Editor’s note: I am always thrilled when fellow Slow Travellers get in touch and want to share their amazing stories of how they explored a place in depth and how they did it. This weeks inspirational story comes from Lilian over at Travel Armadillo, who speaks about the country I am now calling home – Australia.
In 2010, I was fresh out of university with a master’s degree, knowing only one thing: I had to get out of Ireland. The recession had hit hard and unfortunately, no one wants to hire the over-qualified person with very little experience. It was a bummer, but a major blessing in disguise. From a young age, every time I visited a new place I always wondered what it would be like to live there every day. Wherever I went, this had always been a point of interest for me. As I got older, I quickly realised that a week isn’t nearly enough time to understand how a local lives. I realised that, to do that, you really have to travel slowly. Once I did realise this, I decided I wanted to travel for longer periods of time. I wanted to live in another country, not just visit it. I wanted to see other places through the eyes of the locals.
After some thought, I decided that Australia was the best place to start slow travelling and I applied for a working holiday visa. Thankfully my boyfriend was of the same opinion as me. We both felt that it was just too hard to stay in a country we love and watch it sink into a monetary black hole. The decision was an easy one. They say every cloud has a silver lining and although the recession had been a massive cloud, it had handed me my chance to travel, to live in another country and not just visit for a short time. It was a sliver of light between two hopelessly dark spaces: unemployment and the possibility of ending up in a dead-end job, because of a recession that wasn’t getting any better. Travelling was something I always wanted to do anyway, regardless of the world economy, and the recession gave me my chance; I grabbed it with both hands and no regrets.
When we landed in Sydney I was so happy. Surprisingly, I wasn’t the least bit worried or anxious about what was to come. I didn’t have a job lined up or any kind of travel itinerary; all I had was a hostel booked for three nights. Embracing the unknown was so liberating. It suited me to just take things slowly and not be bound by a hectic schedule of things to see. Of course, I ventured down to the Opera House to have a look and took the ferry to Manly, but it wasn’t because I felt forced into it by some rigid itinerary.
Australia is expensive; if there is one thing you should know about travelling around this island continent, let it be that. I had to work a lot to fund my travels, which doesn’t seem like much fun, right? Well, to combat this problem I made the conscious decision to choose jobs that were interesting; jobs that would show me a different part of Australian culture. If I was going to travel all the way to the other side of the world and had to work, then I wasn’t going to do just any old job. It had to be part of my Australian experience. So I picked grapes in the Barossa Valley; worked on a remote cattle station in central Australia; improved my cooking skills in a gourmet deli in Melbourne; and learned about Barramundi fishing in Northern Territory. I stayed in each place for at least one month; sometimes I stayed two months, sometimes three. With each place I learned something new about Australia – it wasn’t all cans of beer and shrimps on the barbie. Well there was that too, but I began to see Australia in a different light, and this wasn’t by seeing the sights, it was by living like the locals and making connections with them.
Stopping to work in one place for a month or two allowed me to feel comfortable and explore what was around me in my own time. A lot of my jobs brought me to the outback. Again and again I vowed to take a job in the city where there were shops, cafes and bars yet, again and again the outback kept calling me. For all of my moaning about how isolated I felt in the outback, I ended up having some of my best travel experiences in those remote areas. Working on a cattle station was probably the most out-there experience as far as experiencing complete and utter culture shock goes. Travelling to an essentially westernised, English-speaking country I didn’t expect much culture shock – that’s where I was wrong. While working on the station I got to not just see what it was like to live on a remote cattle station, but actually live it. I began to, in my own way, understand the hardships they faced being practically cut-off from society; I learned not be wasteful; I learned how to cook outside over an open fire and every night I fell asleep to the sound of howling dingos. I heard their stories and their problems became my problems. For a while, I lived their lives, and became totally immersed in the world of an outback cattle station.
By stopping in places for an extended time, I began to understand the locals, particularly in the outback and rural areas, more so than I would have had if I had just stayed for a couple of days and then moved on. By understanding the locals, I could engage with them far more easily, and this opened up a wealth of possibilities.
When you slow travel the possibilities are endless, like, being invited to drink with the locals in outback pubs. Possibilities like, hearing stories about growing up in remote parts of Australia. My boss on the cattle station told me about how his grandfather herded cattle around Uluru before there were ever any tourists there. Another man told me about how he hated the cities, even small towns, because he had lived in the outback all his life. Possibilities like being taken Barramundi fishing by two Aussie blokes who kindly, and with much patience, taught me how to fish and even brought me to see some crocodiles. I met more pig-hunters than I care to remember. Going piggin’, as they say, is a very popular past-time in the outback.
One morning when I was working in an outback roadhouse, one particularly excited local couldn’t wait to drag me away from the counter and show me the massive pig he caught. I didn’t know him, but because he saw me every day in the roadhouse, he felt like he knew me and had to share his big news with me. I can’t say I felt the same excitement as he did about looking at a massive dead pig at six in the morning, but strangely enough; something about it kind of touched my heart. I really felt like a local and that’s a feeling that you don’t come by all that often.
Moments like those can’t be bought. You can’t queue for them or buy a souvenir to remember them by. Moments like those are earned by stopping in one place, waiting patiently and making connections.
Australia is huge and it is difficult to grasp the sheer size of the country until you travel around it. If you want to travel slowly around Australia it’s best to pick one area and travel around it, whether it be the east coast, the west coast, the top-end or central Australia. You won’t see everything so choose wisely and think about what you want out of your trip. If you’re not sure what you want, you could also stay in one place for a couple of months and then move on to another completely different part– that way you can see which part is your favourite. I would highly recommend working your way around Australia. Plenty of other backpackers and travellers I have met, including Australians, agree that it’s a great way to see the country. If you can get a working holiday visa for Australia do it. There are so many interesting jobs you can do, and so many I never got around to trying, like working on a sailing boat around the Great Barrier Reef.
If you have to work to support your travel do it with jobs that interest you, something you can make an experience out of. Another great way to explore Australia slowly is by camper van. It means you have the freedom to go anywhere and stop anywhere, all while going at your own pace.