The Way We Travel

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A few weeks ago, we met a German couple who are spending a year in Australia, aiming to drive around the whole country before their twelve-month visas expire. As we had a similar setup, a car with a rooftop tent, and a similar route – we ended up meeting them time and time again on campgrounds and other places.

The similarities got us talking and we spent many great nights and days together. But there was one thing that made us as travelers differ from each other: the way we travel.

We were having a picnic in a park when we started talking about our travel plans for the near future

The Germans could tell us their exact plans for the coming days, even for coming weeks. They intended to explore the botanical gardens and the zoo in Rockhampton, go see a Singing Ship, spend a night at Emu Beach and then slowly make their way towards Bundaberg for a brewery tour and Hervey Bay to spend at least five nights on Fraser Island.

Then they asked us how we plan our travels. Our answer was, and is:

“We plan as we go, take one day at a time.”

I could see in their faces that they thought it was a weird way to travel, that they couldn’t do the same. And in a way, for me, a person who loves planning, doing research and writing lists, this is a very weird way of travelling.

But I’ve grown to like it. I even prefer it that way.

Let the Road Signs Guide You

In Asia, we couldn’t really ‘plan as we went’ because we didn’t have a car and the countries’ infrastructure are more confusing than logical for tourists. In Australia, however, the road network is great and easy to navigate, and we don’t have to follow a schedule.

That has enabled us to do our road the way we want to do it.

What ‘taking one day at a time’ means for us is that after we’ve woken up and had our breakfast, we pack our tent and belongings in the car and hit the road. We have our general direction we’re headed towards, usually a bigger city such as Cairns or Brisbane, but what we’ll do that day and where we end up staying the night is still a mystery.

We have a few different apps on our phones that help us find day-time rest areas, campgrounds and points of interest. They are helpful when we try to find a place where to have lunch, sleep or fill our water tank, but otherwise we let the apps be.

Instead, we keep our eyes open and follow the road signs.

My favorite places so far we’ve randomly visited have been a beautiful windmill park in Atherton Tablelands, Australia’s tallest single-drop waterfall Wallaman Falls (268 meters), a bushwalk route in Bowen and a morning above the clouds up in Eugenella Park (as seen in the photo for this post).

All these attractions were unplanned – and unexpectedly beautiful. That, somehow, makes them all even more valuable than the expected things.

Seeing What Others Don’t

Many of our decisions our guided by our low budget. Most often, we opt for free campgrounds instead of those that cost. We choose the free attractions rather than the guided, costly ones. We make our own food on the gas stove instead of going to restaurants and cafés.

It can be seen as a trade-off. Some paid campgrounds are awesome (we did stay at one that used to be nudist park a couple of years back – few places have been as relaxing as that campground) and of course, it would be awesome to go diving on Whitsunday Islands, see the wild koalas on Magnetic Island or the dingoes on Fraser Island. I would love to visit cafés, bakeries and restaurants and gorge on meat pies, fish and chips, artisan made ice cream.

But when seen from another perspective, we are actually experiencing something most tourists are not. It feels like many places we drive through or take a lunch break at aren’t visited by tourists – in a way, they are untouched, and that the road signs we follow guide us to places other tourists have overlooked. The Wallaman Falls, for instance, are visited by approximately 100,000 people per year. In contrast, the Fraser Island is visited by 380,000 people every year.

In other words, we end up seeing something most travelers don’t.

The Ultimate Freedom

By choosing something that feels like the opposite to what most tourists do, I feel a bit rebellious – and it feels right. It feels like we are making our own, unique Australian road trip by choosing the things most people don’t. Our plans aren’t dictated by “20 best things to do in Place X” lists found online or by what other people expect us to see. We make our own decisions and it feels like the only right way to do it, without the obligations.

Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing bad about wanting to go diving to the Great Barrier Reef or drive on the sandy beaches of Fraser Island – I would most likely do that if I had the opportunity. The tourist attractions are attractions for a good reason – but there is something even more awesome about doing the “rebellious” thing, the thing no one else does. The things we want to do and see.

Also, I think somehow, as the world is so interconnected and the Internet allows us to see most of the world attractions, seeing the random things becomes the thing while traveling – to see things you cannot find online. To see the odd vehicle memorabilia museum next to the gas station in a small village or chatting about writing with an elderly lady in the twilight at a rest stop.

For many, this might not feel like the way they would like to travel, like it seemed to be for the German couple. Some people prefer to have some control over their plans, a schedule to hold on to. I get it – I’m like that when it comes to certain things. For us, however, traveling without ‘must-sees’ seems to be the best way to do our Great Australian Road Trip.

When we don’t plan ahead, we get the ultimate freedom of being on a road trip. By letting go of control and expectations, we stop restricting ourselves from giving opportunities to random things.

So, in case someone in the future wonders out loud why we didn’t see “any of the sights” while we were in Australia, I won’t feel bad. Instead, I’ll recall all the odd, beautiful things we encountered on the road while lightheartedly driving from one location to the next without plans, without schedules, and without the pressure of following in the footsteps of most tourists.

 

The Traveling Writer, Pt. II

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(You can read part one here.)

I haven’t written about writing in a while because it has been… complicated.

The thing is, writing and traveling don’t go too well together. It’s because both forms of doing consume time and energy. It’s an either or situation where you have to choose what you want to focus on.

However, that has not stopped me from doing it. I mean, you’re reading this blog post that I’ve written while sitting in a rooftop tent in Kakadu National Park in Australia – so I am traveling and writing. It is possible!

But you have to fight for your writing time, for sure. Be prepared for compromises, for flexibility. Give yourself a little mercy for not being as prolific as you’d wish to be.

And realize that maybe traveling and writing don’t go together as well as you might have thought in the beginning.

When Your Focus Goes Elsewhere

While traveling, it is easy to just go with the flow, to be consumed by all the things that come to traveling: planning the route, the food, and where to stay the night. You focus on what you see, smell and feel. In the end of the day, you are tired and ready to go to bed – although you haven’t written a word.

In Vietnam, as we preferred our homestay rooms more than the touristic sites, I had plenty of time to write. I got into writing regularly and could keep up with my writing projects. But now, as we’ve changed country and continent (yay for Australia!), my writing time has decreased noticeably.

It has been on hold because we have been preparing ourselves for a different mode of travel.

As the best way to travel in Australia is by car, we decided to buy one. After a few days of searching, we found one that we liked and had a reasonable price, and bought it. Then, for a few days more, we prepped the car: cleaned it, fixed small things, got necessary kitchen equipment and a rooftop tent.

I didn’t have the time or the energy to write.

After that, when our traveling home was ready for the road, we started the engine and were off. (A side note: there is something very symbolic about starting the motor of your car for the very first time).

As it is in the beginning, new things take so much time and energy to focus on planning: where we want to drive, how long it takes, when do we need to fuel up or go to the grocery store. It takes effort to put up the rooftop tent, to cook food, to clean up and prepare for the night. It’s a full-day job to be on a road trip that will take a few months – it’s nothing you can plan too well before-hand.

So, even if we hit the road, I didn’t have the time, the space or the energy to write.

But I have noticed my feeling of restlessness growing from one day to the other – I want to write, I know I have to write. Get those thoughts, ideas, plot twists and character developments on paper.

Finding the Balance

I know I have to make traveling and writing work together – because I, as a writer, am most satisfied when writing. But how?

A week ago, I tried something: instead of writing in the morning, which is my best time for writing but also the best time for waking up and getting going in Australia, I changed my writing hours to the evening.

Why? Because when the sun goes down, the bugs come out from their hiding and take over the world. Therefore, at 7 PM, we pack everything in the car and take the steps up to our rooftop tent to take shelter from the blood-thirsty devils. But who wants, or even can fall asleep at seven in the evening? No one. It is the perfect time for writing.

Or… You’d think it’s the best time to be writing.

I’ve noticed that although it is the perfect time for writing, it’s not the perfect time if you plan on sleeping after writing. It’s the blue-screen-brain thing – sitting in front of the computer for an hour does not make you sleepy. After you’re done with your words, you lie in the rooftop tent literally for hours waiting for sleep to come. And you wake up tired.

It’s far from an optimal situation. But at the moment, it’s the best I’ve got. Otherwise I’ll be scratching my writing minutes together with blood, sweat and tears and it’s not nice. But I have to say – especially when traveling together with someone, it’s tough to combine both writing and traveling. You can’t be in two places at the same time.

I’ll keep on working on my writing and trying to find a way to keep going with this traveling writer thing. Sometimes I do remind myself of the fact that I have actually managed to put together over 25,000 words while on this trip and that is something to be proud of. But at the same time, I know I could’ve produced twice as much if not for traveling.

An easy choice would be to choose – for now – traveling over writing. But it feels like something I don’t want to do, it feels like I’ll be betraying myself if I just let my laptop rest instead of trying my best to write.

I can’t choose writing over traveling, not quite yet, but until then… I’ll just have to keep on finding that time for writing and find a way to see my situation in a better light, from another perspective.

I’ll let you know how I’m doing.