Hometown: Adelaide, Australia
Quote: “You just have to say, ‘this is my plan’ and go about putting things in place necessary to make it happen. And as for those who tell you, you can’t…. run full speed in the opposite direction. It will be the best decision you ever made.”
How did you find out about Vagabonding, and how did you find it useful before and during the trip?
I heard about Vagabonding through a friend who said this site was “made for” me. I found myself coming back to it time and time again on the road, particularly when I was having a “why am I doing this hair-brained adventure again for?” kind of a moment. Sometimes you need that little bit of reassurance that you’re not the only person out there taking risks and that positive reinforcement always managed to get my “get up and go” juices flowing again.
How long were you on the road?
I have been traveling for years but for this adventure – 30 Days for 30 Years – I was on the road for exactly one year. I left Australia on my birthday and returned on my birthday a couple of weeks ago. It has nice symmetry with the reasons behind my trip.
Where all did you go?
Well, 22 countries depending on whom you ask. (Is Macau part of China? And do you recognize Kosovo as an independent State?)
For an entire year, I traveled on 12 crazy whims, relying on my nous, or lack thereof, and the kindness of strangers. I had no support, no companions, and nowhere to stay. This is what I did:
Month 1 – China – I ran the Great Wall of China Marathon
Month 2 – Western Australia – Cygnet Bay – I worked out on a pearl boat.
Month 3 – Israel/France – I did a self-guided pilgrimage around Israel and then visited the Grotto in Lourdes, France.
Month 4 – The Netherlands – I learned to make cheese in Holland (it’s my favorite thing!).
Month 5 – Norway – I worked on two short films and randomly appeared half-naked in a music video wrapped in cling wrap (there’s one to tick off the bucket list!).
Month 6 – Mongolia – I trained eagles in the Altai Mountains in the Kazakh region of Mongolia.
Month 7 – Malta – I worked on a Norwegian reality TV show shot on the Mediterranean.
Month 8 – USA – I lived like Dolly Parton in her home town in Tennessee i.e. I went into a studio and recorded one of her songs, donned a wig and did a photo shoot etc
Month 9 – Costa Rica – I learnt to paint antique ox carts in the artisan town of Sarchi.
Month 10 – Taiwan – I rode a bicycle 1678km around this hilly wonderland.
Month 11 – Mexico – I sailed on a pirate ship (complete with cannons) from Seattle, USA towards Mexico but we hit a storm, were forced to call mayday and were rescued by the US Coast Guard. Epic!
Month 12 – Kosovo – I went to Kosovo and volunteered – my way of paying it forward after the life-changing adventure I had just had.
I also visited the UK, Jordan, Russia, Serbia, Macedonia, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Sweden as part of these adventures.
What was your job or source of travel funding for this journey?
I’m a journalist by trade but I had a very limited budget – less than $1000 AUD a month (due to a perverse obstinance to make it too easy for myself!). I saved a good chunk of money before leaving Australia but not nearly enough to live off for a year, so I very much relied on the random kindness of strangers when it came to accommodation. And boy did they deliver. I am indebted to each and every one of them. I also wrote a couple of columns about my travels for newspapers in Australia which kept a steady, albeit tiny, trickle of funds coming through to keep commitments I had at home at bay.
Did you work or volunteer on the road?
I’ve worked three of my 12 months and volunteered for another one. My second month I went out and worked on a pearl boat in a remote part of the Kimberley. I liked the idea of doing a really sweaty manual labor job because it was so far removed from my usual world sitting in front of a computer all day. I must say, it’s kind of nice to come home physically exhausted after a hard day rather than being mentally exhausted. And the scenery was nothing short of spectacular.
Six months in, a job I had teed up with a newspaper in Norway had fallen through so I made ends meet by doing lighting and cinematography on two short films (I had no experience doing either so just winged it!) and I was an extra in a music video with two of the most famous guys in Norway.
My sojourn in the film world led me to a gig on a Norwegian Reality TV show shot in Malta, where I started as a production assistant but was bumped up to the head of cinematography after the Art Director became ill two days before we were scheduled to leave Norway. It was not part of my original itinerary but when are you ever going to be able to say you got to stay in a five-star hotel and cruise around on luxury yachts for work?
My final month I reserved specifically for paying it forward. That landed me in Kosovo where I volunteered with an amazing NGO called The Ideas Partnership, which helps underprivileged kids in the poverty-stricken town of Fushe Kosove. The Ideas Partnership holds catch up classes for the kids who still want to learn but are banned from attending mainstream school because they don’t have shoes or are deemed too dirty to attend. They also hold classes for local girls who wear headscarves. They too are banned from attending school. TIP also runs a number of environmental and social enterprises in the area.
Of all the places you visited, which was your favorite?
Such a tough, tough question. I’m not sure I can really name a favorite. Israel was probably the most interesting, cruising in and out of the West Bank and visiting all of those biblical sites.
Norway really captured my heart so I will always have a soft spot for Oslo and the people of Taiwan were certainly the most generous but its funny… at the end of every month I’d think to myself, “wow, that was pretty amazing. I don’t know how next month will ever be able to top that.” And then of course it did, but for different reasons.
Was there a place that was your least favorite, or most disappointing, or most challenging?
Mongolia! Hands down the hardest month I had on this journey but certainly not one that I would ever replace. I had a bad taste in my mouth right from the start after being deported from the country within 15 minutes of landing for not paying a bribe to an immigration official. $3500 later when I finally did make it past passport control, I had a horrendous 64-hours bus ride, followed by a string of incidents which make me shudder every time I think about them (keep an eye out for 30 Days for 30 Year the book for more details!). Just three showers in four weeks is certainly not my cup of tea but an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
Did any of your pre-trip worries or concerns come true? Did you run into any problems or obstacles that you hadn’t anticipated?
I kind of have a penchant for random adventures and taking risks, and I very much believe that everything happens for a reason. But my biggest pre-trip worry is always ‘what am I going to do when I get back?’ When you’re traveling its like your real life is on hold. I was certainly plagued by concerns about whether I was making the right decision to leave in the first place. I had a good career and in this climate you think, ‘am I going to be able to return to it?’ And of course there is the financial side. We all have commitments in one way or another and you don’t want to put yourself in a position where such an adventure becomes a burden down the road. But sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. As one friend said to me, ‘Your resume looks good now so you will be no less employable in 12 months time.” If anything I am probably going to be more employable. I didn’t just take 12 months off to backpack aimlessly around the world. I have a goal to write a book about my journey and I think future employers will respect that I took a chance and was willing to adapt to new environments. I think versatility and those types of qualities are what people look for these days. I’ve looked at this journey from the perspective of what I can gain from it, not what I could possibly lose. It could be that taking this risk gives me everything I ever wanted so I’d be crazy not to try. As they say, fortune favors the brave.
Which travel gear proved most useful? Least useful?
I am a seasoned traveler but for some reason I made the stupid decision to leave my (top loader) backpack at home and take a friend’s front loader. I had reasons for wanting a front loader but you should NEVER travel long term with a pack that is not fitted to your body right. It was the biggest mistake I made on this trip and one I will never make again.
My iPhone was hands down the most useful thing I traveled with. So often it got me out of binds thanks to the spreading network of free wifi around the globe.
What are the rewards of the vagabonding lifestyle?
You see the world at its best. 99 per cent of what we see on the news is negative, people hating on other people. In real life, you witness that human kindness really is overflowing. No matter what their background, most people just want to be happy. They want to find someone nice to share life with and enjoy it. That’s what you see as a vagabond.
I’ve had people offer me a bed in the most trying of circumstances for them personally and yet they’d go out of their way to help me nonetheless.
What are the challenges and sacrifices of the vagabonding lifestyle?
The list is endless. Not knowing where you are going to sleep at night; The constant worry about money; The inability to communicate at times; Unfamiliarity of your surroundings; Loneliness; Missing important family occasions because you are half way round the world etc.
Being in these sorts of situations builds character though and certainly makes you a more compassionate, kinder, resilient and adaptable person. You can’t sweat the small stuff when you are forced to sleep in a bus shelter.
What lessons did you learn on the road?
That happiness is a choice. You do not need money in the bank (although it certainly helps) to travel the world or to get the most out of your chosen life you just need to wake up each day with an open mind and a smile.
How did your personal definition of “vagabonding” develop over the course of the trip?
I think it was the realization – and acceptance – that doing something different in my life doesn’t make me a failure. As JRR Tolkien said: “Not all those who wander are lost”.
Getting up at 4.30am and milking goats in Holland was one of the best times I’ve ever had so just the realization that I could actually go and do something like that as a career and do it successfully if I chose to has been an eye opener. Had I not have taken this risk, I wouldn’t be aware of those potential opportunities.
If there was one thing you could have told yourself before the trip, what would it be?
To remember that those at home are often going through the emotional rollercoaster with you and sometimes they need a little reassurance too.
Any advice or tips for someone hoping to embark on a similar adventure?
It’s so easy to make shoulda, woulda, coulda excuses. We all have commitments; we all have things tying us down. It really comes down to how much you want it. People contact me all the time saying how much they love what I’m doing but it is invariably followed by a “…but, I could never do it because of x, y and z.” It’s easy to think that way. I have before. But really, it was only me limiting myself. Only you can change your life and make it what you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be something as big as taking a year off, it can be the smallest thing. You just have to say, ‘this is my plan’ and go about putting things in place necessary to make it happen. I made a choice – I got busy living. Simple as that. And as for those who tell you, you can’t…. run full speed in the opposite direction. It will be the best decision you ever made.
When and where do you think you’ll take your next long-term journey?
Trying to get 30 Days for 30 Years published into a book is the next big journey (anyone interested in signing me?) so who knows how long that experience will take but I’m thinking Bangladesh and India might be my next big treks.
|Website: www.30days30years.com||Twitter: 30days30years|
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