Wondering if extended travel is for you? Read on....
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Long term travel is full of surprises, but one thing’s for sure – you’ll cross paths with many like-minded people. While exchanging stories, we can usually agree that travel makes us feel free, liberated, and as though anything is possible! It doesn’t just open our minds, but also our worlds.
It puts us in the driving seat of our lives and the possibilities suddenly seem endless.
While travel as we know it is currently on hold, we’re incredibly fortunate to have the opportunities to travel and work in different countries that we have in the present day. Are you feeling ready to press pause on your conventional lifestyle and see what else is out there? Then read on.
As someone who left the comfort of my home in the UK to embark on a solo adventure to Australia, which turned into much more; I share some of my experiences and the things I learned along the way. Right from deciding to take the plunge, to touching down in Sydney and beyond.
The big decision
The idea that you might like to travel has entered your head and it scares you a little. You don’t really know where to start, but life's beginning to feel a little too much like groundhog day and you fancy a change. Travel can absolutely pull you out of the 9-5 coma that’s so easy to fall into and really change your life, if you'd like it to.
Is it the right time, you wonder? Well really, there is no right time. Maybe you’re fresh out of university and want to take some ‘time out’ before you start your ‘dream career’, or you’ve already spent some time in the working world and need a break (who doesn’t?). Maybe you’ve planned to do this for a long time – maybe you just decided last night. My point is, as with most things, there’s no ‘right’ time; and sometimes you have to just take action. Less thinking and more doing!
Whatever your situation, if there's even a tiny part of you that thinks you'd like to give it a go; then just do it! It really is that simple. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard something along the lines of “Oh you’re so lucky, I’d love to travel but I have my job here, and my family, and I’d be so scared to leave all of that.” Well sometimes the things that are worth doing in the name of enhancing your life are a bit scary.
You can stay living in your ‘safe’ bubble for your entire life if you wish, but where’s the fun in that?
If you fear what you’re ‘giving up’, then you should know that you stand to gain so much more in return. Your life at home will be right where you left it…if you want it. It’s likely you’ll grow so much as a person that you aren’t going to want to return to the exact life you had before. Maybe that’s the scary part? You won't know unless you try.
Where to start – answer: anywhere!
Before my adventure, I didn’t know a great deal about ‘long-term’ travel, or how I could make it work. To be honest, I’d barely travelled at all. But I did know I could apply for a work permit in several countries, so I did some research and submitted my application to Australia. If you’re really stuck, there are agencies that will do this for you. Personally, I’d advise against going through an agency, as it’s very simple to do for yourself, and you’re learning and saving money for your trip in the process. But that’s probably something for another article.
I applied for my Australian work permit on my 28th birthday, and a few days later, it was approved. My passport to freedom! I was able to earn money once I arrived and fund my travels, and suddenly I felt FREE. Nothing was stopping me now, and the next thing to do was to book a flight before I could talk myself out of the whole thing. Well, I wasn’t going to do that; at 28, I was VERY ready for this. But still guilty of overthinking (who isn’t), I just wanted to get my flight booked and start planning towards a specific date. Up until this point, it was just a pipe dream and still didn’t feel completely real.
How long is 'long'?
By ‘long term’ travel, I’m referring to trips of at least a year. The kind where you quit your job, pack up your life, and off you go; not really knowing where the journey will take you. Most work permits, or working holiday visas, are valid for a year or two, and unfortunately most are for those aged between 18-30 (some are 35, depending on the country you’re from). Beyond 30/35, there are absolutely other ways you can make long term travel work, but again, that’s something for another article.
Personally, I didn't have a 'return' date, but I'd never done anything like this before, and so I made an agreement with myself to give it at least six months. After that time, I'd reassess. I felt anything less than that wouldn't really give me enough time to adjust, and I wanted to be sure I was making the most of this opportunity. If I didn't like it after six months, then at least I'd tried.
So you’ve booked your flight and it’s really happening! I gave myself four months to pack up my life and save a bit more money before heading off. I worked full time and lived on my own in a rented apartment, which I loved. It was my happy space and my clean and tidy sanctuary away from the noise of life. Giving it up was both terrifying and liberating. I was living in the same uneventful town I’d lived in for my whole life and I knew I wanted more, and that the world was so much bigger than I’d experienced thus far. I loved my friends (and still do), but I was living a life that just wasn’t suitable for me, which wasn’t at all what I wanted, and I’d felt that way for a long time.
I had no idea what my new life would look like, and the thought of sharing a house, let alone staying in hostels, sent shivers down my spine. But I embraced my fears as I knew it was something I needed to do.
During my last couple of months at work, I was floating on a cloud. On my last day, I walked into the office to hear “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” blasting out, and my desk and surrounding walls were decorated with all things Australia, including Toadie and Alf Stewart (I had the best colleagues). This was the last day I’d stare at the background image of the Gold Coast on my computer screen; I was off to take my own!
The last few days are super busy, as you tie up loose ends and make sure you’re all set. I’d had an Aussie themed goodbye party, which was filled with inflatable kangaroos, a garden beach complete with sand, corkscrew hats, and ‘secret champagne’. As emotional goodbyes hadn’t been the focus, I still wanted to see a few close friends to bid farewell and say ‘see you soon’, as I like to call it.
Packing was hell - how do you pack for a ‘who knows how long and who knows what I’ll be doing’ kind of trip?! Nightmare. After some research, I decided on a suitcase rather than a backpack as there was no way I wanted to haul a backpack around. It turned out to be a good decision, FYI!
The night before my early departure, my nerves were at an all time high. I’d moved back to my Mum’s house a week prior, and like old times, I sat there with my cat Rascal, feeling sad about leaving him behind. He didn’t seem too bothered, and he watched as I continued to re-pack my suitcase, begrudgingly removing things I didn’t ‘really’ need. The weight was still over but I really wanted everything I’d packed and couldn’t see how I could live without any of it. Arrgghhh.
The nerves I feel a few days before a big trip are always attributed to saying goodbye. Let’s face it, it’s tough. It’s really not nice hugging and kissing your loved ones knowing that you won’t be seeing them every day, or even for a number of months, or years. You’re off on an adventure because, you know, you only live once; but that doesn’t mean you don’t love your friends and family, and saying ‘goodbye for now’ is just something that has to be done. I honestly think I had tears in my eyes for the entire twenty-five-hour journey from Manchester to Sydney.
And then I landed.
I landed in Sydney in the evening, and that feeling of ‘oh my god I’m really doing this’ kicked in big time. I’d spent the whole flight from China to Sydney sitting quietly and making regular bathroom trips to be sick. It had been an emotional few days and I was just so damn tired, as I can’t sleep unless I’m in a bed (I really envy people who can sleep anywhere!). I was excited, exhausted, wide awake, half asleep; and so glad I’d booked a hotel for my first couple of nights.
I couldn’t see much on the ride to the hotel, as it was dark, but I do remember looking for spiders in the cab. They’re huge and absolutely everywhere in Australia, right?! I’d later learn that this is not at all true, but for now, I’d continue to check for them…EVERYWHERE. Checking in to my hotel, I headed to my room and connected to the WiFi, excitedly messaging my Mum and best friend. I needed to sleep but I was beyond excited to wake up the next day and start exploring.
First day of FREEDOM
I call it freedom, as this trip was the first thing I’d ever done completely for myself. Before, I felt like I was living someone else’s life, and I was just going through the motions of the conventional lifestyle that so many of us naturally follow. If that’s the life you choose, then that's absolutely fine, we’re all different and it would be incredibly boring if we all wanted the same things. But for me, I felt like a square peg being pushed into a round hole. I just didn’t fit. Why would I? Here I was, finally free and making conscious life choices!
Floating on my freedom cloud, I wandered down toward the Harbour Bridge (obviously the first place I was going!), with my paper map and crappy camera, like a typical tourist.
It was 2013, so I’m not sure why I didn’t have a decent camera phone; probably because I was trying to save money, as always. It was about an hour’s walk away, and as planned on my little map I’d stop at Darling Harbour to eat. Ironically, I ate breakfast at the bar that would later become a second home for me and my new ‘travel friends’. At the time, of course I didn’t have my bearings, and so I didn’t really know where I was in relation to the rest of the city. This bar just happened to be a convenient place to stop along the way, and yet it would become such an iconic and special place during my time in Australia. Some of my favourite memories are from our much loved ‘happy hours’ that we still regularly talk about!
As I left, the waitress complimented my outfit. It was September and despite my belief that Sydney was hot at all times, I quickly learned otherwise. I can remember feeling a little chilly in my long summer skirt and sleeveless top, but I didn’t care, and off I went with my map! As the Harbour Bridge came into view, I felt so overwhelmed. I was finally here, all independent and proud, on my solo adventure that I’d anticipated for so long. It was surprisingly quiet, and so I just stood in the moment feeling on top of the world.
Here are a few takeaways for you so far:
Despite my overflowing suitcase, I hadn’t managed to pack anything particularly warm, and although I imagined Australian spring to be different to UK spring, on cloudy days it was surprisingly cold! I had to buy a few warmer outfits, and so right from the beginning, the contents of my luggage grew quickly, and I needed to buy an additional bag. Not ideal when you’re about to head off on a trip along the east coast, stopping off at each place for only a few days.
I organised my east coast trip through a travel agent, and luckily I managed to persuade him to kindly store my additional belongings at the store for free. I later learned this would become a common occurrence, and I regularly left belongings at various locations in Sydney. Not to mention the occasions when I hauled over 30kg of luggage around with me. Of course, my advice would always be to ‘travel lightly’, but in reality; when you’re in one place for a while, you accumulate more and more. Most people I knew had trouble closing their bags after a while, and others had a ton of random items hanging from the outside of their backpacks. I was never sure if they’d run out of space or if this was just a 'cool' backpacker thing to do?
If you’re particularly good at packing lightly, then aside from the fact that it’s an amazing skill to have, maybe leave a bit of extra room, as you’ll likely still accumulate various items. I once checked in for a flight and ended up having to wear two pairs of trousers, three pairs of shorts, five tops, two jumpers, a hat, coat, two pairs of thick socks and boots, just to get my bag to an acceptable weight. And by this time it was SUMMER in Australia, so let me tell you that this was not fun at all. On the plus side, I now find packing lightly for a short trip extremely easy! I’m still working on the long ones.
Believe it or not, prior to my trip I did research the temperatures in Sydney at that time of year and packed accordingly, but still found I was cold at times. So if you’re heading somewhere with a varied climate, leave some of your shorts behind and pack some trousers and items that you can layer up to keep you warm (I probably took those out to fit in a pretty dress). Or alternatively, leave some room in your luggage and purchase additional shoes/clothes once you’re there *if needed*.
If you plan on staying in hostels during your trip, I absolutely recommend booking into a hotel for your first few days at least. You’ll be tired, and you’re settling into a brand-new town/city/country.
Give yourself some time to recuperate before you throw yourself into making friends at ‘Free Wine Fridays’!
Before my trip, I was advised against making too much of a plan, and this turned out to be great advice. You don’t really know what to expect, so it might feel safer to book long-term accommodation, or to plan out your first few months. But your perception of what this experience will be like, compared to the reality of it, can be quite different. You’re constantly hearing of new places and experiences, meeting new friends, and coming across new opportunities. You probably want to be able to maintain your new-found freedom to an extent, so you can say ‘yes’ to that road trip. You’re also finding your feet in a new place, so give yourself some flexibility.
If anything, having only two weeks’ accommodation arranged was a blessing, as it pushed me in to booking and committing to my trip from Sydney to Cairns, along the beautiful east coast. It was still cloudy and cold in Sydney, and I wasn’t overly keen on my hostel. It was clean and I’d met a really great friend on my first day, but it had cockroaches and reminded me of a jail. Someone told me that it actually was a jail, back in the day. Hmmmm.
Stay tuned for part two…..