First week of volunteering – a break down

I recently came across my journal from when off galavanting in Australia and it brought backso many good memories, so I decided to share most of it with you in hopes you’ll get a better idea of what it was like to be a conservation volunteer for two weeks. Since it will probably be way too long to write the first two weeks, I’ll split it up and do the first week, and later I will blog about my second week volunteering.

Day One: Landed in the beautiful city of Brisbane (locals call in Brissy) around 7am and it took us awhile to get through customs and receive our luggage, but once we did we met Jane who was our project leader, and Kate who is a volunteer leader through CVA.  Nine of us piled into their CVA van and we headed to the office to fill out some paperwork and meet the Conservation Volunteers of Australia’s staff.  After about an hour of gorging myself on cookies and delicious Australian cheesy bread, we left for our accommodations which ended up being a Boy Scouts Den on a beautiful piece of land. We set up our sleeping arrangements on swags and headed into town to the mall to pick up some supplies. I think people knew we were Americans, everything was fascinating us, especially the flat escalators. Later in the day we played football while getting to know each other, took a hike around the property where we saw a wallaby. The night ended with us all tasting Vegemite. Yuck!

Day 2: Time change is a little bugger! Woke up at 6:45 and got to FaceTime with my sister and nephew. Then we had a hearty breakfast and our first meeting, and then headed into Indoorpilly to the Organic Farmers Market where we made up a little scavenger hunt which made things interesting. Also did wine tasting at noon which started the rest of the day off wonderfully. I had the best Moscato wine called G-Spot, I wish I bought some. Awhile later 7 of us volunteers got dropped off downtown and went to The Fox for the famous $2 steaks and some beer. XXXX Gold and Sundown are both Australian beers and they were good. Later that day a  couple of us decided to go on the Brisbane Ferris Wheel which gave spectacular views. I could see miles away into the rolling hills. Afterwards we walked through a street market and ended up at The Plough where they were playing live music, mostly American. Around 9pm a couple of us decided to be brave and conquer the forest at nighttime – I think a pack of Wallabys were surrounding us at one point.

Day 3: Today was the first day of our volunteer work.  After going over the safety rules, we got to work for about an hour pulling weeds and then about an hour later we drove to a small park and had tea time in the middle of a baseball field. The sun felt so good, and STRONG. You can tell we were under the hole in the ozone. We went back to the city park to pull more weeds until 2pm when we called it a day.  We drove to the top of Mt. Coot-tha and ate our lunch on a gazebo overlooking the city of Brissy. Had my first taste of real gelato and it’s amazing I came back home weighing less than I did when I left. Half our group took a walk down the mountain side while a couple stayed at the top looking at the wildlife. Back at the Den, a boy scouts troop (which includeds both boys and girls here) came over and made dinner for us.  We had damper for dessert and lamb and potatos for dinner. I learned that Australians travel ALOT. Most of those kids had been to America and they were only like 7. A couple of the girls giggled when I asked for ketchup, they call in tomato sauce. When they left, I taught a couple people how to play dice.

Day 4: We went back to the same park as yesturday to finish weeding.  As I blogged about yesturday, I was pulling weeds when a funnel web spider came out from under them, I still get shivers thinking about it. When we were all done for the day at that site, Jeff went around and weighed the 10 piles of weeds we had throughout the park, and it was about 260 pounds. That is a lot of weeds.  We ate lunch and went to another park to continue pulling weeds there.  At this site there was a plant called Madira (spelling may be wrong) and those things are littler buggards! At one point in the day I happened to look up towards the mountains that were a little distance away and it looked really hazy and then I could hear the rain hitting even though it was nowhere near us. Jane yelled and told us to get in the car and seconds later it poured like cats and dogs. When it stopped, there was a new river flowing through the park that came down from the mountains. It was one of the coolest things ever. Around 2:30 I went into town to use a payphone but I couldn’t find one so I met up with the boys and we got coffee, which is a lot stronger than American coffee.  When I got back all of us girls sat on our sleeping bags reading my Cosmopolitan magazine, talking and having a good time.  We made spaghetti for dinner and then played the Australian version of Taboo.

Day 5: Today we got to plant some vines and plants. Between the 9 of us, we planted 140 subtropical plants along the Toowonga Creek.  There were a bunch of large Orb spiders on the rails and signs.  I also found a skink under a rock, I thought it was a snake.  After we were done at this site we went to a coffeehouse and Meghan got stung by something. We finished the day off at the same park as yesturday pulling more weeds.  Jane and Teresa, another CVA leader, suprised us by moving us out of the Scouts Den into a hostel, so we rushed back, packed and took all our stuff to Brisbane Backpackers. We had 2 seperate rooms, and 2 bathrooms now, and BEDS! Everyone was so excited. No more spiders crawling around at night.  Tonight we walked into town and ate at a fancy Chinese restaurant. I got to drink Jacob’s Creek Moscato sparkling rose wine – best wine ever. Finally able to do laundry (it cost $5 for the washer and $1 for every 8 minutes to dry). The hostel had a bar so we hung out downstairs, talking and playing pool, drinking beer.

Day 6: Left the hostel around 8:30 and didn’t reach our destination until 10.  We were out in the countryside today and it was absolutely gorgeous. Everything was so green and beautiful.  We were working on an older couples property today and switched between pulling weeds and planting Lamandra for a couple hours. So many Huntsman spiders out here. The couples garden was amazing – pineapples, bananas, chili peppers, passion fruit! So much good food. After we ate lunch we drove up to a property on the same road and ripped out weeds from the side of a hill, and then planted a mixture of plants.  When we got back to the hostel I decided to take a run through the city with the guys and ended up getting lost.  I made a wrong turn in a park. It was getting dark and I saw a bunch of people around a fire with signs like “Australia is a crime scene” and I definately wasn’t comfortable.

Day 7: It’s FRIDAY and rainy! We went back to the work site we were at a couple days ago to pull weeds and making it look nice.  Around 1pm they called it a day because it was raining too much.  We got back to the hostel and packed up again because they wanted to move us into the city to a hostel called The Bunk. Best. Choice. Ever.  Kelsey, Lauren and I walked around because we were now right in downtown Brisbane. Tonight we went to a Thai restaurant and it was a BYO booze, so I split a bottle of Jacobs Creek with Lauren.  Anthony also let me try his beers -White Rabbit, James Boags Premium Lager, Stone Wood and Four Wives. Good stuff here in Australia. When we finished eating, we headed back to our rooms to get ready for the night.  We started the night in the club Birdees which is attached to Bunk.  The bouncer told us we had to have closed toe shoes to get into any clubs, so I had to wear Ashley’s stilletos. After that we went to Family which had 3 floors and it was the best time ever. Tequila shots, Jack and Coke and lots of beer throughout the night. Around 3am, Lauren dragged me from the club after we lost touch with everyone else and stopped at McDonalds. Finally made it to bed around 4:30.

Soo… there is the first week of my volunteer week, and although we did put in some good hours volunteering, we definitely got to explore and see so much of the city.

Volunteer Abroad with ISV

I was fortunate enough to spend a month in the land down under this summer with International Student Volunteers – a fantastic volunteer organization.  Last October an ISV rep came into my classroom and talked about her time abroad – afterwards, I called my mom, rushed back to my apartment and after much encouragement by her and my sister; I signed up and put down the $500 deposit.  I knew I would be completely sick if I lost that much money – after all, I feel sick if I lose $20 at the casino. So I knew I couldn’t back out of this, and I would be able to cross off something on my bucket list.

I sent out letters to local businesses, collected returnable cans and was lucky enough to have such supporting friends and family help me go on this adventure.  In March I sent in the money, and two months later I was boarding a plane to fly 10,000 miles away from home on my first ever solo trip.

If anyone gets the opportunity to volunteer abroad, I strongly urge you to go for it.  Take a friend, sibling or roommate if you please, or go solo like I did.  I was able to meet some really great people, see some gorgeous places and experience things I never would have if I didn’t do the trip through ISV. International Student Volunteers plans your volunteer project for you and you have the option to go on the adventure tour.  Most of the meals were paid for, accommodations were taken care of, transportation in the destination country is taken care of, and they even take care of your international flights.  If planning vacations gives you a headache then that is another reason you should think about volunteering in a different country.

The people in general were so friendly.  We were working on the side of a river bank planting vines on a pretty hot day when the neighbor lady came out with plates of fresh bananas, passion fruit, cantaloupe and other delicious fruit. Never has fruit tasted so good.  Even on the days I was volunteering I still felt like I was on a vacation – the work days were so short we had plenty of time to explore the city.

A typical volunteer day went like this –
Wake up at 8am, eat breakfast, and be on the road by 9. Start working around 9:15-9:30 pulling weeds or planting. Tea time at 10:30. Plant and pull some more weeds. Take lots of pictures of the wildlife and flora (I was pulling weeds, and a funnel web spider came out. If you don’t know what those are, click here). Eat packed lunch around 12-12:30, sometimes ran to a coffeehouse. Get back to work and be done around 2:30-3. The days flew by so fast and was so much fun, you really learn a lot just by being out in nature and taking in a different culture.

After we were done for the day, we’d go do something depending on where we were staying.  We moved to three different places throughout our two weeks volunteering: Scouts Den, Brisbane Backpackers and then Bunk. Bunk was my favorite – it had a club called Birdees in it, and from our room we could watch everyone.  Every night there’d be something going on: trivia, comedy, or a live band.

If you’re in college I’d seriously consider volunteering abroad.

 

My Bucket List

I had more spare time today than I thought I would, so I decided what better way to pass the time than posting my bucket list on here.  And watching The Vampire Diaries. And snuggling in bed with four comforters because fall has finally arrived in central and northern Michigan!

Anywho, like I stated before, I hope this inspires at least one person to start compiling their own.  When I first began it, I thought yeah right like I’ll ever be able to do any of these things, but honestly all it takes is to have a dream or a goal, committ to it, and find a way to do it.

I will continue to add to my list when I see a place I’d like to visit or something new to try.  Each time I am able to cross off something I will blog about it, and post pictures if possible. So here it goes!

MY BUCKET LIST

  1. Go to Australia       May 22, 2012
  2. Swim with Dolphins   June, 2008
  3. Swim with Sharks
  4. Visit England
  5. Kiss the Blarney Stone
  6. Sleep in a castle
  7. Snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef    June 3, 2012
  8. Go zip-lining
  9. Visit Hawaii
  10. Visit the Grand Canyon
  11. Go to Jamaica    June 2008
  12. Learn how to surf  June 2012
  13. Learn to snowboard
  14. Visit Romania
  15. Visit 6 continents, excluding Antarctica
  16. Volunteer Abroad  May 22, 2012
  17. Volunteer at an animal shelter
  18. Horseback riding on a beach
  19. Quit biting my nails, for good
  20. Cliff jump
  21. Visit California May 22, 2012
  22. Live in the mountains
  23. Visit Rome
  24. Work/Intern at Disneyworld
  25. Win the lottery (probably won’t happen, but it’s still a dream)
  26. Great Wall of China
  27. Participate in a Polar Bear Plunge
  28. Learn to knit
  29. Visit New York City
  30. Hike in the mountains
  31. Visit New Zealand
  32. Throw a dart at a map and travel there
  33. Celebrate a birthday in Las Vegas
  34. Hot air balloon ride
  35. Be a maid of honor
  36. See Italy
  37. Visit all the US States
  38. Cruise to Alaska
  39. Climb or rapell a cliff June 21, 2012
  40. Ride an elephant
  41. Go on a safari
  42. Visit Paris
  43. Visit Machu Picchu
  44. Visit Greece
  45. Feed a kangaroo   June 21, 2012
  46. Go to a Red Wings game
  47. Swim in all oceans
  48. Swim in all 5 Great Lakes
  49. Visit Fiji
  50. Go white water rafting   June 12, 2012
  51. Visit Egypt
  52. Hike the Incan Trail
  53. Go to Hollywood May 24, 2012
  54. Visit Ireland
  55. Tour the Roman Colosseum
  56. Go sky diving
  57. Be in Times Square on New Years Eve
  58. Travel Route 66
  59. Visit Blue Lagoon, Iceland
  60. Watch a meteor shower
  61. Visit the Galapagos Islands
  62. Experience zero gravity
  63. Get a beach cabana
  64. Ride a camel
  65. Attend a masquerade ball
  66. Sleep under the stars in the back of a pick-up truck
  67. Go whale watching
  68. See the Northern Lights
  69. Stay in an underwater hotel
  70. Send a message in a bottle
  71. Learn to change a tire
  72. Visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa
  73. Visit Bora Bora
  74. See a solar eclipse
  75. Be in two places at once
  76. Have my own star
  77. See a Broadway musical or play
  78. Learn to speak French
  79. Open my own store
  80. Visit a real Haunted House
  81. Tour Neuschwanstein Castle
  82. See all 7 wonders of the world
  83. Visit Amsterdam
  84. Own a huge library
  85. Visit the Taj Mahal
  86. Be debt free
  87. Participate in a flash mob
  88. Go to a black sand beach
  89. Learn to drive a stick shift
  90. Watch a real break dance battle
  91. Stand on the equator
  92. Wine tour in Napa Valley
  93. Visit a hookah lounge
  94. Go scuba diving  June 10, 2012
  95. Climb the Sydney Harbor bridge
  96. Run a 5k
  97. Go deep-sea fishing
  98. Go ice fishing
  99. Go deer hunting
  100. Learn to play golf
  101. Go to a shooting range
  102. Float on the Dead Sea
  103. Learn to speak Spanish
  104. Jump from a cliff into deep water
  105. Learn to scuba dive so I can go on my own
  106. Learn to paddle board
  107. Go on a submarine  June 2008
  108. Go bungee jumping
  109. Go hiking in a rainforest
  110. Go fire walking
  111. Ride a mechanical bull
  112. Ride the Orient Express
  113. Sleep in an overnight train
  114. Walk through a labyrinth
  115. Go Zorbing
  116. Ride the world’s largest Ferris Wheels
  117. Stay at the Space Hotel
  118. Watch a rocket launch live
  119. Visit the San Diego Zoo
  120. Watch turtles hatch and go into the ocean
  121. Death Valley, California
  122. Everglades, Florida
  123. Yosemite National Park
  124. Stonehenge, United Kingdom
  125. Climb the Statue of Liberty
  126. Mount Rushmore   August 2009
  127. Oktoberfest
  128. Mardi Gras in New Orleans
  129. Watch the 10 greatest movies of all times – by American Film Institute

    Citizen Kane – Casa Blanca – The Godfather – Gone With the Wind – Lawrence of Arabia – The Wizard of Oz – The Graduate – On the Waterfront – Schindler’s List Singin’ In The Rain

    So, there is my personal bucket list.  I hope to be able to do most of them throughout my lifetime.  If you have any suggestions of something I should add, please leave me a comment! I’m always up for new ideas.  Unfortunately, most of these will have to wait until I graduate from college and get a career job so I can pay for them.

    -xoxo-

    Amanda

Crossing my bucket list off…

When I was eighteen I constructed a bucket list of places I want to see and different things I wanted to experience in my lifetime. Over this past summer I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel abroad to Australia for a volunteer and adventure trip.  While there, I was able to cross of a number of things on my personal bucket list.  As a promise to myself, I was going to attempt to do all of my 100+ goals throughout my lifetime, and in one short but thrilling month in the land down under, I was able to experience eleven of my bucket list adventures, and cross them off. But I’d do them all again in a heartbeat.

  • Visit Australia
  • See the Great Barrier Reef
  • White water rafting
  • Learn to surf
  • Cliff rappelling
  • Eat an exotic food – kangaroo
  • Scuba Dive
  • Volunteer abroad
  • Snorkeling
  • Visit LA/Hollywood
  • See the Sydney Opera House

As a promise to myself, I was going to get a photo doing each of these adventures and make a scrapbook out of it. The only one I was unable to get a photo of was surfing, which was a major bummer because I absolutely loved it!  I just got my photos developed but have yet to start it, but I thought I’d share on here each time I could cross something off my bucket list.  One day soon I will post all of my goals in hopes to inspire someone else to do the same.

What I learned working at a hotel…

I love to travel, which is one of the reasons I enjoy working at a hotel, besides the fact that I get AWESOME discounts. So today’s post is all about thing’s I’ve learned while working in a hotel, and some of my experiences.

I started working at a hotel in Traverse City when I was 19 years old.  I had always worked in customer service type places, first I was a bagger at a grocery store and then I waitressed for a couple years so I figured it’d be similar. I worked there for a year and a half before I moved downstate for school and I had a blast.  Nothing majorly important happened that year besides seeing a hotel do a million dollar renovation which was interesting but I moved back home that summer and went back to work at the front desk.

A lot of famous people stayed with us that summer which was pretty awesome.  None of them were too-diva-ish, they were all pretty chill.  I got to meet the band members of Saving Able and their crew, (“I’m so addicted to, all the things you do…”, there was also Josh Thompson who put me and a friend on “the list” (yes, I felt pretty cool), Kenny Loggins, and some band that I forgot the name of but they gave us autographed photos. There were many other people who I got to meet and they were all awesome experiences.

But to the important stuff.  I’ve learned quite a few things while I’ve been working at hotels that I think everyone should be aware of.

Third party booking sites like Expedia, Hotels.com and Priceline sometimes, but not ALWAYS, have a better rate than the actual hotel website. It’s always a good idea to check the hotels actual website to see if the rates the same because hotels do NOT have a way to change anything on a reservation when it’s booked through a third party website.

Here’s some things you should know about making reservations through them:

  • You get charged the minute you hit “submit”. If you want to pay right away, by all means, go for it.  But most people aren’t expecting their bank account to drop $100 right then since hotels don’t typically charge you until the day you check in. Also, hotels don’t see what you paid for a room, so when you ask us how much your room rate was, we have no idea. We also can’t add the AAA or AARP discount to the rate, because, again, we can’t see it.
  • “I asked for two queen beds!” You don’t always get the room type you requested when it’s through third parties, even travel agents are guilty of booking the wrong room types and the hotel get’s to deal with the upset guests because it’s easy to blame it on us.It’s very difficult for us to switch room types in these type of reservations, especially when we’re sold out so if you want a specific room, call the hotel directly.
  • Third party websites are not in the city you’re visiting.  They don’t know the restaurants, attractions, events, or directions around the local area.  They also are unaware of packages and promotions that sometimes are a better deal depending on what you’re coming to town for.

Those are just a couple reasons why I personally don’t like using these websites to book rooms when I travel. However, I do check them just to compare rates and get an idea of what to expect, but for a hassel-free vacation, I go directly to the hotel’s website or call them.

I hope I didn’t sound like I was bitching about guests, because I LOVE working in hospitality and with people, but when the occassional upset guest comes in to complain about not getting what they wanted, I always tell them those reasons above are why it’s best to stay away from those websites.

Also – it’s always helpful to let the desk or housekeepers know when you’re checking out.  You don’t always have to go to the desk, especially if you’re in a hurry, but just pick up the phone and say you’re peacin’.  That way housekeeping can get into your room and clean it, instead of waiting for check out time to roll around to get into it.   This is nice for two reasons – it lets the housekeepers do their job, and it gets the rooms clean and inspected before check-in time.  If you’re checking into a hotel right at check-in and the rooms not ready, it’s most likely because the previous people didn’t tell housekeeping they were leaving at 8am and they waited until noon to get in.

SOOO… there’s a couple hopefully helpful tips for when you’re looking at hotels, and when you’re at hotels.  Front Desk people are friendly, people-persons in nature, so if you have questions or concerns LET THEM KNOW so we can HELP! That’s what we’re there for.

Here’s a website showing how darn frustrating these websites can be.

-xoxo-

Amanda

Here’s to me and my first blog post.

Goodmorning!

I’ve been antsy to start a blog for years. I’ve started many, probably about five in all, but I lose the passwords and websites too easily. Like my keys. And my debit card. And my accounting textbook the week before exams. So I guess what I should really say is that I’ve been antsy to start one, and keep it going.  I am starting this blog for a journalism class at Central Michigan University where I am studying to go into Public Relations, but I hope to continue it even after it’s no longer required.

I’ve always pictured myself creating a blog and writing about nonsense stuff – what’s going on in my life, goals, news, things I want to do – mainly all about, me, me, me. But I’ve decided to focus mainly on traveling – destinations I’d love to visit, places I’ve been, ways to travel, tips I’ve learned and much more.  I’ll also focus on DIY projects, food, and reviews of places I visit.

Anywho, my first real blog post about traveling will be in the next day or two.

 XOXO,

Manda