Fraser Island and The Art of Solo Travelling

When I first started travelling alone, I was terrified. Gone was the excitement and bravado of having taken the plunge and booked a flight, read the guidebooks, bought a backpack. I was just a woman in her late twenties, sitting on a plane – alone – hurtling towards the other side of the world at an alarming speed. NO job. No house. No boyfriend. No kids. No ties. On one hand, this is extremely exhilarating – its true freedom and I’m really lucky to be in this position. But I was terrified of this lack of structure. This year I am turning thirty and I was afraid I would have nothing but an empty bank account to show for it.

Of course, fast forward three months and this feeling only rears its ugly head every once in a while, usually when I am completely alone somewhere that I’m not that into, hangover or just a bit sick of doing the backpacker thing. I’m so used to being on my own now and I am glad I took the gamble as it has forced me to speak to people in various situations I might not otherwise if I was with a friend – at the bus stop, in a bar, in the bathroom (seriously!) I have met some truly great people -however fleeting these meetings might be – because I am alone. Of course there are drawbacks to being alone: someone to hold your bags when you need the loo or want to go for a swim would be welcome!

When I first started travelling I was so worried about approaching people but the longer I spend wandering about, the more I realise that everyone is in the same boat (sure in Australia most people seem to be travelling in groups) and are more than happy to meet new people. And are those who shun new experiences and friendships really worth your effort, anyway?

A good example of this is my recent trip to Fraser Island. Being completely alone, I had no idea what to expect. But I have to say, this tour was one of the best things I’ve done since travelling in Australia. I opted for a “tag-along” tour which saw us driving around the island in 4x4s. On the first night at the hostel, we were put into groups of 8 and given a safety briefing. My group was a good mix of people and I was really excited to get going.

We spent three days and two nights driving around the island and camping. Now, the campsite seriously left a lot to be desired (I am not a camping wimp – I’ve travelled and camped on plenty of occasions), and for the amount of money we spent on the tour, we were really expecting more but at the same time, the sheer shitholeness of the campsite made it even better. We spent each night cooking dinner, getting drunk and sitting around a campsite. All the groups came together at night which made being lonely very difficult. Everyone who is travelling the East Coast seems to have the same itinerary so its often the case that you bump into someone you know somewhere along the line.

Fraser Island is stunning and it was such a fantastic experience to whiz around the island, driving through the rainforest and along the beach, watching the waves rolling in and blasting out music like teenage drivers. Everyday our tour guide, Joel, took us to beautiful places: Lake McKenzie, Eli Creek (also dubbed Hangover Creek) where the water contained natural tea tree, India Head where you can see turtles, sharks and rays, Champagne pools, and a beautiful lake with tiny fish that nibble at your feet (although you have to climb a sand dune and walk for forty minutes to reach the lake).

 

While we were waiting for the ferry back to Rainbow Beach, we saw dolphins swimming in the ocean and they were really playing up to their audience. Not to sound too cheesy, but it really was one of those travellers moments where you realise just how lucky you are to be in such a beautiful part of the world and you understand why these places are so important.

I am currently in The Town of 1770 which is very quiet but its a good place to recuperate after the craziness of Fraser Island. The hostel I am staying in is nice, although I did have to lug my laundry into town as there were no washing machines and pay $5 to store my luggage and use the kitchen whereas other hostels have previously offered this service for free. I don’t think I’d recommend Southern Cross Backpackers as I have heard there are hostels offering much better, truly FREE services (Free at this hostel seems to be used a little to liberally – although the WiFi is good, the FREE breakfast is cheap white bread and spreads with dead flies in them – bluuuuurgh).

Next up is Airlie Beach and a boat tour of Whitsundays for three days and two nights. Its not a bad lifestyle, eh? I can’t really complain! Plus one of my good friends has just confirmed she will be coming to visit me in Bali for two weeks so I am excited about having a familiar face for some of my time there.

Has anyone been to Fraser Island? Where were the places you found breathtaking? How do you feel about solo travel? Do you find it gets easier with time? Are you a seasoned solo travelling pro? Share your tips with me here or contact me on Twitter @EmmaYatesBadley or Facebook: Emma Is Writing A Novel.

 

Four Weeks Down Under: Melbourne, Sydney, Byron Bay, Brisbane and Noosa

Australia has been a bit of a whirlwind so far, and with barely having any time to relax, comes barely anytime for writing.

I think there is a huge difference between travelling in New Zealand and Australia; people seem to be a little wilder here. New Zealand is beautiful and scenic – don’t get me wrong, we had some crazy party nights – but it was far more subdued. People were there to travel. People are here to party and are constantly on the go. I feel guilty for taking time out to write.

There’s a lot of young uns here too and, as a woman approaching her 30th birthday, it’s both liberating and depressing. Liberating because I can act like a 21 year old if I want (and this week I have been told I look 21 so I guess it’s what I like to call The Field of Dreams effect: if you build it, they will come. If I act like it, it will happen) but depressing because I feel nearly 30 and sometimes just want to chill out.

I am currently in Noosa which, although not the first place to steal my heart, (I’m currently head over heels in love with both Melbourne and Byron Bay) is absolutely stunning. I feel like I am on a holiday from my holiday in this upmarket coastal town. Admitedly I’d much rather be here with lots of cash (I’ve been walking past restaurants and pining after plates piled high with seafood and bottles of expensive looking red wine) and, since I’m wishing for stuff, a nice hot man to take me out for dinner, but even as a backpacker you can still have a bit of luxury. I am staying in the YHA hostel which is probably one of the prettiest hostels I’ve been in and certainly the nicest one I’ve stayed in in Australia (Take note Australia; you need to clean up your hostel act). I’ve mainly just been chilling out on the beach, working on my tan (although right now I am in the hostel bar as it is too freaking HOT for my English skin to handle) reading and chilling out with the lovely people I’ve been put in a room with. Tomorrow I’m going to attempt the coastal walk where koala bear sightings are common.

If you ever make it to Noosa, I highly recommend the YHA. With its heritage buildings, cute little bar and fairly cheap drinks ($6.50 for a nice glass of merlot isn’t too bad). Plus the beach is gorgeous. But be warned; bring lots of cash. You will want to eat and drink everything here. I’ve already blown my Noosa budget – nice, sunny days just calls for a nice glass of vino though!

So I’ve figured out I am roughly halfway through my Australia visit (and over halfway through my entire trip) which is insane! But with lots more to look forward to, I’m not about to feel sad just yet. Still to come:

Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island tour (5 nights) (*please keep your fingers crossed for good weather, it’s about to chuck it down for a few days*)

1970 (2 nights)

Airlie Beach and Whitsunday sailing trip (5 nights)

Magnetic Island (2 nights)

Caines plus Great Barrier Reef dive (7 nights)

Cape Tribulation (1 night)

Outback (Ayres Rock) (3 nights)

Melbourne for my last 3 nights and 4 days

I’m excited and apprehensive. Who knows who I’ll meet and who knows how crazy people will be along the way. One thing is for certain, I am going to need that hotel in Hong Kong and that trip to Bali after these next few weeks of travel. I am dreaming of villas and spa days and yummy food, and a cheaper place because I am fast burning through my money.

So what have I been up to so far?

I arrived in Melbourne late which was not a great start. My flight was delayed and a friend who had very kindly offered to let me stay with him for the weekend was meeting me on the other side. I was freaking out when I arrived but he was still there waiting when I finally managed to get in contact with him. Phew! After bar hopping in the CBD with my mammoth rucksack – who 1) still needs a name and 2) is wildly out of control – we headed to Hawthorne where I was staying for the next two days. My friend was a great tour guide taking me to the Melbourne Museum, China Town, to see the famous graffiti alleys, and through the weirdest street festival/market in Hawthorne. I was sad to head to a hostel late on the Sunday night. It was so nice to be normal for a while and spend time with people from the area. The next few days were spent sightseeing: the botanical gardens, Queen Victoria Markets, the state library; I also managed to catch up with an old friend for drinks and spend a night watching movies – something I have been craving since being on the move – and drinking Thatchers cider (for those who know me, this is HEAVEN because you can’t get decent cider here, it’s like apple juice). I loved my time in Melbourne – it fast became one of my favourite cities next to Cologne and Edinburgh – and I’m excited to spend my last few days of my Australian adventure in May.

I managed to find time to plan my entire trip when I was in Melbourne. I had started to realise that with my limited timeframe (six weeks of travel) I would really need to map it out and ensure all the trips are booked. I don’t usually like to travel like this – and certainly don’t intend to when I hit China and Bali – but Australia is just so freaking big – and CRAZY EXPENSIVE – that you need a game plan if you’re not here for a long period of time and want to keep the costs down. The travel agent I used were great as I told them my budget, what I wanted to do, and they tried to match this as closely as possible. While I wouldn’t recommend travelling this way all the time, if you are worried about budgeting, it’s possibly a good solution. It helped me ease my panic when I saw my dwindling savings keep reducing and really, I haven’t felt restricted at all as I have enough time in each place to hang out with new friends or go off somewhere if I wish. The downside is I am living on a miniscule budget but I have to keep reminding myself that this is just food and drink money, plus any souvenirs and incidentals that might crop up.

So next I hopped on an overnight bus from Melbourne to Sydney where it turned out a guy I’d met briefly in New Zealand had just moved to for work. After a nap and a shower we met to check out his new place of work in North Sydney and, of course, have a few drinks. It was so nice to see another familiar face although we soon realised that the bar we were sitting at was surrounded by the biggest bats we had ever seen. I have never seen a bat with a wingspan that enormous. There were other unwanted creatures including a few rats and an irritating lawyer called Joe. We decided we’d spend the next few days getting super touristy. I wasn’t sure I’d like Sydney as much as Melbourne when I first arrived (my hostel being bright yellow and seemingly in a dodgy part of town) but it really won me over (the hostel I’m still 50/50 on).

We spent the next couple of days doing a walking tour of Sydney to The Rocks and the Opera House, eating at amazing restaurants, drinking way too much coffee/beer/wine, heading over to Bondi Beach for a day of laze, discovering whiskey bars, and then one miserable rainy day at Manly beach.

Then it was on to Byron Bay. Now I am in lust with Byron. If it was a game of snog, marry, avoid, I would snog Byron, marry Melbourne and avoid Surfer’s Paradise (but that’s another story). So I found myself solo again which, although it allows me to do exactly what I want, when I want to, is pretty difficult after spending two weeks with other people. I needn’t have worried because Byron is really friendly and I was never really alone. With a really hippy vibe, Byron is all about chilling out in the day at the beach and partying like a crazy person at night. I met a lovely bunch of English girls and probably partied a little too much!

 

Next up was Surfers Paradise but I have NOTHING redeeming to say about this place and, in the words of Thumper from Bambi, “if you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing at all.” In all honesty, I am going to employ this tactic for Brisbane too. It’s a nice city, it’s just nondescript.

So here I am in lovely Noosa, hiding from the midday sun because I haven’t burnt yet and I’m hoping to avoid it!

I’m a little in love with the way of life over here. It’s just such a shame it’s the other side of the freaking world!

Has anyone travelled Australia? What do you think of the backpacking culture on the East Coast? Have you arrived somewhere and felt instantly disappointed? Which cities would be on your Snog Marry Avoid list? Are you an “older” traveller? Share your stories with me!