I set off to travel the world exactly one year ago today.
(Happy 23rd birthday! Now go take an international flight and sit on an aeroplane forever).
Phea and I flew for 19 hours, stopping over in Hong Kong just long enough to screw up our internal body clock, to arrive in Cairns, Australia completely disorientated and more than slightly resembling washed-out zombies.
I had never had jet lag before, but man did it make itself felt that day.
And the day after.
And now here I am, one year later. A new country (Indonesia), a new chapter of the journey.
It has been a bloody fantastic year. To say that I never even had Australia on my agenda, it was a brilliant place to live and work for the majority of the past twelve months.
I covered so much ground, met so many new people, and learnt so much. I never thought there would be such a learning curve in a country where everyone speaks my language. A well-developed country. A “Western” country (whatever that means).
But I guess when you are travelling long term there will always be opportunity to gain something.
Here are some of the things I have learnt in the past year.
Note: the vast majority of them are in no way profound. If profoundness is what you’re after, you probably came to the wrong blog…
Australia is really, really big
This took me way too long to realise.
It is bigger than you ever thought it was. It is as big as the ENTIRETY of Europe, near enough.
That’s a lot to think about that when you’re planning a road trip.
Chill the f*ck out, and everything will be easier
A life lesson that everyone should learn is that there is almost never any point in stressing out.
This especially applies to minor things, but it also goes for the big stuff.
Why? Because stressing doesn’t make things any easier. It doesn’t resolve problems or mitigate them. It just adds to list of things that have to be overcome.
If something is supposed to work out, it probably will. If not, then why worry? Do all you can to prepare, and then just relax. Most things don’t need to be sorted weeks in advance, and most of the time you won’t know the best plan of action until you get somewhere.
You can’t predict everything. Like kangaroos who think it’s a good idea to leap out in front of your speeding vehicle.
Life is better when you aren’t overly attached to your possessions (cars included…)
Turns out that having more possessions doesn’t make you happier. Particularly when you have to carry them around on your back.
I have discovered that there is nothing more cleansing than doing a complete overhaul of my rucksack.
I love spreading all of my gear out on the floor, and going through piece by piece, chucking or donating what I don’t want and only keeping the things I really love or really need.
It’s taken me a long time to realise that there is no point in keeping things just because they are “practical”, or “just in case”. I’d rather have a bag a couple of kilos lighter, buy things when I need them, and give them away when I no longer do.
Treat every goodbye as a ‘see you later’
I am terrible at goodbyes. Probably always have been, but it becomes more apparent when you have to do them often.
In the past year I’ve settled down three or four times, only to need to move on again before I knew it. Coff’s Harbour, Melbourne, Donnybrook. I’ve considered each of these places home for a brief period, then uprooted again for somewhere new.
I don’t find it sad, to be honest. I find it freeing. But it does mean that there are a lot of people who I’ve had to say goodbye to.
But the thing is, I’m sure I will see them again. In my country or theirs, or somewhere else entirely. That’s the beauty of travelling. And it’s better to assume that you will see someone again, and focus on that, than spend too long being upset that you are parting ways for right now.
Acting like you can do something is half the battle
Turns out the phrase “fake it til you make it” is totally true.
Can you drive a quad bike? Yeah sure.
Do you want to be the first to drive this huge unweildy 4×4 on sand? Yeah I’m definitely a competent driver.
What, so you just walk up to people and ask if you can join them? Yep, watch me.
I’ve learnt that the best way to develop confidence – in travel, as in life – is just to pretend that you already had it by the bucket load.
Giving something a go is the only way you will get what you want
One of the best things to come out of this year is my tentative foray into freelance writing. It took a very fortuitous connection (thanks Becky) to push me into actually emailing over my first pitch, but the only way I got my first piece published was by giving it a go.
I’m hoping this is just the beginning of writing for work as well as for pleasure. And this little success has made me realise that actually, being a writer by career is something that is within my grasp. I just have to go for it.
The only way to get what you want is actually just to try…
Groundbreaking, I know
Things have a way of working themselves out (you might just need a bit of patience)
Sometimes I feel like I must be the luckiest person on the planet, the way that things always seem to turn out basically the way I want them to.
And then sometimes I think that actually, maybe this would be the same for everyone, if they’d just let it happen.
Like with my regional work to get my second year in Australia. I had just over three months left to get my farm days done – a less than ideal stretch of time, given the inconsistency of farm work – and I still managed it.
Deciding to let things take their own path has always worked out well for me. The path that they take is often the most fortuitous route anyhow.
And sure, you might need to be a little bit stubborn to help things along their way. But it only takes a little bit of momentum to set things off in the right direction.
Don’t live by what the weather is doing
The weather doesn’t matter. What matters is how you react to it
I’ve come around to the idea that ‘we can’t go, it’s raining/cold/windy’ is a rubbish way to live your life.
Look at the weather and just do it anyway. Rain is temporary. Memories aren’t.
So you get wet. You’ll dry. You aren’t going to remember the feeling of soggy clothing as much as the awesome view you got from that hike.
Trekking across New Zealand mountains in the rain was one of the best things we did there.
Sure, we were soaked and uncomfortable for a bit, but if it hadn’t rained I wouldn’t have been able to casually say ‘Yeah, today we forded across six waterfalls.”
And that’s a sentence I liked being able to say.
For God’s sake, just book the damn flight
Flight prices have this irritating habit of going up just when you’ve made up your mind to book them. Even when you know the trick of only browsing airline websites in private mode.
If you know you’re going to book, just book it now.
Winter in Australia is a real thing
Shocking though it may be, Australia is actually not sunny and warm the whole time.
It does get cold (and I don’t just mean a bit nippy, I mean really bloody cold). Sometimes it does rain. It even snows in some places. And you better be prepared for it.
New Zealand is surely the most consistently beautiful country on the planet
I mean, look at it:
Slow travel wins every time
I do sometimes enjoy the hectic sprints from place to place, packing as much as possible into a few short days in each city. But for the most part, taking the time to get to know somewhere is definitely more my style.
I like finding a local place to eat, saying hello to the same people every day, finding out about the culture through direct experience rather than the guide book.
It turns out I’ve actually “lived” (i.e. spent more than a month) in quite a few countries by now: India, Nepal, South Africa, Australia. And I think I gain a lot more from travelling that way than from speeding around.
Plus, it’s way more budget-friendly.
Spending a few extra dollars for speed and/or comfort is almost always worth it
I’m still a budget backpacker (to the core), but now I have learnt to prioritise better.
Money is a resource that can always be earned back. Time, not so much.
So if I can get a flight that doesn’t involve a twelve-hour layover, I’ll probably go for it. If I can pay a bit more to get a pre-booked shuttle bus from the airport to the hostel, well at least I won’t get robbed in the taxi.
Haggling is fun, but not always necessary
This is kind of related to the above. The importance of money is in the priority it takes.
So I no longer care as much about not getting “ripped off” when it comes to buying things in a barter economy. Paying an extra 70p makes no difference to me, and while I might enjoy a bit of back-and-forth over the price, 70p might actually be important to the shop holder.
It shouldn’t have taken me this long to figure it out, but I am not a local, I am a tourist. Paying more is not a scam, it is part of the privilege of having disposable income.
I don’t need to pay local prices; I will pay some kind of ‘foreigner tax’, and I will pay it with a smile.
One year on, and there’s no way I’m stopping any time soon. Best 24th birthday ever: the privilege of continuing to travel.
(And the fact that I’m in Bali, with my mum – that’s pretty nice too).
Travel first, figure out the rest later. Still going to live by that.
Here’s to the next year.