Tag: The Great Barrier Reef

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.

The uncertainty of the travel flow

Traveling opened up about a million cans of awesome, and almost as many cans of worms.

This year alone has been my greatest success. I conquered continents. I traveled here, to there, to here and to there again.

A lot of people ask me, “What are you running away from?”

I like to answer, “It’s not a question of what I’m running away from, but what I’m running toward.

The line, though, my friends, becomes pretty blurred after months on end on the road.

I think I’m suffering from travel burnout.

Correction Sydney airport, home is where I lay my hat

Sounds like a pretty nice problem to have, huh?

Traveling is great and has afforded me some awesome opportunities. I burned my tongue silly on the hottest goddamn pepper in the world. I cuddled koalas in Australia, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef (saw some sharks!), swam with dolphins, surfed wild waves, learned Hawaiian permaculture and enjoyed my fair share of California sunsets. I have juggled the most amazing friends and lovers all over the world.

I’ve seen things people only dream about. I woke up from a reality that I perceived to be my only way of life. Then I realized how much more there was out there to see. A dizzying amount of opportunities. How do you know which one is right?

Who is who?

Like I’ve decided earlier, I’m calling Hawaii my home. I’m in search of something more permanent. I loved meeting and creating contacts all over the world. I love having friends that I can stay with or call or share a memory with, but saying goodbye time and again has become so very difficult for me.

I think Anthony Bourdain said it best:

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

In Hawaii, I met some amazing, life-altering soul friends. We shared many philosophical conversations, resources, adventures, work life, the works. Leaving them was especially difficult. Are these people meant to come into our lives to make an impact forever? Certainly. How do I cope with feelings of greediness?  I want them all in my life always.

Part of my jungle family

I think it comes down to making decisions and following your heart. It was a difficult choice to leave home to travel in the first place. I remember after my going away party, I cried for hours wondering why forces were pulling me away from a comfy, lovely and perfectly wonderful support system: my family and friends. But cutting that cord offered me a million unique opportunities I would’ve never had otherwise.

Is that always the compromise? While traveling, I missed my family and friends and wished they could be with me. But I know that can’t be the case, because when I’m alone, I’m a free agent. I can re-invent myself somewhere totally different. I can go my own way without preconceived notions of who I was before. It sounds bizzare, but your reputation, even when it’s good, follows you and hinders you in some ways.

I’ve been able to let go and be completely me on the road, getting into shenanigans & cars with “strangers,” eating exotic foods in exotic locales, learning about things I might not have been exposed to before. That to me, was worth the pay off of leaving home.

Dragonfruit..tastes like a hot pink kiwi…who knew?

But now, the new experiences have become a bit daunting. Experiences end as quickly as the they began. New faces become old friends on Facebook in the matter of months, days even.

I’m ready to set up shop. I’m ready to set up a support network. I’m ready to hang up the vegabond hat for a while in search of the elusive dish-all over coffee or a beer best friend. I want a dog. Hell, I even want a partner. I want people I can look at at the end of the day, smile with and feel a piece of my heart and soul growing, rather than having to have it all torn away week to week, day to day.

C’mon, let’s share the view

After all, happiness is only real when shared.

How do you cope with the  travel blues?

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

This has been an incredible year of seeing things and trying to knock items off my bucket list, one by one. When I took my month-long trip to Australia, I hadn’t initially planned to visit the Great Barrier Reef. . It was my stay with my host family in Brisbane that convinced me to ditch my plans for Byron Bay (feel a bit bad because I knew I’d love it there) and instead jumped on a Virgin Australia flight up to Cairns.

Cairns turned out to be my favorite part of my trip, hands down.

While in Cairns, I couchsurfed with a guy named Nevan in Kewarra Beach. My reason for my trip up north was for one reason and one reason only: to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea. To do the damn thing!

My ride.

While weighing my options for a snorkeling cruise, it was Nevan who talked me into the Green Island Reef Cruises. Green Island is located about an hour off the shores of Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal, so it’s a relatively short trip out to the reef. Plus, it’s the best bang for the buck. I paid only $79 for a 5 hour snorkeling day, whereas other companies were offering tours to the outer reef for $200. Nevan told me that in order to reach the outer reef, you spend most of your time crusing back and forth to the snorkeling spot, leaving less water time. I wanted MORE water time!

So long Cairns, hello reef.

Green Island tours operate all sorts of packages and options, from half days to full days, to lunch and a glass-bottom boat tour. The best thing about Green Island is that you snorkel right off the beach, so you can choose to soak up the rays on the beach or spend all your time in the water (like I did!) You can also do a rainforest walk on Green Island that highlights different fauna and plant life endemic to the area. Score!

Photo by author.
The view from Green Island.

While snorkeling, I did wear a lycra suit to protect me against box jellyfish, aka KILLER jellyfish that inhabit the Cairns waters. One sting from them can be fatal. Believe it! It was an extra $8 to rent the suit, but the peace of mind was worth it. Plus, it helped me look like a professional.

Me just after snorkeling for hours in my lycra suit. No box jellyfish for me!

Some might argue that you get a better experience on the outer reef, but I was floored and fascinated by all I saw off the coast of Green Island. I saw TWO sharks (!), tons of beautiful fish, GIANT CLAMS and even swam with 3 green sea turtles. The marine life was second to none and this day made up for more than my fair share of shitty days in the past. I would reccomend anyone to see the Great Barrier Reef in their lifetime. After all, it IS one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World!

Photo by author.
I could think of worse ways to spend an afternoon.

A Sunday in Kuranda Village

I’m driving with two Couchsurfers through tropical north Queensland, up and up, through the rainforest toward Kuranda village. The wind blows through our hair and we practice our German accents while Zeppelin blasts on the radio. We’re looking out for Cassowaries and wild cockatoos, our wallets fat with the prospect of buying didgeridoos and locally made crafts from the Djabugay Aborigines.

A view from the top.

While our White Pickup truck twists and turns through the dense rainforest, we almost miss a scenic lookout of Cairns city. We step out of the car to watch the Coral Sea glimmer in the distance like a million diamond-studded wrists, beckoning tourists and locals alike to sail out, to discover the wonderful coral cities that lie underneath the water’s surface.

It’s Sunday afternoon and we’re sweating in the balmy “city center” (population: 1,600) perusing artisan stalls, examining wild flora and spiders, snapping pictures of locals enjoying a smoke and their afternoon coffee in this hippie meets yuppie mecca. Homemade ice cream soothes our thirsty tongues and my German friend Linnea buys a pair of pants from a dreadlocked purveyor.

“Are these a little much?” Linnea asks me. “Red’s too loud, isn’t it?”

The pants look like they’ve been waiting to hug her hips her whole life.

“They’re perfect.” I start. “Who else do you know that owns a pair of red pants?”

She completes the purchase and we’re off to Barron Gorge Falls. We ask someone to “make a picture” of us, as Linnea would incorrectly, yet endearingly say. Somehow “making” pictures felt right.

We bushwalk barefoot for a while before coming back down to Earth, beginning our slow, winding descent, pausing only momentarily to burn the leeches off of our calloused feet.

Another way to get to Kuranda Village is by taking the Scenic Railway through the Macalister Range.
Locals enjoying their Sunday at the Rainforest Markets.
Barron Gorge Falls.
(From left to right) Me, Linnea and her red pants.

Going, going, gone!

I’m not sure if I’m ready to accept how incredible the last six weeks of my life has been. I have SO much material to work off of for blog posts, pitches for travel magazines and envy-inspiring Facebook posts.

I’m in Los Angeles, recovering from jetlag, letting my entire trip marinade. I swam with turtles and sharks while snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. I climbed mountains, swam in pools, oceans, dams, and strangers’ bathtubs. I saw baby crocodiles in the wild. I stumbled upon some of the most beautiful stretches of beaches I’d ever hope to explore. I bush-walked in the rainforest. I came really close to a sea eagle. I held a koala in Queensland. This was the trip of dreams.

Serenity now. Meditating over a view of Cairns city, tropical Queensland, Australia

I’m really excited to share my experiences on these blogs along with my musings about traveling, developing a budget travel mindset, the differences between Australia and the United States and generally chronicling my entire adventure.

Before I left, I was electric with questions like, “Who will I meet?” and “Where will I go?” Now I’m trying to tame the “Was that real life?” feeling and exhilaration that is only felt after an epic journey.

My first international travel piece is getting published in Native Foreigner Magazine in mid-April. I’m proud and eager to see what my first feature narrative story looks like in digital magazine format. It’s about a coastal walk I did from Sydney’s Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. Stay tuned.

I’m going places.

Hell, I’ve BEEN places.

Is it enough to dream?

I keep having this recurring dream where I’m walking ocean side, along some craggy coast around sunset. The sun’s rays gleam out from behind fluffy white clouds, glimmering on the the water’s surface. Much to my horror and delight, just as the sun sinks into the horizon, the tide creeps in on me, at first slow, but then faster and faster. Suddenly I’m engulfed in mother ocean’s relentless tides, helpless and futile against the waves’ pull. Once again I’m carried out to sea.

It sounds nightmarish, like a tsunami threatening to wash away the land and all that inhabit it, but somehow, as the tide rolls in every night in my dreams, I feel a strange, familiar comfort. I’m taken in by my curiosities of travel, the ocean and Australia.

Walking from Bondi to Coogee Beach in Sydney

I’m on holiday for one month in Australia, currently residing in Queensland. I’m already quite dreading planning my departure. To wake with the hot sun on my face, to have breakfast on the patio with the wild cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets, to run and hide from all the too-big spiders, to plan my next bushwalking adventure- it’s somehow all I’ve ever known. I can only hope that the chance to continue to explore here presents itself to me.

Is it enough to dream of places undiscovered? Can I sleep soundly knowing that I might not wake to see one-one thousandth of the natural mysteries of Queensland and New South Wales, much-less Australia’s  entire east coast? The state between being awake and asleep, where nearly anything is possible, I imagine myself catching a nap under a palm tree on white silica sand beach somewhere near Fraser Island or the Whitsundays. I see myself, in an aerial view, facedown, back burning, snorkeling a colorful and pristine reef outside of Cairns. I watch myself dance salsa at a bar on a Friday with fellow travelers, laughing and making memories I might never know.

As I calm my thoughts and finally drift into sleep, it’s the promise of tomorrow’s adventures that keep my dream alive. During my slumber, I notice the sun dipping into the horizon, and watch the waves break as they come to carry me away once more.

Wivenhoe Dam, sunset