Category Archives: New Zealand

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Three months traveling with help exchange vs. one week in Vail

On my drive from Moab, UT to Estes Park, CO, I saw a sign for Vail. I had seen photos of this town and had heard about the famous people who frequent it; I almost expected “Vail” to be written in diamonds on the road sign. I bipped my blinker and decided to use a fancy lodge’s restroom instead of a gas station’s.

Vail is nicely surrounded by huge mountains and they were covered in snow, pleasing the skiers zipping down. I drove past lodge after fancy lodge after extravagant lodge. I felt very less than. I felt dirty, like I hadn’t showered in days. I hadn’t brushed my hair in at least a week, because my brush was in my broken down car for the week in Grand Junction. I was wearing the same boots that hiked over forty miles in the desert and they were filthy. I got out of the car and scooped up some snow to put in my cooler so I wouldn’t have to buy a bag of 99 cent ice to cool down my v8s.

In this moment, I was struck with how different my way of traveling was from the family crossing the street with their skis and Louis Vitton bags. I wondered how much a week at a lodge here would cost, so once to Estes Park, I looked it up:

5-star hotel averages $330

3-star hotel averages $230

To stay one week at a 3-star hotel in Vail, CO, it would cost $1610. Of course, you’d have to add the cost of activities like touring castles and riding in horse-drawn carriages and ice skating and skiing; and then food and beverages. I imagine it’d easily be between $3000-5000 for a week long trip, depending on taste in wine and frequency of room service matched with said wine.

The adventures I’ve taken, New Zealand and this US road trip, have been much different. I learned about help exchange and working a few hours a day for food and lodging, and it opened up a whole new outlook on traveling for me. I can make $2,000 last well over three months (with gas for 11,000 miles, the occasional local amber ale, the not-just-occasional Americano, and a meal out every once in a while). I know not everybody can spend months away from their homes and jobs. I chose to leave my job and I moved out of my apartment, so it has become a lifestyle instead of a vacation. If you are not thrilled with your current situation, I encourage you to look into help exchange here.

Here are pros and cons of help exchange for three months vs. one week in Vail, in my humble opinion:

Help exchange/staying with friends and family and friends of friends or family


Free housing.

Free food. And it’s so nice to try new things and expand your “go to” food list, like roasted beets with rosemary or pickled mussels.

More destinations. (This four month trip has taken me from FL to NC, OK, NM, AZ, CA, OR, WA, Orcas Island, ID, MT, UT, and CO!)

An extended adventure! So many possibilities. New people to meet. New mountains to climb.

Satisfaction of earning your keep for a few hours of work a day.

An average of a 15 hour work week instead of a 40 hour work week.

Variety. This is a huge bonus for me. Mondays are all different and that is thrilling.

Learning new skills. I never knew how to poach an egg! Or use an electric drill.

Sometimes you’re staying in a really stunning place, on a mountaintop or with a view like this:

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Staying with local people perhaps provides more of a “genuine” experience while exploring a new town.

You get to stay a while and enjoy and not feel bad about taking a nap if you’re exhausted. You’re not wasting $230, you’re resting after working hard for three hours.


Sometimes you don’t want to pull weeds or clean gutters.

Living out of a suitcase for months at a time.

Being on somebody’s else schedule for part of the day (this can actually be a good thing as well).

Your $2000 will be gone in three months and you will most likely not be saving for retirement as you go. I have a couple part time jobs I can do on the road, but I am definitely not contributing to a 401(k) like I should.

Sometimes you’re staying in a place called “The Gorilla Hut” and the septic tank overflows:

2013-11-20 18.26.03

Staying a week at a 3-star lodge in Vail


Being able to leave your shampoo and soap in the shower. Seriously, packing everything up after every shower is almost worth the $230.

Nice, comfortable things like bath robes.

Extravagance is downright extravagant.

Control. Freedom. A completely open itinerary.


It’s only one week.

You no longer have $2,000.

It’s only one week.

Days are most likely packed and you might be exhausted when you return home from “vacation”.

It’s only one week.

You only see Vail.


It’s a slow, somewhat sunny day at the shop. I’ve been on the floor by myself and that means I have the rare privilege of controlling the iPod (after I bring the stool over to be able to reach). I had Mumford and Sons on repeat for the first couple hours. Then Old Crow Medicine Show was the soundtrack to my backpack selling streak. Now John Mayer is bringing me to back to my high school days. This song caught my attention and reminded me of New Zealand. I felt like John did here several times…wanting to see the world through both eyes and catching sunrises that brought me back to life. Enjoy.

John Mayer

I’m writing you to
catch you up on places I’ve been
You held this letter
probably got excited, but there’s nothing else inside it
didn’t have a camera by my side this time
hoping I would see the world with both my eyes
maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m
in the mood to lose my way with words
Today skies are painted colors of a cowboy’s cliche’
And strange how clouds that look like mountains in the sky
are next to mountains anyway
Didn’t have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m
in the mood to lose my way
but let me say
You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
it brought me back to life
You’ll be with me next time I go outside
just no more 3×5’s
Guess you had to be there
Guess you had to be with me
Today I finally overcame
tryin’ to fit the world inside a picture frame
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to
lose my way but let me say
You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
it brought me back to life
You’ll be with me next time I go outside
no more 3×5’s
just no more 3×5’s
2013-12-15 00.53.41 2013-12-15 00.54.27 2013-12-16 06.03.37 2013-12-18 06.21.10

the right side.

I found this on my phone tonight:

Who would’ve known that jerky would’ve been much pricier than an airplane meal! I was very scared to bring any food on the plane this time, so I spent too many hours hungry.

My dad left this note for me for when I woke up: 

I think I scared my dad the night before as we were leaving Grandma and Grandpa’s (in different cars), I was on the wrong side of the road for a good quarter of a mile. It’s hard when no one else is on the road! Dangerous. I’ve been more careful since, for sure.


After over 35 hours in transit, I made it home! I was one lucky girl to be on the last flight out of Charlotte in a snowstorm. I would’ve been a bit cranky to get so close to home to end up stranded in the snow. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Chickfila, briefly caught up with John and Katie, hugged Kendy the dog, and met Sam the cat. I then saw Grandma and Grandpa. It does my heart good to be near them. Once I am able to hug Greg, I’ll be quite satisfied.

Seems the jetlag might be a bit of an issue. It’s 2:18am but my body thinks it’s only 8:18pm and it’s not quite ready to sleep. I woke up at 2:30pm today after getting around 12 hours of sleep after the long traveling days. I need to use this time to be productive by selling some items on ebay or something. 

four alarms.

I have four different alarms set for the morning because a shuttle is picking me up at 4:20am for my 7:00am flight. It’d be awesome if I could get coffee with each and every one of you, while we split some NZ Whitaker’s chocolate (milk or dark or peanut butter or coconut, oh my!) and I could personally thank you for reading the blog thus far. That might have to happen in September unless you’re my mother or Erica Young or something. Off to the US of A!

fake cheese.

I went to watch the oldest blonde boy’s tennis match today in the charming town of Lincoln. On the court next to his, there was a blonde girl wearing a bright blue hat, a red hoody, and yellow shoes. She was at least a foot shorter than everyone else playing, including her opponent. She hardly ever missed and was more impressive than any other player. I couldn’t stop watching her play.

After the games, I said to the boy’s mom, “Wow, that little blonde girl sure is something.”

“Oh, Eliza? Yeah. She’s really incredible.”

What a name. This was another reason to go by the first part of my full name rather than the last part.


I made some money tonight by eating dinner in a fort with cute boys, eating peanut butter swirled in our ice cream, and watching The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s a tough gig I’ve got here.

The boys wanted macaroni and cheese. I admitted to only making it out of a Kraft box and tonight I had to tackle the cheese sauce on my own. It was OK, but once we got our plates out to the fort, the macaroni was cold and it just didn’t taste cheesy enough, like the fake powder. I said, “Gosh guys, I hope this tastes OK. I think it’s lacking.”

And they are such polite boys, they acted like it was best thing ever. “Mmm, oh wow! This is so delicious!”

“Oooh, yeah. Wow. Mmm…”

I saw through it and appreciated their support.