From a young age, I knew that traveling was something that I just needed to do. Exploring has been an ongoing dream, dating back to my earliest memories. Old journals are filled with lists of the many places I have wanted to visit, with clippings of National Geographic photos pasted between the pages. These images stirred a deep curiosity and longing within me. There was no question of whether travel was an option in my life. I simply needed to make it happen.
While traveling was not a huge part of my early life, my parents exposed me to such a huge variety of worldly music, which I believe was a part of my earliest inspiration to explore. Whether it was Bob Marley, Jesse Cook or Andre Bocelli, there was always music being played in the house. I had the opportunity to visit Cuba a couple of times growing up, during which I had my first taste of travel. This left me feeling hungry for more.
The Turning Point
After my second year of university, I made a life changing decision: I decided to go tree planting. So that summer, I hoped on a bus in Toronto with a couple of friends and we made our way to Prince George, BC. Was I ever in for a surprise! I really had no idea what I signed up for. This had a huge impact on how I decided to live my life from there on out. Spending my time in the forests of BC for several months, living in a tent, with the most random assortment of people and doing one of Canada’s most physically and mentally challenging jobs changed my perspective on life, to say the least. As I listened to my friend’s tales of travel and adventure, the world became a much bigger place.
After my summer adventure, I went back to school for another semester. But something didn’t feel right. I had just had a life changing experience that this left me re-evaluating who I was and how I wanted to live my life. I decided to take some time off school. I worked for the winter semester and went back out tree planting for my second season. During this time, I booked a flight to Australia with a couple of buddies.
And Away We Went.
I landed in Darwin Australia on my 21st birthday and on the 2011 New Year’s countdown, I jumped into the ocean (at the time unaware of the crocodiles and box jellyfish
that were swimming around) with a group of new friends that I had met that night with Katy Perry’s “Firework” song playing in the distance. Life… was…. GOOD!!! Damn good.
Things took an interesting turn from this point. I had signed up for a tree planting gig in the Northern Territories at a site 3 hours south of Darwin. I’m not sure what was worse: the extreme heat, the lack of food, the long hours, the hurricane, the daily encounters with poisonous reptiles (actually, I’d be
lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this part…), the trench-foot outbreak or my bat-shit crazy alcoholic bosses that drove our entire camp to quit early, but within a month of having landed in Australia, a group of us booked a cheap flight to Bali, Indonesia.
Kuta International Airport was the first place that I ever experienced culture shock. The smell of incense burning, the Buddhist offerings scattered around the ground, and being surrounded by eager taxi drivers all contributed to sensory overload. Twenty one year old me was thrilled. Our first night happened to be Bob Marley’s 50th birthday, which was celebrated throughout the maze of alleys with Bingtang (Indonesian beer), hookah’s and cigars.
That first night, we had studied a map posted on a bar wall and picked a few spots that looked like interesting places to visit. We decided that the best way to travel this tropical island then to rent a scooter for a month. Life was simple. All we needed were our three scooters, our backpacks and a map. Now, at this point in time time, smart phones weren’t a big thing. We did no research on attractions. We had next to no plan. Each day, we woke up with a rough idea of where we wanted to land on the map and went where the wind took us. It first brought us toward the east of the island to the small sleepy town of Padangbai. Here, we saw a poster with a boat on it and within a day, we were on board making out way to the Gili Islands.
Of the three Gili Islands, we made Trawangan home for a short period of time. This tiny island took only two hours to lap by foot and had no cars. Instead, the streets bustled with bikes and horses. It is most renowned for its pristine ocean and is a mecca for divers. I jumped on this opportunity and signed up to complete my advanced diver. It was here that I first dove with sharks. Days were spent diving, and nights were spent indulging on the beach nightlife. Unfortunately, it was also here that I contracted the infamous dengue fever. Of all of the illness’s I’ve caught in life, dengue was by far the worst. It took days to get over the high fever, which was then followed by a full body rash. Thankfully, I was able to complete the course when I was feeling better.
Upon our return to Bali, we made our way through the rice fields toward the Kintani District, home to Mt. Batur. This sacred mountain is an active volcano and most recently erupted in 2000. Here, I had the opportunity to do a sunrise hike and eat eggs that had been hard boiled in the steam of the volcano. Watching the sunrise through the steam was a sight to see. Accompanied by a local guide, I was able to hike around the entire mouth of the volcano, encountering a plethora of curious monkeys along the way.
Ubud was the next major stop along the way. Found in the uplands and surrounded by rain forest and rice fields, Ubud is most renowned for its traditional dancing and crafts. It was made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, and was a perfect place to slow down and take in the serenity of my surroundings. There was no shortage of places to visit; markets filled with local crafts and temples provided hours worth of meanderings and explorations. In particular, I enjoyed the Monkey Forest, where I had the opportunity to meet some monkey friends up close. This was also the place that I first learned to NOT touch the monkeys (it also wasn’t the last time in life that I had to learn this lesson for it to finally sink in).
From Ubud, we finalized our circuit and made our way back to Kuta, and from Kuta back to Australia. I had initially planned on making my way down the eastern coast, however due to Cyclone Yasi, it was devastated with floods. So upon arriving back to Darwin, I flew into Brisbane. I was in need of short-term employment and decided to do some fruit picking in the small town of Cobram in Northern Victoria. It was interesting to experience life on a fruit farm, as it was a place that drew in backpackers from around the world. Hearing each person’s unique story as to how life brought them to that exact moment was inspiring.
Back in Melbourne, my good friend from home was doing a semester abroad. We decided this was an excellent opportunity to go on an adventure, and wild Tasmania with its rugged wilderness offered the perfect playground. It is worth noting that island of Tasmania is rich with history. It is believed that aboriginals occupied the island for 40,000 years before British colonization. Because of this, the aboriginal population was almost completely wiped out due to conflict and the spread of disease of which they were not immune. Because of this, through its rugged beauty, there was a certain sadness that the land carried with it.
To tour the island, we rented a camper-van, unaware until after we paid that it was a standard vehicle. Thankfully, after watching us start and stall the vehicle several times in his driveway, the lovely old man that had rented us the camper-van drove us to a quiet street and bid us farewell with no lessons and a simple “See you next week”. The empty roads of Tasmania made for a great place to learn to drive standard. While travelling up the east coast, we stopped at Wineglass Bay and the Bay of Fires, which offered breathtaking scenery and the opportunity to make friends with the local wallabies. The mountainous north of Tasmania was excellent for hiking. Because of the shortage of time, we were only able to do a day hike, but Cradle Mountain, named after its unique shape, did not disappoint. From the north, we traveled down the west through an array of landscapes ranging from alpine to temperate rain forests. Overall, this island was a blast and somewhere that I hope to visit again in my life.
It is now five years ago that I went on this trip. Looking back, I was a very different person then who I am today. It was my first taste of travelling abroad and it had a huge impact on my ever evolving worldview. It is amazing how much there is to be learned from the world we live in. Needless to say, I have been a rolling ball since. I went back to school and finished my degree, graduating with my honors of biological sciences. I worked in freshwater research for several years while in school as well as for some very inspirational organizations such as TEDx GuelphU. Upon graduating, it was once again time to put on my backpack. I traveled India, Nepal and Vietnam for three months and from there, I moved to a nice little cabin in the Yukon for four months, learning to dog sled and working as an assistant dog sled guide. I am now living and working in Korea as an English teacher.
While I feel very fortunate to have lived such a full life to this point, there was never a time that I didn’t work hard or wait for opportunities to come my way. We each have our own unique paths and goals and I think it is important to live a life that does your dreams justice. For me, it is to live a life of love, travel and adventure.