Let me start by painting an honest picture of what my life looked like in the months before deciding to come to New Zealand. I was an Early Childhood Educator, and was working 40 hours a week as a Preschool teacher in my hometown of Kingsville, Ontario. I was also working various part time jobs on the side, sometimes 2 at a time, to fill in most evenings and Saturdays. Why did I work so much? I owned my own home, had a beautiful brand new truck, enjoyed taking trips and traveling (within Canada and the United States at this point), I liked shopping, going out for dinners with friends, and as a single woman sometimes you’ve got to hustle to pay the bills! I now realize this was part of what lead me down a dark path… I was also struggling to feel the spark I used to have in my work as a Preschool teacher, and instead was feeling like after 12 years in the field, it wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. Most of the material things I was working so hard to pay for, started to lose the joy they once brought me, as I was burned out, both physically and emotionally, and not enjoying them as I once had. Activities I used to find happiness in, no longer had the same effect. The struggle of not knowing what I wanted to do, but seeing where this path I was on was leading me (which was nowhere) left me feeling confused, stuck, and overwhelmed. I knew I wanted something else, a different kind of life from the one I was living, but I had no idea what to do about it. So for months and months, I pushed myself to my breaking point just to get through the days. For quite awhile, my routine was to get home, open a bottle of wine, sit on my kitchen floor (I’ve always been a floor sitter 😂) and cry as I drank enough to feel “blurry”, go to bed, sleep poorly, and wake up to do it all over again. This was the lowest I’d ever felt in my life.
Just before this epic low point, I had come back from my first solo traveling adventure in Europe. It was May of 2019, and I’d spent 2 weeks with a friend on an amazing Ireland roadtrip. At the end of the trip, in the Dublin airport, I remember having a near panic attack as my friend prepared to fly home to Ontario, and I was packed up, without a ticket (to anywhere), trying to decide if I really could continue on to do a solo journey as I had orginally intended. I ended up taking the leap and settling on Amsterdam. I bought a ticket right then and there, and boarded my first solo flight to somewhere I’d never been, where I didn’t know anyone, and had no idea what I was doing! I traveled there about a week, then boarded a flight to Mykonos. After spending a week there, I flew to Paris for 2 nights before flying back into Dublin and coming home. It was a terrifying experience, but I had an amazing time! I gained a little insight into more of the world, and let me tell you, you’ll learn so much traveling solo and find out just how capable you actually are as you navigate so much on your own.
This trip is what lit the spark for New Zealand. Getting home from Europe, I had the bug to travel more (which wasn’t a huge stretch, as I’ve always been a travel junkie.) But, it took another month or so (of my floor sitting, wine drinking, bawl fests) before I actually committed to moving away somewhere new on my own. I think I was trying to convince myself that I was just in a rut at home, and it would pass. Europe had been a desperate attempt to make myself happy, and shake things up. While it did wonders for me in many ways, things quickly got worse as I tried to get back into my routine at home. So finally, I came to the conclusion that I needed to make a real change. Why New Zealand? My grandpa had visited in his younger years, as he had Kiwi family living there. I had a tiny little ring box with a kiwi bird on it from him, that I loved very much. I also had a newspaper clipping featuring a photo and story, that was cut from our local paper. In the photo, I was about a year old, and sitting on the lap of a woman who had come to visit him from New Zealand (which I guess was news worthy in the 80’s for our little town.)
So, feeling so lost and unhappy, I finally decided to apply for a Working Holiday Visa for New Zealand, and within a week it was approved. The next few months were a whirlwind of packing up my house, selling my truck, leaving notice with my jobs, saying goodbye to friends and family and getting organized to take off! My brain fog during this time was epic… I had so much on my mind, and there was so much to do and organize! As excited as I was, I was also completely terrified, not only from the unknown of moving across the world by myself, but the fear that I was making changes that I couldn’t take back if this whole adventure flopped. After what seemed like the longest, shortest wait ever, came November 23, 2019. My friend drove me the 4 hours to Toronto, and dropped me off at the airport. I remember shaking while I walked up to the counter to check in. The overwhelming worry of “Is this going to work? Can I do this? Have I made a huge mistake?” had me feeling sick. I’ve always been a nervous person, but when it comes down to it, I WILL buckle down and do the thing. So, off I flew. 3 flights and 24 hours later (the looooongest 24 hours of my life by the way), I was in Queenstown.
Still completely terrified, I made my way to my hostel and then set out to explore. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. I was in love already ❤ Within a week, I had bought a car, and headed out to explore the South Island over the next couple of weeks before heading to Nelson, where I was hoping to find work. Once in Nelson, I found a job right away, working in a vineyard. I worked there for about 3 months, with 2 weeks off at Christmas, which I used for another road trip. I spent that summer camping at Kina beach, just a few minutes from the vineyard, and let me tell you, it was amazing. Would I spend 3 months living in a tent again? Probably not… but it’s an experience I’m grateful for, and will never forget. When the seasonal work at the vineyard ended in February 2020, I knew I wanted to stay in the area, so I looked for work close by. That job search led me to a nearby apple orchard, which is regularly featured aallllll over my social media, and is home to my borrowed dog, Buck. I lived and worked on the orchard for 6 months before leaving for the North Island. My heart broke to say goodbye, as the orchard had become home to me, but I also wanted to explore more of New Zealand. So I packed up, and took the ferry across the Cook Strait into Wellington. I took a few days to travel, and then drove up to Matakana. There, I spent about 8 months working as a server at a brewery called Sawmill. I met so many wonderful people there and made many good friends. I will forever be grateful for my experience at Sawmill, it was truly a great place to work. I also spent some time traveling when I could, and made many amazing memories. I found the North and South Islands very different in lots of ways, and while both are absolutely amazing, I missed the quieter, more laid back vibe I felt in the south. I was really missing the orchard as well, so I made plans to come back for the harvest in February 2021. However, in the weeks leading up to my departure, I had a bit of bad luck, and experienced a few unfortunate situations. Some of which forced me to delay my return by a few months. I was devasted to miss the harvest season at the orchard, and had been pining to be back. I was left trying to sort things out and make new plans, and was feeling pretty overwhelmed and saddened by the circumstances. This is where my friends and the wonderful team at Sawmill really stepped in as I struggled to cope with these situations. I would have been lost without them, and I’ll forever be thankful for their love and support.
When I was finally able to travel in May of 2021, I made my way back “home”, and for the past 7 months now, I have been soaking up every minute of being back at the orchard. Located just outside of the small town of Motueka, it’s the perfect peaceful setting. It truly is my happy place, and once again, was just what I needed. It’s sparked my joy and appreciation of finding peace in the quiet, simple moments once again, and has helped me to process and heal from the negative things that were happening in my life. Of course, much of that help came from the orchards best feature, which I’m completely unashamed to say is my best friend, Buck. He’s been a constant companion, a true friend, and the best walking buddy.
It’s been quite an adventure these last 2 years. If I could give only one piece of advice, or simply sum up my thoughts on traveling and doing things that seem “too big” for you, I say, do it. 100%. I’ve learned so much over the past 2 years, I’ve met so many people and seen so much, and the experiences (both the good and the bad) have shaped me, made me stronger and opened my eyes. Solo travel (or travel in general really) is a journey, and not just a geographical one. I’ve learned so much about myself and my capabilities. It’s changed my perspective about a lot of things, and has made me a better person. Has it all been easy? Heck no. In fact, most of it has been really hard in one way or another. But, it’s all been absolutely worth it. You’ll realize the things you thought you couldn’t do, you absolutely can. While breaking out of my comfort zones by pushing myself to go to places alone, meet new people, try different types of work and new things was scary beyond belief, it’s also been completely liberating and empowering! Safe to say, this country will forever hold a sacred space in my heart, no matter where I go. I’ve grown as a person more here than anywhere, so it’s really like my second birthplace now 😂, and I’m so thankful for all that it’s given me. I can’t imagine where I’d be without this experience. It’s given me a new view on life, and my future. Are my future plans set in stone? Nope. But that thought doesn’t terrify me like it used to. I no longer feel stuck. I know there are options. I won’t be afraid to change things up when something no longer feels right, and to try something new or different. If something doesn’t work, then you try something else, and learn from your missteps. The possibilities are endless. Am I saying you need to quit your job and move around the world to change your life? No, not if that’s not what is calling you. But, you do need to pick yourself up (off the kitchen floor), and have the courage, and faith in yourself to find your own way, and move forward. You won’t regret it.
I’ll end my story here (for now…) and please know that wherever you are, and whatever you may be struggling with, I believe in you and your ability to get through it, and you should too. I’m sending you all of my love and best wishes for your own journey, whatever it may be.