Journey with Purpose: Visit Thailand & Help End Child Sex Trafficking with ECPAT International

Hello fellow travelers!

I’m teaming up with ECPAT International with the mission of helping to end child sex trafficking in the travel industry. Today I’m coming to you all with an exciting new travel/volunteering opportunity for those of you looking to learn more about this issue and participate in a program that will not only allow you to visit one of my favorite countries in the world, but also provides great insights into the nature of child sex trafficking and support for the organizations looking to abolish it.

Thailand has always been one of my favorite destinations, but I’ve always been particularly bothered by the level of human trafficking, sex work and child sex work that I’ve encountered during my travels through Thailand and Southeast Asia in general. This is a huge part of the reason I’ve become involved with ECPAT International, whose core mission is predicated around ending child sex trafficking globally. I’m particularly excited to help ECPAT with their journey for good initiative, which combines two of my great passions: travel and providing meaningful, valuable opportunities for children and women around the world.

Read below for more information about this trip, and please click around! If you know of anyone who might be interested I highly encourage you to share this information with them; this is an amazing opportunity and a portion of the trip cost goes directly to benefit the organizations working to end child sex trafficking around the world.


Travel with a Philanthropic Twist
Explore the world and be a part of advocating against child trafficking and exploitation by signing up now for our next tour of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai!  ECPAT-USA has partnered with socially responsible tour operator AltruVistas to give travelers the trip of a lifetime. This is just the ticket for those who want a more meaningful travel experience while making the world a better place.
Check out a few highlights and the itinerary of our upcoming ECPAT Advocacy Journey (11/27-12/7) which is now open for registration. The 11-day journey is focused on giving participants a glimpse at how modern day travel is combating modern day slavery. We witnessed how emotionally powerful these tours can be, and it is a life-changing experience. You will have the opportunity to:
  • Visit Child Life, an NGO led by Kru Nam that provides direct intervention for children at risk in Maesai, Northern Thailand at the border with Myanmar. We’ll learn about intervention and prevention strategies being used in local communities to keep children safe.
  • Spend the day with the Mirror Foundation, an NGO run by Thai hill tribe staff that works to protect ethnic minorities. We’ll learn about the group’s anti-trafficking efforts and enjoy dinner and cultural dancing together.
  • Enjoy a meal at Cabbages & Condoms Restaurant, a social enterprise that promotes acceptance of family planning. We’ll get to talk to representatives from the International Labor Organization and to learn more about the overlap of labor trafficking and sexual exploitation involving children in Thailand.
  • Experience a variety of cultural excursions, such as visiting an elephant conservation center and touring the Grand Palace, temples, and local markets.
Are you ready to pack your bags for a life-altering journey to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai!? Sign up today and join us as we make this world a better place.
One more way to get involved!
SOLD, starring Gillian Anderson and David Arquette, is a story of a girl who is trafficked from her village in Nepal to a brothel in Kolkata, India. Through the service TUGG, you can set up a showing of SOLD at your local theater, and turn it into a benefit for ECPAT-USA! Screening SOLD is a great way to raise awareness about the issue of trafficking and talk about what we can do to end it.  To get started and request a screening guide, email 
Please help create a world where no child is bought, sold, or used for sex. Your commitment enables us to give children freedom. Press the donate button on our home page Thank you for your support.




Bucket List Adventure: Stand-up Paddle Boarding in Colorado!

Last month I turned 24, and in the spirit of trying new things every year, I decided I wanted to do something exciting that I’ve never done before. I had tons of adventures in my 23rd year of life–skydiving, hiking, zorbing, exploring movie sets, playing with tigers, communing with elephants, volunteering in Thailand and getting an up-close and personal introduction to Australian wildlife–and while I know that this year is going to be a little less exotic, I still want to do things that push me as a person, mentally and physically. Just because I’m not actively traveling at the moment doesn’t mean that my life can’t still be exciting and full of new adventures, and I’m determined to keep finding activities that will challenge me and push me out of my comfort zone.

It didn’t take long for me to decide what my first adventure as a 24 year old would be: stand-up paddle boarding or SUP, for short. As a birthday present to myself, I bought a GoPro and decided to christen it on the day trip to Bear Creek Lake Park, which is about 35 minutes outside of Denver.  My friend Erica was visiting from Massachusetts, so we headed out to the park in the early afternoon. Paddle board rentals are a little bit steeply priced there–$20 per hour–but the surroundings were gorgeous and our wait time wasn’t outrageously long. It was a Saturday, so it was slightly more crowded than it would probably be on a weekday, but the lake didn’t feel like it was absolutely overrun with people, which was a definite bonus!

Actually finding the little lake where you rent the paddle boards can be a little bit tricky, but we figured it out after a few minutes and then went to the boat rental building and put our names in. The wait was about 20 minutes, which was slightly inconvenient but did give us time to reapply sunscreen and let it soak in before we headed out into the extra-strong Colorado sunshine! When we finally got the boards we were a little bit nervous about actually using them; loads of people around us were taking lessons, but we hadn’t bothered with that and were just winging it.

To my surprise, stand-up paddle boarding is crazy easy! It takes a little while to figure out what strokes will push you in which direction, but the learning curve is pretty gentle and before long we were able to get ourselves moving, turning around, etc. We had tons of fun exploring the little lake and I think that this activity would be SUPER fun to do on a lazy river, especially while traveling. I’m definitely going to be seeking out SUP when I’m traveling in the future–I’d love to do it in Southeast Asia or in Hawaii! If you’re interested in trying SUP around the world, I’m going to include a few links to articles below that will give you a little bit more information on key destinations. If you’re not sure you want to try it on vacation, I highly recommend trying to find places near your house to do it–state parks often also offer it, so be sure to do a quick google search for SUP locations near you!

The Travel Channel: World’s Best Stand-Up Paddle Boarding Spots

Outside Magazine: North America’s 10 Best Beginner SUP Spots

The Clymb: The World’s Best Places to Stand-Up Paddle Board

Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Adventure

Price: $20/hr

Value for Money: Average. There are other places where you can rent boards for $12 an hour instead of $20, and I’d say thats a much better value. 

Suitable for: Everyone! It doesn’t require much skill, and if you’re really nervous you can always take a lesson.

Recommend: 100%! Its so much fun and I can’t wait to do it again.

Extras: All photos in this article taken with a GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition.

Hiking Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado

Click for larger image!
Click for larger image!

Its been raining for almost a month (yes, a whole f****** month) here in Denver, but we FINALLY got a reprieve last weekend! After checking the weather report and seeing that thunderstorms weren’t on the horizon until about 2 pm, I asked my high school bestie Andie to come out early on Sunday morning so that we could get a nice hike and lunch in before the rain came back. We decided the night before that we’d go to Table Mountain, which boasts easy-to-advanced hikes and stunning views. It’s only about 30 minutes from Denver and dog-friendly, which was a must, as my little buddy Willie was desperate for a nice, long walkie!

Our original plan was to hike for about two hours, maybe a little bit less, but straight up and down. We parked, unadvisedly, near the neighborhood access on an nondescript side-road. We learned later that there’s an actual parking lot with amenities like port-o-potties and the like, which is 100% where we will park next time! Its a long drive from Denver and not having a bathroom at the beginning of the trail was basically torture.

Anyway, at our jumpoff point there was only a small posting about trails and whatnot, without any real marking as to where we were or what paths went where. This was exceptionally confusing when it came to deciding which direction we were meant to go in to start our hike, which we thought would be about three miles. Ultimately we made the wrong choice and ended up on the North Table Loop, which is said to be 5.9 miles long, but in actuality ended up being about 8 miles. In spite of not being the trail we’d anticipated doing, the hike was scenic and beautiful, and was a great workout to boot! We really felt like we earned our lunch!

The beginning of our hike was pretty easy and almost entirely flat. Occasionally we’d run into another hiker or a small cluster of people, and at one point we were overtaken by horses, but other than that it was peaceful and quiet. Midway through the hike things became increasingly difficult, and there was a marginal but steady uphill stretch that lasted for about a mile, which fully wiped Andie and me out, but the little dog was having a grand old time! Eventually we found the entrance to the park, and pushed on reinvigorated to the last quarter of our hike. By this point we’d been hiking way longer than intended and could see a thunderstorm approaching over the opposite set of mountains, inconveniently as we were passing a field of giant, metal electric towers. Fortunately no one was hurt, but it definitely put a hustle in our steps!

When we finished we loaded back up in the car–very muddy dog included–and headed into town for some lunch. We got to Sherpa House at 2pm, only 30 minutes before they closed, but were SO excited to find out that they still had their lunch buffet on, for $9.99 all you can eat! I ordered a chai in addition to the food I picked out–some memorable favorites included the Chicken Tikka Masala, a tasty spinach dish, some Onion Bajhi (onions battered with chickpea flour and deep fried–I probably ate 6+ of them, they were out-of-this-world delicious!) and potatoes that were covered in what appeared to be a yogurt sauce. I’m gluten free, so Naan was out of the question, but the Onion Bajhi totally covered my craving for carbs!

Very full and already sore, we got back into the car and hustled back to Denver, where I proceeded to get a 90-minute massage for $12.50 (yes, you read that right!) at the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado with my sister. All in all it was an amazing day, in spite of the threatening weather and the unexpected ruggedness of the hike, and the massage after the hike was exactly what I needed to recover!







Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Adventure–hiking!

Price: Free + Cost of lunch and gas. 

Value for Money: A++

Suitable for: Everyone! There are easier hikes you could do with kids. Probably not a great activity for mobility-disabled people.

Recommend: Absolutely! Hiking in Golden is great and I’d go back just to get lunch at Sherpa House!

The Backpacker’s Mini-Guide for Rotorua, New Zealand



Located a few hours’ drive out of Auckland, Rotorua is a mecca for backpackers, adventure travelers, nature lovers and luxury travelers alike. Situated in the midst of one of the most tectonically active regions in the world, Rorotua boasts thermal parks, hot springs and mud pools, many of which can be enjoyed by tourists on any budget. In recent years Rotorua has become something of a pilgrimage destination for Lord of the Rings fans, eager to see for themselves the locations that director Peter Jackson earmarked as his top choice for the backdrop of his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Adventure junkies can explore nearby glowworm caves or go ZORBING, and in their down time rent bikes and explore the Redwood Forests, which are free and open to the public. Whether you’re interested in BEING A HOBBIT FOR A DAY IN THE SHIRE or getting a healthy dose of culture in the cradle of Maori territory, Rotorua has a little something for everyone. My guide offers advice on where to stay and what to do in the city, offering both budget activities and a few splurge activities for good measure.

Where to Stay:

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

Crash Palace is my go-to recommendation for backpacker’s lodging in Rotorua. Located just off the main drag, Crash Palace has the advantage of being spacious, comfy, welcoming and quiet. It’s a short five minutes’ walk from the nearest grocery store (where you can pick up ingredients to cook in one of their two fantastic kitchens) and a two minutes’ walk away from the town center, where you can catch the bus to activities located outside of town, including Zorbing and nature walks, or rent a bike so that you can go exploring without having to rent a car.

The atmosphere inside Crash Palace is great; the first floor is open and comfortably appointed, with a combined dining and movie-watching room, a smaller room with a pool table just off reception,  a kitchen, a toilet, a computer room and an outside patio with a hot tub. Guests are given a key code that they can use to get upstairs, where the rooms are located. The owner and manager of the hostel is friendly and happy to answer any questions you have about the hostel, about Rotorua and about the activities accessible from the area. Crash Palace is hooked up with loads of great deals and discounts, including a reduced rate for Hobbiton and $10 off OGO (Zorbing).

The hostel offers free wifi, which is a huge bonus for New Zealand and a major relief for backpackers who are tired of paying out the nose for internet access. I would definitely recommend having your own computer, though, as the computer in their computer room can run a little slowly if you need to back things up or upload images. The hostel also runs a nightly program for its guests, which can range from a free family dinner to pub crawls to movie nights. Pasta and rice are always available from the front desk for free, and alcohol can be purchased from the front desk bar as well.

What to Do:



As a minor-league nerd, I have to say that my favorite paid activity in Rotorua was going to Hobbiton. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of Lord of the Rings, the Hobbiton tour is one of Rotorua’s must-dos. The tour I did picked me up right at my hostel on the way, giving us bits of information about the tour as we neared the farm on which the movie set is located. The set itself is beautiful, nestled in the rolling hills of New Zealand’s countryside, and the Hobbit holes look cozy enough to live in! Spend some time ambling around the Shire, snap a few shots of Bag End, listen to your guide’s super-informative facts about the set and the creation of the movies, then end your day with a complimentary cider, ale or ginger beer at the Green Dragon. If you’re interested in learning more about exploring Hobbiton, check out my in-depth post about it HERE.



Although I loved everything that I did in Rotorua, Ogo stands out to me as something very quintessentially Rotoruan. Ogo,  better known internationally as Zorbing, was founded in our very own Rotorua, which remains one of the few places where you can actually have an authentic Zorbing experience. So what’s Zorbing, you might ask? Zorbing is essentially rolling down a hill in a giant, soft-plastic hamster ball. It’s crazy fun and a great activity to do at any age, and would be a great activity for families with hard-to-please children. If you’re interested in learning more about Ogo/Zorbing, check out my detailed blog post about it HERE.

Hot Springs:

hot spring

If you’re lucky enough to have a car or know someone who has a car, I would highly recommend driving out to Kerosene Creek or the Hot-and-Cold thermal pools, which are located about twenty minutes outside of Rotorua Town. The hot pools are free and open 24 hours a day, which makes them great spots to lounge around on a lazy Sunday afternoon or on a romantic date night.  They can be a little bit tricky to locate and aren’t maintained to touristy standards, as some other for-profit thermal pools are, but they are absolutely worth the effort! Visiting the thermal pools was one of the highlights of my trip and, when I was there, were enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Pro tip: if you’re visiting at night be sure to bring flashlights and candles with you, as there is no artificial lighting on-site.

Redwood Forest:


Another free activity located just a twenty minutes’ walk from the Rotorua City Center and Crash Palace. The Redwood Forest is an absolute treat, with walking paths for varying levels of endurance and fitness (ranging from 30 minutes to 8 hours, ouch!). The forest itself is beautiful and huge, with massive Redwood trees sprouting up around aquamarine colored creeks. The Redwood Forest is truly something out of a fairy tale and makes for a great natural escape.

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland:


Tour busses run to the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland several times a day, and I’d recommend going in the morning in order to catch their daily Lady Knox geyser show. The Thermal Wonderland is chock full of amazing, other-worldly geological oddities, including the toxic looking Devil’s Hole, the brilliant orange geothermal pool and the super-hot mud pools. There are three walks available to Thermal Wonderland explorers, ranging from 30 to 75 minutes.

Maori Village:

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

While I did not personally attend any of the Maori evening shows, I heard that they were absolutely incredible and offer an up-close-and-personal introduction to Maori culture. The buffet dinner is apparently to die for and the shows are said to be fantastic as well. This would be very much worth a look if you’re interested in learning more about the culture of the Maori people.

The Government Gardens:

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

The Government Garden is a gorgeous, sprawling park just outside Rotorua City Center. It’s a nice place to take a walk, featuring some of its own thermal activity, which you can view free of charge. Best when explored in the daytime, as it can be a little dangerous come nighttime.

Ending Notes:

Even though I only had five days in Rotorua, this little city absolutely won my heart. With friendly citizens, natural wonders and Hobbity delights abound, I found myself getting incredibly comfortable with Rotorua and its surrounding areas. Crash Palace is the ideal place for backpackers to stay given its proximity to attractions, its cost and its closeness to the grocery store, which is key for travelers on a budget. Overall an amazing place to spend a couple days, though I certainly could have spent a lot longer there and am dying to go back!


Bucket List Item: Zorbing in Rotorua, New Zealand!

New Zealand is commonly renown for being the adventure capital of the world, and they’ve gone to great lengths to earn the name. One of my personal favorite offbeat adventure activities was invented in Rotorua, New Zealand, and predominantly involves two things: a giant, human-scaled plastic hamster ball and a hill. The premise behind the activity is pretty simple; you get the ball up to the top of the hill, get inside and then roll down the hill. Its called zorbing, and it’s actually super awesome.


When going on my Zorb adventure, I decided I’d go straight to the source. I went with a company called Ogo, whose founder was the inventor of the Zorb ball. I guess I was oversimplifying the balls by just saying they were giant plastic hamster balls; they’re actually pretty complex inventions that involve an inner and outer chamber and a lot of cushy spokes that probably are the thing that are keeping the whole contraption together. The balls are made of a thick but soft industrial-strength plastic, strong enough that it won’t puncture if it hits rocks or other small objects on the ground. The balls also ensure that the Zorber never hits the ground as they’re tumbling around, which my bum was very grateful for! The track itself is also a little more advanced than your average hill, but its still not a whole lot more than a glorified hill. The Sidewinder track has some man-made moguls dug into it that force the Zorb ball to change directions every fifteen-ish seconds, while the straight hill just has a simple, straight track dug out, with up-raised sides to keep the ball from veering off path.


After convincing my friend Marie, who was staying at Crash Palace with me, to come with, we went down to the reception of our hostel to book the trip and pick up a 10% off discount voucher. (Tip: If you’re considering going Zorbing, check with the staff at your hotel or hostel to see if they offer any discounts, as it can save you a load of money with minimal effort!). Even though we were going at the tail end New Zealand’s winter, we were slated to do the water Zorb, where the instructor fills the ball partway with water to give you a waterslide-esque ride. It was a little bit chilly out, so we made sure to wear warm clothes to the Ogo location, knowing that we’d want to be warm after our rides. We also packed a small bag to take with us, containing a t-shirt/tank top, a bathing suit, shorts, a towel and a pair of flip flops, then we were set to go! From Rotorua city center we caught the bus, and rode it for about ten or fifteen minutes before we were dropped off at Ogo.


When we got to Ogo we made our way over to the little reception building, which was surrounded by some changing rooms, two full-size hot tubs, a few bean bags and a functional stove, provided for the comfort of those who were there to give moral support to the Zorbers, but didn’t want to go Zorbing themselves. We approached by a friendly member of their staff, who gave us a full introduction to the Zorbing experience and gave us some information about our options.

We could choose to do any number of rides, which are admittedly a little bit steeply priced. The straight track cost NZ$45 per ride, and the Sidewinder track cost NZ$65 for a ride, but the combined price for a Sidewinder and straight ride is NZ$80. The video was another NZ$30 on top of that, but we were pretty happy to pay the price to chronicle our first Zorbing experience! I probably wouldn’t pay the money to video it again, but having one photographic account of our Zorbing adventure was definitely worth it. (Note: you’re allowed to take pictures with your own camera as well, and they’d probably even let you take your own GoPro if you asked nicely. Not 100% sure on that, but it’s worth asking either way!)


We ended up deciding that we wanted to do two rides each, and chose a solo ride on the straight track, then a joint ride down the Sidewinder. We quickly changed into our bathing suits and spare tank top and shorts, then headed out to the platform in front of the Zorbing tracks. Marie went up first while I waited down below, equipped with my camera and my curiosity. Finally, she came down the hill and I handed off my camera to her, and she couldn’t stop talking about how awesome it was! Excited, I followed another staff member into a truck, which was thankfully coated in plastic to keep the seats from getting wet. We drove up to the top of the hill and the instructor filled the ball up with water, then told me to dive in.

Pre-zorb and ready to go!
Pre-zorb and ready to go!

Getting into the Zorb balls is definitely kind of an awkward experience; you literally have to dive in head first, like you would into a swimming pool, except that you’re generally dry and end up getting stuck on the damp plastic, forced to wiggle your way through like a beached whale. I imagine the Zorb instructors probably get a good laugh out of it sometimes, though mine was nice enough not to laugh outright at my awkward struggles, at least not loudly enough that I could hear him.

After a little finagling I finally got into the ball and the instructor handed me my GoPro, showing me how to use it briefly before closing up the ball and rolling it onto the track. And then I was lurched into motion, spinning and slipping and sliding around, all while trying to smile and look presentable for my video. It didn’t work, and I ended up just laughing and squeaking and being an all around messy nightmare as I tumbled down the hill, video be damned. And it was so much fun! Unfortunately I don’t have the video on new new computer, but I might be able to upload it for posterity at a future date.

After my first Zorb ride grinning (and posing) like its my job.
After my first Zorb ride grinning (and posing) like its my job.

When my ride was done I was rolled back toward the unloading area, then birthed my way out of the ball feet-first, plopping ungracefully on the ground with flailing legs like a baby giraffe. Marie had made that part look easy, but it definitely was not! I gathered myself up again all the same and posed for a few photos before heading back over to Marie, where we finally gushed together about how much fun it was. We took a quick break to jump in the hot tubs to warm up while the staff got busy setting up the next ride. After a few minutes we got back into the truck and were driven back up to the top of the hill, bringing the camera with to snap a few shots of the amazing view from the top of the hill before we piled awkwardly into the double Zorb ball. We repeated the GoPro process, but I let Marie hold the camera this time, as I was pretty terrible at doing it the first time, then shuffled our way onto the track.

Marie and I just before our Sidewinder ride.
Marie and I just before our Sidewinder ride.

Even though I thought the ride couldn’t get better than it had the first time, it did! It was way more fun doing it with another person, and the Sidewinder track was longer and more interesting than the first one. All in all we went for about a minute and a half, getting thrown around and laughing together the whole time. Thankfully we didn’t ever bump heads or anything equally traumatic, though we were a little bit dizzy by the time we got to the bottom.

Cozying up on the beanbags post-Zorb.
Cozying up on the beanbags post-Zorb.

We snapped a few more photos at the end of our ride before headed back into the hot tubs to warm up one last time, then went to get changed while our photos and videos were being loaded onto the computer. When we were finally warm and dry, we came back out to watch the video and to look at the photos, then decided we only wanted to buy the video pack. We caught the bus back into town not too long after, still giddy from how much fun our little outing had been.

Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Adventure/Fun

Price: NZ$80 for two rides (Sidewinder and Straight), NZ$65 for Sidewinder only, NZ$45 for Straight only, NZ$99 for three rides. Photo/video is NZ$30. 

Value for Money: Average. Its a must-do at least once, but the price is still pretty high for the activity/how long it lasts.

Suitable for: Everyone! This would be super fun to do with kids or friends, as a couple or as a family!

Recommend: You definitely, absolutely have to do this if you’re in New Zealand! Maybe not so great if you’re prone to motion sickness, but I didn’t have any problem with it when I went.

Hobbit for a Day(trip)


Years before a trip to New Zealand was in the cards for me, I knew that I wanted to go explore the now-preserved movie set depicting The Shire, or the place where Hobbits live, in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. I was always a big Lord of the Rings fan as a kid, and getting to explore the Shire and have a drink at the Green Dragon was basically my nerdy dream come true. I wasn’t dedicated enough to put together a costume for the affair, but a surprising number of people did!


My trip to Hobbiton started in Rotorua, where I was staying for a couple of nights at a hostel called Crash Palace, which I highly recommend. I booked my tour at reception and was told they were going to come at 1:10 to pick me up. Unfortunately, I thought they’d said 1:30 and missed my bus, but the driver was amazing and came back around for me on his way out of town (even though this definitely made me feel like “that girl,” but it was nice that I was able to go to Hobbiton on my planned tour all the same). The drive to Hobbiton was about 45 minutes long, so I got a quick nap in on the way there.


When we arrived, we reassembled our tour group and were introduced formally to our guide, who told us all about the history of the set and some little notes and anecdotes about the set throughout the filming experience. We ambled along the dirt paths around the clusters of hobbit holes for a little while, learning about the props, which have all become permanent fixtures of the Hobbiton-area experience. The set has been built and re-built multiple times; Peter Jackson is something of a perfectionist, and it definitely shows! The first time the set was dismantled was after the release of the final installment of the Lord of the Rings movies, and was put back into action in 2010, when the new Hobbit trilogy was in the works. The second re-build of the set took two years to complete, and Bag End was rebuilt several more times on top of that.


The hobbit holes are all different sizes, craftily constructed in order to force perspective— that is, to make the hobbits look small and Gandalf look large. Bag End was repeatedly rebuilt in the same location in order to accommodate the height differences between Gandalf and the hobbits. When one of my fellow tourists asked why they had to rebuild Bag End so many times instead of just making two differently sized holes in comparable locations, our guide explained that it was actually the movie’s super-fan base that had forced them to do it, in an effort to prevent nitpicky fans from creating websites citing inconsistencies or flaws with the set design or sequencing in the films. I don’t want to ruin all the fun facts for anyone who’s interested in doing the tour themselves, so I’ll leave you guys with that!


We took a brief pitstop at Bag End, long enough to re-enact a scene from the movies and share a little more trivia. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go into the hobbit holes, as most of them were only two or so meters deep and had been closed off when the crews finished filming. We could, however, go into the recreated Green Dragon at the end of the tour, which definitely made up for not being able to see what the holes had been like during filming. The interior was beautifully done, and our tours included a free drink of ale, cider or ginger beer at the end. I opted for a cider, and lavished in the idea of getting to have a pint in the idyllic pub from my favorite childhood stories.


After a few more minutes we left the Green Dragon and went back to the bus, which drove us out to the visitor’s center and souvenir shop (and one last opportunity to go to the bathroom) before we drove the 45 minutes back to Rotorua. Even though it was only a short day trip, it was one of the coolest/nerdiest things I did in New Zealand, and I had so much fun learning about the production, the set and the films. All in all it was a great way to spend an afternoon, and I would probably even do it again if I get the chance!


Bucket List Info:

Activity Type: Tour

Price: NZ$110

Value for Money: High value for me because I love the books and film, but maybe less so for someone who isn’t as interested.

Suitable for: Everyone!

Recommend: I would highly recommend this activity for anyone who loves The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, movie sets, and/or people who want to experience something a little bit different in the New Zealand countryside.

City Guide: Budapest!

City Guide: Budapest



Its no secret that Budapest is my favorite city in the entire world. Brimming with trendy, tasty restaurants, great cultural and historical landmarks and tours, amazing bars and clubs, and a very picturesque downtown area, Budapest really gives the traveler the whole package. Its also extremely affordable, and you get a lot for your money! Whether you’d rather spend the day touring museums, eating your way through the city or relaxing at one of the many beautiful thermal spas, Budapest always has something great on offer, and you’ll find yourself wanting to come back again and again.

What to do:


Budapest offers a lot of free walking tours, hosted by the Free Walking Tour company (no surprise there). These tours are super high-value, and last for 2.5-3 hours each. They offer a city walking tour, a communism walking tour, a Jewish Quarter tour, a pub tour (which is apparently different from a pub crawl), and a variety of private paid tours as well. These tour guides work for tips only, so make sure to toss them a few thousand forint for their effort (1,000-2,000 ft or US$4-8 is an average tip, and a good bargain to boot). The guides are friendly, funny and extremely knowledgable, and their tours are both educational and interesting. The free tours start at Vorosmarty Ter, which is near the Jewish Quarter and the river and marks the end of the Yellow Line of the Metro. 



Szechenyi Baths and Spa and City Park:

Going to the baths is an amazing way to spend a day. The baths offer a ft 4,000 (~US$16) day pass to go into the spas, though they will try and get you to take a tour for a much, much higher price (~US$40/day and upwards). These baths are beautiful, relaxing and you can choose whether you want to experience the outdoor baths, the indoor baths or both! You can also choose to add on massages or other services while you’re there, and its a great way to spend the day. Pair it with a nice walk around the surrounding park and you’ve got your morning/day sorted!

Click through for source of image.

Cruise along the Danube:

Tons of boat companies offer cruises and tours along the river. My personal favorites are the night cruises, where you can see Parliament and Buda Castle lit up at night. Most tours include a free drink. During the day time you can take a trip to the Margit Island, where you can go walking or biking. Your boat should come back to pick you up around an hour to an hour and a half later.

Castle Hill:

Take an afternoon to go explore Castle Hill and the surrounding areas and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the city. There’s also an open-air exhibit about what Castle Hill looked like after the bombings during WWII, which you can take a casual stroll through free of cost. There’s a funicular that can take you up and down the hill, but there are also stairs, which are free and only take seven or so minutes to climb up.You can also take a look at Matthias Church, which has some pretty cool features and might be worth the entry fee. Hint: the views of Budapest from the pavilion by Matthias Church can’t be beaten, and you can see them for free!

Hero Square:

Free and open-air Heroes Square is one of Budapest’s must-see sites. It sits at the end of Andrassy Boulevard, and can be seen on the way to the spas and the park.

House of Terror:

A moving museum about the history of Hungary during and after Nazi and Soviet occupation. Sobering and well worth the look, but sometimes a little bit difficult to follow for English speakers.


 Caving under Budapest:

A good activity for those who like caving, but not great if you’re claustrophobic or afraid of the dark.

Seeing an Opera:

In Budapest, you can get Opera tickets for as little as $3, which is great if you’re on a budget but interested in getting a bit of culture. Other tickets can be more expensive, and if you really want a comfortable seat and a good view, its worth it to pay a little more for your ticket.

Zoo and Botanic Garden:

The Budapest Zoo and Botanic Garden are a single item that are definitely worth a look if you have an extra morning or afternoon. It costs 2500 HUF, or US$10. There’s a lot of cool species in there, some of which I’d never even heard of before! Bonus feature: they have an Australian-themed petting zoo with wallabies and emus.

Holocaust Memorial Center:

The name of this site is essentially what it is, but the museum itself offers an in-depth look at what happened to Hungary’s Jewish population during the second world war and the Holocaust. Its a little far out on the Buda side of town, but worth a look if you’re interested.

Where to eat:

Eating in Budapest is always a treat, with hundreds of fantastic restaurants, food stalls and pubs to eat at. The city itself is multi-cultural and enjoys the gastronomical rewards. Authentic Hungarian food cooked in lard, The following are a few of my tried-and-true favorites, and will accommodate most tastes and dietary restrictions.


KisParazs is a Hungarian-run Thai food restaurant with some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had, superseding even a good amount of the food I had while actually in Thailand. Fresh, flavorful and cheap, this is one of my favorite restaurants in the entire world. I recommend the Tom Kha Gai soup, which my dad claims is the “best he ever had,” as a starter, followed by any one of the curries. If you like spice, I’d recommend the Lap Gai (minced chicken salad). My go-to dish there is their rice-noodle soup with chicken or pork, and their peanut sauce for chicken sate is out of this world as well.

Köleves Vendéglö Stonesoup Restaurant:

Located in the Jewish District on Kazinczy Utca, this restaurant was an absolute gem! The interior sports a cozy vintage look, and the menu is smallish but jam-packed with gluten free, vegetarian and kosher-friendly options. The food itself is fantastic, starting with a complimentary basket of homemade bread with a garlicky spread. I can personally and wholeheartedly recommend the farm chicken with fresh sheep cheese and roast pepper salad, which also comes with potatoes (but I’d order the mashed potatoes instead, which are out of this world!). The portions are good-sized and I even had some to take home with me for lunch the next day.


Arriba Taqueria:

Another great choice, especially for lunch. Arriba has a variety of Chipotle-esque Mexican dishes, including taquitos, burritos, chips and salsa and quesadillas. They also have a margarita happy hour, which accompanies the food fabulously.

The Central Market:  The ground floor of the market has a variety of sausages, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, spices and sweets, and the top part has knick-knacks and some really tasty prepared food stalls. A good place to pick up ingredients for a picnic lunch!



Located in Elizabeth Square/Park, Terminal now stands where a communist-era bus station once stood. The food is a little pricy, but was some of the best food we ate on our whole trip! I had the duck breast with quinoa and pomegranate beetroot, which I’d highly recommend, and had their sparkling rose wine as well, which was equally fantastic. They even had a gluten-free raspberry cake for dessert, which was right up my alley!

Decor inside Terminal.

Where to stay:

For backpackers: I will always and forever recommend the Budapest Party Hostels. When I first came to Budapest in 2013, I’d booked four nights in at Retox Party Hostel and made myself at home. Two weeks later I was still there, and two months later I came back for more. The staff at the hostels are amazing, inclusive, informative and most definitely know how to have a good time. The hostels run events nightly, including pub crawls, party boats down the Danube, and spa parties at the beautiful Szechenyi Baths. Retox itself can be a little rough around the edges and very full-on when it comes to partying, but there are other hostels in the chain, including Grandio and Vitae, that may offer tamer experiences. If you’re not looking to go out at all, I’d suggest Wombats or somewhere a little more low-key.

For non-backpackers: The 7Seasons apartments are a great choice for a stay in Budapest. The apartments are fairly spacious, and include full kitchens with dishwashers, ensuite bathrooms, an in-room washing machine, large, plush beds, fast and free wifi, and televisions, though we weren’t able to figure out how to get them to be dubbed into English instead of Hungarian. The apartments are conveniently located in the Jewish Quarter, a five minute walk from Erzsebet Ter, a 0-10 minute walk away from some amazing restaurants (including Köleves Vendéglö, which I talk about in more detail below), a 10 minute walk from the river and Chain Bridge, and short walks to many other attractions. Relatively inexpensive and a great value.

Nightlife & Going Out:


There are literally hundreds or thousands of places to go out in Budapest, so I’ll just name a few of my favorites. Most of my going-out experiences were with Retox Party Hostel, and they definitely did things right!

Ruin Bars: Szimpla is one of the bigger and better-known ruin bars in Budapest, but there are apparently more than 50 in total. You can do a ruin bar pub crawl with a group or simply create your own. Another one of my favorite ruin bars is Instant, which is decorated with some out-there, funky art installations.

Morrison’s 2: One of a series of bars that does brutally strong cocktails and

Akvarium Club: Located near Terminal in Elizabeth Ter (metro stop Deak Ter), this is a nice, retro-themed place to get a drink. You can sit outside on the stairs or inside if its cold, but its definitely a nice place to hang out.

Retox Bar: Probably an obvious recommendation, but Retox has a nice bar, English-speaking bar staff, yummy cocktails and good prices.


Corvin Tetö: A kind of generic club that usually does some pretty decent music. All in all not a bad night out, especially as it gets later!

Vak Egar: A fun little bar/mini-club in the Jewish District.

Budapest’s Special Nights Out:

SPArty: The Szechneyi Baths host a spa party on Saturday nights in warm weather. Its like a massive pool party rave and its pretty unreal, definitely recommended for backpackers and young people!

Party Boat: Cruise down the Danube with a bottle of champagne! Its a good time and an absolutely beautiful boat ride.

Going out tip: this tip is probably more pertinent to men than woman, but I don’t judge! Strip clubs in Budapest are a massive scam; the girls will try to get you to buy them drinks, then will essentially have bouncers trap you in there until you pay them upwards of 50,000 HUF (US$200). Hungarian bouncers are not people to f**k with, so just stay away!

Going out tip #2: On a similar theme, don’t be an a**hole. As I said before, Hungarian bouncers are not people you want to mess around with, and they will be firm with you if you’re being problematic.

Going out tip #3: Be sure you know how to get home before you go out! Budapest can e a confusing city, so keep your wits about you enough to get home. Also, refrain from taking your valuables with you, as you likely won’t have them any more by the time you stumble home.

Decoration at Instant Ruin Pub.

Tips & things to be aware of:

1. Budapest is a very safe city. All the same, it’s always a good idea to be aware of yourself and of your surroundings, so stay alert and you should be fine! As always, don’t keep phones or wallets in your back pocket and count your change carefully.

2.  Taking public transport in Budapest makes traveling in the city a breeze, but it takes a little getting used to! If you have a big day planned, its best to buy a day pass instead of single tickets. A day pass (and the single tickets) are appropriate for any of the city’s public transportation units, including the metro, trams and busses. If using a single ticket, you will need a new ticket for every stop you make, and will need to validate a new ticket every time you make a stop or change trains/trams/busses. If you get a day pass you only need to validate it once, but be sure to keep it on you the entire time you’re traveling. You can get fined for not having a valid ticket, and it’s not a scam!

3. Watch your zeros! Any time you get a bill, make sure there’s the proper number of zeros at the end of the prices listed for your purchases. Adding zeros is a super sneaky way to get a lot more money out of you, and its an easy way to prevent being scammed.

4. Check your restaurant bills to see if service has been added. Customary tipping in Budapest is about 10%, and a lot of the time it will be added to the bill in advance. If it has, you do not need to tip extra.

5. Do the free walking tours! They’re super informative and the guides are all great. Just be sure to tip your guides at the end!

6. Eat in the Jewish Quarter. The food there is amazing and a little bit cheaper than some other more touristed areas.

7. Don’t cross the street on a red light! Always wait for the little green walker dude, he’ll save you from getting any pesky USD$50 fines.


Hopefully this guide gave you some good basic information about what’s what in Budapest! These are obviously just recommendations, but I think they’re all pretty solid. I can personally attest to the awesomeness of all these things, and if you have any questions please fire away in the comments section! I’d be happy to help you out and hope that someday soon you’ll be enjoying Budapest, too!

Volunteering at The Dog Rescue Project at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand


About the Program and the Park:

Anyone who knows me knows that my absolute favorite and most highly recommended tourist activity in the entire world is the Elephant Nature Park, located north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. I first visited the park in 2011, when its herd was slightly smaller and fewer tourists were coming through. Since that initial visit, which I wrote about HERE, a lot has changed! There’s more tourists in the park, which is great for animal welfare and has definitely helped this sanctuary to thrive by providing the money and volunteer hours needed to keep all of the animals happy, healthy and safe. There’s also a lot of new volunteer housing, new options for daily and over-night stays (including the Pamper-a-Pachyderm option, which wasn’t available before), and a whole lot more staff running around. One of the biggest (and my personal favorite!) changes, though, was the addition of the Dog Rescue Project, which houses over 420 rescued dogs.


The Dog Rescue Project was started in 2011, just after my first visit to the park. The autumn of that year saw major flooding throughout Bangkok, which left many people and animals out of home and shelter. Many dogs were either separated from their owners, drowning, or otherwise in trouble, and The Elephant Nature Park took them in and created a new home for them at one of the far ends of the park. Today, the Dog Rescue Project has grown from the initial hundred-and-some dogs who were saved from the floods into the cohesive, 420+ dog program that it is today.  The dogs come from many different circumstances; some come from abusive owners, some from the streets, some are saved from the dog meat trade, and some have been poisoned. Regardless of their background, each dog is considered carefully before being placed into his or her new run, is provided with good medical care, and is given an opportunity to live a long, happy life, free from abuse and hunger.


So, what’s it like to be a dog rescue volunteer?

I arrived at the park not really knowing what to expect this time around, but was integrated pretty quickly into the routine. The first few hours that I had at the park were spent with a combination of dog and elephant volunteers. My group and I were given a tour around the park, introduced to a few elephants, and learned a little bit more about how and why the animals had come to the park. After lunch, all of the new visitors to the park watched a video about the phajaan, or the centuries-old system for “crushing” an elephant’s spirit and molding it for human service. The phajaan is the backbone of the current elephant tourist trade, without which elephants cannot be ridden. Even though this blog post isn’t about the treatment of elephants or even about the elephant-y part of the park, I have to put it out there once again: if you’re ever traveling in Asia, please, please, please, please, please! don’t ride an elephant. Its cruel from start to finish, and only serves to hurt the gentle giants that most tourists love. On a lighter note, the elephants that have been lucky enough to find a home at the Elephant Nature Park get to live out the rest of their (hopefully long) lives eating fruit and freely roaming around, and will never be forced to perform for tourists ever again.


But anyway, back to the dogs! After the video I was introduced to my fellow dog volunteers for the week, Izzy, Rebecca and A.J. We also met several longer-term volunteers, all of whom welcomed us and were thankfully very patient with us while we learned the ropes. Big thanks especially go out to Carolina, Ryan, Sabrina and Pedro for making us all feel welcome! We were thrown into the swing of things straight off the bat, which was a little bit overwhelming at first but became normal surprisingly quickly.

Our days went just about the same way for the entire week; we were up and at the main building for breakfast by 7:00 am, then met up at the dog clinic at 8am sharp to start the morning duties. The dog clinic is where dogs are taken if they get injured or get sick while living in their runs, with stay lengths varying between a few hours to longer than a month, depending on the problem. The clinic is divided up into a few different holding pens; in the back there’s the “Gallery,” which has both individual cages for dogs and a tiled, fenced-in area out back for the dogs to play and relieve themselves in when they aren’t being fed or given medicine in their cages. In the front there’s a row of cages with access to dirt-and-grass runs out the back. There’s also a number of cages that don’t have access to the outside, and these dogs were always our first priorities in the morning, as they needed to be walked.

Dr. Yan and Bear anxiously awaiting a walkie in one of the gallery cages!
Dr. Yan and Bear anxiously awaiting a walkie in one of the gallery cages!

When there were enough volunteers available we had people working together to make sure that the dogs were fed, watered and walked as efficiently as possible. Another volunteer would stay back to clean the cages and areas where dogs made messes so that the dogs could return back to comfy, clean cages. This could take anywhere from an hour to several hours, depending on how many volunteers we had on hand and how many elephant volunteers were able to come by to help us with the walking. After we finished walking, feeding and caring for the clinic dogs, we went out to the runs, which can hold anywhere from two dogs to thirty dogs, depending on the size of the run. Here we checked the dogs for ticks, bite wounds, gunky eyes and ears, for white gums and for unusual skinniness. Blood parasites from ticks are common in the tropics, they symptoms of which include weight loss and light-colored gums. Most of the dogs in the Gallery were being treated for the parasites, and treatment lasts for about a month.

De-ticking one of the more lovey dogs in one of the open runs.
De-ticking one of the more lovey dogs in one of the open runs.

At 11:30 or so we’d break for lunch, and when we came back at 1:00 the process starts all over again. We take all the dogs out for their walks, and when we’re finished with walks we could be doing any number of odd jobs; some days we’d go back to the runs to do more tick checks, some days we’d be put in charge of moving dogs from one run to another, and some days we’d just be bathing or playing with the dogs. There was never a lack of things to do, and by 4:30 pm, our clock-out time so to speak, we were always exhausted.


Even though I was only there for a week, I found myself getting super attached to some of the pups and it was definitely hard not to take one home with me! The ENP offers a super-easy dog adoption program for people living in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, and they’ll make all the arrangements for you to pick up your new best friend at your nearest airport. As fantastic of a home as the park is, some of these furry friends would definitely benefit from having a forever home with humans instead of a big pack of dogs.


The Dogs:

And now the fun part! Let me introduce you to some of my absolute favorite furbabies that I got to know. Most of these dogs were in the clinic when I visited, but some were living at the dog volunteer house, and others were just dogs that made a significant impression on me when I met them in their runs.




Bear is a super-sweetie staying in the clinic while I was at the park. He’s affectionate, walks well on a leash, and loves! giving hugs, even though he’s probably a little bit too big and heavy to be giving so many hugs. Some people might find his size and weight a little intimidating, especially when he jumps up to give his hugs, but I couldn’t love him or his hugs more! Bear also walks well on a leash and loves other dogs.



Ayo, the legless wonder dog, is another super-sweet dog. Ayo lives at the volunteer house, and was always amazingly affectionate and agile in spite of having three legs. For the most part she gets along well with other dogs, but apparently has been known to get jealous about her people. All-around very loving and energetic, and definitely very handsome!




Mocha is another dog who lived at the dog rescue house, and is probably the sweetest of them all. Affectionately nicknamed “princess” during our stay, she has an adorable habit of sitting with paws crossed and looking very regal. She also gets along well with other dogs, and is not skittish or afraid of people in the least. Total sweetheart!



Castor was one of the dogs in the runs who absolutely stole my heart. He lived in the run closest to the dog volunteer house, and I always made a point of saying hello before I went home. Castor was just all-around super friendly, loving, and always excited to see people. Another gentle giant, he’s an absolute doll!



Nom lived with Castor in Open Run 9, and was another treat. She loves attention and giving kisses, and would sometimes poke her head all the way through a hole in the chain-link just for a little petting. An absolutely gorgeous sweetheart and gets along well with other dogs!

Unfortunately, I can’t post about all 420+ dogs here, but I can say that most all of them are worth getting to know. Working with the dogs is an extremely emotional experience, and one that’s hard to forget (I even have ENP dog rescue dreams weekly!). Its hard when you fall in love with a dog or two or ten and then have to leave them, and its hard not knowing what their lives are going to be like once you leave. But its also extremely rewarding work, and even when you’re stressed or understaffed or emotionally drained, the dogs’ positive reactions always make it worth it in the end.


How You Can Help

There’s a lot of different ways you can help! Obviously the most rewarding way would be to go and volunteer yourself. The dog rescue project does not get nearly as much attention as the elephant program, but the work is, in my opinion, more meaningful and allows you to directly connect with the animals in a way that you don’t get with the elephant program. But if you are planning a trip to the park and don’t know if the dog project is for you, or if you’re really, really set on doing the elephant program, you can still take an afternoon and come help out with the dogs, or even come just after lunch to help with walking. The dogs (and volunteers) need all the help they can get, and working with them is really underrated.

You can also opt to adopt one of the park dogs, and there’s no shortage of dogs for you to choose from! The park’s website has a small “meet the dogs” section, which you can find HERE. Obviously these are not all the dogs at the park, nor all the dogs available for adoption. Its a good place to start, though, so its worth a look!

If you want to help out but aren’t ready to book your ticket to Thailand just yet and don’t have the time, money or capability to take on a new fluffnugget in your life, you can also SPONSOR A DOG for 1,000-2,000 baht, or about $30USD. You could fund-raise with a charity or group to purchase an expensive item (listed below), or donate money to buy less expensive items. You can also donate any of the following (taken from THIS PAGE on the ENP website):

Expensive $$$ items:

  • Xray machine
  • Xray processor
  • Blood machine
  • Centrifuge
  • Surgery lights
  • Power generator

Mid range $$ items:

  • Cat scales (table top)
  • Various medical supplies
  • Durable dog kennels
  • Small fridge

Small $ items:

  • Medium size dog collars
  • Durable and long leashes
  • Durable toys
  • Stainless steel bowls (lg, med and small)
  • Towels
  • Blankets
  • Bleach
  • Iv extension sets
  • Soffban bandaging
  • Thermometers
  • Dog bedding
  • Dog blankets
  • Cat litter and litter trays


The Low-Down:

Fees & Whats Included: One week’s stay at the Elephant Nature Park with the Dog Rescue Program costs ~$155USD, and includes accommodation, food & water, a t-shirt, a water bottle and a water bottle holder.

Accommodation: Accommodation is on-site in stilt houses. Each room can house 2-3 people, with double and single beds available. The beds all have mosquito netting and there are fans in the rooms.

Working hours per day: 8:00 am until 4:30 pm, with break for lunch.

Food: Buffet-style vegetarian food. Lots of options, very very tasty, but hard to eat gluten free, which was an issue for me. Celiacs beware of the fake meat, or “wheat meat,” as it is most definitely not GF.

Dogs on the dog rescue volunteer's porch.
Dogs on the dog rescue volunteer’s porch.

Bucket List Info:

Activity Type: Volunteering

Value for Money: High value! The food and accommodation alone is given at a pretty cheap price for traveling, the park is gorgeous and you really feel like you’re doing something. Its extremely rewarding and I can’t wait to do it again.

Suitable for: Able-bodied people who love animals and are willing to work hard.

Recommend: Definitely, to anyone and everyone who will listen! Its an amazing experience and the whole ENP set-up is legitimately one of the best non-government organizations (NGO) I’ve ever seen. An amazingly good cause that’s well-executed and extremely thorough in organization.


Skydiving in Queenstown, New Zealand!

As some of you may already know, I’ve been dying to go skydiving for a very long time! Having done a lot of rock climbing, zip lining and other adventure and thrill-seeking activities in my past, I wanted my skydive to be beyond exceptional. So I went out of my way to save my first skydive for the adventure capital of the world: Queenstown, New Zealand. Luckily for me, the weather in Queenstown was fantastic when I was there in late August, so I had my pick of nice days to dive on.


On the day that I ended up doing my dive I didn’t actually intend on throwing myself out of an airplane at all. I was meant to be going on a relaxed tour of Milford Sound, but my tour company failed to pick me up. So instead I booked myself in for a skydive, with the takeoff time scheduled for one  hour after deciding I was going to be diving. Even though I wasn’t exactly mentally prepared for the dive, it worked out better for me in the long run; having more time to think about what I was about to do would arguably have sent my anxiety sky-high (pun a little bit intended), and I was almost guaranteed good weather conditions, so my dive would both be beautiful and safe.


Tip: the best time to do a skydive is in the morning, as weather tends to change in the mid-to-late afternoon, which means your dive could be cancelled or delayed. Its also best to book your skydive early in your trip, if you’re traveling, so that you don’t hit a patch of bad weather and end up not getting to dive at all!


The company that I jumped with is called Nzone and their office was conveniently located on one of Queenstown’s main drags, Shotover Street. I arrived at 9:00 in the morning for the 9:30 am jump, which was really the 10:25-ish jump. We spent the first half hour going over basic safety protocol and video and picture options before learning a little bit about what our dive experience was going to be like. After being told your options you get to choose whether you want to do the 12,000ft or the 15,000ft skydive, and I would definitely recommend doing the 15,000ft! I would recommend knowing your weight approximately before you go to dive, as there are weight limits in place for safety reasons. They do have a scale in the office, but it seems like it would be a bit embarrassing to weigh yourself in front of a room full of people, especially if you find out you dont make the cut. The weight limit is 100 kg, or 220 lbs.


At 9:30 our van came to pick us up, and we were driven about 20 minutes to the dive site. It was situated ideally, with mountains flanking both sides of Queenstown’s big, blue lake. The air was clean and crisp, and it was chilly in spite of the sunny weather. Our group of 12 or so was broken up into two groups of 5-6 people, and sent out on two different airplanes. My mini-group was sent out on the second airplane, so we got to relax in their heated lounge and prepare ourselves as we watched the first group go up and down before us.


Fifteen or so minutes later we went to the bathroom one last time, then headed out to get ourselves dressed. Our uniforms were very unfashionable grey jumpsuits, secured at the wrists and ankles with velcro and cinched tight with an oppressively thick harness, which made walking incredibly uncomfortable. We were introduced to our dive instructors, who attached a soft helmet, a pair of goggles and a pair of gloves to our uniforms, and then introduced us to our photographers before setting out on the plane.


The plane ride up was easily the most horrifying part of the entire experience. Before getting into the plane, I’d been relatively calm and collected, moreso than I would have thought knowing I was about to throw myself out of an airplane to freefall for 7,000 ft. But as soon as that plane began to reach altitude, I lost my cool. I was even thinking of backing out then and there, but fortunately was one of the first people out of the plane. Before I knew it my dive instructor was showing me his altimeter, and it was time to suit up. My photographer snapped a picture that does not do my level of panic justice, and then my helmet and goggles were put on.


Within seconds I was shimmied to the side of the plane, and after a super slow count to three, I was suddenly careening out the door of the open aircraft. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been quite as close to passing out as I was right then, looking down at the 12,000 ft between myself and the ground. After getting to the edge, I was shoved out of the plane face first and spend a few horrible seconds summersaulting weightlessly through the air, which was the worst and most disorienting part of the whole experience. After that it was all smooth sailing, without any more flips or other disorienting motions. After a few seconds it didn’t even feel like I was falling any more; instead, it felt like I was floating in an anti-gravity chamber, and the ground was coming at me. Mostly, things just got bigger, and I wasn’t feeling much of anything at all, except for the pressure in my ears from the sudden altitude change.


The freefall lasts for about 45 seconds, until the drive instructor pulls the parachute and you slow down. Once you slow down, you get the opportunity to really take in the scenery around you, which is absolutely amazing! The altitude makes it a little hard to breathe, but unless you have breathing-related illnesses, you might not really be all that bothered by it. After a few minutes of gliding toward the ground with adrenaline pumping, I finally made it safely back to earth. I was shaking hard from the adrenaline, but that went away after about twenty minutes. My dazed smile, on the other hand, wouldn’t budge for almost an hour. I couldn’t stop! It was an absolute amazing experience, and the pictures definitely do not do it


Useful Info:

Activity Type: Adventure!

Price: $339 for 12,000 foot dive (45 second freefall), $439 for 15,000 foot dive (60 seconds freefall), $189 for photos or video, $229 for photo/video combo. (Note: Photos are 20 hard copies from dive in a cool little book, digital images on a USB stick, internet-accessible key code, and 7 postcards. Video is on USB.)

Value for Money: Good, if you’re into that sort of thing. Of course you want to pay a lot of money for safety, but its still hard to stomach paying $500 for anything.

Suitable for: Anyone with a thirst for adventure without bad panic-reactions.

Recommend: Definitely! Probably the best thing I did on my entire trip.

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