You Never Know Unless You Go

Three years ago, I thought I had it all. Turning 30 I had a good career in a reputable financial institution that had weathered the 2008/2009 global financial crisis. I was the owner of a cute little home with the mortgage on track to be paid down in the standard 25 year term, or less if I stopped buying so many pairs of shoes that I didn’t really need. I was incredibly fortunate to have no personal debt. I considered myself lucky to travel every few years to get out of my own bubble. Yet I found myself constantly thinking that for me there had to be more to life.

You never know unless you go

I had watched, cheered, and boasted about the wonderful trips abroad that several of my friends had done. Each time I congratulated them on their independent spirit and wished them nothing but the best; it never occurred to me that I could be doing that, too. I had a career, a mortgage, and a life in the city.

But then something started to shift and crack inside me. I was becoming despondent with my status quo. My life had become a routine dictated by train schedules, online bill payment dates, and the typical weekend social outings.

Yet I found myself constantly thinking that for me there had to be more to life.

Something had to change. It was like walking into a brick wall. I realized that I disliked my job, and I was living to pay a mortgage. My friends were all getting married, starting families, and quickly filling their lives with other things. And what was I doing? Whatever it was, it wasn’t making me happy. A very short pros/cons list later (pro to stay: it’s comfortable. Con to stay: It’s easy here. Enough said.)

I decided it was time for me to go. I applied for a working-holiday visa in Australia, which would entitle me to live and work there for up to one year. This is significant because as a Canadian you are only eligible for this visa if you are 30 or under. Turning 31 soon, my window of opportunity was closing fast, so I leapt through it with everything I had in me. The next few months were a frenzied operation of planning, selling, packing, and finally, saying good-bye and see you soon to dear friends and family.

You only live once

My only objective when arriving in Australia was to make sure I got all the way around the country, picking up work as I needed it. It took a few months to adjust and familiarize myself with the Aussie way of life, not to mention the lingo. Thankfully I had family to stay with, so that cushioned my integration.

A few months into my year-long adventure, I decided to head back to a big city: Sydney. I arrived full of ambition and ready to scoop up the first job I could get my hands on. It took a couple of weeks to get my foot in with a few staffing agencies, but then I was offered a six week temporary position in a financial institution that paid incredibly well.

I thought, “I’d be a fool not to take this.” I just assumed that I should agree, but my physical reaction surprised me. I starting shaking and sweating, and I thought I was going to be sick. In that moment I realized that I didn’t want anything to do with the concrete-corporate jungle anymore. Needless to say, I turned down the job. Instead, I started working in exchange for accommodation at a hostel and spent my days carefree and exploring the city.

In that moment I realized that I didn’t want anything to do with the concrete-corporate jungle anymore.

After seven weeks in Sydney, winter moved in, and I decided to trek north and follow summer. I visited most of the typical tourist attractions but kept getting pulled towards the smaller towns and quieter venues. I had a feeling that there was more to experience off the beaten track. And meeting locals was far more rewarding than meeting young 20-somethings on their gap year out to drink their parents’ credit card into new debt lows.

I pushed on and arrived in Cairns, where I immediately started to look for work. It had been a solid 6 months of unemployment, and I was starting to feel a bit in need of some money. I got a call one sunny afternoon asking if I wanted a job in rural Queensland, eight hours inland and a minimum of 90 miles (150 km) away from the nearest town. It sounded absolutely perfect to me, and I was on the next bus out of town.

Find a flight to Cairns and book a hostel in Cairns

Expect the unexpected

Driving into town was like something out of an old movie – dusty, hot, rural, and deserted. There was no one around. I was picked up by a fellow backpacker who cheerily told me she’d been here for nearly a year and loved it. As we chatted, I felt like I’d finally made it somewhere I could call home for a while.

I happily set up my temporary home in a trailer at the back of the shop where I was to work. Slowly people started introducing themselves to me. In the span of a week, I felt like I’d lived here for years. The locals knew me by name, and the tourists passing through town would ask me for local information.

I never expected to have a social life, but I quickly became friends with a local who had lived in the remote north for many years, and we would chat aimlessly for hours about local history, fishing, politics of Australia, and life in the rural north. I stopped caring about what day of the week it was, and the highlight of my day was having a few beers at the only pub in town. I was happy and content.

But as with any backpacker, there always comes a time to move on, and I still had all of Western Australia to explore. I had also planned to meet up with a dear friend outside of Perth to do some WWOOFING.

Read the How-To’s of WWOOF’ing

Willing to work for food and accommodation

WWOOF is an international organization that pairs willing workers (wwoofer’s) with organic farmers. In exchange for work, the farmers will provide you with food and accommodation. Perfect for a backpacker who is looking to do something productive away from the hustle and bustle of a city.

In my case I was working on a biodynamic vineyard located in the picturesque Margaret River region of Western Australia. My hosts were a husband/wife entrepreneurial duo; two of the most delightful and hospitable people I’ve met, a cultural expectation of Australians. My hosts welcomed wwoofer’s into their circle of friends and family and made sure that we had a chance to get involved with as much as possible on the vineyard. I was also fortunate enough to be living and working with a friend I’d made in Sydney, so I instantaneously felt at home. Not to mention that a perk of working on a vineyard is the constant presence of wine, and some of the most beautiful beaches were just around the corner from our house. How idyllic!

Before I embarked on a year-long travel journey, I was a self-proclaimed career and city girl. However, the minute I started traveling around Australia, I realized how much I actually preferred the countryside to the concrete.

What makes my wwoofing experience so memorable and cherished is that my parents run a small horse farm, and in my pre-travel life, I never had to get involved. I lived about an hour away, and I flat out refused to help [read: I didn't want to get dirty]. However, on the vineyard I happily tended to chickens, ducks, geese, cows, sheep, and horses. I would prune the growing vines for a few hours every day and learned how to re-roof a chicken coop, painted the roof of a new shed, and herded livestock from paddock to paddock. We only had a few cows escape in the rain. Once. Mistakes happen, but no animals – or humans – were harmed!

Wwoofing is a great way to do something different while on long-term travel because it is a great way to meet locals, gain invaluable experiences, and see parts of the country that are miles away from the usual tourist spots.

Before I embarked on a year-long travel journey, I was a self-proclaimed career and city girl. However, the minute I started traveling around Australia, I realized how much I actually preferred the countryside to the concrete. I thoroughly enjoyed living with less, working odd jobs, and being outdoors was much better for me than reducing the size of my Outlook inbox.

I knew that in leaving my comfort zones I would face challenges, but I never expected to gain so much confidence in one short year. I truly embrace the joy that travel brings into my life. By far the most rewarding and valued treasure I carry with me is my confidence to try new things, experience new opportunities, and welcome new friends into my life.

Read more inspirational travel stories from normal people who have made travel a top priority and check out resources to help you do the same:

Photo credits:  Prince Roy, robertpaulyoung, all others courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission

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Leave a Comment

  • Karantraveller said at 2013-09-20T05:37:02+0000: Great article. Thanks for sharing!!!
  • DrAdv Ujwala D Andrews said at 2012-09-08T03:14:33+0000: great trips
  • Sonya Prosser said at 2012-08-28T14:16:50+0000: Beautiful post Nina, an honest account of your personal realisations. Are you still in Aus?
  • Monica Krnac said at 2012-07-25T00:13:24+0000: Great article Nina. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. You write so lovely and tell you story with such interest and care. You have a talent for writing, keep it up. I did this same journey in 2000 and it is life changing. Keep the memory alive with your story telling.
  • Natalie Perks said at 2012-07-19T10:29:13+0000: Great article! Takes a lot of guts to step out of the comfort zone, put yourself out there and learn more about yourself and your limits. Steven Verdekel I suggest to step outside of your comfort zone and learn a little more about yourself. I hope that you ultimately find a happy man as opposed to the bitter 'douche'bag' you appear to be.
  • Steven Verdekel said at 2012-07-16T22:33:32+0000: Another pampered douche'bag. I see these people a mile away with their Tevas, white'boy or girl Dreds, and grungy clothes, and quickly cross to the other side of the street. Sorry hun, but your vain self'importance and inflated ego is not what's needed in the world. Please, go back to your 30'year mortgage and lamo robot job.
  • Marnie Robinson said at 2012-07-18T04:46:41+0000: Great article! I think you expressed how so many of us feel...getting stuck in life and admiring what 'everyone else' is doing. Wayda go and just do it! Now for the next adventure! :)
  • Kapcha The World said at 2012-07-16T23:26:17+0000: Great story. Am feeling the need to wander again too. I am planning on heading to Melbourne before the end of the year but at the moment it's the plannig/packing/selling of crap and organising stage - seems to take forever!
  • Alan Fung said at 2012-07-17T00:22:13+0000: haha, I just came back from 6 months of working holiday in Australia and had a similar experience. I just wish I can stay for the whole year. really missing WA!
  • Alex Sloan said at 2012-07-16T18:27:33+0000: Sounds wonderful.
  • Caroline Fleming Johnson said at 2012-07-16T14:27:09+0000: there is hope after 30 ;).