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Kelli Mutchler

Kelli Mutchler - Author Interview

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Throughout much of her adult life, Kelli Mutchler has been on the road traveling to Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. She is now pursuing an MA in Global Development while revisiting old haunts like Queenstown and Western Australia. Where will Kelli's road lead to next?

Travel always pits you in situations that trigger an interest and force you to consider alternatives. 'I might do this again someday...'

Aside from American With Passport Considered Dangerous, Passionate Writer, and Tip-Worthy Waitress, what three words best describe Kelli Mutchler?

Books Before Food.  Reading is one of the reasons I wake up every morning. Travel tales, essentially, but also classics, fantasy, biography, everything.  It's actually caused budget issues on previous trips, when I used dinner money to buy books instead!

If your road pointed in some other direction besides writing, what would you be today?

That's a tough question.  Travel always pits you in situations that trigger an interest and force you to consider alternatives. "I might do this again someday..."  Based on that, I'd love to start my own organic fruit orchard or run a taco hut on a beach somewhere.  I've also considered opening a café bookstore or creating a new type of micro-brew beer.  Luckily, writing pairs well with everything.

In your GoAbroad author bio, you mention trying out waitressing. When and where did this happen? What lessons did the experience impart that help you in your travels?

I was 20, had little experience and took on a summer job as a server in a local bar and grill in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  As it turns out, waitressing is internationally transferable, and has given me employment in several other countries.  I've learned so many basic social skills from waiting tables that I'll force my children - if I have any - to do the same.  Patience; respect; the correct moments for lying and the proper times to tell the truth; how to handle rude people; and most importantly, humility.  These are qualities intrinsic to human interaction, especially on the road.  I've learned to treat every person with the same polite kindness I'd show a customer, which means I tend to get further in bartering, or meeting strangers, than I would without this serving background.

Your most recent trip has brought you to New Zealand, and you have been there twice before. If your visit is not due to work or a simple stopover, what can make you keep going back to the Land of the Kiwis?

My boyfriend is a Kiwi, which helps!  But my opinion was formed before we ever met: only in New Zealand can you change dramatic scenery every 10 miles, trust every one who picks up a hitch hiker, drink some of the world's best wine and try almost every outdoor sport imaginable.  New Zealand, to me, is like a test culture, 4 million people on an isolated island chain, where terrible things rarely happen and the food is always fresh.  Pretty close to Utopia, if it exists in the modern world. 

While waiting for your Australian visa for seven weeks in Queenstown, New Zealand, you took comfort in beautiful surroundings including the snow-capped peaks and lake Wakatipu. Could you describe the scene outside your Queenstown window? 

Early morning, the Remarkables Mountain Range pokes through low clouds - you can tell from our front window if there's fresh powder on the peaks.  Lake Wakitipu stretches from the base of the Remarks and away to the right, seemingly endless.  Low-flying shags search for food, now and then a lonely kayaker silently glides past. There is a sense of protection, environmental remoteness.  Almost as if you have stumbled upon some alpine haven at the bottom of thew world. Visitors constantly stop for photo ops, reminding me how lucky I am to see this not just once, but every day.  

You've moved to Australia recently. What was the first thing you packed and why do you want to bring it along? Does this apply to every journey you take?

Against all my previous protestations, I bought a Kindle.   Knowing we'd be in an isolated roadhouse for several months, it seemed like the only way to continue my avid reading habits. But in the past, I'd stop at a secondhand book store and select a few thick travel novels that would weigh down my bag, but at least get me through until we found another library or book swap.

What was the worst advice you received on your travels and how did you turn it to your advantage?

"Don't spend the money you're saving for the future."  When I moved to New Zealand in 2010, I knowingly spent the meager savings I'd set aside for a graduate program.  Broke and halfway across the globe, I picked up a job in Queenstown - which formed connections that led to a gig in Melbourne, Australia - which led to 6 months in the Outback, followed by two years of assorted paid and unpaid experiences in Asia and North America.  Now here I am again, still sans degree.  It used to bother me, 'wasting' my time; but, now I think of all the folks I've met, the sites I've seen, the challenges I've survived, and I don't regret a thing.  Overdrawing my account was probably the best thing I did this decade.

What is the best advice you can give to people planning to travel to Australia or New Zealand?

Don't come with an empty bank account.  The standard of living is high and to properly enjoy or participate in all the adventure activities - bungy jumping, white water rafting, caving, diving, glacier climbing, freedom camping - you'll need a fair amount of money.  While you can work your way around, if you have the proper visa, I find that the travelers who have the cash to actually see and do things enjoy the region so much more than those who can't even afford a pint at the local pub.

Where will the road lead Kelli Mutchler next -- after Australia, that is?

My boyfriend and I have our sights on Europe: a trans-Asia-Rusia-the 'Stans road trip, or train trip, zigzagging through every country until the funds run low.   It's a huge Kiwi trend for young adults to spend a few years in the UK, so we'll head in that direction.  I'll start my graduate degree somewhere in Ireland or Scotland, and we'll spend our weekends together exploring the parts of Europe we missed on the way over.  At least, that's the plan for now...