My Life in Airports: Thunderstorms, Money Woes and The Kindness of Strangers

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Aesop

I have forgotten how many airport lounges I have spent time in over the last few months, lost count of the hours spent sprawled across chairs with my bag tucked underneath my head as a makeshift pillow in order to get a bit of shut eye. I’m not sure how many miles I have travelled – by air, or bus, or train – or how many time zones I’ve crossed, but I know one thing: I am tired.

Of course my flight path is a little extreme compared to others due to my having changed plans and itinerary. On one hand I’m lucky because I get to go back to Hong Kong and visit the places I didn’t get to go to because of the bad weather, but on the other, if I have to sleep on one more plane, or kill time in an airport (the most hateful one was Shanghai where the Wi-Fi wouldn’t work, I didn’t have any currency on me and I could not for the life of me find a shop stocking an adapter for Indonesia, only stuffed animals and chocolates) I might scream.

But what’s been going on?

Hong Kong finally brightened up (a bit) and I was able to explore a little more, although I am glad I get to visit again for a few days before I head back to the UK as there’s still so much I am yet to see.

I decided to explore Kowloon on foot rather than take the train and let’s face it, after the amount of bakery wares I’d consumed in Hong Kong, I needed the exercise. I had no set plan but just walked around with the guide book in hand and stopping off at various temples on the way. They were beautifully ornate and the juxtaposition of Eastern temple next to Western skyscrapers made for pretty epic scenery.

 

I spent a lot of time exploring Shanghai Street which, adjacent to the very western, busy and affluent Nathan Road, was like stepping back in time to how I imagine Hong Kong might have been. There were lots of shops selling oversized kitchen appliances, restaurants with entrances made up of huge fish tanks containing all sorts of sea creatures (one contained a hell of a lot of dead fish so it’s safe to say I didn’t go and eat there!)

 

Next up was Flower Market Road which was a small side street full of flower shops. I would have loved to buy some flowers as they were beautiful and smelled amazing but, since I was heading off to Bali the next day, it seemed like a bit of a waste. It was great fun to walk around, watching locals buy huge bouquets. It’s a really vibrant part of town.

I then headed to the Bird Garden which I knew would make me feel uneasy but I wanted to take a look anyway. There are lots of birds in tiny cages, some are for sale, some purely for decoration, but they were so confined and unhappy, I wanted to let them out. There were lots of wild birds flying around and the caged birds kept signing their sad songs. I kept thinking they must look at these free birds everyday and long to be let out. What’s interesting about the Bird Garden, however, is the local old men sitting around on benches playing a game (the name of which I cannot remember) because it seemed like an odd choice.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill for
The caged bird sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou

That night I head to The Symphony od Lights at Victoria Harbour where at 8pm every night they project huge lasers from the tops of buildings for 20 minutes. Its pretty cheesy stuff but makes for some great photographs. Unfortunately, the sky was so cloudy I didn’t get to see many of the lights.

The next day I took the train to Central Station on Hong Kong Island and met up with a friend of a friend who has lived in Hong Kong for five years. She took me for amazing Dim Sum and showed me around the city – I’m excited to go back and explore some more although I don’t think Central Hong Kong really floats my boat as its mostly big banks and brand names. After lunch we went for reflexology in this cute little shop where I had an hour long foot massage which, for someone with super ticklish feet, was surprisingly amazing. I felt so rested afterwards! Then I hopped on the Star Ferry back to Kowloon but it was such bad better weather, I could barely see anything and the journey was very choppy. At $2.50 HK the Star Ferry is a super cheap way to hop between the islands and, on a clear day, I’m sure you can see some great sights.

The next day, I arrived at Hong Kong airport three hours early ready to grab some lunch, peruse the shops for an adapter as I couldn’t find one in Hong Kong, and – most importantly – grab myself $25 US in order to pay for my visa into Bali (bit of a scam when they say you don’t need a visa to enter the country) and change some money to get a taxi and pay for my hostel on arrival. I couldn’t find the currency exchange near my hotel so reasoned I would just do it the airport. The rates are usually good and, besides, I would have plenty of time, plus I wouldn’t have to carry a wad of cash around my dodgy neighbourhood.

But of course life doesn’t work like that, even when you have a plan. The skies opened and out came the thunderstorms. I got moved to an earlier flight to ensure I would actually make my connection which was boarding as I was checking in – queue me running like a crazy person through security and across to gate 509 which I had to get A BUS from the main terminal to.

It was catch the plane vs. get money.

So far so crazy and no ATM. No currency exchange.

Never mind I thought, I can get dollars in Shanghai. No big deal.

Except here I am, my flight delayed by an hour (yet again), the currency exchange will not accept credit card and the only ATM is OUTSIDE the departure lounge which, since I am in transit, I am not allowed to go out to because I don’t have a Chinese visa.

So I found myself dollar-less with no local currency to my name – I had $50 HK which is the equivalent of $6 US – and I was terrified they weren’t going to let me in the country because I didn’t have the money on me. I was a bit of a wreck – completely terrified when I hit immigration in Bali.

Every long-term traveller I have spoken with has discussed periods of ‘burn out’ and horrible, scary situations they have found themselves in.

Now I know that a person sat at home after a hard day’s work might be reading this post and think I sound ridiculous or ungrateful, and possibly a little unhinged, but after a week of insane flights, the nomadic lifestyle I’ve been living has started to take its toll. There’s no sanctuary to be found behind closed doors when travelling, it’s difficult to find – or afford – the space to shut yourself away when the world gets too much. It’s hard to stay on top of everything all the time and sometimes it’s difficult to stay positive when the odds are stacked against you and you find yourself in a scary situation.

And I was right. It was exactly the nightmare I had thought it would be. Stupidly, in the haze of having to catch a thousands flights and hitting weird time zones, I had forgotten to inform my bank that I would be in Indonesia which meant I couldn’t access any cash from ATMs. I was escorted out of the airport (I had to leave my passport behind as insurance) to various ATMS and none of them would work. Luckily I had met a very nice Canadian girl on the airplane and she leant me some cash until I sorted things out. I was able to leave the airport and ended up spending the next 24 hours chilling on Kuta beach, drinking beers and hanging out in a great guest house (Fat Yogi’s in Kuta is worth the visit if you’re in the area) with her and two of her friends. I contacted my mum, who luckily is third party on my bank accounts, and she was able to call the bank and rectify the problem. Don’t make the same mistake I did when travelling, always inform your bank because otherwise you could find yourself stuck in transit without a Canadian lifeline!

Of course, now its all sorted, I can look back on the situation as a positive one. I have learnt to be more careful with things like banking and more prepared when I travel to a new country. I hadn’t even thought as far ahead as Bali and, when the time came to go, I knew nothing about what to expect. It has also made me feel extremely positive; people are inherently good and, while I’m not naïve to trust people with my things (I would never leave my bags out my sight), I think we often think too negatively of people. If it wasn’t for the kindness of a stranger, I would have been a bit more stuck than I was. It’s important to help others out. I am a huge believer in karma and I think that since this girl has helped me, good things will come to her, and I in turn will endeavour to pay the kindness forward to others I meet along the way. And who knows! You may make a new friend and have a great time as a result.

It’s easy to get lost in negativity when you’re alone in a foreign country and shit hits the fan but, once the insane flights are over and you are settled in a place (and have had a good night’s sleep and manage to actually enter a country) the feeling of rootlessness and stress, fear and terror, disappears and you sort out your money woes, stop crying, meet your temporary hostel family, manage to make your bunk bed your own little haven, suss the bathroom situation, then life seems rosy again.

You go back to feeling grateful again, and in love with the lifestyle. I suppose it’s like anything. You have fantastic days and you have god fucking awful days like the airport day where nothing seems to go your way. Nothing is perfect all the time.

So why does all this fear and burnout come about? And what can we do to get over it and feel human again?

Burn out for me stems from not having enough sleep. In the immortal words of Hear Say, it’s pure and simple. I like my kip. I LOVE my bed (reunion T minus 4 weeks) and – this is something I have learned about myself since travelling – I need to have time to myself every day to unwind.

So I guess the answers are simple:

Keep calm

Things happen. I worked myself up into such a state at the airport and yesterday when I couldn’t get money out but everything tends to work itself out. Keeping calm and optimistic is important. Stress only makes the situation worse.

It’s important, now and again, to treat yourself

Whether it be a private hostel room, a hotel, a walk along the beach, an early night or two, a bottle of wine, a nice dinner, new clothes – whatever it is we need, we need to learn to allow ourselves to have it once in a while. What would you do at home when you feel a bit of a misery? You’d do something you love – or treat yourself – to get back on track.

But that’s the thing about budget travellers. We get “the guilt” whenever we treat ourselves because a) it’s not the done thing and b) it’s too expensive.

Well I say, to hell with that. If I don’t have a few luxuries now and again, I will lose my shit so it’s best for all involved really.

Don’t feel guilty about not being “Travel Hard-core” enough

I have been travel hard-core. I have slept in tents, boats, swags, planes, on buses, in airport lounges, and in the most disgusting of hostels for months on end. I have slept outside to a chorus of howling Dingos, hiked the hell out of mountains, and faced challenging situations head on.

I have also slept in a hotel room and literally cried (yesterday morning actually) about having to share a room with people yet again. I’ve eaten in nice restaurants, spent money on nice drinks and bought clothes I didn’t need. I have freaked out on several occasions.

I like mixing up my accoms; while I have mainly stayed in shared dorms, I have also camped and luxed it up (next week my friend arrives in Bali to travel with me for two weeks and YOU SHOULD SEE THE FANCY PLACE SHE HAS BOOKED OH MY GOD I MIGHT CRY THINKING ABOUT IT) and stayed at a friend’s flat a few times in order to feel part of the normal world. I’m heading to stay with another friend in Bali tomorrow, someone I haven’t seen in a long time, and I am very excited!

There is no such thing as one particular way to travel. It’s your experience. As Take That so wisely said: Do What You Like.

Don’t be afraid to switch off

You’re not being rude if you turn down that night out if you’re knackered. Sure, you’re suffering from FOMO but chill out. There will be other nights out (many, many, many) and its best not to make yourself ill with lack of sleep or you’ll be out of action for a lot longer than anticipated.

Of course, if it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity – like seeing the sunrise over Uluru – get out of bed lazy bones, you can sleep when you’re dead.

Take time for yourself

I think I’ve already covered this one but it’s important. Don’t be afraid to take yourself off from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to take a trip alone. I’ve just spent three days in Hong Kong and only spent one afternoon with other people. I loved every second of it.

Even if they pretend they don’t, everyone gets homesick. Everyone craves creature comforts. Everyone wants their own space. Everyone has times where they can’t cope.

And if they don’t, it’s possible they are a) an alien or b) the terminator so it would be silly to compare your human form to their otherworldy/artificialness.

Lighten up

No-one is a machine. No-one expects you to be a machine. Take a deep breath and remember, this experience won’t last forever. You’ll soon be back in your normal life, in your home country, wishing you were back having an adventure again. Although maybe without any immigration based woes.

Oh and lastly, the best way to sleep in an airport is with all your clothes pushed to the top of your backpack (if its front opening like mine) and shoved under your skull as a pillow, your feet at the end of the row for maximum stretching purposes, your main body over two squishy seats, and your mind giving zero fucks if you snore/dribble/swear while you slumber.

Sweet dreams, Wanderlusters, and fingers crossed for me!

How do you deal with stressful situations while travelling?

What’s the most terrifying thing that’s happened to you in another country?

Any tips for eradicating fear and homesickness?

Do you have any stories about the kindness others have offered to you as a traveller?

Let me know!

 (More pictures to follow when I get a better internet connection)

 

Hong Kong So Far And Why You Should Always Accept the Unexpected

“Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards.”

Vladimir Nobokov

I’ve always wanted to visit Hong Kong. I’d heard from people that it was a crazy city, a vibrant city, a party city, and a perfect example of where East meets West in China. I was so excited for my city break – five days in Hong Kong AND I got to stay in a hotel – such unbelievable luxury after four months spent dragging my arse from hostel to hostel. And there’s a hair dryer. Did I mention the freaking hairdryer?!

The reality? I’m on day 2 and it has not stopped raining. Now, I’m English. I spent nine years battling the weather in Manchester and lost many an umbrella to the cause,  but NOTHING compares to the crazy downpours and thunderstorms I’ve been caught up in recently. I’ve been sitting here in my hotel room (it’s only noon, and although I am still in my PJs, I am planning on leaving the room – I will not be defeated by the elements) waiting for Noah to float on by in his ark.

After optimistically donning a pair of shorts, a vest and a waterproof jacket (the “I’m English” mentality still holding strong) I headed down Nathan Street to the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade and it was so muggy and warm that I took off the waterproof jacket and tied it around my waist.

 

And I was just looking around at the streets and buildings and complete chaos surrounding me when a furious torrent of rain was unleashed from the skies. It was basically like someone had got a bucket of water and chucked it over my head. After the initial shock, I shrugged it off, laughed at the host of locals who were running around screaming and looking for shelter like they’d never seen a thunderstorm before (in hindsight, these people had a point – hell hath no fury like a thunderstorm over Hong Kong). I carried on with my journey regardless of the screaming warning and headed merrily on my way to The Avenue of Stars, armed with my guidebook and trusty map. I made it down the promenade and managed to take some snaps of Hong Kong Island over the water.

I strolled down the Avenue of Stars unscathed, confident that the weather report was wrong, it wouldn’t rain all day, and was just climbing the stairs up to the Centenary Gardens when BAM! I guess I should have paid attention to the grey clouds looming ominously over Hong Kong Island. So I did the only thing I know how to do in a Wet Weather Crisis (WWC) and took myself for a beer.

The beer either gave me courage or made me stupid, because I decided that since I was already soaked, I may as well continue sightseeing, besides the rain had stopped. I’d be fine, right?

Er…wrong. I made my way to the Clock Tower and managed to take a couple of pictures before my ears filled with the familiar screams of warning and this time I listened and hot-footed it to some shelter.

So the rest of my day pretty much went in the fashion: it rained, I hid in a bus shelter making small talk with a friendly local man, I walked some more to the subway, the skies opened again, I hid in a bus shelter made small talk with a local woman, my map got wet, I got lost, it rained.

It took me half an hour to walk the five minutes back to Nathan Road but by the time I got there the rain had let up and I was able to make it around Kowloon Park relatively unscathed, and take some pictures of the Avenue of Comic Stars which was so wonderfully random.

The plan for the evening was to go to the Temple Street Market to grab dinner but after squelching over to the next street in my sodden trainers, I realised that the market was empty and a complete washout so ended up grabbing some noodles and heading back to the hotel for an early night.

The sleep was needed as I still felt pretty messed up from the long journey but I woke up to a message from a friend of a friend who was urging me to go out in HK that night with her and her friends. Dammit! Luckily, I should be meeting up with her tomorrow for some sight seeing (weather permitting).

So the moral of the story?

  • Travelling is EXACTLY like real life, because it is still REAL LIFE.
  • The weather will sometimes be terrible (although four consecutive days of rain is a bit much, Hong Kong – get your shit together!)
  • You will definitely miss text messages about impromptu nights out because flying through three different time zones in 48 hours will mess with your party senses and you will crave sleep
  • Sometimes messing up your flights/changing plans etc. can work in your favour. I get to come back to Hong Kong for six days before I go back to the UK and hopefully the weather will be better. I don’t see the point in me rushing around trying to see everything now – when the end of the world seems to be unleashing itself in water form upon the place – so I may as well leave HK island until June.
  • Sometimes its a good idea to heed the advice from the weather report. It could be right.

The Way Outback: Uluru, Kata-Tujuta National Park and Kings Canyon

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Mark Twain.

Today is my last day in Australia and I’m feeling a little bit emotional about it. I’ve experienced so much in this country – sailing, scuba diving, camping – and met so many wonderful people. But I’m also super excited for the next leg of my little adventure: I’m off to Hong Kong. As I changed my plans, my flights are a little messed up and pretty long (I fly to Bali from HK which is essentially going back on myself) but who cares? It’s all part of the fun of travelling and fucking up every now and again.

So in my last week in The Land Down Under, I’ve become a little reflective, and I think it has something to do with the latest tour I was lucky enough to go on: The Outback. In an area so steeped in spirituality, religion, and natural beauty, it’s difficult to not get all meditative and whatnot.

I actually feel great as a result of the tour and I can’t actually explain why – I guess it’s all in my head or a result of being out in the wilderness for four days without the stress, rush and expectations of the city – but I haven’t felt as contented in a long while. Sure, I still freak out now and again (ask one of my friends from home who has had to talk me down of the crazy ledge on numerous occasions recently) and the “future” worry creeps in now and again, but I feel pretty well equipped to swat that bad boy away again. I don’t know, it’s just a feeling I have. Everything’s good. No need to worry.

I flew into Uluru from Melbourne and landed at the tiny airport a few hours later. The last leg of the journey was pretty amazing as we hovered over nothing but wilderness and red sands, and eventually even passed Ayres Rock itself.

I signed up for a tour with Mulga’s and were swiftly met by our AMAZING tour guide, Jodie, who loaded us all up in the mini bus that was pretty much going to become our base for the next four days, and drove us off for lunch. The idea behind the tour is that we all pitch in. Not only does it enable us to get to know one another more quickly, but it means the more people who help, the more time there is to see the sights and not have to clean up! This is a method I am completely on board with.

That afternoon we headed to the Cultural Centre in the National Park and then for 7 km walk around the base of Uluru (Ayres Rock). Now the rock is sacred. You are allowed to climb it if you wish (although the climb is steep and only aided by a knee high chain) but after reading signs in the cultural centre, and the notion being reinforced by Jodie, it became apparently that to the indigenous, it’s akin to climbing a cathedral or a church. You just shouldn’t do it.

 

 

That evening we headed over to the “sunset spotting site” where we set up a table of snacks and sparkling wine and watched the incredible sunset over Uluru. It was truly breath taking.

After sunset – and a few more sips of fizz – we headed back to our first campsite and made dinner, lit the campfire, and rolled out our swags and sleeping bags. It was absolutely freezing in the evening and we pulled on pretty much everything that we owned just to keep warm.

The next day we woke up at 5 am and were driven to watch the sunrise over Uluru. Again, it was an absolutely stunning view (albeit still unbelievably cold) and I felt incredibly lucky to be there.

We then headed for a walk around Kata-Tajuta nicknamed the Valley of the Winds. Now, people don’t mess around here with naming stuff, its exactly what it says on the tin, and, man, was it windy! The walk itself was only 5.2 km and it was pretty easy. The views at the top were stunning and we even saw a bewildered looking kangaroo bounce across the rocks in front of us. As always happens with a trip like this, you really start to bond with your group, and we spent time hanging out at the lookout, taking cheesy photos and chatting. I can honestly say I had the best group in Uluru. They truly were awesome people.

We then drove to our second campsite which was a bit more luxury than the first (I use the word “luxury” liberally – we will still camping in swags) but it had a café, camel rides and helicopter rides (for an additional cost) and better kitchen facilities.

After dinner it was off to bed pretty early as we had The Hike super early the next morning, but not before we all headed off to do some stargazing. Now I have seen some beautiful stars in New Zealand but nothing compares to what I saw in The Outback. Being able to see Venus, Mars and the Milky Way was one of the highlights of my time in Australia. I have never felt so teeny tiny in comparison.

We decided to get up early to watch another sunrise but this time over Kings Canyon. Although we had the option of an extra hour in bed, we all decided we’re only in this part of the world and we should make the most of it, but climbing the 230 metres of steps (basically rocks, not steps) I began regretting my decision. But once I got to the top, I instantly forgot about my grouchy early morning mood. It was so beautiful, words can’t even describe.

We spent the rest of the morning hiking around King’s Canyon: stopping at lookouts, taking photos at the parts made famous by Pricilla Queen of the Desert (anyone remember the tagline: A cock in a frock on a rock?) and wandering through The Garden of Eden.

After the walk some of the group left us as they were on a shorter tour and it was horrible having to say goodbye to some people you genuinely really liked. Spending 24/7 with people will do that to you! The remainder of us had free time which meant showers!

That night we headed back to a camp halfway back to Uluru which was literally the middle of nowhere. Despite the slightly spooky location – and the tin shack toilet with no door – it was one of the best nights we’ve had on the tour. We bought some (ridiculously) overpriced beers and spent the night stuffing our faces with yet more amazing food and playing hilarious games. I think the night was made even more hilarious by the fact that the guy from Columbia (always called Columbia) ripped his trousers and we burnt it on the bonfire. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in ages!

The next day was back to the airport after breakfast. It was really difficult saying goodbye to the group after spending so much time together, us lot destined for Melbourne nearly missed our flight because we wanted to hang out with our friends heading to Sydney for as long as we could.

This tour was most definitely the best thing I have done in Australia. It is so well put together and organised, and so much fun, although I do think this was mainly down to our excellent tour guide, Jodie, and the great dynamic of our group. I would highly recommend heading to Uluru, whether it be on a tour or as a trip you’ve planned yourself (although be careful: trips usually work out so much cheaper than winging it) as it is a stunning part of the world!

Have you ever been anywhere that took your breath away? Or that made you feel different? Better somehow?

Which places hold spiritual significance for you?

Do you travel in tours or do you prefer to go solo?

Why I’m OK With “Dating Me”

“When a woman becomes her own best friend, life is easier.”
Diane Von Furstenberg

So a funny thing happened. I’m walking round Melbourne CBD with my headphones on, blasting some tunes the way I usually do on my last night in a city I’ve loved – I like exploring cities alone at night and never feel afraid with my own little soundtrack playing as I go – when I realised the place was full of couples, and I mean FULL.

They were everywhere.

And – no ill feeling towards these Sunday evening couples – it kind of started to ruin my solitary walk because I suddenly became aware of all these people around me and the reality of just how alone I am (on the other side of the world, might I add) was all too prominent. I took a seat on a bench on the Southbank overlooking the River Yarra and began to think about it, and I was just getting into that horrible spiralling headspace where, you know, you start imagining that it’s entirely possible that you’re going to die alone, face eaten by the throng of overweight cats you’ve been adopting over the years, when I gave myself a much needed reality check.

Yes, I am alone. But I am not lonely. Not really.

It’s been coming for some time, this momentary fear of being “alone.” It’s been lurking in the peripheries like the dull thud of a hangover. Maybe it’s because of the impending thirtydom? Maybe I hit my head one too many times getting out of the mini bus on my recent Uluru tour? I sent a friend in England a message, an SOS, because I needed to hear from someone who loves me and, as hoped for, a message pinged back from her almost instantly. I could have cried right there on the spot with the relief of it.

But why do we need this reassurance that we are loved, missed, needed, wanted?
Why do we need to know that someone somewhere is thinking about us?

Well I guess as human beings we aren’t really designed to be alone, are we? We’re co-dependent, sociable creatures so being by ourselves, and feeling overwhelmed by this isolation, is difficult for most of us to handle. Even the most introverted of people need a bit of loving every now and again.

But I think it’s a good thing, to be alone. I’d even go so far as to say I think it’s important that we take the time out of our lives to be by ourselves, whether it be an hour at the gym, a bike ride, a weekend shut away at home watching back to back episodes of Game of Thrones (or whatever floats your boat), to do something creative, or – in my case – a solo trip abroad.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I think it is imperative that we take this time out of our busy, over-crowded lives to “be with ourselves” – to take time to figure out how we think, what we feel, what we enjoy, what we’d like to change, what we’ve learned, and not be influenced by the opinions of others.
Sure it can sometimes be daunting eating dinner or having a glass of wine (when I really want the bottle) by myself but it’s also strangely liberating. And yeah, it can be annoying to have to take all your bags to the toilet as there’s no one to watch them, or have to ask the bewildered stranger to take photographs of you posing next to some landmark or other.

But this is the price you pay for the absolute freedom of going it alone.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that while I am not dating anyone else, and don’t see myself doing so anytime soon, I’ll date myself. We’ll go for dinner, to the cinema, for drinks. We’ll explore cities, go on trips and hang out. We’ll ask strangers to take photos of us, excited and smiling.

Because the greatest thing about where my life is right now is its very relaxed and uncomplicated. I’m just hanging out, exploring, being myself and doing my own thing.

And, while I’m not going to sit here and pretend that it wouldn’t be nice to share this experience with someone, we’ll probably have the best time ever, Me, Myself and I.

How do you feel about solo travel? Are you too scared to go it alone?
Are you a seasoned solo traveller with fail-proof advice on how to solo travel?
Do you find it difficult to travel as a single woman/man or do you thrive of the “alone” time?

Sailing, Koalas and Finally Finding Nemo

I can’t actually believe I only have a week left in Australia – eight weeks has absolutely flown by. Its terrifying, really, and I’m struggling to see how its possible that I only have seven weeks left out of a five month trip.

I’m also struggling with the idea of going home.

Although I cannot wait to see my friends and family (and eat a HUGE roast chicken dinner, sleep in my own bed, drink nice wine, and have access to my wardrobe again) I’m unsure what lies ahead for me in England and I’m conflicted over what to do next.

But that’s for another time, I suppose. No need to even think about this yet.

“I suppose its like the ticking crocodile, isn’t it? Time is chasing after all of us.”

JM Barrie, Peter Pan

I still have quite a lot planned for my last week in Australia. Tomorrow, I fly back down to Melbourne (which will be my base for the next week) before flying out to the Outback on Tuesday for four days. I’m really excited for this trip, if a little nervous as I will be sleeping under the stars in a swag and not in a tent. Eeeek.

So what have I been up to recently?

First up was Airlie Beach and a sailing trip around Whitsunday Islands. I LOVED this trip.

I went with a sailing boat called New Horizon (the company is called True Blue Sailing) which held 32 passengers. I spent a night in Nomads in Airlie Beach before setting sail at 2 pm the following day. I was a little nervous as I had never slept on a boat before and wasn’t sure if I would get sea sick or not, but I was really lucky and didn’t feel ill once. We spent a large portion of that first afternoon and evening getting to know one another, sailing to our overnight spot, before jumping into the water from the ship’s diving board and splashing about in the ocean as the light faded.

Some of the Whitsunday’s boats have a reputation for being a bit “party” but New Horizon was really relaxed and most evenings we tended to have a few drinks, eat our body weight in whatever was on that night’s menu, and play a few drinking games.

The next morning I was up at 5.45 am to watch the sunrise. I sat with my feet dangling over the edge of the boat as we sailed towards our next destination. It was absolutely stunning and to be honest my pictures do none of the places I visited during this trip any justice.

After breakfast we were straight in the water, snorkelling by 7 am. As it is coming to the end of stinger season, we had to wear stinger suits which are a nightmare to get on and we all looked hilarious as we squeezed ourselves into the wet material and fixed our snorkel masks. The safety boat took us out to a good snorkelling spot and we simply jumped overboard. Open water snorkelling is great and although I’m not the strongest swimmer in the world, I managed to get out pretty far. The group I was with didn’t even notice until some shouted “turtle” and we realised we were too far away to swim over to them in time and snap a picture (I did see a turtle in the water later that day when I was taking off my stinger suit but I didn’t have my camera with me).

In the afternoon we sailed to Whitehaven beach and, after taking the usual pictures on the beach front around the famous sign, we walked through a small forest, we arrived at the lookout. I have never seen anything so beautiful (and again my pictures cannot even begin to capture the beauty of Whitehaven beach) and was surprised to that everyone’s pictures are unique as the sands change every day (which kind of makes my pictures special now I think about it). We spent a few hours searching for sharks and stingrays and taking more pictures on the beach (the tour company is yet to put these on the Facebook page so I can’t really add the good ones to this post). That evening was spent exactly as the previous one with the added bonus of dolphins swimming around the boat at night!

The next day we snorkelled for a while in a new location before making a leisurely journey back to Airlie Beach port. It really was the most relaxing trip and I would highly recommend anyone booking with New Horizon if your searching for a Whitsunday boat. That evening was spent having dinner with a friend made on the boat and joining the rest of my boat mates for the after party (which, again, was like a terrible club in Spain).

After a day of relaxation in Airlie Beach, it was time to cart my bag onto the Greyhound bus to Townsville where I got the ferry over to Magnetic Island.

Now Magnetic Island is absolutely beautiful and my accommodation at XBase was like being in a resort (although it was still dorm rooms and not single rooms) as it was right on the beach and extremely quiet. I didn’t do much during my two days there apart from visit the Bungalow Bay Koala Sanctuary one afternoon.

This was really worth the $25 AU as you get to interact with a whole heap of native animals including a wombat, snakes, birds, a crocodile, lizards, bearded dragon and, of course, Koalas. Now I didn’t pay to “hug” the Koala and have a souvenir picture taken but I did manage to get a couple of Koala selfies and a stroke!

 

After Magnetic Island I took my last Greyhound bus (I was more than happy to say goodbye after the long trip) to Cairns: my last East Coast Stop. I am still in my hostel in Cairns as I write this.

I have a complex relationship with Cairns. Whereas I have really enjoyed my time in NJOY Hostel (which is by far one of the friendliest hostels I have stayed in since I have been travelling) there’s not much going on in the city. It’s an odd little place, full of backpackers who are here to party or dive The Great Barrier Reef.

I had two trips booked during my 8 days in Cairns because I wanted a few chill days but I really didn’t need this long.

The first trip was up to the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. If I am honest, this trip was a bit of a disappointment. I was really excited to get up to the Rainforest and get away from the party scene in Cairns, which I succeeded in doing because there’s not much going on up in CT, but I had expected a little more Rainforest from the tour and a few more activities. We did have a river cruise to spot crocodiles but only managed to see half a sunbathing croc! So when it came to heading back to Cairns after a night in the world’s quietest, yet beautiful hostel, we were more than ready to go.

The Rainforest is truly beautiful and worth a visit. I stayed at The Beachouse (YHA) which was right on the most beautiful beach that was often empty and seemed like it should be in Thailand or somewhere rather than Australia. I think I just expected more from the trip.

After a few quiet days sunning myself by the lagoon and hanging out with the lovely people I met in my hostel, it was time for the trip I had most been looking forward to: scuba diving at The Great Barrier Reef.

I went with a company called Ocean Freedom who I cannot recommend highly enough. Everything from the boat, to the extra glass bottom boat tours offered, opportunities to snorkel and the food (so much food – I haven’t eaten so much cake since my leaving party) were fantastic.

After my diving brief – I had never done a scuba dive before, so I made sure I listened intently as I was incredibly nervous – I was put into the very last group so spent the morning snorkelling in the choppiest water. Again, after deciding the water was too much for me to swim in, I headed back to the boat after half an hour only to hear someone shout “turtle” again. Gutted. I swear they are avoiding me.

After lunch, it was time for me to dive. They kitted me up with a wet suit, flippers, mask and the oxygen tank and weight belt which were so unbelievably heavy, I could barely move to jump into the water. I have never been so frightened in my entire life, than jumping off the back of the boat with all that weight strapped to me! As I clung to the back, the choppy water swirled us around like a washing machine. My very lovely instructor then proceeded to take us down, one by one, for the first metre (we only wen 3 metres deep) but it was such a strange sensation that I did have a small panic and have to pop back up again. After calming me down, my instructor managed to get me back under and I can honestly say after five minutes I had completely forgotten that I was swimming underwater for such a long time, because it is so so stunning down there. I feel so lucky to have been able to explore the reef and see amazing sights like a Clownfish (nemo) and follow a stingray along the ocean floor. I am so glad (and as cheesy as this sounds, I am really proud) that I overcame my fear and took the plunge. It was the best thing I have done since I have been travelling and I would really recommend it. I’m hoping to scuba dive again in Bali and maybe one day be brave enough to do a PADI course!

 

Have you had a breath-taking experience while travelling? What has made you stop and think how lucky you are? Has anyone else recently been scuba diving? Any tips for places to dive in Bali?

 

 

The Age Old Question

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Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

Mark Twain

I have mentioned in previous blog posts that this year marks a milestone birthday for me, and one that quite honestly had been a huge factor in my decision to pack up and go travelling on my own for as long as I can cope with/afford. And at no point did it ever enter my mind that I might be older than the other travellers I would meet along the way. After all, people travel at all ages, right? I wouldn’t be a dinosaur in comparison, surely?

Well…yes…but we are the lesser-spotted-traveller, us late twenties/early thirties lot. As rare (and precious, might I add) as a freaking diamond.

I mean, for approximately every twenty people aged 18-24 I have met since beginning my trip in New Zealand back in January, I have probably only met one or two aged 24+, even fewer 28+, and (finally) only FIVE people in THREE months have been over the age of 30.

Is this a problem?

And why are people so obsessed with age?

We’ve always suffered from an insatiable wanderlust, us humans.

People roamed the seas looking for far off shores, scaled mountains, trekked desserts; always looking for something else, somewhere new. I think it’s intrinsic to human nature, something buried deep, “in our waters” or so my mum would say.

It doesn’t wilt with age, this Wanderlust, rather it gets stronger, I think. Snakes around our insides, gets hold of our hearts and squeezes.

Sure, there are times when I feel older than some of the other travellers (particularly on the East Coast of Australia which on certain occasions it has felt like being in Ibiza or Benidorm with a bunch of rowdy Brits) but that doesn’t mean it’s a problem, it is simply different.  And at times (Byron Bay, I’m thinking of you) it’s been downright hilarious.

I have been incredibly lucky to have spent time with a huge mix of people from all over the world and of varying ages.

Because that’s the point of travelling, isn’t it? To spend time with people you might never get to normally (although I am beginning to realise that my tolerance for terrible music and watered down, overpriced alcohol has waned over the years. Whereas most of my younger travel buddies are keen to spend nights, and money, in hostel bars, I’m a little less inclined to do so on a nightly basis) and I’ve spent days hanging out with people a decade younger than me.

But that’s the funny thing about age. There are “old” young people and “young” old people. On a recent sailing trip to Whitsunday, it was the older members of the group who were the last ones standing.

I hadn’t even thought about my age before I decided to travel.  I’ve always been a bit of a terrible wanderer and not brilliant at “settling down” (much to the dismay of my parents who I’m sure would like me to just chill out, get a job I like, and then they can stop worrying) for extended periods of time but I never thought there was a certain age where I’m supposed to travel or stop wanting to see the world or just be content with staying in one place.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s never intended with any malice, the questioning – “if you don’t mind me asking” – it always begins, before the blow is delivered – “what made you want to travel at your age?” I’m always a little taken aback, unsure how to answer because I never thought about travelling in terms of “my age,” actually I felt quite the opposite, most of the travel bloggers I’d been gorging on before my departure were women in their mid to late twenties.

It’s true that Australia in particular (New Zealand not so much, and I’m sure Indonesia will be similar) seems to attract a large number of (mostly) German and English “gap year” students, so when you stumble across one of us older twenties/early thirties creatures, it’s a little more unusual.

But I like being part of this later crowd of travellers. My trip isn’t the “next step” after high school or university, it isn’t to get the travelling bug out of my system before I settle down to pursue my chosen career or resume my studies; my desire to travel stemmed from a passion to see more of the world while I am in a position to do so. And I’m not sure I’m done (Asia and South America, anyone?)

But I am no saint, I have been guilty of the “age issue” too. In the beginning, when someone told me they were under 24, I would get a bit of a sinking feeling – what on earth would we have in common? Would I just feel like a relic the entire time (I mean, these people were BORN IN THE MID 90s FFS)? But then I spent time with people of all ages: younger people, older people, people the same age and stage of life as me – and you realise that this age thing, it doesn’t really matter.

Not really.

What do you think about age and travelling?

Are you a younger traveller on a gap year or a traveller in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s?

Are you surprised when people ask you your age and seem shocked?

Do you, like me, think age has nothing to do with the desire to travel?

Tell me your travel plans. Where are your best – and worst – destinations for all those who aren’t on a gap year?

Let me know here or check out my Twitter page @EmmaYatesBadley or Facebook page Emma Is Writing A Novel. It’s always nice to have visitors!