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 from my home city wasn’t very far. From unassuming beginnings, paying the measly 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 nearly 7 years of gainful employment. What followed was a year exploring every Australian capital city and hundreds of road-tripping hours; all the while trying to reinvent my career as a freelance professional.
After 365 days of nomadic travel in Australia, here are my revelations.
1. Travel makes you a more open-minded person.
I’m sorry starting 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 to the person I had become when I finished my full-time employment in Adelaide; I’d get 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. I don’t even notice those everyday ‘challenges’, while continually breaking from that model of daily monotony.
I appreciate most people can’t simply sweep their responsibilities under the rug and take up a rambling, nomadic lifestyle, but we all need a break; the longer, the better. I implore everybody, that has the opportunity, spend a portion of their life discovering new places and testing your limitations. You’ll find a better version of yourself at the end.
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 people assume I’m from England. I’m going with the latter (but 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 its 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-nomadic age’. Unfortunately, with aching bones and the need to ‘park the Jayco’ in campervan-friendly spots, a heap of essential Australian travel experiences are ruled out at retirement age. Get out and see this wondrous county, 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 rough insinuations. But, I’m sorry to say this to the Aussies out there: you are all, at your core, 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 differences. Lifestyles and beliefs differ significantly from community to community, but the global Australian stereotype holds firm. In every place I’ve visited, the same personality traits reappear; relaxed, good-natured and welcoming, all laced with underlying tones of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm.
Why is this? Is it the weather? The landscape? The nasal accent? I don’t know. But always remember you have more in common with your neighbour than you might realise.
4. I’m not sure I would 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, 221 have been spent house sitting; just under two thirds. So, for example, if I had stayed in cheap, bottom-feeding, 12-bedroom hostel dorms over this period for a paltry $20 a night, I’d have burned an additional $4,420. It adds up quick!
I’ve already rabbited on about house sitting in the Journal, so I won’t carry on too much, but this massive saving has allowed me to travel without worrying about my expenses. 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, paying for National Park passes or tasting specialities regional 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. However, 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 a whole lot easier.
While there are plenty of opportunities for workers in Australia, having a non-location specific skillset makes life simpler. All you need is half-decent wifi, a laptop, a sturdy surface and a reasonable cup of coffee. Working remotely, as a freelance designer/blogger/content creator, I’ve kept both my income and expenses at the same level; without overexerting myself.
Working life as a nomad can be tough. I’ve had mates travel the world and complete the most laborious tasks to get them to the next meal. Being able to work in the comfort of a library or air-conditioned cafe 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. I flopped the laptop out on the bench and earned a similar amount sitting on my butt. Convenience is an underrated nomadic accessory.
7. Travelling after mastering the ‘daily grind’ gives you perspective and other advantages.
The vast majority of long-term travellers I’ve met were aged under 27. Many of them were taking a break from study, others skipped between menial jobs in their home countries 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 growing an in-depth understanding of the business world. I, fortunately or not, am one of the latter.
While my fresh-faced nomadic buddies wake up with stunted hangovers, I comically writhe around in bed. While they don’t give a second thought to their biological clocks, I can hear mine audibly ticking. Travel, as a very inaccurate rule, is for the young and the energetic or the old and the unoccupied, the ‘middle bit’ is for settling down. This definition is something that played on my mind for many years, but now, I know this doesn’t have to be the case.
Thanks to 7 years of clambering up the corporate ladder, I was able to cultivate ongoing business relationships. Setting up this base of professional support has made it decidedly easier to work as a digital freelancer, wherever I am in the world. If I’d packed up my career as a junior designer, I certainly wouldn’t have the spread of work available to me now.
My main conscious difference, between travelling now and holiday-making in my mid-20’s, is the appreciation of how lucky I am to live with such freedom. This is something that went completely unnoticed as a man with youthful ignorance. Sometimes I wish I began my nomadic life sooner, but, on reflection, for my circumstances, I timed it just about 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 an unfortunate phenomenon that most people experience in everyday life; each year 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 year travelling is the first time since high school that time has slowed down.
The constant change of scenery, without the regimentality of battle-hardened daily routines, 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 up enough days to feel the weeks slipping away.
9. Solo travel gets lonely, but there are plenty of options for socialising.
After the first three months travelling, and in the middle of winter, I found made my way to sunny Queensland. A place of warm weather, spectacular landscapes and bubbly people. 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 was deflated. It took me a month to figure out the problem; I was missing the influence of familiar faces and ongoing relationships. Yes, I was meeting people in hostels and on tours, but every person left as quickly as they 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’ve trekked to Perth’s Hills’ waterfalls and along Sydney’s famous beaches, road-tripped along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and through Tasmanian Wilderness, and camped under the stars on Kangaroo Island; all in the company of amazing, like-minded people. While I’ll always remember these trips, the friendship groups that sprouted on these adventures will endure the longest.
10. Documenting your travels is painful, but worthwhile.
Many travellers start their journey with the noble intentions of writing a daily journal; recording their adventures, thoughts and emotions on the open road. I have been one of those dedicated scribblers and I know how committed you need to be. Most, including myself, get fed up 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. Buying groceries, getting haircuts, clothes shopping, various accommodation, public transport costs, petrol… you get the idea, boring as bat faeces. While this constant financial stocktake was the bane of my existence, the resulting information has allowed me to track where I’ve been and what I’ve spent. It’s also an excellent tool for reflecting and reminiscing about all the fantastic times I’ve had over the last year.
Am I going to keep it up for the second year? Ugh. Ask me in a month.
11. Nothing holds you back, except yourself.
Ask my mates, I’m that guy who leaves his belongings behind, misreads the map and buggers up the dates in his schedule. 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?