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Hi!

I'm a Midwestern girl in constant search of sunshine + sea. I travel solo, work full-time, and sometimes, I write.

Monthly Recap: Oct - Nov 2016

Monthly Recap: Oct - Nov 2016

I’ve decided that I’m going to start a mini, monthly recap series so I can keep track of all my adventures. I’ve realized that one month ago already feels so long ago that I can’t keep the cities or memories straight. I also wanted a place to jot down some of my favorite highlights from each journey, as well as helpful information like how much I spent and where I stayed. So, here goes!

Where I’ve Been

Sydney – 7 nights
Byron Bay – 7 nights
Brisbane – 3 nights
Noosa – 8 nights
Rainbow Beach – 2 nights
Agnes Water – 7 nights
Airlie Beach – 3 nights
Whitsunday Islands – 2 nights

(Plus three overnight buses)

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Favorite Destinations

Byron Bay – This hipster, laidback town was the first place I felt sad to leave. I loved the quirky character of the town and its long coastal beach.

Agnes Water – This quiet, quant town of 1800 people somehow became a quick favorite of mine. The hostel’s family dinners and delicious crepes may have played a role in that, too.

Whitsunday Islands – Sailing around these islands and spending three hours on Whitehaven Beach was a dream.

Best & Worst Beds

Best: Flashpackers in Noosa was more of a boutique hostel; it was also the most expensive hostel I stayed in at $30USD/night. But it was spotlessly clean, the dorms were spacious with sliding glass doors, the showers were wonderful, and there was free breakfast and wifi. I got to know the owner, Jo, quite well since I was there for a week and she even arranged a ride for me to go the markets with her daughter, Molly.

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Worst: The beds and showers were just fine at Backpackers on the Bay in Airlie Beach, but I couldn’t stand the kitchen or the common area. Small ants were all over the kitchen sink, towels, and microwave, and even my dry food! The common area was drab, with uncomfortable seating (although there were hammocks, ftw). Reception was slow because there was only one staff member responsible for checking people in/out, booking tours, and answering random questions. I was glad to leave once my stay was over.

Highlights

Skipping the jetlag. Throwing it back to my in-air journey to Sydney, I actually slept for the entirety of the 16-hour flight from Vancouver to Sydney. I did wake up the last two hours, watched a movie (Me Before You), and landed in Sydney at 9AM. Since I slept the whole way, I didn’t suffer from jetlag, which was a very pleasant surprise.

Exploring Sydney. My hostel was about a 50-minute walk from the Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House, so I loved spending that time exploring as much as I could of the city. I walked everywhere – through the botanical gardens, the historical quarter The Rocks, the cosmopolitan shopping centers, the bay. My feet were always hurting by the end of the day, but I found walking to be the best way to see the city.

Making friends along the east coast. I’ve met so many fun, interesting people as I’ve traveled up the east coast. Sami, whom I met in Brisbane, and I continued to run into each other and hang out in Noosa and Airlie Beach. We were even on the Whitsunday Islands at the same time! She’s finishing her east coast journey before heading home to the US, while I backtracked to Airlie Water to catch my catamaran.

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Taking selfies with kangaroos and koalas. The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary was a gem just outside of Brisbane. I saw everything from wombats to koalas to pythons. Of course, I couldn’t leave without a photo with a koala!

Horseback riding in Rainbow Beach. Since I wasn't doing Fraser Island, I nearly skipped the town of Rainbow Beach (it's the gateway to Fraser Island), but decided to spend two nights there anyways to break up a long bus journey. The best part was riding horses along the beach, which was so secluded and quiet because there is zero development there. No cafes, no Starbucks, no condo's, no boardwalk. Just beach. I had a very funny horse named Wombat that didn't like to walk in the water (he was smart - walking in the waves took a lot of effort, so he preferred to stay on the hard-packed sand!), ate all the plants along the way, and constantly sniffed at other horses. I forgot how nervous I still get around horses. I think they are beautiful, majestic animals, but I was bit by a horse at a camp when I was eight-years-old (and cried in a port-a-potty afterwards!). So while I see horses as beautiful animals, I also see a huge mouth and gigantic teeth! But the 90-minute ride was beautiful and well worth the stopover in this little town.

Sailing the Whitsunday Islands. Of course, this experience was going to make the list!

Walking the coastal path in Airlie Beach. I didn’t like Airlie Beach; it was way too commercialized for my tastes and this was probably worsened by the fact that I didn’t like my hostel, either. But on my last day, I decided to walk the coastal path that started near my hostel, went past the marina, and ended in a different coastal town. The entire journey was about 5.5 miles roundtrip, and the best part was getting a delicious green smoothie at Fat Frog, a café on the beach at the end of the path.

Checking out the markets in Byron Bay and Noosa. I love huge, open air markets and I’ve managed to be around for two major markets in two different towns. Byron Bay’s market is an eclectic mix of healing crystals, dreamcatchers, and hippies playing pianos. In Noosa, the market was a little more commercialized but just as fun to walk around. I picked up a new bracelet because one of my favorite bracelets that I wear when I travel had started falling apart. Plus, the guy gave me a good deal because he liked my American accent!

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Movie nights in Byron Bay. I’m sure most backpackers would say they loved the late nights out in Byron Bay, but I loved the hostel I stayed at and even better, they played movies on a big, outdoor screen every Wednesday and Thursday. It was a great way to kick back with a bag of popcorn and enjoy a comedy or action movie with a bunch of new friends.

Staying in touch with friends and family. Technology continues to amaze me. When I was in Peru ten years ago, I had to go to an Internet cafe and pay to get on Myspace. I had to buy calling cards to make an international phone call. Today, I can have an hour-long conversation with my best friend or my mom for free, all through wifi. I’ve been able to FaceTime with my niece and getting emails from former colleagues always makes my day. Staying in touch with friends and family doesn’t make me homesick; it makes me grateful to know that I can still be a part of their lives in some small way while I’m 9,000 miles away.

Whipping up my first scrumptious meal in a hostel kitchen! I made a delicious dish with whole wheat penne pasta, mushrooms and spinach and an avocado and garlic sauce. It was easy to make and I got a lot of good veggies in. Even though I am doing much better on the grocery shopping and cooking front, I’m typically eating the same thing every day. I have only just started to get bored of them, so I’m looking forward to getting on a boat and changing up my meals, even if it means eating fish every day. Working out isn’t really a thing on the backpacker trail, but I walk 4-5 miles a day just from walking around town or checking out the beach, so I’m feeling good health-wise.

Challenges

Getting sick. I was sick with a cold and sore throat by the end of my first week in Australia. I continued to battle it in Byron Bay and subsequently lost my voice for a few days. I hated being sick in a new and foreign place, but I focused on getting plenty of sleep, even if it meant I didn’t go out some nights.

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Waiting for my first bus in Sydney’s Central Station. The bus bays at Central Station are not well marked and are on a sketchy side street. Even better, my overnight bus was leaving Sydney at 11:40PM, so I walked alone from my hostel to Central Station. When I turned the corner to the bus bay, I was worried and surprised to find that there were no other backpackers waiting at the bus station (but there were quite a few homeless people). Nervous, I messaged a friend I had met back at the hostel who had taken the night bus a few weeks before. He assured me that I was in the right place and was probably just early (which was true, I was about 30 minutes early). He told me to let him know once the bus arrived, and I was grateful I had someone to reassure me, even if he wasn’t physically there. The bus did end up arriving, with plenty of backpackers waiting for it!

Letting go of my type A personality. In Byron Bay, I made a pledge to myself to let go of my anxieties. I constantly felt like I needed to have a plan and was worried about running out of money. Thankfully, I haven’t encountered these feelings again since leaving Byron Bay and have a better perspective of my time here in Australia.

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My shampoo fiasco. A whole bottle of shampoo exploded in my travel backpack as it sat in a hot luggage room for three days as I sailed the Whitsundays. The shampoo leaked through my leather purse, through the straps of my travel backpack, all over my toiletry bags, and on some of my packing cubes. I had to rinse and clean the backpack out with a garden hose, hang it up to dry, then clean the rest of my items. It could have been a lot worse (it didn’t seep through any important documents or my laptop, and thankfully it wasn’t sunscreen), but it was still a hassle to clean.

My paranoia of bed bugs. I have never encountered bed bugs in a hostel I’ve stayed in, but bed bugs can be common in places with high turnover and hot weather. During my Whitsundays trip, I had quite a few bug bites for the first time, but hadn’t seen any mosquitos. I kept getting bug bites after my first night back in Airlie Beach. I became paranoid about bed bugs, and ended up washing and drying all my clothes and day backpack that I had brought on the boat with me. I don’t think I actually encountered bed bugs at all; I think I was less used to the tropical environment in the north, and that includes bugs and bug bites.

Spending

I track every single expense by cash or debit card on a Google spreadsheet. Usually this section would just include monthly spending, but I’m going to include the last week of October since I was already in Australia then. This section does not include pre-trip costs, like vaccinations. It only includes what I’ve spent in Australia so far. All costs are in US dollars!

October 24 – November 30, 2016

Accommodation: $882 (avg $23/night)
Food: $320
Entertainment: $27 (alcohol, movies)
Activities: $369 (tours, excursions)
Transportation: $350 (bus, ferries, flights, taxis)
Misc: $163 (gifts, postcards, shampoo)
Internet / Data: $66

Total: $2,179 (avg $57/day)

My largest expenses this month were my Greyhound bus pass up the East coast ($250), my Whitsundays sailing trip ($200), horseback riding in Rainbow Beach ($105), and accommodation.

Expenses in Australia add up quickly, especially with all the excursions you can sign up for. If you come to Australia with only $2500 and then finish the East coast, you are going to be running low on cash pretty quickly. I'm happy with how I've budgeted my money and I try to keep costs down by going grocery shopping often, not buying alcohol, and only doing tours and excursions that I'm really interested in. Working on a boat for a month will continue to cut down on my expenses, since I won't be paying for food or accommodation. My goal is to keep my time in Australia to less than $50/day.

Most Popular Post

Why I Quit My Job to Move to Australia – A very personal blog post about why I felt the need to pursue this travel dream of mine.

Other Posts

Taking a Moment in Byron Bay – An overview of Byron Bay and how I overcame some of my own challenges during my first few weeks in Australia.

Surfing My Way Through Agnes Water – My view of this sleepy, little town and the locals I met, including Lorenzo, the surf instructor.

Sailing the Whitsunday Islands – My two-day, two-night sailing adventure through a string of 75 stunning islands on the east coast of Australia.

What I Packed for a Year Abroad - I list every item and piece of clothing I brought with me for my journey abroad, including pictures and links!

Favorite Photo

This selfie with a Quokka in Sydney made me smile!

This selfie with a Quokka in Sydney made me smile!

Books I’ve Read

There is, admittedly, a lot of downtime when you are backpacking. You’re either on a bus, or waiting for a bus, or lounging on the beach, or spending time in a hostel. I don’t stream any TV shows or movies, so I’m always checking the bookshelves at hostels to see if there are any good books I can pick up. Needless to say, I’ve read a lot in my first month in Australia.

In This Sunburned Country by Bill Byron – This was such a hilarious book! I was constantly laughing to myself as I read this in my hostel dorm room. Byron does a great job of describing his cross-country road-trip through Australia, including the East Coast, Western Australia, and the Outback. He does so with wittiness and charm. What I appreciated the most, however, was how much I learned about Australia, from its founding (Britain basically sent all its convicts to Australia) to Aboriginal history to its most venomous animals and insects to its political clout.

Looking for Alaska by John Greene

The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene

All Fall Down by Megan Hart

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser – I have not been able to look at food the same way since I finished this book. I became a vegetarian six years ago after reading a similar book. I haven’t had a burger since then, but in those years, I’ve gone back and forth between eating seafood and chicken (I definitely no longer identify as vegetarian at this point). Reading Schlosser’s chapter on slaughterhouses made me re-think my food choices and reminded me why I originally gave up meat: for nutritional reasons, the sake of animal welfare, and the environmental impacts of factory farming. Fast Food Nation is a compelling read of how the fast food industry impacts every aspect of American culture and how the food industry is controlled by the same people who run McDonald’s but also every major meat processing plant. It is eye-opening, to say the least.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – This novel became one of my most beloved books of all time. It was worth all 944 pages and the $18 I paid for a new copy, since I couldn’t find a used copy in a bookshop. Shantaram is partially based on a true story. Roberts was a convicted criminal before he escaped over the fence of Australia’s maximum security prison. He fled to Bombay, India on a fake New Zealand passport and spent the next eight years living in the Indian slums and working for the Bombay mafia. He was recaptured in Germany and finished out his prison term in Australia. Shantaram is deep and thought-provoking in its character development and philosophies. Roberts’ vivid descriptions of Bombay are massive in scale but also whittled down to the finest detail; it’s as if you are walking those streets yourself. Some of the adventures are so absurd, you can’t imagine them happening, but the magic of Bombay makes you think that they are, in fact, possible. I left this book behind in Airlie Beach and I hope another backpacker enjoys it as much as I did.

My favorite quote from Shantaram?

Every human heartbeat, he’d said many times, is a universe of possibilities. He’d been trying to tell me that every human will has the power to transform its fate. I’d always thought that fate was something unchangeable: fixed for every one of us at birth, and as constant as the circuit of the stars. But I suddenly realized that life is stranger and more beautiful than that. The truth is that, no matter what kind of game you find yourself in, no matter how bad the luck, you can change your life completely with a single thought or a single act of love.”

What's Up Next

More sailing! I’m currently back in Agnes Water, since I had to backtrack from Airlie Beach to reach the catamaran I’ll be working on. On December 3, I’m heading an hour south to the marina in Bundaberg where I’ll jump on the boat. I’ll be working with a crew of three other backpackers and Peter, the owner. Everyone chips in to help with anything needed on the boat, so I’ll probably be helping with general maintenance, cleaning, cooking, and Peter’s blog and social media content. I’m so excited for this opportunity and to learn how to sail! We’ll be in remote places, so I can’t wait to explore all the reefs and islands that we come upon.

After my work on the boat wraps up, I have a few options, although I’m trying not to commit myself to anything (another type A conundrum). The manager at the Cool Bananas hostel here in Agnes Water offered me a spot on his staff to work for accommodation and there are cafes hiring for seasonal workers. I may do that because it’d be an opportunity to save and earn a lot of money at the same time, but it also means sticking around in a town of 1800 for a month or two.

Or, I’ll head up to Cairns, do some diving, then head to Melbourne to look for work and an apartment. I’m drawn to Melbourne because I think I’ll be craving the city life after a while. I love these small towns, but don’t want to miss out on what one of Australia’s biggest cities could offer. But, who knows! That's the joy of traveling with no plans. 

Living on a Sailboat: My Top 10 Favorite (and Least Favorite) Moments

Living on a Sailboat: My Top 10 Favorite (and Least Favorite) Moments

Sailing the Whitsunday Islands

Sailing the Whitsunday Islands