Minimalism and Happiness

There is a popular documentary on Netflix right now called “Minimalism” For those who don't already know, minimalism is my generation's counter-approach to the American Dream. The idea is to live on as little as possible, such as only having sixteen items of clothing or owning one bike instead of three cars. Many of these minimalists even move out of their suburban houses in favor of a small one bedroom apartment or even the highly coveted, mini-houses that you now see on HGTV.


 

I watched this documentary a few weeks ago but I wasn't too impressed. The people in the film said over and over again how much “happier” they were now that the had much less to live off of. I wasn't sure what irritated me about this response until a good friend of mine watched the film and followed up with a few questions sent to me directly.


 

She wanted to know if I was “happier” in Australia since I was living on so little. Her and I both had seen the parallelism between the minimalist attitude and the backpacking attitude. Both lifestyles require a person to live on 10% or less of everything they own.


 

I started on my journey with a fifty-pound suitcase and a small backpack. After two months I sent a large box back home and donated about five things. Another month in and I was sending back half of the contents of my suitcase without hesitation. I needed a lighter load and I hadn't even touched a majority of the things I had packed.

 

 One of the many hostels I shared while on my travels. 

One of the many hostels I shared while on my travels. 

Basically I had about four outfits and two pairs of shoes. I carried a toiletries bag and my personal necessities of watercolors and at least one book. That's about it. To be honest, that was still a heavier load than many of the other backpackers. We all lived that way and no one worried about a thing.

 

So was I “happier” because of my lack of stuff? Everything I owned was on my back and under forty pounds. Did that transform my life into a blissful utopia? Not necessarily. I was happy before I left. I am happy now that I am home. Yet I was happy the entire time I was gone. I believe that being happy is a choice each of us make every single day. Did I have plenty of worries when I was working at the Chamber and driving my red car? You betcha. Did I have plenty of worries when I was sleeping out of a car in the middle of the outback? Darn right.

 

The elimination of stuff doesn't instantly make us happier. There will always be things to worry and fuss over. There's always a negative friend or co-worker and you'll never escape the reality of paying bills and figuring out your next meal. While a backpacker may have more basic survival worries, they still have the same choice you do. Happiness or perpetual complaining?

Aimless Wandering..

I'm not depressed—for the record—but I could easily see why many backpackers fall into depression after returning to their home countries. For me it's like I just spent eight months on an incredibly focused journey. Never in my life have I felt so fulfilled as I wandered aimlessly around a beautiful country. For once it wasn't about the money, the cars, the clothes or even the success stories. Everyone was on an equal playing field. We were all broke in search of an adventure. All of our realities were far behind us and in some euphoric way we were living out our daydreams. It was beautiful. Each day was a surprise. More than once I wondered where I would lay my head that night. I worked jobs well under my qualifications but I didn't care because it was all for the cause.

 

After eight months of this bliss, I found myself ready to come home and resume my responsibilities as an adult. I was ready for a career. I was ready to feel safe in the arms of insurance. I was ready to make enough money to comfortably support myself and rest assured knowing where I would sleep each night. In essence, I came back motivated for adulthood.

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But instead I've found myself continuing down the lazy river of the backpacking mindset. This isn't necessarily by choice, I've looked for jobs and searched for projects, but at the end of the day I'm still without a career. The whole thing is very delicate. On one hand I don't want to throw away all that I learned while I was gone. I finally mastered the art of “being.” I enjoyed each moment as it came and had not choice but to let the future take care of itself. On the other hand, all of that aimless wandering is much less fulfilling when you're surrounded by doers and achievers. America is not the land of lazy rivers and relaxing hikes. It's the land of the great ladder. Climb it until you reach the top, then keep climbing.

 

Why is it okay to be happy with nothing and nowhere in a foreign country but the same standards are not acceptable at home? I want more, I want to be American. But also I want less and I want to remain fulfilled with and in myself. How does one balance a lifestyle so different of one's surroundings? My friends, family and co-workers haven't had anything to do with this double standard. It's purely something I've put on myself. I take my twenties seriously. I see them as building blocks towards my future, but where should I build my next blocks? I started my twenties with a serious career using my degree, then I ditched it all to travel and now I'm back home looking for the next path. Do I go back to traveling? Do I go back to a career? Do I keep working this minimum wage job with hope that it'll pan out into one or the other paths previously mentioned?

 

Maybe I'm not the only ex-backpacker who feels this way. It seems like many of us are trapped in between two worlds—one of settled and one of soaring, one of bliss and one of boredom. We're in between a daydream and a reality, trying to figure out where exactly we see ourselves fitting in.  We are committed but not permanent. We need that stable, reliable something to hold us down, keep us from foolishly running off on another adventure, but at the same time we can't give too much because that would mean giving up our freedom, our adventure, our free spiritedness.

 

We're ready for our next adventure but held back by finances and circumstances. We want to continue our traveling but age is slowly becoming a factor too. What's our plan? What's the next step? These are the questions that haunt me. These are the questions I have no answer for. While I continue to seek out my plan, I also continue to swim around in the big pool of life, looking at everything but going nowhere.   

I have no plans

It's probably no secret that I am a planner. I love lists and scheduling and organizing. Perhaps that is why it has been said that I “live” by my planner and my planner alone. My friends often make remarks about being “penciled in” and joke about making appointments to hang out with me. Even with only a part-time job, I manage to keep myself busy by painting and organizing my house, visiting my grandparents and painting and writing. ALL of these things are written neatly and orderly in my planner. Well, at least they would be if my 2017 planner were here.

 

You see, back before Christmas I careful selected the all-powerful pages that I would shape my life around. My mother ordered these pages for me and held them for my Christmas present. To be quite honest, every day after November 27th was like nails on a chalkboard for me. January was coming and yet I had no planner to write things in! I had stuff to do the first week in January but nowhere to write it!

 

Eventually, Christmas morning came and I unwrapped a cardboard box to find the beautiful floral patterned pages of my 2017 planner refill pages. Alas! I could plan my year with the pages I loved. I could only imagine the lists and notes that would soon fill the beautiful stationary. The only problem was, they were the wrong size.

 

Unfortunately, I had to send my pages back to the company and wait patiently for them to exchange my order. It's now been three weeks and I'm still waiting due to the small size of the company. As you can imagine, this has made me very anxious and tense, especially when I look at the spiral-bound notebook currently sificing as my planner. (It obviously falls short. I mean there aren't even any monthly calendars!)

 

It wasn't until today that I realized maybe this was a larger metaphor for the current season of my life. Over the past few months I have tried desperately to come up with some sort of plan or vision for the next chapter of my life. I've applied for jobs, wrote out my goals, even looked for new projects to embark on. The thing is, I still don't have a clear vision. I don't have a plan and it's killing me. At times I feel dissapointed in myself for not having a career lined up. At other times I get down because I am back waitressing and broke like I was five years ago in college. Was I falling backwards? Was I running in circles? Where is my life headed? What's my plan?

 

At times like these I have to remind myself that God is in control. Maybe there is a reason he is making me wait on my plan (and my planner.) Although it is frustrating and hard, he has me blindly following him for a reason. A good friend of mine reminded me that if I had a full-time job I wouldn't be able to do half the things I've currently been doing. The reading, the writing, the painting and socializing would all be cut into a much smaller size. Suddenly it became clear that the time I've been given is a blessing. Once I thought about it I realized how happy I was waking up and creating art at my own leisure. It was kind of nice having extra time to spend with my family and friends. Maybe this lack of a plan wasn't so bad afterall. Sometimes I have to just slow down and take a deep breath. God is in control.   

A Year of Rebuilding

As I sat down to write out my goals for the new year, I asked myself what could possibly follow a year of adventure. 2016 will likely stay as one of the most memorable years of my life. I visited three foreign countries and made friends with other twenty-somethings from all around the world. I have now been home for about two months. In those two months I have found myself a boyfriend and a part-time job. I've continued to live on very little and I admit I have had to ask my parents for assistance a couple of times.

The truth about quitting your career and spending all of your savings to travel the world is that when you get back, you have a lot of rebuilding to do. That's what 2017 will be for me—the unglamorous truth that I am ready to face.

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I've been reading a book about millennials. The author talks about how my generation has such a hard time making decisions. We were raised to believe that we could do anything, be anything and succeed at anything, no matter if we put effort into these things or not. When we graduate college we have so many open doors that more often than not we get overwhelmed and so we fail to open any of them. That's why so many twenty-somethings are still living at home, still working at a coffee shop and still unmarried. Where the generations before us stepped up and put on adulthood, marriage, career and family, my generations squeals at the thought of commitment for fear of missing out on an even better opportunity. In part, that's exactly why I jumped ship to go to Australia.

 

However, part of my evolvement in Oz was learning that it was okay to grow up. I needed to accept my adulthood and start taking charge of myself. The fear of commitment has been replaced with confidence in my future. This year I will rebuild my savings account. I will resume putting money towards a retirement fund. I will steadily seek out a career and I will not spend all my extra time daydreaming about traveling the world. While continued travel would be fun, the truth is, if I go on another big trip before the end of the year, I will be avoiding my responsibilities. I need at least six months to get my bills in order and another six to get everything in a steady position.

 

I'd like to say I traveled the world and came home to find a big-shot career in a big city that paid me tons of money and respected the fact that I took a year off to travel. But that isn't what happened. What happened is that I came home and searched desperately for a part-time waitressing gig and I am working that until another opportunity arises. In essence, I am starting over, back at square one.

 

It's not fun to tell you all the truth about my upcoming year, but I am an optimist and so I promise I will make the most of it. Meanwhile, I plan to continue my column for the Press-Leader with thoughts and stories from a millennial who is rebuilding. They will still be adventure stories, just in a different setting. Here's to 2017!

2016: A Year for Me

At the beginning of the year I wrote myself a letter. In this letter I promised myself that 2016 would be the year I blossomed. It would be the year I quit letting everybody and everything else hold me back and I would live out the dreams I had buried deep in my soul. This would be my year.

 

On March 1st I boarded a plane that would take me across the globe to the beautiful country of Australia. Here I would finally bloom as an artist and writer. Here I would gain the creative success I wanted while simultaneously achieving the gypsy lifestyle I always wanted. I'd finally get the tattoos and dreadlocks I had dreamed about for years. I would do all the things that I had spent so many years daydreaming about. All of these things would come into my life because I would be so far away from family and friends that I would no longer have to worry about the guilt of not being enough for them. It's not that my loved ones ever pressured me, it's just that they had one version of me in their minds and I had another. I wanted my version to make its world debut. Australia would be the ticket for this and aside from becoming a better version of myself, I'd also spend my days lying on ridiculously gorgeous beaches. This would be my year.

 

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By April 1st I was already doubting my glamorous Aussie plans. I was stuck on an island the size of my home county where the water supply was extremely limited, the social interaction was trickling and the amount of work I did each day was not nearly accounted for in my weekly paycheck. There were no nightclubs for me to unwind in. I had no money and nowhere to spend it even if I had it. Things like make-up, hair and nails were all irrelevant. I had no means of leaving either the island nor the small space in which we lived and worked. I was simply, there.

 

For three long months I was forced to look inward for fulfillment. So I did what I knew best. I wrote and painted and did a lot of thinking and praying. During that time period a lot inside of me changed. I had left America as a last ditch effort to avoid settling down prematurely. Several of my closest friends were getting married and having babies and to be quite honest, it totally freaked me out.

 

We were too young.

 

I had too many stones left unturned.

 

I needed my freedom!

 

But then as I sat quietly with the depths of my soul I felt a few wounds begin to heal. Maybe those things were okay. Maybe we were old enough and maybe, just maybe, I wanted those things too.

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The next two months of my journey were fun but rough. My two friends and I camped through the Outback with just one car and one tent. While I had finally learned to let go of outward things like hair and make-up, now I was learning to let go of simple luxuries like daily showers and indoor plumbing. I may have been teased a few times for my response to tinkling outside but by the end of the trip I was a regular outback cowgirl! I needed even less than I realized to survive.

 

Next we had two weeks of Balinese bliss followed by the reality check that told us we had no money and no jobs to speak of. Luckily, at the end of our rope, we found volunteer farm work in the Northern Territory. This volunteer work led to another that eventually led to three-weeks of paid farm work in central Queensland. Here I became close friends with the farm wife. I helped her paint and decorate and plant flowers. In the long quiet afternoons spent in her flowerbeds, I laid a few more of my demons to rest.

 

Somewhere between working on the farm and planting succulents, I found my peace. For the first time in six-months, I was ready to go home. There was a life there that was waiting to be lived. A real life, not the one in my head I was chasing. I wanted to actually date someone without keeping them at a distance or worrying about being locked in a cage forever. I wanted to really live in the house I stayed in. I wanted a home, not just a building. I was ready to conquer these things, but I still had a few things left to figure out.

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The creative ambition I possessed had always haunted me because I'd never given it a real chance to develop. With that in mind I signed up for a Writer's Festival in New South Wales so I could give my writing career a real chance. Once again my reality happened differently than the imaginary scenes in my mind. While the festival was amazing, it gave me another harsh reality check.

 

Besides meeting dozens of wonderful young writers who struggled with the exact same things I did, I came to realize that not one of them was a full time writer. This idea was simply that--an idea. Everyone had a job to pay the bills and writing hobby to fulfill their soul. That's simply how the creative life works. Very few people can make it full time and even those aren't filthy rich. Maybe it was enough for me to write and paint in all the spare hours I possessed. The happiness this brings me shouldn't be discounted because it isn't monetary.

 

By the time I had reached this realization I knew what had happened while I was in Oz. Much like the movie regarding a different “Oz”, it was all an illusion in my mind. There were no emerald cities. I was simply chasing things that weren't there. I was running from things that weren't harmful. And just like Dorothy, I had to realize that the power to go home was mine all along, I needed only to come full circle and realize that all the things I wanted were back home to begin with. With the help of Glenda the good witch, whom I had been volunteering with, I clicked my credit card miles together three times and away I went, back through the sky to the land of twisters they call Oklahoma.

 

In the last two months of 2016 I found myself right back where I had started. I was scared of being tied down, I was terrified of compromising my creative ambitions and I was uneasy about being back in my hometown. Yet again, I had to remind myself that God was in control each and every day.

 

When I was in Bali with only a handful of change left to my name, God provided.

 

When I was in the outback with only half a box of water to last a full day, God provided.

 

When I am back home with a one hundred dollar bill to live off of for two months, God provides.

 

I started 2016 with a wish to blossom into my greater self. While I didn't magically become a New York Times Best Selling Author with a booming oil painting business and matching dreadlocks and tattoos, I did take a giant step towards becoming a better me. I tackled my demons. I wrote more blog posts than I had in years. I learned to paint using a new medium and I learned to care a lot less about what other people think about me. Life isn't a fairy-tale. You don't wish things into being, you have to work for them and pay for them and take baby steps towards fulfilling your goals. Moving across the world won't make you any more successful than buying a paint brush will make you an artist. Everything takes time and effort. 2016 was not the year of Haley blasting off from earth. It was the year Haley joined the earth in living a real and honest life.   

A Surprise Return

Once I realized I was ready to go home, there really was no reason to hang around Sydney any longer.  The longer I stayed, the more money I spent and I was running extremely low on funds as it was.  So I searched the web and found the cheapest and soonest flight I could find.  It happened to fall on Friday.  This was Monday.  

I booked the ticket and called my brother, who was shocked to hear I was coming home so soon but extremely excited to pick me up from the airport.  We arranged for me to stay at his place in the city for several days before he would drive home for fall break, by which we would surprise my parents.  

Over the next few days I couldn't write.  There was too much going on inside the apartment and around my mind.  I closed my bank account, paid off my debts and used up the rest of my pre-paid internet.  Meanwhile, my parents were under the impression that I was flying to Perth on Friday.  When they asked who I would be staying with I described them as "a middle-aged couple with a dog", little did they know I was referring to them!

As I sent my last text messages before boarding the plane and losing cell service for good, I was intrigued to read that my parents were meeting my brother and his fiance for dinner on Friday night, the day I was coming home.  My brother excitedly told me everything was taken care of on his end, I just needed to get home safely!

My total flight time was relatively short compared to what Jacob, Matthew and Patricia had endured.  I traveled a total of twenty-four hours to make my trip home, though it felt like much more because of the time hop my body had to endure.  

I flew from Sydney to Auckland, Auckland to Houston and Houston to Oklahoma City.  The first thing I saw when I got off the plane in Houston was, "DOUBLE BACON QUARTER POUNDER WITH FRIES" and just beyond that: "CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE ICE CREAM SMOOTHIE."  I smiled big.  Man it was great to be back in the USA.  

Another great sensation was hearing both Spanish and Okie being spoken on the flight to Oklahoma.  I was back with my people.  Back where I belong.  

After claiming my ridiculously-sized suitcase one last time, I turned around to see my brother and his fiance walking towards me.  We all hugged and laughed and then Grant told me we had to hurry to meet our parents.  Apparently he had been really pulling strings to make all of this work.  They were still under the impression that it would just be Grant and his fiance meeting them for dinner, so my return was to be a huge surprise, just as we planned.  

Grant, Faith and I drove straight to Bricktown where we met my parents at Toby Keith's Bar and Grill.  I took only a few steps towards the table before my mother stood up and rand towards me with open arms.  Happy tears fell gently on my shoulder as she hugged me.  She was truly overwhelmed and surprised.  Next I hugged my Dad who also was surprised at my arrival.  Grant and I had pulled it off.  They had no idea!  

 Back in the arms of my family!

Back in the arms of my family!

Overcoming Conflict

During my first week at Irina's I completed twenty hours of solid writing towards my book.  When I wasn't writing I was helping Irina take care of Rita and when we weren't taking care of Rita I enjoyed seeing the local side of Sydney with Irina.  

 Wattle, a native Australian flower, and the sites of Sydney in the background.

Wattle, a native Australian flower, and the sites of Sydney in the background.

 

In just a week we saw a drum circle, the New South Wales Art Museum, a sail boat race and lots of great live music.  It was all very fun and yet it was all unraveling parts of me.  The truth is, I was exhausted.  I'd been exhausted for the past six weeks.  The entire length of the East Coast trip had been a constant battle for me.  Smile.  Look, more mountains.  Another beach. Say it's pretty.

So why wasn't I having fun anymore?  Was I homesick?  I missed my friends and family but that wasn't anything new.  Here I was surrounded by the world's most beautiful beaches and I couldn't even enjoy it.  I thought a four-day writer's festival would rejuvenate me but I was still tired.  I slept at least ten hours every night but it wasn't my body that was tired.  It was my spirit.  

So I took about three days to write out my present emotions.  I wrote and I wrote and I wrote until I realized I had come to the conclusion of my book; the conclusion of my trip itself.  I was the main character.  I had overcome my main conflict.  Now it was time to go home and jump back in to my real life.  

Australia was beautiful, like a dream.  But that's just it, it was more fantasy than reality.  I struggled to make ends meet, yes, but other than that I had no drama, no lasting relationships, no long-term residence, no town to call my own.  Back home awaited a huge mess of career options, friendship struggles, family obligations and insurance bills.  It was chaotic but at least it was real.  

Finally, after seven and a half months, I was ready to tackle the life I'd been given.  All of my demons had been battled and it was time to go home.  BUT I STILL HAD TASMANIA AND PERTH TO SEE!  There were two more stops on my list!  I wanted to see them but I also knew I would not be impressed with either of them in my current state of exhaustion.  

So I called Maggie, naturally and got her opinion on the whole ordeal.  Her answer was perfectly clear: "Haley, if you aren't having fun then go home.  There's nothing keeping you here."  She was right, I needed to give myself permission to let go of the things I didn't need.  Tasmania and Perth could wait for another time.  I had a life to live.  

On my Own

Alas, our trip as three friends came to an end.  I watched as Matthew and Patricia boarded the train that would take them to the Sydney airport.  They were flying home to the states, back to their family and loved ones.  Matthew had two weddings to be in and Patricia had two little boys who needed her.

It was hard to say goodbye but I knew I was going to be fine.  I have traveled alone many times and I actually find it to be quite a refreshing experience.  My first trip would begin the next morning on a three-hour train headed north of Sydney, to a town called Newcastle.  I had accommodation for four nights in Newcastle so I could attend a free writer's festival.  

 A scene from the writer's festival in Newcastle.

A scene from the writer's festival in Newcastle.

Newcastle was a lovely city with lots of creative mojo.  I walked all over downtown, going from venue to venue for each of the sessions I wanted to attend.  I was busy all day each day with panels, discussions and advice from other young writers.  The whole thing was very interesting and eye-opening.  While I learned a lot of practical advice, the better stuff I learned was things like, everyone struggles with writing and everyone compromises their creativity for the sake of money.  

Because I do not belong to a writer's community, I had previously thought I was alone in these struggles.  Perhaps the best lesson I learned while at the conference was: there is no such thing as a full-time writer.  

After four days of mind-reeling observations, it was time for me to hit the train back to Sydney.  I had another volunteer assignment, this one for a month with a woman and her elderly mother.  I would volunteer 3-4 hours a day and spend the rest of my time doing nothing but writing.  

As soon as I met Irina and her other helper, Mia, I felt as though I was a close friend of them both. They were so welcoming and accepting of me. They got right down to it and asked me about my writing and my time in Sydney. They even happened to bypass the whole awkward “where all have you been in Australia” introduction that I was sick of having. No, the conversation for us three was immediately real and meaningful. We talked about all cultures and what interested us about them. Mia was from Shanghai, China. Irina and her mother from a province near Russia. They moved to Australia in the early eighties as refugees and have been here ever since. Throw in my American background and that made for some fascinating and in-depth conversations.

 Visitors on Irina's balcony.  What a view! 

Visitors on Irina's balcony.  What a view! 

 

Irina's mother, Rita was seventy-three and had dementia. Upon meeting her I knew exactly how to interact. It was a flashback of my own grandmother who had passed almost three years ago to the day. I instantly loved her and I think she loved me too. She said she recognized me, which Irina took as meaning she felt comfortable with me.

All afternoon Irina, Mia and I worked on organizing the small apartment to fit four people into it. While we worked we took breaks often for tea and chatting. Rita lay on the bed and kept a smile to her face as she listened to us.
 

Mia had arrived just a week before me. This was her first stop in Australia and so everything was fresh and new to her. On the other hand, I was on my last leg and looking to make a strong finish by doing nothing but writing for one month. Irina was very understanding of this and told me that was my main job for the next day. To write

Watson's Bay

On Tuesday we took Pip's recommendations and planned our day around Watson's Bay. First we took a thirty minute bus ride down to the quay and then we rode a twenty-eight minute ferry to Watson's Bay. The ferry was much smaller than the one we rode on Kangaroo Island and that made the rocking much less severe. The boat seemed to go very fast at thirty miles per hour and I had just enough Dramamine in me to realize that the ferry was nice but also that I needed to sleep.

 

The view of the harbor from the ferry was excellent. It was nice to see the city from outside of it. Matthew and Patricia enjoyed standing in the fresh air while enjoying the view. When we arrived we took a look around. There were multiple fish and chip shops all around us but knowing Matthew, we couldn't just stop at the first one we saw.

 

As we searched for a good place to eat my Bertha hunger once again took over. "Ugh lets just eat here" I said as we approached the first restaurant off the ship. To my disappointment, Matthew and Patricia kept walking. I continued to protest until Matthew called me out on my desperation. "Haley, you're desperate right now, you aren't thinking clearly."

 Watson's Bay, Sydney

Watson's Bay, Sydney

 

"Yeah but we might as well just go in one. We don't have to have something that's perfect!" and to that his response was, "wow, why don't you apply that advice to your dating life."

 

For the next ten minutes we joked about my dating life, or lack of, and I enjoyed several cat references at my expense before we finally settled on a fish and chipery called Doyles. It was, as I may point out, the first restaurant we had approached after getting off the ferry.

 Matthew and Patricia in line for fish and chips!

Matthew and Patricia in line for fish and chips!

 

Lunch was quite delectable and the view of Sydney from our table was exquisite as well. After licking the fresh seafood from our lips we wandered inland around a winding sidewalk in search of a cliff Pip had told us about. Eventually we found some sort of cliff covered in grass and complete with benches for sitting. There were several people laid out on the grass enjoying the sun. We sat for a while too and wondered aloud what it would be like to own one of the fancy houses in front of us or to even have a one day's access to their private beaches.

After checking out a portion of the area we took a bus back to our apartment and called it a day.  We were all worn out and Patricia and Matthew had to pack for their trip back to the states! 

Sydney!

We arrived in Sydney around noon on Saturday, yet we didn't actually get out and explore much of the city until Monday. After twelve days of racing down the coast from Cairns to Byron Bay we were just a little bit exhausted. Other than two short walks to find food, we mostly spent our first forty-eight hours in Sydney resting in the comfort of our Airbnb apartment.

 

Our apartment's location was fanastic, though. We were just minutes away from Bondi Beach, one of the most famous beaches in the world. There is a walk from Bondi to Coogee, another nearby beach, that we stumbled upon one day. The entire 6k trail is full of beautiful beaches and Sydney scenery. Though we didn't do the full walk, we did enjoy the bits we saw!

 

Hyde Park

The next day we had regained all of our energies and so we made a full day out of seeing the sites of Sydney. We started at Hyde park and wandered through all of it's valor. This included the Anzac Memorial and the Barracks Museum.

 

 A beautiful site in Hyde Park

A beautiful site in Hyde Park

 

Next we walked through the Sydney Mint Museum and I squashed a penny for my grandpa.

Afterwards we found the Royal Botanical Gardens and though it was quite lovely, we all agreed that the one in Rockhampton was much more interesting. Still, there was a public art display going on called “Skin and Bones.” This told the history of the site, both that their used to be a building there and also that the aboriginal people used to inhabit the land in its natural state. Patricia and I found this rather fascinating.

 "Skin and Bones" at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney

"Skin and Bones" at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney

 A closer look at the shields that made up the exhibit.

A closer look at the shields that made up the exhibit.

 

Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge

As we walked onward and onward we were all surprised when all at once the archs of the Sydney Opera House filled the horizon and left us speechless. How wonderful it was to see such a famous icon. This was one of the scenes I had seen dozens of times but never in real life. To see it in person was truly phenomenal.

 The Sydney Opera House view from the Botanical Gardens walk way.

The Sydney Opera House view from the Botanical Gardens walk way.

 

I was even more surprised to find that the Sydney Bridge was right behind the Opera House. From the looks of the maps I had been studying it seemed as though the bridge was a bit farther from the Opera House. However, they are both huge structures and therefore they look closer than they are. We paused to admire both and then walked around and up the stairs to see the Opera House up close.

 

 Matthew and I in front of the bridge.  We made it!! 

Matthew and I in front of the bridge.  We made it!! 

Inside we found a gift shop full of the most wonderful souvenirs. After we spent way too much we walked back outside and down towards the Circular Quay. I'd read tons about the Circular Quay and everything around it. For months I had enjoyed saying the word “Quay” in my head. It was a nice word that sounded good to me. It wasn't until I said this outloud to an Australian that I realized the word was pronouned “key” and was the old enlgish spelling of the word.

 

El Camino

After viewing the bridge and the opera house we were all quite hungry. Patricia was already missing Mexican food as much as I was and so when google pulled up a Mexican recommendation we were all quick to jump on it.

 

What we found was an amazing place near the rocks called El Camino. Let me just say that this place serves the best margaritas and tacos in all of Australia. I will put my name to it because I have tried margaritas and tacos all over this country and up until now I couldn't recommend much at all.

 Coolest. Menus. Ever.

Coolest. Menus. Ever.

 YUM!

YUM!

The place had a classic rock vibe with spicy influences. The wall had flames painted on it and the chips were served out of an old el camino trunk. The coolest part was the menus, which were printed on the front and back of old records. We all gapped at how well this place would do in Southwest Oklahoma.

 

Contemporary Arts Museum

After a most satisfying lunch we went to the Contemporary Arts Museum. There we walked through an exhibit that examined the idea of time, both the western-thinking linear idea of it and also the idea that it continues on and on through reincarnation and other beliefs. The main description quoted one of my favorite philosophers, Khalil Jibran.

 

Just passed the description there stood a very large clock in the middle of the room. It's tick was loud and the hands moved mechanically to the sound. I watched for a while before Patricia called my attention to the backside of the clock. This was even more fascinating. I watched as the gears shifted and turned with each tick. How humbling it was to see that this was all that made up a clock. Just a few tiny mechanisms and that's all it took to control so much of our lives. We live by the clock. We work by the clock. We live for time and time is always fleeting. Time holds our fears and goals. Time holds the answers. Time will tell and it does. All of this went through my mind as the gears clicked. Left. Right. Click. Click. Click. Click.

 

My thoughts meandered more as we walked through the exhibits. I enjoyed a video that showed four people doing nothing but laughing. The idea was that humans are entertained by simply watching other people life. Quite often we will laugh along too, just because. The film was an hour long and though I didn't watch the full hour, I appreciated the concept of time and laughter being intertwined.

 

BBQ with AirBnb Host

After a full day of touring we rode the bus back to our AirBnb apartment in a nearby neighborhood.  Our host's name was Pip and he was a very friendly middle-aged man who was happy to share his home with us.  He suggested that we have a bbq dinner so we could better get to know each other and also the other couple our age who was staying in the apartment as well.  Together we all sat in his living room and had a wonderful time discussing our different cultures, religions and politics.  

Brisbane: Meow Meow

While in Brisbane, my friends and I had the wonderful opportunity to catch a live performance at the Brisbane Festival.  While driving into the city we did a quick google search and came across an intriguing description of a burlesque version of The Little Mermaid.  On a whim, we booked three tickets, showered, ate dinner and walked from our Brisbane hostel to the show at hand.  Below is my review of the show.  Hint: We LOVED it!!  Also, we couldn't take photos inside so I unfortunately have no photos.

 Matthew, Patricia and I before the show.  We clean up pretty well!

Matthew, Patricia and I before the show.  We clean up pretty well!

 

Meow Meow's little mermaid

At first the show was nothing but funny. The audience is introduced to a wailing and scattered, work out mermaid. A middle aged burlesque dancer crammed into and I'll-fitting longerie set that is ripped and haggard as she is. She theatrically wails out the first line, "this is a show about happiness."

 

The next few scenes show meow meow searching for love in all the wrong places. She makes light of a serious issue by pointing out her flaws and including the audience to laugh at them with her. Why can't she find a love that sticks? At first glance we think it's funny because her hair is a wild mess, her hose has holes in it, she's all over the place! But as the show goes on, so does the depth of the subject.

 

About midway meow meow pulls things out of the depths of the sea (her subconscious). She finds all the broken pieces of her past lovers. Out of the hole comes a mannequin's chest, an arm, a foot. She also pulls out a blow-up doll version of herself..complete with a large open mouth and massive inflators boobies. She explains that this was her younger self, eager to please for the pursuit of love. She then puts her younger self aside, near the back of the stage. She also fits together all the broken mannequin pieces to make one mid mangled sculpture, a symbol for all the things she liked from each of her former loves. All she wants is someone who speaks French but sings in German, someone with a great torso and a perfect rack and f course a sense of humor! Is that too much to ask? She says.

Together the mannequin mess and he blow up doll stand silently as symbols for the mess we have made of love. They are not moved or mentioned until later in the performance.

 

Several times, during her babbling and bawling and theatrical performance, she is interrupted by a standard Australian tradie in uniform. He says he's trying to fix the special effects. She wants bobbles and they aren't working! Every time he interrupts her she is irritated and short with him.

 

But then he appears in her fantasy. Meow has given up hope and sold herself to gain a pair of human legs. Love is sacrifice after all right? She gives up what makes her special in hopes of finding love. Deep into the hole she disappears until suddenly, she is brought up in a fish net. She fights and struggles and eventually makes her way to the surface where she awkwardly learns to walk. It just so happens that during this awkwardness a certain Prince Charming is watching. He is dressed in a glamorous romantic get up, complete with a shell covering or glorifying his crotch. He speaks poetically to her before she interrupts him and says his outfit is weird. He reminds her that it is the outfit she chose for her own fantasy and then continues. She stops him again to complain about his lines before he reminds her that she too wrote the lines. Eventually she decides he isn't perfected either. So she gives her blow up doll to him and sits alone to cry. She explains how being perfect and shiny can "wear a girl out". It wears you out! Again, she gives up to exhaustion.

 

During the final act meow is on the verge of a breakthrough. She finally sees the subject clearly! She is about to reveal her insight to the audience when the tradie pops back up to check on the sound system. She tells him to shut up and quickly tries to return to her performance, only to be overly interrupted by the tradie. She stops finally to listen and hears him compliment her singing and ask her out to karaoke. She giggles and then complains about something and walks over to find a cord on the stage. She curses and plugs in the chord and instantly the lights brighten and out from the ceiling come millions of bubbles. They float around us and fill the tent with a light and fun sensation. She bursts out in song as the tradie helps her on to a swing where she gracefully (for the first time in the show) swings and dances and sings. Love is all around us after all. All we can do is love. Everyday.

 

Byron Bay

Byron Bay

That night we landed ourselves in the final destination of the road trip portion of our trip. Byron Bay. I don't know about Matthew and Patricia but I had looked forward to Byron more than any other place on the coast. For months and months I had heard about how awesome this place was. Everyone said it was the land of hippies; a cool, laid-back town with beautiful beaches

The Best of East Coast Australia

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to do a road trip down the Australian east coast with three of my American friends! My friends flew over for a short holiday while I was in my seventh month of my Australian working holiday. Together we met in Cairns and rented a car for our trip. In just three short weeks we drove south until we hit Byron Bay. Throughout our travels I saw some of the most beautiful beaches and scenery in Australia. Here are my top five favorite sites:


 

1. Noosa Heads National Park- After being in Australia for several months it feels as though I've been on a few dozen bush walks and nature hikes. All of these have been beautiful but nothing compares to the Noosa Heads National Park coastal trail. This trail was so unique because it gave the best view of both forrest and beaches. The trail was very well marked and easy to navigate so the sole focus was on taking in the beautiful scenery around us. There were even several coves we hiked down to so we could sit on the rocks in the midst of the ocean spray. Definitely do this walk if you have a chance!
 

 Noosa Heads National Park

Noosa Heads National Park

 

2. Nimbin- I've had a million people tell me how awesome Byron Bay is but to be honest, I was disappointed in Byron. What caught my fancy was the nearby town of Nimbin. Nimbin is the coolest hippie town I've ever been in. The town is small so you only need a few hours but the shops are fun and quirky and the people are laid back and open-minded. We spent the afternoon here and I would have stayed longer had we not been on a schedule. Read our story.

 Patricia on the streets of Nimbin.

Patricia on the streets of Nimbin.

 

3. Airlie Beach- Airlie Beach is another severely underrated location. Most people arrive in Airlie as a gateway to the Whitsundays. My friends saved money instead and spent three days and three nights in Airlie Beach. The atmosphere was very beachy and we really enjoyed walking in and out of shops and restaurants in between our leisurely walks to the beach.

 Read my posts on Airlie here.

 Airlie Beach, QLD

Airlie Beach, QLD

 

4. Rockhampton Botanical Gardens- I was in Rockhampton several times before I saw the beauty in it. Being the steak capital of Australia you wouldn't think you'd find a lovely garden here but the Rockhampton Botanical Gardens are a lovely way to spend a few hours time. Most of the plants are marked so you can learn more about the Australian plant nature while you are there. The best part is that it's all free! More on Rocky...

 One of the tallest trees at the Rockhampton Botanical Gardens

One of the tallest trees at the Rockhampton Botanical Gardens

 

5. Tewantin Bush Camp- Just outside of Noosa Heads there lies an awesome bush camp designed for backpackers. For just $15 per night you can camp out in the bush like an original pioneer. Even the kitchen and lounge room are set up in large tents so you really feel like you're camping only with extra amenities. We really enjoyed our stay at the bush camp and thought it to be a most unique experience. Read our experience.

 Here was our room for the night! 

Here was our room for the night! 

 

Overall our east coast trip was quite pleasurable. We also enjoyed Hervey Bay, Surfer's Paradise and Brisbane. Queensland is full of wonderful opportunities and places to see, even for cheap or free!   

Nimbin

Nimbin.  The land of dreadlocks, weed and rainbows.

As the story goes, many moons ago a bunch of hippies were tired of living with the rest of society.  They wanted their own space to do with what they wanted.  This was a group of highly creative and relaxed individuals.  What happened next was they founded a small mountain community and called it Nimbin, which means "little man who lives on a mountain."

The result is one awesome little town full of hippies who live by their own rules.  Everyone is peaceful and laid back and no one tries to upset this.  

Our first taste of Nimbin was checking into our hostel.  The hostel was at the end of a long dirt road on top of a hill that overlooked the most beautiful valley I'd ever seen.  

True to the city around it, our hostel was the best we'd stayed at.  There were no room keys.  No wifi password.  Essentially the only rule was to chill and be chill.  This was such a change from the party-all-night attitude at Byron Bay and Surfer's Paradise.  

There was a small number of people staying in the hostel and most of them had been there for a week or more already which made the experience feel more like a house stay than a hostel visit.  Still, our beds were comfy and the crowd was friendly.  The next morning I enjoyed meeting the long-term stays while drinking tea and discussing American conspiracy theories.  One guy told me he had checked in for a two-night stay and now has been here for four months.  I could totally see why.  I couldn't help but think what a writing oasis this place could have been for me if I had the chance to stay longer.   

 

Before we knew it it was already 10:30. The Nimbin time slip was already happening to us.  We had been warned that it would happen but I didn't expect it to begin immediately.  After packing our bags and telling our new friends goodbye, we drove the short distance into town.

It was awesome.  

 Patricia on the streets of Nimbin.

Patricia on the streets of Nimbin.

Nimbin reminded me of a smaller, ampted-up version of Eureka Springs.  I loved it.  I could have spent the remainder of my trip there and I would have been happy.  Everyone was so friendly.  The shops were painted all colors of the rainbow and everyone had dreadlocks and peace signs. There was definitely a heavy pot culture. Lots of people on the street asked if we wanted pot.  We simply explained we would be in a plane tomorrow and in a car this afternoon. 

 

For those of you wondering, marijuana is still illegal in Australia.  I was told that certain states allow the growth of up to two personal plants on private property but these plants are not to be smoked in public.  

While we were in Australia we were pulled over several times for RBT's (Random Breath Test) this means that the law enforcement will do a random road block, pulling drivers out of their cars and swabbing their mouth.  The mouth swab not only indicates blood alcohol level, but it can also detect if marijuana has been in your system any time over the past 30 days.  If they find anything, you're immediately fined.  Needless to say, we passed on pot.

 I found another place to add my Trader Tom's sticker! 

I found another place to add my Trader Tom's sticker! 

 

After I got my full on hippie shops full of tie dye, toe rings and headwraps, we stopped for lunch. We talked Matthew into getting his palm read by a tarot lady. That ended up a 45 minute adventure that Patricia and I were excused from. Instead we wandered through the shops we had previously missed. When we finished we picked Matthew up and the lady asked me if I formerly did aerobics or gymnastics, I said yes and she told me my tendons wouldn't be fully formed until 28. Mine were overly stretchy and I needed to hold off on sports. The three of us laughed because Matthew and Patricia and I had discussed this very thing just two days earlier. They told me I needed to seek professional help and this lady now confirmed it. I have always worried about the many creeks and cracks of my very young body but I ignored them out of convenience. Now here were two blatant signs that I needed to start taking better care of myself.

 

While the lady was talking to me I couldn't help but hold back giggled. It seemed as though I was experiencing the Nimbin high. My head was light and tingly and the world was wavy around me. Only I hadn't smoked anything. This was a different high. I had taken a quarter Dramamine immediately after lunch because I thought we were leaving. It had now been one hour and the effects of the medicine were in full force. It was time for my nap to take me to a happy place. 

Noosa Heads/Surfer's Paradise

The next morning we woke up and drove a short fifteen minutes into Noosa Heads. This was a cool beach town with lots of shops and cafes along the well-known Hastings Street. We wanted to try some of the lovely smelling cuisine but we just couldn't afford anything. Instead we went in town and found a cafe called “Eat Me” where we had a beautiful lunch for just ten dollars.

 

Though the food was wonderful, the best part about Noosa was the National Park trail walk. All along the beach there is a long trail walk in Noosa National Park that perfectly combines the two worlds of forest and beach.

 A cloudy but beautiful day at Noosa National Park.

A cloudy but beautiful day at Noosa National Park.

 

We walked several k's along this trail, enjoying the beautiful views of both ocean and earth. I couldn't believe the magnificence of the scene around me.

 

The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely drive from Noosa Heads headed south. We didn't exactly have a plan as to where we would end up, but we knew from stopping at an information booth that there were several small and wonderful towns that we needed to drive through.

 

First on the map was a place called Eumundi. We didn't stop but just from driving through I could see that this was an adorable artsy town. Had I been with other art lovers we might have stopped to see some of the galleries.

 The welcome sign for Eumundi was adorable!

The welcome sign for Eumundi was adorable!

 

The scenery for the drive felt like a tropical Arkansas. The roads were green and windy with big beautiful mountain views. Gorgeous multi level houses lined the sides of the road like jewels in a crown. I think we enjoyed looking at the architecture as much as anything.

 

The next town was Mapleton. The town itself wasn't so remarkable but just outside of town we found Mapleton National Park and took a very brisk walk down one of the trails there.

 Matthew and Patricia hot on the trail!

Matthew and Patricia hot on the trail!

 

Outside of the next town, Montville, we stopped and took some amazing pictures at a lookout over the town. The view was fascinating.

 

 A view from the Monteville lookout.

A view from the Monteville lookout.

Our favorite small mountain town was that of Maleny. Here we at lunch at the bicentennial park before walking around downtown. The town was small but absolutely adorable. There were lots of neat shops including several bookstores and an old fashioned fudge store.

 The Maleny Fudge Store

The Maleny Fudge Store

 

There were several neat sites around town that gave Maleny a unique charm. I found it to be quite a liveable area.

 

As we continued our drive through the Glasshouse Mountains we soon found a short hike up Beerburrum Mountain, A.K.A. The death hike. The trail was only 1.4 kilometers including the return, but it was also classified as a class four hike, meaning the entire thing was a very steep incline that was almost impossible to climb. Patricia and I “felt the burn” after only a few steps. Matthew's personal training background kicked in as he tried to motivate us up the mountain. Despite his encouraging attempts we all had to take sever breaks both on the way up and the way down. I wouldn't recommend doing this hike in flip-flops by the way.

 This was one of our many breaks along the way..

This was one of our many breaks along the way..

 

When we collapsed in the car afterwards we drove for a couple of hours before stopping again.  Eventually we looked up and found ourselves entering Surfer's Paradise. Matthew and I chuckled as we realized our journey had come full circle. We were back to the beginning. Back to square one. Our first week in Australia was spent in Surfer's Paradise. Everything was new and shiny. We had knew next to nothing about this great country and now here we were again, seven months later. Matthew had just one week left in Australia and by some strange coincidence he was ending it where it began.

 

We called the nearest hostel and found a room for the night. Our roommate was a Kiwi who acted just like the guys on Jersey Shore. He said he had been sober for two out of the last thirty days and he wasn't planning on stopping any time soon. We all laughed at the irony between us and our roommate. He was ready to go all night and we were fighting to stay awake past nine o'clock. As an added effort in staying up, we decided to walk down to the beach. It was already dark out but we couldn't resist the Surfer's Paradise night air.

 

The ocean air was very refreshing. The three of us looked over the edge of the rail and gazed at the ocean. We walked up and down the sidewalks and ended the night with a drink at Beergarden, the same bar Matthew and I had our first Australian drink at seven months earlier.

Tewantin Bush Camp

On the morning we left Hervey Bay we found ourselves engaged in a conversation with one of our ten roommates. He was a Scotsman who was traveling the coast in the reverse direction as us. He told us of a bush camp outside of Noosa Heads and told us it was worth staying at for a night, plus it was only $15 each. With this suggestion we planned our day.

 

First we drove through the town of Gympie where we enjoyed a nice chat with the information booth worker. We also took a leisurely stroll around the park and admired the beautiful ducks and several black swans.

 Black Swans in the park at Gympie

Black Swans in the park at Gympie

 

For lunch we enjoyed $2 cheeseburgers from McDonald's. The sale was just for Snapchat users. Patricia had found the filter on her own Snapchat and that's how we saved money for lunch!

 

Around four o'clock we landed in Tewantin, home of the bush camp. When we pulled up to the camp it was all I could do to keep from making redneck jokes. There were rundown trailers and old tents strung about everywhere. As we drove further in the trees grew taller and the tents grew more uniform and clean. Finally we saw the bush camp which was just that, an old-fashioned pioneer camp complete with a kitchen housed under a tin roof and a lounge area under a green army tent.

 Our private room at the Tewantin Bush Camp

Our private room at the Tewantin Bush Camp

 

Even our room was simply four bunks in a tent. Still, the unique feel was worth the stay. Flashbacks of the outback filled my mind as I remembered the joys and despairs of camping. No air conditioner, no heater and now no bug spray either.

 Patricia modeling our unique beds..

Patricia modeling our unique beds..

 

Before dinner we tried to go on a nearby bush walk but discovered the trail was hard to follow and we didn't want to get too lost before nightfall. The bush was thick and the bugs were thicker so we turned back towards camp and found our way to the lounge room.

 One of the picturesque scenes from our bush walk.

One of the picturesque scenes from our bush walk.

 

Naturally, the other campers were watching an American film about guns and racism in Los Angeles. While watching the movie we made friends with some British campers who were here for a kayak tour that was leaving early the next morning. Apparently we were the only three campers who weren't going on the kayak tour. It sounded really fun but it was a full day of kayaking and we had more coast to cover before the end of the week.

 A bushcamp style lounge room.

A bushcamp style lounge room.

 

For dinner we boiled chicken and fresh veggies we had purchased from a local farm stand on the side of the road. The meal was amazing and very fresh tasting.

 

That night we slept like army cadets in our small tent. Once in the middle of the night I had to walk clear across camp to use the restroom. That was when I remembered the reality of camping wasn't so glamorous. At least I didn't have to use the bush!

 

 

Hervey Bay

Our plan was to stay in Hervey Bay for 1-2 days. However, as you may have gathered by now, our plans never seem to stick. Hervey Bay is the gateway town to Frasier Island, which was definitely on our list. Well, at least it was until we found out that tours to Frasier started around $200 each and that was just for a day trip! So once again our froogality won out and instead we enjoyed the wonderful city of Hervey Bay and the awesome hostel that resided within it.

 

Our hostel was very unique. The front property contained free walking chickens, peacocks and guinnea fowl. There were several ponds as well that contained geese and ducks. The place was so lovely that we spent most of our time just enjoying the free wifi and nature (simeltaneously, of course.)

 One of the chickens in residence at our hostel. 

One of the chickens in residence at our hostel. 

 

Eventually we mustered our strength to make to the beach. It was low tide here as well so the view wasn't beautiful but that didn't stop us from laying in the sand all afternoon.

 

Perhaps the best part of Hervey Bay beach is the pier. Actually there are several piers that jet out into the ocean, but there is one main pier that is nearly one kilometer in length. Matthew and Patricia and I walked the entire length of this pier and by the time we reached the end we were exhausted. The pier seemed to go on forever but along the way we enjoyed watching seagulls and fishermen.

 The famous pier at Hervey Bay.

The famous pier at Hervey Bay.

 

By the time we walked the pier it was nearing sundown. We still had a two hours drive to our next destination and yet we weren't even sure if we had a place to stay once we got there. After a few phone calls we learned that the hostels in Noosa were full and since it was so late our best option was to stay another night in Hervey Bay.

 

So instead of rushing to another town we relaxed at our nature-loving hostel and cooked ourselves a delicious gnocchi, spam and asparagus dish for dinner.

Rockhampton

Just as expected, our time with Jacob was short and sweet. Thursday morning consisted of repacking our bags and getting Jacob to the airport on time. The whole thing was very surreal. It seemed as though I hadn't quite yet fully realized the fact that he was actually here with us, in Australia and yet he was already leaving. I felt like an emotional goodbye was in order, but it was all so quick that it almost seemed...casual.

 

By eleven o'clock Matthew, Patricia and I were on Bruce Highway heading down the coast. This was our main driving day with the longest stretch of road with nothing exciting in between. Matthew and I had flashbacks of our outback excursion. This was similar in the lack of stops yet the scenery was much more engaging. Everything was green and there were green mountains to gaze at.

 

I will say that Queensland is very creative in their driver safety precautions. In the outback we commonly saw signs that would bluntly read, “DROWSY DRIVERS DIE.” The Bruce Highway had a softer approach. Every several kilometers we were presented with a trivia question followed by the correct answer several k's later. This was quite fun for all of us.

 

The longest stretch of nothing lasted for three hours. Our total road time was around six hours. By the end of the day we were in a familiar place—a city we had spent nearly twenty four combined hours in, yet somehow knew nothing about—Rockhampton. Matthew and I shared a twelve hour layover in the Rocky airport on our way to Emerald. We also flew out of this same airport just six days earlier. Needless to say we didn't have a good taste in our mouths towards Rocky, however we kept an open mind and made the most of it.

 

The hostel we stayed in was very quite and friendly. The man at the front desk pointed us towards the downtown district for a steak special. Being a big player in the beef industry, Rockhampton is known for it's steaks so this was a must-do. What we found was a five dollar steak special at a groovy place called, The Giddy Goat. Steaks were five dollars and each side was one dollar. This was a great bargain that we all took advantage of. The steaks were decent and the price was delightful.

 A famous Rocky steak! 

A famous Rocky steak! 

 

Afterwards we took a stroll down the dimly lit streets. The shops were all closed, (which was fortunate because we wouldn't have been able to afford anything in them anyways.)

 

The next morning we found more reasons to change our attitude towards Rockhampton. The city had a free zoo and botanical garden, both of which we took advantage of. The Zoo was one of the nicest I've seen. It was clean and well kept. The paths for walking were well groomed and the animal displays were unique.

 Parrots at the Rockhampton Zoo.

Parrots at the Rockhampton Zoo.

 

We enjoyed looking at parrots, ducks and swans in the bird exhibit.  Afterwards, Patricia got to see her first Aussie kangaroo and I saw a first too. One of the kangaroos had a baby joey in their pouch! This was a great thing to see!

 See the little joey?

See the little joey?

 

I also got a close up view of a wombat, something Maggie and I didn't get a good glimpse of at the sanctuary on Kangaroo Island.

 Patricia and the Koala seat

Patricia and the Koala seat

 

Aside from the monkeys and otters and koalas, I was also very impressed to see a dingo for the first time. This was another good addition to our list of Australian animals we'd seen.

 A dingo! 

A dingo! 

 

After the zoo we strolled on towards the botanical gardens. I was glad I had spent so much time learning about plants and vegetation with Chris, because I felt as though I respected the gardens much more. We each enjoyed looking at the fascinating different types of trees, bushes and flowers. There was even a wonderful Japanese section, complete with a waterfall.

 One of the tallest trees in the Botanical Gardens. 

One of the tallest trees in the Botanical Gardens. 

 

Before leaving Rocky we had a familiar tuna sandwich lunch on the bay to enjoy the view. Our drive from Rockhampton led us to Hervey Bay, the gateway to Fraser Island.

An Australian-American Roadtrip

Monday morning was another early one for our group. We picked up at the rental car at seven and celebrated when all of our American-sized suitcases fit in the trunk without problem. Being young and broke we decided to skip the car insurance, something that the clerk pointed out as a “Four thousand dollar gamble”. This gave us plenty of leverage to keep Matthew on his toes while driving the seven and a half hours to Airlie Beach. Every bump in the road was a potential “four thousand dollar threat!” Every wrong turn. Every pothole. Four. Thousand. Dollars.

 

We started our trip by eating a four stop breakfast at the first place Google recommended. It was called Spoons and it was amazing. Patricia and I had French Toast, Matthew had a brekkie roll and Jacob had a great omelet.

 Breakfast at Spoons in Cairns, QLD

Breakfast at Spoons in Cairns, QLD

 

On the road everything felt very familiar. Aside from the palm trees and mountains, the stretches of long flat land looked like Oklahoma and the music we all agreed on was none other than Red Dirt. Oh, I had missed this music. Jacob was playing DJ and Matthew, Patricia and I took turns yelling out our favorite Red Dirt requests for the playlist.

 

At one point Patricia and Jacob insisted on playing ONLY Turnpike Troubador, to which Patricia shouted out “this is the FOUR THOUSANDTH Troubador song! Change it!” We all had a good laugh at that one.

 

Throughout the ride I felt a blending of America and Australia. Matthew and I shared facts about life and travel in Australia and Jacob and Patricia told us the latest news from Oklahoma, like the fact that Lawton was getting a Fuzzy's Taco shop and Casey Donahue was playing in Wichita Falls soon. It was good to mix the two and catch up on everything we had missed over the past six months apart.

 

 Just as any great Australian road trip, we had to stop and take a picture with the giant roadside attractions.  This one just happened to be a mango! 

 Jacob, Patricia and Matthew holding up the giant mango.

Jacob, Patricia and Matthew holding up the giant mango.

 

The view was mostly tropical. There were miles and miles of sugarcane and banana plantations and big smoky mountains covered in thick hunter green coats. When we made it towards central Queensland the roads curved around a led us down a beautiful path that had trees on each side of it. Just as the trees opened up we were greeted by a sign that welcomed us to Airlie Beach.

 One of the beautiful parks in Airlie Beach 

One of the beautiful parks in Airlie Beach 

 

The town was way better than I had expected. Up high on the mountains were dozens of beautiful two story beach homes, to the east there was a big beautiful ocean full of fishing boats and yachts and all around us, in the middle of town there were beach shops, live music venues and dozens of restaurants and travel shops. The excitement was centralized and charming and everything was within walking distance from our accommodation. We all stared in facinsation before vocalizing our thoughts.

 

“This place is awesome!”

 

“I could chilll here.”

 

“I think this is going to be a really fun town.”

 

As we walked into our two-dollars-extra-special room we were all amazed. Apparently the two extra dollars paid for quite a bit. The room was very spacious and included our own private bathroom, a mini fridge, a television set and a private balcony. It was more like a hotel than a hostel and by far the nicest room we had stayed in yet. We each chose our beds, Matthew and Jacob taking the bunks and Patricia and I splitting the queen, then we looked at the view on the balcony and decided this would be a great place to spend the remainder of our time as a foresome together. We'd be here for three nights and then we would take Jacob to the airport right outside of town. It would be a quick but fun few days.