New Roads Discovered when We Compromise our Travel Plans

“I’m booking myself a one-way ticket and never coming back,” I declared. This was back in 1996 and I wasn’t really planning to leave forever. The plan was to start and finish my university degree, save enough money to keep me going and backpack around the world with no real end date planned. One of my cousins worked for Camp America at the time so it was part of the plan to go on a working holiday, too.

Me checking out the mighty expanse of The Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Me checking out the mighty expanse of The Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Within the first year of uni, I met my boyfriend at the time. This is when plans started to change. It was early months in our relationship, so we spent long hours chatting about our plans after uni. Many of these discussions revolved around travel. As much as we both dreamed about travelling the world, we clashed on how we each wanted to go about it – I wanted to work and travel indefinitely while he didn’t. After some lengthy discussions and weighing up each debate, I decided to make a compromise on my original plan.

I saw a way to reward myself

I reflected and realised that, by the time I was to graduate with a degree, I would’ve spent 16 out of my 21 years of life studying and working part time jobs to pay for it. Of course, there were domestic holidays in between and weekends away when a rostered Sunday off appeared. Yet, I couldn’t remember when I had given myself a proper break. Perhaps an extended holiday after graduation was a good idea, then?

Finding a place to rest and have lunch at a pitstop while on the road in Texas.

Finding a place to rest and have lunch at a pitstop while on the road in Texas.

A gap year between school and work had weighed on my mind

I knew that if I didn’t start and finish my degree straight out of high school, I wouldn’t go back to full-time study. Though, I needed to work out how to save for the funds needed for this epic holiday.

In order to pay for my share of the holiday, I had to start saving

My degree was essentially my timeline. I had two and a bit years left to save for this overseas holiday and I had always dreamed of heading to the U.S and Canada. Luckily, my boyfriend had similar travel aspirations. We worked out roughly how much we needed and started saving. I even took on a second part-time job as a waitress to pay for the dream.

John Lennon was right with one word. Taken in Strawberry Fields in Central Park, New York.

John Lennon was right with one word. Taken in Strawberry Fields in Central Park, New York.

I put in the time, hard work and effort

Having a second part-time job did take its toll. I was studying 30 contact hours at uni and working up to 30 hours in between. It was common for me to start at uni weekdays at 8am, drive straight to work and arrive home any time after 11pm. Weekends were loaded back-to-back shifts and I missed out on friends’ birthday parties or nights out. Any rare spare time I had to myself was used completing assignments and studying for exams. I was still young; with energy to spare. I wish I had that sleepless, 20-something energy now!

I decided on a balance of independent and tour-style travel

Wanderlust can transport you to wild and wonderful places, but the reality set in when travel times were calculated. Why spend 20 hours on a flight from Melbourne, only to come home again in a couple of weeks without ticking off everything you wanted to do? My boyfriend and I wrote a wishlist and mapped out our journey across two-and-a-half months, breaking up any big tours with DIY stops in between. We saw ourselves traversing the southern and northern U.S states, east and west coasts of Canada, sandwiched by mini-stays in L.A, San Francisco and New York. A sneaky stop in Hawaii on the way home made it on the list, too.

Catching a bit of 'shut-eye' during a long road journey across America with CD player, too!

Catching a bit of 'shut-eye' during a long road journey across America with CD player, too!

Travel agents didn’t take 20-somethings seriously back then

With our epic journey mapped out, along with the time and money involved, we discovered that travel agents didn’t take us seriously. Remember, online bookings weren’t the “done thing” back in 1999. We went old school – heading to a travel agent to gather quotes and make our bookings. Some agents didn’t even believe we had the money to do it. Trust me, those agents missed out big time! We eventually found one agent who believed in us. She worked after hours to prepare our quote and hand-delivered it to us at my boyfriend’s home. Our planning was such a lesson in travel – it takes faith and trust from others, as well as believing in yourself, to ensure dreams and goals are achieved.

Returning home translated to a huge bout of post-travel depression

By the time we returned home in the middle of a frosty-cold Melbourne winter, we had covered over 40 U.S states and both of Canada’s coasts. We bussed, flew, walked, kayaked, speed-jetted and hiked through national parks, ice glaciers, soaring skylines and arid deserts. We saw the Yankees play at Yankee Stadium, wandered Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, stepped within the gates of Alcatraz, played the slots in Las Vegas, had a beer at the iconic Cheers bar in Boston, grooved our way to Blues along Bourbon Street in New Orleans, paid our respects at the spots where Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy were assassinated, visited Washington D.C on Memorial Day, awed over The Badlands and The Grand Canyon, attended music festivals, ate loads of American food and discovered countless record stores.

Reaching the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.

Reaching the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.

By the time we returned home, we fell into a bout of post-travel depression and it wasn’t long before the travel bug bit me again. I also needed to break into the inevitable world of full-time work. I was lucky enough to start working at a small publishing house as a receptionist which eventually led me into working on trade exhibitions; some of which were overseas. I also worked for a manager who understood the value of travel and allowed me one full day off on each work trip to go out and experience my surroundings. I was lucky to travel to Singapore, Thailand and within Australia, too. I was able to satisfy my initial desire of working overseas.

I found snow in Canada! This pic was taken on the road heading to Lake Louise in Alberta.

I found snow in Canada! This pic was taken on the road heading to Lake Louise in Alberta.

My boyfriend and I still kept travelling together and ended up getting married as well. We eventually made our way to New Zealand, later marrying in Victoria’s Yarra Valley winery region then honeymooning on Hamilton Island. Later, we travelled more through China, South East Asia and the Middle East. Plus, there have been many little domestic trips in between.   

Sometimes, our dreams in life don’t always go to according to the coordinates we set ourselves. Despite this, we almost always achieve our dreams if it means taking new turns or backstreets. A road less travelled, or not travelled at all, may then just be the solution. Compromise may be the new map you need when life presents a new direction. I’m thankful that travel is in my life to teach me this. 

Eliminate your Fear of Taking Annual Leave and Book in More Travel

This sponsored post is brought to you in partnership with MyNRMA, Australia’s largest motoring and services member organisation.

Australians are very lucky in the sense that they enjoy up to four weeks of paid annual leave a year; one of the highest levels in the world. Yet, we are simultaneously afraid to take this annual leave so we can recharge and refresh ourselves. A study documented by travel industry magazine Traveltalk found an astounding 58% of employees in Australia are reluctant to take this annual leave due to their work commitments. The same research called Australians out on it, even labelling it with a troubling name – Fear of Taking Annual Leave (FOTAL).

travel roadtrip car travel roadside assistance MyNRMA Australia annual leave FOTAL annual leave holiday

FOTAL represents the perception that there are negative ramifications when we take annual leave – will I lose my job? Will I miss out on that promotion? Could I be perceived as lazy, or not committed to the job? Will I fall behind in my workload? These questions would no doubt enter the minds of those employees who fail to cash in on their annual leave each year. Increased work hours and decreased workforce sizes are creating escalating bouts of stress. Conversely, 81% of Australians prefer relaxing holidays. Why such overwhelming ironies in our perception of annual leave?

I remember working for a manager once who reminded me of a constant truth – ‘there’s never a good time to take annual leave’, yet she was always accommodating in my annual leave requests and we worked together for mutual benefit. There will always be deadlines, project roll-outs and specialist responsibilities. Yet if we’re repeatedly putting ourselves through high stress levels and longer work hours, we’re putting our long-term health into jeopardy. Health is something that we can never cash in for the sake of our working lives. This is ever-so important, especially as we’re starting a brand new year. So, how can we incorporate more travel into our lives and dissolve this FOTAL we may be holding on to?

travel roadtrip car travel roadside assistance MyNRMA Australia annual leave FOTAL annual leave holiday

Do you suffer from FOTAL? If so, have that ‘hard’ conversation with your boss

Taking annual leave is an entitlement that’s available to you, and for good reason. Your boss, and the company you work for, wants you to take annual leave so you can refresh and replenish yourself. Stress, which leads to extended sick time off work, is a liability for companies. One way companies can alleviate this is through annual leave. So, take the entitlement that’s your working right to take! Even if you take just a week off for a relaxing beachside holiday of doing nothing or getting back to nature on a camping trip, you are making a priceless investment into your overall health and the working environment you work in.

Think about booking in a quick meeting with your boss, and map out a time for your annual leave that’s beneficial for you both. Also, check with your payroll department to determine how much leave you have built up. If you are afraid of the work not getting done, then discuss ways with your boss about how the work can get done for example allocating tasks to a junior employee who is looking for new learning experiences. You don’t have to take four weeks at once, simple mini breaks work just as well.           

Now that the ‘when’ is established, book in a holiday that works for you

It could be a plane-ride to a beach holiday on the Gold Coast, or a road-trip to a favourite city or regional town, or just staying at home as you try out all the restaurants and fun things to do in your hometown. The point is to book in that holiday that works for you. What is going to help you restore your wellbeing and reduce your stress levels? For me, it’s going to an unknown destination and learning as much as I can about the culture and sights. I also love the simplicity of a road-trip with a loved one – simply mapping out a rough direction, booking in a few stops along the way, and then meandering down the road in our car on the exciting thrill of what will happen next.

travel roadtrip car travel roadside assistance MyNRMA Australia annual leave FOTAL annual leave holiday

Just like making sure all responsibilities are covered at work before you leave, you need to make sure all your holiday affairs in order. Chances are, if you suffer from FOTAL you may not even remember the last time you took off. So, make sure all of your insurances, airline bookings and payments, roadside emergency plans and luggage items are locked down and current. If you’re road-tripping, get your car serviced beforehand and consider roadside assistance as a precaution.

Now it’s time to conquer your FOTAL. Your first day of annual leave is here!

You’ve had the not-so-hard conversation with your boss, you’ve organised your workload and delegated your tasks where needed (you can always repay the favour when your colleagues need some of their own annual leave) and booked your trip. All that’s needed to do now is simply go and enjoy. Time’s up! Turn off your computer and go – go, NOW! Your first day of annual leave is finally here.  

Have you ever suffered from FOTAL? If so, how did you eliminate yours? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments section below. 

Live a Happy New Year in 2017: Why You Should Travel and Not Chuck Sickies

Happy New Year to all of my readers and followers! I wish you all a fabulous 2017 and I hope it’s filled with many more travels and food journeys. What a week it’s been with so much celebrating over the Christmas and New Year’s Eve period. While I stayed engaged in my yoga practise when classes were available, the days in between were mostly spent sitting and eating. Has it been the same for you? Such indulgences, while fun at the time, can be tiring and taxing on our bodies. Some of us may even need a few extra days to recover from hangovers and/or food comas.

travel wellbeing vegan travel

If restorative and replenishing actions aren’t implemented early, the body can be easily led down a rocky path of unhealthy lifestyle practises and sickness. Any health and wellbeing-related resolutions for the New Year may then be shown the door a lot sooner than we want for ourselves. Before you know it, you’re back at work and burning the midnight oil, getting stressed out, overworked and overtired. Then, recurring colds and flus or those general feelings of ‘blah’ or ‘can’t be bothered’ set in. If we’re not sick, we may start resenting our jobs and not feel as engaged as we were on January 1. So, we may even be inclined to what Aussies fondly call ‘chuck a sickie’. Basically, this is the action of calling in sick when you’re not actually sick; you might just be over it all.   

A study quoted by one HR firm in Australia found that “83% of employers believe between 10 and 25% of sick leave is non-genuine.” The incidence of “sickies” tends to coincide around public holiday weekends – one third higher on Mondays and Fridays (source: iHR Australia). See, even your employer may be questioning whether you are in fact sick!

travel vegan travel travel tips wellbeing

Australians also enjoy up to four weeks of paid annual leave per year, so it’s a wonder why Australians are even motivated to chuck sickies. Why not take that that Monday or Friday out of annual leave instead?

travel vegan travel travel tips wellbeing annual leave

Because there are four weeks to take advantage of, annual leave can be spread over a few one-week trips a year, for example, spread out across the year at times when it’s most suitable for you, your employer and your deadlines. Put in just that extra bit of time beforehand and cover off key deadlines before you leave so you don’t have too much stress hanging over your time away. Taking a travel break also allows you to get out in nature, unwind and decompress from any pressures in your work-life. Allow your body to replenish regularly through travel throughout the year, rather than allowing yourself to be trapped by a negative cycle of no motivation and working without a break.

If that cycle doesn’t seem to let up, then you may need to re-assess your job and what matters to you in life. It’s a New Year so make 2017 work for you – with meaning and meaningful travel.
 

What will you do to incorporate more meaningful travel into your working life for 2017? Do you have any travel plans booked in already?
Share your thoughts and travel ideas or plans in the comments below!  

Why I’m a World Animal Protection Animal Friendly Traveller

I have two confessions to make. Firstly, I haven’t always been vegan. Secondly, I engaged in animal tourism during my travels when I wasn’t vegan. I rode an elephant in Thailand. I rode horses in the U.S. and attended a rodeo. I rode a donkey in Egypt and a camel in Jordan. I also visited zoos and SeaWorld right here in my own country.

World Animal Protection travel tips vegan travel vegan animals

You may be wondering how a traveller makes the jump to become vegan and refuse to partake in tourism involving animals. My reasons are long and convoluted, yet the core essence of my decisions stems from a strong desire to say ‘no’ to the use and exploitation of animals for human gain. I’m an all or nothing person, in the sense that once I decided to become vegan, my choice demanded that I cover all facets of my travelling life too – no longer supporting animal tourism. So for me, my contribution to animal welfare means not engaging in any animal use whatsoever.  

Recently, I received an electronic newsletter from World Animal Protection; a worldwide animal protection no-profit that strives to inspire us all to change animals’ lives for the better and educate on how we can protect animals worldwide. In that email, subscribers like me were asked to pledge to be an ‘animal friendly traveller’. I had turned vegan about four and a half years ago, so taking the pledge was a natural, and right, thing to do; for me, for animals worldwide and for those who are yet to say ‘no’ themselves. In an age where we maintain a digital life as well as a face-to-face one, you may think that simply clicking a button to make this pledge may hold little weight or substance. Yet, just by clicking to pledge allows me to enact my values and feelings towards a world that engages in mass exploitation of animals and contributes to animal suffering on a daily scale, in addition to my time travelling.

World Animal Protection travel tips travel vegan travel

It broke my heart to see elephants being used to transport tourists up the dusty walkways leading into Amber Fort in Agra, India. These elephants make multiple trips up and down steep, rock-hard and narrow walkways in searing temperatures for those tourists who are too hot and bothered to walk themselves. Or, they wanted to ‘experience’ a ride for themselves. The elephants’ feet are not designed to walk on hardened substrates and riders use a special hook and dagger-like instrument called an ankus to keep these elephants subdued and on course. The ankus is hidden from view by the rider so that tourists don’t see it. Yet, it’s not uncommon to see an elephant heaving by with tears streaming down his or her face.   

My choice to say ‘no’ means I can contribute to reducing the demand for the use of animals as food, entertainment, tourism and transport. I understand that there are countries where poverty is rife and levels of education are low. I yearn to send the message that by saying ‘no’ means there must be a new way to offer local employment while reducing the needless suffering of animals in the process. These animals belong in the wild.  

World Animal Protection travel vegan travel animals travel tips

Local customs are stemmed from traditions, so I have received my fair share of strange looks – even scrutiny – from fellow travellers when I politely say ‘no’. I vividly remember staying with a local family in Southern India and our guide did not communicate thoroughly to the matriarch that my husband and I were observing a vegan diet. Our first breakfast included a paneer (or cheese) dish; our generous and gracious hostess believed that vegan was the same as lacto-ovo vegetarian (as observed by many vegetarian locals).

travel tips World Animal Protection travel tips vegan travel

Staying in someone else’s home as a guest and having to explain my vegan dietary requirements was one of the most embarrassing and ungracious things I’ve had to do while on the road. Even another traveller staying with us became instantly cranky at the predicament, maybe because she thought I needed to exhibit more graciousness and acceptance? As a traveller, a guest in someone’s home, how do you crawl out of that one? I did my best to remedy the situation, even offering to help clear the table. I later discovered even that act of kindness is perceived offensive – guests never help, let along wander into a kitchen to stack plates! So, I guess there is a need – on both sides – to offer education where it may be needed at a local level. I was happy to spend time with our hostess to explain vegan and my reasons, all the while showering her with gratitude and appreciation for her generous hospitality. The next morning, she cooked us a gorgeous breakfast of idiyappam (rice flour noodles or ‘string hoppers’) and crushed nuts, while I did not offer to help clear up!     

World Animal Protection travel tips vegan travel vegan

I have used some of my travel experiences from India in this post, yet I see animal exploitation everywhere I travel. There is a need for populations to come together and help in ensuring the welfare of animals everywhere. Bit by bit, we can reduce, even eliminate, animal exploitation. All it takes is making a conscious choice in the daily decisions we make, whether we’re travelling or not. Start locally and we can all make impact on a global scale.

Disclaimer: The themes explored in this post were at the discretion of Fire & Tea, and there is no underlying relationship between World Animal Protection and me other than my decision to independently sign up to World Animal Protection’s mailing list and opt into their Animal Friendly Traveller pledge.

Wandering The Art of Banksy Melbourne Exhibition: A Photo Essay

While the end of 2016 nears by the day, I begin to mentally examine the art exhibitions I have visited and the feelings that they provoked within. The most impressionable exhibition I visited – hands down – would be The Art of Banksy Melbourne.

Following the pasties to The Art of Banksy Melbourne exhibition - the scenic route!

Following the pasties to The Art of Banksy Melbourne exhibition - the scenic route!

If there was one contemporary artist who has polarised society the most in recent years, Banksy definitely takes the gong. His stencilled style unleashed from under a sheath of mystery and anonymity comments on socio-political issues on outdoor canvases (street walls) around the globe, while simultaneously being the impetus for mass hysteria when it comes to the cult following he has attracted.

Look closely for the pasties along the way.

Look closely for the pasties along the way.

Banksy’s former manager, Steve Lazarides, curated this exhibition featuring over 80 pieces, where visitors can immerse themselves in the satirical, and oftentimes resonating, themes found buried in his work. Ironically, the exhibition is being shown at The Paddock at Federation Square, Melbourne’s cultural hub that also experienced scrutiny and criticism during its construction years ago. In controversial style, the exhibition does not have the approval of Banksy himself, as reported by Australian news channel SBS.  

Before entering The Art of Banksy Melbourne, you can admire and even buy works from local artists including one of my local favourites Be Free.

Before entering The Art of Banksy Melbourne, you can admire and even buy works from local artists including one of my local favourites Be Free.

The extent of Banksy polarising the masses - stating the obvious.

The extent of Banksy polarising the masses - stating the obvious.

A dilapidated oldie reinvigorated by Banksy, a little like my first car (a 1967 VW beetle sans artwork). Lots of kilometres travelled. 

A dilapidated oldie reinvigorated by Banksy, a little like my first car (a 1967 VW beetle sans artwork). Lots of kilometres travelled. 

Banksy's rat has appeared prolifically around the world, even in Melbourne where a parachuting rat was 'destroyed' by local builders. The fallout? Mass media attention and public outcry.

Banksy's rat has appeared prolifically around the world, even in Melbourne where a parachuting rat was 'destroyed' by local builders. The fallout? Mass media attention and public outcry.

Some of us prove ourselves in other ways. If you want to know why many of us are vegan, you can experience the full extent of The Sirens of The Lambs via a video over at The Guardian.

Some of us prove ourselves in other ways. If you want to know why many of us are vegan, you can experience the full extent of The Sirens of The Lambs via a video over at The Guardian.

At some point, we all have to let go to what is precious to us.

At some point, we all have to let go to what is precious to us.

This is not a photo opportunity...?

This is not a photo opportunity...?

Every time I decide to fly, this is the treatment I receive at security, customs, etc. Once I was told it was 'random'. How can it be random when it happens every single time?

Every time I decide to fly, this is the treatment I receive at security, customs, etc. Once I was told it was 'random'. How can it be random when it happens every single time?

When will we ever achieve peace and love on Earth?

When will we ever achieve peace and love on Earth?

The gentle art of commercialism.

The gentle art of commercialism.

A humanitarian truth, perceived regularly during my travels.

A humanitarian truth, perceived regularly during my travels.

Do we really ever?

Do we really ever?

The disclosure statement, that fails to acknowledge Banksy's lack of approval.

The disclosure statement, that fails to acknowledge Banksy's lack of approval.

Footnote: Photography was allowed during my visit to The Art of Banksy, so I created this photo essay from works that resonated with me the most; to report on an event in my hometown as well. I must admit, there were a few visitors who were huffing and puffing at me for my intention to take photos. Though, I wish to make it adamantly clear that my intention was not motivated by plagiarising Banksy’s work or for monetary gain. I also took photos at moments that did not encroach on the space of other visitors wandering through the exhibition and their resulting experiences. While I paid my entry fee like everyone else and took the photos using a camera with a lens that was less than 3", Banksy holds the copyright for all of the works seen in this photo essay. For me, this is a comment on what art can teach us. If only Steve Lazarides can take a wise lesson from this, too, rather than an opportunity.

What you can and can't take into The Art of Banksy Melbourne. This then dictates what you can and can't do in The Art of Banksy Melbourne. Yes, I can take photos - to a certain extent.

What you can and can't take into The Art of Banksy Melbourne. This then dictates what you can and can't do in The Art of Banksy Melbourne. Yes, I can take photos - to a certain extent.

The Art of Banksy Melbourne exhibition is running daily from 11am to 8pm at The Paddock at Federation Square in Melbourne’s central business district until January 22, 2017. Adults $30.00, concession $25.00, families $70.00, juniors $10.00.

Refer to the links provided for maps on where to go. Or, you can let the footpath pasties lead you the way.