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April 21, 2012

Vagabonding Field Reports: Couch surfing in Sydney

Cost/day: $40

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

Still a bit jet lagged from the flight into Sydney, I awoke to the sounds of a giant dragon fly bouncing off the window as it sought freedom from my sparsely furnished single room cottage house that I was couch surfing.  I opened the door and stepped out into the morning with the gleeful dragon fly and stretched my legs.  The scene that greeted me was pure Australian hippie farm joy; ducks waddling across the grass past the garden while a family of Alpaca enjoyed their morning stroll.  One of the house dogs was already awake and was busy peeing on the wheel of the camper van parked in front.  “Welcome to Australia” I thought to myself.

Out for a stroll

Describe a typical day:

Couch surfing is all about going with the flow.  In this case, the flow involved a fruit breakfast of an apple or orange.  A visit to the nearby national parks is a great free activity and provides lots of Kangaroo spotting fun.  Note to future travellers: they are deceptively fast.  If the weather is nice, a swim in the river and a go at the homemade swing are called for.  Just mind yourself of the black funnel web spiders and fire ants nearby.

A classic Australian dinner of bbq including some Kangaroo (or skippy as often called around here) and local wine is cheap and great fun for dinner.  After dinner entertainment usual involves story telling or circle drumming.  And if all of that isn’t enough for you, then you’ll need to head out a little bit away from the lights and take in a star filled southern hemisphere sky.

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

I couch surfed for one night with a lovely retired lady in Sydney who was actively involved in her community.  Our conversation turned to retirement and the stress that retiring puts people under.  Beyond just the money, the biggest stress is often mental.  What role does one play in society after retirement?  How do you redefine yourself outside of work having invested so much of yourself in your job for so long.

Being quite young myself, I never considered the challenges of retirement in such a light and it got me thinking about unexpected benefits of vagabonding.  Long term travel can be a great trial run at retirement living.  It forces you to experience life outside of the traditional working world.  For people that define themselves significantly through their employment (myself included), the shift from corporate world junkie to vagabonder can be significantly disorienting.  Questions such as “What do you do?” used to be easy to answer.  Now it’s more difficult.  This takes a while to get used to and the effect on one’s ego shouldn’t be ignored.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Australians are open and forward people that love to have a good time.  They are often great story tellers as well.  Simple tours can become hilarious and memorable affairs when lead by a jovial Australian.

Australians are extremely outdoors oriented and this is reflected in their environments.  Water fountains are plentiful and always work. Public washrooms are clean and well maintained and gardens and parks are usually well kept.  You’ll find there are electric outdoor bbq units that you can even rent if you are tired of cooking at your hostel.

Australia is an extremely wealthy country and while this means it’s generally clean and safe, it does come with a high price tag.  Prices in Australia can be intimidating. To combat high prices, you should take advantage of your flexibility. Be on the lookout for shared rides or discount flights further out on your schedule.  In short, don’t force a schedule or you’ll find your costs rise quickly.

The opera house

Describe a challenge you faced:

One of the biggest challenges I faced when I arrived in Sydney was honestly the financial shock of moving from South East Asia to Australia.  While I had budgeted accordingly, overcoming the mental block of moving from a developing nation to a developed nation was something I was not expecting to have to deal with.  I found myself honestly frustrated at some points simply because I hadn’t mentally left Thailand yet.  I kept comparing the financial costs and my mental valuation of the experiences and it detracted from my enjoyment of Australia.

What new lesson did you learn?

The first practical lesson I learned was that staying flexible in your plans can significantly save money.  Sometimes transport costs can be cut by a third if your schedule is flexible.  Take advantage of your flexibility if you would like to move about and save some money at the same time.

The second lesson I learned is that shifting from a developing nation to a developed nation is more than just a physical act.  It’s also a mental one.  After four months in South East Asia, first world prices are scary.  You need to relax and allow time to adjust your mind so that you can enjoy yourself without the prejudice of your prior experiences.

Where next?

We are climbing north along the east coast, heading towards Cairns.  Going to get some diving and snorkeling time hopefully as well as take in some of the beautiful beaches that Australia has to offer. When you visit the city of Cairns, visitors are offered a great selection of diving tours and snorkeling to the Great Barrier Reef.

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