My First Holiday Alone: New Zealand!

Guess what! This time next week I will be in New Zealand! It’s been a bit of a mixed bag of emotions booking this holiday: I’m very excited, but also very anxious as it is the first holiday that I’ve ever done alone (technically, I will be in a group but still, I have to get there alone and I don’t know anyone). I really like to throw myself in the deep end with these things. I could have just gone to Cardiff for the weekend and worked my way up but no, other side of the world it is. I’ll be sharing posts when I get back about my time there but I thought I would share how I got to this point before I go as it’s a bit of a short story in itself. I’d also love some last minute travel tips if you have any to share.

A couple of years ago, when the pandemic was in full swing, I binge watched the Lord of the Rings movies with my then-partner and I was completely blown away by how beautiful they still looked, greatly in part due to their setting in New Zealand. I’d also heard a lot of good things about the country and always felt like it was somewhere that I would enjoy visiting. After a bit of research we agreed that we would go and I began looking at itineraries, travel advice, the best time of year to go etc. I was very excited. As New Zealand was being very sensible about lockdown I bought an extra week of holiday from work for the coming year so that I could book it as soon as they opened their doors again. The plan was that we would hire a campervan and drive around both islands. However, once the discussion of putting money into the trip became a reality, my ex backtracked saying that they didn’t realise I’d meant for the year coming (despite discussing buying the extra holiday together), they thought I had meant in two years time, which I simply didn’t believe as this seemed to happen whenever we made plans to go anywhere. You can’t force someone to go on an expensive, long vacation with you though. I was very disappointed but I never let go of the idea of the trip.

Fast forward about a year, I had bought a house with this now-ex, we’d moved in and had been in our house for about 10 months when we broke up (that’s a story for another time). I left and moved in with friends and he had to buy me out of the house. Suddenly, for the first time in a long time I was in a position where I had no big responsibilities, I wasn’t tied to anyone, and I had money. The opportunity was too good to waste and as soon as the house money came through I put some aside some for a trip to New Zealand. The added bonus of it representing a big middle finger to my ex was pretty nice too.

With opportunity however also came the need for action, and this is where I started to chicken out. I don’t usually do things spontaneously and I have never been on holiday anywhere by myself before, let alone to the other side of the world. I tried to convince a couple of people to come with me but it’s a huge amount of money and a long time to be away so I didn’t want to push too hard. Knowing myself well, and therefore knowing that this would happen, my past self had intentionally told a lot of people about my plans to force my future self to do it. I knew that people would ask about the trip. The longer time went on without me making any progress, the less people would believe that I was actually going to go. Eventually, I would reach a point where I would rather buy my flight tickets than face having to admit that I got scared and decided not to go. It may be an unorthodox and self-manipulative way of doing it, but it worked.

My intention had been to keep my original plan and do the campervan trip by myself, but I weighed up the pros and cons of travelling alone vs in an organised tour group and in the end general safety and having everything organised for me won out against shyness and personal space. I booked a two week tour through Kiwi Experience where we will visit both the North and South islands in a group of 18. It is now a week before my trip and unfortunately Kiwi Experience haven’t done a lot to quell my anxiety. Firstly, there was a problem with my trip planner where I was unable to book my extra activities (such as Hobbiton, or whale watching) for a long time. Secondly, I thought that there would be a bit more contact than just an initial confirmation email, maybe a list of what to pack or a ‘just two weeks to go!’ note. I eventually had to phone them to see what was going on and they fixed my planner issue and didn’t seem fazed when I mentioned I had only received the confirmation, they seemed a bit confused as to why I was nervous but maybe I’m just too high-strung for New Zealanders.

My main concerns are primarily around the other people on the trip and being around them for so long. I can be very sociable and enjoy spending time with people but after a while I need to re-charge my social batteries and be alone for a while. I’ve also never stayed in a hostel with shared accommodation before but I know a lot of people (generally my more outgoing friends) that have done so and are incredibly nonchalant about it, so I’m sure it’s fine. I think my worst case scenario will be that I get there and I will be with a large group of outgoing, energetic 18 year olds, but it should be a mixed bag of people.

I’ll definitely follow this post up with details about my trip so keep an eye out for that in the future! In the mean time though my blog will be quiet for the next few weeks while I’m away.

If you have ever been to New Zealand what were your favourite parts? Have you got any travel tips? I love trying new food when I’m abroad, what’s something I should definitely eat while I’m there? If you also get a little anxious around people but you have travelled, how did you deal with it?

Some pics for illustrative purposes from my last trip to Barcelona:

My Avoriaz Ski Experience

Every year I go skiing with a group of friends. It’s become a tradition that I really love and value, and I look forward to it every time. When I say every year, this was unfortunately stopped for three because of the pandemic, but this year we got to go again. As the years have gone by our group has got smaller, my friend used to organise it through his work and would invite myself and a few other friends along, but as time passed less people from his work came and now it’s just us friends. That has worked out well as when we started going I was in my early twenties, I was able to go out and drink all night then get up reasonably early in the morning and ski most of the day. Now that I’m pushing thirty, and have come out the other side of a pandemic where I couldn’t go to bars and clubs, I don’t have that energy and having a smaller group where we are all happy to go have a nice dinner, drink wine, play some board games and be in bed by 11 is really nice.

I wish I could say that I had something to do with choosing the location and the organisation of the trip but I was very lazy this year and left it to my friends. I’m very glad that I did though because they know a lot more about different resorts than I do and this year they chose Avoriaz, France. I had never been there before and besides the piste map I didn’t do a lot of research before we went. However, my ignorance made my initial reaction to the resort all the better when we arrived; There was a ‘taxi rank’ of horse-drawn sleighs waiting to take people to their hotels (unfortunately we had too much luggage and we were towed behind a snowmobile instead) and as we were driven through the town the Christmas lights were still up, all of the buildings were made of wood with some of the roofs built into a strange, angular style that I hadn’t really seen before, it looked like we had stepped into a Hallmark Christmas movie. My friend informed me that the horses and snowmobile transportation were in place because Avoriaz is an eco-resort, and no cars are allowed. I also later learned that the buildings were all made with natural resources and wood, designed to blend in with the mountains surrounding the town (hence the peculiar angles). If you’d like to see more about how eco-friendly the resort is here’s a good article about it.

I’ve never been to a car-free resort before but it was wonderful. We literally stepped outside of the hotel, put our skis straight on and off we went. It wasn’t a large resort either so you didn’t have to rely on horses to get around, you could easily get to the other side of town in 10-15 minutes. Going uphill was a bit more of a challenge of course, especially after a big meal. There was a larger town called Morzine, which was car-friendly and is where most of the people that worked at the resort lived. We were told that if we wanted more bars, restaurants and shopping that was the place to go, but none of us were particularly bothered about staying up late, and the restaurants in Avoriaz were more than enough for us. This is a slightly biased take though as we had a meal card provided by the hotel where we each had 36 euros each, every night towards our dinner at a specific list of restaurants, so it seemed silly to waste that by going somewhere not on the list.

A ski diet generally consists of bread, meat (specifically beef), cheese and potatoes, and you will find that most restaurants offer the same dishes (though the quality may vary). Luckily no one with us was vegan. Despite the food all being similar, the Avoriaz restaurants were all wonderful and I didn’t have a bad meal the whole time we were there. Our 36 euro allowance per day was more than enough and usually allowed us to get a bottle of wine, a main and a starter or dessert without much extra being added. Our favourite restaurants from our provided restaurant list were The Brasserie where the waiters were very friendly and the pizzas were great, La Cabane where I had the poshest, most delicious shepard’s pie I’ve ever had in my life (made with lamb and duck), and La Reserve which we were told multiple times was the best place to go for raclette and fondue, we went here to celebrate my friend’s birthday and it was indeed very good.

In terms of the actual skiing, we were very lucky. Our trip was in the second week of January before we left and we had all been following the news that was reporting on the lack of snow in the alps, which was so bad that some resorts had been forced to close. Fortunately, it snowed throughout the entirety of our first day and then on and off consistently throughout the rest of the week so the conditions were great, though visibility was a bit rough at times. I’d rather ski a little slower and be careful than not ski at all though so I’m not complaining. It’s possible to ski into Switzerland from Avoriaz and we did this a couple of times but the difference in the snow quality was surprising; despite being just on the other side of the mountain there was a thin layer on the slopes in Switzerland and it was often icy. We stayed on the French side for the most part because of this. If I were to go again though (which I hope I do) this will give me more to explore in the future.

For a while, I’d been aware that I had incredibly poor ski technique. The last time I’d had a lesson was 18 years ago after all, and since then I just followed better skiiers and tried to copy them. I was also certain that I should not be feeling so exhausted such a short time into my ski trips, with my thighs feeling like they were on fire at the mere sight of a ski just a couple of days in. I finally decided to do something about it and booked some private lessons with my friend who had a similar issue. We had two lessons with the Avoriaz Alpine ski school, the first teacher was more gentle, unconventional but confidence boosting. He informed us that we “ski like the English” because we “look like we are trying to lay an egg” and then he clucked at us a bit. All this time I had been squatting quite low and tensing a lot. We learned to stand up straighter, keep our bums tucked in and pirouette in our ski boots (we had a few odd looks from passers-by). Finally, he was satisfied and said that we now looked like princesses instead of roosters. I’ll happily accept that feedback. Our second lesson was with a different teacher and was significantly harder, we learned about going faster and getting into a rhythm of standing and bending at the knees while controlling where we put our weight when slaloming, the conditions weren’t great either and it was hard to follow the teacher through the snow but it was still very beneficial and we practised our new-found techniques the rest of the holiday.

Finally, it was time to leave and I was very sad to, but I was also tired and full of cheese so I was looking forward to my bed and a salad. Going forward I think I will book in for at least one ski lesson every trip, it’s hard to remember and maintain good form if you only go once a year. Other skiiers, how do you prepare for your ski trip? Do you usually take lessons or wing it? Where is your favourite resort? Looking for tips for next year!