During my travels through New Zealand, I learned quickly that Americans have a stupid idea of "traveling."
I received almost no support when I told family and friends that I was traveling solo. I even received backlash when I said I was traveling solo for a month.
First of all, I'm more likely to get hurt or robbed in Philadelphia (my workplace) than I would anywhere in New Zealand. It's probably the safest country in the world. Second, I have always been smart with my money. I choose to spend my money on traveling (and sometimes shopping when I'm sad).
I have been working since middle school and have spent my money on a big trip almost every other year afterwards (Australia twice, Spain, California twice, Argentina, New Zealand). I even had enough money left over this time to buy myself a car when I got home.
At first, I thought a month was a long time away from home. But I knew I had to stay that long in order to truly experience the country and still go and visit my college friends, Lindsay and Davis, in Australia.
When I got to New Zealand, though, I didn't meet one person that was traveling for a month or less. Every backpacker I met was planning on traveling for three months, six months, a year, undetermined. Backpackers would feel bad for me because I'm American and most Americans have it in their heads that they can only travel for two weeks at a time. I was naive about traveling before this solo trip.
After a couple weeks in New Zealand and meeting so many people working and traveling around the country, I started thinking about what it would take to stay longer. The idea never became serious, though, until I met Viktor at a hostel on the South Island and started talking to Lindsay and Davis more about my work options in Australia. Viktor is an American that planned to travel around New Zealand for 5 weeks then spend a year in Australia to work. During his time traveling around New Zealand, he decided he would probably just keep traveling through Asia and Antarctica for an extra year or two. He bought a one-way ticket so his options were unlimited. I, unfortunately, booked a flight home.
A couple days before I left for Australia I was video chatting my parents. I wanted to tell them my thoughts of me traveling a bit more, but I really wasn't sure how to bring it up or what their reactions might be.
My mom then said, "So are you ready to come home yet?"
Well, now that you mention it....
After I told them about my plan, they laughed. Then they kinda got quiet. Then my dad left the screen. Then we hung up.
To be honest, it wasn't the worst reaction I could imagine.
Even though my parents helped pay for my trip, I received zero support from my mom after that conversation. I told her that Lindsay's restaurant (which pays about $30/hour on the weekends, not including tips) is looking for more waitresses, I would have a place to stay, I already had friends there, and I would probably stay for the summer then travel a bit more with the girls.
My mother was not having it. Even after the 1,000 questions, she didn't give me an ounce of understanding. She just couldn't comprehend that I decided to change my plans. I can understand why she would have so many questions; she expected her only daughter to come home in a week and a half then finds out she might not come home for 6 months. She would have missed me like crazy.
To be honest, I did not handle it as sensitively as I should have. At one point, after days of no support and frustration, I finally said, "I'm not coming home."
I had 2 jobs lined up in Australia and I already talked to the travel agency from which I bought my tickets. It would cost me $200 plus the price difference. My boyfriend, Steve, was incredibly supportive.
After a while, I was feeling guilty. I gave my mom a week's notice that I wasn't coming home for a few more months. That sounds a little immature of me, I know, but I'm my mom's life. She's my best friend. She loves to live vicariously through me, especially when I went to college and when I travel. Out of respect, I accepted her request to text her everyday and let her know what hostels I was staying at. She would even research the hostel and tell me things about it. One person I met called her a "Helicopter Mom."
But really, it's just because she wanted to experience New Zealand with me.
I started telling Steve that I was thinking about just coming home. It would be much less complicated. For example, if I stayed, I wouldn't get any support from my parents which means I would feel guilty even asking them to send me things as simple as my birth control pills. I would also have to fly back to New Zealand, spend US$400 to get an Australian working visa, then come back to Australia. If I were allowed to apply for the Australian working visa in the country, it would have been so much easier. I just didn't feel like backpacking New Zealand again. Because I probably would have to wait a few days for my visa, I figured I could take that opportunity to see everything I couldn't get to the first time on the North Island. However, that just sounded exhausting. I was getting comfortable in Brisbane with the girls.
I still wanted to do it, though. I wanted to work in Brisbane for 3 or 4 months then travel South East Asia with them for 3 months. I knew I would miss my family and my boyfriend, but I knew they'd always be there. Working and traveling more sounded like something I truly wanted. I was happy in Australia and I knew I would feel like I chickened out if I went home. Steve kept encouraging me to stay, though. He said he knew I'd regret it if I came home just because it would be "complicated" or "too hard."
I knew I had to choose: Do I want to go home to the people who make me happy or do I want to do what makes me happy?
The morning I was flying back to Auckland in order to apply for my Australian working visa, I got an email from the travel agency from which I bought my Air New Zealand tickets. Previously, I told them I'd like to change my tickets to sometime in May. Because the agency was in the USA, the time change made conversing difficult. That morning, the email said that for me to change my tickets, it would cost between US$700-$900, which included fees, penalties, and the price difference. I was devastated. That along with the $400 working visa and flight back to Brisbane would put me out over $1,400 overnight. I decided I would just go to the airport and talk to Air New Zealand in Auckland directly.
Long story short, I decided to check my bags to Philadelphia. It was a really weird feeling. After talking to Air NZ and not getting anywhere, I knew that if I checked my bag in Auckland, I wouldn't see my belongings again until I landed in Philadelphia. There would be no going back.
I just stood there at the airport. On my left side was a line of cabs that could take me into the city where I could find a hostel, apply for my visa, and book a flight back to Brisbane. On my right side was Air New Zealand check-in that wouldn't take any more of my money if I simply checked my bag.
It would have just been too much money to change my ticket. To get my Australian visa, I would have had to prove I had "sufficient funds." That means I would have to prove I had at least $5,000 in a bank account to keep me afloat if I couldn't find a job in Australia. After paying for my visa and flight change, I simply wouldn't have that money.
Lindsay said she didn't think they even checked her bank accounts. Viktor said he had his bank accounts checked but he had his parents lend him the money for a week then transferred it back into their accounts after he received his visa. I knew I couldn't ask my parents to do that. In no way would they proactively help me stay.
I'm still feeling uneasy about my decision. I'm spending my days in Philadelphia writing, exercising, and networking in order to truly start my career. On the bright side, I'll be able to save and travel again. On the not-so-bright side, I might have a job that will deter me from doing so.