48 days later in Bondi Beach, New South Wales
A warm breeze is blowing off the ocean in Bondi this evening. Soon, the sun will set and tonight’s full moon will light up the coastline. Twilight is my favorite time of day; colors are more vibrant and every light seems just a bit brighter.
I’ve been traveling for 48 days now. Tomorrow is my 31st birthday and last night was the first time since leaving for this trip that I slept in a room alone. If you are having trouble imagining how good that felt- let me tell you.
It was fucking amazing.
Although an air conditioned studio with a fluffy double bed and a balcony overlooking Bondi Beach is a nice change of pace- sleeping in dorm rooms, living off peanut butter sandwiches, and zipping through every nowhere in New Zealand for the last two months has been nothing short of incredible. (For the record, I’m still living off peanut butter sandwiches.)
But this was not the plan. I was supposed to be in Chiang Mai for my birthday, having already visited 6 countries. Instead, I landed in Auckland NZ, cancelled all my flights, and booked a hop on-off bus ticket with Kiwi Experience. I’m new to long term travel but from what I’ve gathered, things rarely go according to plan. As has been said, the best plan is no plan.
Why, one might ask, did I cancel my flights and flush perfectly good, already spent money down the drain?
Answer? Because of a Canadian. Now the fact that she is Canadian has nothing at all to do with it- I just like giving those Canucks shit. In fact, some of my best friends are from the wrong part of North America.
I had been traveling a long bit that day and had another flight to Queenstown booked for 7am the next morning. It was muggy hot and I was tired. This Canadian chick was going on about how hard it is to book accommodations and activities during this time of year and told me about her next destinations: Franz Josef, Abel Tasman, and Lake Taupo. She described all the amazing things she was hoping to do, including the Tongariro Crossing- a 19km hike (easily one of the top 3 things I’ve done so far on this trip). I remember thinking “Wow, she is young to be traveling for so long on her own!” I quickly came to realize it is not she who is young, but I who am old.
[Cue sad violin, pity party “I’m fucking old” birthday song.]
I had heard all about how amazing New Zealand was supposed to be, but I was uncertain about what to do there and if I wasn’t already feeling anxious about it, speaking to her made my head spin. I thanked her for the advice as she strapped on her backpack and we walked towards the elevator.
I was off to have dinner with a buddy I met in Hawaii on the second night of my trip. He is living and working in Auckland for the next 6 months and had just arrived himself a few days earlier.
We caught up and I told him everything the Canadian said. He agreed with most of it, as he has been to NZ a few times, but advised me to catch my flight to Queenstown so I could rest and regroup there.
I showed him some information on the Kiwi Experience and he thought it seemed like a good deal. I had also been talking to several other people in the hostel who were doing similar hop on-off routes and they all had good things to say about it. But there was a catch- I had to book by the next day if I wanted to get the sale price, which was actually quite the deal. It was $599 NZD (~$395 USD) for transit around the entire country and guaranteed first night accommodation at every stop. I debated with myself a bit but in the end, I returned to the hostel and cancelled all my flights.
The next morning I went to the Kiwi office and worked out my itinerary with a guy who kept saying “sweet as bro” which I didn’t understand and still don’t, but I found myself saying it anyway during the entire trip.
The bus I was on didn’t leave for a few days, so I booked another two nights in Auckland and a return trip to Pahia / Bay of Islands up at the north tip of the north island. It’s a beautiful place and for good reason is on every “must-see” attraction list for New Zealand. I had a bit of credit with Jetstar Airlines, so I also booked a flexible flight out of Christchurch on the South Island back to Sydney. (The flight turned out to be not so flexible and had me fuming at one point in Lake Taupo as I tried to rearrange my itinerary.)
The next four weeks were spent rolling around New Zealand’s North and South Islands in a giant lime green bus. That part of the story will get more attention after I’m able to sift through the notes I jotted down every few days. I got to see some great parts of a beautiful country and met some amazing people- some of which I will never see again but more importantly, some of which I will.
As of writing this I’m back in Sydney which was my first stop on this trip outside the States. When I left, the timeline was 270 days (9 months). Currently, the budget has me crawling back to America on day 235- Australasia (that name was new to me) is an expensive place and I didn’t plan on spending so much time here. I’m hoping to be able to balance out the budget in South East Asia, but who knows.
If you asked me at the start if I thought I would wind up spending more time in Australia, I would have said absolutely not. While hatching this scheme, I had my heart set on seeing Japan first and making my way south. But I hate prolonged cold weather and was leaving in January, so I decided to skim Australia and New Zealand before making my way to SE Asia. But, here I am, back in Sydney. (This would have surprised my two month younger self.) Why would I go back to a place I’ve already visited on a round the world trip?
In Los Angeles, a friend mentioned something she had done on her travels and it still echoes in my head. She picked a city in a region and made it her home base and took shorter trips in and out of that location. The goal is to provide some semblance of normalcy while traveling- a little dose of comfort through familiarity. Sydney is not going to be my home base nor do I think I’ll have one on this trip- there is just too much I want to cover. What I have distilled from this concept and will surely remember are the benefits of a familiar place during long-term travel.
When I landed in Sydney it was raining and I was exhausted but I knew exactly where I needed to go and how to get there. Being back in a place that was familiar was just what I needed after bouncing around from place to place for forty some odd days.
So for all the curious eyes that have walked through these silly words and are wondering what’s next: As of posting this I am in Airlie Beach getting ready for a 3 day 3 night sailing trip to the Outer Great Barrier Reef. Thanks to cyclone Winston the forecast is calling for rain and thunderstorms the entire time. My heart goes to all those in Fiji that were devastated by the storm. Worse comes to worse I’ll be sitting on the bow of the boat channeling my inner Lieutenant Dan screaming “You call this a storm!?” Before this I spent five days in beautiful Byron Bay and one night in Brisbane. Afterwards (tentatively of course) it’s off to Bali, Japan, and south through China to the Vietnam Coast.
I have thousands of photos to sift through in hopes of finding 10 that aren’t complete shit. And still thousands more to take.