Tackling the Big Q: Why Did I Leave New York in the First Place?
CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA- So I think it’s long overdue that something of a tell-all post about why I actually picked up and moved to Australia. It’s been nice to recap what I’ve been doing from day to day, but I’m going to make an attempt at recording some more serious thoughts of mine as I flit about the country.
Anyone who’s had a conversation with me over the past few years knows that what I really love to do is travel: to explore a new land, with new people and a new culture, a different perspective on the world and intrinsically different worldviews from the ones I’ve developed over the course of my 25 years. I love learning about the different perspectives and motivations people across the world have, from the Western emphasis on self-expression and individual freedom contrasted with the Eastern maxims of conformity.
My one real “dream” in life has always been to backpack around the world. I’ve fancied the idea of the vagabond who lives out of a single bag, distilling your life down to the very essentials you need to explore new cities and countries. I have never been much of a long-term planner, so a trip of that magnitude seemed like biting off a bit more than I could chew- somewhat more palatable however, was a trip Down Under. If I had to pick three reasons why I chose this trip, I think I’d have to go with the following:
A potentially misguided and youthful sense of wanderlust that beckoned as I repeated my too-familiar daily routine week after week, after week
The desire to a see a naturally scenic part of the world completely different from anything else I had experienced growing up in the northeast United States
The feeling that pulling the rug out from under my comfortable, middle class life would give me the chance to re-evaluate what I really valued and wanted to do with my life.
I could go deeper, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll keep it to these three for the time being.
So, the obvious next question is….how is this trip helping me to grow in terms of what I set out to do?
Has my sense of wanderlust been satiated?
In short, yes. I’ve been planning my travels week by week here, taking me wherever the wind blows. It’s been an exhilarating experience to wake up every morning and really not know where I’ll be in a few days time, but it has also made me appreciate the comforts of home and the stability it afforded me.
Have I seen things I never would have the chance to back home in the US?
From the Blue Mountains to the Whitsunday Islands, Australia has given me the opportunity to experience a wide variety of scenery, which I can only hope will expand as my trip continues. Easily the most striking difference for me is the night sky- virtually unpolluted by any man-made light, the stars here are clearer than anything you can imagine, not to mention “upside down”- the constellations are the reverse of what we see in the northern hemisphere. Unfortunately Australia is cursed with the Internet infrastructure of a fourth-world country—I recently bought a small wireless device that gives me 3GB of Internet service for $50. While this means I can keep in touch via email more often, uploading pictures is still out of the question until I find somewhere with reliable free internet service, so visual confirmation of this part of my trip is still wanting.
Has this experience allowed me to re-evaluate what I want in my life?
Unquestionably, this has been the biggest learning experience over the past four months. Along with accounts of my travels, I am going to try to integrate various lessons I am learning and new perspectives on life into these blog posts. Hopefully it will allow me to grow as a person, and inspire some of you to do the same. Moving to Australia and leaving my life back home was easily one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, and while it’s been a rewarding one it’s sure made me realize how much I appreciate from my life back home that I once took for granted. From personal relationships to continuous economic stability, everything that I knew has been turned on upside down, and given me a lot to think about. I’ll try as best I can to recap those thoughts and keep it relevant and interesting for you all, but your continued input is most valued. I want this trip and subsequent writings to be as much of a learning experience as possible for us all!
I’ve spent the past month working at two different ‘resort’ facilities. The first few weeks of February were spent at the Palm Bay Hideaway—a seemingly idyllic paradise on Long Island where I spent 4-5 hours each morning renovating a block of suites for guest use. I once dreamed of spending weeks at a time on an island resort with a few friends, but I never thought that I would be the one to catch a case of cabin fever. When we arrived at Palm Bay, we met Victor & Clemence, a French couple who had been there for 2 weeks (who, by the way, make great working partners—the French have a somewhat…liberal sense of what exactly constitutes a billable hour). They cautioned us that any more time on the island would be, in short, MORE THAN ENOUGH.
When anyone made a trip back to the mainland, it was reminiscent of the scene from The Beach, where Leo heads to Ko Phagnan for supplies and is inundated with requests for the most basic of supplies from the real world, since with no internet connection and virtually no visitors due to the rainy season, we felt pretty disconnected. While I certainly entertained myself kayaking, reading, hiking, and working, the feeling that you can’t go anywhere (even though you have no real reason to leave), does begin to creep in after a few days. I know I sound quite obnoxious to anyone reading this at home, but lesson #1 is that I don’t deal all that well feeling confined. While it certainly was a dream of mine to live on a tropical island, that has been checked off the bucket list and made me appreciate daily interaction with different people more than I ever thought I could.
We all left Long Island on February 17th—Chris and Hans took a bus north in search of work (Hans is now off the coast of Innisfail working on a shrimp boat; I haven’t heard from Chris yet) and Victor, Clemence, Lauren & I headed to Pete’s house in Airlie Beach, the mainland port for the Whitsunday Islands. Pete is a businessman currently overseeing the construction of a block of housing developments overlooking the marina, and lives in the considerably-sized abode perched at the top of the development, which he is in the process of converting to a B&B.
It’s been our job for the past three weeks to help him get this place into tip-top shape before the guests come (the first ones were due this weekend, but cancelled due to an impending cyclone. But don’t worry- this place is built to withstand a Category 5 storm), and I must say, things are looking up. It’s been an interesting experience to be a part of the launch of a small business, and has made me think a lot about incentivizing your workers.
Without getting into too much judgmental detail, my role at Palm Bay was somewhat impersonal- I was given a set series of tasks to accomplish each morning, which I did, but there was little opportunity to feel as if I had a stake in the end product. Not that this affects the quality of my work, but it sure has an impact on how fulfilled you feel at the end of the day. I was given the opportunity to work pretty much on my own sanding, plastering, painting and finishing rooms, from which I learned a lot about DIY, but at the end of the day it was just a job in exchange for a free place to stay.
Pete has given us the chance to have more of a hand in how the B&B is going to turn out- from gardening and landscaping to prioritizing tasks around the house to ensure that everything is completed before opening weekend, he’s incorporated us into the launch of his business. As a result, I feel much more of a sense of accomplishment about the work I’ve done here, and will probably take him up on his continuous insistence to return once the place is up and running to see how much progress has been made. Lesson #2? Work is far more fulfilling when you have a say in what the end goal is and how that goal is achieved.
So what’s next? Well, it’s time to work for money for a bit. Help exchanges have been a great way to travel while keeping costs low, meet crazy Australians and learn a bit about their industry, lifestyle, and worldviews, but as they say- cash rules everything around me, and it is time to cream, get the money. Ideally I’d get a job on a sailing boat off the Whitsundays, but you need to take a sailing course to acquire the proper qualifications for employment, which is pretty expensive and instilled in me little confidence that I was certain to get a job after enrollment.
I had a lead on a farming job on a vineyard in Coonawarra (one of Australia’s premier grape-growing regions for Cabernet Sauvignon), which paid handsomely, however I had a feeling that it might have been a scam…so the plan for now is to wait out the bad weather at Pete’s until things clear up, and in all likelihood join Victor and Clemence in the next week or so, who are currently working at a farm an hour north of here. From there, who knows where I’ll be next!