and while it takes a bit more effort, we’re finding it also has many perks.

These hills are alive with the sound of music

The family that we’re staying with have been fantastic hosts. Greg and Sue have taken “wwoofers” for many years now and also travelled the world in their early years. They moved to Gisborne because of the amazing surf and it’s sunny disposition. They have three wonderful kids, Jaques (14), Charlie (12), and Eva (6).

Damn vagabonds

Now to business: what are we doing to earn our camper van and 3 square (delicious) meals? Just some good old-fashioned housework and a hell of a lot of gardening. We’re growing quite the green thumbs on this trip. The day’s chores range from dusting and scrubbing to weeding and mowing. Every morning we also feed the chickens and collect the eggs. We then take it upon ourselves to consume a majority of those eggs. Waste not, want not as they say. The lifestyle block is a very comfortable way of living. There is always fresh produce and meat around the house, and yet the family is not required to labor in the yard tirelessly. We enjoy ripe fruits, fresh eggs, bacon (RIP Wilber), and the other night rooster meat (thus quieter mornings)! We were also able to witness the miracle of life this week. Nine adorable chicks were born in the coop. The alpha male and mother are white, but a couple of the chicks came out dark brown. Eva most eloquently explained the different pigmentation to us, “Another rooster must have had a twinkle in his eye…” Which goes to show that the the lifestyle block can also teach us some valuable life lessons.

Curious colors here…

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Where the “r” is silent and you’ll earn a polite correction if you don’t enunciate “Gis-bin.” Located on the North Island’s east coast, roughly halfway between Auckland and Wellington, Gisborne trivia includes this unique tidbit: it is the first city in the world to witness the sunrise every morning.*

Wainui Beach

I include the asterisk only because this is a somewhat disputed title. (Samoa also claims the first sunrise, but it’s based on a technicality. In 2011 Samoa forfeited a day to move westward across the international dateline.) Gisborne boasts another solar distinction: with 2,200 hours of annual sunshine it is among the country’s sunniest cities.

If you refer to Gisborne as a city, however, most locals will laugh and/or roll their eyes. There are 45,000 residents, which is a substantial settlement given there are only 4 million people in the country, but Gisborne feels much closer to a large town. Like Rye. Or Newport.

The city center revolves around the main drag of Gladstone Road, which offers a strong lineup of bars, restaurants, and shops. The nice thing about Gladstone is that it appeals to all budgets and tastes. Upscale fashion boutiques are adjacent to thrift shops and dollar stores. On one corner you’ll find a five-star restaurant. Across the street, McDonalds (a very prominent American export here).

There’s not much of a night life, but occasionally you’ll stumble across something special.

She’s preparing to apparate

As Meg and I walked down Gladstone Road last Sunday, our quest for lunch was continuously thwarted. The majority of restaurants (and stores) are closed on Sundays. Imagine that! Businesses taking a day off to spend time with their families. The concept is almost foreign to us. Although we settled for hard-boiled eggs and peanut butter toast in our hostel kitchen, we marveled at the community’s willpower to avoid the pitfalls of capitalism and keep their values in the right place.

Speaking of capitalism, Gisborne’s economy is boosted by a variety of industries. Shipping, lumber, and farming just to name a few. The farms range from sprawling meadows filled with hundreds of sheep to small “lifestyle blocks” where a family will raise chickens or grow fruit on top of their other occupations. We’ve been fortunate to spend some time at the latter and will be here until November.

POULTRY!!!

Un-related but not irrelevant notes

It’s been a little while since our last update so we just wanted to share a few things.

1) TWITTER. We’re diving face first into social media and recently set up our @sheaptravel account. So to all you tweeters out there, we’d love to have some 140 character conversations in the near future.

2) FOOTPRINTS. The latest page at the top of the blog will track our journey from A to Z (or “zed” as they say here).

3) THANK YOU, Slice of Mid-Life.  A close friend and role model recently posted a nice article on her blog that touches on our trip and the importance of leading a life of exploration.

Up Next

We’ll blog about our agricultural lifestyle here.

And we’ll unveil the most highly anticipated news in the presidential campaign: SheapTravel’s endorsement.

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