Lifestyle & Culture

Willeke van Doorn: Backpacking in Australia had me doing things I never knew I could do

With so many amazing beaches, sights and World Heritage sites, Australia is the ultimate far-away destination for young adventurous travelers.

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef; sailing around the Whitsunday Islands; road tripping through Daintree Rainforest and cruising in a bright-pink ‘barbie car’ on Magnetic Island ….

Whether you love wandering around big cities, hiking in the mountains or simply relaxing on a picture-perfect beach, Australia has it all. People from all over the world make the long journey down under to enjoy all that Australia has to offer.

THE ‘BARBIE CAR’ ON MAGNETIC ISLAND (All photos courtesy of Willeke van Doorn)

Backpacking means non-stop adventures

Many of Australia’s visitors are young travelers between the ages of 18 and 30 who backpack their way around the massive island continent.

Sleeping in bunk beds; sharing a room with 12 or more complete strangers; living out of a backpack for months … I never thought I would do it, let alone love it. Boy, was I wrong!

I found myself snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef on just the second day of my trip.

I rented a car with some girls I met in my hostel and who I  barely knew to discover Daintree Rainforest. I slept in a cabin with no Wi-Fi or phone connection at Cape Tribulation, the place where reef and rainforest meet.

All in my first week in Australia.

Many young people travel to Australia on a Work and Holiday visa and work in hospitality or at farms to finance their travels. I chose a bit of a different path. Instead of staying for a year and working, I traveled for three months on a tourist visa. It was my first trip with a backpack instead of a suitcase and the first time I spend several months abroad traveling.

THE VIEW AT MOUNT FIELD NATIONAL PARK IN TASMANIA

Australia is exotic, yet familiar

To ease my nerves about the backpacking, I chose a country I was familiar with. I had lived in Australia before during an exchange semester in university.

But even if you are visiting Australia for the first time, you will feel right at home. Australia is about as far away as you can get from Europe or North America, yet the culture and lifestyle are very similar – a unique mix of Europe and the United States. Except that the locals are so much friendlier, open and always happy to help out a lost and confused backpacker.

Speaking the language was also a big advantage, making the exciting but scary trip a bit less daunting.

I quickly learned there was no need to be nervous. Adjusting to the backpacker’s lifestyle was surprisingly easy, once I got rid of all my pre-made plans and learned to just live day by day.

Not knowing where I would sleep the next day, then walking into a hostel full of strangers, made me feel uneasy at times. But this spontaneity also made for the most unexpected and amazing adventures, from chasing waterfalls with new local friends to long hikes in national parks with fellow travelers.

I would not have wanted to miss any of those experiences for the world, yet I probably would have if I had stayed in hotels instead of hostels.

Yes, you have to give up a lot of privacy when you sleep in a dorm room but it is the easiest way to meet people and find travel buddies while solo-traveling.

Australia has plenty of great and affordable hostels, some so good they look more like a hotel.

I ended up hanging out in Townsville, a rather sleepy town in Northern Queensland, longer than expected just because the hostel was so great and I couldn’t say goodbye to their rooftop bar and pool.

CAPE TRIBULATION, WHERE THE RAINFOREST MEANS THE GREAT BARRIER REEF

Take the train or the Greyhound

When I finally decided to travel to my next destination, I was surprised by how easy and comfortable travel by train is in Australia.

While most backpackers get a Greyhound hop-on-hop-off pass to travel down the East Coast – and this is a great way to do it – I loved my decision to take the train.

The Queensland Coastal Explorer pass allowed me to travel down the coast of Queensland at my own pace. My economy ticket offered way more legroom than any bus or plane I have ever been on, comfortable seats and an entertainment system with plenty of movies and TV shows to keep me entertained during your long-distance travels.

A six-hour trip flew by and even a 14-hour overnight train ride from Airlie Beach to Brisbane was not as bad as I had expected.

The amazing thing about a trip this long is that you get to explore so many different cities and regions.

From Cairns I made my way down the coast of Queensland to Brisbane. A short flight from Brisbane took me to Sydney where I enjoyed a week of sightseeing around the Opera House before I got on a plane to Western Australia.

Domestic flights are not yet as cheap as flights within Europe, but if you keep an eye out for good deals you sometimes get lucky. I found a round-trip to Tasmania from Melbourne for less than a hundred dollars.

Between road tripping through the Tasmanian wilderness, sailing around the Whitsunday Islands, hiking in the Blue Mountains and sandboarding in Western Australia, it is hard to pick a favorite place or experience in Australia, but one thing I know for sure.

Choosing to backpack my way around Australia was the best decision I could have made.

I learned to be flexible, to say yes to whatever crazy ideas other travelers had and made friends from all over the world.

As great as it is to sleep in my own bed again and have access to a clean kitchen and bathroom, I cannot wait to pack my backpack again for my next adventure.

About the author: Willeke van Doorn is a Dutch journalist and graduate of Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Tilburg, Netherlands. Her experience includes an internship at National Geographic Traveler in Amsterdam.

Willeke has lived in the U.S. and Australia and loves to travel the world.

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