expat confessions: some days you will struggle

life as an expat isn't always easy. and these past few weeks in particular, coming down off the magical high that was our trip to New Zealand... have been particularly difficult for me. I have so many beautiful things to share but I can't get over this feeling. writing is how I process things. and so this is me processing.

I love Taiwan, I really do. but adjusting to life here again has been a struggle. the air here is no where as fresh and clear as it was in New Zealand. working around my food allergies is once again a huge complication to grocery shopping and dining out. and I can no longer blend into the population like I belong there.

in fact, I've been doing a bit of a struggle spiral. we've been trying to make summer plans and figure out if I'll be able to fly back for my cousin's wedding this summer. there's a pack of adorable puppies in our parking lot, and Husband and I spent 6 serious hours in debate before concluding we couldn't adopt one. I showed up to teach my blog class prepared for a semester of new students and found I still have the old ones too.

and then I got clipped by the side view mirror of some jerk's car as we were walking to to dinner... because I couldn't get the scooter to start to go buy groceries... and the consolatory bottle of wine I bought after had a rotting cork so I trekked 30 minutes in a downpour to get another.


my arm is fine. it hasn't even bruised. as far as being hit by a car goes, I think I lucked out.

the students who came back to my class obviously like it. and their blogs are looking great. and they can always do a "free write" while the new kids get up to speed.

it still sucks to walk past the puppies, but they are being fed and look happy and healthy. our lifestyle just isn't conducive to an animal right now.

trying to make plans when you don't have all the information you need [and when some things are completely out of your control] is stressful. but I know our families will be happy to see us for however long we are able, and understand that sometimes things are beyond our power.

I will probably always hate drawing attention and being stared at. but I'm trying to remind myself that nothing I do can change it, so it doesn't matter what my hair looks like or what I'm wearing. I'm free to embrace yoga pants/ topknot/ lipstick if I damn well please.

eating gluten free in Taiwan is a lot more difficult, but I've been [mostly] doing it for nearly 3 years now. and we just bought a bread maker. along with all the gluten free bread mix I could get my hands on. and there's always iherb to order more...

yes, Taiwan is hazy much of the time. the air pollution has made me feel like I have allergies or a cold ever since we've come back. but I've been doing my best to get out of the house and go for walks and jogs. because moderately fresh air is better than hiding in the apartment.

some days I struggle.

and some days when I do, husband scoots downtown in the rain to buy supplies for making nachos. and cherry cokes. and dark chocolate sea salt caramel bars. and I lose myself in a book, or binge watch Sailor Moon.

some days that helps, and some days that doesn't.

maybe this is just a reminder to myself. but if it just so happens you're having a day where you're struggling too, I hope it helps.

some days you will struggle. and that's ok.


three weeks in New Zealand: our itinerary

New Zealand. oh, where to start? we recently spent three weeks traveling through this beautiful country. a LOT of planning went into the process of deciding exactly where to go and what to see [and what not to.] in fact, we started planning about a year before we left. it's been tough for me to adjust to coming home from nearly a month of travel, but I'm trying to get back into the routines of both life and blogging.

before I start going through the thousands of photos from our trip -3,137 to be exact - I thought I would start off by giving you the rundown on our itinerary. because at this point I'm not sure where else to start! I've obviously thrown some photos in here [and have been playing around with brush lettering] because I can't NOT show you photos. I don't want to give it all away, but hopefully this will just entice you to come back and read more.

about our itinerary

I traveled with Husband and another couple we are friends with for twenty days, covering both North and South islands. between the four of us we decided to do a mix of hotel stays, apartment rentals, and camping. we flew between the islands and rented cars to drive around. the camper van thing just didn't pan out for us - four people in one camper would have been a bit much, and driving something that monstrous through the mountains would have been terrifying. I think we made [mostly] smart choices on where we went and what we did. but of course I'll shell out some advice on that later.

below is a detailed list of each day, with our stops and accommodations, and links to just about everything. this is partially to help out anyone who in the future wants some advice on traveling to NZ, and also so I can remember. there will be plenty of detailed posts on much of what's below in the months to come - plenty of stories to be told! but for now, you can consider this a preview.

day 1: arrive in Auckland

we arrived in Auckland around 8am via an overnight flight from Taipei connecting through Seoul. since we knew we would all be jetlagged, we opted to stay at the Surrey Hotel. this gave us an easy 5-minute cab ride to downtown where we enjoyed dinner at the Angus Steak House before collapsing into an early slumber.

day 2: Auckland to Christchurch

attempting to capitalize on our early-rising jetlag, we took a morning flight from Auckland to Christchurch. [I had my first long black coffee from the Shaky Isles Co in Auckland Airport... and I was hooked.] we picked up our rental car and found some amazing brunch at the Caffeine Laboratory. after visiting the Cardboard Cathedral and wandering around town, we checked into the Southwark Apartments. we then hiked over to the other end of the city for dinner at Mexicano's [which was well worth the walk!]

day 3: Christchurch

after a late breakfast [and several long black coffees] at a cafe I can't remember, we decided to hop on the tram and get off at the Botanic Gardens. we wandered for a few hours before making our way to the Re:Start Mall [built from shipping containers] for some lunch from the Tiki Taco truck. our rented camping gear from Adventure Capital arrived. we had some time to kill before dinner and drove out to Cave Rock before a tasty Thai meal at Buddha Stix.

day 4: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

the drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo was supposed to be about 3 hours. we got quite a late start, as we woke in the morning to discover our rental car had been broken into and some of our camp gear taken [and the rest covered in glass from a smashed window.] thankfully we opted for the full insurance on the car and soon had a new one ready to go. we had and amazingly delicious lunch at Black Betty cafe before hitting the road, arriving a bit later than we planned. for our first night of camping, I booked us a site at the Lake Tekapo Holiday Park. we had just enough time to set up the tents and enjoy the view before the sun started to set, cooked ourselves some dinner in the camp kitchen and called it a night.

day 5: Lake Tekapo to Mt. Cook

since we has been delayed the day before, we spent our morning exploring the area around the outrageously blue Lake Tekapo. we visited the Church of the Good Shepherd and then hiked to the summit of Mt John for an incredible view. a scenic 1 hour drive [or really 2 hours with photo stops] brought us to Glentanner Park Center just outside of Mt. Cook. our tent setup was in a field with an amazing view - the mountain itself right out our door. we had another camp kitchen meal, and I tried my hand at shooting some astrophotography before tucking in.

day 6: Mt. Cook to Queenstown

our plans for a full day of hiking around Mt Cook were foiled by gale force winds. after a sleepless night of trying to hold the tent down, we broke camp at dawn just before a massive rainstorm hit. we suffered some tent damage and knew that we couldn't stay another night without blowing away. SO we called our rental in Queenstown and thankfully our booking at the Lakeside Apartments was open a night early. some gluten-free pies from Hell Pizza and a night of sleep in a real bed set us straight again.

day 7: Queenstown

the weather was cold and wet. so after purchasing another warm layer, Husband and I spent the afternoon sipping vino at The Winery. this was followed by devouring tasty and much-recommended burgers from Fergburger and some general relaxing. and more wine.

day 8: Queenstown

our rental car had been making some strange noises, so we decided to take it in before another long drive - turned out to be a belt issue and we drove off with our third rental car. we had lunch at Joe's Garage and dinner at Coyote Grill, with a walk through the Queenstown Gardens along Lake Wakatipu and some wine on our balcony in between. after dinner we decided to take the gondola up to see the [spectacular] views of the area. unfortunately we spent almost 2 hours stuck on the way down... but that's a story for another time.

day 9: Queenstown to Milford Sound

we enjoyed a lakeside breakfast at Vudu Cafe before taking off towards Te Anau. the drive took us a bit longer than expected, maybe 3 hours instead of 2, because the road is narrow and winding through parts of the mountains and along the lake. we arrived just in time for our boat ride to tour the glowworm caves. no photos allowed in the cave but it really was incredible. afterward we drove the rest of the way into Milford Sound, stopping along the way for several epic photo moments. I had booked us a couple of campsites at the Milford Lodge, which is just about the only place to stay in the sound.

day 10: Milford Sound

we kicked our day off with a cruise on Milford Sound, booked through Mitre Peak. the rest of the day we spent exploring various trails around the area and just being in awe at how completely magical everything in the fiordlands was.

day 11: Milford Sound to Dunedin

once again, the weather intervened in our camping plans. heavy and cold rains rolled through overnight and stayed into the morning, so after disassembling and packing up our drenched tents we decided to skip another camp night at the Hillview Campsites near Nugget Point and go straight to Dunedin and a hotel room. the drive was maybe 5 or 6 hours, but we arrived at the Victoria Hotel with time to explore the charming downtown and eat some amazing Mexican at Del Sol before dark.

day 12: Dunedin and Nugget Point

we visited Nova for breakfast, where the men devoured some amazing-looking injectable donuts. we then headed to Nugget Point lighthouse [about 1.5 hours drive south] and enjoyed a picnic on the beach. after checking into the Park Regis Hotel, we drove out the Otago Peninsula to visit the Penguin Place. and yes, we saw penguins.

day 13: Dunedin

Husband and I spent the morning relaxing [including some coffees and desserts at Mojo] before meeting up with a friend [Amanda from Living in Another Language] to explore Larnach Castle and the surrounding gardens. afterward, we had a barbecue and our husbands commiserated about always having to wait for their blogger wives to take photos. [which, we did NOT take any at said barbecue... so I guess not always.]

day 14: Dunedin to Christchurch

the first stop of the day was the Cadbury factory for a chocolate-filled tour. after, we took off to the north, breaking up the 4.5 hour drive from Dunedin to Christchurch with a stop to see the Moreaki Boulders. we stayed at the Southwark Apartments again and visited the nearby Loco's TexMex taco truck for an easy and delicious dinner.

day 15: Christchurch to Auckland

we flew back up to Auckland and checked into the Jucy Hostel. it was mine and Husband's 11th anniversary of meeting so we wandered around downtown and enjoyed a few beverages and some snacks from various locations, most notably Ima Cuisine for mediterranean and Mexico for mushroom tacos. [have you noticed that we like to get our fill of tacos while on vacation?]

day 16: Auckland and Rangitoto

the weather was supposed to be warm and sunny, so we hopped a ferry to Rangitoto Island. we hiked to the top of a [dormant] volcano which had amazing views of the city, and explored lava caves. that night we had tickets to a rugby match and watched the Blues lose to the Chiefs.

day 17: Auckland to Whitianga

we picked up a rental car and took a 2.5 hour drive through the middle of nowhere down to Matamata... to take a Hobbiton tour! then we continued another 2 or 3 hours up the Coromandel Peninsula to the beach town of Whitianga. we booked a 2 bedroom apartment at The Crow's Nest for our 3 night stay, and had dinner at the On Fire beach cafe just across the street.

day 18: Whitianga

by this point in the trip, we all just wanted to relax. most of the day was spent lounging or strolling about town, though Husband and I had an amazing dinner at Sangam Indian Cuisine.

day 19: Whitianga and Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove was the main reason why we chose to spend the "beach" portion of our trip in Whitianga. after a 45 minute drive, some ninja parking, and a 45 minute hike, we had ourselves a picnic on one of the most gorgeous beaches I've ever seen. we relaxed and explored before heading back to town for a delicious meal and great conversation with the owner/brewer/barkeep - at the Bay Brewery Bistro.

day 20: Whitianga to Auckland

after driving 2 hours back to Auckland, we crashed at the Waldorf Celestion Apartment Hotel for the night. Husband and I had one last incredible meal at Orleans - it's hard to say but this may have been the best meal we ate the entire trip, certainly the best meal we had in Auckland.

day 21: depart Auckland

the sun was just rising as we made our way out of town and to the airport. we had a long flight with an overnight layover in Seoul [more on that later] and arrived back in Taiwan friday night.

and that's about it. ok, there's a lot more, obviously. but for starters I think that's pretty good. I'm still trying to ease back into this blogging thing and don't want to overwhelm myself [or you!] so expect there to be some real-time Taiwan mixed in with the New Zealand recap. be sure to let me know if you have any questions about our trip, or have a request for what posts you'd like to see first.


life lessons learned from travel | Jenn of Near + Far

travel changes you, and teaches you things. but you don't have to leave those lessons on the road. Jenn of Near and Far Montana traveled all over the world before settling down in Montana for a farm life. now she's using those lessons learned in her 20s to adjust to a new life in a not-so-far away but definitely different setting.

During my senior year of college, I studied abroad in New Zealand. The trip involved months of paperwork, research, preparation and packing. While there, I was a good student focused on my purpose -- learning. But I also learned how to travel solo.

I researched and booked my own trips about the South Island and later the North Island. During a study break, while everyone else was prepping for exams, I hopped a plane to Australia for two weeks.

After coming back, I was interning in Virginia and the bosses couldn’t seem to make a decision about whether to hire me or not. So I told them that while they were figuring that out, I was going to London for two weeks.

On that flight that I realized I really could pick a place, pack a bag and go anywhere in the world. I didn’t need anyone else’s permission. I didn’t need to wait for someone to go with me. I didn’t need to plan forever or wait for everything to be perfect.

I just needed to go.

For most of my 20s, that was a huge part of my life. New Zealand, Australia, London, Peru, Slovenia, Paris, Italy, Chile. I went exploring, adventuring, wandering. I went when and where I wanted. And I went alone.

Then I moved to Montana in 2013. The same year I turned 30.

I moved to be with a boy. Then we bought a house. Then we got chickens. Now we’re looking at more animals and starting a small farm.

I’d never been to Montana and I call myself a Virginia girl. It may be the U.S., but it really is far from home.

Two years in and I still find myself struggling to understand my town some days. They have a different history, experience and a perspective that’s often a near opposite of an East Coaster.

I’m finding that while I may be in my own country, I can apply all those lessons travel taught me in my 20s.

Our pace isn’t as frantic as it was on my two-week adventures around entire countries, but the boyfriend and I are slowly exploring Montana. Our travels are less about sights and more about getting out of town, into nature now.

If I want to leave the country on an adventure, boyfriend would be fine with that, but with animals and crops and a house, there’s more to consider when I feel the urge to book a flight.

There’s still so many places that I long to see, but I know I could also spend a lifetime exploring the wild outdoors of Montana.

I’m learning a slower way of exploring, of immersing myself deeper into a new place than I’ve ever done as an adult – I’m not counting moving a lot as a military kid since it was all about making friends at school.

What might be the biggest change is learning how to do all this exploring with another person. A person who’s travel style is so different from my own.

I may not get to travel abroad as often as I’d like to these days, but all those lessons learned in far off places are helping me better connect with what is now my home. To be able to manage those feelings of home sickness, to explore like a tourist when I can, to make fast friends like I would abroad, to have a sense of place and to let all of that continue molding me into a person who will never stop exploring.

Jenn is an East Coast girl blogging at Near and Far Montana about making a life out west. By day she's a newspaper reporter and spends the rest of her time chasing puppies, feeding chickens and teaching kids to figure skate.

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