Culture Shock in the USA

After thirteen months of the immigration process, I made it! I am now living in beautiful North Carolina, USA, with my loving American husband, Jim. I am so happy to be here with him, but it would be remiss of me to not mention the culture shock before anything else. So here is a list of the things I have noticed so far.

  1. Rabies: On my third night here there was a rabid fox trying to attack people walking their dogs around our apartment complex, so the police came out and shot it. That absolutely terrified me. Australia is one of the few countries in the world, free of rabies — something I had assumed was the same all over the Western world. I was wrong.
  1. Portion sizes: It’s going to take me a while to start ordering the correct portion size at restaurants. Even an appetiser is too big for me, and the food wastage is something I’m uncomfortable with. Jim and I have taken to sharing an appetiser and a salad, and ensuring we minimise waste. The upside? Food is so cheap that it costs less than $12 for Jim and me to eat out as we share.
  1. Recycling: In Australia we are crazy about recycling everything. The council provides recycling bins which are picked up fortnightly so we don’t fill up our garbage dumps with products that could be recycled. Here, where I am living in North Carolina, there is no recycling. Everything goes into the one bin. I am struggling with that, so Jim is trying to find some way we can take our recyclables to have them dealt with appropriately.
  1.  Thank you: I have been using the word ta, in place of thank you, from the time I could speak. Ta. Americans don’t use the word. They say thank you, which is a no-brainer, but I cannot stop saying ta. It’s a default constantly, and no one understands it except Jim. He often uses it to thank me, which I really appreciate.
  1. Accent: I know, I know; I live in the USA, but I cannot tell you how strange it is to hear an American accent everywhere. I find it especially alarming in stores over the PA system, or coming from little kids, as I just don’t expect it. I’m so used to hearing Australians speak, that to hear the deep southern twang throws me every time. When I am at home, writing away in my little office, I could be at home in Australia. But once I leave home and I am anywhere else, the accent is a constant reminder that I am a little displaced.
  1. Groceries: I cannot find the products I’m used to. Especially lamb. There’s no legs of lamb or cutlets in the supermarkets. And when I am homesick, I want lamb.
  1. MSG: It seems that there’s MSG in just about everything here, and they don’t need to declare it. It gives me a headache and nausea. In Australia, food containing MSG needs to be clearly marked so it can be avoided. MSG was largely phased out in Australia in the 1990’s, but some products contain it as an additive. I just need to be more diligent in checking for it.
  1. Landscape: This is not a bad thing by any means. Yes, I miss sunny Queensland, but North Carolina is absolutely stunning. The vibrant colours are gorgeous; bright green grass, pink and white blossoms, the sky is as blue as I’ve ever seen, and trees in a myriad of hues. The countryside is breathtaking. Photos just don’t do it justice. Well not with my photography.
  1. Weather: I was a bit frustrated after a long, humid summer in Queensland, to be heading to another summer in the south of the USA. But despite having some lovely warm days here, we’ve had quite a few cool ones. It’s been so refreshing. I also need to remind myself that here in the south, I will get to experience four seasons, rather than one boiling hot mess for nine months, and then three months of milder weather in Queensland. It’s been years since I experienced all four seasons and I’m really excited about it. 
  1. Driving: Jim and I bought a car together. A sleek, black sedan, which I can’t drive. I am struggling with being on the wrong side of the road as a passenger, but when I hopped into the driver’s seat to consider a test drive, I was so dizzy from being on the opposite side of the car, I gave up. I have been assured it’s just a time thing, and I really hope so. I love the freedom of driving and I’ve always had a beautiful car for myself. At the moment Jim has to take me everywhere and when he’s at work, I am  pretty much stuck at home. I don’t mind the down time to write and relax, but when you realise you don’t have a grater and the recipe you’re cooking requires grated ginger, well, a quick trip to Walmart would be helpful.

Really, those things are minimal. There’s so much I already love about living here. The people are friendly beyond belief, and that’s coming from someone who loves the Australian laid-back friendliness. People are so polite, and because I’m Australian and obviously, have an accent, they love to talk to me. I’m discovering so much and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about this amazing country. Jim and I have so many weekend trips planned so I will have so much to share. Can’t wait!

Our wedding day
Enjoying trying some local foods

Viva BrisVegas

Brisbane is my favourite Australian city. It’s beautiful, has great opportunities, is relatively safe, packed with great things to do, and has a laid back, country vibe to it. I never tire of Brisbane city. However! After over a year of navigating through the visa immigration process, I am finally in America. I am still in shock that once my actual visa arrived in the mail, everything was so quick. I had planned to make a last trip to all of my favourite places before I left, but I only had twelve days between receiving my visa and flying out, and that was a mammoth task. With moving out of my place, shipping everything to the US, trying to get all the paperwork I’d need so I could apply to leave the country, and having COVID swabs etc, I simply could not do anything other than pack up and leave. It took every ounce of strength I had to actually get onto that plane to fly out of the country I love, and I sobbed hysterically as I boarded the flight, nervous about what was to come, and sad about what and who I was leaving behind.

But rather than reflect on the sadness, I want to focus on the things I have loved most about living in such an incredible place. And because we all love lists (research proves it), here’s my list of favourite Brisbane (and beyond) things. These are not in order— I love them all the same. 

  1. The Brisbane River: I lied. This is my favourite. There is nothing as wonderful as a trip into the city on the River Cat. Undoubtedly, every trip has brought me joy; even when I was lost and ended up a few stops away in the opposite direction, in the dead of night, waiting for a River Cat back to my stop. That did not lessen my joy one bit. 
  1. Queen Street Mall: This is also my favourite. I love Queen Street Mall— so many hidden arcades, gorgeous shops, restaurants and cafes. After four years I still get lost in Queen Street Mall, but I love it so much I don’t care. Every time I go to Queen Street Mall I find a new shop or cafe I hadn’t noticed before. It’s like my birthday every time.
  1. Southbank: This is definitely my favourite. How could it not be? Shops, restaurants, parks, a man-made beach, and a board walk alongside the beautiful Brisbane River. There are markets, gift stores and so many places to eat. The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art are there as well, and I’ve spent countless hours frequenting them. A quick trip on the River Cat from Milton takes you to Southbank and it’s quite easy to spend an exhausting, but fun day just at Southbank. Southbank at night is really special too; the colourful city lights reflecting on the water, fairy lights hanging from the bougainvillea vines and trees, kids swimming in the little beach area, and alfresco dining. Ah … so much lovely. 
  1. Redcliffe: A lot of people in Brisbane would scoff at Redcliffe but I love it (it’s not my favourite but close). The council has done a brilliant job of transforming Redcliffe into a vibrant, beachside, tourist destination. Alfresco dining, beachside markets, live music, a gorgeous boardwalk that stretches from Scarborough to Margate, and an aqua blue, man-made lagoon with bbqs and picnic tables. Redcliffe is so family friendly and Sutton’s Beach or the lagoon are the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the heat of summer. I spent the first eighteen months in Brisbane living in Redcliffe by the beach, and I would start the day with a run from Margate to Scarborough. Doesn’t get much better than Redcliffe. 
  1. Eat Street: Now this place is special. Eat Street is a massive market place that is everything food. Almost every kind of food truck and food stall you can imagine is at Eat Street. There’s live music, park benches and a dynamic vibe, with food vans stretching in every direction, by the Brisbane River. You can catch a River Cat there, or drive.
  1. Bribie Island : Bribie Island is north of Brisbane and is one of my favourite spots because of its sheer beauty. Aqua blue waters, lots of sunshine, white sands, and a permanent tourist vibe. The island is connected to the mainland by a long bridge, and pelicans sit perched on the street lights silently guarding it. There’s not much better than a fish and chips picnic at one of the many beaches on Bribie Island, and even in winter it’s a fantastic place to walk for miles on one of the sandy white beaches.
  1. The accessibility to the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and the hinterlands: Being so close to such gorgeous parts of the world is remarkable. The Gold Coast is more commercialised and touristy than the Sunshine Coast, but with so many fantastic restaurants and cafes, and spectacular beaches, it’s certainly worth the trip. The hinterlands of both the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast are simply stunning. Gorgeous cafes and markets and the scenery is amazing. So close to Brisbane, but a whole world away also.   
  1. Sunnybank BBQ Duck: This is just a new thing for me. I really only discovered it recently, but as soon as I knew it was there, I was a regular. Sunnybank has a large Asian population and we all know what that means— great food! I’ve always loved Asian BBQ pork, but the crispy skin BBQ duck is utterly delicious. You can buy the whole duck with its cute little head intact, and although you find yourself apologising as you eat it, it doesn’t lessen the experience. 
  1. The Story Bridge: The Story Bridge may not attract international tourists like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but I love it. From Eagle Street Pier, with some of Brisbane’s best restaurants, the view of the bridge at night, all lit up, is iconic Brisbane. It’s actually breath-taking at night, and cruising under it on a River Cat is really special. There’s also a fantastic view of the bridge from the Howard Smith Wharves. I loved a lazy lunch at Felon’s Brewery, gazing out onto the water, admiring the beautiful Story Bridge, and I think it’s my favourite place.
  1. Indooroopilly Shopping Centre: Ah … this is everything retail. Designer boutiques, cafes, book stores, our favourite retail and food chains, and a glorious fresh food section. I love Indro Shopping Centre; in the heat of summer it’s a fantastic way to cool off and drink great coffee in comfort, and it’s also the ideal place to meet up with friends over lunch. I have spent so many lovely shopping hours (and unspeakable amounts of money) at Indro, and also eating at Betty’s Burgers. Apparently they are based on In-N-Out Burgers here in the US, so I will try them as soon as I can find one to relive the beautiful memories. 

Realistically, with COVID having changed everything, I am unsure when, or if I’ll ever get back to Brisbane. I dream of moving back there one day, with my American love. There is so much to do and see in Queensland, and I have seen so little of it. But until then I’ll settle in here in the USA, and slowly discover new and exciting places to satisfy the travel bug. Stay posted …

Looking over to Southbank from a River Cat on the Brisbane River
The beautiful Story Bridge at night, from Eagle Street
Sunshine Coast Hinterland
Brisbane city at night, taken from Southbank
Sutton’s Beach Redcliffe
The aqua waters of Bribie Island
Me sitting at the art gallery, admiring the views of the Brisbane River

Unintended Sydney

I flew down to Sydney despite the COVID lockdowns, for a highly anticipated consular meeting. I would only need to be in Sydney for a few hours for the actual interview, but with the canceled flights and strict quarantine rules once I flew back to Brisbane, I had to stay in Sydney for three days. But sometimes the unexpected happens and our plans change.

On the day of my departure from Sydney, to head home, I woke up sick. Really sick. I was struggling to get out of bed, I was weak and tired, and had vertigo. Not severe, but enough to make walking tricky. I phoned a friend for help, and we decided that I’d have no choice but to cancel my flight home and extend my stay. It was announced the same day that mandatory quarantine in Brisbane would be lifted on the 1st February, so I decided to extend my stay by four days. It would give me time to recover and rest.

I spent the first couple of days in my room and then made a few short trips out each day to buy food. There was a lot I would have liked to have done in the time, but I thought it would be wise to not wander too far away from my hotel.

I stayed in a budget, but very comfortable hotel opposite the Queen Victoria Building, right in the city. I was close to Town Hall Station, the tram line and loads of arcades and shops. Each morning I’d cross the road to a little coffee shop called Workshop Espresso which made a nice flat white, and served simple take out breakfasts like croissants and banana bread. As I had a late breakfast and wasn’t well, I either skipped lunch and had an early dinner, or had a late lunch and skipped dinner. 

Much of George Street from Town Hall Station down to Haymarket is now Asian food places or shops, which is very different from the eighties and nineties in Sydney. So many different types of food— Korean, Japanese, Thai etc. I ate some delicious Thai street food and had mouth-watering thinly sliced Wagyu beef in teriyaki sauce in an underground sushi restaurant. I found a little cafe in World Square that made a nice coffee and a toastie for brunch, so I’d sit quietly over my small meal and watch people go by. As COVID restrictions were still in place, a mask had to be worn in most enclosed places, like shopping centres and arcades. 

On my first night in Sydney, before getting sick, I managed to catch the tail end of the Australia Day fireworks at Circular Quay with a dear friend. Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up, and green and gold lit catamarans sailed through the waters against the backdrop of the Sydney Opera House. It was intensely humid, and the drizzle did not help at all. It was a fantastic night but the humidity was very uncomfortable— every time you’d move you’d sweat, and that included breathing! But as it’s possibly my last Australia Day in Australia, it was worth every minute. I haven’t been to Sydney Harbour for years, and to actually catch the fireworks on our national day was exhilarating. 

Sydney has changed so much since I was a child. I miss the city I grew up in, but forty years have passed and things change quickly. I don’t dislike all the changes; they certainly add a different dimension to the city, but I do miss a lot of what made Sydney so iconic. Homeless people are still there, some have set up actual beds in George Street, and they are still up for a conversation over a free cup of coffee. The things I don’t like about the changes are feeling like I am now unwelcome in the city I grew up in. I can’t speak the Asian languages or read the signs in shops. I can’t read the menus and I don’t recognise the city I once felt such a part of. That saddens me. However, I still enjoyed the time I spent there, and the changes allowed me to rediscover the city all over again. While I no longer live in Sydney, or even in the state, Sydney will always be a part of me. My family on my father’s side have been there for generations, and most of my childhood was spent there. I think I’ll always be a city girl at heart.

The QVB on the right, and Centrepoint Tower in the distance.
Sydney Harbour celebrations on Australia Day
The Asian culture which has become very much a part of Sydney city
One of the beautiful old arcades in the city
The statue of Queen Elizabeth guarding her iconic building

And The Winner Is …

An unexpected sickness delayed my flight home to Brisbane, and saw me staying for six days in Sydney, rather than three. After a few days holed up in my hotel room, I knew it was time to get down to business … cheese tart business.

I am a fan of the Hokkaido Japanese Baked Cheese Tart— so much so that I have blogged about them before. But I also read claims that Uncle Tetsu makes the best baked cheese tarts, so I knew I’d have to find out.

I bought some of the original cheese tarts from Hokkaido in World Square, first. Delicious. I was tempted to try the salted caramel cheese tarts, but then I wouldn’t be able to do a comparison with Uncle Tetsu. The next day I went to Uncle Tetsu’s for morning tea, and alas, they don’t open till midday. I was a little sad about it. However, I had my chance to get there and bought two of the original cheese tarts so I could do my research.

Firstly, there was a queue to get in. That’s always a good sign. Secondly, Uncle Tetsu’s cheese tarts are a bit bigger. The consistency didn’t look much different— similar texture, with a paler colour than Hokkaido, but it was all down to the taste.

The first bite into Uncle Tetsu’s was an explosion of delicious. Creamy, slightly lemony, utterly decadent in every way. It was in my opinion, superior to the Hokkaido cheese tart, and that’s a huge claim considering I really like them both. Now that I’ve had an Uncle Tetsu’s cheese tart I have to say that they will go down as the ultimate cheese tart for me, unless there’s a better one out there …

Uncle Tetsu’s Baked Cheese Tarts
Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tarts
Continue reading “And The Winner Is …”

USA … I’m on my way. My favourite things about America

It’s January 2021 and COVID is still in full swing in Brisbane. As I write this, I am home due to a three day stay-at-home order. However, I’m still forging forward with my immigration process and hoping for some good news in the next few weeks (but who knows what will happen between now and then?).

The USA has featured heavily in the news over the last few months (well forever really), and when people find out I’m immigrating there, I get the same shocked responses, “Why would you go there?” “ Are you crazy? Do you know what’s going on in the US?” “Why doesn’t Jim come here?” etc etc. And it would fill me with trepidation all the time. Yes guys, I do know what’s going on there, and probably better than you as I have a fiance there remember? I’m not entirely stupid. 

Yesterday in lockdown I watched a heap of youtube videos of a British man who married an American woman and he’s been living in the US for over a decade. He loves it, and watching his experiences gave me a fresh excitement for the move, and it reminded me that yes, there’s a lotta crazy going on over there, but America is still pretty awesome. I’m choosing to focus on the awesome and here’s my list of the things I am most excited about once I reach the US. Naturally Jim and my daughter are the best things, but this list is other American awesomeness.

  1. Biscuits: I have been thinking about biscuits a lot since I was last in the US. That fluffy, buttery goodness— can’t wait to try one with a piece of good old-fashioned fried chicken.
  2. Walmart: If you don’t understand this it’s because you haven’t been there. Walmart has everything— from tyres to guns to salad. Everything. There’s about six aisles of just breakfast cereals (well confectionary if we’re honest), and it’s my favourite aisle to ogle. I’d never actually buy or eat any, but the range is awesome. Added to this, you cannot leave Walmart not having bought something you don’t need.
  3. Restaurants: I’ve written about this previously, but I’m still shocked every time I think of it. You can change up the meals as much as you want everywhere you go, and they accommodate you with a smile. In Australia they ask you to leave!
  4. Cost of living: sure, wages are a lot lower, and in some chain restaurants I’m sure the wait staff earn less than child labour in China (be a decent human and tip big!), but the cost of living is affordable. Maybe not in New York, but I don’t want to live in New York. A small town in one of the southern states is enough for me. There are many small towns all over the US where you can buy a house under $100,000 and still have a local Walmart (see number 2 for clarification).
  5. The incredible landscapes: I will always consider Australia one of the most beautiful countries on the planet— from the stark countryside to the mountains and the breathtaking coastlines, we have it all, but don’t discount the USA. America is filled with such beauty, in a way that is different to Australia. Every state has its own unique beauty and I can’t wait to visit every state and experience what they alone offer.
  6. Small town America: The Hallmark movies— pretty little towns with that American pride which I love. Old Glory flying in the breeze, restored old homes, the colours of fall and cosy coffee shops. That’s the America I’m moving to. 
  7. The food: America has great food, there’s no two ways about it. You don’t become one of the world’s fattest nations without having some great food (and a lot of high fructose corn syrup). But in all seriousness, it’s not just about the fried stuff. America has some outstanding food. Some of the foods I expected to be hideous were actually delicious. There is a booming market for organic, natural, and locally produced and grown foods and there are many restaurants and cafes with menus offering the best of locally sourced foods. Every state has its own special dish and I plan to work my way through all of them, even the deep-fried bull testicles just because I can.
  8. Choices: Where do I even start? From groceries to clothes to furniture, the choices are seemingly endless. Don’t like one store? Try another one of the six billion, and unlike Australia, they all have really different stuff. Jim took me from store to store in his little town and I was surprised that the range in every store was so different. I wasn’t expecting that at all, and it was wonderful. 
  9. Road trips: Yes, road tripping in Australia is awesome too, but I want to road trip from Florida up to Alaska, cruising through Canada. Not at the moment though, as Canada is currently closed because of that COVID thing, but one day I will. Well Jim will, because of that driving on the other side of the road thing. And me taking photos and videos out of the car window. It will be a long trip though— Jim doesn’t like to drive for more than five hours per day, and I need to stop and go potty every fifteen minutes (yes, an American term which makes me cringe but I’m practising so I don’t physically recoil when someone says it)  so it may take a while …

Finding Fraser— Island that is!

I’d spent a rainy week in Hervey Bay before making a last minute decision to stay a bit longer so I could head out to Fraser Island. When people think of islands they mostly conjure up images of resorts, palm trees and tiki bars, and that’s pretty much how I imagined Fraser Island, but I couldn’t have been more wrong— pleasingly so.

Fraser Island is off Australia’s eastern Queensland coast, and what makes it so remarkable is that it’s the world’s largest sand island, stretching over one-hundred-and-twenty-kilometres. Known for its white sand, turquoise water, dingoes, and a huge variety of wildlife, it’s a fifty minute ferry ride out there. What had kept me from visiting Fraser Island is my severe sea- sickness and concern that I’d spend the ferry trip over and back throwing up, and unable to enjoy the day. As usual, I was wrong, and I was very happy to have been assured by the receptionist at the ticket office that the trip was in the bay, and so smooth I’d barely notice. 

Rather than take my car on the ferry, I elected to travel by foot. The ticket to Fraser Island cost $60, which included not only the return ferry trip, but access to the Kingfisher Bay Resort. I caught the 9 am ferry from River Heads Boat Ramp and was impressed with how large the ferry was. It had a kiosk and bar, and viewing platform on the top. The journey was smooth and scenic, and I was so excited to see a dugong on the way across. I was glued to the front of the ferry, watching and waiting for Fraser Island to come into view, and finally, it did. It was nothing like I expected— glistening white sand and aqua waters to be sure, but rather than palm trees and hibiscus, it had a thick coverage of Australian native plants and trees. It was remote and wild, almost eerie in how empty it was, and I couldn’t wait to explore.

A small tractor-pulled train picked us up from the jetty and the ranger who was driving warned us about dingoes on the way over. There have been a number of dingo attacks on humans, including children, so the resort had fenced off a large area around its perimeter so that visitors would be safe. Large signs with dingo warnings were posted above securely latched gates so that you well and truly knew when you were stepping out of the protective fenced area.

Kingfisher Bay Resort is an eco resort, with the philosophy of “Ecologically sustainable tourism that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation”. I was fascinated by the gentle lines and almost camouflaged design of the resort, so I jumped at the chance of attending the eco walk, and learning more about it. After an interesting tour I set off on my own for a bit of a nature walk and then crossed the dingo fence to spend some time on the beach. There was no doubt that I felt a bit nervous of dingoes as the beach was quite empty, but there was no way I could spend time on Fraser Island without enjoying the spectacular coastline. It was the end of winter and a bit cool to swim, but I found a great place to sit and relax, and not too far from the safety of the fence. 

It was a bit unusual being on my own on Fraser Island as everyone was either in a couple, or a group. Especially as I was ever aware of the warnings about not venturing out on your own because of dingoes, but I had no option if I wanted to get the most out of the experience. I think I walked kilometres as I explored as much as I could, as safely as I could. I ate great fish and chips in the restaurant for lunch, wrote and posted postcards from the resort post-office, photographed some of the spectacular native plants, and drank great coffee whilst writing from the resort pool. Despite being the end of winter, and wearing my Alaska cap for most of the day, I managed to get a little sunburnt. The day grew remarkably warm and I watched a little enviously as a group of teens horsed around in the aqua waters. 

After walking for hours, I was ready to head back. The return ferry ride to River Heads was calming, allowing me to rest my weary body, and I knew I’d sleep well that night.

I’ve done a lot of travelling, but the day trip to Fraser Island was really special. When I reflect on what made it so wonderful, I recognise that it was being able to explore and enjoy it on my own. Maybe it was simply that I was so utterly alone amongst the spectacular Australian native plants, with that tiny hint of fear? Maybe it was being immersed in a landscape that seemed so primitive and untouched? Or maybe it was simply that I had finally ticked off another of my bucket list items, and it was so close to home. 

Dingo warning sign before stepping onto the beach
Sand paths through thick brush
Inside Kingfisher Bay resort
Australian native plants
Dingo warning sign

Asleep In Transit

As I sit here and write this, I am waiting for a friend who is in an appointment. I’ve been waiting for three hours and I’m in need of a snooze. I don’t mind the wait— I’ve become good at it. 

I’m reminded of all the hours I’ve waited for a connecting flight. Sometimes for seven or eight hours. I was on a layover at Vancouver Airport for about that long, and I was exhausted. With the time change I had not slept during the long flight to Vancouver and with so long to wait, I had to sleep. I can sleep just about anywhere when I’m tired— ferries, trains, waiting rooms, even in hospital, and that’s a huge achievement! But I am always worried that when I’m sleeping at an airport, someone will take my stuff. It’s hard to sleep with your hand tightly gripping your carry on luggage. 

I was so exhausted at Vancouver Airport that I lay across a row of seats, and slept. The sun was shining through the huge terminal windows, and it was toasty warm. I slept for thirty minutes at a time, waking every so often to make sure my belongings were still with me. The short snoozes were blissful. 

I remember being just as exhausted in Hong Kong, and I slept the whole ferry ride from Victoria Harbour, sitting upright. If I’m that tired, I sleep! 

I think that as I spent so many years travelling as a child, I learnt to sleep just about anywhere. Some of my earliest memories are of me in transit, and I even took my first steps on a ship in the Pacific Ocean. I have many memories of planes and ships from my early childhood. 

Most of us have seen people sleeping on the ground at airport terminals and this is nothing new, but I know more people who need to be at home in their own bed to sleep properly. I don’t sleep particularly well on ferries and trains, but when you’re thoroughly exhausted and have no bed in sight, you take what you can get— a nanna nap in the upright position. 

I normally find that on the first leg of a long haul flight, I get very little sleep— I listen to audiobooks, music playlists, and watch inflight documentaries. But once I arrive at the airport and find my connecting terminal, I need to sleep. I snooze at the airport and then pretty much the entire rest of the trip, regardless of how many connecting flights I need to take. Generally the thrill of another trip has worn off and all I want to do is sleep until I get there, and sometimes even in the transfer to my accommodation. 

I think that part of enjoying travel is learning to sleep, or at least rest well in transit. From Australia, everywhere is a long flight, so it makes sense to train yourself to sleep. I suffer severe motion sickness so I have to take travel meds for it, and I make sure I always choose the tablets which have a slight sedative. Even if you can’t sleep, you can rest and relax, as opposed to having travel meds which keep you wired on a twelve hour overnight flight— please don’t be that person! I also make sure I take my travel neck pillow, which is revolutionary; you can sleep anywhere upright with those babies! And I take a shawl or a wrap as it’s always freezing on a flight. My other trick is a beanie. I won’t fly without a beanie— I cannot tell you how warm your whole body stays on a flight when you have a beanie on. It’s also comforting and blocks out some noise. After a documentary, a few chapters of an audiobook and a feed, I listen to some chilled classical music, kick my shoes off, pull on my beanie and wrap myself in a shawl. Even thinking about it now makes me want to sleep …

The Ultimate Road Trip

I’ve always enjoyed road trips and weekends away. Nothing fancy, nothing planned, just a packed bag, pillows, a great playlist, and the road.

I moved to Queensland four years ago, from the Central West of NSW. The summers were hot and the winters were freezing, but worst of all, I was too far from the coast. Growing up in Sydney I spent every weekend in summer at the beach. We holidayed at either Forster or Vincentia, and it was blissful weeks of swimming, sunburn, and the occasional heat stroke— the eighties weren’t known for slip, slop, slap. When I left home I moved to Byron Bay and just about lived in the water. I have tried to stay as close to the coast as possible my whole life, so the seven years I spent in the Central West were very difficult.

There was a lot to love about the Central West— beautiful countryside, four distinct seasons, a laid back lifestyle and country hospitality, but no beach. A trip to the beach had to be planned, and involved hours of driving. I loved road trips to other towns for lunch or a few nights away, but as the years went by with only a handful of trips to the beach, I felt myself declining. I had enjoyed my time working as a writer for a tourism magazine, and later as the writer and editor for a small newspaper, but I needed the ocean. I look back at this part of my life with some sadness— I felt lost and very alone, and I knew that I had to make some drastic changes.

I packed my car with as much as I could fit in, quit my job, and started the long drive up to Queensland. I had no job to go to, but I had savings and would be staying with a friend until I could find a place to live. I had applied for a few jobs prior to leaving, and surprisingly, two of them called to offer me interviews as I was driving up. When I had left the Central West it was freezing. I was rugged up in a coat, jeans and boots, but I had a change of clothes ready. I drove for nine hours straight, stopping only long enough to buy coffee and use the restrooms. I was too scared to stop in case I changed my mind. I had planned to stop at Goondiwindi for the night; a small, pretty town on the Queensland side of the border. I knew I was getting closer when I had to pull over to let an emu cross the road in The Pilliga, and it was then I started to relax. I waved goodbye to the black dog who had been menacing me for the last six months, I turned the music up, took off my coat, and unwound the windows. Warm air filled my car and I finally felt alive. I had forgotten what it felt like to actually be doing something I wanted— travelling, having adventures, exploring new places. Everything was unknown, and if I knew then what I know now, I wonder if I’d have made the same decision. I’m really not sure.

I pulled into a hotel in Goondwindi and was happy they had a small, air-conditioned room available for the night. I removed my winter clothing, slipped into a cool dress, and went for a walk through town. I was exhausted from the driving, but incredibly happy, and I smiled as I ate Chinese takeaway in my room. Goondiwindi is one of my most favourite little towns. It’s so picturesque, with quaint stores, friendly locals, and surrounded by a breathtaking Australian landscape. The main street is very pretty, and rising early the next morning, I ran through the empty streets, towards the Macintyre River. Lined with gum trees the Macintyre Riverwalk is three kilometres of a walking track, or in my case, a running track, along the river. I enjoyed the humidity as I had felt like I had been cold for so long in the Central West. After a shower and a light breakfast in a cafe, I packed my car again and headed towards Brisbane. I only had four more hours to drive, and I’d finally reach my destination; I was so excited! 

It’s been four years, almost to the day since I arrived in Brisbane. Yes, I achieved what I wanted— I rented a small apartment by the water and every morning I would take a run along the beach running track, before work. I swam most days, soaked up the sun, and ate great food in little cafes by the beach. I’ve made great friends and had incredible experiences as I’ve explored Queensland and other countries. I still love road trips, and despite some very trying moments I’ve had since I moved away, it will still go down as one of the most important road trips I’ve ever taken.

Some of the Australian countryside I zoomed past
Macintyre River

Beautiful morning sky in the Central West of NSW
Miles and miles of bright yellow canola fields outside of Cowra NSW

Home Away From Home

I had read the classical Australian novel, All The Rivers Run, by Nancy Cato, several times as a young teen. Whilst it was a wonderful, historical love story, it was the vivid descriptions of life on the Murray that captivated my imagination. For years I had wanted to visit Echuca, but I imagined it to be a run down old town and never bothered. Years later I finally had the chance to visit, so I took it. 

I drove from the Central West in NSW down to the NSW/Victoria border to visit the historical town of Echuca. Echuca is on the Murray River, and for many years paddlesteamers cruised the mighty Murray delivering food and supplies. It’s become a great tourist stop, with fancy stores, restaurants, galleries, and paddle steamer cruises on offer. The town is incredibly pretty— a lot of detail has gone into its upkeep, and the river itself has parks and beautiful grounds to attract tourists. 

Unfortunately, the weekend I was due to visit Echuca was also a long weekend. As a result, all of the hotels were fully booked. That forced me to choose a town on the NSW side of the border, and I stumbled across a pretty looking B&B. Hmmm … but I like my privacy, so what should I do? There was no choice, nothing else nice was available so I booked a room at Langford House B&B in Tocumwal, about 120 km from Echuca. 

Langford House is stunning. So much care has gone into the property and the hosts were generous and welcoming. The room I booked was enormous, with a private bathroom and a fireplace. Upon arrival I was ushered out to the courtyard where refreshments were served by the pool. With a glass of wine in hand and the long drive behind me, I found it really enjoyable to sit and chat with the other guests. What I imagined would be awkward was actually really pleasant. A middle-aged couple visiting from Europe were lovely to talk to, and we all had a great laugh. 

I walked to the local pub for dinner at the recommendation of my hosts, and then curled up on the lounge with a book until I was too tired to read anymore. I was surprised that I had the lounge room to myself, and found that I missed the company of the other guests. That was very unexpected! 

The next morning after a run through town, then showering and changing, I made my way into the kitchen. I thought I’d be preparing my own breakfast but instead, I was greeted by my hosts who made me coffee and had me sit comfortably in the kitchen whilst they cooked me breakfast. We all chatted while the gourmet breakfast comprised of local produce was being cooked, and I loved how much a part of the household they made me feel. 

Echuca was also surprising in the fact that it was so beautifully maintained, and not run down like I’d been expecting. I walked along the river, bought little trinkets in the stores, visited a gallery, and had a delicious lunch in a cafe. I didn’t take a ride on a paddlesteamer, but I did catch the markets near the river and I gleefully watched as the paddlesteamers tried to recreate their old travels to delighted tourists. After a full day I headed home, relaxed and happy. 

Since that visit to Langford House B&B back in 2016, I’ve become quite the fan of Bed and Breakfasts. I’ve visited quite a few since that time, and I’ve found that there is no awkwardness in staying in someone else’s home, and instead, I open myself to meeting amazing people from all over the world. I am definitely an introvert, but there’s something special about meeting new people over breakfast or afternoon tea in a B&B. B&B’s are generally much more affordable than a hotel, you get to learn more about the area through people who actually live there, and you have home comforts you just wouldn’t get at a hotel. Added to that, every B&B I’ve stayed in goes to great lengths to provide really good, local foods, and the bedrooms are painstakingly maintained and furnished. My stay in Langford House enhanced my visit to Echuca as the owners gave me so much local information. I knew where to go, what to avoid, and how to find hidden gems. 

If you’ve never stayed in a Bed and Breakfast, can I encourage you to give it a go? Pick a historic style house in a quaint town, and have a truly local experience. Not only will you be treated like royalty, but you might just make friends for life! 

Simple Pleasures

Do you ever just stop in a moment, and realise that you feel utterly joyful? You know, that feeling of your heart being so full, it could overflow? I do, and it happens at the most unusual times. 

I love catching the ferry on the Brisbane River. I stand at the front, waiting until I catch my first glimpse of the city, and I feel as though I could burst with joy. I feel the same way when I’m at Eagle Street Pier at night, gazing awestruck, at the brightly lit up Story Bridge. It happens when I’m in the Art Gallery in Brisbane City, or floating on my back in the ocean— that incredible sense of fullness and contentment, and I love it. Simple pleasures. 

When we look back on our travel adventures it’s impossible to remember every detail, but I remember slices. In Hong Kong it was eating Mrs Fields choc-chip cookies while waiting for the ferry at Victoria Harbour. In Singapore it was eating the most incredible stir fry at Newton Circus. In Tahiti it was swimming in waters as blue as the sky. In Alaska it was drinking hot cocoa in the lobby of the Copper River Wilderness Lodge during Christmas in August, and the reindeer hot-dog at the food truck in Anchorage. In Malaysia it was a great pair of Italian leather shoes in China Town. In Egypt it was a picture hanging over a fireplace, and in Canada, it was two little kids laughing at my Australian accent. There are many, many more of these travel moments. Too many to record here in fact, but each memory holds powerful emotions. 

Travelling leaves each of us with more than just tacky souvenirs and a thousand photos. It provides us with wonderful memories that can ignite strong emotions and recollections that break through the mundane everyday. A dreary day at work can be picked up by the sweet memory of swimming under a waterfall in Byron Bay, or the bright pink flowers on Sentosa Island. So whether it’s a ferry ride into the city, or a bad coffee in an American diner, get out of the house and travel. Your well-being depends on it.