I’ve never really had a “bucket list,” mostly because adrenaline activities terrify me and I suck at planning ahead. But I suppose if you asked me the #1 place I wanted to see before I died, I’d choose Australia. (Do most people choose Australia? I feel like most people choose Australia). So I bought a one-way ticket to the Gold Coast, and now here I am.
Considering I booked my flight five days ago and then almost couldn’t get on the plane because I forgot to get a visa, it still feels kind of surreal. But I’ve been on this odd island of a continent for 36 hours now, and it’s been a day and a half of serious introspection — partly because I’m sleep deprived, partly because I still can’t believe I’m actually here.
I spent the day yesterday wandering around Surfer’s Paradise, the surf capital of Australia’s East coast. I explored the little town (which reminded me a lot of the San Francisco Pier — kind of touristy, but cute), got ice cream and read a book on the beach. When I was walking home, it started to rain, and after it stopped it left behind three rainbows over the water, which was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. My friend and Aussie Spirit Guide Pauly and I drank beers on the beach at sunset, then went to dinner at a surf club. I had to pinch myself every few hours to confirm that this was all actually real.
This morning, Pauly and I woke up and went on an impromptu road trip. We drove through farmlands and lush forests, and saw a lot more cows than people. I now definitely understand why we get all of our beef from Australia, and also officially feel very guilty eating it.
Our first stop was Nimbin, a tiny little hippie town where pretty much all anyone does is smoke weed. After the Vietnam war ended in the 70’s, a bunch of hippies came to the are for a festival. A lot of them loved it so much they decided to stay, and started growing marijuana in the surrounding hillsides. All that’s really there are hostels, bakeries and stores selling paraphernalia, and a lot of people with unwashed hear wearing tie-dye. Weed’s not really my thing (I’m generally sleepy enough as it is), so we got a beer on the back patio of one of the hostels and walked around while polite dealers with dreadlocks tried to sell us drugs.
Next came Byron Bay, another beautiful East Coast beach with a very laid back vibe. We bopped around the town a little bit, got a pizza from Dominos and a 6-pack of rum and cokes (those come in cans here!) and sat on the rocks to watch the surfers. We walked the beach for a little bit, then went over toward the lighthouse to watch the sunset. While the sun was setting, I saw another rainbow over the water, and Pauly told me we were sitting on the Eastern-most point in all of Australia.
… It was a major “holy shit” moment, because I realized that I was as far away as possible from my actual home in Rhode Island. And it got me thinking a lot about wtf I’m doing here.
Aside from a casual “Hi! I’m Zoe! Read about my perfect life!” post, I’ve realized that I haven’t shared a whole lot about why, exactly, I decided to quit my life and travel. Yes, in large part it’s because I had a flexible schedule and a huge desire to see the world, but there’s a bit more to it than that. I’m going to let you in on a little secret that I figured out during my first month as a full-time traveler: Anyone willing to drop everything in favor of this kind of lifestyle is either running from, or looking for, something.
In my case, it’s both.
My dad died in July, and it ripped me to shreds (FYI: there are tears streaming down my face in the middle seat of an airplane while I type this). Leukemia destroyed his body and his spirit in only eight short weeks, and it shattered our family in the process. I didn’t want to deal with the emotional aftermath of what had happened. I was terrified that if I let myself feel even a sliver of it, I’d be so overcome with how much I missed him that I’d stop being able to live my life. I didn’t want to talk about it or admit to anyone how traumatized I was by his death and figured all I needed to do was put as much distance between myself and what happened as possible and I would be ok. After all, people lose parents all the time and life is expected to go on as normal, so as long as I got away from all of the daily reminders of how much I missed him (our house, my family, his favorite places) I’d manage to suppress it and move on, too. Foolproof plan, huh?
During the time of this emotional wreckage (and probably mostly because of it), I realized that I was really fucking lost. I had graduated from journalism school the week before my dad got sick, and instead of getting a job and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life the way I had planned to, I moved home to be with my family. After he died (which happened much, much sooner than any of us had expected), I had no idea what the fuck I was supposed to do.
I was working as a freelance fashion and beauty writer at the time, farming my e-mails for stories and making $12 an hour to write them. I moved back to New York, but everything that once made me happy about the city started to make me feel sad and lonely. I was spending almost all of my time alone in my apartment writing about things that didn’t inspire me at all, sometimes without leaving the living room or speaking to another human for days on end. It got to the point where I was lying to my boyfriend and my roommate about my schedule so they wouldn’t know how pathetic I was. I stopped wanting to go out, stopped seeing my friends and stopped really caring about anything. In my anger and apathy, I lost my voice, and started to wonder if I actually even wanted to write anymore.
So I decided I needed a change, uprooted my entire life and moved to Asia.
As it turns out, though, you can’t exactly “run” from grief, nor does a new home or new group of friends suddenly equate to a new, improved version of me who has her shit totally figured out. I’m sure there are plenty of internet articles that could have told me this and saved me a lot of money on airfare, but it was something I apparently needed to learn on my own.
Despite what it looks like on Instagram, I’ve spent the better part of the last few months trying to battle the demons that got me here in the first place. I’ve cried more about my dad in the nine weeks since I got to Asia than I did in the six months following his death, and have felt more alone than at any other time in my life. But then my mom came to visit and we traveled through Myanmar and I quit my job and I finally, finally feel like things are getting on the right track. Slowly, but surely, I feel like I’m starting to figure this shit out.
Travel bloggers are constantly captioning their photos with the quote “all those who wander are not lost,” which I always thought was 1) really cliche and 2) kind of dumb. But yesterday, sitting on that rock as far away from home as humanly possible, I finally got it. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still really, really lost with wtf I’m doing with my life (and am usually physically lost because I have no idea how to use Google Maps) but the wandering part is starting top to help.
I still have 10 months left on this adventure, which I secretly know will probably turn into a much longer stint of full-time travel. But it’s starting to become less about running or searching or finding something, and more about just being here.
And, yeah – writing about it.