11 revelations from a nomadic year travelling Australia
The date was April 6, 2017, the day was a Thursday, the destination was Melbourne, and the distance was miserly. From unassuming beginnings, paying the nominal TigerAir fee to get me from Adelaide to Melbourne, I set off on an open-ended journey around Australia.
In truth, I didn’t know what to expect, where I would go, what I would do, or what would evolve after leaving a cushy desk job after 7 years of gainful employment. What followed was a year exploration and inspiration; all while reinventing my career as a freelance professional/travel vagabond/aimless wanderer.
After 365 days of nomadic travel in Australia, here are my revelations.
1. Travel makes you a more open-minded person.
It grieves me to start with such a well-trodden statement. Is there a bigger travel cliche than the above adage? Unlikely. I know it sounds corny, cheesy, hammy and every other derogatory food related descriptor under the sun, but… I hesitate writing this… travel has made me more open-minded. There, I said it.
After a year travelling Australia and immersing myself with like-minded people, I feel more well-rounded. I look back at my stagnated office-working drone-like mentality and scratch my head in bewilderment. I’d grow frustrated at stupid superficial annoyances, like red traffic lights or slow bar service, all the while staying content in my comfort zone. So much has changed. Those everyday ‘challenges’ don’t even register anymore and that model of daily monotony is continually breaking.
I appreciate most people can’t simply sweep their responsibilities under a rug and take up the rambling, nomadic lifestyle, but, we all need a break; the longer, the better. I implore everybody to take the opportunity to spend a portion of their life discovering new places and testing your limitations. Only then will you find your true boundaries.
2. Not enough young Australians explore their own country.
It’s either my pseudo-British South Australian accent, my freckly porcelain skin or the sheer disbelief that there’s an Australian in the tour group, but most tourists assume I’m from England. I’m going with the latter (but I suspect the first two don’t help).
While I appreciate the need to ‘see how the other half live’, Australia has so much to offer domestic travellers. We live in a spectacularly diverse country; dotted with rainforests, deserts, beaches, tropical islands, trail hikes and thousands of other world-class attractions. Yet, many Aussies don’t explore their own country until they’ve reached ‘grey-nomad age’. Unfortunately, with aching bones and the need to ‘park the Jayco in caravan-friendly spots’, a heap of essential Australian travel experiences are ruled out after retirement. Get out and discover this wondrous country, sooner rather than later, Australia!
3. Australians are more or less the same.
Australian states share some pretty fierce rivalries; they give each other brutal nicknames, poke fun at each other’s history and throw around some pretty harsh insinuations. However, I’m sorry to say this to the Aussies out there: at your core, you are more or less the same. From the ‘organic fair trade latte sipping townies’ to the ‘fair dinkum true blue VB drinking yobbos,’ you’re cut from the same cloth.
In a land built on multiculturalism, there are obvious social and religious differences, but the global Australian character stereotype holds firm. In every place I visited, the same personality traits reappear: relaxed, good-natured, welcoming and humour laced with tongue-in-cheek sarcasm.
Why is this? Is it the weather? The landscape? The nasal accent? I don’t know. Just remember, you have more in common with your neighbour than you might realise.
4. I wouldn’t have lasted a whole year without house sitting.
When I began house sitting halfway through 2016, I never dreamed I’d explore Australia using the format. I’ve ‘sat’ in every capital of every state, on my journey around the continent, saving thousands as a result. Of the 365 days from when I started, 221 were spent house sitting. Just under two-thirds! So, for example, if I had stayed in a cheap, bottom-feeding, 12-bedroom hostel dorm over this period for a paltry $20 a night, I’d have burned an additional $4,420. It adds up quick!
I’ve already waxed lyrical about house sitting in the Journal, so I won’t carry on too much, but this massive saving has allowed me to explore without tiptoeing the typical travel expenses tightrope. If you’re considering a long-term escape, I implore you to browse sitting opportunities around the globe.
5. Travel in Australia is unsurprisingly expensive, but surprisingly sustainable.
By now, everybody knows that Australia is an expensive country to explore; verging on the ridiculous. I’ve spent more than I’d like to admit catching ferries to must-see islands, forking out for National Park passes or gorging on each region’s speciality dishes… and don’t get me started on the price of beer.
According to Movehub, Australia ranks as the 16th most expensive country to live in, while the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2017 cost of living survey suggests heavy-hitters Sydney and Melbourne are in the top 15 most expensive cities to reside in the world. Be under no illusions, the average adventurer spends up big in Australia. But, it’s all relative. Australian workers consistently rank in the top 3 global earners for minimum wage, while the average income comes in a generous 8th in the world. The money is there if you’re willing to work for it.
6. Working remotely makes life significantly easier.
While there are opportunities aplenty for workers in Australia, having a flexible remote skillset makes travel simpler. All you need is half-decent wifi, a laptop, a sturdy surface and a reasonable cup of coffee. Oh, and of course the work in the first place. Working as a freelance designer/blogger/photographer, I’ve kept my incomings and outgoings relatively even without needing to overexert myself.
Work-life as a nomad can be tough. I’ve had mates travel the world and perform the most arduous tasks just to get them to the next meal. Being able to work from the comfort of a library or air-conditioned café takes the edge off in the long run. Here’s one poignant example. A Swedish mate of mine accepted an Airtasker job over a couple of days; 10 hours of house cleaning for $250. $25 an hour, not bad! Over the same weekend, I boarded a train on a scenic 5-hour journey through the Central Coast of New South Wales and earned a similar amount sitting on my butt. Convenience is an underrated nomadic necessity.
7. Travelling after mastering the ‘daily grind’ provides perspective and other advantages.
A vast majority of my long-term travelling companions were under the age of 27. Many were taking a break from study, others left menial jobs before jetting off, while some had no work history at all. Only a select few had battled it out on the corporate front line for years – mastering their trade, networking their socks off and gathering an in-depth understanding of the business world. I, fortunately, or not, was the latter.
Travel, as a very inaccurate rule, is for the young and energetic or the old and unoccupied. The middle bit is for ‘settling down’. This definition has played on my mind for many years, but, now, I know this tired stereotype isn’t the case.
Thanks to 7 years of clambering up the corporate ladder, I cultivated ongoing business relationships. Creating this professional foundation has made finding projects decidedly easier, wherever I am in the world. If I’d packed up my career as a junior designer, I wouldn’t have the spread of employment opportunities available to me now.
The main difference between travelling now and holiday-making in my twenties is that I appreciate the freedom. This flexibility is something that went completely unnoticed as a boy with youthful ignorance. Sometimes I wish I began my nomadic life sooner, but, on reflection, I think I timed the swap just right. Not too early that I missed ‘real-world’ appreciation; not too late that life’s responsibilities became overwhelming.
8. Time has slowed down.
There is a mysterious phenomenon that befalls most people: each year seems to gathers pace. After the chaos of New Years, blink, and it’s Easter, blink again, and it’s time to do your taxes, blink once more, and it’s Christmas. Days and months blur into one and you somehow misplace whole seasons without realising. This past year is the first time that time has slowed down.
The constant change of scenery, without the regimentality of a battle-hardened daily routine, makes each day feel unique. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent my fair share of time buried away, feverishly finishing design jobs, but I’ve never banked enough days to feel the weeks slipping away.
9. Solo travel is lonely, but there are plenty of options for socialising.
After my first three months of travelling, I found made my way to sunny Queensland. A place of warm weather, spectacular landscapes and bubbly personalities. I was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed; eager for the adventures that lay ahead. Yet, even in this relative paradise, I couldn’t maintain my enthusiasm. I felt deflated. It took me a month to figure out the problem, I was missing the influence of familiar faces and ongoing connections. Yes, I was meeting people in hostels and on tours, but every fleeting relationship departed as quickly as it arrived. Unfortunately, this is the nature of continuous travel. Then I discovered the benefits socialising apps (not to be confused with a social media apps, which aren’t sociable at all.)
There are squillions of like-minded travellers and locals out there, you just need to know where to find them. Apps like Couchsurfing and Meetup host events that pair interested parties with popular pastimes all over the globe. As a result of reaching out on these platforms, I trekked to waterfalls in Perth, hiked along Sydney’s stretch of famous beaches, road-tripped along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, discovered Tasmania’s sprawling wilderness, and camped under the stars on Kangaroo Island; all in the company of amazing people. While I’ll always remember these trips, it was the friendships that sprouted on these adventures that will endure the longest.
10. Documenting your travels is painful, but worthwhile.
Many nomads start their travels with the noble intention to write a daily journal. I have been one of those dedicated scribblers; I know the dedication it takes to continually record your experiences on the open road. Many, including myself, lack the ongoing commitment and leave their notebooks half empty. This year, however, I took a more analytical approach.
Over the past 365 days, I’ve recorded all of my expenses. And, I mean all expenses. Buying groceries, getting haircuts, purchasing clothes, organising interim accommodation, public transport costs, filling up the car… you get the idea. Tedious! While this constant financial stocktake was the bane of my existence, the resulting data has allowed me to track where I’ve been and what I’ve spent. Plus, this information has made it easy to reflect on all of the wonderful adventures I experienced over the last year.
Am I going to keep it up for the second year? Ugh. Unlikely.
11. Nothing holds you back, except yourself.
Ask any of my mates, I’m that guy who loses his belongings, misreads maps and double-books dates in his schedule. I know, not the best attributes for a traveller, and yet, I’ve managed to last a year of leaving my shoes behind and losing my headphones.
I started with the aim to house sit in every state in Australia within a year, and I achieved that goal. Now I just have the territories to go. If I can do it, literally everyone can. Anybody, no matter their perceived deficiencies, can achieve what they want if they commit to the cause.
You know what, I have no idea.
Over the course of an entire year travelling I’ve experienced so much, yet barely scratched the surface of this gigantic country. I have ambitions to continue my house sitting adventure in the Northern Territory and ACT and fill in all the gaps I’ve missed in rural Australia. I also want to see snowfall (something that has eluded me so far). And although I can hear the rest of the world calling, there is so much still I want to do here in Australia.
So, I don’t know. Help me out, where would you go? What would you do?