Tag: The Gold Coast

Overcoming the Four Letter Word

Nothing’s certain. Nothing’s perfect. The time is now.

So often before I took the leap of faith and starting traveling around the world solo, I wanted all the stars to align. In my mind, I fancied every aspect of my life lining up in perfect harmony so that it would make sense to quit whatever I was doing and travel. After all, I had what all college graduate Americans had: a decent job, an apartment and a modest budget to purchase the important things, like a night out at the bars to forget about the monotony I signed up for.

I was living in Philadelphia, working a restaurant job and daydreaming, as I cleaned tables, of faraway places, places I would surely never see, especially on a waitress’ salary. When dealing with a difficult customer, I’d imagine taking a zip line through the rainforest somewhere, maybe Costa Rica, or even Hawaii. Hell, I’d take a zip line in my own backyard if it meant a few moments of serenity.

This yearning inside of me was new and in my mind, fairly controversial. . I was afraid and that four-letter word, fear, held me back.  How, as a woman, could I travel the world extensively solo? I would probably get raped, or mugged, or worse, end up back at home, empty-handed, broke and unhappy. These are the scenarios your worst enemies plot out for you. Unfortunately sometimes your worst enemy is your own psyche.

I took to the internet and gained an immeasurable amount of confidence. I discovered Matador Network, a travel writing community and signed up for their courses. This way, I could not only put my journalism degree to use (finally!), but I could gain some valuable insight and resources into how to make a round the world trip possible.

Through my travels, I learned that the power of manifestation is the key driving force behind our life’s biggest ambitions. I yearned to travel. It hurt how bad I wanted it. I saved up and signed up for my first US Passport. I didn’t know where I was going or when, but I was going.

I then emailed a childhood friend who had been traveling alone around the world since high school. I scrolled enviously through her Costa Rica and Thailand pictures. I emailed her asking in my naiveté, “How did you do it? Do you have any advice?”

She told me, and I would subsequently tell people who emailed me asking the same thing after my travels, the only thing holding you back from traveling is you.

A lot of people have the misconception that to travel you have to be rich. This isn’t the case. With resourcefulness and a bit of savings and bravery, you too can make your dream of traveling a reality.

After mustering up confidence, I was ready. Where should I choose first? The world was an awfully big place. I had never traveled internationally besides Canada and Mexico. The scope seemed so large and I was woefully overwhelmed.

Then it dawned on me: I could go anywhere. I didn’t have anyone to tell me “no” except myself. That realization sparked the enormous boost of self-confidence I had needed. My adventurous spirit was alive and well. I no longer had to wait for all the stars to align, because perfect isn’t real.  I manifested the most perfect situation for me to take a leap of faith. I was brave. I was ready.

I decided on one of the farthest places from home I could think of: Australia.

I researched ways to save money while I traversed the land down under. I organized a few home stays and hostels. The rest I would figure out as I went along.

As I was sitting on the long flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and think that I was starting my journey of self-discovery while kicking fear’s ass.

Fear is the most debilitating emotion there is. It puts ideas in your head that you aren’t worthy, that you’re stuck where you are. Fear makes you believe you are less important, weak, scared and futile.

I decided to throw fear out the window and start doing my own thing. I was starting with Australia.

When I arrived on the other side of the world, by myself, backpack on, all I could think as I headed into the warm, February air was “I did it.”

I took a bus to King’s Cross and checked into my hostel. From there, I didn’t immediately fall asleep because I was so wired from the 18 hour plane ride. I took to the streets, camera in hand, and started to get a better idea of what Australia was all about.

A few hours later, I collapsed into bed. The next morning offered a pleasant surprise: befriending other travelers.  A girl from Belgium and I hit it off right away and decided on a day excursion to one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches, Bondi Beach.  As we walked along the coast to Coogee Beach, stopping along the way for a dip or a taste of gelato, I was in awe at my “luck.” How did I end up here? I wondered.

A view from the Coastal Walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach
A view from the Coastal Walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach

In front of my eyes were such beautiful sites, so many amazing, kind people. Is THIS what I had been afraid of? Having an amazing time? Meeting people from halfway around the globe who share similar interests as me? It all seemed so silly now. It’s true that nature loves courage.

From Sydney I continued my travels north to Brisbane. I stayed with a lovely young couple, their daughter, and a French exchange couple. In the few weeks I stayed there, I learned about Australian gardening, canoed, went on a day trip to the Gold Coast to watch some of the world’s best surfers and saw the first of many kangaroos.

After my stint in Brisbane, I craved more. I took a flight up north to Cairns. I wanted to see and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I wanted to be the only person I knew personally to witness one of the Seven Wonders of the World. My thought was, “If not me, then who?”

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef
Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

I also wanted to take my bravery a step further and do something I saw people online in the travel writing circle seemed to do with ease: couchsurf.

I wrote a few couchsurfing requests from a hostel in Cairns and was accepted by Nevan, a 20-something world-traveler and aspiring skydiving instructor. He took me in for 10 days it was one of the safest, most sincere encounters of my life.

While staying with Nevan, we cooked, went to the beach and explored the rainforest village of Kuranda together. I had the freedom to come and go as I pleased and was during the time I was able to have one of the best days of my life snorkeling with sharks and various precious sea species in the Great Barrier Reef. 

Through couchsurfing with Nevan, I met Linnea, a fellow German traveler. She and I became quite close in the short time we had together and she even joined me on a rainforest tour in Cape Tribulation. The day ended in a giant rainstorm where we played in the rain and jumped in puddles. It was the quintessential carefree moment. I loved the way Linnea was always humbled and pleased by life’s “real” moments by exclaiming, “This is life!” or “This is really living!” It’s not every day you hear that.

Nevan, Linnea and I at Kuranda
Nevan, Linnea and I at Kuranda

When I finally left Australia a month later, I already felt like a seasoned traveler. Nevan told me to bring one thing back to America with me – a message to other fellow travelers. He told me to be an ambassador of international travel to my friends, family and anyone who will listen. He said:

“For so long, the world has been looking at America. Now it’s time for America to look at the world.”

The Gold Coast, Australia
The Gold Coast, Australia

Since my trip to Australia, my wanderlust became insatiable. I traveled all over the U.S., lived in Hawaii for a year and visited Thailand. By overcoming my fears, I discovered my life’s passion. Following your bliss and overcoming fear can produce some amazing memories and ah-ha moments. Fear is one four-letter word I won’t let hold me back. I’d only be restricting myself from the uncertainty and beauty this world has to offer.  And now, I know better.

Miffed by the University Myth

It’s official: I have to start the dialogue about the whole college thing. I’ve been feeling a certain way about it for sometime, and I’m ready to formulate some thoughts on it.

This post is inspired by fellow Matadorian Candice Walsh’s piece called 9 reasons not to go to college. It was a brilliant piece outlining reasons not to follow the traditional trajectory of success that many Americans do of flocking to University right out of highschool. Interesting bit: The United States has nearly $1-trillion dollars of student loan debt. How is there not a serious outrage over this? I am shocked, disgusted and about ready to start a revolution.

Happy then. Bitter now.

I’m currently overseas and have been discussing, among other interesting cultural differences from the U.S., the way we approach education vs. other countries. I’m currently staying with a family that is also hosting a couple from France. Natasha graduated from “traditional” University with almost no debt (University in France is virtually free. Her tuition with books was less than $1,000 euros/academic year.) Alex went to a “trade” program for engineering which was equally inexpensive. Both of them completed internships (Natasha in Western France, Alex in Germany) before traveling to Australia. What’s interesting about this couple is that neither of them are in debt $50,000 or $100,000 like many people I know. Instead of panicking to find a job in their field to pay off a huge debt, one that looms over your head and threatens to ruin and dictate your life at a very early age, they were able to cheerfully pick up and travel the world for a while. Nevermind the euro and the economic crisis is France is border-line Greece-worthy. Ouch.

Crisis, schmisis. Natasha and Alex simply chill at the Gold Coast.

I’m detecting a trend (I perceive it to be a very positive one) that people in the United States are fed up. In a phone conversation with my mom once, as I aired my grievances about working shitty job after shitty job, she admitted (somewhat frighteningly) that she is losing faith that college was ever a good idea. All of her daughters who attended are struggling one way or another. Perhaps a college education wasn’t the “golden ticket” our parents’ generation thought it would be.

I have friends that have found ways around paying their student loans, most of them sad, but true. Of them include going back for more education (in turn accruing more debt, eventually settling to sell one’s soul to the world of academia to pay it off), and filing for unemployment as long as possible to put the loan in deferment. Who can bear to live another day flipping burgers when a student loan bill comes in month after month for $500? That’s more than rent in most places!

In Australia, tuition for college rarely exceeds $10,000/academic year. Instead of having to pay off a monumental debt akin to a nasty credit card debt, Australian’s see about one percent of their paychecks go toward student loan debt. What’s fascinating is that the amount that is taken is on a vacillating scale: if you are earning peanuts, the gov’t takes much less. Once you begin to earn more money, you pay more. Sort of a SMART, sliding scale theory. Adopted from the British. Good on you, mates.

I’ve been lucky that my student loan was minimal. Somehow I had this idea when trying to choose a school that the more prestigious and expensive the University to grant me a piece of paper (which I don’t even know where it is. How about that?), the better off I would be. Maybe that was true at a time for people from old money. Luckily my smart parents talked me out of that. Phew, dodged that bullet. Now I only set aside $82/month for my student loan debt. Laughable to some. Still a pain in the ass reminder every month, though, that I’m paying for an education with a job I didn’t even go to school for.

Hi, I'm Jill. The peace-lovin' hippie chick. May I take your order?

How can we turn this around? Discourage kids from getting an education? No. I think college afforded me some valuable experiences, but none more than social and personal growth. Yes, I did learn to write term paper after term paper. Yes, I did read some of Literature’s greats. In hindsight, I wish I would have seen college’s most valuable offering: Networking. I didn’t bother to networking nearly enough. I rarely speak to anyone I even knew in college, in fact. How’s that for an education?

We need to redefine what getting an education means. Walsh points out different alternatives to attending University, all of them better than the next. Everyone should take time to travel. That’s a given and something people don’t do enough. The experience you can gain by traveling the world will make you savvy and able to survive, make contacts and valuable relationships around the world, both professionally and personally.

Also, trade schools are another great idea. Why commit to a rigid and strict 4 year program when 2 years of that is essentially courses you have no interest in taking (ie: Gen Eds)? My friend Kelly attends film school in Burbank, California and it’s the perfect storm: 14 months of intensive coursework 3 days a week, a tight-knit group of classmates (who will eventually become colleagues and valuable contacts later on) without all the beaurocratic riffraff of University life. Get in, get it done, get out, get a job. That should be the name of the game!

Developing an entrepreneurial mindset is something I’ve strived to achieve this year. I’ve started bit by bit, and hope to become a self-sufficient earner. Nobody in University teaches you about finances or generating income. Hardly was there even a time we discussed getting a job in the “real world.” We just practiced different techniques of the real-world in a bubble. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I grew up with Microsoft Word. Perhaps the most engaging and memorable experiences in college were class discussions where we were able to have an open forum of idea exchange. Why should that have to cost so much money? I could have just as easily attended book club at a local cafe once a week. Gulp.

I watched a documentary about the visionary genius Steve Jobs. He dropped out of college. He went on a LSD pilgrimage to India instead. And he was one of the most successful and creative people of our time. If you have a good idea, pursue it. Then market the hell out of it. Become your own spokesperson. Demand the respect and attention you deserve. Don’t pay $100,000 for it, then work a shitty job to pay back the government for putting you in this pickle in the first place.

I guess if I could do college all over again, I would. But I’d certainly want to have a clearer idea of what I wanted to accomplish. I would make more valuable connections. I would have….waited a few years, to be honest. Who knows what they want when they are 18? I mostly cared about scoring booze and securing my first apartment. I certainly wasn’t thinking about my “financial future.”

In Highschool I learned to Senior Pic. In College, I learned to to Senior Pic on beer.

Words of wisdom: Take some time off between high school and college to travel. Find something you’re good at it. If you can make money doing it honestly, keep pursuing it. If you feel the need to go to University, get a grant or find a program that will finance it for you. Believe in me, you won’t be happy to be getting those huge loan bills in the mail every month. Redefine your idea of success. Start now and you won’t be sorry.

Am I just a rabble-rouser? Or are these real issues?