Taking a Moment in Byron Bay
This is the first time I’ve opened my laptop since I’ve arrived in Byron Bay. Partly because the wifi isn’t great at this hostel and partly because my laptop has been sitting at the bottom of my locker as I’ve gone to the beach, hiked around the bay, and walked through town.
Byron Bay is exactly what I was looking for, which is why I left Sydney in the first place. Sydney was a beautiful city, but the weather was still transitioning from spring to summer and I didn’t want any more dreary skies or train rides to the beach. So I left and headed up the east coast!
- Travel time: 13-hour overnight Greyhound bus from Sydney to Byron Bay
- Location: Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia
- Expenses in Byron: $262 (60% of that is for accommodation)
- Hostel: Backpackers Inn on the Beach
- Includes free wifi. $24USD/night for an 9-bed, co-ed dorm room.
Byron Bay is a really cool, hipster town without trying to be cool and hipster. Its beaches are beautiful and the waves hug the coastline, but it’s the town that makes Byron Bay what it is, in my opinion. There is a laidback, carefree vibe here – people here cross the street barefoot, live out of their campervans by the beach, hit the waves at 6am with their surfboards, dress in crop tops and short shorts, and have more nautical tattoos than a sailor. The town is a mix of locals and backpackers, but the backpackers aren’t overly obnoxious and obvious.
The hostel, Backpackers Inn on the Beach, is one of the best I’ve ever stayed at. It has a huge, clean kitchen with plenty of pots and pans; multiple large common areas with beanbags, couches, and picnic tables; swinging hammocks and a pool; and spacious dorm rooms with fans, plenty of light, and lockers. In my time here, the girls in my dorm (well, there is a guy in our dorm, but for most of the nights the occupants have been girls) are from Canada, England, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. We girl talk, play music, take cat naps, and swap reading books. Every Wednesday and Sunday, the hostel plays movies on a large projector outside. We’ve already got our popcorn and snacks ready for tonight’s movie (Deadpool).
Byron Bay is also known for being home to whales and dolphins. They are often spotted as they migrate from April to November. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any as I hiked to the lighthouse yesterday, but the hike itself was beautiful. I could take either the road or the beach to the lighthouse, so I opted for the beach. I walked the whole length of the beach, then followed a trail that wrapped around the eastern coast of Byron Bay. There were a few lookouts to spot dolphins and whales, but really I just used the lookouts to rest because it was a much longer hike than I anticipated! I also hadn't brought any snacks, so by the time I finally reached the lighthouse, I made a beeline for the cafe and bought a cookie (solid choice). The lighthouse wasn't anything extraordinary; it's quite a small lighthouse but it was a perfect day for some amazing ocean views. I made it back to the hostel just in time for dinner.
I also decided during that hike that if Byron Bay had a summer soundtrack, the title track would definitely be Kings of Summer by ayokay.
There was a wonderful market yesterday that sprawled across the north side of town. It only takes place the first Sunday of every month, so I was glad I was in Byron at the right time. There were stalls for everything: tarot card reading, raw honey, custom necklaces, used books, and more. There was also live entertainment and so many food stands selling iced coffee, popsicles, tacos, and even paella. I wandered around for a long time, making sure I had weaved my way through every stall.
I’m glad I came to Byron Bay when I did. The town was just what I needed, despite my only being in Australia for two weeks. I left Sydney sick and in sticker-shock of the cost of a major Australian city. I stepped off the overnight bus into Byron exhausted and anxious. My second day in Byron, I was still struggling. I called my mom twice; I felt guilty for having a bad day in Australia, chasing a dream I had always wanted. She reminded me that bad days are bound to happen, even in Australia, and all I needed was a good night's rest and a bright, new morning. She was right.
In my head, this trip would be similar to the other backpacking trips I had already taken. I’ve done this before. Plus, it was Australia. How hard could it be?
But this trip is vastly different. And at times, it is hard. It is unlike anything I have ever done before. I have learned so much about myself in the last two weeks than any other experience I’ve had in the past five years.
My main struggle is constantly adapting my very type A personality to a very type B journey.
I have had to become comfortable with the fact that I don't have a return date; the days run into each other and it’s easy to forget what day of the week it is. I still can't get used to traveling without an income; every dollar spent on groceries, ice cream, excursions, clothes, is one dollar less than I had originally. I am more aware than ever of the fact that I am an introvert; I float between wanting to be alone and do my own thing and wanting to meet new people and talk incessantly. I am still taking care of things at home in the US -- I registered for two grad classes starting in January so that my student loans wouldn't kick back into repayment. I have to stop myself from editing my resume and handing it out at every shop and travel agency; I keep reminding myself that I don't have to work right now.
I have had to force myself to think day by day, as opposed to constantly trying to plot my next move or what I need to do next. I have had to slow myself down and allow my ambitious self to chill out.
So I made sure to do just that in Byron Bay. I laid out on the beach. I finished my book. I watched the sunrise. I woke up in the morning and then fell back asleep in a hammock outside. I took a moment - lots of moments - to make sure I was actually living in the moment as opposed to constantly worrying about the next day or the day after that. And it worked.
Another accomplishment – I am cooking now! This is a big deal considering the way I fed myself in Indy was through Blue Apron (literally having the ingredients and recipes with big pictures delivered directly to my apartment) and living off Chipotle every other day. However, now I have a better idea of what groceries to buy to make multiple meals. I also watched what other backpackers were making in the kitchen, knowing that those had to be simple recipes that could easily be replicated. I’m still figuring out the right portions for one person, but I am grateful I am no longer living off of pb&j’s. Instead, I’ve been making eggs and avocado toast for breakfast; yogurt, granola, and apple slices for lunch; and a turkey wrap with cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, and avocado for dinner. Plus ice cream. I know this seems like a small feat, but navigating the hostel kitchen during dinner hours is an accomplishment for any backpacker. So now, whenever I get to a new city, I find my way to the grocery store to orient myself and buy groceries for the duration of my stay.
Despite my love for Byron Bay, my stay is coming to an end. I thought about staying longer, but there’s still a lot left of the east coast and I have to be in Airlie Beach by November 24th to catch my boat for my sailing trip (that’s one way to celebrate Thanksgiving!). Tomorrow I am hopping back on the Greyhound bus for a three hour journey to Brisbane.
I know I'll feel sad when the bus pulls away from Byron Bay and the surf shops and hippies fade into the distance. Byron was the first place I made connections, made friends, made (actually good) meals, and made peace with the long, sometimes uncertain journey ahead of me. It was the first place I didn't feel lonely, even as a solo traveler. It was the first place that felt familiar and comfortable to me -- I hope I find that again as I make my way across Australia.