Vlog: Central Otago Edition

If I had to name the one place in New Zealand that I think every traveler (and Kiwi!) should visit, I wouldn’t have to think twice. To me, that place is Central Otago.

I spent the last week and a half exploring this stunning, sun-drenched region for what may very well be the last time for a very long while in light of my upcoming relocation to England (😥). Some of the highlights – as featured in this vlog – include enjoying the prismatic palette of Cromwell, taking in the awe-inspiring views of Lake Dunstan, hiking up the 7000ft Remarkables to swim in a secluded mountain lake and enjoying the delicious offerings of Scott Base Vineyard.

I’ll keep the details to a minimum – I’m saving that for my upcoming blog posts on the experience. But if you’re getting restless in the mean time, check out the interview I held with Becky Finley i.e. the star of this vlog.

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How To Overcome A Bad Travel Experience

Let’s get real for a second.

As much as we — and our bank accounts — would like to believe, travel is not always roses and sunshine. Sometimes shit happens that is out of our control, and we are forced to learn very quickly how to best deal with it.

Late last year, my friend and I spent a month traveling Southeast Asia. One of the most anticipated components of the trip was an excursion to Ha Long Bay, a much acclaimed highlight of northern Vietnam. The plan was to get picked up from our hotel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter in the early morning, shuttle to Ha Long and then spend the next 24 hours enjoying the resplendent views the bay had to offer onboard a luxury junk boat.

Doesn’t sound like a lot of room for things to go sideways, right?

Wrong.

The first foreshadowing of the misery to follow began at the ungodly hour of 7.15am when we received a phone call from reception informing us that our shuttle bus was waiting for us. As our travel agent, previous tour guides and itinerary had notified, the earliest we would be picked up was around 8am. At 7.15am, we had neither packed nor eaten and were barely unconscious. Panicked, we sprang to action throwing clothes on and stuffing belongings into suitcases. Reception rang us multiple times during this rush to warn us that the shuttle would leave without us if we didn’t get our act together.

“Hurry up.” the lady snapped in an ill-mannered tone. Well, excuse you.

We checked out and made it to the shuttle in a record five minutes (how’s that for two teenage girls?). The driver flung our luggage into the back and then pushed us towards the back seat. We buckled ourselves down and issued sincere apologies to the six other passengers, all whom returned cold looks that suggested the feeling was not mutual.

It was only once the shuttle had left Hanoi that I realised I had left all of my toiletries in the hotel room. It was fair to say that we were not off to a good start.

Our luck only worsened when the lady sitting in front of me spilt her takeaway coffee. It trickled down through her seat and into the bag at my feet. I may be a fan of Vietnamese coffee, but that enthusiasm extends to when it’s in my stomach and not all over my possessions. Frustratingly, the woman seemed more concerned with the fact that her morning coffee had met a bitter end (pun intended) than the fact that she had effectively ruined the contents of my luggage.

The drive from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay was an ordeal in and of itself. I suffer from debilitating motion sickness and had been reassured that the drive would take a couple of hours max, only to arrive at our destination four nauseating hours later. I had never experienced a more stomach-churning journey in my life. The driver didn’t seem to understand the concept of the brake, and last night’s dinner threatened to make a reappearance. As I had also contracted an aggressive throat infection, I took codeine which mercifully knocked me out for the majority of the ride. My poor friend however was subjected to rude and unnecessary comments from the fellow tourists that left her feeling victimised and hurt. No one — not even the driver — felt the need to stick up for her or put the other tourists in their place.

When we arrived in Ha Long Bay, the driver climbed into the back of the shuttle and yelled at me in Vietnamese to wake up. Disorientated from the drugs, I stumbled with my queasy friend out of the shuttle and towards the port. I promptly received a phone call from the junk boat company where I was informed that the boat we had booked wasn’t available and that we had been switched to another. Whilst we weren’t bothered over the change of boat, we were annoyed that our original itinerary was no longer to go ahead. Activities we had looked forward to for months were cancelled and replaced with ones we would not have opted for on our own accord.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to worry about the change in itinerary. In the throes of pain, I downed a couple more codeine and passed out in our cabin for fourteen hours straight. My friend — still traumatised from the journey and interacting with the driver and fellow tourists — was relieved to have an excuse to hide in the cabin for the remainder of the voyage. We managed to sneak onto the isolated top deck before the boat docked the next day to enjoy the view and take some gorgeous photos, but for the most part, our experience was not one I recall fondly.

Reflecting on the experience, it’s easy to let the fact that we were mistreated by the driver and fellow tourists, fell very ill, had our plans cancelled without compensation and didn’t actually get to participate fully in the cruise monopolise my memory of Ha Long Bay. But the more I think about it, the more I have come to realise that I have two options: either I can remain sour and complain that the reality didn’t live up to my expectations, or I can accept that it happened and learn from the experience (ugh, I sound like my mother).

So… what good came out of the trip?

  • I experienced the unforgettable grandeur of Ha Long Bay (even if it was for half an hour when I was doped up on drugs)
  • The confidence that I can take ownership of a sticky situation when I have no one else (*cough parents cough*) to rely on
  • The knowledge that you should always pack the night before (again, my mother would be proud)
  • The ability to put a dreadful experience behind me and see it, not as a waste of money, but as a learning curve

I’ve made the decision not to name and shame the company we traveled with, partly because I also feel the other tourists were also responsible for our anxiety and partly because I can’t remember what they were called (🙈). The point that I want you to take away from this blog post is that shit can hit the fan. Ha Long Bay was supposed to be the pinnacle of our Southeast Asia trip, when in reality it was something that I could quite easily afford to forget. But what can I do?

In saying all of this, don’t let my experience taint your impression of Ha Long Bay. The destination was the redeeming feature of all of this, and I would quite happily return someday in the future (albeit privately and not through a company).

Be sure to check out my blog post — Postcards from Ha Long Bay — on the beauty of the UNESCO world heritage site!

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Interview: Paper Girls with Becky Finley

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m 22, I’ve spent the last 3 years travelling 22 countries and 20 states in 5 epic vehicles. I love hiking and eating and sitting on a boat in my bikini, and I haven’t experienced a full winter in 4 and a half years. I’ve had 5 tattoos, 2 broken hearts, 14 jobs, and over 100 hours in a plane. I can probably speak like 20 words in other languages.

How do you fund your traveling?

I work like a dog! I work and travel; I arrived in Sydney with around $1200 when I was 19, and my first week was spent exploring and finding a job. I worked at Taronga Zoo for 2 months, and ended up with maybe $4000, which I spent on several months backpacking in Asia. Then I restart and work again. The main thing is I truly believe I can get awesome jobs, so I do. I’ve worked in the zoo, promoting in a bar in Laos, as a rock climbing instructor, an outdoor adventure guide, an artist liaison and music booking agent, renovating a house on the beach in Hawaii… I don’t work for minimum wage because I’m worth more and after a days work my employers believe that.

What would you say are the most underrated and overrated parts of traveling?

The most underrated is the fact that you are only responsible for yourself, and you have so much time to just be whoever the fuck you want to be. You become entirely selfish and it’s really healthy and wonderful. The most overrated is the perception of how expensive and glamorous travelling is. I spend less travelling for a month than most people do at home in a month. Unfortunately, travellers contribute to the glamorous perception of travelling themselves, we all post pictures on yachts, but I’m less likely to take pictures of my hands swollen with bed bugs, or post about shitting my pants, lost on the way home from some dodgy street food. (I always want to post this but don’t want to be overly obscene).

Have there been moments where you have feared for your safety overseas?

In general, no. Mostly I put an enormous amount of trust in foreign strangers, which they totally deserve. I have done same insanely stupid shit though. I only feel scared after when I am looking back at the stories. Like, when I volunteered in Cambodia, it wasn’t through an agency, I just found a handwritten note in a hostel. I got on the back of this boys bike, he had one leg, because he had lost the other in a land mining accident that had killed his brother and sister. The ride alone was over an hour, he could barely balance us both, and he had a helmet but I didn’t. We got to this little village, I had no idea where I was, and no phone. No one had seen a white person for three months, and I was told the road was built on the bodies of those killed under Pol Pot. The boy who picked me up was the only one that spoke English, and when I asked if I could walk through the village, he said yes, but to be careful. The men followed me and leered, and he said some of the dogs were “bad”. I slept in a room in the house on stilts, with a bed frame but no bed, and a rat that scurried up the wall when I entered. The boy said the police came to sleep in a hammock under the house while I was there, because otherwise I wouldn’t be safe. At the time, the experience was really wonderful, the kids were so sweet and all called me ‘teacher’, but looking back, it could have ended pretty differently.

What is your opinion on souvenirs — and how do you regulate the acquiring of keepsakes when you’re backpacking?

I love souvenirs, not so much of places, but of life changing experiences or spectacular people. Regulation is super easy – do I want to carry that? Jewellery and tattoos are my go-to souvenirs. Also little scars and holes in my clothes are always cherished. I do buy souvenirs for other people; a point of pride was managing to bring my brother back a cobra in a bottle.

What is something you have had to sacrifice in order to live a nomadic lifestyle?

This is really hard to put this into words. If you have ever read Paper Towns, you might know what I mean when I say I feel like this lifestyle has made me a paper girl. I guess I feel like I’m often seen as the sum of the crazy experiences I have had, instead of a real life person. I often find myself in relationships where I am put on this adventure-girl pedestal, and expected to do no wrong, because I am just a character. My last ex told me, as I was lying in bed with a broken back after a sky-diving accident, that I wasn’t fun anymore. This sort of thing has been recurring for me; not that I stop being fun, but that I am not allowed to be human, and handle things badly sometimes. I feel like I have to be pretty careful now to select people in my life that aren’t fare-weather friends. Of course, travelling has also given me a family of the absolute best friends I have ever had.

How has traveling impacted your personal identity?

The biggest thing might be the family it has given me. The people I love that inspire me daily to be the best, and feel loved and adored and constantly supported. Travelling allows me to constantly reflect on who I am and who I want to be, as I head to a new place and dream up a new life. I feel like I have lived so many lives in the last four years. I feel like everything is possible, and anything is likely. Functionally, when I left for my first adventure, I called myself a Kiwi, and now I feel like an American. I feel out of place in the land I grew up in, and like I have explored many facets of my identity and found a place and people I want to call home. My travelling also led me to what I am now studying, and I already identify as an anthropologist. I don’t think I knew what anthropology was before I travelled.

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Why I Hate The Word Wanderlust

If we are going to compile a list of travel words that need to go away, then we can start with wanderlust.

Wanderlust is defined as “a strong desire to travel”. The urban dictionary has felt the need to further define wanderlust as “a very popular hashtag used on Instagram by girls who love to show off in all of their journeys”. No comment.

Before I start receiving hate letters from Pinterest users, allow me to clarify that I have nothing against people who like to travel. In fact, if I were, I would be something of an enormous hypocrite. I have read many intriguing articles written by bloggers who feel that wanderlust preaches inauthentic experience. However, my problem lies in the terminology.

We can collapse wanderlust into two words: wander and lust. While I have no qualms with the former, I do hold serious reservations about the latter. Lust – a passionate desire for something – has the implicit connotation that this object one longs for is not within reach. When men describe themselves as lusting after a woman (or vice versa – I’m nothing if not a feminist), they are generally referring to someone they cannot attain. Lust is unrequited, if you will.

If we apply this unrequitedness to wanderlust, we observe well-intending hash-tagging individuals as people whom consume all their time with pining after that escape but rarely take the measures necessary to turn dreams into reality. Am I generalising? Unashamedly so. But one consultation of Tumblr demonstrates my point.

For most people, travel doesn’t have to be something that exists purely in theory. Saving to finance a trip can be soul-crushing and demands sacrifice, but it’s not impossible. I saved up enough money to travel to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in late 2016 after ten months of working five part-time jobs on top of full-time university. It was social suicide – and admittedly not the best for my mental health – but it got me those plane tickets.

Wikipedia (everyone’s favourite reliable online source) discusses how wanderlust might “… reflect an intense urge for self-development by experiencing the unknown, confronting unforeseen challenges, getting to know unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and behaviours”.

I like that, I really do. Furthermore, I completely understand where people using the term for this purpose are coming from. But to put it bluntly, I feel like people are abusing the term and using it to make excuses. If you want to travel, formulate a plan and invest your energy into making it come to fruition.

In the words of the Travel Playbook: Start Traveling. Stop Lusting.

Photos sourced from Unsplash.

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The Bucket List: Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel (Or Why Tourism is Political)

This is the second edition in the Bucket List series, with the first showcasing the Balinese architecture of Villa Ariana Grande. However, what makes this post so special is that what I am about to discuss is worth more than a pretty Instagram picture.

It is only recently that I have begun to take an active interest in politics, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not only is it crucial that someone has a reasonable understanding of the political and cultural dynamics when traveling to a different country (in the interests of safety, if nothing else), but following current events and the like provides that extra dimension of appreciation for the context in which one experiences a new place.

The centrepiece of this post is Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will know that Banksy is a controversial and political graffiti artist who created the likes of Girl with the Red Balloon and Pulp Fiction. It was only in March 2017 – one month ago at the time of writing – that he opened the hotel.

The Walled Off Hotel is quite literally a work of art. In fact, it’s more of a demonstration than anything. The Walled Off hotel – hence it’s name – is located in Bethlehem opposite the Separation Wall (a wall constructed by Israel to segregate the country from Palestinian territory) and is self-promoted as having “the worst view in the world”.

The Walled Off Hotel has the unique potential to send a political message through it’s geography. According to the Conversation, “… placing an operating hotel on a site where guests can feel the oppression of the wall and experience the surveillance of an Israeli watchtower works to embed visitors in the occupation.” Guests will be subjected to physical confinement, checkpoints and security checks in the hopes of inciting feelings of injustice for those suffering from conflict such as that between Israel and Palestine. Banksy invites guests to subjugate themselves to the tensions of occupation, and his intentions for his latest masterpiece to construct a marriage between tourism and politics are sure to hit the mark.

Banksy’s latest instalment has attracted substantial media attention. Al Jazeera reported that critics accused him of “… making a profit off Palestinian suffering, normalising the occupation (and) beautifying the wall”. However, others applaud Banksy on his critique of the way Western tourists divorce travel from a country’s civil affairs and oppression. As for your opinion…? Well, you’ll just have to decide that for yourself.

If you are thinking about booking a reservation, you may want to act fast; it is likely that the hotel will only be funded for the remaining of 2017. Learn everything you need to know here.

The ‘Deats

Name: The Walled Off Hotel

Creator: Banksy

Location: 182 Caritas Street, Bethlehem, Palestine

Website: www.banksy.co.uk

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8 Untranslatable Words To Bring You Joy

One of the highlights of traveling is exposure to different languages. As someone who is fascinated by communication and culture, I am drawn to countries where I can stand in the middle of the street and not understand a single word of the people bustling around me.

I can only speak English, which has catalysed a rather obsessive fixation with words from other languages that are untranslatable. To all the multilinguals out there — especially those that can understand languages that are not in Latin script — I tip my hat to you.

And so I present to you 8 stunning words from a variety of different languages that cannot translate to English. Enjoy!

Definitions courtesy of Buzzfeed and images courtesy of Unsplash.

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