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Readers Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Inspirational Adventure/Travel Reads

by: Louie Knolle

Introduction:

I don’t know you reader, but one thing I do know is that you are human. Should I meet you someday, perhaps we will have a nice conversation about some books we have both read.  At one of my two jobs, I pick apples on an orchard and work in the farm stand.  Man oh man, how I have learned how subjective taste is.  What can taste sweet to one person, can taste more on the tart side to another. What one considers to be crisp, another can think of as soft. This is why I firmly believe in testing a variety of things, no matter the object of desire.  When it comes to things like travel destinations, foods, or reading books, the worst that can happen is you decide it is not for you.  Armed with this knowledge, you will be better suited for the decision making process on the next go-round.  I think we can all agree that learning more about ourselves in one of the most adventurous endeavors we as human beings can undertake in our lives.  I consider this way of thought synonymous with breathing, it’s just something natural that everyone has the ability to do.

Although I would consider myself a novice bibliophile at best, I always enjoy the books that I choose to read.  Whether they be travel memoirs, eastern philosophies, metamorphoses inspired by nature, classic literature, or even the standard 14 part fantasy epic, I am always intrigued by the books that end up on my book shelf.  Never able to succinctly answer when asked what I like to read, I prefer this M.O. of book selection and am able to learn so much.  For this reason, I have been assigned the duty of compiling a list of some of my favorite adventure, travel, inspirational, etc. reads.  Since our resident wordsmith and book bandit Man-goat is off finishing the AT like the child-like cherub that he is, I will do my best to elucidate in his stead.  This is by no means a complete list of course, there are thousands upon thousands of books that would fit in these genres, and I am but one man who knows what he likes.  Unfortunately I cannot read them all, that’s where you come in! I will do my best to explain what I liked about these books and share a few details without writing several book reports.  I hope that you will use these as a starting point on your search for both books to read and places to go out and experience in real life.  I know some of these have determined some of my both past and future trips.  Happy trails and happy reads!

zenZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance   Robert Pirsig

This book was published in 1974. Told through the frame of a long motorcycle trip across America, the book explores life and how to best live it.   Perspectives from Eastern and Western philosophy and religion are referenced, highlighted, and explored, and through this exploration, the narrator addresses the pivotal question of how to pursue technology in a way that enriches human life as opposed to degrading it. The motorcycle trip starts in Minneapolis, Minnesota and concludes near San Francisco, CA. The narrator and his son, Chris, are accompanied by a couple, the Sutherlands. As a contrast to the narrator, John and Sylvia Sutherland represent people who are uncomfortable with technology. They feel oppressed by it and use motorcycle trips to escape. At the same time, however, they are dependent on technology. This conflict hints at a larger conflict in society and life. The narrator aims to explore this conflict with technology and get to its root.

In Bozeman, Montana, the Sutherlands decide to turn back and not continue on their journey.  The narrator and his son then decide to embark on a hiking trip in the mountains nearby and a lot is revealed about their complex relationship and about the narrator’s troubled past.  Coincidentally enough, I read this book while on a 3 week road trip out west a few years ago and could not think of a more perfect place to have read it.  Both for getting to actively live and experiment with the ideals of introspection on the road and for the simple fact I love, love, love reading while traveling.  At the end of a long day of driving and sight seeing, nothing is more relaxing then reclining in a hammock at a brand new campsite.  Although this book has been around for decades, I still find a lot of friends who have not read it yet!

Read more of Louie’s Suggestions here.

New Zealand Trip Planning Follow-Up

By: Mackenzie Griesser

It’s crazy to think I’ve been back from my trip for a month already! Now that I’ve unpacked all my bags and uploaded all my pictures, it’s time to digest this crazy experience. I spent a ridiculous amount of hours planning every detail possible for this trip and, for the most part, I did a pretty good job! One of my biggest concerns was figuring out what all I’d be allowed to bring into the country. New Zealand has pretty strict customs, but neither me nor my father had any issues coming in. The other major concern I had was just how different it would be there compared to the states. I had a small idea of what to expect but you never really know what a place is like until you go there. Luckily, there weren’t too many major differences and it was easy to adapt to the way things are done down there. My father and I spent 7 days driving through the entire country down the middle of the North Island and the west coast of the South Island. We also spent 2 days backpacking on Stewart Island and 2 days exploring Auckland. Although there were more than enough opportunities for something to go wrong, the trip went smoother expected and blew my mind way more than I thought possible.

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A pretty picture I took on Stewart Island

There were only a couple aspects that I had to leave unplanned because I was unsure what the situation would be like once we got there. First, I knew I couldn’t fly with fuel for my stove and would have to buy some once we arrived. I was not worried about there being a shortage of stores to purchase from, but I hadn’t figured out an exact time and place to go to get it. Luckily we drove through a handful of towns with outfitters before we needed the fuel, so we were able to obtain some no problem, and check out some cool outfitters along the way! The other issue I hadn’t quite figured out yet was how to store our excess luggage before taking off for our trek on Stewart Island. I emailed the company that was providing the shuttle and ferry service and they informed me that there were lockers for rent, but they weren’t very big. Unfortunately they were unable to provide me with exact dimensions, so my dad and I counted on them to be big enough for our duffels and didn’t try to make other arrangements. Upon arriving, we realized the lockers were a little too small for all of our items. Luckily, the ferry terminal was a small office and we were going to return three days later, so they held our two bags in the employee area. However, for future reference, I would not count on this option being available. It was the beginning of Spring in New Zealand when we went, so the busy season for tramping hadn’t begun yet. Later in the season, this probably wouldn’t be an option.

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My dad next to a handy-dandy sign showing nearby hikes

Of course, no vacation is perfect, no matter how well it’s planned! Something always ends up coming up that must be dealt with. The biggest concern of this nature that we experienced on this trip was health-related. My father and I both came down with head colds a few days after arriving (most likely due to the 30+ hours of travel it took to get there). There were a couple times we felt pretty under the weather and decided to go straight to the campground or Airbnb and relax instead of doing the short hike I had planned. Another issue we encountered was a logistical one that was easily figured out. On the long flight out, my father was reading through the “small print” for our rental car reservation and realized we were not allowed to bring the rental car on the ferry from the North to the South Island. Luckily, all we had to do was arrange to drop off our car at the ferry terminal in Wellington and pick up another in Picton on the South Island. This actually worked in our favor because there was a $70 fee to bring a car on the ferry that was refunded when we changed our reservation! The only other issues we encountered were also minor and easy to sort out. First, I somehow traveled to this country not knowing they have completely different outlets! However, we lucked out on our third day and found a hardware store that sold converters- crisis averted. There was also way less internet there than I expected. I knew I wouldn’t have any cellular data, just WiFi, but even that was scarce. And when there was WiFi available, it was very limited. It was an odd but awesome feeling being so disconnected from my friends and what was happening back home. The only time it was an issue was when I was trying to navigate and the solution was simple: download directions while we still had internet! Lucky for us, this issue never became more serious and we avoided getting lost pretty well!

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The giant ferry that runs between the North and South Islands

So far I’ve described the end results of issues I was worried about before departing and discussed the other major issues we encountered on the trip. Now I’d like to talk about the fun stuff- my favorite moments and what surprised me the most about this awesome country! One of the first things I noticed, besides the driving on the left side of the road and roundabouts in lieu of traffic lights, was that the washroom in every place we stayed, with the exception of campgrounds, had a towel warmer! One Airbnb host was floored when I told her this isn’t a thing at all in the states. They are completely commonplace in New Zealand and made the biggest difference! I was also pleasantly surprised at the amount of fuel-efficient cars I saw driving around on the North Island; the ratio of compact car to van/SUV/truck was about 85:15. The South Island was a different story. Campervan rentals are a major tourist attraction in this so we saw them everywhere, even though it was barely spring! I can’t even imagine how crowded the more popular areas get with campervans during the busier seasons. Overall this was an incredible trip full of surprises, almost all of them good, and I learned way more than I’ll ever be able to put into words! It was definitely the trip of a lifetime!

If you’re interested in learning more about New Zealand or seeing more  pictures of this beautiful country, stop by the shop Dec. 1 at 7pm for my trip presentation! More details and info can be found on our facebook page.

Readers Review: The Wild Places

Inspirational Adventure/Travel Reads

by: Louie Knolle

Introduction:

I don’t know you reader, but one thing I do know is that you are human. Should I meet you someday, perhaps we will have a nice conversation about some books we have both read.  At one of my two jobs, I pick apples on an orchard and work in the farm stand.  Man oh man, how I have learned how subjective taste is.  What can taste sweet to one person, can taste more on the tart side to another. What one considers to be crisp, another can think of as soft. This is why I firmly believe in testing a variety of things, no matter the object of desire.  When it comes to things like travel destinations, foods, or reading books, the worst that can happen is you decide it is not for you.  Armed with this knowledge, you will be better suited for the decision making process on the next go-round.  I think we can all agree that learning more about ourselves in one of the most adventurous endeavors we as human beings can undertake in our lives.  I consider this way of thought synonymous with breathing, it’s just something natural that everyone has the ability to do.

Although I would consider myself a novice bibliophile at best, I always enjoy the books that I choose to read.  Whether they be travel memoirs, eastern philosophies, metamorphoses inspired by nature, classic literature, or even the standard 14 part fantasy epic, I am always intrigued by the books that end up on my book shelf.  Never able to succinctly answer when asked what I like to read, I prefer this M.O. of book selection and am able to learn so much.  For this reason, I have been assigned the duty of compiling a list of some of my favorite adventure, travel, inspirational, etc. reads.  Since our resident wordsmith and book bandit Man-goat is off finishing the AT like the child-like cherub that he is, I will do my best to elucidate in his stead.  This is by no means a complete list of course, there are thousands upon thousands of books that would fit in these genres, and I am but one man who knows what he likes.  Unfortunately I cannot read them all, that’s where you come in! I will do my best to explain what I liked about these books and share a few details without writing several book reports.  I hope that you will use these as a starting point on your search for both books to read and places to go out and experience in real life.  I know some of these have determined some of my both past and future trips.  Happy trails and happy reads!

0093278_coverimage_168470_wildplaces_jkt_300The Wild Places Robert MacFarlane

Robert Macfarlane is looking for his wild in England, Ireland and Wales, territory that for most of us evokes words like “manicured,” “turf” or, at the very least, “domesticated.” His book about a series of pilgrimages to the moors, islands, lochs, capes and holloways that season the British Isles might seem quaint or even confusing (a holloway?) to those whose notion of wildness demands “rock, altitude and ice,” as he puts it.

Ideas about wildness change. Macfarlane’s original plan — to find and map stashes of untouched wild — isn’t panning out. That “chaste land” in the British Isles doesn’t exist (ah, we were right!), and he comes to believe that the human and the wild cannot be mutually exclusive. He now feels that his “old sense of the wild was to an ideal of tutelary harshness” and geologic past. Meanwhile, down in the gryke he notices some lusty new vegetable life, bristling with “nowness,” existing in a “constant and fecund present.”

The wild, now a quality of organic vigor that lives in his urban beechwood as much as on remote summits, “prefaced us, and it will outlive us,” he writes.  And it hones our faith. For those of us disinclined toward religion — we who find our values, our hereafter, our happiness in the rhythms, the “fizz and riot” of the natural world — Macfarlane’s map, which is this book, is a kindred, bewitching tract. And like the wild it parses, it quietly returns us to ourselves.  This is a book I found on a whim and what a whim it was (try saying that 5 times fast).  I am planning an Iceland/UK/Ireland trip with my partner in 2018 and this served as a great guide for some places off the beaten path to travel and see.

Read more of Louie’s Suggestions here.

Readers Review: Walking with Spring

Inspirational Adventure/Travel Reads

by: Louie Knolle

Introduction:

I don’t know you reader, but one thing I do know is that you are human. Should I meet you someday, perhaps we will have a nice conversation about some books we have both read.  At one of my two jobs, I pick apples on an orchard and work in the farm stand.  Man oh man, how I have learned how subjective taste is.  What can taste sweet to one person, can taste more on the tart side to another. What one considers to be crisp, another can think of as soft. This is why I firmly believe in testing a variety of things, no matter the object of desire.  When it comes to things like travel destinations, foods, or reading books, the worst that can happen is you decide it is not for you.  Armed with this knowledge, you will be better suited for the decision making process on the next go-round.  I think we can all agree that learning more about ourselves in one of the most adventurous endeavors we as human beings can undertake in our lives.  I consider this way of thought synonymous with breathing, it’s just something natural that everyone has the ability to do.

Although I would consider myself a novice bibliophile at best, I always enjoy the books that I choose to read.  Whether they be travel memoirs, eastern philosophies, metamorphoses inspired by nature, classic literature, or even the standard 14 part fantasy epic, I am always intrigued by the books that end up on my book shelf.  Never able to succinctly answer when asked what I like to read, I prefer this M.O. of book selection and am able to learn so much.  For this reason, I have been assigned the duty of compiling a list of some of my favorite adventure, travel, inspirational, etc. reads.  Since our resident wordsmith and book bandit Man-goat is off finishing the AT like the child-like cherub that he is, I will do my best to elucidate in his stead.  This is by no means a complete list of course, there are thousands upon thousands of books that would fit in these genres, and I am but one man who knows what he likes.  Unfortunately I cannot read them all, that’s where you come in! I will do my best to explain what I liked about these books and share a few details without writing several book reports.  I hope that you will use these as a starting point on your search for both books to read and places to go out and experience in real life.  I know some of these have determined some of my both past and future trips.  Happy trails and happy reads!

Walking with Spring  Earl V. Shaffer.

For those of you who are unaware, Earl Shaffer was the first person ever to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one go, or “thru-hike.” Before this, even the Appalachian Trail Conservancy thought this was an impossible feat. Not a long book by any means, this great read is only about 150 pages. Walking with Spring is an invaluable resource for those interested in history, geography and the natural world. Shaffer completed his legendary “Lone Expedition” as he called it in the year 1947. The trail was in a state of minor disarray for lack of maintenance during the War years, but he was able to trudge along armed with nothing but a road map and a compass. There were no guide books or trail maps back then so he had to make his way with guessing, word of mouth and trail instinct.

The book reads just as if Earl Shaffer was telling you in person about his hike. Highlighting the ups of trail, but still touching on some of the downsides so you are able to maintain a realistic view of the kind of undertaking hiking the AT is. Scattered in the stories are snippets of his poetic side. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone looking for inspiration to hike the AT or even to just get into backpacking in general. He offers a simplistic, practical view of backpacking that is often lost in today’s world of solar chargers, technical fabrics and cell phone service along most the trail.

Read more of Louie’s Suggestions here.

Readers Review: Shantaram

Inspirational Adventure/Travel Reads

by: Louie Knolle

Introduction:

I don’t know you reader, but one thing I do know is that you are human. Should I meet you someday, perhaps we will have a nice conversation about some books we have both read.  At one of my two jobs, I pick apples on an orchard and work in the farm stand.  Man oh man, how I have learned how subjective taste is.  What can taste sweet to one person, can taste more on the tart side to another. What one considers to be crisp, another can think of as soft. This is why I firmly believe in testing a variety of things, no matter the object of desire.  When it comes to things like travel destinations, foods, or reading books, the worst that can happen is you decide it is not for you.  Armed with this knowledge, you will be better suited for the decision making process on the next go-round.  I think we can all agree that learning more about ourselves in one of the most adventurous endeavors we as human beings can undertake in our lives.  I consider this way of thought synonymous with breathing, it’s just something natural that everyone has the ability to do.

Although I would consider myself a novice bibliophile at best, I always enjoy the books that I choose to read.  Whether they be travel memoirs, eastern philosophies, metamorphoses inspired by nature, classic literature, or even the standard 14 part fantasy epic, I am always intrigued by the books that end up on my book shelf.  Never able to succinctly answer when asked what I like to read, I prefer this M.O. of book selection and am able to learn so much.  For this reason, I have been assigned the duty of compiling a list of some of my favorite adventure, travel, inspirational, etc. reads.  Since our resident wordsmith and book bandit Man-goat is off finishing the AT like the child-like cherub that he is, I will do my best to elucidate in his stead.  This is by no means a complete list of course, there are thousands upon thousands of books that would fit in these genres, and I am but one man who knows what he likes.  Unfortunately I cannot read them all, that’s where you come in! I will do my best to explain what I liked about these books and share a few details without writing several book reports.  I hope that you will use these as a starting point on your search for both books to read and places to go out and experience in real life.  I know some of these have determined some of my both past and future trips.  Happy trails and happy reads!

Shantaram Gregory David Roberts

This is actually another novel I read while on a 2 week road trip out to Montana and Wyoming about 4 years ago, did I mention before that the road is a great place to read?  This book is based on the life its author and written while he was serving time in prison.  The slightly fictionalized character based on himself, is an Australian convict who leaves the “down under” and travels to India in hopes of evading authorities.  While in Bombay, he makes a personal connection with a man who acts as a guide for tourists.  In doing so, he eventually finds a semi-permanent home in one of the many city slums after being robbed of all his money.  While living in the slums, he becomes the unofficial slum doctor because of some previous medical training he had undertaken.  After becoming a respected man of his small community, bigger fish begin to take notice and he gets involved with local mafia officials, movie stars, guerrilla freedom fighters in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, and has a myriad of adventures.  Although it should be noted that this book is slightly fictitious, it is based on the author’s life during the 60’s and 70’s while on the run from the law in India and other part of Central Asia.  (Spoiler alert: In the end he was caught, but that’s okay, otherwise this book may have never been written!)

How I first heard about this book? A fellow I worked with in college mentioned it one night while we were packing boxes.  Who knew during a night in which I was packing advertisements for cologne into boxes, I’d learn about one of my favorite adventure packed books?  A lesson to be learned both from this book and from that night, keep your head down and sure things will be easy and you don’t have to ever worry about being without routine, but when you look up and your eyes adjust to how bright it really is out, you will surprise yourself with what you are able to find.  This man arrived in India hoping to remain unnoticed and evade police, but in the end he became an important man in his community and was respected both by his many new friends and all the others whom he met or heard his tale.  It’s like my grandpappy always told me, “Life is funny, yo!”

Read more of Louie’s Suggestions here.

Reader’s Review: The Snow Leopard

Inspirational Adventure/Travel Reads

by: Louie Knolle

Introduction:

I don’t know you reader, but one thing I do know is that you are human. Should I meet you someday, perhaps we will have a nice conversation about some books we have both read.  At one of my two jobs, I pick apples on an orchard and work in the farm stand.  Man oh man, how I have learned how subjective taste is.  What can taste sweet to one person, can taste more on the tart side to another. What one considers to be crisp, another can think of as soft. This is why I firmly believe in testing a variety of things, no matter the object of desire.  When it comes to things like travel destinations, foods, or reading books, the worst that can happen is you decide it is not for you.  Armed with this knowledge, you will be better suited for the decision making process on the next go-round.  I think we can all agree that learning more about ourselves in one of the most adventurous endeavors we as human beings can undertake in our lives.  I consider this way of thought synonymous with breathing, it’s just something natural that everyone has the ability to do.

Although I would consider myself a novice bibliophile at best, I always enjoy the books that I choose to read.  Whether they be travel memoirs, eastern philosophies, metamorphoses inspired by nature, classic literature, or even the standard 14 part fantasy epic, I am always intrigued by the books that end up on my book shelf.  Never able to succinctly answer when asked what I like to read, I prefer this M.O. of book selection and am able to learn so much.  For this reason, I have been assigned the duty of compiling a list of some of my favorite adventure, travel, inspirational, etc. reads.  Since our resident wordsmith and book bandit Man-goat is off finishing the AT like the child-like cherub that he is, I will do my best to elucidate in his stead.  This is by no means a complete list of course, there are thousands upon thousands of books that would fit in these genres, and I am but one man who knows what he likes.  Unfortunately I cannot read them all, that’s where you come in! I will do my best to explain what I liked about these books and share a few details without writing several book reports.  I hope that you will use these as a starting point on your search for both books to read and places to go out and experience in real life.  I know some of these have determined some of my both past and future trips.  Happy trails and happy reads!

 

The Snow Leopard Peter Matthiessen

 

91gsahsjwslThis is a recount of the author’s trek on foot, deep into the Himalayas to the inner Dolpo region of Nepal.  Which at this time in the early 1970’s had not been completely infected with Western culture.  Matthiessen is invited on an expedition by the preeminent field biologist George Schaller who was going into the mountains to further study a rare breed of Himalayan blue sheep of which not much was known at the time.  Accompanied by Nepalese sherpas and porters, the party makes its way to Shey Gompa over a period of a few weeks filled with dissenting porters, approaching winter weather conditions in a high alpine environment, sometimes challenging hiking conditions, and other obstacles.  In addition to observing the blue sheep, Matthiessen and Schaller also hope to catch a sight of the elusive snow leopard.  Which at the time, there was only believed to be 6 of on the entire Nepal side of the Himalayas.  Along the way, Matthiessen also does much pondering on life and death, grief and loss, as he uses the Zen Buddhist beliefs to recover from the sudden death of his wife the year before from cancer after a long, slightly tumultuous relationship.

This book appealed to me on so many levels, it is definitely a huge favorite of mine.  I learned so much about Zen Buddhism, the geography and native peoples of Nepal, flora and fauna found in the Himalayas, and gained some insight on how someone else dealt with huge loss as he trekked in what were sometimes inhospitable environs in a new land.  It is such a unique blend of travel writing, field notes, and spiritual essay that I have never read a book like it.  I know I have taken some travels after some difficult times and it has been the best way I like to clear my head during periods which require deep thought and fresh means of gaining perspective.  I think perhaps the best foundation of his story is the aspect of the journey.  There are days when he wakes up soaked in near freezing conditions in his tent and they have to wait around a small Nepalese town due to an inability to find porters, but in spite of these he is able to take joy from a long trek he feels he is physically unprepared for by learning about the culture of the world around him, studying the natural environment around him, and maintaining an air of excitement as every mile reveals new sights and sounds and maybe even a glimpse of one of the rarest big cats on planet Earth.  His was a spiritual pilgrimage worth joining.

More of Louie’s suggestions to come.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Desert Solitaire Edward Abbey
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard
  • Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees Roger Deakin
  • The Last Season Eric Blehm
  • The Dharma Bums Jack Kerouac
  • On Desert Trails with Everett Ruess Everett Ruess
  • The Alchemist Paulo Coelho
  • Walden Henry David Thoreau
  • Siddhartha Herman Hesse
  • A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush Eric Newby
  • A Walk Across America Peter Jenkins

Planning the Trip of a Lifetime

By: Mackenzie Griesser

When I was a junior in high school, my dad promised me that when I graduated college he would take me to either Australia or New Zealand. 7 years later, as I’m beginning my final semester of college, I get a text that reads simply: “So which is it going to be: New Zealand or Australia?” I was instantly in tears. And then the reality sunk in: I gotta plan this thing! So, I have spent the past 6 months planning every detail of this trip, from researching trails to hike to figuring out where to buy fuel for my camp stove. I even made up a powerpoint for the itinerary, complete with pictures! In this blog I will discuss my planning strategy, the tools I used, and any issues or concerns I ran into.

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An example slide from my itinerary

Of course the first thing we had to do was figure out logistics. When did we want to go? For how long? How are we going to get around while we’re there? What restrictions are there on what I can bring into the country? We decided to leave at the end of September, right after my birthday, and stay for two weeks so we’d have plenty of time to explore. The weather would be perfect- still snow on the Southern Alps! The cheapest flights were in and out of Auckland, so that’s where we decided to begin our journey.

My dad, being the brilliant man that he is, decided to let me plan everything. First I had to figure out what I even wanted to do! I have never left the country, let alone travel to such a pristine and interesting environment as New Zealand. I knew for sure I wanted to see as much of the country as possible, so we decided right off the bat to rent a car and drive around the South Island for the majority of the trip. I also knew that I wanted to do a short backpacking trip on Stewart island, per recommendation of my super cool boss Joe White. The island is off the southern tip of the South Island, so I figured we could end with that and do some sightseeing along the way there. This is where Google Maps came in clutch. I was able to figure out distances between locations and how long it would take to drive from place to place to see if this idea was even feasible (it was). I utilized that,

A handy tool on the Department of Conservation website for finding activities in different regions

along with a National Geographic Adventure Map, to figure out where to stay along the highway that follows the Southern Alps down the west coast of the island. Once I established how many days this would take and what a reasonable driving distance was per day, the rest was actually pretty simple!

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has an AWESOME, super easy to navigate website. This is where I found all of the trails we plan to hike. The website offers lots of great information about where to stay in every region of the country and what to do while you’re there. They even have maps and descriptions for each individual trail, including mileage, approximately how long it takes to hike it, and what you should expect to see. This is also where we found information on campgrounds, AKA “campervan parks”, to stay at and what amenities they have. Using all this information, I was able to build the basic structure of the trip- where to start, where to end, and what to do along the way. The end result of this planning stage was the following: we would fly into Auckland, pick up our rental car, hang out in the city for a day, take a week to travel down to Invercargill (the southernmost large city on the South Island), spend 3 days backpacking on Stewart Island, then return to Auckland via airplane. This plan left us with an extra day, so I let my dad choose what to do that day.

Once we finalized the structure of the trip, we had to work out the logistics. There was a lot of booking to be done! We decided to stay in Airbnb’s 4 nights throughout the trip. We booked those, plus a handful of nights at different campgrounds. We also had to buy tickets for a couple different ferries and reserve sites on Stewart Island. On my itinerary, I highlighted the date (at the top of each slide, one slide per day) in red if there were still logistical details to work out for that day. Once everything was booked and confirmed, I unhighlighted the date and could rest assured knowing all we had to do was show up and do the stuff and everything else was taken care of!

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Passenger Arrival Card for declaring “at risk” items

The only thing left to do was make sure travel to and from the country would be as smooth as possible. New Zealand has a lot of restrictions on what can be brought in. I learned in my research that we have to declare every “risk” item we bring. This includes items such as camping gear, sports equipment, and food. I also heard from a few customers that visited the shop that they will not let items with any amount of dirt on them into the country to prevent the spread of invasive species, so I had to make sure to clean all of my gear before leaving. I also emailed the Ministry for Primary Industries to make sure all the food I planned on bringing was allowed into the country. I’ve heard from a few people that they have odd restrictions on certain ingredients but I was not able to find any information that specific on any official website. Luckily, nothing I plan on bringing (ramen, instant mashed potatoes, trail mix, pasta, etc.) raised any red flags.

The very last thing I had to do was figure out where to keep our extra luggage when we go on our backpacking trip. We are dropping off the rental car prior to taking the ferry to Stewart Island, so we do not have a place to keep the items we don’t need for the trek. I emailed the service we are using for the ferry and they said they have a few small lockers available to rent, but they were unable to provide exact dimensions so there is no way to know for sure if our duffels will fit until we get there. Aside from that detail, everything else is accounted for! Stay tuned to hear how it all turned out!

Europe by Hostel: 10 Tips

By Kayla “Clover” McKinney

Hostels are one of the quintessential aspects of backpacking through Europe. Hostels are typically great because they are cheap, convenient, social, and specifically designed with the backpacker in mind.

I have recently moved to Austria to live and work as an au pair for a year giving me ample time to travel throughout Europe. I have three day weekends, ample holiday and paid time off, and live in the most centrally located country on the continent. Because of this, hostels are quickly becoming a regular scene in my weekend life.

This is an essential “consideration” list for what to look for in hostels. It is certainly not a one size fits all list and most of the time you won’t be able to check off every aspect for each stay. In order to ensure that you have a safe, comfortable, convenient, and fun time here are several things you should consider before booking a hostel:

LOCATION

Just like in real estate, location is certainly the most important thing to consider in hostel backpacking. Ideally, your hostel is close to the train station and the main sights that you want to see. However, if you must choose between one or the other, pick the hostel that is closer to the train station. It is harder and more stressful to walk a far distance to your hostel with your luggage when tired after a train ride and in a new environment than it is to have a farther distance to your sights once settled in. Typically, a farther hostel also has a bus or tram stop on the same street, as well as connection maps. Arrive at your hostel, unload your bags, look at the map, then go see your sights.

TIMING

This is something I just recently learned that was not obvious to me. Do a quick Google search of the holidays and major events that may be going on in the location of your upcoming trip. Oh, it’s the biggest holiday in the country that weekend? The hostels will all be booked in advance. When I stayed in Innsbruck for 4 days recently, I did not do my research. Turns out it was Fasching (think Mardi Gras) as well as the biggest snowboard competition of the year. All the good hostels were completely booked. Of course, this can work adversely as well if you’re looking to get some unique, authentic cultural experience. Either way, it is good to know what you’re getting into when traveling to a new town.

BOOK IN ADVANCE

Not only do you usually save some money, but it also ensures that you have a place to stay on your trip. I understand the appeal of just wandering into a new city and thinking you’ll stumble upon the perfect hostel, but this is a gamble that doesn’t always pan out. Also, some of the cooler locations aren’t as obvious from the street, so research upfront can help you have an amazing time.

LOCKERS

Important. Pay attention beforehand to these essential questions: are they free? Do you need to bring your own lock? Do they even have lockers? Lockers are nice because you can safely store your belongings (possibly everything you own!) while you leave and adventure for the day. I know it’s romantic to think that you’ll get super strong lugging your pack through the streets, but take it from me: it’s just awkward taking your pack into restaurants, bathrooms, book stores, etc.

SHOWERS

If you’re going on a long term backpacking tour you will eventually (hopefully) want to shower. Showers are almost never free and you either have to bring your own towel or pay extra to rent one. Also, the showers can be co-ed. Just a heads up.  unisex-bathroom-sign

WiFi

Some hostels offer free WiFi throughout the hostel, some only in the lounge, some for a fee, and some not at all. WiFi is crucial for looking up train connections, important travel information, or if you need to leave your hostel and find another one for whatever reason. It is a safety net in my opinion and is not up for compromise.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Go for the hostel that offers free breakfast and coffee. Dinner is awesome too. As mentioned, WiFi and lockers are crucial. Other accommodations to consider are whether or not your hostel accepts credit cards. I personally would prefer to pay with a card because I don’t feel comfortable carrying around lots of cash on my person. But if this is unavoidable, make sure there is an ATM close by or get the money out in advance. Pay attention if there is a different currency. Laundry is a huge bonus, but most likely it comes with fees.

Ensure that your hostel has linens included or be prepared in advance. Don’t be surprised if there’s a deposit for linens.

A note on the linens: everyone seems to be afraid of bed bugs in hostels. I have not encountered this. In fact, I have usually been required to take my linens to the front desk when checking out so that they can be washed. But if you’re worried, then use your own sleeping bag.

SOCIAL OPPORTUNITIES

Hostels with bars make it easier to meet people and possibly even new adventure buddies. At my hostel in Salzburg, I had dinner with a Korean girl, an Australian, and two girls who were from the same town as my grandparents in Pennsylvania. People are usually receptive to meeting new people in youth hostels; it seems to be an unwritten agreement. Don’t be shy. Take advantage of the social atmosphere. You’ll never know who you will meet!

PICK UP THE BROCHURES

I have learned about more hostels and cool opportunities around town, found coupons, and so on just from taking a moment to search the brochure rack at my hostels. This is free, relevant information – take advantage of it!

TYPES OF ROOMS

As a solo female traveler, this is very important to me. I prefer hostels that have female only dorm rooms. These rooms usually cost a little more than a co-ed dorm, but it is worth it for my sense of security. The all female rooms tend to be cleaner and smell better too. You can also request single rooms, two bedrooms, three bedrooms… it depends on the particular hostel.

Check out this link for good hostels:

http://www.famoushostels.com/

So, why not AirBnB? Why not a hotel or couch-surfing?

airbnbThis is mostly personal preference. For starters, AirBnB and hotels are more expensive than hostels. There are a few other things to consider as well, especially with AirBnB: AirBnB can sometimes actually be cheaper than a hostel because of the included accommodations. With AirBnB, you often times have access to a fully functional kitchen, which means that you can buy a few groceries instead of eating out for every meal, saving you lots of money (especially if you’re staying for a few days.) Also, an AirBnB host will often pick you up from the train station or airport if you arrange so in advance, which saves you a ticket. Showers and laundry are usually included as well. AirBnB is also comfortable and an adventure in itself. I recommend it if you’re looking for more privacy and personal space. To find a good AirBnB host, read the reviews. After the experience, always give your host a review for future guests.

I personally don’t see any reason why’d you get a hotel, but recognize that I have the particular bias of being pretty poor. Also, I am more interested in interacting with people who have a generally similar travel mindset as myself.

As for couch-surfing, it is certainly the cheapest (free), but is the least comfortable. You get what it advertises-a couch. But hey, it’s a free place to crash and another new way to meet people.

Overall, I recommend exploring multiple options to get an idea of what your preferences are. For example, for my upcoming trip to Amsterdam, I have learned that the hostels are a huge scene for party people and that, if you want any sleep, then you should pay for a single room. For this trip, I will likely stay one night in a hostel for the experience and the rest of the time in an AirBnB. I would rather be able to sleep soundly so that I can wake up early and have an adventurous, full day.

However, the places where you sleep on your grand adventure are not the most important aspect. Try not to spend too much time in your hostel. Go out and explore!

Oh, and if the movie Hostel has negatively influenced you in anyway, all I have to suggest is that you really should go out more.

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