February 21, 2015

Long distance friendships - a crash guide

Friendship upkeep is hard. It's hard for anyone who lives close to their friends. It's about a million times more difficult if your friends live on the opposite side of the globe. But albeit being sometimes frustrating and tiring, having and keeping good friends is the most important pursuit in our social lives. It's more important than finding a partner. It's more important than keeping in touch with relatives you have nothing in common. Without friends, our lives are bland. They're empty and boring and lonely.

As with everything, friendships are sometimes borne out of necessity. Say for example you live in a small town with only a limited amount of kids your age. You become friends, but once you're off to school you realise how different you are and that there are people out there who are a better fit for you both. This cycle repeats itself a few times in our lifespan. But there are a handful of precious people who will never have to compete with anyone else. People who you stay close with even if you are a million miles away. The type of human you wouldn't mind spending every minute with, but it's not a big deal if you don't.

If there is one thing I could write a book about, it is how to keep a friendship going over months and months of travel. Moving away permanently is a harder blow for a friendship, because there is no time line, no end date, no return flight. But I have seen more friendships disintegrate over a few months of travel than I have over years of not living in the same country. There are the hurdles of time differences, sloppy wifi and a general "fuck it" attitude of the runaway. A mild case of "FOMO", regret and loneliness for the homie. Combine that with a lack of communication and you have a potent toxin sinking slowly into the blood stream of your friendship.

So, for the sake of saving millions of BFFs around the globe, here is my LDF (long distance friendship) crash guide! 

Simple channels

For the homie
Please get a smartphone. Without a smartphone you will hear from your friend maybe two to three times a year via letter or pigeon. Once you have a smartphone, install some apps.

For the runaway
Please take a smartphone and install all of the below apps:
Whatsapp, Facebook and Skype. (Whatsapp??? You may now scream the word "SPIES" in your head. If you're scared of spying, don't get a smartphone. The end.)

They're all you need. Phew...that was easy

Easy on the pressure

For the homie
This is the hardest part, homie. I know you miss her, I know you probably want nothing more than to share a bottle of wine with her and talk about life and love and the weirdness that is adulthood. And her replies to your hilarious (if sometimes a bit whiny) messages are few and far between, which makes you angry and sad at times. But please understand, this lady is out there meeting new faces everyday, seeing new mind blowing places and most of all is trying to be careless.

Internet connection is a luxury that she uses for maybe 10 minutes a day, trying to catch up on sharing some of her photos and to tell her mum and dad she is OK and equally free of STDs and babies. She will reply and you will catch up on Skype and she will probably have far more stories to tell than you. And then you won't hear form her for two or three weeks. But trust me when I say she hasn't forgotten you and if she could, she would share most of these experiences with you. So please, homie, don't pressure her. Don't send sarcastic messages about how she doesn't care at all about home, homie and everyone who loved her through those years of being a psychopathic teenager. Don't send accusatory emails in which you prompt her to spend more time writing to you. She won't write to you more. She will just feel guilty and pressured and book another flight to Mexico to prolong her right to be slutty and careless. (Edit: Never be slutty and careless at the same time! One after the other I say...one after the other.)

For the runaway
Yep, runaway. Despite me defending you in a huge paragraph above, you still need to get your act together. I am not asking you do be in a two hour messaging extravaganza every night with your homie. But just send a message. Maybe once every week. You remember how members of human society structure their time, right? Seven days make a week. So once every seven days, send a message to your friend. Even if the adventures of the previous week were slightly less exciting than the ones from a fortnight ago, wrap them in a nice little text. Maybe add a photo.

But it's not all about you and your life, runaway. Your homie needs some friendship stuff too. You know, support. Advice. A virtual drinking buddy. Someone to angry cry to when the stupid hairdresser went scissor crazy. Remember that being a friend isn't tainting your experience right now, even if you're sometimes not in the mood to talk on a crackly connection. It should have the opposite effect, it should elevate all your adventures. And it will keep you in line too! (AKA She'll remind you to stay away from American guys, slut!) And most of all it ensures you won't regret your decision to travel further down the track, because you made an effort to have something worthwhile to come back to.

Save some exclusivity

For the homie Ok, I know it's hard but don't let your best friend find out everything exciting in your life via public facebook statuses and Instagram posts. Try and bottle the excitement over a new job or your amazing marathon score or anything else you would usually call your amiga for and hold off sharing it on social media. Just a little while. Ok, ok. I know, we're all about instant gratification, so this is super hard. As an alternative and if you're about to explode, send an email or a whatsapp message first, then post it on facebook. The truth is, your friend won't mind on which platform she reads it first, as long as she knows you have gone through the effort of sending a separate message meant for her eyes only.

For the runaway 
This one is easy for your, runaway. You've made out with more dudes in the past six months than you have in your life. You've taken more photos than you have in your entire life (maybe of said dudes, maybe of something more scenic). You have a ton of homie-classified, explicit information. Now you just need to take five minutes out of your day to type it up and send it off!

Make time

For the homie and the runaway
Fleeting Skype conversations and snap shots are important to keep each other up to date. They are like the snack foods of communication - light, quick and satisfying. But you need to make time for something more substantial. You'll be craving a greasy and carb loaded plate of information being shoved from one side of the world to the other. You need those happy tears, those sad tears, the gossip, the whinging, the laughter and the love. But you need to plan ahead for those big meals. They require a bit of effort, cooking time and a hint of love. So here's my advice: Once a fortnight set aside an hour. Make it so in case there is a huge time difference between homie's and runaway's location, neither of you are super tired or in a major rush to get somewhere. Open a bottle of wine each. And then go for it. I promise you will not leave this restaurant dissatisfied. 

Safe travels everyone! And may runaway and homie stay united through gap years and relocations and live happily ever after.

images via pinterest

February 08, 2015

Do you have garment amnesia?

From time to time I feel the urge to wear a smart casual pants and shirt outfit.
I choose from the vast selection of pants in my closet and wonder why, oh why I don't wear them more often. Confidently strutting out the door, I feel as light as an Alexa or an Elin.
But then, two hours into wearing those pantalones my positive attitude disappears and the painful fact resurfaces: Pants just aren't for me. They cut into the wrong bits and accentuate what is already getting too much air time. They give me camel toes or find their ways into my butt, where they reside happily ever after unless I tirelessly pluck and pluck and pluck. They are either a little too short or a little too long and they always stretch into an unsightly shape that does nothing for my rock hard* glutes. Every single time I bend or crouch I have to decide whether I will allow my ass crack to greet every stranger walking past me, or if I should pull those pants up. If I go with the latter (and apparently that's the more acceptable choice), I pull every thirty seconds. Hundreds if not thousands of times a day. Everywhere I go, I am already anxiously anticipating for them to slide back down my hips. Walking through malls, my thoughts evolve around when it's time to put those suckers in their rightful place again, wondering how soon is too soon to make readjustments gracefully by kicking one leg at a time and semi-jumping into them as though I was in a potato sack race. By this point there are people staring at me. Desperately trying to balance my handbag in one and some groceries in the other hand, I am forced to stop regularly to take pants adjustment breaks. And when I finally walk through my front door at night, I have calluses on my hands from all the pulling and friction burn on my hips. It's my personal hell. Just the thought of it makes me anxious. And even though I hate them, I naively and repeatedly give these awful but so smart looking assholes a chance. Time and time again. And the worst part is: I can never remember why I stopped the pants wearing business in the first place until it is already too late...

*glutes not rock hard

So here's my question for you: do you suffer from garment amnesia? Do you too buy and wear clothes you have supposedly sworn off completely? Do you, like me, stand in the change room of your favorite store, thinking to yourself: "Why on EARTH have I not invested in a pair of Wrangler jeans sooner?", to then ($ 200 later) find out that pants pulling and camel toes are still a side effect even with HIGH RISE pants. Why must my beloved high rise jeans turn on me like that? It's an outrage!

But the horror doesn't stop with pants or jeans or any other incarnation of the lower body stray jacket. There are long sleeved cotton shirts. And I am talking about those H&M cotton/elasthan tight long sleeved horror shirts that aren't thick enough to keep you from shivering but somehow still manage to turn your armpits into waterfalls. The discomfort around your shoulders is worse than that time your cool childless aunt got you ready for school and tightened up your backpack straps so much your chest inflated like a helium balloon and you flew off into the sky.

Long sleeved cotton shirts ruined me so much during my alternative puberty-rage fuelled teenage years (we wore them underneath stripey polo shirts with equally ill fitting sleeves), that I still hyperventilate whenever I try on a shirt, blazer or jacket that is cut too narrow for my monstrous Behemoth shoulders. Get it off me! GET! IT! OFF!
And yet...every now and again... I look at a long sleeved dress or shirt on ASOS and happily press the "pay now" button. Hopeless. Amnesia.

But it doesn't stop there either. Think elastic waistbands. Asymmetrical tops. High neck dresses. Everything JERSEY!

And almost immediately after having the idea for this post, I looked at a distressed denim pencil skirt. "It would make the perfect addition to my closet" I thought as I stared at it for an obscene amount of time. Obscene because it was ON a sales assistant, not a mannequin. I have a staring problem. But there was this feeling of discomfort in my gut every time I attempted to buy it. I couldn't pinpoint what made me feel hesitant about this skirt, so of course I ended up in the change room. As per official fitting room procedure, I paid little to no attention to the skirt or how it moved and felt on my body and instead pouted, took selfies, did supermodel poses and fixed my hair. But as expected and despite that weird feeling, I bought it.

And then I wore it and guess what - it rides up. Of course it does. I have solid quads the size of kebab rotisserie meat slabs and a in proportion tiny waist.  How would that piece of cheap fabric not move upwards? It's science, d'uh! And that's not even the worst part. Not only am I now practicing the pull-down discipline every second step I take in this skirt, I have to be quick and vigorous because it comes with a back split. A split so perfectly centered I'm sure it would just blend in with my exposed butt crack after step three. This would be Ok with me, but there are kids around. And creepy dudes. So again I pull from sunrise to sundown and curse myself and swear with both hands lifted over my head that I will never, NEVER buy a midi skirt with a back split again.

Pulling and pulling....

Garment amnesia you guys. Garment fucking amnesia. I swear to God I have been in these situations before, stood in these change rooms before, tucked and plucked and pulled away until I was ready for capitulation and just went naked. Only I was in Austria and approximately 35 years** younger than I am now. And here goes to show that as a human being you absolutely do not automatically evolve into a better version of yourself. You can stay just as hopeless as a twenty-something as you were as a teen. And hey, that's ok as long as you can camouflage your weirdness to the point where society accepts you as one of their own. Trickery and quasi-control is what this adult life is about.

And on that note I am off spending money I don't have on clothes I don't really want to wear. :)

**dog years

January 19, 2015

The great appleseed travel prep plan: PT 1 - The b-word

Hi everyone to my latest column - The great Appleseed travel prep plan - where you will find handy pre-travel tips from someone who basically knows everything. I promise this won't be half as boring as the first thirty pages of every travel guide you ever bought but still haven't read. 

Who am I to give advice? Well, if you ask nicely I'll share some of my story. I grew up in the heart of Europe, my first passport was issued when I was 7 years old. After years of road trips, holidays and school excursions to foreign countries, I packed a bag at age 19, kissed my family good bye and traveled to the other side of the world. At 20 I packed up my whole life and moved to Australia and have traveled overseas every year since. I speak four languages and most of my disposable income goes towards travel in some form. I am not a trust fund baby and I work a busy full time job to earn me an average salary. But for the sake of my sanity, I manage to put myself on a plane en route to wherever the hell I want without too much hassle every year.

Today I will cover the most tedious and annoying task that comes with travel prep: Budgeting or as I like to call it "the real B-word".

We have to come to terms with the fact that travel is expensive and that you will have to save up a ton of money before you can embark on your next adventure. You're probably not Jessica Stein who has found a magical way to make people pay for her clothes and luxury travel and can call this her job. She did all that while you and I went on drunk hikes in New Zealand, called out people for taking photos of us instead of giving them our good sides and still sent hand written post cards from three towns ago to grandma. If you are indeed Jessica Stein reading this then please consider adopting me, I can become the shorter and less photogenic side kick to give your immaculate blog a relatable edge and open you up to a less attractive audience.
Here's a taste. Hiking boots and holey leggins and all.

But back to budgeting!

Let me tell you that travel is also the only thing that is really worth spending money on. It is perfectly acceptable to work all year and live conservatively and then blow a hundred and fifty dollars at a Robot cafe in Japan drunk on Sake. The point is: There is nothing in this world you could buy that gives you as much in return as travel. Travel opens you up, it lets in the different and the curious, the beautiful and tragic of another culture, it leaves you with memories and a thousand pictures in your head for the rest of your life. You remember the smells, the tastes and the temperature of places for years to come and your life will be riddled with those magnificent and random little flash backs you get when you see, hear or taste something familiar. Most of all it leaves you content and satisfied and it puts you in perspective when you realise the world doesn't evolve around your life, even your city or town. It is the greatest investment you can make in yourself.

So how will you manage to bag a plane ticket and that room key in a faraway land?

I'm going to state the obvious: Save.
Save at least 10 % of your income every pay period. No ifs, buts or whens. No "I have this bill coming in blah blah" excuses. No digging into your savings because of something stupid like a skirt. You want to travel? Well, you're gonna have to be an adult and save. But don't just save those 10 %.
Once you get to the most anticipated day of the week or month - pay day -  transfer any and all money into your savings that is leftover from your previous pay period. See some progress after a few weeks? Good you can take the next step! Add another 5 %. Then another 10. Your savings will flourish within six months.

It ain't easy..

I know, this part is hard. We're a generation of people who sat pretty their whole lives and who are used to instant gratification. We had no post-war crisis where we had to re-build houses and feed a family on seasonal produce that grew in our gardens. We had no great depression where once a week we got to split a stale cookie four ways and thought it was the most precious and delicious dessert out there. Most likely we had parents who gave us that little bit too much because they wanted us to have a better childhood than they did. And let's face it, they probably still help you out well into your late twenties and beyond. And while we can call ourselves lucky beyond compare, all this has also turned us into entitled and spoiled brats who know nothing about saving money or simply saying "enough". So let me tell you, as someone who despite having enjoyed all the above privileges, is magnificent at saving money no matter how little I earn, that it gets so much easier with time. Once you see a small amount grow into a larger chunk, your  competitive nature should kick in and you will aim for the next goal. The next fifty dollars. The next hundred. You'll put away those $ 20 more one week because it makes your $ 800 or $ 8000 whole. And you will memorize those tough moments you wanted to just spend it all on a fabulous Chloe satchel the first time you hand some of that hard earned cash over to the toothless driver of a Tuk Tuk or a Peruvian market stall owner who sells crazy hats and fried ginea pigs. And you will smile and cherish that memory and tell your grandchildren and dogs about it and feel a sense of pride and achievement. And that makes it all worth it.

Technically you can take a short cut and get a loan and that's cool with me but personally I am against accumulating debt in any form. It's expensive and quite frankly I could never spend borrowed money on anything other than real estate or a business. On top of that, by the time you have it all paid off you've probably already forgotten what you initially borrowed that expensive money for. I move on to the next thing too quickly for that kind of trouble to knock on my bank account's door for months to come. Even worse you may get tempted to take out more money for really insignificant stuff and your financial situation will spiral out of control. So save people. Cause debt is bad! But again, your life, your choices.

A whole different circumstance is being well off and having that shit handed to you. To you I say, take all the money you can and explore the world because you're not going to make those kinds of memories carrying a designer bag. Why should you burn it when it comes to you for free? But I am asking one thing of you, trust fund baby: Don't try to tell me you've earned this yourself. Because for one people who push through 8 hrs of work every day to do half the stuff you do will not appreciate your lies and also your Mom and Dad's money making skills deserve more credit than that. What do they do anyway? And can I become a business partner? Get a travel scholarship? No? Oh..ok then. I might see you around on our travels, you're easy to spot! You'll always be the drunkest person in the hostel (you stay in for "ironic" reasons) wearing the most expensive shoes, talking about how "this place sucks".

Shout out to the middle class! Trust me when I tell you that there is no better feeling than stepping off a plane somewhere and knowing you made this happen yourself. I booked into my first and possibly last five star hotel in Bali and overpriced ready-to-wear clothes and stacks of cash don't automatically put a smile on people's faces. I saw bags more expensive than the car I drive dangling on arms that were gesturing angrily in a place that was closer to paradise than anything I had ever seen. So while you may get a bit sad looking at wealthy people's expensively laid out blogs and professionally composed travel photos, remember that these experiences will never have the same value and context to them than yours will have to you.


So you have savings but you don't know where to go from here?

Well, if Leslie Knope taught me anything, it is that ACRONYMS are the best things in the world. Here's my licensed* travel prep acronym:   (*not licensed)


FAVE - my acronym is fave. SO GOOD!  (Can you hear the eye rolls of thousands of hipsters in the distance?)

Part of budgeting is choosing a destination that suits your finances of course, but I find I spend the same amount in South East Asia as I do in Europe. When I travel I get into a bit of a ridiculous drunk-like state where money doesn't matter, but even then I am a lot more tempted to spend endlessly in cheaper countries than in more expensive ones. (See: - three massages, two manicures and pedicures, two facials within 5 days in Bali) So even if flights and accommodation were a bit cheaper, the damage to my bank account is usually the same.

Your flights make up one of the most expensive items on your list, so a well meant tip on the side is to not move to Australia where any and all air travel, including a 50 minute domestic fart of a flight will set you back several hundred dollars. You can still find a bargain if you're flexible. I am not flexible. So there's that.

My preferred sites for comparing flights are travel.com.au, webjet.com.au and skyscanner.com.au . If you are part of an airline program and have a few miles racked up, call the service hotline and see if you can get a better deal there. Call centre prices and website prices aren't always the same and if you're a premium member somewhere you would be surprised how much you can save.

Ok, your tickets are in the bag - now it's onto accommodation.
I love booking.com, not just because of their amazingly weird ads. If you're taking a domestic trip, you won't have to pay for your accommodation until you get there, which is good if you're still struggling with saving your dollars. But no matter where you are staying, they simply have the best selection of all types of accommodation, from luxury to self-maintained to Teepees in the wild, and in all price ranges. Plus if you have booked a few times with them, you become a member and get a 10 % discount. Don't mind if I do.
Now a well meant tip on the side: if you're traveling for the sake of seeing a country, your location is everything, your accommodation is secondary, so don't worry too much about how fancy it is. If it's central, close to public transport and clean, it's good for you. The amount of times I have stayed in nice hotels and didn't even see the pool area or steam rooms or gyms outweighs the times I have actually used any of these. It's not important, the world's waiting for you outside of your hotel walls!

Variables are the hardest thing to calculate, hence the name. This is the part where a lot of novice travelers get discouraged and sometimes bored, because you can't get around researching some of the less fun stuff. Speak: transportation costs, entrance fees, travel insurance, luggage storage, visa and customs fees. You'll also be paying rent back home so that's another painfully sobering thing to consider.
I have always used this rule of thumb for shorter stays: I add the cost of my flights and accommodation and then take that amount as a guide for my variables.
Here's an example: For our trip to Japan this year we paid $ 950 each for flights and are looking at $ 1000 each for accommodation for 13 nights. Let's round that amount to $ 2000.
For our variables we are looking at a $ 500 rail pass to get us around, $ 100 for travel insurance, $ 400 rent - that leaves us with $ 1000 for entrance fees, food and some spending.

Because I am a crazy Ghibli fan, Instax user and clothes lover, I will designate double that amount for our Japan trip. But at least I have the piece of mind of knowing all the variables are covered with that certain amount. And in case something goes horribly wrong you always have...

Emergency funds!
Ok, I get it - if budgeting is a country song, emergency funds are the equivalent of a 20 minute banjo solo. All of these things stink and are boring, but unlike Banjos, emergency funds will get you out of trouble. Huge roaming phone bill? It's cool, you had that extra $ 500 in the bank for unwanted surprises. Catch a nasty cold on the plane but you're only working a casual job and can't afford to take time off? Wait now, it's cool, you have two weeks' worth of rent saved up as a back up. See what's going on here? As an adult the responsible thing to do is having emergency funds. As a child you're allowed to use your parents as an emergency fund. But let me tell you from experience that there are only very few things more humiliating than begging your parents for money on Skype. Especially hungover. On Christmas Day. While in New Zealand. With a bunch of stoned people dancing in the background of the screen. (Did I mention my parents are the best people to have ever walked this planet?)

So now that we got this out of the way, we can tackle all the fun bits! Next week's column is all about planning and culling to get the most out of your trip. I'll see you there, fellow Wanderlust guzzlers.

*Put up your dukes, let's get down to it....*
Photos: Venice 2011, New Zealand 2010, Prague 2011, Bali 2014, Australia 2009
The ones I am in have not been taken by me. The other ones have.