How Do You Keep Travelling

At least once a week someone asks me how do I do it. How do I keep on travelling and how do I it with money. Aah money. The magic word for which every backpacker would wake up for. Just whisper in their ear: “Hello sunshine! Time to rise and shine! Money is waiting for you!”
BAM! I garantuee you, that person will jump out of its bed and be wide awake.
Money, expecially among younger backpackers, seems like a never ending struggle. It is like water in the desert: where can you get it?

In this blog I would like to give you some tips on how to save and earn money while travelling. I will mainly focus on countries where I have been and where you can obtain a Working Hoiday Visa (WHV) such as New Zealand and Australia. With a WHV you can legally work up to 6 months for the same employer. Check the immigration websites for more details as every country has different rules and regulations. Also, make sure you know your rights; there are very nasty companies who do not pay you the right amount or tax you more than you should be.

Little important things to think about, but firtst of all, I would encourage everyone to go travelling. Even if it’s just for a year or so. It really opens up your mind and might makes you change it too. Were you planning on studying? Perhaps you change your study. Did you really wanted to work in IT? Maybe you find out you enjoying working in construction more and maybe your relationship is as good as it seems. Travelling gives you knew insights and perspectives on your live but also on yourself. Some people call it: “finding yourself“. It sounds a bit too dreamy for me but you will find out a great deal about yourself and work on your social aspects. You might needs to push some boundaries and step out of your comfort zone more often than you hoped for.

To keep on travelling might have been a conscious descision or not. You might have , at one point, decided to continue and explore another country. Others just go with the flow and they have just ended up somehow, travelling on. I belong in the latter catergory. It was the mere suggestion of my partner who suggested that we could go to Australia after New Zealand, and so we did. We started dreaming of other places and where to go next. Because you as free as a bird, you can do whatever you want to do and that feels great.

However, this doesn’t mean I am lying on the beach the whole day, sleep in, stay up late, party and consume lots of booz and drugs, like some of my friends and family are thinking. I would like to get this huge misunderstanding out of the way. Surely, there are backpackers who do that and love it but if you are travelling on a long term basis – let’s say, longer than 1 year – it becomes a lifestyle and who wants to live, needs to eat. Who needs to eat, needs money to buy food. Thus, you probably need to work at some point. (There are still many backpackers calling their parents for money…). Travelling can be hard work. We tend to wake up early and go to bed around 9-ish. Making a cup of coffee or tea involves a bit more than just putting the kettle on. Little things take much more time as you have limited space or facilities.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love camping and living in a car but it does require some energy.

When we settle down for a few months to fill up our wallets, we both go out looking for a job. I will be the one backpackers waking up with the whisper: “money is waiting for you”. But to get that money, I will have to work.

So here we come to tip no. 1. WORK. The magic word. But not every backpacker will jump out of its bed to work. Specially if you don’t like your job. In my case, I’m working 2 jobs and both of them are quite OK but not fantastic. It does bring in a fair bit of income but it is brain draining too. Knowing it is just for a short period – usually 2 or 3 months – I can deal with it.  Easy jobs are not dreamjobs. For example housekeeping. It is something I have done many times before and very easy to get. Still, I absolutely loathe it but when I look in the long term, it will keep me on the road for a while.

You don’t need to do things you don’t like. I choose to work easy jobs as I want to start quick and work hard to earn a lot of money. That is why I don’t look to long for a job and take the first thing I get. Others do look a bit longer and ending up with someting they more enjoy – or not.
A huge adventage of working while travelling is that you can try many things. Actually, you can do anything you want! In the countries where I have been, nobody cares about your education; as long you have the right attitude. Your experience list will grow rapidly. I can proudly say I have worked as a: cheesemaker, vegan baker, kitchenhand, sheep herder, housekeeper, doorknocker, car sales(wo)man, barista, waitress, receptionist, grape picker. On a blue Monday I have changed engine oil and break fluid for someone on a parking lot in Christchurch.

Tip no. 2 will sound like your mother. Or an accountant. Simply, don’t spend that much. Do you really need to stay in a caravan park for $45 a night? Do you really need to have a take-a-way coffee every day and $3 croissant? You can spend your money in a more sufficient way. Think in the long-term and about practical things. Great that you have 5 different shorts and 3 pair of jeans but how do you want to carry that around? It is better to invest in things you will need on the long run on your journey than buying new stuff all the time. Good hiking shoes or a head light are one of the things you can spend your money on and enjoy them for a long time.

So the conclusion? How to keep on travelling?  First of all: work whenever you have the change. Even if you don’t really have to work but you are still settling down for a few months, you should find a job. You will be grateful in the end as it will keep you on the road for a long strecht.
Second: don’t spend all your earnings on crap you don’t need. In matter of fact, try to safe up as much as possible. Let’s be honest, do you really need to have 6 pairs of shoes? And third: work and travel your own way. I have met many backpackers who either work 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, or people who don’t work and be drunk every night. These are 2 complete different examples of how you can travel. Most important is that you do it your way. If you don’t feel comfortable working 7 days a week, than don’t. Keep things fun; it is your journey.

The Simpson Desert

There is one massive blank spot on the Austrlian landmap and it is called: The Simpson Desert.  It is Australia´s fourth largest desert and covers up roughly 170 000 sq. km. between Alice Springs and Birdsville. This part is well known for its remoteness and the immense parallel dunes. If you want to cross it, you will have to tackle the 1100-ish sanddunes to get to the other side. Some of them are 200 km long and that makes the Simpson Desert home of the longest sanddunes in the world.

Now of course, why would anyone cross it? I mean, going up and down 1100 km sanddunes to get to another small town in the middle of nowhere, not to mention the amount of dust entering your car while driving. Besides that, there runs a highway north of the Simpson Desert. You might better take that one. You must be mental to do this.
It turned out, we were.

If there is one thing what it is inherent to the Australian culture, it is 4WDing. This means you drive around on – sometimes very- rough terrains, tackling washouts, sanddunes, beaches, creek crossings and such a like, just for the fun of it. With a good, well-maintained 4×4, you can almost get everywhere. I can tell you it is extremely funny to drive over a roundabout rather than taking it. It is also very helpful when driving sandy or corregated roads. As with a normal car, you will be shaken to death and more likely to roll over and lose several parts. In a 4×4 you simply release some tire pressure and off you go.

Back to the Simpson Desert, where there is obviously a 4WD track. Australians love driving and make tracks where ever they can. The road in the Simpson called The French Line and is one 439km straight line from west to east. But even before getting to the beginning of the road, it is a long rough way with dustholes, corrugation and some terrible steep washouts. I remember one creek crossing where I walked in first to see how deep it was and got suddenly stuck up to my knees.
Luckily, this is not something you will experience in the Simpson, as there is no water.

At lest that is what we thought. It turned out, there has been an incredible amount of rain, in the days before we arrived. This means more mud and damage to the track. On the other hand, the desert has never been that green since 10 years.

Driving through the desert doesn´t go without any risks and the Australian government and visitor centres take therefore any oppertunity to warn you about them. Lives hve been lost out there.
The French Line is one of the most feared tracks in the 4WD world and with that knowledge, I picked up a `HOW TO BE SAFE IN REMOTE AREAS` brochure to find out if there are any precauctions we had to take. Just in case.
To state the obvious, here’s a list of what you should know before heading out:
– Carry plenty of water: 7 L/ a day/ per person + 7 days extra.
– Enough food + 1 week extra
– In case of a breakdown: STAY AT YOUR VEHICLE! A missing car is easier to find than a person and this is how many people died. They leave their vehicle in search of water.
– Let someone know of your travel plans and when you are expected to be back
– Warn the police on both sides when you should arrive.
– Have a well maintained 4WD
– Carry enough fuel
– Carry a satallite phone + a 2m long red flag, attached to your bullbar.
– Do research and know what to expect.
– Know your vehicle and know how to repair it.
-Deflate your tires.
-Be experienced in 4WD and sand.
– Don’t go alone.

There are probably another 10 things to add but this is in big lines what everyone will tell you.
To be fair, I was scared to enter this god forsaken place. No shadow, no people, a long not-so-easy road and we would travel alone, not in a convoy or tag-along-tour. We would be alone.  Surely the list stated clearly: “Don’t go alone.” That means something, right? Right?!
What if we would tip? What if we get stuck-stuck? I could hear myself saying through our radio: “Blue troopy just tipped over, please help.” It would take days to someone would show up! And then , somehow, they would have to tow us out, tip us back. The disaster!

My partner, qualified mechanic, had nothing to fear. He wasn’t afraid. Nor scared. It was just a sandy and hilly drive in his eyes. In the weeks before, he had done every single repair on our vehicle and fixed things of which he thought had to be fixed. He reassured me that we had done so much 4WD the past 2 years, that the Simpson would be more than fine. (Fair enough, I can’t remember how it is to drive on a sealed road).
So off we went, up to the 1100 or so, sanddunes.

And was it one of the scariest tracks? Was it really that remote? Was it dangerous?No, no and no.
On the first day, we have met so many people, that it seemed impossible to even be stuck out there. Wait an hour, maximum, and someone will drive along. We have met tours, recreational drivers, seasonal drivers, locals, bikies, rangers and a massive truck. The landscape consisted indeed out of a lot of parallel sanddunes which means you will go up and down and up and down. It was sandy but not that sandy as the Sahara and above all, it was GREEN. Bush, small trees, salt lakes were filled, clouds were hanging above our head and even a few drips of rain came down.

The Simpson Desert was nothing like a dry, arid or remote place. Sure; there was no drinking water or communities around, but you were never alone.
Of course, we were perhaps lucky or experienced enough, but we did meet people who had some issues with their car. Also, some washouts were extremely scary. If you are unexperienced in 4WDing, it might be a difficult track to tackle. Nevertheless; if you are prepared, you can do it.


The Australian Kitchen

Chop. Slice. Blend. Stir. Mix. Rinse. Mash. Fry. Pop. Steam. Cook. Boil. Grill. Smoke. Dry. Rest. Bake. Fillet. Season. Drizzle. Mix. Beat. Slimmer. Serve. Eat.

In November 2015, Australia launched a new food channel: The Food Network. Not that this country lacks any cooking show. During prime time you can get inspired by Aussies BBQ Heroes, Jamie Oliver’s Superfood, Chopped, The Spirit of Japan, Inferno Kitchen, UK Bakes, Cabinet’s Kitchen and a dozen of others. Despite the huge range of these programs, it seemed viewers were in the need of something more. Quite funny, in my opinion, as Australia doesn´t really have decent food culture.

Every single European I come across has been complaining about the same thing: Australian food sucks. The bread is too soft, the coffees are too weak, soda’s are incredibly sweet and artifical. Above all: who came up to create Vegemite chocolate?! No, Australia is not a country like France or Italy where you could go to just because of its kitchen. France can be named in one sentence with croissant, crêpe, brie en Boeuf Bourguignon. Italy just breaths pizza and pasta. Perhaps Australia can be described with sausage rolls or pies. Not the chocolate pie or Dutch apple pie, but minced beef pie. It comes with a dash of ketchup and if you’re lucky, it had been made the same day. If not – what most likely the case is – you will probably munch it after a good night out.

The cooking shows are a big puzzle for me, as there is no point in broadcasting them. Why look at them and not use them? Sure, Jamie Oliver can provide you great ideas for dinner and it is quite entertaining but how likely is it you are actually going to put this in practice? Nihil, I assume. It is a real shame, as Australia has many farmers and produces a lot of fresh vegetables, meat and dairy. However, most of the harvest will be exported to other countries and Australia ends up importing more products. For example: the Passionfruit Christmas Pudding has been created in England from imported ingredients and exported to Australia. Same for the Belgian Chocolate Cake, made in Belgium – I guess this is actually a good thing – and the kiwi’s are imported from Italy. You start to wonder if this country keeps anything for themselves and if they are able to cook something more than a mashed avocado toast.

Well, there is one thing Australians are bloody good at doing: the barbecue. It is the French gourmet pan, the Italian pizza oven and the Belium deepfrying pan. All hail, make way for the Australian Barbecue! You cannot live without a barbecue unless you deny that you are in Australia. There are options for vegetarian and vegans so no one will be left behind. Every household owns at least one of these smoking hot grills. Either working on gas or with – flavoured! – coals: char grill, steam, woodfire, spit, portable or smoking. Australia has the answer. There are free electric barbecues in parks if your backgarden is too small. Every day, the council cleans them but on the country side, you might be a bit unlucky. Most rest areas have designed barbecue pits so that you could still light the barbie, if you could not afford a portable on – and also to prevent bushfires.

Knowing this, the only understandable cooking show which makes sense, is Aussie Barbecue Heroes. I wouldn’t be surprised if locals pick something up from this show. Three couples have to face different barbecue challanges such as “create a dish with prawns, sweet chili and basil, within 30 minutes!” or “give me a fushion steak!” It is far more interesting than Australia’s Master Chef with the tension around Sally’s dish and the question if the eggs of her quinea salad are boiled on the point or not.

To wrap up the Australian kitchen, you will need 3 things. Pie – preferable a few days old, reheated – a barbecue – to create excellent steaks – and an ice cold beer – but due to the heat, it is more likely a warm one. I haven’t discussed the matter “beer” but as most students among us know what a beer is, it seemed irrelevant to me to elaborate on that subject. There are no extrodinairy beers here: think about a simple beer and reduce the alcohol to 3.5% and that is your Australian beer. However, you never know what Jamie Oliver comes up with and turns it into a gourmet superfood. This country is full of surprises.

So there you go: pie, barbecue and a beer that goes along with it. Simple and easy, that is Australian food culture. Who needs Passionfruit Christmas Pudding anyway?

Up the Track

The wilderness around us slowly disappeared and more houses were showing up along the road. Places such as Humpty Doo and Palmerston passed our window. If you ever have been to Australia you probably know where I am. We found ourselves in the Northern Territory’s Top End, Darwin. A sign doomed up in the distance: 10 kilometres to go.

It had been a good 2 month from Melbourne until we had reached this part of the country. Of course, there was a quicker way which might have taken half the time we took, but that would have been less enjoyable. The easiest way to get to Darwin is via the famous Stuart Highway, also known as “The Track”. The sealed road starts in Adelaide and is 3500 km long. It leads you through the Red Centre of Australia, along cities like Coober Pedy and Alice Springs. The Track is travelled by many locals and backpackers all year round. You will not be left alone when you get a flat tyre and rest areas along the way are designed for overnight stays. Often they fill up around the hour of 3 o’clock.

It would have been indeed a faster way to get to Darwin. However, we had the luxury to kill some time before we would hit the city. And to be fairly honest, avoiding the Stuart Highway is the best you can do. Yes, The Track is one of those roads you should drive when you are in Australia. In my opinion you should do it because you can say you have done it and to visit Ayers Rock, a 460 km drive from Alice Springs. Part from that, there is nothing to do or to see, between the few roadhouses which form the only opportunity to fill up your car and your tummy with a counter meal. The landscape stays more or less the same, the whole way through. The road is straight, no turns, roundabouts, curves or double lanes. Perhaps a turn off, once in a while. No, the Stuart Highway is not the most scenic or interesting route that exists. Merely, it is just a road.

Knowing this from previous experience, we took a rough 2000 km detour via dirt roads and 4 wheel drive tracks (4WD) . After crossing the boarder with the states New South Wales and South Australia, we drove up to Innamincka via he Strzelecki Track, and several non-touristic national parks. The 4WD road is not the most scenic one, and maybe even more boring than the Stuart Highway. Nevertheless, it was an experience and a challenge to drive after a week of rainfall, like we had. The track leads to Innamincka, a small settlement close to the boarder of Queensland. It has that romantic touch of a remote cattle station with dust tornadoes created by triple trailer roadtrains, rushing by. Not to forget to mention the incredible amount of flies swirling around your head, trying to get in your eyes, ears and mounth.

From here you can crossover to the Birdsville Track via Walkers Crossing, another 600 km of four wheel driving. The Birdsville track is a popular drive, bringing you from Birdsville to a little place called Marree. You will drive along the edges of the Simpson Desert, Australia’s own Sahara.

Marree marks the end of the Birdsville track but also the beginning of a new off-road: the fascinating Oodnadatta Track, leading via Oodnadatta to Marla, follows the old Ghan railway. The rail service was originally designed to transport goods from Port Augusta in South Australia to Alice Springs, but it got shut down after sixty years because of poor maintenance, which led to financial losses and extreme delays up to three months (Australia, The Rough Guide, 1999).

Despite of the relics and desolated sidings you can find on the way, it is again, not the most spectacular drive of all. The badly corrugated 620 kms road shows you nothing else than endless bushland and dust clouds.

However, this might as well be the most scenic and special experience of the outback. Australia, after all, is a big country and distances are often underestimated by us, spoiled Europeans who demand a sort of attraction every 50 kms. In my believe, the big fat nothing is the most scenic attraction and is unique compared to the European continent. This country is not filled with ancient towns or 4 lane highways. Instead, there might be 1 main route to get to another place. In that sense, we are very spoiled with our cultural heritage. With a 3 hour drive you could be in Germany or France. A three hour drive here means you are not even half way.

And although therre is not much on the way and there not many cities, it does not mean you are alone. Australians like driving and are used to the long distances. The 3 tracks, Strzelecki-Birdsville-Ooodnadatte, are therefor the most popular dirt roads in the country and are frequently travelled by locals. It is a pain if you want to be alone but a bless if you get stuck, knowing that there will always be someone to pull you out.

In that sense, driving off the beaten track might not be so much different than the sealed main roads. But if you looking for a more adventurous way to experience the outback, than this is something you should do. No smooth sealed road, but dust and corrugation. No road trains and backpackers, but locals and 4WD enthusiasts. No busy rest ares, but a whole campsite for yourself and no one else around you. Complete remoteness. Well that is an experience.

The World According to Bill

Since October we have swapped our Nissan Homy Caravan for an apartment. It is a cheap-as place, where dust and thin, plaster walls are the only things what separates you and your neighbours. This doesn’t count for noise because that goes right through it. Happy us. This is how we got to know our neighbours a bit better. On the left there lives a couple who loves Desperate Housewives and right door´s they are very religious and are helping our his sister who has a long history of money problems.
Often I feel like living in Die Pension Grillparzer, written by the fictional character T.S. Garp in John Irving’s The World According to Garp. The pension is inhabited by odd circus performances such as a pretty good dream teller and a beer, riding a unicycle. You hear them but don’t see them. You know they are there because during the day all the showers are taken – why?! – and after eight o’clock everyone starts cooking – why?! Nothing better than the smell of curry at 11 pm, right? At night you can hear voices but when you are looking for the right door to knock on to ask if they can shut up, they stop.

On the ground floor Bill is the manager. Whenever Bill disagrees with the daily life in the kitchen, second bathroom or washing room, he will do something about it. Once in a while, Bill likes to lock the bathrooms downstairs. Every time he hears too much noise, he assumes ´they are having a party´ and shuts down the toilets. He is also the one he turns of the gas and cleans the kitchen. If the washing machine or dryer doesn’t work, you can ask Bill to come and help you. He will show up with a hammer and makes sure it will take your coins.

The sad thing about Bill is that he looks like he has never had a fun day in his whole life. Lines in his face show that he is definitely older than sixty and his voice reminds me of Miley Cyrus. His white hair goes where gravity doesn’t and that hints that he has been Santa Claus in his previous life.

Bill kills his days by sitting outside on his Yellow Pages, sipping coffee from a beer glass and reading a copy of The Listener, a `good English book´, as he says. The latter is not really book, it is the sort of TV Guide which writes about a possible zombie apocalypse in Auckland, including an A-Z survival guide. His favourite show, he told me, is Dr. Oz who gives `great advice!` I had to try Miso Soup. “You know what Miso soup is? You can get it at Countdown, it is a soup with seaweed. It is very healthy, one of the healthiest food in the world Dr. Oz said.”

Bill’s weak spot it Tassie – Tasmania. Just like most Kiwi’s, he has lived in Australia for over six years. Now he is retired he wants to move back and settle down but first he wants to clean the aquarium because you can hardly see the fish any more. Bill has never been anywhere else than Australia and New Zealand, so Europe is exotic. My worn-out hoodie which says “PARIS, 69!” from the local Op-Shop was “a fancy t-shirt!” and my cookies are “yummie! Mum’s recipe?”

I like Bill, till a certain point. When you are in a hurry, it is not a good thing to run into Bill: whenever he starts talking, he will not stop talking. On the other hand, Bill keeps the fishes alive, saves you from wearing your swimsuit when you ran out of underwear when the washing machine gave up on you. I really do hope Dr. Oz is right about that Miso Soup and that it keeps Bill alive and healthy.

The Wedding

The city Bandung is called Kota Kembang [The City of Flowers]. After the smog and durian smell of Jakarta, I was thrilled to see it. Unfortunately, Bandung was not much better than Jakarta. Traffic jam is a national  problem and so does Bandung too, suffers from the ongoing – or not going – stream of cars. Its nickname did not apply at all to the city, rather you could call it Jakarta 2.0.

For me, Bandung was bizarre. I couldn’t find a city center, the way, a structure or anything worth visiting or anything at all. And still, I spent almost a full week there. My host Dewi told me straight away when I arrived, that I couldn’t go out on my own and if I wanted to go somewhere, she would come with me. It was standard that you would be home before 11 PM. The evening clock, starting at 12, prevented youngsters and teenagers to go out to clubs and bars. Also, it should lower the high criminality rate. Murder and raping were extremely common.  I was shocked. Was it that bad here? Dewi nodded. Yes, last week her bag was stolen from her dads car. The window was ruined but that didn’t matter, as long her dad was still alive. I asked what she meant and Dewi explained: Robbers don’t want any eyewitnesses so if you, by accident, see something, they would probably stab you. I didn’t want to believe it.  On the other hand, it did explain all the gates in front of the houses here.

One of the reasons why I stayed in Bandang, was because I got invited for an Indonesian wedding. This changed my travel plans a bit but that was alright: I only had a rough idea where I wanted to go so I was very flexible.
I would attend the wedding with two other German girls, Lea and Sarah. We were a bit afraid of the need of wearing a nice dress and high heels. As backpackers we only had our harem trousers and loose H&M t-shirts.

Non of this is relevant to a simple Indonesian wedding, according to Dudung, Dewi’s farther. And no, nobody will throw with rice! Although there’s more than enough amounts of rice in this country, it’s not something they would do. They rather eat it after the ceremony. I had already noticed how utterly creative Indonesians were with their national dish, nasi. There was red, white, brown, black, (non-)sticky, yellow rice. Cooked in banana leaves, 20 different sorts of oil, spices, (coconut)milk. Sweet or savoury, whatever you wish. One day I helped with the rice harvest and upon today I still find some grains in my backpack. But that is another story.

Dudung kept on stressing that it would be a simple Indonesian wedding. Me who never attended a wedding in her life, still expected a RTL scene. On the contrary, this was everything execpt what I thought it would be. Dewi’s uncle got married for the second time  – up to four times is accepted – and this time it would take place at the house of the bride. When we arrived, we had to take our shoes of and sit on the ground of the living room. Many people around us were playing with their smartphones and seemed barely interested in what the imam had to say. Not that we could understand anything about what he was saying, but playing with your phone? Some family members weren’t troubled turning the noise down.

Another thing which I never got used to during my stay on Java, was the incredible amount of attention we got from family members. Their focus was not on the newlyweds, but on us. We had to pose, smile, shake hands. When the wedding treasure was handed over to the family we had to be in the picture. They stopped the ceremony so there could be pictures taken of us with the couple. Guests asked us if we were single and if we would like to meet their sons. Left-overs of the buffet went to us and  in the end they thanked us more than a gazillion times.

And all this within 2 hours.

The drive to and from the wedding took even longer. Because of the traffic jam.

White Legs.

It was a pleasant half an hour rock-jumping to get to the waterfalls. They were called “Kedung Malem ” which means something in the context of “The heart of an [fallen] angel.” The green canyon wherein the waterfalls were situated blocked most of the daylight which lowered the temperature to 20 degrees. A relief, if you compare it to the 35 degrees in the sun. To get to the waterfalls from Madiun, East Java, you need to have a damn good car which can deal with all the ups and downs. Or you need to be in the lucky possession of a motorbike. In both cases you need to have good GPS System. In my case, my host’s friends Patmo and Bernardi new the way and cruised me around on their motorbikes. It was an hour drive through the mountains and I enjoyed every single second of that ride. The air was cool, the landscape was changing: from city to sawa’s, from dried out forests to woodland  giants so high, you couldn’t see the top anymore.

Patmo and Bernadi went for a swim. Being in the country now for 2,5 weeks, I learned that swimming did not happen in bikini’s or trunks. People kept their clothes on (jeans, headscarves, shirts…) if they went for a dip. As a local explained before, Javanese find it “too naked”and “rude” to walk around in swimming gear. “It’s like walking in shorts; you just don’t do it.”
So instead of taking a refreshing dip, I installed myself on a big and comfortable rock. It was truly a pleasure looking at the guys, seeing them having fun.

Patmo came up to me. His English was broken but understandable. “Marie, you know how clean yourself with stone?”, he asked me. I shacked my head. He grabbed a flat stone out of the stream and started to scrub is legs, while continuing poring water on them. I repeated it him and soon little black and brownish streams flowed down my shins and calves. Patmo pointed to my legs: “So white!” he said surprised. I smiled and putted my leg next to his to compare. You couldn’t imagine a bigger contrasts. We started laughing. I was so white compared to his leg that I was almost glowing. “You’re as white as an angel”, Bernardi said when he saw my legs. “You’re the falling angel of the waterfall!”

Thinking back of it, it was actually an unique experience. I’ve never felt white and I don’t care what kind of skin colour others have. But I remember a phone call of my American friend in Christchurch, just before I left. He said: “Oh man, Marie, you’re going to be fine. You’re going to see the advantage of being a white, European girl.” I remembered I laughed about that and replied: “Oh well, we’ll see.”

My friend was right. Being a white girl had its advantages. First of all, everyone wanted to help you and looked at you with some kind of admiration I cannot describe. Second, people were extremely friendly, invited you over for dinner, lunch, to meet their family, school classes, friends. Everywhere you visited, water was given, food was served even though you hadn’t asked for it. But this also had a huge downside. It meant I couldn’t set one single step alone. Soon I understood why celebrities have bodyguards, disguises or rent complete restaurants so they can have a quiet lunch. Your freedom is completely gone. In Bandung, my and another Dutch couchsurfer, weren’t allowed to go out on the street on our own. There had to be someone with us, at all times. In Jakarta, it took me and two other German backpackers, half an hour to leave the Kota Square because people kept on coming up to us, asking for pictures and video’s. In Madiun, the Peacock Center I visited, uses now a car pick up guests because they had find it “unappropriated” that I came by motorbike. On our way to the waterfalls, a pregnant woman asked me to touch her belly, in the hope her child would turn out to be white as well.

With many other travelers and hosts I talked about these events because most of them hadn’t expect that much of attention. We came to two conclusions. First, you’ve a celebrity status because most people see white people on TV, making the link White = Famous. Second, Java is not that touristic as Bali. As Javanese don’t see that many white people in real life, it makes you more special.
Looking back on everything, I can laugh about it, while being in the situation, I remember I got very annoyed. In the end I was sick of being a showpiece for someone’s family. On the other hand, place yourself in their position, wouldn’t you have done the same?
At the waterfalls of Kedung Malem it was like everything washed away. Patmo and Bernardi were just Patmo and Bernardi, not two Javanese. And I was just Marie, a couchsurfer from Holland, with very white legs.


Originally, I wanted to write about being homesick and how fortunate Dutch students are with having their “home” – whatever you want to call it – nearby. Yes, on Friday afternoon, the NS has to deal with the thousands of students who are making their way home – meaning; their home city or parent’s place. Although it is maybe a 3 hour journey, other (international) students don’t even have the ability to go home or need to travel maybe double the time. That makes the lazy days at your parent’s place not worth going and staying “home” in Maastricht might be the only other option.

Either way, everyone has something what you can call “home”, either your student flat or your parent’s place.

And then there are the people who don’t have a “home”. In with “home”, I mean a roof above your head or a warm shelter with at least 4 walls and a front door. When you think of homeless people, you might think of beggars in India or Brazil.However, in the current Western society, homeless people do exist. Some of them try to collect some money by selling newspapers; others can’t be bothered and just lay on the street, hoping for some spare change. Each and one of them has his/her own story about how they became homeless. Quite recently, I spoke to a guy in Auckland who went bankrupt and got divorced at the same time. His (ex)wife and the bank came knocking on his door for money and that is how he lost everything. Even more striking was that his family didn’t want to help him which is why he ended up on the streets.

In the donut city of Christchurch, I spoke to Richard. Richard is 39 years old, born and grown up in the city. Since the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, he lives in his car since he has no home left. According to him, the council is too slow with providing and renovating houses. And if they provide them, they are often without hot water or electricity – these are his words. So when the rebuilding started, he stored al his possessions in a safe garage – furniture, his MTB collection – and moved to his van. He drove to the suburb called New Brighton, pulled over at the parking lot and didn’t leave that spot ever since. In fact, he is too afraid that his car won’t be able to drive. I’ve talked to Richard for hours – and hours – and he basically is homeless. He has no address, no work, no family, only a van and government support in the form of money. On his roof, there are solar panels to run his laptop. I’m pretty sure he won’t move his car for the rest of his life.

At the moment, I feel quite similar like Richard. Although Auckland CBD is not like Christchurch and we do have a job, we are still living in a car with no fixed postal address. Surviving on the streets changes your way of thinking. Instead of just buying whatever you like, you have to consider the amount of space you got left. Or the fridge, which we aren’t able to run due to the low capacity of the battery. Furthermore, you have to walk 200 m to the toilet and back; but also to brush your teeth, to clean yourself, to do dishes or to fill up your water tank. Showers are a 10 minute walk and paid ($2,5). The first proper WiFi connection is available at the library, half an hour walk. Laundry is only doable at launderettes, which are coin operating and don’t always supply a dryer. However, I’m not complaining because we have the best free camping spot, with great view on the Skytower.

In other words, not having a roof above your head is a challenge. Knowing that we HAVE a home, an the other side of the world sets our mind at rest. If everything may fail, we can always go home.

Up, up and away

I’m writing this from Vienna Airport. (Bless you, free WiFi, for not letting me die of boredom on long connections.) I’ve just come off my 50th flight ever and, since I’m ridiculously attracted to significant numbers, I’ve been reviewing my flying history.

It was magical at first and I was terrible at it. The very first time I flew, I needed help with the seat belt – and I was fifteen. I was constantly stripped of liquids and fluids just above the volume limit and I forgot jewelry on as I went through security. I was always the one staring helplessly at announcement panels and airport maps and, after running through Schiphol to make my connection, I handed the flight attendant the book I was reading instead of the boarding card. But I was fascinated with the flight itself, to the point of trading places with strangers just to stare out of the window.

Then it became routine. I learned to pack a week’s worth of clothing in a miraculously expanding backpack and leave all “dangerous” items on top, for easy access. I got to know a few airports like the back of my hand and got a general feeling of how others were organized, trying to always beat my own record on how fast I can spot the bus stop signs. I even got stuck with rituals and little games. I took to sneaking duty-free perfume on my wrists in spite of shop attendants and started going for the same overpriced Tea Latte in the Brussels Airport. I even tried to identify the flight home just by looking at people in the line, headphones still on for no linguistic aid. It usually works – there’s something about Romanians queuing in airports that never fails to remind me of documentaries on the feeding habits of hyenas.

And now I’m somewhere in between. I’ve kept my operative efficiency and almost arrogantly casual attitude towards various airport procedures. I’m weeding down my routines, especially since that overpriced Tea Whatever is really overpriced and I’ve been flying more often. I no longer care if my seat is window or aisle, but I will stare out at clouds if they’re there and giggle nervously at every air “bump” in the road. And I just need one more new airport for the next level of the Foursquare “Jetsetter” badge. So if anyone feels like RyanAir-ing somewhere, gimme a call.

Surviving The Trains

Michael’s red jacket and pack flashed in and out the crowd as he bulleted around each person. Craning my neck while avoiding a confused man to my left, I attempted to keep him in my sight. We were all together in this, running for our lives to make that train connection with one minute left on the analogue clock above me. Read more

Getting around without getting lost

It’s been about a month since I left my home in Texas to study abroad in Maastricht. Through this program, I’ve had the chance to visit some amazing countries and meet a lot of interesting people. However, I realized that I never took the time to explore Maastricht. In fact, the only places I can get to without getting lost is the Albert Heijn that’s located next to the guesthouse, the CES building and Vrijthof Square. But why is that? You would think that after being in a city for a month, I’d be a pro at getting around, right? Read more

A German fairytale

While y’all were Carnival-ing it away, yours truly was castle-spotting in South Germany over the weekend. It was freezing, tiring and straight-out lovely.

I left from Brussels on an easyJet flight. The people from the Brussels National Airport have an ambivalent attitude towards low-cost airlines. On the one hand, they accept some companies (easyJet, FlyBe and BlueAir, for example) instead of exiling them to cheaper brother Charleroi Airport. On the other hand, they seem ashamed at their tolerance, so they exile the flights to the most hidden corners of the terminal. So I climbed down endless flights of stairs to a basement-like waiting room and then walked for the duration of 3 songs through the Belgian icy drizzle until I finally reached the plane. I buckled up, had the usual argument with the flight attendants regarding the dangers my Kindle poses to air safety and enjoyed an uneventful flight to Basel.

Basel is technically in Switzerland. Basel Airport is just across the French border and serves not only Basel, but also French city Mulhouse and beautiful German Freiburg. So the airport has a Swiss side and a Franco-German side, each with separate car rental agencies,  which seems pointless until you discover the staggering price difference between the sides. So the Boy and I sneaked through the sliding doors of the conventional border, rented a car from the French side and we were off.

First on the list, Sigmaringen Schloss in the city of the same name, slightly south of Stuttgart. Built by an apparently unremarkable branch of the better-known Hohenzollern family, the castle dominates the sleepy town from its hill and charges a bit too much for entrance. So we settled for a walk in the streets decorated for carnival and then left, having laughed at the parking spaces reserved for women.

Renting the car from the French side came back to bite us. We were cruising through the hills when it started snowing heavily. We half pulled over, half almost crashed into the roadside and discovered that French renting companies are not obliged to provide winter tires. So they don’t. For the rest of the day, our driving speed went back and forth between 100-something and 30 km/h, all the while cursing the elements and overworking the windshield wipers.

By the time we reached Burg Hohenzollern, it was too late to visit it, so we just walked around it, laughing at the former kings of Prussia, who apparently thought it fun to have the same name and just change the number at the end. After another few hours of fun-filled drive on icy roads, we finally reached Lindau, our stop for the night. Delightfully placed on the shore of Lake Constance, which the Germans insist in calling a sea for some reason, Lindau looks exactly like I’ve always imagined Bavarian cities. It has cobbled streets, painted buildings and was, at that time, covered in both snow and Carnival decorations. We almost would have stayed.

But we didn’t, since there was still the highlight of the trip to be reached. East of Lake Constance, tucked away between hills and mountains lies the castle you don’t even know you know. Built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Neuschwanstein looks weirdly familiar until you realize (or read on Wikipedia) that it served as inspiration for the Disney castles. If you remember one thing from this whole article, let this one be it: Go see Neuschwanstein. The guided tour explains its history in a manageable format, the rooms are stunningly decorated with scenes from folk legends and the view down into the surrounding valley makes you feel on top of the world.

After another long drive, we got back to Basel and, disturbingly soon, it was time to head back home. I found Maastricht covered in confetti, broken glass and silly string, so I’m guessing you had a good time, too. But I’ll be honest: I had too much fun to regret missing the Carnival chaos. Maybe next year.

Studying Positive Psychology and discovering Europe

My experience thus far in Maastricht has been wonderful! I arrived a week early into Amsterdam with my mom, or as many here say “my mum,” and immediately felt welcomed and at ease. We ventured to many churches, explored restaurants and visited museums, including the Church in the Attic, waffle shops, and the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum of modern art. We visited the Anne Frank house, the Tulip Museum , the Cheese Museum, and watched fireworks in honor of the New Year. In sum, it was a beautiful way to bring in 2013! On January 2nd, I took a train to Maastricht to settle in before orientation on the third. I reunited with my roommate, Austen Applegate, who I also go to school with, as well as the other students who attend Guilford. Austen and I are the only two Americans taking the Positive Psychology class, the others are in the International Relations program. I loved meeting the other students here, most of which are from different places across Australia. I truly believe we have shared experiences that will result in us keeping in touch for many years to come. We just returned from a weekend trip to Brussels and Bruges this weekend and indulged in history, chocolate, and beer. We walked the city learning of history from our tour guides, learned where Karl Marx lived, made wishes upon Everhard ‘t Serclaes, and then in our free time tried cactus beer at the Delirium tap house.









The next day we explored Bruges on another tour and had the chance to climb the Belfry tower and went on a tour of a brewery and sampled beer from Belgium. We saw astounding views, danced, and expanded our minds and our wardrobes. Those experiences include our educational endeavors, walking tours, weekend excursions and bicycling to class. The walking tour of Maastricht was extremely beautiful and historical. Everywhere here truly is a monument, and I can definitely see the distinction between Maastricht in the Netherlands, versus the Protestant influenced Holland. The tour guide told us many interesting things as he led us through the city about the other side of the gate called “hell” and how different it was from the side that had little Catholic influence. Class has been fascinating and supports all the areas I want to further explore. I feel like I’m applying the lessons of gratitude, appreciation, and positive thinking effectively. This trip has me in complete amazement. So much so, that when in class, I scored on a happiness ratio a total of 16 to 1, the average happiness ratio is a 3 to 1. I have certainly been grateful to be here in the Netherlands!

About the author: Noelle Lane

Noelle profile picI am a double major in theater studies and psychology at Guilford College in North Carolina. I enjoy travelling and exploring as it helps to see that despite our differences, we are all the same.  I love making new friends, acting, exploring the human mind, and educating the public on the issues of homelessness.


Being a UCM student, I am spoiled when it comes to vacation.  Just a week and a half ago, we got done with our last “reflection week,” so I probably can’t make any claims that I needed another vacation.  Still, it is not often that someone from my small hometown (2,653 people remember) makes it all the way over to Europe.  So when a friend of mine told me that he would be coming to Vienna for a conference this week, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet up with him and to spend a few days in Vienna. Plus, being able to cross another country off of my list of countries visited, feels pretty important to someone who is used to crossing off a list of states visited.
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Best Websites for Procrastination

#1.  Facebook I know, I know.  But it is what it is, right?

#2. PostSecret The sad, the beautiful, the disturbed, comcom
hopeful… they all have secrets.  And we can read them!

#3. Stumble Upon Just create an account.  You know you want to.

#4. YouTube  Duh.  Who HASN’T spent a good amount of time browsing youtube.  But have you seen this one yet?

\”Sophia Grace meets Nicki Minaj\”

Only in America…

#5.  Food Gawker For when you have no food and no money to buy any food, and want to torture yourself.

#6.  The Huffington Post Because then we can pretend that we have an intellectual reason for not studying.

#7.  RyanAir Oh the places we’ll go..

#8. Who else is so NOT spending the summer waitressing?

#9. FML If you get to page 100, you have a problem.  But then, so do most of the people posting on this website.

#10.  Occupy Wall St. One of few events in the U.S. that I regret not being there for.

#11. BodyRock Yes, it looks trashy.  But the workouts are hard… for those days when you just can’t make yourself leave the house.

#12.  The Big Picture When you’re too tired to read the news.


Okay, that’s enough.  I don’t want to be responsible for anyone failing their exams.

Good luck everyone!



Ways to deal with Homesickness.


Homesick [ˈhəʊmˌsɪk], adj; depressed or melancholy at being away from home and family homesickness (Collins English Dictionary)

I am officially home in Edinburgh for a few weeks and it’s good to be home, although really strange. I’m sure many students experience the ‘which home is my real home’ problem and I found that in some ways I am now homesick for Maastricht. (Strange.) Some people say that homesickness is merely being uncomfortable in a new environment, others don’t believe it exists at all. Whatever it is, some people may experience an uncomfortable time when living away from home and here are some good ways that I have found to deal with those feelings:


#1 Meet up with people. Literally the best thing you can do. Go for coffee or a walk or to the gym. Life – affirming things generally help to distract you. I would not recommend beer or the cinema as you will generally start thinking about the fact that you are homesick and beer has the added con of putting you on a high for a short while before a let-down in mood the next day.

#2 Bubble bath or a good hot shower. Makes you feel good and lets you take some time for yourself.

#3 Have a nice skype conversation with your family or friends from home. But not too long, otherwise you forget to live in the moment and appreciate your life where you are.

#4 Eat well. Food seems to have a big affect on mood so skipping the chocolate and coffee and having some fruit instead seems to be a good idea.

#5 Decorate your room nicely. It always feels good to be living in a space that feels comfortable and is a nice happy place to come back to after a hard day at uni.

#6 Join a club. Having a weekly club like salsa or football to look forward to can keep your mind off things. Also exercise increases your endorphins, which makes you feel happier too!

I am sure everyone is different, but feel free to comment if you have any other tips. 🙂