First of all, these are my opinions based on my experiences and does not necessarily represent the views of others whom have travelled to Australia, if any at all! They are my thoughts and reflections on my time in Australia as they come to me and are not to be taken as fact nor to be seen as me being judgemental. It is purely my personal responses.
Secondly, it’s really hard to be completely objective about Australia. Well, as if I – or anyone – could anyway as someone’s opinion is shaped and influenced by their personality, past and preferences. But especially so because I really settled into Asia – where I travelled just before Australia – and found my pace there, my pulse beating in time with its rhythm. Rather than feeling homesick as I travelled around Australia (although I was at times, especially when I settled into Sydney), I was Asia-sick, missing the culture, the people, the food and even who I was while there; I left my heart in Asia (NB: a whole different blog post would be needed to go into that – falling in love with places, and people/partners, often has a lot to do with the person you are in that moment, when you are in their presence, and loving YOURSELF at that time). In all fairness to Australia, and even New Zealand, I have discovered that one of the highlights of travelling for me is to experience cultures that are very different from my own and, as a westernised country, Australia and the way it is to travel/live there was just too similar to home for me. And, upon reflection, had I not just come from Asia or had it been a separate travelling experience entirely, a standalone trip, I would have probably loved it more. So, I will try to put that aside when I reflect on travelling around Australia but I probably won’t do a great job at this – it DID form part of my experience and how can we really, successfully, separate anything that is woven in?
I will also try not to compare Asia with every point I make about Australia but I will start with the prices. Dear god, the prices. And the way that impacts the backpacker experience. Not only COULD you eat out every night in Asia but that’s pretty much the only option other than grabbing a takeaway or some bits from the 7-Eleven to eat in your hostel room. Asian people eat out most nights, hostels aren’t equipped for self-catering, and it is so cheap and wonderful to do so – you get to sample so much of the local dishes. This is not so easy in Australia and it becomes a rarity and a luxury to eat out. So you end up bulk buying from the supermarket and cooking your meals, like I would at home in normal day-to-day life, but for us a lot of the cooking would be done at the rear of our campervan or on the BBQ tables that are dotted around Australia.
As a traveller I just don’t want normal day-to-day life. The good thing is the hostels have full facilities for cooking, but the bad thing is that hostels are also super expensive. £5 night in Asia would be the normal limit, in Australia it was almost impossible to get double that anywhere, most being triple. Half of your daily budget is gone on accommodation. Coffees, fruit, shakes, chocolate, cigarettes, soft drinks – everything is so much more expensive. Yes it is much easier to get fresh fruit and veg than it was in Asia, and there were things I had missed that I could now have (beetroot – oh how I missed beetroot!) but again it is very expensive.
With Australia you literally have everything that is wonderful about the natural world all in one place – as you drive along the east coast you pass the ocean on your left and mountains on your right, plus you have cities or beaches interspersed along the way. In the UK you would only get one of these in each location but in Australia you have it all! This makes the roads so beautiful to travel along with bright blue skies and diverse scenery. My favourite time of day for being in the campervan was late afternoon into early evening where the colours in the sky change the most and you experience both glorious sunshine bursting through the trees into the road before you and it casting orange, yellow and purple shades behind the mountains as it sets. I will miss being on the road, in a campervan (where I wasn’t driving!), for the time it offers for peace and reflection, for the beauty I got to witness, and for the craziness of travelling with strangers-come-friends from different parts of the world.
That being said, Australia is so large and “nearby” locations not actually that nearby so travelling by bus – such as greyhound – makes it difficult to really explore the area, which is why a lot of people hire or buy a car or campervan for the trip. But again this can feel more like you are at home rather than “travelling” – for me, part of the backpacker experience is hauling my luggage onto a bus and then shutting off for a few hours, to sleep, take in the views or write my blog, whilst someone else is in charge of transporting me to the next place. If you have to drive yourself then you can miss out on a lot if this. Also,whilst being in a camper was a cool way to explore the east coast and discover places I wouldn’t have otherwise, I didn’t get to move around on foot and explore like I did in Asia or as much as I like to. I had less individual freedom (dictated by the consensus and compromise of 6 people) and less active exploration, which both suit me and my personality the best I think.
Surprisingly, I found a lot of staff could be abrupt and service could be slow in Australia, which I really wasn’t expecting. Perhaps because the more expensive something is the more you expect good service, whereas you almost excuse it in Asia as it’s so cheap and there’s such a massive cultural difference; another difference you don’t have in Australia either as it is westernised, so I almost expected the western service I was accustomed to from the UK. Perhaps, however, it is because tips are not as standard in Oz as they are in the UK, but it was a mental adjustment I had to make.
To counter that, however, random sand strangers were really friendly, especially taking into account that we were annoying tourists. Every campsite we stayed at an Australian would come up to us to talk to us and ask about our travels, one woman even having an entire conversation with me about her son who was travelling and asking about me missing my own mum. It would also happen in supermarket parking lots when we were loading the camper and fellow shoppers would enquire about our journey. Once we opened up the boot to our “kitchen” in a parking bay to make a juice and a 4×4 going past stopped; the driver stuck his head out window and said “two coffees please, no sugar” with a big smile on his face. Australians always take the time to talk to you, or just say “How’s it going?” as you pass by them on a walking trail, which was so lovely and warm. This is very different from the UK, especially in London, where people are often heads down, in their own world, too reserved to be openly warm to strangers.
When travelling the East Coast you come across a lot of young people just wanting to get drunk – and ONLY get drunk. They didn’t care about exploring and absorbing – or about doing their job in the hostel if they were on a working holiday visa – as they just wanted to get smashed. I feel there was less of that in Asia (although it still exists!) and people were more there for the experience of travelling. Also, in Asia I felt perfectly comfortable travelling on my own and being by myself in public places; yes, the style of the Asian culture did mean locals would respond with surprised curiosity as to my reasons for being a solo female traveller, but I didn’t feel out of place or particularly lonely or that I stood out. Plus I really enjoyed being alone and met many others (many females) also travelling solo.
In Australia, however, a lot of people travel in groups or in couples, or if alone then end up working at a hostel and becoming part of the working gang so they’re not really alone anymore. Being in Australia and not having a friend to chat with over a glass of wine created pangs of loneliness and I felt a bit vulnerable. I’m therefore glad I made the decision to hook up with a travel crew – not just for how huge and overwhelming the east coast is but for the way it meant I experienced Australia. Even if I did have to sacrifice some of my individual freedom and personal space, I needed to be part of something with other people and it opened up my experience in a different way.
One cool thing about Australia that I haven’t mentioned is the appreciation of my name. Most people I told my surname to had some comment to make about it and complimented me on my “cool” last name, plus there was Sparkes Place in Brisbane, Lindsay Ave in Alice Springs and in Sydney, plus the transport company called Lindsay… I probably should have felt more at home here than I did!
One thing I noticed about working in Australia is that they are far more relaxed than we are in the UK, which is lovely but as someone whom is quite organised I also found this stressful at times. There is a point where you become far too relaxed! But there is something to be said about their more laid-back attitude, the way they take things with a pinch of salt and don’t take everything so seriously. It’s more chilled out – maybe because the weather is so much better – and they seem to feel less inclined to move at such a fast pace. The opposite to who I am as a person – fast paced is my jam – but good for me to have that challenged. It might even help me to slow down…
I think, overall, I loved the places I went to and the experiences I had but I felt a bit more lost here, which surprised me because it is more Western so I expected to feel MORE in my skin but I think that in Asia, in such a different culture, I could reinvent myself – strip away the westernised me and create a new me in a new place, with less of the westernised pressures and expectations regarding body, image and fashion. I feel the Asian lifestyle worked for me – their carefree and relaxed attitude to clothes and image – whereas Australia felt more like home and everything that comes with it, including the western pressures and expectations and my own demons. Plus, being in Australia reminded me more of home than Asia did but it wasn’t home, so it actually made me feel more homesick than being in Asia had, especially when I settled and got a job there as that felt even MORE like being at home, but not actually being with your loved ones.
I think I have realised that one of the main things I love about travelling is experiencing and being exposed to completely different cultures and that for me to live or work abroad it would have to be so different from home in order for me to leave my home – and my friends and family – for it. But this is a personal preference and in no way a poor reflection on Australia; I would absolute recommend it as a place to explore, I just now know far more about what it is I want and need from my travels.