Note: Apologies readers, my blogs are not coming out chronologically. I wrote this on the beach yesterday, later finished on my room, as I had had some frustrating moments over the last few days. Take it with a pinch of salt please… It aint all bad!
The highs and lows of travelling alone
Since leaving the life I had made in Barcelona 3 years ago I have been wandering around on my own. After a few months in the UK with mum and dad I had a 6 month teaching adventure in Slovakia and on a very low salary I saw the neighbouring countries on brief weekend visits. I then had a few more months at home to earn just enough money to buy my flight to Australia where I have spent the last 2 years doing my own thing.
The number of people who are surprised to learn I have done it one my own surprised me in fact. Some just couldn’t get to grips with the idea of someone just jumping on a plane and heading somewhere new for a while. They found it strange I had not done it with a friend or a boyfriend, or often asked if I had someone at home waiting for me. Many have even called me brave, but I don’t think travelling to Australia, or any of my Asian stopovers have needed bravery. A little more cash would have been useful and yes, at times I would have like a bit of company, but I have managed it without needing anyone to hold my hand. I haven’t left a trail of destruction or broken hearts in my wake, and thankfully mine hasn’t had any further damage. I have met people along the way: some I have seen again since, some I know I will, and some I am pleased I won’t.
I have worked as hard as I have needed to to look after myself and I have had a pretty good time doing it and for the most part I wouldn’t have travelled with anyone other than myself. Not having to answer to anyone, nor compromise or deal with disagreements has made life a lot easier. I travelled with a then very good friend of mine many years ago – when I was just getting a taste for this nomadic way and I have barely spoken to her since. I am sure I am not the only one who has lost a relationship through their travels. Only yesterday I was sitting in a Warung in Amed having my lunch when two French girls walked in. One had a red face, barely able to hold back the tears and the two could barely look at each other. I caught snippets of their conversation when they seldom spoke but I didn’t need to hear to understand that the strain of travelling had taken its toll on their friendship.
When I first arrived in Bali I had no watch – I’d lost it in Australia a few days before. Although I was frustrated not knowing the time at first, I found being timeless quite liberating. I got up when I woke up and went to bed when I was tired. I ate when I was hungry, and did what I wanted for a few days. I came to Bali with no plans at all – just my trusted lonely planet and a few recommendations and have been taking each day as it comes, at my own pace.
But when you are in a country that has such an abundance of places to go (where doesn’t?) and number of different interests to satisfy – someone to bounce ideas off and help make decisions would be really helpful. Instead I wrack my brains wondering where to go, or whose advice to take and often arriving somewhere thinking the sand is white on the other beach…
I have also felt alone here for the first time in a long time. I thought Bali would be an easy place to get about when you are travelling alone, but perhaps not when you are lugging suitcase, a backpack and a laptop around. I am also paying twice what everyone else is paying per night, as rooms are charge per room, not per person and full price for any travel I do, as I am paying for just me rather than splitting the cost. There have also been times when I have felt vulnerable on my own. Never in danger – don’t get me wrong. I walk down the street anywhere n Bali feeling perfectly safe, but just vulnerable. I suppose it’s still a rare thing for them to see a woman on her own, and I seem to be a target to get hassled. I simply cannot walk past a male (or female) without them attempting to offer or sell me something. Whilst I understand most people are just trying to make a living I wish the colour of my skin didn’t mean there was a dollar sign flashing on my head and the fact that there is no one by side didn’t mean I was an easy target. Having experienced this before, but to a much lesser degree, in Malaysia and knowing how different the culture is here I have taken to wearing a fake engagement ring. This has worked a few times, but the ring is so cheap that I cannot take it off now for the awful green ring it leaves giving me away!
There have been a couple of occasions over the last few days where I have felt frustrated because I have had to ask for help or been put in a position where I am reliant on the help of a stranger – who under the guise of “helping” me has used it for his own gain. Take yesterday for example. I had booked a shuttle from Ubud to Amed the previous night – organised by the helpful man at my accommodation, He gave me the address of his cousin’s homestay in Amed and since he has been o kind I was only too pleased to take his recommendation. I was told to be ready just before 7, and that I would be helped with my case, and dropped at my accommodation. Not was the case. I struggled down the steep steps alone, as the driver waited patiently at the entrance 15 minutes earlier than I had been told watching me struggle with all my luggage he then turned on his heal to walk up the gang to the car! I had to ask him to help me to which he did of course, but clearly felt it wasn’t his job. The “direct shuttle” wasn’t direct, and we had to change buses in Padangbai to one with no air con (later traffic jam was very unpleasant). On arrival in Amed the driver dropped us (there were fortunately 2 French passengers with me) at a hotel in the “middle” of Amed, refusing to drive any further and drove off. Now it’s NOT easy to get around when you are lugging what I am, in that heat with motorbikes whizzing around uneven roads and no pavments. We were all pretty disgusted that he was prepared to just leave us there! A member of staff came out of the hotel, and seeing our predicament offered us to drive us to the hotel the French people had booked, at a steep price. I told him I had the address on the back of my bus ticket which the driver that driven away with. When I told him where it was, he said he would get me a better place, for a better price. Of course I was taken to his cousin’s homestay, which, pleasant though it was, wasn’t where I wanted it to be – It was far from the nice part of the beach, although I was assured this place was “on the beach” it wasn’t. But what else could I do?
Today, in a new location I became frustrated at everyone approaching me offering me a taxi, even after I said no I would often be followed down the street and asked again repeatedly. The same thing happened at the beach. Do I want to go in a boat? No thank you. Then following me, or approaching me again after I have sat down to ask me again, and again, not today? Tomorrow? It’s doing my head in! And much as I would love to go in a boat please, I won’t say yes and pay the same price you charge for 6 people as I am on my own, or get in a boat out to sea with an Indonesian man who is likely to grill me about my personal life (this too is normal and apparently harmless, but wildly frustrating!) I think I actually upset the driver I had in Ubud the other day when I refused to answer his questions about my previous relatonships to which he persistently asked, despite me telling him I was not in the mood to discuss my heartbreak.
So travelling alone? Good or bad? It has its merits of course, but right now perhaps I am in the wrong frame of mind. I am tired, keen to step onto my own turf, keen to have someone by my side and tired of having to struggle when I could do with a hand…
Wednesday 28th August
Here’s a post I wrote on my day off about a week ago…
What is Australia for me?
It’s this: sitting in a cafe on my day off: enjoying a banana smoothie and an ocean view whilst listening to relaxed tunes and having a moment to write this.
It’s the smells that should be bottled: eucalyptus trees on a hot day, barbecues in the park, wild flowers in bloom.
It’s the sound of a kookaburra laughing about something in the distance.
It’s amazing creatures like kangaroos and koalas and cockatoos, parakeets and galahs…
It’s the taste of beer and the sound of live music.
It’s chance encounters with people from all over the world.
It’s meeting members of family you never knew you had, or old friends in sunny places.
It’s feeling very welcome, but not quite belonging.
I’ve experienced many things in Australia – yet none of them have been bad. Even finding a 6ft python lounging over my toilet gave me a (horrific) story to tell and I learnt a lesson of caution when using the toilet.
Being unemployed and unable to enjoy it thanks to lack of funds wasn’t exactly a bad experience.
Neither was feeling used and unappreciated in my first Au Pair role a bad experience. It was incredibly unpleasant and draining but taught me what to ask for and what I deserved in my next role.
I have avoided most extreme weather situations in Australia – not had to endure many 40+ C days, nor suffered a long winter. I was relatively unaffected by the cyclones on the East coast and the bush fires didn’t come close enough to pose a real threat.
Am I sad about leaving? That’s what everyone keeps asking me. And the answer is yes and no. I knew Australia couldn’t last forever. I’ve not had any of the experiences I thought I would have, but instead had experiences I never imagined possible.
I never made it to Ayres Rock, didn’t buy a car so I could drive around the perimeter of Australia, never made it to the Northern Territory or Tasmania and have really only scratched the surface of this land of plenty.
I have been a waitress, a receptionist, a bar person, a teacher, a tutor, a farm hand, a nanny and a cleaner. I have worked for great money, no money and shit money.
I have tried new sports, new foods, learnt new skills, dropped bad habits and even managed to improve my Spanish.
So… Australia has given me so much, yet not quite enough to stay any longer. I know it’s time to leave and try something else. I am feeling a pull towards the UK, to the place I used to call home, to my family and to a culture and lifestyle I have been avoiding for many years. It’s time to see what’s coming next!
Hope it makes good blog material!