Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I sent myself postcards while I was traveling. Did I ever mention that? (Oh, wait. I just checked and it turns out I did mention it!) I thought it would be fun to read them when I got home 1) for the memories and 2) to get a sense of how I was feeling at different times during the trip. I’ve officially been home for three weeks now and finally got around to reading my postcards over the weekend. Well, it’s not so much that I “got around” to it, so much as I was saving them. In the last three weeks, I’ve surprised all the people I needed to surprise, I interviewed for and started a new position, I’ve caught up with a bunch of friends and former colleagues, I’ve unpacked boxes of clothes that had been in storage, and I’ve done heaps of other small errands that have allowed me to settle down a bit and feel at home for the first time in nearly a year. And yes, Scotland is still coming up in less than a month, but for all intents and purposes, my RTW trip is over. Holding onto and saving the postcards was my way of stretching out my experience just a little longer.

My postcards came from Barcelona, Turkey, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, and New Zealand. Pretty dead on for beginning, middle, and end of trip thoughts, although I hadn't planned it that way. There were some common themes as well, but I hadn't planned those either. Early on I talked a lot about getting out of my comfort zone; I'm pretty sure I did that in a big, big way! See: drinking tap water in India, getting over my fear of deep and/or dark water, eating intestines, hedgehogs, and other random things, and getting over my fear of heights for just a few examples.
The other major theme essentially related to me wanting to remind myself that what I experienced on the road doesn't have to end once the trip ends. I could (and probably will) write a whole post about this, but what it boils down to is that there is still a whole lot of world to see and a whole lot out there to do. I wanted to remind myself that this didn't have to be a once in a lifetime opportunity if I didn't want it to be.

The postcards did exactly what I wanted them to do. They took me right back to where I was when I wrote them and they made me see how far I've come - not from a physical perspective, but rather from a personal one.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Now with added detail!

I took a LOT of pictures while I was traveling, probably about 5,000 or so, but not all of those made it on to Flickr (I deleted about a thousand of them that didn't turn out or that I just didn't like) and only a tiny portion of them made it on to the blog (the incredibly slow internet speed in some places would've made it impossible). The other night I was looking through some of the pictures with a friend who didn't read my blog or look at my Flickr page while I was away. How do you share nearly 4,000 pictures with a person without making them comatose with boredom? Well, if you're me, you go straight to the Personal Faves set. It only has 92 pictures in it. :-)

What I realized looking through this set, besides the fact that there are SO many good memories just in that album alone, is that a lot of those pictures were posted without a whole lot of additional information. A shot might be labeled "Fraser Island" and appear in the Australia set as well, but that's it. So I thought I'd share some of the background info on some of my favorite pictures, just to add a little something to the picture.
The picture above was taken three days into the beginning of my trip and was the first shot I took of myself (included in this blog post originally). Oh, okay, there may have been one that someone else took and one other that I took, but this was the only good one. I'd been wandering around this park in Barcelona, saw this cool tree, and decided that I wanted to take a picture with it. What I love about this picture is that I look so damn happy (and look at how short my hair was back then!). Everything was still pretty surreal then and I had to pinch myself to be sure that I wasn't dreaming. It was around the time of this picture that I really started to enjoy myself.

This next picture was taken while I was lost. I know, surprise surprise, right? I'd gotten turned around in Athens on my way to the Acropolis. There was a big main road leading to the Acropolis that I'd seen from a distance, but I had trouble finding it and instead found myself in this little village. The houses and narrow, winding paths themselves were very cool, but thinking about how people had lived in those very houses for thousands of years kind of took my breath away a little. The houses were whitewashed with brightly painted doors and gardens were growing out of every nook and cranny. I was enjoying being lost on this particular day, but what sealed it and made it a personal-fave- worthy photo opportunity was the handwritten sign giving directions to the Acropolis:
One more for today and since I started with surrealism, I'll end with surrealism, too. The day that I left Queenstown, New Zealand for Franz Josef Glacier was an early, foggy start. After about an hour, maybe less, we made our first "comfort stop." I was kind of grumbling to myself about how if we kept making stops like this, it was going to take us forever to get there and jeez, why couldn't we just get a move on? But then I looked up and saw this outside the bus window: 

It was so pretty and ethereal looking that I couldn't help but not be mad. It made me remember that the journey is part of the trip, if that makes any sense at all. It also reminded me that attitude is a choice. I could choose to be annoyed at the number of stops we were making, or I could choose to sit back and enjoy the ride. My choice this day was the latter.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Now what?

Way back when (and why does it feel like it's been ages ago instead of just a couple of weeks?), when I was wandering the streets of San Francisco by myself as I waited for Will to get home from work, I came across this street sign that had me LOLing right there in the middle of the city.  

There I was, last day in SF, last day of RTW travel, heading home the very next day, and I saw this sign as kind of a personal sign from the universe to me: End Shannon. Like, you've been on the road for a long time and now it's time to call it quits and go home. Just End Shannon. I was amused by it, but you know what? It's not really the end. 

I've officially been back in the States for two weeks now and home for just over one week. So what's next on my agenda, you ask? First up is a shorty-short recruiting contract that I trained for on Wednesday and officially start on Monday. An added bonus of being a recruiter is being able to schedule, interview for, train, and start a new position all in less than two weeks after returning from a country on the other side of the world. :-) The contract will last for just over a month and then I'll take a two week vacation. What? I'll need a break after all that work! Gotta ease into it after not working for so long, lol. Nah, in reality, a friend asked me if I wanted to come with on a trip to Scotland. I'll also have a chance to see Marina and Rhian in our sixth country, so I figured why not. You only live once, right?

The plan after that is a bit more up in the air. I'll try to get a longer term contract beginning around Oct 4 after I've returned from Scotland. And I'll stay with my parents for awhile so I can save up some money for an apartment. But this is most definitely not the End Shannon as far as traveling goes. More of a pause, really. There's a whole lot of world to see out there! I don't think I'll travel again for the same length of time as this trip, it's just really tiring after awhile. One to three months is probably more ideal. Not that I'm already planning my next trip or anything, but I think for my next one I'd like to go to Eastern Europe or South America.

As for the blog, things may be quiet around here for the next month or so. You may see some stories or other random items that might be of interest (photos, Scotland ideas, etc). I'll save the RTW trip wrap-up and highlights til I'm back from Scotland. In the meantime, if there are questions you have for me or aspects of my trip that you'd like to hear more about - speak up and tell me all about it!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

American As, Part Two

I already talked about my time in California, but should I back up a bit and explain how I got to SF to begin with? Yes, I suppose I should. 

I actually decided towards the end of June that I'd come home early. The idea was born with the homesickness that sank in deep after Will left Sydney. I'd been road weary for awhile before then, but with homesickness and seriously dwindled funds added in to the equation, coming home early really wasn't a hard decision to make. ToadMama asked me once when I'd know it was time to come home. I told her that I wasn't sure because I hadn't felt that way yet. But by the end of June, it definitely felt like it was time.

Researching flights is always a good first step to getting home, so I started doing that right away. And remember when I accidentally bought two tickets for the exact same flight, same day and everything? That actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Originally I thought I'd fly back to the US from Auckland, but in a conversation with the Melbourne hostel owner about the ticket snafu, he mentioned that flights to the US were usually cheaper out of Sydney so maybe I could use the Jetstar credit for a flight back to Sydney. I ended up getting a refund and didn't need to do that, but the flight really was cheaper out of Sydney (by about $600), so I decided to go that route anyway.

So, on 29 July I boarded a flight from Auckland to Sydney (leg #1). I left Auckland at 3:30pm and, after a four hour flight, I arrived in Sydney at 5pm where I had a three hour layover. The next flight (leg #2) was 14 hours long and left at 8:30pm meaning I arrived in LA at. . .5:10pm? Yup, 5:10pm and it's still the same day. Another two hour layover (plus a little bit of a delay) and an hour and a half long flight, and I was in San Francisco (leg #3). If you're keeping track, I got to SF less than six hours after I left NZ, but it actually amounted to 24 1/2 hours of travel time. It's good that I'd planned to be in California for a few days because when it came time for my fourth and final leg from SF to BWI, I don't think I could've handled another nine hours of travel time (two hour flight to Phoenix, layover, nearly five hour flight).

Will told me it took about a week for his sleep schedule to be back to normal when he flew back from Sydney, but I must be much more awesome than him because surprisingly enough, I haven't really been experiencing any sort of jet lag. I didn't sleep at all on the first leg and decided to delay sleep as long as possible on the second leg, so I watched two movies and about five episodes of Glee. (Btw, if you have to do a long haul flight and have the chance to fly V Australia, a subsidiary of Virgin, I highly recommend it. The in-flight entertainment is great, the staff were awesome, and the food and snacks were good and plentiful.) I slept for about six hours, but it felt like much less because of the three rows of children sitting opposite me who somehow felt it necessary to be awake and yelling at each other in the middle of the night. Then I woke up, watched five more episodes of Glee, and had breakfast before it was finally time to land in LA. No sleeping on the third leg and I was up for about four hours before going to bed in San Francisco. Do you have any idea how surreal it is to essentially gain an extra day? Sooo surreal.

Anyway, now that I'm back on the east coast, I think jet lag has been a little worse flying from CA to MD than it was NZ to CA. I'm not sleeping at super odd times or anything, but I am going to bed later than I probably should and am feeling sluggish mid-afternoon, early evening. Ah, but that could have more to do with all of the excitement of surprising my friends and family with the news of my early return.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Aren't surprises just the best? I knew ages ago that I wanted to keep my return date a secret so that I could surprise my friends and family, but when two different people told me they'd had dreams that I showed up unannounced on their doorstep, it was basically a done deal.

My parents live pretty close to the airport, so I knew it would be easy enough to get a taxi there. Of course, my biggest worry was that I'd get there and they would have picked this week as one of the ones to work remotely from their other house. And, in fact, that's exactly what happened. Luckily, I had a backup plan. Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself. . .

I got to my parents' house and it looked awfully dark. I took a shot at ringing the doorbell anyway, but when the dogs didn't start barking, I knew for sure that they weren't home. I went to let myself in through the garage and, oops!, they'd gotten a new garage door opener AND a new code for it while I was gone. So it was 9:30pm on a Tuesday night, the taxi had just left, I didn't have a cellphone, OR keys. What the heck was I gonna do? I saw that the neighbor's light was on, so I headed over there to ask if he happened to have a spare key. The poor guy had been watching television in his underwear and wasn't exactly expecting the daughter of his neighbors (who he's never officially met) to show up on his doorstep. :-) Once inside, I was fortunate to find that my parents have been keeping my car keys in a logical place, so I grabbed them and headed straight back out to go to my sister's house.

I knew that with three kids and a deployed husband, there was no possible place my sister could be at 10:30 on a Tuesday night other than at home. But as I got closer and closer, a fear crept in that maybe she and the kids were in West Virginia with my parents. What would I do then?! She was home, though, so I didn't really have anything to worry about. Her dog started to bark as soon as he heard me at the door, Amy looked through the peephole, and slooowly opened the door. She told me later that she knew there was a person on the porch, but it wasn't registering who it was. Once the door was open, she started squealing (couldn't wake the kids or neighborhood by yelling!) and asking what I was doing there. She was very surprised and I'm pretty sure I saw her eyes welling up. ;-) We spent a few hours catching up and I went to bed knowing that I'd get to surprise my niece and nephews the next morning.

The kids were sleepy for their surprise. They kind of looked at me and blinked a few times like, "Huh? What's Aunt Shannon doing here?" But in no time at all they were climbing all over me and asking questions and telling stories. It was like I hadn't even left at all. The best, though, was when it was time for them to go to daycare and my three year old nephew, with all seriousness said to me, "Aunt Shannon, you STAY here, ok? Stay here." It was as if he thought I was going to disappear again and he wouldn't see me for a long time. So sweet.

Next up on my surprise list was my grandmother. She wasn't at home when I got to her house and that was when I seriously started to reconsider the whole concept of showing up unannounced. Good for me, though, she showed up literally just a minute later. As she was backing into her parking space, she glanced over and saw my car. I drive a Smart car and they're not very common, so I know she was thinking hey, I know that car. She kept staring at the car and at me as she continued to park until finally I saw the lightbulb go off in her head as she realized it was me in the car. No sooner had she put the car in park, Grandma was all but out of the car and running my way. She was asking me when did I get home and what I was doing home so soon and did my father know? I spent a few hours with Grandma catching up and gabbing before I had to head to my second surprise spot of the day.

I've known my best friend Laura for almost ten years and I knew I could expect a good reaction out of her. She didn't disappoint. :-) Her husband answered the door because she was in the other room with the baby. We were chatting as we walked in, but Laura didn't hear a thing. He asked her to come into the kitchen because he wanted to show her something and she answered him in an exasperated kind of way as she came into the room with one-year-old Ruby. Ruby was walking in front of her and Laura was looking down. When she looked up and saw I was standing there, she literally jumped over her baby and came running over to me, screaming. Many hours later, we were somewhat caught up, but still have heaps to talk about, as it usually is with old friends.

Finally, the big surprise. My sister had found out that my parents were intending on returning home on Saturday night or Sunday morning, so I figured I'd stay at their house Saturday night and just wait for them. I wanted to get their reaction on video and was keeping an ear out to hear the garage door open. But. . .I didn't hear it, it's SO quiet! So they ended up surprising me almost as much as I surprised them. :-) Kathy came in first, wondering why Eric (my brother who doesn't live at home anymore) would be there watching tv. She looked pretty surprised and wanted to make sure that Dad was just as surprised so she may have spoken to him a bit gruffly, lol, as he was unpacking the truck in the garage. Dad was so shocked that his eyes may have started to leak a little. I had started to worry that maybe they were picking up on my clues, but they really had no idea. They really thought I was still in New Zealand! We spent the next four hours or so talking. I told them all about how I'd planned to trick them and they told me what a brat I was. :-D Our first night all together and we were already hanging out around the kitchen island!

The surprises are all done now, now it's more about catching up with people and letting them know that I'm back. That will be just as much fun, though. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

American As, Part One

Did you pick up on the clues and vagueness? Most people who need to know already know by now that I am back in the States since I surprised them with the news in person. I arrived in Maryland on the evening of 3 August, but I got to the States on 29 July and spent a few days in San Francisco before heading east.

I couldn't tell anyone that I was going to be in San Fran because I knew they'd rightly assume that I'd be home sooner rather than later. So only two people knew anything ahead of time: V (because she lives in upstate NY and I knew I wouldn't be able to just pop in on her as a surprise) and Will (because he lives there and kind of needed the heads up). Although Will's only been there for about a month, I left the planning up to him because I was a ball of stress (and excitement!) like you wouldn't believe. He'd email me every now and then asking how I felt about a particular sight or activity, but that's about it.

So Will picked me up from the airport and proceeded to tell me that he'd planned an all-American Welcome-Home-to-the-US weekend. Awesome! On Friday we headed to Great America in Santa Clara for some amusement and water park fun. (The first picture I posted the other day was of the oddly Australian themed water park, Boomerang Bay. Sneaky, eh?) That night we drove to Santa Cruz and hit the boardwalk. It was a typical, mid-size city's boardwalk complete with carnival style rides, corn dogs, popcorn, and arcade games. Originally Will wanted us to go to the beach in Santa Cruz on Saturday, but we both ended up getting more sun at the amusement park than we'd bargained for. Instead we opted for a movie and hours at a bookstore, plus just some general laying around laziness.

By Sunday we finally made it to San Fran. The American-ness of the weekend continued with a baseball game at AT&T Park, SF Giants vs. LA Dodgers. We had excellent seats 11 rows back from the field. But guess what? It's pretty chilly in San Francisco, even on the first day of August! We were wearing jeans and hoodies and it still wasn't enough. The Giants ended up beating LA which also meant that they swept them in the series, so the fans were in good moods despite the weather (although, I'm sure they're used to it and it was just us having a hard time grasping that we were watching baseball in August and were cold doing it).

(Before we had to put on the hoodies)
Will had to go back to work on Monday, so I was on my own for the day. I went to Chinatown and Union Square, and got photos of cable cars and crazy steep San Fran streets, but I was feeling particularly low energy and only spent a couple of hours out and about before deciding to head back to the hostel to take it easy while I waited for Will to get out of work. He returned around 3:30pm and the plan was to hit a bunch of tourist spots since it was my last night in town. First up was pictures of Alcatraz from the top of one of those crazy steep streets. Then it was Fisherman's Wharf and the resident seals. We wandered into an old timey arcade and then went to Joe's Crab Shack for beers and crab nachos (which were actually a lot better than I expected). After stopping to take a picture that ToadMama would love (and a few others, too, for good measure), we headed to Lombard St., the world's crookedest street, having eight switchback turns in a single block. To round out and wrap up the day, we planned to park the car nearby and walk over the Golden Gate Bridge. And here's the big secret that you may or may not know about San Francisco and it's most famous bridge: it's usually completely covered in fog. It's true, it is. We actually got to a spot where Will pointed and said "there's the bridge" and I literally couldn't see even an outline of what might be a bridge. I figured it was getting late, we'd seen enough for the day, and I could always return to Cali to see the GGB another time.

That's pretty much my time in California in a nutshell and I think Will did a good job of making it "all-American." I told him jokingly that the only thing missing was apple pie. :-)

If you happen to be wondering about the logistics of the travel and how I managed to keep it all a secret, well, stay tuned for American As, Part Two.

Friday, August 6, 2010


How's this for a hint? Any help at all?

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Since my goal was to be settled for a bit, I'm working on some travel stories and don't have a whole lot of news to share. But I do have some hints in the form of pictures for you.
(You might have to zoom in a bit to get the hint. Beware, this is a tricky one.)
(Come to think of it, I don't think hint #2 is any easier.)

Aaand, that's all you're getting. :-)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sweet as

I love all of the various sayings that New Zealanders have, so much so that I'm positive some of them will make it into my regular repertoire even after I'm home. There are some that are British or Australian influenced. Examples include chuffed (meaning pleased or happy), zed (as in the final letter of the alphabet), knackered (really tired), rubbish (and the "bin" it goes into), take the piss (when someone is teased or ridiculed), whinge (aka whine), and good on ya. Others are Kiwi through and through and I like them, but I'd probably never use them: pack a sad (meaning moody or uh, sad, but it can also mean something is broken, i.e. "my car packed a sad"), sparrow fart (very early in the morning), and dairy (a convenience store).

Then there are the ones I like AND use, the ones I'm already trying to slip into conversation every chance I get. Eh (rhymes with pay) I already say, but I use it more like a Canadian uses it, like a question. Kiwis say it at the end of nearly every sentence (or so it seems) and it's definitely not a question. There's "heaps" which is a more fun way to say a lot and "wop wops," the Kiwi equivalent of the boonies. Cheers is the NZ version of aloha in that it has multiple meanings. It can mean thank you, you're welcome, and enjoy your drink. Jandals are flip flops, but what I really like is the phrase "you can't handle the jandal!" I looked for a proper definition online, but didn't come up with anything that seemed dead-on to me. The closest I can come to an explanation is that it refers to a threatened punishment or is another way to say get out of the kitchen if you can't stand the heat.

My absolute favorite is "sweet as." At first I thought it was meant like "sweet as ___" with the blank being whatever you wanted it to be because what's really good to me may be different for someone else, but no. Essentially it means that something is very good and no, nothing follows it, it comes at the end of the sentence. It's really versatile, too, because practically any adjective can have 'as' follow it for the same effect, with the 'as' taking on the meaning 'very.' Therefore, expensive as means very expensive, hot as means very hot, and new as means very new. Urban Dictionary has some other explanations, but you'll have to see for yourself because I don't want to confuse things more than I probably already have.

And that's about it for my lesson of the day. I do have lots to say to bring everyone up to speed on my last few days of exploration and adventure, but it will have to wait because I'm totally knackered right now. :-)