In January, I was lucky enough to backpack the East Coast of Australia with one of my closest friends, Maisie. This trip was the first time both of us had travelled without family members or adults telling us where we need to be, so as you can imagine it took a lot of planning to make this idea a reality. Fast forward 4 months and we're now stuck inside reminiscing about what an amazing time we had, feeling so shocked that we actually pulled it off! If you're anything like me, you'll be spending your time in isolation fantasising about where you're going to visit as soon as this is over, so I thought it would be useful to share some tips which helped us plan the holiday of a lifetime!
1. DECIDE THE DESTINATION
You might think I'm stating the obvious here, but this is harder than it seems! For a while, Maisie and I were thinking about interrailing through Europe. I know a few people who have done this and it seemed like an easy option because it's close to home, you know how you'll get from place to place and it's relatively cheap. Maisie and I both had other trips planned throughout the year too; I was off to Bali for a month whilst Maisie had booked to spend time volunteering in Kenya. With this in mind, Europe seemed like the perfect trip to fit in amongst these other adventures. It wasn't until Maisie's trip to Kenya fell through that we started considering alternatives. After much research on her side, Maisie suggested Australia and something within me seemed to click! I'd never even considered travelling this far away from home but, after a few days of research, suddenly all I wanted to do was visit this country. What I learnt from this is that it's important to not get swept up with the first idea that comes to mind. Considering your options and deciding exactly what you want to get out of your trip is a valuable part of the planning process.
2. MAKE A ROUGH ROUTE
It's well known that the East Coast of Australia is basically built for backpackers so, even though the country has so much to offer, we knew that this is where we wanted to spend our time. It's all well and good talking about the 'East Coast' but which destinations does this actually include and how many are we meant to visit? I had no idea! When it came to deciding where we were actually going to go on our trip, both Maisie and I found YouTube super helpful. If you type in your chosen destination, you'll have a wealth of resources readily available to help you narrow down your route. When it came to planning our East Coast route, videos from 'Unjaded Jade' and 'Backpacking Bananas' helped us massively! These videos gave us insight into the best backpacking destinations in Australia, as well as a rough time frame to spend in each place. I'm going to hold my hands up and confess that I wanted to have every single aspect of our route planned and the idea of spontaneity didn't sit well with me! Looking back, I've realised that it really doesn't hurt to be impulsive when you travel. You meet a huge, like-minded community along the way, so your plans are inevitably going to change. Over-planning your route, and sticking to it religiously, can be a bad thing... but equally it's very important to have a rough idea of where you want to go and when you want to get there.
3. LOOK INTO TOURS AND ACTIVITIES
Before you fully commit to a destination it's worth taking a look at what there is to do there and, although independence is one of the main reasons people solo travel, it's a great idea to join some tours along the way. Tours and day trips are a great way to meet people when travelling and the guides will often take you to places you never would've found alone. One of the best tours Maisie and I did in Australia was with Welcome to Travel. We started our trip with their 8 day tour of Melbourne, which was one of the best decisions we made. The Welcome to Travel team took us to Melbourne's best sights and helped us plan our next steps. With the help of Darryl (one of the two founders) Maisie and I solidified our route and booked loads of activities for the rest of the trip, which was super helpful.
4. SET REALISTIC TARGETS
When planning a trip, it's important to be realistic. Maisie and I started thinking seriously about Australia at the end of September and we knew that we wanted to be there by January for their summer, giving us about three months to start saving. Even though we were both working 2 jobs, we realistically knew that we weren't going to save enough money to stay much longer than two-three months so this influenced our visa decisions, for example. During the planning process, we'd meet once or twice a fortnight and we always had goals in mind. Sometimes we'd meet with the goal of booking something, whereas other times we'd just do some research into insurance or activities. Being practical with planning can sometimes feel like you're not achieving much, but the end result is always worth it.
5. ALL THE GEAR AND NO IDEA
Once we'd decided on our route and had a few things booked, it was time to start shopping! The idea of stuffing my whole life inside a backpack did not appeal to me, so at first I was tempted to bring a big suitcase with me. However, I eventually settled on the next best thing... a backpack with wheels! For me this bag was a life saver; I didn't have to struggle with the weight on my shoulders but I knew the option was there if I needed it. It really was the best of both worlds. Shopping for your bag can be quite overwhelming as there are so many different brands on offer, although Maisie and I both settled on Osprey backpacks which I highly recommend! Maisie also introduced me to packing cubes and I don't know how I would've survived without them. Living out of a backpack can be stressful at the best of times, but packing cubes help you organise your stuff and make it ten times easier to get what you need from your bag.
Some other essentials that served us well included:
A personal cutlery set. Sometimes you don't feel like using the shared hostel equipment, so this really came in handy.
A money belt. Not all hostels have lockers, so Maisie and I often slept with our passports, credit cards and any other valuables on us just for a sense of extra security.
A laundry bag. Maisie and I both bought mesh laundry bags with us to Australia. These acted as a packing cube for our dirty clothes and made carrying our stuff to the laundry room so much easier.
Revolut. We both downloaded this app and ordered Revolut cards before travelling and it made budgeting/dealing with money so easy. You can exchange money and keep track of your savings instantly on the app.
6. ONCE YOU'VE ARRIVED...
It's super scary stepping off of the plane knowing that you're half way across the world and have to fend for yourself! But, if you're prepared, arriving in each destination will be a breeze. When we got to Melbourne, Welcome to Travel had already organised a driver to pick us up from the airport, so when our flight landed in Sydney we were truly alone for the first time. Most major airports will have a variety of transport options that can take you where you need to be but it's worth researching the cheapest and safest option before you arrive; when we got to Sydney we decided to get an Uber to our hostel. If you're planning to travel around a country, it's also vital that you figure out how you're going to get from place to place. In Australia, there are two coach companies (Greyhound and Premier) that pretty much cover the entire country. Maisie and I looked into both companies and eventually settled on Greyhound. We bought a Melbourne - Cairns 'hop on hop off' ticket for about $500 each. Greyhound is the more expensive option, but the facilities are far better so it's worth the money. In Australia, most hostels offer a pick up service from the Greyhound drop off point, but this may have to be booked in advance, so it's worth clarifying details like these before you arrive in your next destination.
7. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Once you've arrived in your chosen destination and solidified your route, it's worth remembering that not everything will always go to plan. After Melbourne, Maisie and I had a meticulously planned route which we intended to stick to, but we were met with a few obstacles along the way. We arrived in Australia when the bush fires were spreading, so we made a last minute decision to fly from Melbourne to Sydney rather than get the coach. When travelling from Noosa to Fraser Island, we were met with flooded roads; we had to evacuate our bus, sit in McDonalds for six hours and figure out how we were going to make it to Fraser Island in time for our tour. When the coronavirus began spreading to more countries we had to cut our trip short and rearrange our flights home. No matter how much you plan for something, things will inevitably go wrong. When travelling it's important to remember to expect the unexpected and be prepared to change and adapt your plans. It's all part of the process!
8. GO FOR IT
Knowing what I know now, I would encourage everyone to just go for it! Travelling for the first time can be scary, but after a little bit of research you'll feel as though you can do it. I believe everyone should travel in their lifetime; it's so eye-opening, so rewarding and so much fun! Maisie and I had the most incredible three months in Australia and I can't wait to start planning our next trip once lockdown has been lifted!