Posts Tagged Fiji

Packing List Reflection

Early in our 30/40 World Tour, I posted a list of what I packed.  Since our return, one of my readers asked how well those items worked for me as I traveled.  Did I use all of it?  Was anything missing?

Overall, I think we did a good job of packing useful items.  We brought versatile clothing that got used over and over despite the variable climates.  Since we didn’t hang around the same people for more than a couple of days, no one knew that we had such limited outfit choices!

Electronics

Netbook in New Plymouth

Ms. HalfEmpty using her netbook at the art gallery café in New Plymouth, New Zealand

Our electronics served us well.  The netbook was a great size to tote around and jump on the internet when we had access.  Of course, you know that we used our digital camera throughout the trip, as evidenced on this blog.

The all-in-one travel adapter that we bought at the airport was amazing.  That one compact adapter worked in every country we visited.  Plus, the USB port was perfect for charging the iPod.

We didn’t realize we would need a USB charger, but it came in handy.  Since we used our Mac at home to load the iPod, the Windows netbook wanted to reformat the iPod each time we plugged it in.  Charging with the travel adapter was a much better option and prevented inadvertent data loss.

Thankfully, we did not experience a netbook crash or theft, so we didn’t really need our external hard drive.  But I was glad we had an extra copy of all our photos, just in case.

The audio splitter was great when we were standing in airport lines.  Mr. HalfFull and I passed the time listening to an audiobook or podcast together.  You might ask why we didn’t each use our own iPod.  The answer is that we found it fun to have this shared experience.  It’s like watching a movie or play with someone; you vibe off their reactions and can discuss it together afterward.

I can still remember Mr.HalfFull and I laying on a hammock together on a small Fijian island listening to The Art of Mindful Living.  At one point in the recording, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the sun overhead and the rustling of the trees before he ends the meditation with a gong.  We were completely in the moment underneath the sway of the palm trees, experiencing the gentle swing of the hammock.  Maybe we weren’t as hopeless as originally suspected after our meditation class.

Paper

The passports and tickets were essential since we didn’t travel with a printer.  I actually ended up having to boot up my netbook at certain customs counters to prove that we had plans to leave the country.

The only paper I started out needing, but grew out of was my checkbook register.  Yep, I went spreadsheet digital!

Wallet

Our International Student Identification Cards (ISIC) were invaluable!  We used them to get all sorts of discounts throughout the trip.

Clothes

Ms. HalfEmpty @ Sofitel

The extent of Ms. HalfEmpty’s ability to “dress up” at Restaurant V at Sofitel in Fiji

I think we did pretty well with clothes.  Everything served multiple purposes and was reused throughout the trip.  My dress and scarf allowed me to dress up a bit, however, we did have a few instances when we felt a bit underdressed.

This gave Mr. HalfFull the opportunity to get closer to my uncle, who he’s never met, by borrowing his shoes and a button-down shirt!  But I don’t really think it would have been practical for Mr. HalfFull to have packed those items; dress shoes are heavy and button-down shirts wrinkle.

I also felt underdressed with my shoe selection at times.  But if I could only have two pairs of shoes, I picked the right ones.  Sporty sandals weren’t the ideal dressy compliment, but the crisscross design helped provide a little elegance.

Luggage

Palisades Park

Duffel bags also double as pillows at nap time

Our duffel bags were great!  It was easy to see the stuff inside when unzipped, plus we could clip wet stuff or shoes easily on the outside.  But it was also useful to have a small day pack for the airplane and daily outings.

Toiletries

Towels are generally big bulky items.  I didn’t think we would need towels on our trip, but some of our pre-trip information was incorrect and neither of our small Fijian islands provided towels.  So our towel in pouch purchase was perfect!

Our list of toiletry items looks ridiculously long, but many of the items were thrown in because we already had them and they met our size requirements.  I ended up loving the Crabtree & Evelyn grapefruit scented shower mousse.  I don’t think I ever would have purchased such a thing, but it was a gift.  It always smelled so fresh and the pump produced a perfect lather without a loofah or washcloth (items I did not have).  Plus, it was an enclosed container which was easier to transport than a wet bar of soap.

maxi liner

Fun facts on maxi pad liners purchased in New Zealand

We didn’t end up finishing all of the toiletries we brought, but there were others (like deodorant, hair gel, feminine products, and SPF face lotion) that we had to replenish during the trip.  The one downside of transferring your liquids into smaller reusable bottles is that you still have to carry those empty little bottles back if you want to keep them, which is the point of reuse.  It’s a lot less eco-friendly, but more space-friendly, to buy travel size bottles and chuck them when empty.

I rarely wore makeup on the trip, but I was glad I had my little samples for nights out on the town.

Other

I wanted to do sink laundry often since I only had 3 pairs of underwear.  So I wish we had brought more laundry detergent, as it’s rather difficult to buy in small quantities.  We ended up buying a whole box in Sydney, filling our little travel bottles, and leaving the rest for the next occupant.  I’m not sure if there is a good solution for this since we didn’t want to carry around the extra weight.

Ms. HalfEmpty eats breakfast

Ms. HalfEmpty eats cereal by headlamp

The headlamps were critical!  I’ve never used one before and thought they were only for spelunkers.  I didn’t understand why I would need anything other than a flashlight.  But the headlamp was invaluable for walking to the bathrooms in the dark while carrying a towel and toiletries.  Plus, who wants to hold a flashlight when you are in the stall?  It also made toothbrushing much easier.  Headlamps are hands-free lights for people who need to get stuff done!

The only thing we really didn’t use was the metal cage and lock.  The original plan was to use the cage to enclose the duffel bags and secure them to a permanent fixture when left unattended in our various rooms.  But we always ended up in private rooms because I’m not much for roughing it.  We did try to use the contraption once, but it seemed like more trouble than it was worth.  The metal cage was quite heavy and is probably the only thing I wish we hadn’t brought in retrospect.

Verdict

I think we did a great job packing.  Aside from one heavy, bulky item, we used everything in our bags.  No half empty judgements here!

  • Do you usually pack too much or exactly what you need?
  • What are your essential items?
  • Do you pack to be prepared for any occasion from casual to elegant?
  • How do you do laundry when you travel?

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Airline Rankings Around the World

We ended up flying on 8 different airlines during our 30/40 World Tour, since we booked our flights individually.  Below is our ranking of airlines from best to worst.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive study; it’s merely our impressions from the economy flights we experienced during the summer of 2011.

View over New Zealand

View from our flight over New Zealand

  1. Air Emirates (Mauritius to Dubai; Dubai to Munich)
  2. Air New Zealand (Auckland to Nouméa)
  3. American Airlines (DC to LA)
  4. United Airlines (Madrid to DC)
  5. Qantas Airways (Nouméa to Sydney)
  6. Air Mauritius (Melbourne to Mauritius)
  7. Air Pacific (LA to Fiji; Fiji to Auckland)
  8. Air Berlin (Munich to Barcelona)

To learn the price of each of these flights (ranging from $137 to $946 per person), see the previous post on the cost of our trip.  But price did not directly correlate with a positive experience on an airline.

Air Emirates

Air Emirates flight attendants

The signature red hat and sweeping scarf of the Air Emirates flight attendants

We were so impressed with our Air Emirates flights.  The uniform of the flight attendants with the red hat and sweeping white scarf is quite striking and exotic.  When we first boarded, I wondered about the practicality of such an outfit.  But after we were airborne, the hats came off.

The Air Emirates food was delicious.  I’m sure you’re laughing about delicious airplane food, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps it’s because I haven’t eaten hot food on an airplane in years!

The personalized entertainment screens for each seat were the best of all of our flights.  The screens were the biggest of any airline and provided on-demand entertainment options including movies and games.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand was another of our favorite airlines.  Their economy seats were beautifully passenger centric.  The back of each seat had a drink pouch that fit my water bottle perfectly.  It’s so easy and obvious, but I’ve never seen it on another airline.  I usually have to stuff my bottle into the magazine compartment, which forces the whole pocket wide open and takes up far more space in already cramped quarters.

We also loved the personal entertainment screens for each seat, and both watched Cedar Rapids at our own pace.  I started my movie slightly earlier than Mr. HalfFull, so I was pre-laughing at all the funny parts.  Finally, he asked me to pause so that he could catch up and we could laugh together!

I think it’s wonderful when airlines let you play and pause your own movie.  You can sleep when you like, use the restroom whenever, and still catch the full movie.  It’s so nice to be in control!

American, United & Qantas

I don’t really have any strong feelings one way or the other about American Airlines, United Airlines, or Qantas Airways.  I’m also not married to that specific order.  All the flights were fine; nothing stood out to me positively or negatively, so they are all nestled in the middle of my list.

Air Mauritius

Air Mauritius only issues paper tickets.  Enough said!

Air Pacific

Air Pacific

Our Air Pacific flight landed early in the morning in Nadi, Fiji

Air Pacific ranks toward the bottom of the list because of their carry-on policy.  We specifically purchased our bags to be compliant with carry-on size restrictions.  But we had no idea that Air Pacific also has a weight restriction for carry-on bags.

I’ve never had my carry-on bag put on a scale.  But our bags turned out to be too heavy, and we were forced to check them.  I think this may have been because it was a double-decker plane which required more attention to avoid being top-heavy.

I don’t particularly mind checking my bags if I don’t get charged an extra fee.  But the problem was that we had packed with the intention of carrying our bags, meaning that we had our rain jackets rolled on the outside and other items clipped to the outside of the bags.  It’s stressful to repack a bag at the ticket counter with a line of people staring me down for being ill-prepared, especially when I thought I was perfectly prepared!

The other problem with Air Pacific is that they don’t have a regular counter in the LAX airport, so we couldn’t check in when we arrived from Washington, DC.  We we returned to the airport hours later, the line was frustratingly long and we didn’t get the seats we wanted.

Air Berlin

AirBerlin plane

Air Berlin was our least favorite airline of the 30/40 World Tour

Our original plan was to travel via train through Europe on a Eurail pass.  But for our specific plans, it wasn’t cost-effective or a good use of our time.  So we decided to book a budget flight from Germany to Spain.  It was our worst flight of the trip.

It included our only airport layover and our only flight delay.  Double whammy!  Plus, the children on the flight were unbearable and my sandwich was inedible.

In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time.  Perhaps our recent awesome flights on Air Emirates skewed our judgement.

 

  • What’s your favorite airline?
  • Have you had a delicious airplane meal?
  • Do you know of another airline that still only uses paper tickets?
  • Have you had a carry-on bag weighed?

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What Does World Travel Cost?

People often wonder how much it costs to travel around the world.  The answer is whatever you want!

There are people who enjoy camping, while others will only stay at 5-star resorts.  I fall somewhere in between.  I enjoy my creature comforts, but I’m not over the top (unless you want to bankroll my next trip and then I’ll go all out).

On our 30/40 World Tour, we didn’t camp or stay in dorm-style hostels.  We always stayed in private rooms and almost always had private bathrooms, except when it wasn’t an option on group tours like our “sailing” safari in Fiji and bus tour through Australia.  We stayed in a range of hotels from the $13 internet special to a 4.5 star resort with more staff than guests.  We even stayed for free with familybrand new friends, and while volunteering.

For the most part, we didn’t rough it and our final price tag shows it.  Our 10 week around-the-world tour of 8 countries ran us $25K.  To top it off, we were still maintaining mortgages, car payments, and utilities at home.  Although we did cancel phone, cable, and internet service during our time away.  While taking on all these expenses, I was on a 3-month Leave of Absence from work and had no income.  So the trip was not an inexpensive proposition.

Flights

The biggest chunk of money was spent on flights — $4K/person.  It may sound like a lot of money for flights, but when I priced out a couple of different RTW (Round the World) airline tickets, they were $6K/person.  Plus, those RTW tickets did not allow some of the exotic locales we visited due to number of hops or milage constraints.  I was quite pleased with our individually booked flights because we almost always flew direct, and were able to use a week-long layover (included in the price of our ticket) to visit New Caledonia.  Our flights ranged from $137 to $946 per person.

Flight Costs

The cost of each flight purchased for the 30/40 World Tour

Expense Categories

I was curious to see how we allotted our money across various categories while traveling.  As mentioned above, our biggest expense by far was transportation including flights, car rentals, trains, airport shuttles, ferries, and subway rides.  I separated out the transportation (sailing and bus tour) where accommodations and meals were also included.

Expense Categories

All expenses by category on the 30/40 World Tour

Our next biggest expenditure categories were accommodations and food.  Some of our accommodations in Fiji and Mauritius included meals, and are categorized in the Lodging with meals category.  Food and shelter seem like reasonable expenses.  We had to meet our basic needs!

After transportation, lodging, and food, our next largest category was cash.  Oh what a black hole of undocumented expenditures!  Cash was withdrawn from ATMs in country and probably spent on food, taxis, and other cash-only vendors.  We never converted cash to a new currency, so I always tried to withdraw a small amount and spend it all before leaving the country.  It may sound a bit gauche, but in New Caledonia I used my leftover cash and coins to pay our hotel bill and charged the remainder.  The clerk was super nice about it, even though I was being a hobo.

We only spent 2% on entertainment, which included all the theater performances and a museum.  Gas was for our rental cars in New Zealand.  Goods consisted of toiletries that we purchased as we ran out (since we could only carry 3 oz. of each), a few gadgets (universal travel adapter and auxiliary cable for the rental car), sunglasses (after I left my mine in a hotel room), and a cute hat.  Our other expenditures were for internet, laundry, and spa services.

Expenses by Country

So where in the world did we spend $25K?  As you can see in the chart below, we spent most of it on flights.  But the country where we spent the most money was New Zealand.  That’s not surprising since we spent the most time there — 3 weeks.  We were only in the US for half a day and in the UAE for less than 2 days, so those bars look pretty small in comparison.

We also had almost no expenses in UAE and Germany since we stayed with Sir Expat and my cousins.  They were super generous and treated us to everything! So those countries skew low.  Spain is also lower than normal since our lodging and meals were covered for a week during VaughanTown.

Country Expenses by Category

Total expenses in each country in various categories

To try to normalize the data a bit, the chart below shows the cost per night in each country.  Again, this is skewed by staying with relatives, so don’t think UAE and Germany are inexpensive places to visit.  They certainly are not …unless you know people!

Remember that we also stayed in a range of lodging styles, so the chart below isn’t meant to compare similar living expenses in each country.  It’s merely a representation of what we spent while experiencing life on islands without electricity to splurge hotels like Sofitel when we needed to recover.  Our food also ran the gamut from quick sandwiches to extravagant sit down meals throughout the trip.

When splurging, one of Mr. HalfFull’s favorite phrases is, “How can we afford NOT to do it?”  Often when you’re far from home, it’s wise to take advantage of the chance to experience things that may seem pricey because the opportunity is fleeting.

Another factor is the strength of the US Dollar versus local currency.  All amounts in this post are in US Dollars.  While we were traveling, the US Dollar was stronger than the New Zealand Dollar.  But our American currency was weaker than the Australian Dollar and Euro, which made things seem more expensive for us.

Average Country Cost

Average cost per night in each country

Credit Card Fees

Before we left home, I called my credit card companies to uncover their foreign transaction fees.  Visa and MasterCard always charge 1%, but your card issuer (Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, USAA, etc.) can charge an additional percentage.  So my USAA card was only 1% because USAA does not charge an additional fee, but one of my other credit cards ended up being 3%.  While my credit card foreign transaction fees ranged from 1% to 3%, I discovered that my bank debit card did not charge a fee.

It makes me a bit nervous to use a debit card, especially while traveling, since it taps into my actual bank account and doesn’t give me time to review or dispute charges.  But no transaction fee sealed the deal.  We used my debit card throughout the trip for ATM withdrawals and purchases.  But we still used credit cards on sites like hotels.com that process in US Dollars so foreign transaction fees were not an issue.

Tracking Expenses

Before our trip, I had always used an old-fashioned paper checkbook register.  This matched nicely with my old-fashioned paper planner.  Although I’m far from being on the bleeding edge, I have always embraced technology.  But I was still attached to these paper relics.

My work environment necessitated a paper planner.  I also occasionally write paper checks to businesses that don’t accept credit cards.  Since I no longer have duplicate checks, it made sense to record those checks in the checkbook register at the time of the check writing.  It also forced me to practice simple math, which we rarely do anymore.  Hopefully, this will save me from embarrassment the next time a 6-year-old tries to stump me with a rapid-fire addition or subtraction problem!

But the paper method drove me crazy on the 30/40 World Tour.  It just wasn’t practical.

As I mentioned earlier, I was very worried about using a debit card linked to my bank account.  What if there wasn’t enough money to cover an automatic mortgage payment?  Questions like that made me nervous and drove me to spend a lot of time tracking receipts in my paper register.  The problem was that currencies fluctuate.  All my receipts were in local currency, but my bank account was in US Dollars.  So I had to estimate the USD amount to track in my register.

But I never knew when the transaction would clear, meaning that the USD amount could change from day-to-day.  Granted, we didn’t visit any places with highly volatile currencies, but I’m a perfectionist who balances her checkbook to the penny.  Pretty close just doesn’t cut it for me.

Trying to keep track of all that on paper with a running balance was a mess.  So I moved to an electronic register — a spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet allowed me to track currency fluctuations easily and was much easier to maintain since I could move pending rows and know the true balance at any time.

I still use the spreadsheet today, so I no longer practice simple math.  Keep your 6-year-olds away from me! =)

Verdict

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on our trip and experienced a range of living styles from staying on an island where toilets only flushed at high tide to a boutique hotel with flower petals on our bed.  You can always spend less, but life is about choices.  We were constantly reminded that you get what you pay for.

  • What country was most expensive in your travels?
  • What do you splurge on while traveling?
  • Do you subscribe to Mr. HalfFull’s philosophy on splurging?
  • Do you use any antiquated tracking systems in our world of technology?

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Coffee Around the World

Mr. HalfFull got his photo op around the world. Now it’s time for mine.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know I drink coffee.  In fact, when I ventured around the world on the 30/40 World Tour:  Quest for Passion, I found that my passions are coffee and napping.  I learned this through various opportunities to enjoy them and be deprived of them.  Undoubtedly, coffee and napping are essential to my life.  Deep, I know.

Let’s take a photo tour of my coffee encounters around the world…

Capitol Grounds lattes

I was armed with a latte from Capitol Grounds on my very first flight out of Washington, DC.

Fiji, our first country on the 30/40 World Tour, was not coffee aficionado friendly.  At our first coffee stop, they tried to tell me that Coke was just like coffee!

Ms. HalfEmpty eats breakfast

Much of my time in Fiji was spent on primitive islands with instant coffee.  Quelle horreur!

I didn’t get real coffee until our final night in Fiji when we checked into Sofitel and I had an amazing cappuccino.

My coffee experience in New Zealand was the complete opposite of Fiji. New Zealand has the most coffee roasters per capita of any country in the world.  They take their coffee culture very seriously; even gas stations have espresso machines with baristas, and no one serves drip coffee.

Coffee @ Mecca Stonehouse

My first full day in New Zealand included a latte (and internet time) at Mecca Stonehouse in Mission Bay outside Auckland.

Blogging in Paihia

I seem to always have coffee while on the netbook, including here at Paihia wharf.

Volcanic Latte

We learned that coffee drinks come from volcanoes at the museum in New Plymouth.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

I even had a coffee in hand outside the Te Papa Museum in Wellington.

Circa Theater

Later that same day when we went to see a show at Circa Theater, just across from the museum, I had another coffee.  Zoom to see me drinking it.

New Zealand was perhaps the best coffee country on the 30/40 World Tour, but the French-speaking countries like New Caledonia weren’t bad either.

Café Malongo in Nouméa

While waiting in line at Café Malongo in Nouméa, I considered my espresso order.

Change in Nouméa

After using bills to buy coffee, we count our change in Nouméa.

Coffee at Le Surf Hotel

Once again enjoying coffee with a side of internet at our hotel in New Caledonia.

Coffee School

When we reached Sydney, Australia, I considered joining coffee school, but decided I didn’t have enough time.

Australian Parliament

I brought a cup of joe with me to the Australian Parliament Building in Canberra.  They wouldn’t let me bring it inside, but I had no problem devouring it quickly!

Phamish in St. Kilda

The coffee drink and coffee netbook seemed to pair well at a restaurant called Phamish in St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

Heidelberg Train Station

After visiting our new Australian friends in Heidelberg (another suburb of Melbourne), I waited for the train with coffee in hand.

Latte Art in Melbourne

Loving the latte art at a café in Melbourne before our flight to Mauritius.

Turkish Coffee in Dubai

Enjoying turkish coffee in Dubai with Sir Expat

Coffee in German Biergarten

Coffee in a German biergarten on Lake Starnberg with my cousins. Yes, I know you usually drink beer in a biergarten, but we had done plenty of that the night before!  Don’t I look just like a beermaid, but with coffee and less cleavage?

Coffee @ Marianplatz

Any time of day is a good time for coffee — even late night at Marianplatz in Munich.

Lunch @ Barcelo Sants

A cappuccino complemented my 3rd course of lunch nicely at our hotel in Barcelona, Spain.

  • Do you try to limit your coffee intake?
  • What things/actions are essential to your life?
  • Do you have any coffee location recommendations for me?

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A Week-In-The-Life of Mr. HalfFull & Ms. HalfEmpty

Nora

Nora, The Professional Hobo, in Spain

Nora, The Professional Hobo herself, asked me to write about a week of our 30/40 World Tour.  She is a full-time traveler who knows about the fun and the work of long-term travel.  Through her Week-in-the-Life series, she hopes to enlighten her readers about the mundane and sometimes trying parts of travel.  It’s not all lying on the beach, room service, and lattes on demand. (Sometimes all you have is instant coffee…the horror!)

I alluded to this post when we wrote about Fiji, and now it’s finally here!  Please click over to A Week-In-The-Life of Mr. HalfFull & Ms. HalfEmpty to read more about our time in Fiji and the start of our adventure in New Zealand.  Thanks to Nora for this opportunity!

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Radio Silence

Earthquake

No, this isn't warning Virginia residents that we are back in town; it was an earthquake!  I felt like I was balancing on a surfboard in huge waves as I heard things falling and clattering around me.

Dearest Readers (yes, both of you), apologies for our month of radio silence.  Mr. HalfFull and I are alive and a little more half full, having safely returned from our 30/40 World Tour over a week ago.  We arrived just in time for the first earthquake I’ve ever felt, and now a “once in a lifetime” hurricane to come!  Awesome.

You may have wondered why you’ve only read about our adventures in Fiji and New Zealand since we advertised that we would be visiting eight countries on a trip west around the world.  Fear not!  We will be telling you stories from our full trip in due time.  Perhaps our posts will be even better now that we’ll have the benefit of time for reflection.

Kohimarama, New Zealand

Ms. HalfEmpty gets internet time on her makeshift duffel bag desk in Kohimarama, New Zealand

Why we were such blogging slackers?  Bottom line, consistent posting turned out to be much more difficult than expected.  As I mentioned, internet access was limited.  On top of that, being on the move and changing accommodations (nightly, at times) made it imperative to book rooms and pay bills when we were able to get online.  Sadly for you (and my Mom), email and blogging came in low on our travel priorities list, thus falling by the wayside.

But on a half full note, we are back home with many stories to tell!  Stay tuned…

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Stumbling Out of the Gate

We landed at Fiji’s Nadi (pronounced “nahn-dee”) International Airport before sunrise. Mr. HalfFull booked the first week of our trip in the South Pacific, so I expected him to know every detail, or at least the next step that would get his booty from Air Pacific’s airplane to the beach hammock he’d been raving about during his last week at work. He was fairly certain that we could walk to the marina from the airport, but he grabbed a map at a rental car counter just to be sure.

I waited outside for Mr. HalfFull, who reported that the woman at the rental car desk said it was a half hour to the marina. I asked if he was sure she understood that we were walking and not driving, since she worked for a rental car company. He was convinced that she understood.

Mr. HalfFull also asked her if it was safe to walk along the main road. He meant safe for pedestrians, with a sidewalk or at least distance from traffic. Interestingly, she assured him it was safe due to the abundance of military personnel in town. Hmm…

Nadi Landscape

View of the Nadi landscape as we walked away from the airport

We exited the airport on foot and saw a couple of the armed military men she mentioned. It felt great to walk after being on an airplane for so long, and Fiji’s lush mountainous landscape was gorgeous in the morning sun. We found ourselves in Nadi’s rush hour, with lots of decrepit vehicles and many pedestrians including children in school uniforms.  Smiling people greeted us on the sidewalk with a cheerful “bula!”

After we passed our first traffic circle, a Fijian man started walking with us. We definitely stood out as pasty white people walking along the busy street lugging our backpacks. He asked us where we were going, telling us he was on his way to work as a local pilot who flew between Fijian islands. We told him a bit about our trip, and he replied that it was nice to see a father and daughter traveling together. Hello!?! I quickly responded that we were married and showed him my ring, and we soon parted ways.  Mr. HalfFull must have been looking pretty haggard after 27 hours of flights and layovers!

We continued our walk and were soon joined by another Fijian man. This guy was much older with a full graying beard and gruff demeanor. I thought he wanted to pass us on the sidewalk, but he started walking in step with us and asked where we were going.  I was a bit scared at this point because the new guy did not appear to be as friendly as the pilot.  But we told him we were headed to Denarau Marina, which he said was a long way. We replied that it was okay because we needed a good walk after flying, and the woman at the airport said it was thirty minute walk. “Bullshit!” he exclaimed. According to him, it was a two hour walk from the airport. I knew she meant driving time, Mr. HalfFull!

We further explain our destination to John, the gruff man on the street, and he informed us that our boat doesn’t even leave from Denarau Marina! What? How could Mr. HalfFull be so utterly wrong? He claims that we need to drive an hour south to Likuri Harbor. (We later learn that our second accommodation was scheduled to leave from Denarau Marina, and Mr. HalfFull mistakenly thought that both left from the same harbor. This poses an even bigger issue because now we are not sure we will be able to catch our second early morning boat four days later, since we will be an hour away.)

John guides us to a taxi in front of a nearby hotel and instructs him to drive us to a hotel with bus transfers to Likuri Harbor. We are very uneasy at this point. Where are we going? Why did John help us? Did he have our interests in mind, or was he in cahoots with the taxi driver? How could we have gotten into this mess? What is it going to cost?

The taxi driver was very engaging and wanted to tell us all about Fiji and the sites we passed. He even played a burned Bob Marley Legend CD in the car, which he offered to us for FJ$2.  Needless to say, we didn’t invest in dead pirated technology.

He said he could drive us directly to the harbor instead of the hotel. At that point, we had no idea what we were supposed to do, so we went all in and agreed to let him drive us directly to the jetty.

Hindu Temple

Largest Hindu temple in the Southern hemisphere

Along the drive, he stopped at a Hindu temple so we could take a photo. I did not get out of the car for fear that he would drive off with our luggage. He stopped again at his friend’s souvenir store so he could get coffee and we could spend money. This was rather awkward since we were at the start of our journey and traveling light, not wanting to carry extraneous items. He asked if I wanted coffee, so of course I said yes. After some commotion, the shop owner presented us with a glass of Coke, saying his coffee machine was broken, but this was just like coffee. Ha!

Finally, we arrived at a clearing next to a wooded river in the middle of nowhere. There was no town, no houses, no boats — just a small, rickety, wooden dock with an old shack nearby. There wasn’t even a sign to inform us that we were in the correct location. Suffice it to say, I was nervous and not happy with Mr. HalfFull.

Fisherwomen

A haggard Mr. HalfFull with Fijian fisherwomen

There were a few sturdy Fijian ladies at the dock and we asked them if they were going to Likuri Island, but they were going fishing. They explained that the powdery black substance on their faces was natural sunscreen. I guess a mud mask can be sunscreen, but it looked reminiscent of blackface and made me uncomfortable until they explained the purpose.  We bid the ladies farewell as they boarded their canoe and paddled away; we were left alone at the dock.

Fisherwomen Float Away

Fisherwomen floating down the river

We still had no confirmation that we were in the correct location or if a boat was ever coming. Thankfully about fifteen minutes later, a van showed up with another passenger heading to Likuri Island. We had been in Fiji two hours and this was the first independent confirmation that we were in the right place!

Ms. HalfEmpty meets Ms. Holland

Ms. HalfEmpty & Ms. Holland watch the boat arrive

The girl who arrived (dubbed Ms. Holland), was traveling the world alone after graduating from university. We were relieved to find her and became good friends on the island over the next few days. She was almost done with her five month trip, which included some of the same places we planned to visit, but in the opposite direction around the world. So we were able to glean a few tips and insights from her experience. We chatted for a long while before the boat arrived.

After another half hour, a car pulled in with an older Australian couple driving and a Fijian guy with a Robinson Crusoe Island t-shirt in the backseat. After a few hours lost in the fog of travel, things were finally starting to look promising! About fifteen minutes later, two boats pulled up to the wooden dock, and we grabbed our luggage in preparation to board. But the Aussies informed us that we were waiting for two more buses full of people. Apparently, there was a schedule, we just had none of the details, which drives me crazy. It’s not like I’m a control freak; I’m just a realist. After all, I had allowed Mr. HalfFull to plan this segment of the trip. (Note to self: always check fine print after he books anything!)

Eventually, we boarded the second boat and arrived on the island to singing and guitars. Of course, I did not arrive in a state of relaxation. That sneaked up on me the next day, when Mr. HalfFull was relieved of his travel implementation duties. More details of our (mis)adventures in Fiji and the start of our trip to New Zealand will be published on September 12th as a guest post on theprofessionalhobo.com.

  • Have you experienced travel (mis)adventures?
  • Have you ever departed an international airport on foot?
  • How detailed are you when planning a trip? Is winging it part of the fun?
  • Are you fearful of strangers in foreign countries?
  • How long does it take you to relax on vacation?

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America?

Palisades Park

Ms. HalfEmpty napping in Palisades Park

You may be wondering why, after a week in Fiji and a week in New Zealand, I am writing about America.  Prior to this trip, I took easy/free internet access in the United States for granted.  After landing at LAX, we took a bus to Santa Monica to kill time before our next flight.  I expected that I would need to patronize a café to get on a network.  But I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could sit in Palisades Park and use the city’s free internet!  But on Likuri Island (our first stop in Fiji, where we used generator electricity during the day and none at night) there was no broadband internet, but you could pay per hour to sit in their office and use antique computers.

In Fiji and New Zealand, I have discovered that there is no such thing as unlimited internet.  They limit you by the hour or megabyte, and sometimes both, meaning that if you reach your megabyte limit before your time is up, you get booted.  Plus, the connections have been painfully slow, especially when every minute is counted.  These constraints add a lot of stress for a half empty perfectionist!

On top of the internet limitations, I know my half empty mind won’t be able to move on until I get these thoughts off of my mental to-do list.  But no worries (as the Kiwis often say), I have lists of observations and tons of images to write about.  But for today, I present you my final thoughts while leaving America for 10 weeks.

Before embarking on my 30/40 World Tour, I hadn’t been to an airport since Thanksgiving and hadn’t been to Dulles airport in much longer, so it was interesting to see all the changes. The first thing that caught my eye was TSA employees in tuxedo-like uniforms.  At first, I thought this might be a classy new concierge service.  But alas, no.  The tuxedo guys don’t check your tickets or bags; they just stare at you. I guess they are profilers looking for odd behavior.  I can tell you what’s odd — wearing a tuxedo at the airport!

The second new thing for me was the naked full body scanners. I felt very uncomfortable since I was not sporting metallic ink underwear. Mr. HalfFull told me later that he sucked in his gut and wanted to yell, “Shrinkage!” as they scanned his junk. Fortunately, he kept this thought to himself.

Dulles AeroTrain

Sleek AeroTrain @ Dulles airport

The third new airport feature was awesome! Dulles International Airport now has underground trams called AeroTrain. A lot of airports have these, but we have used people movers driving across the runways for years at Dulles. I was impressed – very efficient and sleek.  Perhaps some Scandinavian efficiency engineer from IKEA created the system of tram doors on both sides.  One side opens about 5-10 seconds before the other.  So people on the tram exit on the side with open doors, while people waiting to board are outside the set of closed doors on the opposite side.  We noticed a Dulles employee avoid the stampede off the tram, exit off the delayed side, and then scoot right up the escalator by himself.  This guy didn’t fall prey to the herd mentality.

Since we were not checking bags and had already printed our boarding passes at home, we didn’t have to visit the ticket counter at all.  With time to spare, Mr. HalfFull visited a tech gadget store in search of a single electrical adapter for all seven of our 30/40 World Tour countries. Lo and behold, they had one!  Plus it also has a USB charger and surge protection, all in a neat little package priced at $40.  Great success!

America store in airport

If you look closely, you can see the terrorist video above the register in the middle of the photo

While sitting on a bench with our luggage waiting for Mr. HalfFull, I noticed a store subtly called “America!”  They had t-shirts and souvenirs, plus a video playing above the checkout counter that was visible from my vantage point. I couldn’t hear any sound, but I could clearly see a reenactment of a group of terrorists with red cloths tied around their heads hijacking an airplane. Are you kidding me? They should have called the store “Tea Party!”  This seemed like an odd video choice in a terminal full of potential customers moments before boarding airplanes.

Capitol Grounds lattes

Capitol Grounds lattes & passports -- we're ready to travel!

As you know from my incessant mentions of coffee, I suppose I’m a bit of an addict.  With the new charger in hand, Mr. HalfFull set off to acquire small skim lattes with Splenda from Capitol Grounds.  (I haven’t found Splenda since leaving the US!  Hmm…)  As soon as he returned, our boarding group was called. Perfect timing!

Guess who was on our flight? NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, sporting a Milwaukee Bucks shirt!  I wonder if he travels under the name Lew Alcindor to avoid hassles with the tuxedo dudes.

  • Did internet availability overseas affect your travel?
  • What do you think of the tuxedo TSA guys?
  • Have you experienced the naked full body scanner? How did you feel?
  • Do you have metallic ink underwear?
  • Have you ever seen a terrorist reenactment video at an airport?
  • Have you flown with celebrities?

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I See You, Baby!

Fijian Warrior

Real men wear skirts, although holding a spear helps too!

While Ms. HalfEmpty hinted at the friendliness and generosity of pretty much every Fijian local we met, I was truly inspired by the men of Fiji, all of whom would rightly be considered Renaissance men in western society. I subscribe to a fun blog called The Art of Manliness, which helps remind me of the importance manly behavior plays in society. Here is my top ten list of the knowledge, skills, and abilities (not to mention their good looks, not that there’s anything wrong with that) observed daily during our wonderful visit that seemed to compromise Fijian manliness:

Coconut Tree Climbing

Fijian Renaissance man displays his coconut tree climbing prowess

  1. Smiling (these guys are always in a great mood, and there’s nothing fake about it)
  2. Dancing (especially while twirling coconut hatchets around their necks and blazing fire batons between their legs)
  3. Fishing (with poles, just a reel of fishing line, or old school with a net woven from coconut leaf fibers)
  4. Climbing (you have to see a barefoot Fijian man nimbly work his way to the green coconuts)
  5. Cooking (from quick coconut drinks to lovo feasts that bake for hours, cuisine is inspired)
  6. Swimming (don’t be surprised when your tour guide suddenly dives off the boat)
  7. Singing (you are literally greeted at the airport by men singing, even at 6 AM Fiji time)
  8. Guitar-Playing (every guy seems able to play, and the younger guys learn just by watching)
  9. Jewelry-Making (my Fijian friend Nelly taught me how to make a bracelet from an old coconut for my beautiful wife)
  10. Boat-Driving (same smiling guy sings hello, plays guitar, grabs your bag, then drives boat)
Coconut jewelry creation

Nelly teaches Mr. HalfFull how to make a beautiful coconut bracelet

That list doesn’t even include talents in guiding naturalist walking tours, gardening for subsistence and medicine, or conducting kava ceremonies with just enough seriousness. (I may have forgotten to clap three times after emptying the kava bowl in front of a tribal village chief, an offense punishable by decapitation with a Fijian war club back in the day.) However, it seems that the biggest limitation for these Fijian Renaissance men is the unbelievably low wages, which effectively renders them incapable of traveling the world. The thought that these guys meet people from all over the world on a daily basis, yet will likely never set foot off of Fiji really made me appreciate the amazing opportunity we have on our 30/40 World Tour.

On Snorkeling Boat

Ms. Holland in a Fijian man sandwich on our snorkeling boat; married Ms. HalfEmpty is merely a garnish

I was also impressed by the straight forward approach the men of Fiji took with respect to women. Upon arriving at an island, our group would be seated in a circle on a giant mat woven from coconut leaves, and we would be instructed to go around the circle telling everybody our name, where we were from, our job back home, and whether we were single or married. Ms. HalfEmpty’s wedding ring was like Fijian Renaissance man’s kryptonite (I knew that cultural immersion training would pay off) so when she introduced herself the men would quickly move on to the next lady.

We quickly became friends with a lovely girl from Holland, and it seemed Ms. HalfEmpty may have been slightly jealous when our new friend declared her single status, and all the men shouted at the top of their lungs, “I see you baby!” Swept up in the cultural experience, Ms. HalfEmpty began shouting her own “I see you baby!” at our hosts during their introductions…no more kava for her! Interesting side note: Fijians don’t view the kava bowl as half empty or half full – it is either “high tide” or “low tide.” Mr. HighTide has a nice ring to it.

Kava Ceremony

Everything gets a little blurry for Mr. HighTide on the kava mat after several bowls with Nelly

At the end of the evening, the men would simply ask single girls if they “would like company” for the evening; I witnessed two rebuffs, and zero hard feelings. Interestingly, in both cases the European girls felt guilty for hurting the Fijian man’s feelings, even though there were no hurt feelings. Perhaps these guys have seen one of my favorite movies, The Tao of Steve. Regardless, it was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in my time on the American singles bar scene.

Bonfire on Beach

Is there anything more primal than man lighting a bonfire on the beach?

Ms. HalfEmpty chatted with wonderful women from England, Ireland, Denmark, Holland, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland, and they all seemed to agree that the Fijian Renaissance man could give their country’s men a run for their money when it comes to manliness. She learned that men in Europe were perceived as not putting in enough effort during the courting process; apparently having a pint with their lads whilst watching football on the telly created a bit of tension. Thankfully we don’t have this problem in America. [Ms. LowTide shakes her head, fingers crossed for NFL strike this fall.]

Kava & Music

Warrior paint, kava, guitar, and singing: the Fijian art of manliness

After ten (or twenty?) bowls of kava, I came up with an idea: create a website similar to Match.com where European women could pay for male Fijian cultural exchange students to fly from Fiji and be hosted in the woman’s home country for a month. During this time, the local men of these countries would not be able to ignore the overt daily acts of manliness as these Fijian men smile, dance, cook, and sing their way into the good graces of each host. Faced with this new knowledge of human male potential for manliness, the local men might hopefully be inspired to elevate their game a bit, lest they find themselves alone in a world consisting only of flat beer and football replays on SKY Network. In my statistically insignificant survey, women were 100% in support of this cultural exchange website idea.

Fijian Dancers

Fijian men really know how to move; they must be younger than 25!

After my short week amongst these Fijian Renaissance men, I myself have reconsidered my theory about nothing good coming from dancing by men over the age of 25, and will definitely sign up for guitar lessons at Jammin’ Java back home one day. To those who might argue that it’s simply a matter of Polynesian/Melanesian/Micronesian DNA and that Fijian men are genetically predisposed with these strengths, I was given a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the life of these men when my warrior friend painted my face. Let’s just say I was relieved to see that there was a full weight room attached to their dorm, and although their Fijian smiles make manliness look easy, I can confirm that it takes a lot of hard work, as with anything worthwhile in life.

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Fiji Time

Air Pacific

Our Air Pacific flight landed early in the morning in Nadi, Fiji

Bula everybody!” I probably should apologize for not posting since leaving the United States, but actually I’m on time. Let me explain. Within an hour after setting foot on the main island of Viti Levu, we were quickly indoctrinated to Fiji time. As we learned repeatedly, there is “your time” and “Fiji time.” When the 9:30 AM boat to Likuri Island motors up to the rickety wooden jetty at 10:45 AM, it’s on time in Fiji time. When we were told to be ready for snorkeling in 2 minutes, about an hour later we’d board the dingy headed to the reef.  Thus, we would often clarify if a stated time was our time or Fiji time. This blog post is right on schedule, considering I’m on Fiji time!

Island Lodge 4

Our lodge -- perhaps the most opulent hut on Likuri Island

We roughed it a bit more than I expected at the beginning of our 30/40 World Tour. Mr. HalfFull offered to book our Fiji accommodations, which seemed awesome until I realized that he considers me to be Ms. HalfRugged. This week taught me that I’m a little more resilient than anticipated, but perhaps only a quarter rugged.  In fact, my new found rugged side felt like we were totally wimping out by checking into a posh hotel for our last night in Fiji.

Sofitel

Our chic bathroom at Sofitel

This guilt quickly subsided as I enjoyed my first hot shower since leaving the safe confines of Northern Virginia. It felt so luxurious! Mr. HalfFull was even able to do our laundry (not in the shower). Plus, we experienced feeling cold again in air conditioning, which will hopefully help us transition to the winter temperatures in New Zealand.  (We’ll have to remind ourselves of the heat and mosquitoes while shivering next week!)  And of course, my favorite treat was freshly brewed coffee! I’ve been making do with instant coffee since arriving in Fiji, so I really savored the perfectly prepared cappuccino after dinner. It was glorious!

Bush Walk

Local Fijian took us on a bush walk to search for coconuts

Our travel misadventures began shortly after leaving the airport in Nadi, Fiji, but I’ll have to fill you in after we get settled into Auckland, New Zealand.  Suffice it to say, the overarching theme of our week has been the friendliness and generosity of the locals – pedestrians in Nadi, Hindi taxi drivers, fisher-women at the dock, tribal villagers, pretty much everyone. The landscape is certainly breathtaking, but the Bula spirit truly sets Fiji apart. We have been welcomed into the family with huge smiles (some with more teeth than others). The Fijians have certainly set the hospitality bar high for the rest of our quest. For now, here’s a small batch of my favorite photos, each of which has a story from our first week in Fiji.

View from Likuri Island

View from Likuri Island; these awesome sitting hammocks are made in Fiji

Bonfire on Likuri Island

Bonfire lit singers to welcome boat of dinner guests

Warrior Paint

Mr. HalfFull was invited to go native with warrior paint

Dance show

Evening show included dancing, machete twirling, and even fire dancing (in an amphitheater made of highly flammable dried coconut leaves)

Ms. HalfEmpty eats breakfast

Ms. HalfEmpty eats cereal by headlamp because electricity is off until 7 AM, but we had to catch the 6:30 AM staff boat (with the island's trash bags)

Sunset on Drawaqa Island

View from Sunset Beach on Drawaqa Island (it's not just a clever name)

Mr. HalfFull atop Drawaqa Island

Mr. HalfFull (sans warrior paint) practices machete dancing atop Drawaqa Island

View of sailboat from village

View of our 108 ft. sailboat from the tribal village island we visited for a kava ceremony and dancing

Native Fijian village

Native Fijian village in Yasawa Islands

Vinaka vakalevu!
(Thank you very much!)

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