Why I Left Queenstown

Sometimes — not often, but occasionally — I have a very clear understanding of why I make certain decisions. Logical arguments. Timelines. Mental pro and con lists. Vague ideas of the direction I’d like my future to take as a result of said decisions. Every once in a while, my eventual course of action seems very obvious, if not always easy.

But then, inevitably, I sit down to write about these decisions and my logic suddenly seems flimsy; the hard-line truths I thought for sure were solutions suddenly feel trite and facile and, what’s worse, far from being truths at all. My reasoning starts to feel questionable, my deadlines blatantly self-imposed, my motives baseless and self-defeating.

That’s the dilemma I’m facing today as I sit here trying to write about why I left Queenstown. Two months, a month, three weeks before I left, it felt like the Right Thing to Do. But thinking about it now from the other side of the Tasman Sea, I realize I’d have an easier time trying to explain String Theory to you now than I would my decision to leave Queenstown.

Sunset -- my last night in Queenstown.

Sunset — my last night in Queenstown.

Because as certain as I was — as I am — that it was the most sensible decision for me, I’m fumbling for the reasons why right now. I’m struggling to remember the formula wherein What Makes Sense in the Long Term > What Feels Right Now. What follows, then, is sure to be a completely biased, highly emotional, but hopefully comprehensible account of how I got where I am right now and how I’m feeling about it.

This is me, moments before leaving for the Queenstown Airport. Please do not let the smile fool you. It's rude, you see, to frown when your friend has very generously insisted on carrying every possession being taken to Australia by both you and your mother. Also, I blame the lingering after-effects of cheerleading: when there's an audience, God help me if I don't slap a smile on my face no matter what the circumstance.

This is me, moments before leaving for the Queenstown Airport. Please do not let the smile fool you. It’s rude, you see, to frown when your friend has very generously insisted on carrying every possession being taken to Australia by both you and your mother. Also, I blame the lingering after-effects of cheerleading: when there’s an audience, God help me if I don’t slap a smile on my face no matter what the circumstance.

If I haven’t made it sufficiently clear up until this point, I loved Queenstown. I have lived in a fair few places in my lifetime — Northern California, Boston, Paris, New York City — and I have had strong emotional ties to each of them. I have made my very best friends in these places, learned life-changing lessons in them, shed a tear when I eventually left them for the uncertainty and vague promise of the next city in line. But never have I felt as at home as quickly, as easily content or as wholly unconcerned with what else was out there, in any place as I have in Queenstown. The people I met, the home I lucked into, the nonchalance with which I was just handed once-in-a-lifetime opportunities — these pieces all fit together with something inexplicable, some pervading vibe of friendliness and openness and downright magic that made Queenstown peerless — at least for me.

elf viewing 600x450

So, then, why did I leave? The crux of the matter, I hate to admit, was my age. A number of people, myself included, have been quick to defend my age and to put it in its proper context: the number itself is irrelevant; how I feel and act are the only real points worth recognizing. And I wholeheartedly agree — for the time being. But the problem with being 30 and living the kind of life I am is that it doesn’t really afford me the luxury of  drawing things out indefinitely.

In the face of my New Zealand visa’s expiration date (Jan. 17, 2013, for those keeping track at home), I had three options.

Option One: I could find a sponsor in advance of my visa’s expiration date. This would have required me to find a new job, work at it long enough to convince my new bosses I was indispensable, and agree to continue working for them for another year if they’d go through no insignificant amount of effort and money to convince the New Zealand government to allow me to stay. This, to me, did not seem like a viable option at the outset of my time in Queenstown. As you may remember, it was only with great hesitation that I decided to stay in Queenstown in the first place, and only with the intention of hitting the road again as soon as possible. The problem, it seems far too obvious in hindsight, was that I never wanted to stay too long in New Zealand. It was only when it was too late that I realized I wanted to stay much longer in Queenstown — and that those two things weren’t necessarily the same.

Option Two: I could apply for a special second visa through an organization called IEP. I’d pay them $550 for the visa, then I’d pay out of pocket for a full medical exam including chest X-Rays to show the Kiwi government I was still in good health. Finally, I’d spend six weeks at home in a mandatory stateside holding pattern while they processed my visa. I’d get another plane ticket down to New Zealand, go to Queenstown, and hope to find work again.

christmas in the lake 400

The third option, the one I ended up choosing, was to go to Australia. The Aussies had approved my working holiday visa back in August, and it would be valid for one year from the date of my entry into Australia — as long as I was still 30 years old when that happened.

And so I let my age intimidate me. I thought about missing my one window of opportunity to live and work in Australia, a country I’d fallen hard for upon my first visit not so long ago. My mind started contemplating another year in New Zealand, another year in Queenstown’s Never-Never Land environment. Another year of jobs I didn’t really care about in a place I’d already experienced. It seemed unsensible. I imagined an under-the-wire entrance into Australia days before my 31st birthday, a return to the USA at 32 (or 33 — didn’t everyone talk about wanting to stay in Oz a second year?) with what I suddenly feared would be an all-too-large résumé gap, no home, and a shorter distance between my stage in life and the deadlines I’d always thought I’d like to meet someday: Find a city I loved. Settle Down. Contemplate Kids. Set my Career Back in Motion. These long-term goals, these life milestones, suddenly felt like something I needed to rush to get to.

Rushing to commitment, of course, is the opposite of why I came traveling in the first place. But still, I sometimes fear I may have looked at Australia as a box to check off my list before I got too old rather than as just another option in a world full of them.

great ocean road

When I left the US 13 months ago, I envisioned this as the year in which I Figured Things Out. The already-indulgent period I was giving myself to take a step back and decide What I Really Wanted. I thought I’d come back home in January with a bullet list of confident answers to the questions I hadn’t been able to answer for myself before I left: What city to move to. What kind of job I’d like to have — and what kind of job I wouldn’t settle for. A plan to finally set up my 401(k). This, of course, was ridiculous, unrealistic, unfair: I’m far from having all the answers; if anything I’ve just added more questions.

Is that a bit dramatic? Possibly. Probably. I’m not in what I’d call impartial enough a position to say right now. What I do know is this: it goes to show that there’s no such thing as a set period of time for finding all the answers. You can’t force them — they just come (at least, I hope they do). I may yet find a home here in Australia — at least a temporary one. And if I don’t, it’s comforting to know that I still have one I can visit just a quick flight away. That’s the kind of answer I never could have gotten at home, never could have anticipated last January, and would never trade in now for all the Big Question Answers in the world.

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One thought on “Why I Left Queenstown

  1. Isn’t it funny how we always think we’re Gonna Figure So Much Out when we travel when in fact travelling has the exact opposite effect?! I say enjoy the journey…that is life! 🙂

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