Archive for May, 2009


Ask Your U.S. House Rep to Support Study Abroad!

May 28, 2009

US capitolI saw this on Facebook today (it’s not just all lame love surveys and links to YouTube):

On Wednesday, May 20, the House Foreign Relations Committee passed H.R. 2410, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act.  While the bill’s primary purpose is to authorize funding for the operations of the U.S. Department of State, it also includes innovative programs that are critical to accomplishing U.S. foreign policy and public diplomacy goals.
The legislation is expected to go to the House floor for a vote as early as the first week of June.  We need your help!  Please take a few minutes to send a letter to your Representative urging him/her to vote “YES” to H.R. 2410 when it comes up on the House Floor.  After you send your letter, be sure to share this letter writing opportunity with your colleagues, students, friends and family.  Thank you!

Highlights of this legislation include:

  • Establishing the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation, which will dramatically increase participation in study abroad, ensure that such experiences are universally available to U.S. students from all backgrounds, and emphasize study abroad in non-traditional locations, such as developing countries
  •  Doubling the size of the Peace Corps
  • Increasing funding for educational and cultural exchange programs to $633,243,000 for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, and “such sums as may be necessary” for FY 2011
  • Creating educational exchange programs to provide scholarships to students from various regions of the world to study in the U.S.

Visit NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, to send an email to your Representative asking him or her to support this legislation.


Viva Las Vegas: Student Travel at Its Cheesiest (and Most Fun)

May 26, 2009
Yar! Vegas is a great place to shiver your timbers. Whatever that means.

Yar! Vegas is a great place to shiver your timbers. Whatever that means.

My favorite travel writers are the ones who get off the beaten path and come upon unexpected adventures. I aspire to be a more flexible, spontaneous traveler, even though it means trying to tame the ultra-organized planner side of myself.

It’s because I want to avoid predictable experiences that when I travel, I try to avoid American fast food and eat what the locals eat. I try to see the historical sights and pass on the really gimmicky tourist traps.

But what happens when what the locals eat is American fast food? Or when a whole city is nothing but gimmicky tourist traps?

That’s what I had to think about on my last trip to Las Vegas, where my friend, Canadian Chris, and I celebrated his birthday. It’s not a city with a deep, rich history. Sure, the gangster stuff is interesting, but it’s no Istanbul or Cuzco. And there is no unbeaten path in Vegas, there’s just the Strip. But what a Strip it is.

The whole point of Vegas is to overindulge in everything – food, gambling, entertainment – and go home broke and bloated. In other words, there’s really no classy way to do Vegas, and even if there is, why would you?

Vegas left me with no choice: I was going to be a tourist instead of a traveler for once.

We started with the buffet at the Wynn and I ate about seven desserts. (Good, but I think the Bellagio is better.) We shopped in Planet Hollywood, gambled in Paris and grabbed a snack at the MGM.

Spike meets Sinatra.

Spike meets Sinatra.

We went to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum at the Venetian and I took pictures with Johnny Depp and Elvis. I got out Spike the Rhino and took pictures of him with almost everybody. He really likes to have new things to add to his photo album.

We watched the fountains in front of the Bellagio, had drinks and enjoyed some live music at the Nine Fine Irishmen in New York, New York and caught the trashy pirate show at Treasure Island / TI.

Most importantly, we had fun. Without having a guidebook and a must-see list, we were able to wander around and enjoy being in Vegas, instead of worrying about what we might be missing out on. It’s the kind of travel attitude that I think I need more of, and hope to practice soon.

Viva Las Vegas!


Happy Birthday Travel CUTS and Hostelling International

May 20, 2009
I want this cake hot air balloon for my birthday. (

I want a ride in this cake hot air balloon for my birthday. (

Looks like this is a big year in travel birthdays, or anniversaries if you think that’s a little classier. (Birthday cake is usually better though, so I’ll stick with that.)

Travel CUTS turns 40 this year, and doesn’t have a single grey hair. They’ve probably managed to stay young and cool through their 50 locations near colleges and universities in Canada and the US.

Do you know what the CUTS stands for? Because they’re not just shouting at you. It’s the Canadian University Travel Services.

Travel CUTS is co-owned by the Canadian Federation of Students and
the Canadian Student Horizons Group. Student ownership means that
the money CUTS earns helps to fund new and innovative student products
and services.

Celebrate the big 4-0 with one of CUTS’ deals on a Contiki tour, rail pass or other student travel discounts

100_Days_DownunderHostelling International is doing lots to celebrate their 100th birthday, including a contest to offer you 100 Days Down Under. The winner will get a trip to Australia, including 100 free nights in YHAs across the country.

And yes, Australia has really good birthday cake, too.



The Travel Version of “Would You Rather?”

May 18, 2009

My friend over at The Adventure Travel Company blog just posed this question to his readers:

“If you were given the choice between a 60” high definition plasma flat panel television with Dolby Surround Sound or a luxury two-week South African safari with private guide, which would you choose?”

Not a safari, but Taronga Zoo in Sydney has excellent giraffes with big tongues.

Not a safari, but Taronga Zoo in Sydney has excellent giraffes with big tongues.

Since most of us aren’t in the position to purchase either right now it might be easy to say that of course we would take the safari. (If you chose the TV, maybe you should be reading this blog instead.)

But one of the points he makes is that it’s not just a choice between one big purchase or one amazing vacation. Even if you manage to save small – a few dollars a week – it adds up fast, so that this time next year, a safari might be something you could afford.

Money adds up fast the other way too. Eating dinner out instead of cooking at home, buying CDs and DVDs, stopping for a morning latte a few times a week – all of these things pick away at money that you could be saving to fund the trip of a lifetime.

So, would you rather invite friends over to watch a move once a week and spend next Spring Break in Costa Rica, or go out to a movie and buy popcorn and soda that you won’t remember a week later?


New Zealand Travel Guide: Last Night in Auckland

May 14, 2009
The Auckland Skyline

The Auckland Skyline

Finally, the Magic Bus dropped me off for the last time, in Auckland. This time I chose to stay at Base Backpackers. It’s in a really good central location, close to the main street for shopping, and only a block or so from the bus that goes to the airport.

Stewart, one of the guys who I met on the bus the day before, was staying there so I had someone to hang with, and we planned to meet up with another guy from our bus later that evening for drinks at Base’s Globe Bar.

A few notes about Base hostels: They deliver what I consider to be one of the true student backpacker experiences. They’re big, so you’re bound to meet people from all over the world. They have all the necessities and a few nice-to-haves: laundry, TV or movie room, Internet access and wi-fi, clean bathrooms, an in-house bar, and sometimes a pool or spa.

The downside is that the dorm rooms are more like zoos. The rooms are pretty small spaces packed with bunk beds, so there’s no such thing as personal space, or even a hook to hang your towel on. I opted for one of the all-girl Sanctuary rooms, and that was an improvement, but if you’ve reached a point in your travels where you really need a little room to breathe, this might not be the place for you. It made me really miss the Wellington YHA. 

I only had one last night though, so I didn’t need luxury, just a place to sleep. And I do like being able to drink just two floors down from my room so that I don’t have to worry about how to get home.

I made my way to the bar to meet Stewart before dinner and it was pretty empty. I picked out a table and sipped whatever pink drink in a bottle the bartender had given me while I waited for my evening to get going. Almost right away, a guy sitting at the table next to me turned around and smiled. I smiled back, because it’s only polite, and he was gorgeous.

Then then asked if I wanted some company. There’s only one answer I give to a stunning stranger who wants to sit with me: “Yes, please.”

So this guy, who I’ll just call Hot Kiwi Guy, sits down and I instantly think, “Why couldn’t I have met this guy a few days ago?” He was perfect. Sweet, funny, clever, great accent, brilliant smile, exactly the kind of guy I always hope to meet when I’m traveling. He had just flown in from Adelaide, where he was living and working, and was on his way home, to the Bay of Islands, to go to a friend’s wedding.

I asked what he was doing in a hostel bar if he was headed home and he said he used to work at the hostel and decided to come in and have a drink while waiting for friends to pick him up. They were on their way. Would arrive any minute now. Just in time to interrupt our fun.


I told him where I had been, we talked about Australia for a while, he told me about his hitchhiking experiences in New Zealand, and I was just about ready to ask if maybe he wanted to keep his bags packed and fly to San Francisco with me the next day when his friends showed up. Figures they would be punctual. Where’s a good traffic jam when you need one? 

They were very nice, but parked illegally, and in a hurry to leave. So Hot Kiwi Guy and I gave each other a wow-this-sucks-I-wish-we-had-more-time look, and said goodbye, but not before I gave him one of my nifty traveling cards with my name and email address on it.

It was a bittersweet ending to my trip, finding someone who I really wanted to have more time with just when I didn’t have any more time left. But it also gives me another reason to keep traveling. If there’s one perfect Hot Kiwi Guy out there, then there are probably more.

The rest of the night was still good, hanging out with my Magic Bus friends, taking advantage of the cheap drinks and dancing to the loud music that started out all 80s, then went Top 40, then techno and hip hop as the night went on.

It always amazes me that I can arrive in a city in the morning not knowing anyone, and feel like I’ve made good friends by the end of the night. It’s a good thing to remember on those days when I feel a little lonely. It only takes one meal, one bus ride, or one chat about the worst hostel you’ve stayed in to make a friend. And every friend I make equals another place I have to stay, another local tour guide I’ll have when I go traveling again.

Next up: I haven’t decided yet. Ideas on where my next trip should be? Leave a comment.



Mitch Moffit Sings About Not Getting the Best Job in the World

May 7, 2009

A while ago I wrote about the “Best Job in the World” contest being held by the Queensland tourism folks (that’s Queensland, Australia).

The winner was announced this week (congrats, Ben – I’ll keep an eye out for my invite to visit), which means thousands of other people found out they were losers.

One of those losers was Mitch Moffit, from Canada. Not only does Mitch not have the best job in the world, he apparently has no job. Bummer, Mitch.

What Mitch does have is a knack for music and humor, a combination that I would expect to score him a prime gig with Joss Whedon. For now though, check out his song to Australia, with a nod to his mapleicious homeland.

mitch moffit


New Zealand Travel Guide: Paihia to Auckland

May 7, 2009
Back on the Magic Bus

Back on the Magic Bus

The drive out of Paihia was really lovely and our Magic Bus driver stopped to let us take some photos from a lookout over the bay. We also took a quick look in the Hokianga Historical Society to watch a video about Opo the Dolphin.

Opo swam into the bay in 1955 and created a tourism boom as news spread that there was a dolphin there who did tricks, played with children and would let people swim with or ride him.

The video shows Opo making everyone happy (except for the little girl whose ball he takes to bounce on his nose), and leaves you feeling like you really missed out by not living in this simpler time when everyone was kind and happy and could be entertained for hours by a dolphin with a ball. I gave a $2 donation because the elderly woman who started the VCR for us seemed very hopeful that we would get out our wallets, and because the video of the playful Opo put me in a pretty good mood.

Welcome to Opononi, home of the murdered dolphin.

Welcome to Opononi, home of the murdered dolphin.

Then our driver told us that what the video left out. Opo was found dead after just a few months, possibly killed by a local who was sick of all the traffic and crowds the dolphin caused.

Yeah. Kind of a downer.

There was one more stop on the way to Auckland, to see Tane Mahuta, the tallest kauri tree in New Zeland. I had really hoped to have an extra night at the end of my trip to do the Footprints of Waipoua trip, where you go into the forest after dark to see the trees. It’s one of Lonely Planet’s “Code Green – Experiences of a Lifetims” and I read nothing but good things about it.

Tane Mahuta would have been the greatest Ent ever.

Tane Mahuta would have been the greatest Ent ever.

Luckily the Magic Bus includes the forest as a stop, and while I don’t think it’s quite as moving as seeing it at night, at 51 meters tall and more than 1200 years old, Tane Mahuta is still damn impressive during the day. Our Magic driver told us that before the forest became a sanctuary in 1952, many of these trees were cut down. Because of their size they were difficult to move, and some ended up at the bottom of rivers and lakes, too big to float downstream to the logging plants.

First the death of Opo, then the pointless slaughter of these majestic trees. This really wasn’t the happiest day of the Magic tour. Maybe going back to the big city wasn’t such a bad idea.

Next: I meet a Hot Kiwi Guy, then leave the country.