Category Archives: Travel

An open letter to every woman I know…

Let me just start by saying this is not and is not meant to be some feminist manifesto. Like everything else I write, it is simply random rantings that are spinning around my mind that I express via this platform (I should probably start a different blog for my random thoughts… but I can’t be bothered.)

After four years of self-imposed singledom, I’m back into the relationship world. In those four years I’ve dated a few guys, but no one serious and never for long. But for two months now I’ve had a boyfriend, the anxiety normally associated with that word is rapidly diminishing. For those of you that know me, you’ll know even two months is a feat… Here’s to eight weeks and counting.

So, a few observations of being back to relationship life have come to light: relationships, like singlehood, have their own set of worries and dramas. When you’re single it’s, ” Why can’t I get a date?” and in a relationship it’s, “When are we going to fit in our weekly date night?” There’s pros and cons to both, but waking up with someone that looks at you first thing in the morning and tells you you’re beautiful is a pretty good bonus to relationship life.

Another observation (and this isn’t just relationship oriented): What’s with women expecting these grand gestures?   Continue reading

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Sport: The 2nd Great Unifier

I’ve talked about how food is the “Great Unifier,” and it is, but a close second to that is sport. What other activity can unite and tear apart groups of people with such ferocity?


Credit: Andy Clark/Reuters

Canadian hockey fans rioted in the streets after the Canucks lost to the Bruins in 2011; in Brussels in 1985, 39 people were killed at the Juventus-Liverpool match, and there are countless other incidents where supporters have gotten out of hand -they don’t call them “football hooligans” for the hell of it. But, there are also stories where sport united a divided culture, like the 1995 World Cup where host nation South Africa were crowned champions and Nelson Mandela shook Francois Pienaar hand, a symbol of a once divided nation coming together to win.

One of my tricks for talking to people, whether it’s while working a bar or just jazzing up normal conversation, is breaching the topic of sport. It’s my security blanket, but it works. Mention one current headline and people will go wild and run with it. In the states, I can spark a conversation by stating, “So, is Tebow done for good or will he get another shot?” or in Oz by saying, “It’s a shame about the Wallabies loss.”

Like food, sport is a common denominator where a language barrier is allowed. I can still enjoy a footy match with a crowd that could not understand a word of what I said, and that is the greatest part of it. Cheering is cheering, and booing is booing… and you are all silent when your team loses.

Some of my best, and most heartbreaking moments (ahem, Feb. 2009) involve sport. One of the great parts of being a supporter is you will go and cheer just as loud for your baby brother’s high school football team as you will for your country’s 7’s team taking on powerhouse New Zealand in an international tournament.

PICTURE::Carlin Isles, HSBC 7’s 2013 Las Vegas

It’s also funny how fans of two seemingly similar games- rugby union and rugby league- could be so staunchly opposed. League -as it oft referred to- is known by supporters as “The Greatest Game in the World.” A slogan held with such high regard that when NRL executive, Dave Smith, was asked how he would persuade rising star Isreal “Izzy” Falou back to League from his Union fame, his one-line response was simply, “it’s the greatest game in the world.” (Source) Well, here’s a news blurb for you Smith, “The Greatest Game in the World” doesn’t have a World Cup to encourage players to stay (or come back).

Purest will tell you League has always been about money and Union is about the love of the game. Keep in mind a sports star is only as good as his/her last game (in Falou’s case, pretty damn good) and there’s no guarantee for a contract renewal or money when you’re injured. So if a player is forced to pick where to play, based on a potential earning, said player is likely to pick where the money is… although Falou has reportedly stated he’s staying with the Union code, for now.

Now I’m just ranting about sport, but that’s the perfect example of why sport is arguably the world’s greatest (or second greatest) unifier. Spark one headline and you’ll get an earful.

If you want to see more of my rants follow my non-travel twitter: @sxjohnson

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Breaking out of Comfort

In “The Social Dilemma” I talked about having social anxiety and my fears- and hopes- of traveling and learning how better to deal with it. Since landing in Australia four weeks ago I’ve made an effort to put myself out there and try new things, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. I can’t count how many times I sat at this very laptop and read account after account of other travelers with social phobias or introversion state how the more and more they traveled the more and more comfortable they became talking to strangers. I literally fantasized about being able to sit in a cafe and just say, “hello” to someone without thinking twice about it… actually I still fantasize about that, but it’s baby steps!

My first self-imposed challenge was a week after I arrived. There’s a fantastic group on LinkedIn called, “The Rugby Business Network” that connects anyone with a love for rugby with an aim to help business. The Sydney chapter have networking events roughly once a month, and coincidentally held their June event just as I arrived. I decided to sign up and give it a go with the mind set of the worst case scenario I would walk into a room of old businessmen drinking scotch on the rocks reminiscing about the glory days of their youth.  The event was held at The Rugby Club, a laid back bar/lounge tucked in a side street near Circular Quay in the CBD. (Side note: if you want relaxed atmosphere with great memorbilia decor to watch a match or grab a pint check this place out.)

As quickly as I entered the room I was spotted as a foreigner… where’s my table to hide under?! At this point I was still confident but it was quickly fleeting. Luckily, the spotter was Adrian Skeggs, a former Wallaby and the coordinator of the event. He quickly introduced himself and sorted me at a table where I was introduced to a man who works in advertising and a man who coaches rugby. We were quickly joined by two lovely women who work at a lawfirm and were there promoting a charity function they were putting together. The evening went on with a talk from former Wallaby, Phil Waugh and everyone was laughing and having a good time. The outcome was a good night out and a few new contacts. Baby step number one ended with me not falling flat on my rump.

Step two: Travelers unite!

Never underestimate the bond between travelers. I’ve experience an overwhelming kindness from Australians, but it’s hard to articulate just how amazing the other travelers have been. Simply enough, I’m sure it’s because they know exactly what I’m going through of turning up to a new country not knowing anyone and not sure of anything.

YTravelBlog  Caz and Craig organized a meet up for fellow travelers and travel writers (I’m pretending to be one of them) the beginning of June. I rocked up to the event unsure as to what to expect and anticipating the conversation going something like this:

Them-“Hello, where have you traveled?”

Me-“Nowhere really, this year in Australia is my first time out of the states.”

Them-“You’re not one of us! Be gone!!!”

Yeah, I have a hyperactive imagination coupled with anxiety and sometimes it gets a bit out of hand. Nonetheless, that was my full on expectation of the initial interaction. Thankfully that couldn’t have been farther from the actual situation.

Upon meeting Caz and Craig the other travel-writers/bloggers trickled in. In addition to a few other Australians, there were four other Americans. We pretty much took over (Amurica!), but it was also great because these Ex-Pats helped make me feel even more welcomed and realize that no matter where I land, there will be a support group if I just look for it.

Be sure and check out my new friends’ sites:

Brooke- Her Packing List

Flashpacker Family

Scott- HostelZoo


Caz & Craig- YTravelBlog

Happy Traveling!

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Week Two: Sydney attractions and a bit of Urban Exploration


What do you do when you’re fresh off the boat (err, plane) and in a foreign city? Get a tourist guide and go crazy of course!

Credit: State Library, NSW

Credit: State Library, NSW

Before I arrived to Sydney I’d been scouring the interwebs for attractions and activities I wanted to do; this is a working-HOLIDAY after all. As last week’s blog detailed, I was greeted with open arms and heaps of plans, both of which were a welcomed relief. However, there’s no better way to get to know a city than to get out and walk around, explore, discover, get over the anxiety and talk to a local (still working on this part).

Urban Exploration 

So, on a Monday morning I turned up in Sydney CBD (central business district) bright eyed and bushy tailed as they say and made my way across Darling Harbour. First observation: these Sydney business folk wear a lot of black! They seem to be a cheery bunch so maybe it’s just the whole “black goes with everything and is uber professional” thing but my white long sleeve and baby blue jeans surely stood out in the sea of black suits and ties.

Once on the Pyrmont side of the Harbour I found a cute little coffee shop called Antidote… a fitting name for anyone who has ever suffered caffeine withdraws. I collected my flat white (basically caffe au lait) and was on my way to the Maritime Museum (covered in last week’s post).  Continue reading

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Week One: Chocolate, Wine and Maritime

Beat JetLag… simple.

After safely (barely) making it up to Avoca Beach (approximately 90km north of Sydney) I settled in and took a day to relax and adjust. I’d read the key to avoiding jetlag is not napping upon arrival and staying awake until local “bed time”. So I did just that and luckily had no issues with jetlag and adjusting to the time difference.

Saturday shops and Chocolate eatery

auschocomeSaturday morning we made our way to the local shopping plaza which is made up of indoor and outdoor shops and eateries. A normal shopping plaza by more regards but I mention it because of San Churros… an eatery that uses Spanish chocolate in every menu item they have. In other words: THE MOST AMAZING EATERY EVER! Of course being the sugar-addict I am, this place was heaven! The menu consists of everything from churros, to fondue, to shakes to banana parfaits.

Hunter Valley, NSW Wine Country 

Sunday we drove the 75 or so minutes north to the Hunter Valley region.


Pepper Tree Wines

Continue reading

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Sydney: Let the Journey Begin

After two weeks of snaking through the south-west to see friends and family before taking of to “The Land Down Undah” for a year I boarded a plane in Seattle headed to Sydney by way of LAX. The anticipation of starting a new journey (as well as a 27 hour travel time) grew as my departure time grew closer.


First stretch: Alaskan Airlines

Who knew Alaskan Airlines was so nice?! Not only do they have charging docks at almost every seat in their waiting area, they also offer great food at a price that doesn’t leave you broke before you hit your destination. I was able to get the Mediterranean Tapas option which was hummus, whole grain crackers, raw almonds, 72% Endangered Species chocolate square, dried apples/apricots and olives for only $6 as well as my complimentary drink.

Luckily, I don’t suffer from travel anxiety about flying like a lot of people do, but if I did I would want this flight crew for every flight. The stewards were joking around and very relaxed- professional, but fun. During the “In Case of An Emergency” schpeel (which is normally my least favorite part of the flight) the two women demonstrating were having a competition of who presented it best. When your job is showing people how to fasten a seat belt it never hurts to make it as fun as possible.

LAX: To Hell with Your Construction


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GastroCity: Phoenix

Food, the great unifier.  I find that no matter where I am or what I’m doing that most days revolve around food, I eat one meal and am immediately planning the next one. So, because of that I’ve decided to jot down a few of my favorite places in cities I spend a large amount of time… First up, Phoenix, AZ.

I lived in Phoenix for a little over 6 years, and while you wouldn’t expect this city in the middle of the desert to be a great food hub, it is!

Cornish Pasty Co. 

Where do I start with this gem? Delicious, pure deliciousness! I normally try and describe them as “fancy hot pockets” though I realize that’s probably insulting,  but at least now you have an idea of what I’m talking about.


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The Social Dilemma

I have social anxiety.

anxiety  It’s been an “issue” pretty much my entire life but I remember a specific trigger in my early adolescence where I had a two-day long episode of losing my voice over anxiety of an event. Odds are though, if you know me, unless we’ve had this conversation, you’re probably surprised to discover my affliction. I hold a normal job, I have friends (few, but I have them), I’m not a total hermit, I occasionally make it out to public events, but what most people don’t realize is what a struggle those things are. If you know me, you have probably also experienced me canceling plans for unknown reasons or made up excuses at the last minute (sorry!). But, unfortunately it’s a pretty common thing, no matter how much I’m looking forward to the event, sometimes the anxiousness overcomes the excitement of plans.

One of the most common questions I get is about work. For the better part of the last decade I’ve been a server/bartender -a job which obviously requires A LOT of social interaction. My whole job is to walk up to a table, talk to them and make them happy enough to give me money after paying the establishment. But, that’s my JOB. I don’t know how I’m able to put the mask on and do it, but it works for me. Now, get me after work hours and tell me to do the same thing- walk up to a table of strangers and talk to them- and the mere thought of it is debilitating.

One of my biggest hopes with traveling is that it will get me to open up more and better deal with the social anxiety and be able to talk to people. They say if you travel alone you’ll be forced to meet people, but I’m afraid I’ll just be alone (which is not a terrible thing). Continue reading

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So it begins…

Actually, it began on February 6, when I applied for my replacement passport -the previous one had been misplaced in one of my various moves.

passportAfter patiently waiting four weeks for my replacement passport forms to process, I received by shiny, new passport in the mail. Okay, those of you that have a passport know it’s not actually shiny, but metaphorically it is… and there’s gold leaf lettering, so that counts!!

Phase 1: Passport

Done, check… on to Phase Two…

But wait, I’m an American. We’re raised to think the world is scary, and cruel, and will rape and murder us (have you seen CNN lately?) So, I could not move on to Phase Two without having a few minor anxiety attacks. Continue reading

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