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.

January 08, 2015

That time I won a photo shoot...

It was a pretty unspectacular day off in October. G20 was around the corner and Brisbane was hot, humid and riddled with art installations while simultaneously getting rid of the homeless through public transport bribery. I mowed my lawn and played ball with my dog and found a replica gun in my front yard.
Yeah, you read that right. I found a replica gun someone had meticulously placed underneath a conglomerate of old palm tree leaves in front of my house.

So...that was weird.

I called the police who took 45 minutes to collect what would later be described to me as a "plastic gun that may have been used in a robbery". In the mean time I guarded the thing, shooed everyone who even dared to look at it and wrote down every single car's number plate that traveled past my house suspiciously slowly. Kommissar Rex would have been proud of my efforts.

Once my innocent garden was cleared of plastic weapons, I re-entered the house to find out that I had won a professional photo shoot including hair and make up!

Let me tell you that in the dramedy that is "Astrid's life", things like these either don't happen or they happen under the strangest of circumstances and all at once. It's never simply "remember that day I found a plastic gun?". It's always a "remember how for approximately seven to eight weeks my life was extremely pleasant and boring and then on the one day I found a replica weapon in front of my house I also won a $ 800 photoshoot"

I entered a facebook competition by super hip Sunshine Coast based photo studio and creative space "Studio Republic". The studio was planning on putting together a calender to showcase their individuality and versatility and wanted to get as many different faces and bods in to fill the pages. There were two reasons I entered. Firstly, they didn't want photos of the entrants. I found that extremely awesome. Secondly, the entry form contained a section in which I could proof some creative writing skills. I like creative writing, so there's that.

My brief for the shoot was pretty straight forward: shoot is in two weeks, develop three different looks, shave your body if you want to and bring your own clothes to the shoot.
"Behind the scenes"

The two weeks leading up to the shoot, I did zero exercise after vowing that I would have thunderous thighs without dents or marks for the shoot (I am all about achievable goals, people). I worked constantly so had about 20 minutes to develop my looks, which in retrospect annoys me because now I am brimming with better ideas.
I still pulled off a fabulous leotard for one of the looks so suck on that. (referring to myself)

Here is an excerpt from my "photoshoot inspo" - titled pinterest board:

is it evident that I got distracted looking for Beyonce in lingerie photos half way through my "inspo" search?
Most of my initial ideas fell through because of delayed shipping (I had ordered a one piece basically identical to that floral one above and it arrived a day after the shoot) or because I simply could not find what I wanted in the short amount of time. I am a perfectionist and as the date crept up further, I knew I couldn't pull something off I absolutely loved. So I decided to take it easy, enjoy the ride and get a bit weird.

I've always wanted to take part in a pin-up shoot so my first look was an easy one to pick. As I mentioned above I originally planned to recreate that dramatic Martini glass photo from Beyonce's "Why don't you love me" video, but my outfit didn't work out so I had to improvise.

This is boring. Anyway.

The day of the shoot, I tried on and split a dress on the ass on set. I still wore it for my second look. To everyone I booty-flashed: You're welcome! It was the week after Kim K's "Break the internet" oily butt photo for Paper magazine, so I decided I would make a version of that photo, only with more clothes, less oil and on a budget with a humorous twist.

This was fun. My favorite part of the photo are my shoes.

Lastly, I chose to go with dark make-up and black lips to accompany my Black Milk bodysuit. I loved so many shots my photographer took of this look, and for some inexplicable reason I chose the one that has me posing identically to the first look.

 Slow clapping for myself right now. Still a pretty awesome photo!

Once I posted behind the scene photos on instagram, I received some questions from my friends and family. 

Did you enjoy being in front of the camera? Hell yes. I love attention. It's the best thing. And I really enjoyed posing once I hit that third look. It's unfortunate it took me pretty much two hours to warm up and give off some facial expressions. But yes, I loved arching my back until I lost balance, I loved giving my photographer looks she didn't suggest and her digging it and shooting away. Most of all I enjoyed the experience. It's a cool day to think back to and a fun story to tell.

Do you love your photos? I didn't have enough time to carve out any of these looks, so I can't say I will get these printed off and will wallpaper my house with them. My face is pretty boring in photos because I don't like showing my teeth, I still feel a tad ridiculous taking selfies and I sure as hell don't have the pseudo-instagram model poses down (YET!). There are a million and one things I don't love about the way I look and my insecurities definitely took the better of me when I chose the final images. Once we finished shooting I had a few minutes to relax before being shown the forty or so images the team picked. Looking at some of the less flattering photos, I went from feeling like I had walked a sassy Zimmermann runway to that time the school doctor pinched my triceps with one of those "body fat" measuring tongs and said "you're still at a healthy weight. For now." It was hard coming down from such a high to the harsh reality that, with all the work I have done over the years, I still can't fully accept the way I look. So while I can't fault the Studio at all because the images are solid in execution and the whole experience was professional and so much fun, I would definitely approach choosing my images differently. I wish I could transfer my memories to your brains so you could see some of the movie star beauty close-ups and fun leotard yoga poses in high heels I did.

Would you do it again if you had to pay for it? Not at the moment. See above re: body issues. Have to work on that some more. Also - I am not a millionaire! If I was a millionaire I would book one every week. (For real)

Do you have tips for my photo shoot?  YES!!!! I'm glad you ask because I am an expert model now! 
Firstly, think about your looks and then go further and think about your poses. If you bring props, practice natural poses beforehand. I brought my Ukulele and ended up holding it so awkwardly we scrapped the idea altogether. Then a week later I played it drunk on the floor and a friend took the cutest photo of me and I went: "Why didn't I think of that at my shoot?" Which brings me to the next piece of advice, be horribly drunk. No, no that's just a joke (maybe). 
If you are providing your own clothing, opt for colorful fabrics and interesting textures. I think my pin-up inspired photo would have benefited from a head-to-toe pineapple-print! Who am I kidding, everyone always benefits from a good head-to-toe pineapple print! Make sure you can move in the clothing you choose so you can go crazy with your posing. If there is no music, play a song in your head to help you losen up. And the hardest but most important thing: relax your face. You know when someone tries to take a photo of you and can't find the right button to click and then your natural and gorgeous smile becomes all weird and forced looking and the corners of your mouth make a flapping motion? Yeah that! Don't do that! 
I know, I know. It's hard not to look like you have a botox-pouch for a face when partaking in something as ridiculously self absorbed as a photoshoot. So here's my secret remedy for that problem: I imagined I was the bitchy and slightly bored female protagonist in an early 2000's music video. It helped me a lot. Thanks J.Lo!

So there's that people! *drops imaginary mic and tap dances out the door* 

January 04, 2015

The end of year recap is HERE!

Twentyfourteen is over and I am pretty sure YOU are OVER reading recaps. But this post will help me remember some of the things I did in the last 365 days, which is essential due to the irregularity with which I have tended to the blog this year as well as the short term memory loss I acquired due to an overstuffed brain. And I know you're nosy so don't even pretend you're not interested in my life.

Also I meant to go to the beach today and awoke to typical Queenslandian torrential rain that is known to equally fuck up people's plans and hair dos, so here I go.

In 2014 I discovered that I am terrific at sports, so long as the activity of my choice does not involve continuous cardiovascular exercise. I started training for POWER LIFTING competitions and it was one of the most empowering things I have ever tackled. There were numerous moments in which I was transferred back to my primary school gym, mocked by teachers and fellow class members because I couldn't climb a rope or touch my nose to my heels because (quoting my obese teacher here) "the bacon belly was in the way" (For the record I hated bacon as a kid. Stupid hag.)
And here I was, dead lifting 100 kg and showing off to the hunks while observing one of my biggest insecurities, namely not being fit in conjunction with also not being skinny, partially melting away along with the skin layers on my hands. (Calluses are part of the game, deal with it soft hand advocates!)

I had the opportunity to beat personal bests and high five my trainer in the jockiest way possible and it felt good. My ass is tight, my thighs are huge and my hour glass shape is firmer than ever, so no I do not look like the Hulk but I'm going to say thanks for all the ignorant and sexist concerns for my womanly shape voiced to me this year because I am way too polite for my own good.

You may be asking yourself now if I competed and the answer is no. I love squatting 10 kg more than my body weight, but preparing for and competing itself is expensive and time consuming and along with a packed life, I couldn't fit it in. Which isn't to say it's not going to happen this year.

As for my PROFESSIONAL LIFE, it was another year of learning, of set backs and occasional despair but also progress and some great experiences. Funnily enough all I can remember in this very moment are the many super early morning flights and exhausting days ahead of those flights, but the truth is I have grown to handle it all. I am in control of it and I am in the process of cultivating a rich and worthwhile life outside of work. (A healthy work-life balance is hard to re-introduce once it's gone!) This year marks a milestone in a different way for me too. For the first time in my life I asked for a pay rise. I had built up so much frustration and insecurities about my ability that I was starting to feel desperate. At times I felt as though I was stuck on a bike in the lowest gear, kicking tirelessly without making progress but still ending up exhausted. Conclusively I learned that you won't get what you don't ask for (repeatedly... and persistently though), which is a mentality that so uncomfortably clashes with my modesty-focused upbringing. After months of contemplation, I sat down one afternoon and wrote about how valuable I was, what I had achieved and how my work matters. And the rest is history...

THERAPY was another first for me in 2014. Wow - you might think something along the lines of "too much information" right now, but I like to keep things real around here.
I felt more and more messed up as the year progressed due to crazy amounts of stress and guilt. I chose to move a 30 hr/$ 2500 flight away from my family and all my friends to end up being away from the person I live with here for 80 hrs every week. Something was bound to give. I knew crying in the car after work wouldn't be a sustainable de-stressing method ("You don't say.."). So I went to six therapy sessions. I sobbed non stop for the first two and felt hilariously ridiculous. I learned how to use emotional freedom technique (EFT) and discovered ways to cope with stress. My doctor pointed out behavioral patterns that weren't doing me any good, that I could clearly recognize in my parents or mentors. It was soothing to find out where the weird was coming from and empowering to make connections between my everyday actions and the preceding emotions that led to them. Although I had a lot of work ahead of me, I finally felt like someone had handed me the controls over my life. I was never the type of person to radiate happiness or positivity. I was a generally content but melancholic kid, a depressed teenager and am now a sarcastic adult with a tendency to workaholism. But for some reason I always thought I could wake up one day a personified ray of sunshine. The magic surrounding "naturally happy people" was extinguished as soon as I learned the mechanics behind my own. I had to counter act negative emotions with sterile techniques such as EFT and that in itself was in harsh contrast to my previous concept of happiness. But hey, it works. And it may just be the most valuable thing I have learned not only in 2014, but for life.

Moving on to less personal stuff!
Not a year goes by without me succumbing to my hunger for TRAVEL, so I went home to Austria with my partner in crime in July. I wrote about it here.
I also schemed a trip to Bali while being in Austria with my best friend and it was a marvel of an idea. I wrote about it here, here, here, here, here and here. During the latter trip to Indonesia I re-kindled my love for photography, something I have been passionate about my whole life but that has been put on the back burner for a while now. I am taking this a step further in the new year, having signed up for a basics course to really get to know my camera. I have a few more courses planned after that one too. Who am I kidding, I am secretly planning to work for NatGeo at some stage and become the highest paid photographer in history. But for starters my goal is to produce imagery that is as close to the vibrancy that my eyes absorb on a travel day.

There were some other interesting moments in 2014. I won a photo shoot at a quirky studio, with full hair and make up done by professionals absolutely for free and I loved it so much I considered starving for a few months and then trying to become a photo model.

Marlow has well and truly left adolescent behind and has become a dog so well-behaved and confident I sometimes wonder who the hell raised this once crazy puppy. I devote most of my spare time to him and he is the most loveable distraction there is.

I became and airline gold member and am now one of those people you see at the airport snobbishly line up in the priority boarding lane and secretly want to punch in the face. What can I say, I'll enjoy it while it lasts, peasants! :)

But enough about me. Here's a bit of appreciation for all of my lovely readers! Everyone who has stuck around the past year aka "The Dry Spell Era" deserves my fullest gratitude. To those people in my life who encourage me to write - thank you!  It means so much more than you will every know!
I'm ready to take this baby a step further.

Here's to an exciting 2015!

Bali Video Song: The Preatures - Is this how you feel?
Plane Video Song: The Shins - Young Pilgrims
I don't own these songs. Duh.