After travelling for a few months, I realized many of the articles I had read before I left didn’t adequately prepare me for my trip. I thought I’d write about the things I wish I’d known before I left. This is a little reflection of my time there as well as a reminder for next time. It’s a long one so grab a tea and hunker down!
During the last few days in December, I packed my bags to move to Australia. Hilariously enough, I put more thought into how I was going to survive the 33 hour-long flight, rather than how to survive a few months in a foreign country. I cautiously packed my carry-on to ensure my most expensive belongings were with me at all times. I packed enough clothes in that carry-on to last me a week. I had every charger, adapter, and battery you could think of. I had a pill to offset any illness. I had a backup for my backup everything – you’d think Noah packed my bag because everything went two by two. I had enough food to hold me over for a few days. I packed enough tampons to soak up the Mississippi River (why I thought Australia would have different ones is beyond me but it happened and I’m owning it.) I had enough deodorant to make ten thousand teenagers smell like daisies after a middle school gym class. I had magazines, books, gadgets, movies; essentially the only thing I forgot was the kitchen sink. Most of my research before my trip was about how to overcome jetlag and how to pack for an international flight – in rough terms, I only mentally prepared for about four days of my entire trip and those were the two big travel days. I’m laughing as I write this – I was potentially the biggest travel virgin around. I don’t count my little jaunts around Canada or to the all-inclusive resorts in the South as “travel.” I had the last laugh on the way over though because Air Canada had lost my bag in Toronto and I didn’t get it until two days after we had arrived SO my emergency planning did work out after all!
In all that, I’ve decided to write a little (large) list of the things I’ve learned and things I wish I knew before going abroad for any length of time. Some may seem rhetorical and others may surprise you – who knows!
My best advice is to meet some locals. Travelling often times includes a lot of time in hostels where there are many people who are in the same boat as you are. You only get to know these people for a few days if you’re lucky as most travelling people are always on the move. In hostels, you tend to get sucked into the typical tours that can be costly and more than anything are totally commercialized. No one can tell you more about an area than a local can. Locals know the little nooks and crannies. They can guide you to the best restaurants, the quietest beaches, and give you the history in their own words and not something recited a few hundred times a week that likely came from Wikipedia. I met great locals over my time there, made friends with my neighbours and made sure to talk to all my cabbies/strangers. It was a lot like Canada in that respect: happy, friendly people who were interested in who you were and where you were from. Here’s something that may shock you though; out of all the Canadian’s I met while travelling, I didn’t meet ONE from the maritimes!
Pack lightly. Seriously. I can’t express this enough. I wanted to set my bag on fire on more than one occasion. Beth was much smarter about her packing than I was. I’m an over packer by nature – a packrat perhaps. Even if I know there is a less than 5% chance I might use something, it would by my luck that if I didn’t take it, I’d need it – so I obviously take it. This leads to lugging it around for ages and never actually using it. I suppose it depends on where you travel but Australia is much like Canada – you can buy whatever you forget. When packing, it really is a good idea to look at the climate you’ll be facing. Although that would be an obvious thing to look at, I really thought Australia was warm all the time so I overlooked packing warmer clothes. Coming towards the end of my trip, they were experiencing the first days of Australian winter. I’d love to tell you that I didn’t mind it because I’m Canadian and I’ve toughed out 24 cold winters but that’s not the case. I became acclimatized to the weather in Australia to the point that when it got to 16 at night, I was ready for a hot bath, Ugg boots and two feather duvets on the bed to keep warm. I was wishing for my fleece onesie and heated seats on more than one occasion – trust me, I know how hilarious it seems.
Keep your mind open. Do things you wouldn’t normally do. Eat things that you wouldn’t normally eat. I tried surfing, sushi, kangaroo, lamb, prawns, Vegemite, and public transit among loads of other things. I’m not saying you need to go sky dive or anything wild but I did quite a few things that weren’t comfortable for me. I don’t regret it – I’ve always been reluctant to try new things, especially foods and being in Australia made me want to try new things all the time.
Stick to your accent. Own your nationality! Be proud of where you are travelling from!
Send letters and keep a journal. I had happy tears every time I received a letter from home. It’s easy to text, Facebook, or email someone but it takes actual effort to go buy a card, write a message, and get it to the post office and that shows a lot! I appreciated all my letters and it made me realize how loved I was! It was also nice to send one back. I feel like I rarely write anything anymore with pen and paper other than visa signatures and grocery lists so it felt good to use my handwriting again. I kept a journal on my laptop to remember the little moments in a day. It reminded me that I had over come some extraordinarily homesick moments or that I had experienced absolute joy! It’s nice to reflect on your days, no matter what you’ve done. Documenting your travels is a must and bringing back snail mail feels good too!
It goes without saying to take as many photos as you can but at the same time, be sure to take in activities where you disconnect from your phone and just remember the moment in your mind! I’m a social media addict. I find it hard to be away from my phone for any length of time but I did test it from time to time. It’s a test of sanity and will power and it’s unfortunate to admit that I’ve become so dependent on it. I could qualify for a type of rehab likely because I do suffer strong withdrawals after a short period of being separated from my device.
Enjoy your surroundings. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a city, at the beach or in the middle of a swamp, enjoy it.
Everything over there wants to kill you. Wise words spoken to me a few times but you can’t trust too many bugs there. Get to know them before they get to know you.
When it came to being an au pair, I heard from lots of people that the job wouldn’t be easy. I knew that going in. Taking care of four kids under age 7 is a handful. I’ve babysat my fair share of children. I’ve coached sports. I’ve taught swimming lessons. I know how to make a pretty decent sandwich and play hide and seek for hours. By the end of my few months with the family I lived with in Milton, I could bathe four kids at once with my eyes closed. I could rhyme off “Let it go” and “Shake it off” on command. I had it under control most days, although sometimes it didn’t feel like it. The one thing they don’t tell you about is the hardest thing. It isn’t the diaper changes or the tantrums. It isn’t the amount of times you have to repeat, “please sit on your bum and eat your supper” in 5 minutes. It’s when you say goodbye to them. It hit me like a train, honestly. The last few days were emotional – although I hid it. No one tells you how much you fall in love with the family you’re placed with. You live under the same roof, you eat the same meals, you kiss them goodnight after a book, you become completely immersed in their little lives as they discover new things daily and to suddenly leave them is the hardest thing I had to do the whole time I had been away. I had a pretty good breakdown the last night I put the kids to bed, knowing it would be the last time. It’s that kind of stuff that can break your heart. The thing that made it easier was that they were obviously going to handle it better than I would! As I left, I promised them I’d send letters and things from Canada and that I’d visit when I go back – that made it much easier!
I wish I knew koala bears have chlamydia and before you freak out, humans can’t catch it but word to the wise, those little friggers stink. They are as snuggly as they look – holding one was a once in a lifetime kinda thing.
I learned not to be as self-conscious. I barely wore make-up and was lucky to know where my contacts were. I didn’t own a hair straightener so my hair was rouge for my entire trip except for the one occasion that I treated myself to a haircut and got them to run a flat iron through it. I didn’t focus on what I looked like when I left the house and didn’t worry what I looked like in the photos I posted. I think the happy expression on my face said more than the fact I had mascara on!
I wish I had practiced shifting with my left hand more before I went to Australia because anytime I drove, my left hand made a fool out of me. Walk around for an hour and try to do things with your left hand. It’s not that easy.
I wish I had been more educated on the history and geography of Australia. I could write for days about both of those things but I’m happy to say I learned so much by just being there that I don’t feel so bad now. It seemed like Australian’s knew much more about Canada than I knew about their country and that deeply ashamed me. I’ll know more for next time!
All in all, I absolutely loved my experiences there, both good and bad. It was worth the money. It was worth leaving my job for. It’s been a long but good month home but I’m ready to head back “Down Under.”