Inspirational Nomads: Andrew Solod, Geologist

Welcome to Inspirational Nomads, a Turf to Surf series where I interview travelers around the world about working abroad and living their dreams.

I’ve met dynamic characters all over the world doing every kind of job imaginable and I’ve been inspired by their stories about where they’ve traveled, what they’ve done for work and the amazing adventures they’ve had. Read on to learn more about the people who travel and work and how they got their start.



“This sounds awful, but I could never date an American,” Andrew says to me after a few glasses of wine and whiskey, which made me laugh…because he is American. “I just like being with people from different cultures, from completely different backgrounds – it makes things so much more interesting, you know what I mean?”

“What, are you kidding?” I say. “I’m married to a Brit who’s not lived in the UK since he was 17. I know exactly what you mean.”

When I turned up on Andrew’s doorstep in Perth, we were essentially strangers who had met once before in college, at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. But when you spend your life on the move, making new friends in every new city, even the smallest connections can draw two people together.


Andrew, chatting with me about life in his back yard in Perth

As Ryan and I dragged our sailing bags into Andrew’s living room, we shared news about our mutual friend Tim, who was the reason I at Andrew’s house in Western Australia. Tim had sent me a message when I arrived to Albany with the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, telling me to go visit his friend Andrew in Perth — that I would like him. And Tim was right.

I knew lots of geology students at St. Lawrence University because it seemed to be one of the school’s most popular majors, other than environmental studies. Located just north of the Adirondack Mountains in a rural town, St. Lawrence attracts outdoorsy students — mostly from New England — who love hiking, skiing, rock climbing, organic produce and, I guess, geology. But I would never have guessed back in college that a degree in geology could lead to a life of travel. Who knew?

Andrew shares how he built his geology career and his life abroad.

What made you study geology in college?

At St. Lawrence, I originally was majoring in anthropology with a focus on archeology, but at the same time I was taking geology courses. And I realized there are a lot of parallels between the two disciplines, especially when the type of archeology is focused on proto-humans, early hominids, like in Africa. Eventually I decided to major in both of them and pursue a career in geology, as there are a lot more jobs out there for geologists than archeologists.

What did you do after college?

I moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to be a ski bum. There were a lot of St. Lawrence grads living out there, so it was a really fun time.

When did you start thinking about traveling with your geology degree?

You know, I really didn’t think about it at the time. I ended up moving back home from Jackson Hole to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I took a job as a geologist working at an environmental consulting company.

What was your first leap abroad with work then?

I moved to Colorado and I’d been working for several years as a geologist in Colorado. At the same time, I had done some pro bono work for an NGO doing water projects in Africa. So I had done several trips at this point to Africa with this geology company and we had a lot of work going on in Mongolia. I applied for a job to work on one of the big projects we had in Mongolia and they selected me. So I went to Mongolia for about five or six months to work over there.

At that point, were you looking to seek out more work abroad or was it just something that evolved from that project?

Definitely that project and the work that I was doing in Africa was a catalyst for me to want to work more and more abroad. In 2010, I was offered a job to work in east Africa for an NGO dealing with their ground water projects there, which is the type of geology I had been doing in the U.S. And I felt like it was quite an opportunity to be offered the job, so I went to live and work full-time in Africa. It’s a part of the world I really loved from previous trips and, at that point in my life, I really wanted to live and work abroad. So I took that opportunity and I moved to Malawi.


Andrew, working on a water project in Malawi

How long were you in Malawi?

I was in Malawi for about two and half years and I finished up there in March of 2012. I’d already had an interview at that point for a job in Australia and I wasn’t sure I wanted to move back to the U.S. So I took the job in Australia.

Were you surprised that there was so much work in your field abroad?

No, because a lot of geology involves working in remote areas, especially if you’re doing geology related to mineral or oil and gas exploration. I mean, geology really encompasses everything on earth. So it’s pretty normal that geologists work in remote areas of their own country or even work abroad. Plus, in addition to living and working in other countries, I’ve also worked in some pretty remote places in northern Canada and western Australia and even in the United States. In Canada, I worked in a place called Fort McMurray, which is a big oil mining area in North Eastern Alberta. I’ve definitely been to places that you would never, ever visit if it wasn’t work-related, and that’s certainly one of them.

Do you like those kinds of places or do you kind of endure them because you go for work?

I think it’s a bit of both. It feels nice to get out and see new places and experience new challenges, but it can get tiring to be living in a camp in the middle of nowhere for a long time. In Canada it is quite cold and I worked there in the winter. But I think it’s these kinds of challenges that also make the job interesting. In Mongolia and Africa, I feel like we ate goat all the time. Especially in Mongolia. I think I ate goat for every single meal for weeks on end, which is kind of funny now, but it was terrible at the time.

When you had time off from work, did you get to travel much?

Certainly, and I should clarify that when I worked in Africa, I had a pretty normal work schedule. I worked in an office most of the time and would only go out to the field as needed. So I actually had a pretty typical routine minus the fact that I was living in the middle of Africa, so everything around me was quite abnormal. And I definitely took opportunities with work to travel around Mongolia in between periods of work. I traveled around the country and saw some pretty unique places. It’s nice when you can shoehorn in a little bit of travel on the end of a work trip, especially if you can get work to pay for it!

What were some of the most memorable or enjoyable places you’ve traveled to?

I’d probably say east Africa. I mean, it has a pretty special place in my heart. I like Mozambique a lot. I never worked there but I traveled there when I was living in Malawi. And I also went to Vietnam last year, just for a little holiday, and I also thought the northern part of Vietnam was just fantastic.

What did you like about Mozambique so much?

I like countries that are a little bit rough around the edges, if you know what I mean. They had endured a pretty long civil war and yet the country was really blossoming. It had a lot of culture and great food and it was scenic and beautiful. I really enjoyed Mozambique a lot.


Andrew with one of his six bikes / Andrew designs and builds water wells

What was it like when you first got to Australia two years ago? Was it much of an adjustment?

It was a pretty easy adjustment moving there after coming from Africa. But, I mean it’s similar to the U.S. Obviously it is a different country – well, they drive on the other side of the road — but that’s not much of a difficulty. People are really easy going. Things are very expensive, as you’ve noticed, but it’s all relative. The salaries are good, so it’s not that expensive if you’re making Australian money.

Do you still like it or are you thinking about moving or traveling again?

Yeah, well I’ve been interested in working in Kenya for a while, but I’d like to stay here for a while. I might look at taking a year off and living in France, maybe; kind of like a sabbatical. I think you’d agree that so many Americans are so focused on working. And they kind of just throw themselves into these jobs because they have mortgages or car payments, and I just feel like, as an American, you have to work hard and focus. And most Americans don’t really think about taking a year off and traveling. They just don’t think it’s possible, or they don’t see the point – not even people in their 20s, or even people in their 30s, and definitely not Americans with a family and children… There’s just this pressure that your whole life has to revolve around work.

I know what you mean. It’s recently come out that about 2 million Americans will become unemployed because they only reason they had a job was so they could get access to health insurance. And now that health care isn’t linked to work, the media is saying, “But what will all these people DO if they don’t work?!” Personally, I could think of a LOT of things…

Yeah, I completely agree. You know, I was between jobs for about three months here and, as part of my visa, I am required to carry private health insurance. And private health insurance here is so affordable compared to the U.S. It’s $220 a month for insurance that that covers absolutely everything – you can get cheaper insurance, but for $220, I thought, hell, give me everything! It has excellent dental and vision coverage and it covers prescriptions. It even covers getting massages! I mean, you go to the hospital and everything is 100% covered — and I mean everything. It’s really shocking what you get for your $220 here. And since it’s not tied to a job, you don’t really have to worry about losing your job, or if you decide to quit your job and take a break.

So how does someone studying geology get into your line of work, which allows them to travel and live abroad?

Well, in a lot of countries like the U.S and Canada, you can get professionally certified. You take an examination and you pass a test, kind of like a lawyer or doctor would, and that certifies you to be a professional geologist. That kind of certification doesn’t exist in every country, and Australia doesn’t have it, so in a way, anybody can call themselves a geologist in Australia. But you do need a bachelor’s degree. In the U.S. and Canada, you would probably get professionally certified.

What are the kinds of jobs a geologist would look for if they are looking to break in to the field?

Well, a lot of geology majors nowadays probably go to grad school. So that’s going to focus the type of geology even further. And from there, you would probably try to work at a company that specializes in the type of the geology that you studied in your masters program.

I would say there’s three to four main types of geology work. There’s the oil and gas type of geology, there’s minerals, like mining, and then there’s water and the environment. Those are the three to four main areas that most geologists get jobs under. Maybe a fifth one would be geology and engineering combined, and then most geologists would be employed either at a mining company, an oil company or a consulting company that provides services to these types of companies.

What would you say is the best part about your job being a geologist?

Well, I get to be outside occasionally. I get to do science-related stuff. And I get to travel.

And what is it that you like so much about living abroad?

I guess living in different cultures and meeting people from other cultures. There are always new experiences to be had when you live abroad. And if you live in a country like Australia, most of your friends are expats. So you meet people from all over the world and it’s just really nice to see how other people grew up and how your life compares to theirs and the experiences they’ve had.

And in Africa, obviously, there a lot more unique cultures compared to, say, Australia, which is more similar to the U.S. But just being able to meet people from different backgrounds and experience things that you didn’t experience growing up – that, I find pretty fascinating.

If you met someone now who wanted to travel and work abroad as a geologist, what advice would you give them?

I’d say that there are definitely a lot of opportunities. You know, for the most part, the people who travel abroad for work aren’t the newest employees. Usually, it’s those employees that have few years’ experience under their belt because if you’re talking about working in different countries, then you need the experience to be able to not only do the work, but also handle living in a different country.

I would also say there’s a definite advantage if you work for a larger, international or multinational company because there are opportunities, too, within the company itself to relocate to different parts of your country or different parts of the world. And often times the bigger companies take on more complex projects in different countries. So a bigger company — not always, but usually — will offer more opportunities to travel than a smaller company.

Great! Thanks so much for sharing, Andrew! I imagine we’ll run into each other again…hopefully in another country.

Do you have any questions or comments for Andrew? Don’t be shy — now’s your chance!

Bit by the bug: Sydney to Hobart Race 2013

A few days before we get to Sydney to meet up with the Clipper Race arriving from Albany, Australia, I get an email from the CYCA (Cruising Yacht Club of Australia), saying there is a boat looking for last-minute crew in the Sydney to Hobart Race, and would Ryan and I be interested?

Would I?! Hell, yeah!

The boat is a Davidson 34 called Illusion, and its picture hangs on the wall of CYCA because it won the Sydney to Hobart Race back in 1988. And, yes, this is quite a little boat to be out in the kind of seas the Sydney to Hobart Race is infamous for, but I am itching to get back on a boat, any boat, so I can chase the thrilling high of racing across the Southern Ocean.

illusion sydney to hobart race

So I send in my and Ryan’s sailing resumes to CYCA and within a few days of our arrival to Sydney, Ryan gets a call from Travis Read, the Skipper of Illusion.

“Oh hi, Travis! Yes, great to hear from you…yes, it was quite an experience doing Clipper…yeah, really fast…30 knots, surfing down waves…well, I usually work the foredeck…oh, you’re looking for a helmsman? You really want to talk to my wife, then. That’s her thing.”

I am frantically wiping the sweat off the palms of my hands as Ryan hands the phone over. “He wants to talk to you.”

“What do I say?!” I whisper. “I’ve never interviewed for a crew position before!”

Ryan mouths back, “Just tell him you can do it! You helmed across the Southern Ocean. This is a five-day race…piece of cake!”

“Hi Travis! I hear you need a helmsman! Yeah, the Southern Ocean was wild…hurricane force winds, but we kept sailing! Well, I learned to sail on a J-24 and we cruise on a Catalina 34, so I am familiar with smaller boats…oh, it has a tiller? How interesting…”

I’m now making panicked faces at Ryan while mouthing, “A tiller?!” While he waves his hand to say, “Piece of cake!”

I get off the phone feeling less confident than I sounded in my interview, but I’m also feeling like an opportunity like this only comes up once in a lifetime. I’m in Sydney right before one of the world’s most famous yacht races – I’d be crazy not to jump at the chance to sail in the Sydney to Hobart race.

“So what did he say?” Ryan prods.

“He says I’m his second choice for the helm and I should go see the boat when we get to Sydney.” I should be smiling, but I’m cringing anxiously. “His first choice is a guy who’s sailed Illusion before, but he’s in Taiwan.”

“That’s great news!” Ryan says, as I shoot him a nervous look. “What?! It’s a seaworthy boat! I mean, she’s small, but she’s seaworthy.”

“A tiller?! On the ocean?!”

“Eh, whatever! It’s the same thing…well, except turning is the opposite…”

bit by the bug sydney to hobart race 2013

Seeing our crew in Sydney was the best part about our visit.

When we get to Sydney, Ryan and I are immediately swept up in crew celebrations and late-night drinking sessions with our boats. So, one night, I grab Eric, the skipper of Henri Lloyd, and I tell him about the helm opening on Illusion and beg him to come have a look at the boat with me.

With beers in hand, Eric, Ryan and a few of my tipsy teammates walk along the docks to find Illusion, as I desperately search for some sign that either my skipper thinks helming in the Sydney to Hobart on a tillered boat is no big deal, or that this could be the death of me.

“Huh,” Eric says, looking the slender race boat up and down, from mast to deck. “It’s so… cute. Like a big race boat…but little. Look, it’s got a little staysail, little running backstays…”

“What about the tiller?” I ask.

“Well, you know. It’s still a boat. Same idea.”

I’m staring at Eric, trying to read in his face whether he thinks it would be suicidal for me to helm for five days in a high profile race when the last time I used a tiller was in 2003, or if I’m just being overly dramatic and it really is no big deal.

But all he says is, “You’re going to do it, right?”

“Will you come pick me up if I radio Henri Lloyd for a rescue?” I ask.

“You probably won’t get through,” he says, smiling. “It’s a small boat. You’ll be pretty far behind…”

In the end, I don’t know if I got lucky or unlucky, but Travis called the next day to say his first-choice helmsman was flying in from Taiwan, so he’d filled all his positions for the Sydney to Hobart.

I thanked Travis, then sighed with relief, though a small twinge of disappointment prodded me from within. Clearly, it wasn’t meant to be. And yet, in my disappointment, I recognized something else…a feeling like this was something I really wanted to pursue, something I was missing out on.

“There will be other races,” Ryan said, putting his arm around me.

“I guess,” I said. “I just really wanted to get back on a boat. Any boat. I miss the racing.”

Ryan looked at me and laughed. “This, from the girl who once said she would never EVER live on a boat.”

“Did I say that?!”

cyca clipper race sydney to hobart race 2013

I guess this really is good-bye to the boats…for now.

Illusion came in 2nd in its division in the Sydney to Hobart Race and was 77th across the line out of 94 boats. Henri Lloyd had to forfeit the race because of a rudder problem and motor to Hobart.

What the…?! (Interrupting our regularly scheduled programming)

Hey everyone!

Ooh, sorry! Didn’t mean to scare you! You probably weren’t expecting to find anyone in here since I disappeared a few weeks ago. Really sorry about that. I even got a few messages from people asking if I would please respond to their emails so they could stop worrying that I might have boarded Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

I’m here! It’s okay, everyone. Recall the search teams. Well, not for the Malaysia Airlines flight… those folks need all the search parties they can get.

Anyway, I’m jumping in here to interrupt our regularly scheduled blog to bring us forward to the here and now. It’s a little confusing, I know, since if you follow this blog, I’m somewhere in Australia on my way to Bali, and yet if you follow Turf to Surf’s Facebook Page or our Instagram Feed, you know just a minute ago I was sitting in a hammock overlooking a remote beach in Thailand… then WHAM! I’m in New York!

than sadet beach koh phangan thailand

This is my view one minute…

liberty ferry new york new jersey

…and the next minute I’m here. On a ferry to New York.

Let me explain…

Since I wrote this post about the unglamorous realities of working full-time while traveling, Ryan and I have been working our butts off on new and exciting plans for our TEFL teacher training schools in the U.S., Teaching House, and using our free time to zip around the island of Bali on our motorbikes. It was like working in paradise, and I will be writing about all of our travels in Bali when I pick up this blog where I left off.

And then we bought new backpacks, transporting me back to 2001 when I spent 9 months backpacking through Russia, Estonia, Finland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia…

“Why on EARTH did you spend your twenties backpacking around some of the coldest and least glamorous parts of the world?!” Ryan demands to know every time we compare travel resumes. And then he proceeds to list all the warm countries he spent his twenties traveling through: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Indonesia… I would go on, but that would just be bragging. STOP BRAGGING, RYAN.

I didn’t really see what the big deal was, until we got to Bali, Indonesia. Glorious warm, friendly, cheap, beautiful Bali. And that’s when I started thinking maybe I did my twenties wrong. Well, maybe not wrong, but it was definitely the post-Soviet-try-not-to-get-thrown-into-a-Russian-jail-for-suspicion-of-being-a-spy version of what Ryan did in his backpacking years.

Based on this and my love affair with Bali, we came up with a travel plan: Ryan was going to show me all the most amazing spots in Southeast Asia that I missed in my younger years so he could carry on bragging about being a Southeast Asia backpacking extraordinaire. He’s a smug bastard, really. One day, I’ll have to take him back to my old stomping ground, Russia, and then we’ll see who’s really a backpacking extraordinaire. (Ryan is shaking his head furiously. I probably shouldn’t have told him about the time I stayed in a hotel in Siberia with a shared bathroom that was less like a bathroom and more like a large room with 6 toilets in it. No stalls. Just toilets. Ryan is still shaking his head.)

So we put our backpacks on and headed for Thailand and, well, WOW. Let’s just say there are absolutely NO similarities between Thailand and Russia. NONE AT ALL. Apart from the fact that there are about a bajillion Russians in Thailand. So many, in fact, that restaurant menus are all translated into two languages: English and Russian. And, hell, I don’t blame them for fleeing to warmer places. Just don’t tell Putin how great it is – it’s better for everyone if he just stays where he is and doesn’t try to annex anymore seaside locations.

But as we hopped from one beautiful, remote island to another, setting up our mobile offices on one white sand beach after another, it grew harder and harder to implement some of our company expansion plans from a hammock. (If you want some insight into what it is we do for work when we travel, read this interview I did for

interrupting our regularly scheduled programming turf to surf

What? Me, work?!

Teaching House is set to open two, possibly three, new locations in the U.S. this summer, and when that happens, it needs people on the ground to recruit staff, rent space, go out to those locations and teach our CELTA certification courses. And our staff was starting to become a little stretched without us.

Which is why we made a snap decision before leaving Thailand that we needed to be in New York for the summer to oversee this expansion ourselves. And that meant cutting our Southeast Asia travels short and booking the next plane out of Bangkok to snowy New York, even though we no longer own shoes that aren’t also flip-flops and all I have for a wardrobe are a lot of bikinis and a few Balinese sarongs.

So the adventure continues in colder climes…

Since we’re not going to be in New York for long, we decided to find somewhere to live that wouldn’t be too expensive and would allow us to maintain our offbeat lifestyle even while in glitzy, polished New York. And since we have friends in the boating community who know other people on boats, we found the perfect solution – ta da! We will be living on a motorboat near the Statue of Liberty, taking care of it for the owner this summer.

And, boy, does it need care! The Big Kahuna, as she’s called, is a 55-foot motorboat that’s been a wee bit neglected over the years. So stay tuned for more adventures in boat electrics, since we have none at the moment. Here’s what she looks like right now:

the big kahuna interior

The interior needs some cleaning up…and some electricity.

interrupting our regularly scheduled programming

The exterior needs…well, let’s not talk about that right now.

But once we get her cleaned up, and we figure out how to get the heat working, she’ll be a grand home in Liberty Landing Marina where the Clipper Race will be docked this summer! My crewmates on Henri Lloyd are going to spit their beers through their noses when they reach New York and find me there, living on a motorboat in their marina. You weren’t expecting that, were you, guys?! This is all a coincidence, by the way. I’m not stalking you, I swear.

So stay tuned to Turf to Surf to read about our continuing adventures in boating and to follow our adventures through Bali and Thailand, as I will be writing up all those tropical stories of the last few months in an effort to keep warm in this snowy, freezing weather here in New York.

Also, I’ve received the nicest messages from readers all over the U.S., offering Ryan and I a place to stay on their boats if we end up in their neck of the woods this summer to open up our new centers. This just warms my heart to no end, so thank you. All of you. This blog exists because of you all reading and supporting us even when our plans sound a little hair-brained. I’ll give you a clue – ALL of our plans are hair-brained. But I love that you always write in and talk to us like we make perfect sense. It feels kind of like being a kid telling my parents I want to be a concert pianist one day and an astronaut the next day, while they nod their heads and say, “Why not, dear? You can do whatever you want!”

I told you all one day we were sailing from New York to the Caribbean and the next moment, “Hey, you know? I think I’m going to do the Clipper Round the World Race!” And you all were like, “Sure, Tasha, that sounds like a great idea – not crazy at ALL.” And then it was, “I’m going to drive across Australia! And then I’m going to backpack across Asia…oh wait, no! I’m going to move onto an unheated motorboat in New York in the middle of winter!”

So thanks from the bottom of my heart for just going with it. If I haven’t told you already, you’re the BEST. And I guarantee we have more surprises in store for the future.


Tasha (& Ryan)

tasha and ryan interrupting our regularly scheduled programming

This was the last time Ryan and I wore winter clothing, as we prepared to sail from South Africa to Australia back in November. I really wish we hadn’t gotten rid of these thermals…

The dog on the tuckerbox

“We’re seriously low on petrol. Do you see any service stations on the map?” Ryan asks.

“Oh, that’s what you call them!” I say. “I’ve been searching ‘gas stations’ all this time and nothing came up.”

Ryan lets out a groan of exhaustion. We’ve been driving for a good five hours through the nothingness that lies along the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney, looking for a good place to stop for the night. And now that we’re running low on fuel, I realize I’ve been typing in the wrong word on my iPhone map the whole time.

“Um, here’s something. Wait, that can’t be right.”

“What?” Ryan asks. “Is it a service station?”

“I don’t know, but there’s a town, I think. I mean, it has a Subway. Maybe it’s not a town?”

“You’re not making any sense. What does the map say?”

“Dog on the Tuckerbox.”

the dog on the tuckerbox mapRyan looks at me blankly.

“I’m not kidding,” I say, showing Ryan my iPhone. “It’s labeled on my map as Dog on the Tuckerbox.”

“Well, I don’t care what they call it as long as they have a petrol station and somewhere to park. I’m exhausted,” Ryan says.

“But, what if it’s a mean dog? What if it barks so loud we can’t sleep? I mean, he must be a really memorable dog if they put him on the map.”

Ryan doesn’t respond. He just pulls the camper van off the road, and we’re delighted to discover both a gas station, or rather a petrol station, and a Subway sandwich shop.

While Ryan is pumping diesel into our camper, I go inside to browse the Subway menu and ask where we can park our van for the night.

“Well, you can park behind the building with the lorries, but they can be pretty loud with their air brakes and all. The best place is over behind the dog on the tuckerbox. It’s nice and quiet over there,” the attendant says.

“I’m sorry, behind the what?” I ask, looking for clarification on what this thing is, exactly.

“Behind the dog on the tuckerbox.”

I stare blankly.

“It’s a historical thing. An internationally famous tourist attraction,” the girl says without irony. She seems genuinely proud.

“But what is it?”

The girl seems confused by the question. “Um, it’s a dog. On a tuckerbox.” There’s a pause and a light bulb seems to go off in the girl’s head, alerting her to the fact that she’s speaking to a foreigner. “Oh, it’s not a real dog. It’s like a statue. Is that what you’re asking?”

“No. I mean, yes. What’s a tuckerbox?” I ask.

“Um, it’s a box. For tucker.”

At this point, it’s midnight and I’ve had very little sleep, so I chalk up the confusion to not asking the right questions. But it seems fair to say this girl has never played a game of Taboo in her life and therefore hasn’t been educated in the art of explaining words without using the same vocabulary. What is tucker? And why does it need a box? Or, better yet, Why is there a statue of a dog and a whatever-box?

I decide to abandon my questions lest I exhaust the poor Subway sandwich girl further. She seems relieved by this arrangement, saying to me as I walk away, “Google it. You’ll see, it’s famous!”

“Did she say there was a good place to sleep?” Ryan asks when I approach.

“Yeah. Behind the dog on the tuckerbox.”


“Yeah, I know. I mean, I don’t know. It’s over there, away from the big trucks. By the way, what the hell is a tuckerbox?” I ask.

“A lunch box,” Ryan says.

“A dog on a lunch box? Huh,” I say. “That explains nothing.”

In the short trip from the diesel pump to our camping spot, I take the Subway girl’s advice and Google “Dog on the Tuckerbox” on my iPhone. And I discover that rather than answer the question of “why,” I’m left with even more questions than I started with, after reading this explanation on the

“The Dog on the Tuckerbox is an Australian historical monument and tourist attraction… The statue was inspired by a bullock driver’s poem, Bullocky Bill, which celebrates the life of a mythical driver’s dog that loyally guarded the man’s tuckerbox (Australian English for lunch box) until death.”

I particularly like how the word “tuckerbox” is explained, and yet “bullock” isn’t. Is it not British English for testicle? I once knew this stray cat that hung around my college dorm, who we called “Big Balls,” for obvious reasons. Is that how Bill got his name? Wait, who is mythical here? The bullock driver or the dog? So many questions.

It seems Ryan and I are both way too tired to ask these questions out loud, so in silence we drive our camper away from the big trucks and in the direction of the famous, historical Dog on the Tuckerbox, parking in a quiet space next to it. We climb out of the van and approach the tiny statue with the chain link fence around it, hoping it will all make sense as we get nearer.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Ryan says. “It’s a dog. On a tuckerbox.”

the dog on the tuckerbox australia ryan

Ryan. Dog on a tuckerbox. ‘Nuff said.

the dog on the tuckerbox australia map

An Australian friendship tour

“My friend Andrew lives in Perth…”

I’m squinting from a hangover and the overly persistent Australian sunlight as I try to hold a coherent conversation with our new friend Andrew, who graciously let Ryan and I roll out our sleeping bags and sleep on his living room floor the night before.

As I stroll slowly along a quiet street in the seaside town of Fremantle, which is lined with brick townhouses reminiscent of a colonial neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts, I nearly trip over a glass bottle left on the sidewalk. As the bottle clinks and rolls on the concrete, I’m reminded of the whisky I set down in front of Andrew as a gift when we arrived to Perth, an offering to show how grateful we were that he took in two total strangers for the weekend.

It was my friend Tim from home who introduced us by text message, lighting up my phone as soon as I arrived to Western Australia. “My friend Andrew lives in Perth. Go visit him.”

A few seconds later, I got a message from Andrew, saying, “Tim tells me you’re coming to Perth.”

I’d heard plenty of stories about Andrew over the years. And now I was finally meeting him while also dragging 50 kilos of my and Ryan’s sea salt-encrusted luggage into his foyer. But I knew immediately that I was going to like him. His house was filled with dark wood artifacts from his years working as a geologist in Malawi and his walls were covered in contemporary paintings that he’d collected in his travels around Asia and Africa.

“I love living in third-world countries. Life is just so much more chilled out,” Andrew says, as we amble through sleepy Fremantle, talking about Andrew’s decision to take a job in Australia after his contract in Malawi ended. “Australia’s okay too, but it’s too much like the States in some ways.” To which he added, “But, hey, at least I get good health care here.”

fremantle beach love

Love for Fremantle Beach near Perth

We chat like old friends about how I met Ryan, what it was like sailing a boat to Australia, the quirks of being married to an Englishman and what Andrew loves about dating his French girlfriend. It feels like we’ve known each other since college, and yet we’ve only really spent a whisky-fuelled 12 hours together.

As Ryan walks ahead, lost in his own hangover reverie, Andrew says observantly, “Ryan loves asking questions, doesn’t he?”

I laugh and tell Andrew about the time I found him talking to a group of War Reenactment enthusiasts, asking them to explain their costumes and where they got their props. I remember how the guy’s face brightened as he proudly showed off his handkerchief and explained that it wasn’t a reproduction, but a period antique. He had no idea that Ryan was just amusing himself by getting the guy to gush about his obsession with war memorabilia.

“He’ll talk to anyone and everyone,” I say to Andrew. “Speaking of Ryan, where is he?” Looking around, I realize we’ve reached our destination, the Maritime Museum, but I can’t see Ryan anywhere.

Then, in the distance, I hear a familiar English accent asking, “But who do you talk to on this thing?” I look over and see Ryan standing under a tent, surrounded by a group of overweight, older men parked in lawn chairs next to a large van with some kind of metal contraption sticking out the back.

Andrew laughs. “What is he doing? Who is he talking to?”

I squint in an effort to read the crudely painted banner sign by the van. “Huh. Radio operators. He’s talking to some ham radio guys.”

“Your husband cracks me up,” Andrew says.

And just as I hear Ryan start to ask, “But couldn’t you just call them…?” I step in to rescue the ham radio crew from my husband’s incessant probing so we can see some of what Fremantle has to offer.

australian friendship tour andrew perth

Ryan, me and Andrew: This selfie’s for you, Tim!

“So I met this guy in the bar…”

Not every husband would understand if his wife met a stranger in the bar and invited him to stay for the weekend. But Ryan is different. He’s traveled for as many years as I have and he knows I have a soft spot for footloose travelers and interesting company.

This was four years ago, back when we were living in Manhattan, running our schools and looking for a way to pack up and go traveling again. Ryan was out of town for a few days and was driving back to New York to pick me up to head to our cabin in the mountains for a long weekend of skiing. What he got, instead, was me and a random Australian guy I’d picked up.

See, the way it happened was I had dropped into Milano’s, a dive bar on Houston Street, on the way home from a rather late night in the office. With Ryan out of town, I was on my own, a little tired, and just looking for a glass of wine and some weird atmosphere.

If you ever find yourself in SoHo, go park yourself at Milano’s long, mahogany bar surrounded by antique memorabilia and faded photos of Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio and other mafia-related New York celebrities, and you’ll know what I mean when I say this place is a seedy relic of old Manhattan.

I wasn’t seeking conversation. But I looked up when the shaggy red-haired guy next to me politely ordered a beer from the surly, tattooed girl behind the bar, to which she glowered and asked, “Where you from?”

“I’m Australian. From Melbourne,” the guy said, smiling proudly.

I thought I was eavesdropping on a friendly meeting between two Australians abroad until the girl spat back, “I fucking hate Aussies,” and walked off without even attempting to pour a beer.

It was late and I’d just worked a 12-hour day, so I wasn’t much good for a chat. But now I was intrigued. Exhaling a nervous laugh, I stared after the bartender as she walked off with stiff shoulders and a tense jaw. Then I glanced over at the Aussie, who was sitting before an empty glass, looking as though he’d just been slapped across the face.

“Is she kidding?” I asked. “She’s joking right?”

The stranger ran his hands through his long, thinning hair and shook his head slowly. “You know, I don’t think so.”

“But isn’t she Australian?”

“Nah. She’s Kiwi,” he said, throwing up his hands to signal his confusion. “My name’s Damien. What’s yours?”

It turned out Damien had only been in New York for a week. He didn’t know many people and already he’d managed to piss off the only bartender at his local watering hole just by being Australian. I started to ask if there was some rivalry between Aussies and Kiwis I didn’t know about, but the bartender reappeared, standing by the taps with her arms folded across her chest, not making eye contact. So I waved at her.

“Yeah?” she said, not moving.

“Can I get a pint of cider and a Blue Moon for my friend here?” I said.

The girl glared at Damien and, without a word, walked over to the taps, poured a cider and a beer and placed them down in front of me, making it clear the beer was for me, not for Damien.

I looked at Damien who looked back at me, wide-eyed, shaking his head as if to say, “She’s crazy, right?”

That’s how I came to meet Damien, a jazz drummer who’d come to the States for the first time with a dream of diving into the music scene in New York. I don’t know if it was the ciders, the fact that Damien was a genuinely nice guy, or if I just felt sorry for this ostracized Aussie, but even before Damien told me he was a snowboarder, I knew I wanted to invite him to stay with us in our upstate ski lodge.

It seems whenever I meet travelers in the States, I recall the countries and cities I’ve traveled through alone and the lovely people who took me into their homes on a whim, broadening my experience and allowing me to get to know them.

Ryan didn’t even question it when I called him up to tell him I’d invited a stranger to come stay at our house and go skiing with us. He’s lived with me for 10 years, so he’s used to this.

What I didn’t anticipate, however, was that four years later, we’d be knocking on Damien’s door in Melbourne and hugging him like an old friend we’d traveled thousands of miles to see. After all, we only knew him for what amounted to a week.

But that’s what travel does. It accelerates friendships. You don’t know if you’ll ever see each other again, so you don’t hold anything back. Your time together is now. Tomorrow, who knows where you’ll be?

an australian friendship tour melbourne

A weird introduction in NYC results in a friendship rekindled in Melbourne

luna park melbourne australia

Luna Park was one of my favorite quirks of Melbourne

melbourne an australian friendship tour

Ryan and Damien, taking this bar tour to a whole other level…

Good ships and friendships

12 days and 5,500 kilometers after leaving Perth, we pull our dust-covered camper van into the Apollo parking lot in Brisbane. We’ve only just unloaded all our bags from the van when Travis pulls up in his car to pick us up. And once more, on this epic trip across Australia, we are swelling with gratitude that we’ve been taken in by friends.

We met Travis and Emily for the first time at a BBQ in Fort Lauderdale, when we sailed in on the way down to the Bahamas. Travis introduced himself as a mega yacht captain from Brisbane and his wife Emily as a lawyer from Iowa who was living abroad when he met her. We talked for hours about boats and travel and, by the time we left, Travis had graciously offered to help us change our engine oil and we had insisted they have cocktails the next day on board our boat.

And now here we are, being generously offered the guest room in Travis and Emily’s newly acquired home in Brisbane for as long as we want it. Which is an offer that could have lent itself to us over-staying our welcome, if only Australia hadn’t done it’s best to strip our bank accounts clean. (The cost of the diesel alone to get from Perth to Brisbane was $1400.)

But it is worth the Ramen noodles we’ve been living on for two weeks to reach Brisbane and be offered the most in-depth low budget tour I could ever have of a city. Travis, being from Brisbane, fills our itinerary for 4 days with cheap eateries, great food, cocktails on their sprawling back porch, visits to Brisbane’s most delightful public parks, mountain hikes and afternoon picnics at scenic viewpoints.

brisbane vista australian friendship tour

Emily and Travis: Best Brisbane tour guides ever

By the time we finally say our good-byes to board our flights to Bali, Indonesia, bound for a new adventure in Asia, we are genuinely sad to leave.

Because that’s the thing about making good friends on the road: every time you say good-bye, you never really know if you’ll see each other again. You promise to stay in touch and you hope your paths will cross again. But it could be years. Maybe decades.

But I know if we ever meet up with Travis, Emily, Damien or Andrew again one day, it will be a reunion full of laughter, good conversation and a genuine appreciation for the moments we have together, here and now. We are truly present in our friendships. And those friendships are a gift.

travis and emily australian friendship tour brisbane

I’m going to miss these guys

australian road trip map

We’ve come a long way, and now, sadly, it’s time to say good-bye

Photo Essay: Great Ocean Road Australia

We are saying our good-byes in Melbourne after spending two days with our friend Damien, a jazz musician we met in New York four years ago, when he asks, “Where are you headed now?”

“I’m not really sure,” Ryan says. “We’re heading towards Sydney and we thought we’d hit the Great Ocean Road on the way.”

“Um. You know that’s in the other direction?”

“What?” Ryan says, pulling out his iPhone.

“The Great Ocean Road is between Adelaide and here. On the coast. It’s in the other direction.” Damien says.

“Shit. We missed it?!” Ryan looks at me, crestfallen. I just shrug, feeling a little guilty I never looked at the map myself.

We were so desperate to reach civilization after crossing the Nullarbor that we made a bee-line for Melbourne in search of good wine, real coffee and, well, people.

“Ah well. Maybe it’s not that nice?” I say, trying to comfort Ryan.

“It’s the most beautiful road in the whole of Australia,” Damien says.

“Shit. I guess we’ll have to go back then,” I say, looking at Ryan and shrugging my shoulders again. “It’s the most beautiful road in the whole of Australia.”

With that, we drive off in the wrong direction to go find out if the Great Ocean Road really is as great as everyone says it is.

australia coastline great ocean road

We drove a long way in the wrong direction to wake up to this view.

great ocean road parking camping australia

Our little Apollo camper in the background has never had a prettier parking lot.

12 apostles australia great ocean road

2 of the famed “12 Apostles”.

great ocean road australia walkway

Walkways like this along the ocean call for a lot of reflective sitting.

echidna great ocean road australia

Look at this cute little guy I found in the grass! An echidna!

12 apostles selfie great ocean road

It wouldn’t be a true photo essay without a “selfie.”

12 apostles great ocean road australia

But the view without our heads in the way is much better.

grotto overhead great ocean road australia

The Grotto is just another great spot along the Great Ocean Road.

the grotto great ocean road australia

I think Ryan is glad we didn’t miss this road out, in the end.

unstable cliffs you may fall and die great ocean road

“You may fall and die.” I love Australia’s warning signs.

tasha great ocean road australia

Something about the water… I may not be on a boat right now, but I love the water…

seagull great ocean road australia

Okay, I know it’s a seagull, but isn’t he pretty?

vw camper great ocean road australia

I really really want this to be my next adventure home

ryan and marty great ocean road ayries inlet

The best thing about any road trip is we always have friends to drop in on anywhere in the world. This is Marty, who Ryan sailed to Australia with, in Ayrie’s Inlet.

perth melbourne Great Ocean Road Australia

Now that we’ve seen the Great Ocean Road, we can carry on. We’re 3,600 km from Perth. Brisbane, here we come!

6 unglamorous realities of working while traveling

“Get away!” I shout while trying to type and swat flies away from my mouth simultaneously.

I realize I’m a ridiculous sight to behold, swearing and sweating in the front seat of a camper van in the middle of a stunning Australian nature reserve while the engine is running to charge my Mac laptop in the cigarette lighter.

It’s clear that my yoga pants are fooling no one. I’m not in-tune with the nature that surrounds me — I’m more at one with how much battery charge is left in my iPhone.

kookaburras mt. remarkable australia

The kookaburras try to drown out my phone conversations with their singing

Most people drive here to Mt. Remarkable National Park in South Australia to relax, disconnect from their phones, and enjoy the tranquil company of kookaburras and kangaroos. Which is why it’s so embarrassing that I’m hanging out in the middle of a nature trail, pacing back and forth while sipping Nescafe from a camping cup and arranging conference calls to New York City.

If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. Yet this is my reality. The reality of working full-time while traveling around the world.

So, for those of you who might be thinking of taking your job traveling with you, I thought I would offer you a glimpse into what my office is like today. It will look different tomorrow, and the day after. But today, here are six realities of my work life that amuse, madden, exhaust or terrify me.

1. I dress for success…and to ward off poisonous creatures.

When I woke up this morning, I did not assess how my outfit would look in public or to my employees. Instead I pulled on my knee-high sailing boots because yesterday, while foolishly wearing flip-flops, I got bit by a bull ant during a business call, which caused me to bite my lip to keep any foul language from escaping. As I conducted my phone meeting, I simultaneously rubbed my sore foot and vowed never to show my bare feet to Australia again.

And, yes, it is like 100 degrees out here in the desert. But these boots are not coming off until I see skyscrapers. Or until the ants aren’t standing menacingly on their hind legs, lunging at me with their vampire fangs.

2. My distractions are different on the road.

When working in an office, I struggle to ignore the enticing pop-up Facebook messages that tempt me to click on Grumpy Cat’s latest update or pictures of golden retrievers cuddling kittens.

Thankfully, I don’t have internet out here in the woods to pull me away from my work. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t distractions.

So far, this morning, I have stopped working to follow a wallaby with fascination as it hopped past my picnic table, fed a piece of lettuce to a lizard slithering by and I completely forgot the job I was doing for Ryan as I gawked at the pretty pink and white birds flitting around in the trees overhead.

“Tasha, have you finished the… Are you staring at the birds again?!”

“Oooh, look! A kangaroo!” I exclaim as Ryan shakes his head.

wallaby mt. remarkable australia

“Look, it’s a wallaby!” I just can’t get enough of the animals here.

3. Sometimes we deal with landlords. Sometimes it’s park wardens.

When Ryan and I were managing our business in New York City, the building owner, a rotund, grandfatherly Italian named Sammy would stop by to see us if our rent payments were late, or to scold us for students smoking on the fire escape or for putting trash in the recycle bins.

Today, the park warden, who is dressed from head to toe in beige, pays us a visit to tell us we are not permitted to park our camper in the “Day Visitor” area, where we’ve occupied a few of the picnic tables as our office for the day.

We apologize for the mistake and are about to pack up our things and move, but instead the warden looks around, mumbles something about it being the low season and tells us we can stay where we are so long as no one complains.

It turns out Australian park wardens are much more easy-going than Manhattan landlords.

4. If it’s not muggers I’m worried about, it’s killer spiders.

Walking home alone in New York after a late night in the office, I always made sure to stick to well-lit paths and avoid short-cuts through unfamiliar areas so I wouldn’t put my safety at risk.

It turns out the same precautions apply to Australian campgrounds. Only for different reasons.

After reading Bill Bryson’s book “Down Under,” in which he catalogues 14 different species of snakes that could instantly kill you in Australia, I am reluctant as it is to walk around the campground by myself in the dark.

But the clincher is a sign identifying the carpet python, which hides in hollowed-out tree trunks and only comes out at night. Since I’ve read this, there is not a chance in hell I am going to casually stroll to the campground toilets in the middle of the night without either a tree-sized stick in my hand or my rugby-playing husband by my side.

And since I can’t find a stick, the scene goes down like this: I am clutching Ryan’s arm as we walk through the campground, when suddenly a gray spider the size of my fist appears at eye-level, inches from my face, stretching its booby-trap of a web across the entire width of the path.

In mid-step, I panic and throw my upper body backwards, while my feet continue to move forward, catching on a little too late. Which results in something that looks like a slide tackle attempted by a drowning victim. Skidding feet first under the gigantic spider web, I am flailing my arms and whimpering, “Spider! Spider! Help!”

Meanwhile, Ryan stands there, staring at the spot where just I’ve inexplicably thrown myself to the ground. And after a short pause, he doubles over, clutching his stomach in hysterical laughter, as I carefully pull myself up off the ground and pick out the bits of rock embedded in my knees, all the while taking care to avoid the spider that’s still suspended in the middle of the path.

“What was that?!” Ryan snorts, laughing so hard his eyes are tearing up. “I’ve heard of ‘fight or flight’ as an instinct. But stack it?!”

“That spider could have eaten my face off!” I shriek, as Ryan howls with laughter. “Some help you are. Next time, I’m bringing a stick.”

mt. remarkable national park australia

The tranquility of Mt. Remarkable by day is a disguise for the evil spiders that emerge by night

5. It’s taken years of relentless work and long hours to get here.

I almost never write about my work, unless I happen to be writing for my work (like with this post). And I don’t write about that kind of thing here, on Turf to Surf, because this is a travel blog, where I love to write about travel and adventure and, sometimes, furry animals. (Okay, often, furry animals).

But as my Inbox has been overrun lately with emails asking how Ryan and I pay for our travels, I’ve started to realize that it may look to an outsider — who’s just discovered this blog for the first time — like Ryan and I are jetting, sailing, driving and camping around the world like two footloose trust-fund babies without a financial care in the world.

And this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The truth is, having spent the better part of a decade funding our own travels around the world by teaching English abroad, Ryan and I poured our blood, sweat and tears into building our own Cambridge CELTA Teacher Training school in 2007 (Teaching House) and English language schools in 2010 (IH New York and IH Boston), which have allowed us (and sometimes required us) to continue traveling the world.

But this also means our work as self-employed school owners now comes with much greater risk and responsibility than we ever had as English teachers working for other people.

This is neither a complaint nor a self-administered pat on the back – it’s just an acknowledgement that what can seem like an easy, glamorous lifestyle from the outside, isn’t always easy. Or glamorous.

6 unglamorous realities about traveling and working

I love having a mobile office, but it’s not always the best set up for work

6. Work comes first. Which means travel comes second.

I could pretend our days abroad are 20% work and 80% white sand beaches, carefree brunches in French cafes and wind whipping through my hair as I flit from one scenic spot to another on my motor scooter.

But the reality is most of the time I am wearing pajamas. For days at a time. Or I am in a beautiful part of the world, stuck inside an internet cafe or – in today’s case — a camper van, working 12-hour days and seeing very little of my surroundings because a project has to get done and Ryan and I are the only ones who can do it.

Not only does our income depend on the work we do, but so do the 50+ employees who work for the teacher training and ESL schools we built. So, when there is a crisis, like now, we can’t just keep moving. We have to stop wherever we are and get in touch with our companies so we can begin tackling problems from the other side of the world.

In this case, on this particular day, as a 5-foot-long lizard stares at me from a shaded spot under a picnic table, we have to fire an employee. And we are tackling this ugly job under a beautiful canopy of trees in a storybook forest in the south of Australia. It is a conflict that hasn’t escaped me.

Ryan and I have had many long, wine-fuelled philosophical discussions over the years about the kind of life we want to live. About what travel offers us in the way of creative stimulation, cultural exposure and personal fulfillment. And how the benefits are greater to us than the comical drawbacks that come with, say, setting up an impromptu office in the middle of the Australian Outback.

But I realize – after pulling aside the silk curtains and revealing a traveler who spends a large chunk of her waking hours in exotic locations staring at a laptop – that this life is far from perfect. But in its own flawed way, it is perfect for us. For right now.

So, what works for you? What kind of working life would you design, if you had the choice?
6 unglamorous realities of traveling and working

So far, we’ve covered 2,500 km (about 1,500 miles) from Perth to Mt. Remarkable

Cocklebiddy: What you get for driving across the Nullarbor

My question was met with a vacant stare from the skinny, unkempt man about my age behind the gas station counter. It wasn’t just that he didn’t appear to understand the words that came out of my mouth; he seemed to be slowly scanning the outline of my head, as though trying to figure out what planet I’d come from.

“Do you sell lighters?” I asked again.

“No?” He replied with an upward intonation, making him sound unsure. “Where you from?” The man asked, his gaze now drifting to a spot somewhere behind my head. He seemed to have lost his concentration.

“New York,” I said, as I paced the shop, killing time while Ryan filled our diesel tank, looking for anything I could light a stove with – matches, two sticks, a magnifying glass. I was desperate to make coffee.

“A lighter!” I exclaimed, holding up the object triumphantly.

“Ah, a Bic,” the man corrected, as I placed my discovery on the counter. Something about the man’s accent told me he wasn’t from Australia.

“Where are you from?” I asked.


“Really! How long have you been…uh…here?” I said, my hand vaguely motioning towards the brown, lifeless landscape and the lone house on the horizon.

“In Cocklebiddy? About two years.”

“Two ye…what?” I asked. “Is there another town nearby?”

“No,” the man replied. “Well, I guess there’s Norseman.”

I nearly choked on a fly that was buzzing around my wide-open mouth. Norseman was a good five-hour drive to the west. I know, because we stopped there for coffee, a piece of Lamington cake and to take photos — not because Norseman was pretty, but because we were fascinated by the fact that everything in town had been built out of corrugated tin. Corrugated tin fences, corrugated tin houses, corrugated tin mailboxes and even statues of camels made of corrugated tin. The week Norseman appeared on the map, there must have been a liquidation sale on corrugated tin somewhere in Western Australia.

norseman tin camels nullarbor plain

Tin camels, the main artistic attraction of Norseman, WA

It was hard for me to believe anyone would choose to live out here on this parched, gravelly slab of rock with few trees and barely a mound of dirt to claim as a topographical feature. I mean, surely this town was founded on an expletive. When that first determined settler stabbed the unforgiving ground with his shovel, desperate to find gold as they did in Coolgardie, I imagine he shouted “Cocklebiddy! There’s no gold here!” Throwing his shovel down in disgust. Now, 117 years later, Cocklebiddy is a town of seven Aussies and one Scottish dude just hanging out, waiting for another expletive to change their world.

Though the Nullarbor Plain is dubbed a “tourist route” in Australia, the last few days have shown the term to be an ambitious one, probably better described as “a god-forsaken desert that no one but a silly tourist would consider driving across.”

So how the hell did a Scotsman end up living out here?

I decided not to ask any more questions, lest my bewilderment become offensive. Instead, I left $2 on the counter for my lighter and went outside to check on Ryan’s progress.

Fuel was one of the reasons Ryan and I pulled into this gas station after what felt like days of driving with very little change in landscape. But, really, it was the lighter that compelled us to pull over – we had no way of using our gas stove without one, and the lack of stimulus on this straight and endless road meant we would need a LOT of coffee to get us across the Nullarbor Plain.

Even the road signs along the way warned us we might literally die of boredom:

“Drowsy Drivers Die,” “Fatigue is Fatal,” “40 Winks Will Save Your Life” and “Survive this Drive” were the slogans reminding us to stay alert and pull over often.

making coffee apollo camper nullarbor plain

Caffeine played an essential role in our survival of the Nullarbor

“Was the guy friendly?” Ryan asked eagerly, running on a theory that towns in the Australian bush would be like small-town America to a Brit: full of easy-going, hospitable people clambering to help out a lost Englishman and hear his Hugh Grant impression.

“He was Scottish,” I said. “He’s been living here for two years.”

Ryan raised an eyebrow, then turned his head slowly to take in the empty landscape surrounding us. “Two years?!”

“That’s what I said!”

“What the…who did he kill?” Ryan asked.

“I did not ask him that,” I said. “Out of politeness.”

“Really? That’s the first question I would have asked.”

“Clearly, you have no manners,” I said.

“I would have at least asked him what he was doing out here,” Ryan said.

“And what if he said, ‘I killed someone’?”

“Well, then, at least we’d know.” Ryan said.

“We wouldn’t know. We’d be chopped up into tiny pieces and buried in the desert. He can’t just admit he’s killed someone and let us live to tell the authorities. That’d be stupid.”

“Well, good thing you didn’t ask then.”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

With that, we grabbed our lighter, packed away our spare diesel fuel and bounced off down the road in our van, leaving Cocklebiddy to fade into the distance like an antiquated curse going slowly out of fashion.

So far, the 1,200 kilometers we’ve covered since leaving Perth has shown us that driving across Australia is all about the journey, not the destination. Which is a bit of luck, really, because all you’ll find out here is Cocklebiddy.

perth to cocklebiddy driving across the nullarbor

It’s a long way from Perth to Brisbane

Coolgardie, Western Australia: Worth its weight in gold

The most impressive thing about driving halfway across Western Australia is that you can drive for five hours without seeing anything. That is, unless you count some bushes, a great deal of dust and kangaroo road kill as “anything.”

Every now and then I spotted a lone house on the horizon in a seemingly uninhabitable place and wondered if it was abandoned. Because who in their right mind would choose to live out here? Or we’d pass a vintage gas station in the middle of nowhere and be delighted to find we’d been transported to the American Midwest in the 1940s or ‘50s.

Creaky metal windmills, antique gas pumps, billboard signs with cut-out plastic letters advertising “_old beer” and endless stretches of parched land interrupted only by a single road cutting through it — this was all we’d seen by the time we reached the tiny ghost town of Coolgardie, once famous for the Australian “gold rush” of the late 1800s.

The truth is, if there was only one thing to see in Coolgardie and it was a taxidermy collection of kangaroo feet, we still would have stopped. Our butts were sore, our faces were covered in dust and we were tired of listening to the strange drone of local Australian politics on the radio. So we parked our camper on Coolgardie’s impressively wide and empty main street and hopped out of the car with the enthusiasm of two overly eager tourists at Disney World.

Mind you, the second most impressive thing about driving across Western Australia is how little there is to do once you finally get somewhere. As far as I could see, there were only two notable attractions in Coolgardie, one being the Pharmacy Museum, which was closed (Oh, darn it), and the other being Goldfields Exhibition Museum, which boasted an “internationally famous Waghorn bottle collection.” (Really? Internationally famous?)

goldfields museum coolgardie western australia

As you can see, people are lined up at the door, fighting to get in.

We just had to find out more after an endorsement like that, so we ambled into the museum, which also served as the Visitor’s Center, and handed our $4 entrance fee to an elderly woman who seemed thrilled to have us there.

At first, I walked around the four-room museum trying to suppress a giggle as I took in random collections, like the display of barbed wire from the early 1900s, and the darkened glass case that held a plastic version of a miner trapped in a rock wall. The idea was that you could stick your head in the authentic metal diver’s helmet and then flick the light switch, revealing the trapped miner. (Gasp! Look, honey! I found a trapped miner over here!) Only a tourist must have gotten his head stuck because now there was just a light switch and a sign telling you not to put your head in the helmet. (Thanks for ruining it for all of us, dude.)

helmet goldfields museum coolgardie

But then, as I walked from musty room to musty room, I began to see a story emerge behind this town that was nonexistent before 1892.

It was a town that exploded onto the map in less than a decade, teeming with thousands of grimy work men, saloons rolling in beer by the barrel, gold speculators in fancy suits spilling out of hotels and train tracks being laid for poor, optimistic men to come to Coolgardie to make their fortune.

coolgardie population explosion gold mining

From 0 to 15,000 in just 7 years

And then, as quickly as it all flourished, the gold ran out and the population shrunk back to a mere 200 residents by 1920, all of whom I imagined standing in the middle of Coolgardie’s deserted main street with one hand on their hips and the other fanning the dust from their faces as they watched the Afghani men ride off into the sunset on the camels they arrived on, the sound of a steam whistle blowing in the distance as the last train retreated back to the east where fortunes could still being found.

I could just see those townsfolk shaking their heads, shrugging their shoulders and kicking up stones dejectedly as they turned and walked back home along the empty streets. Except for one guy, who said to himself, “One day, I’m going to build a museum and tell the story of the miners who made Coolgardie what it was. And it’s going to have a helmet. And a light switch…”

Coolgardie may not be the most riveting tourist town on the map, but if you’re crazy enough to drive across Western Australia, it is a place with an interesting history. Not to mention, it serves as a fine rest area for you to pull off the dull and dusty road and entertain yourself for a few hours with the question of who in the international community, exactly, is impressed by the size of Coolgardie’s bottle collection.

Now, isn’t that worth its weight in gold? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

goldfields coolgardie museum western australia

Really? Herbert Hoover worked here?

How to fight off big, hairy robbers in the Australian Outback

I’m startled awake at 5 am as the sun rises over Western Australia, causing me to sit up too quickly and smack my head. As I try to work out why the ceiling is so low, I realize I’m clutching my iPhone to my chest like some kind of plastic security blanket.

The iPhone screen shows I’ve typed in “000” on my keypad and left it there, presumably waiting for me to hit the “call” button.

I’m confused by the “000” until a vague memory creeps into my consciousness of a dream I had about being on a boat in a storm as the camper swayed to and fro in the wind, playing with my imagination. Then my boat dreams morphed into scenes where big, hairy men with outback hats and enormous hunting knives tried to break into the camper van.

Don’t ask me how I knew they had hats and enormous knives from inside an unlit camper van; that’s just how dreams work.

I remember being half asleep and groggily Googling “Emergency Number Australia” in the middle of the night, arguing to myself that if something bad were to happen, I should have the local equivalent to 911 handy on my phone.

I know this is just a dream and I’m being completely ridiculous, I remember thinking, in a state of almost-sleep. But what does it hurt to look up the number?

I must have woken up half a dozen times to consider the problem of Crocodile-Dundee-look-alike bandits outside our door, resulting in scenes that played out in my subconscious like an Australian “Groundhog’s Day,” where each time I got to try out a new defense tactic against the imaginary robbers.

Me (calling 000): Hi there. I’m trapped in a camper van in the desert and there are big, hairy men outside trying to kill me.

000 Emergency Responder: And where are you exactly?

Me: Um. Somewhere between Perth and Adelaide?


Me (calling 000): *whispering* Hi, can you hear me? I’m whispering so the men trying to kill me won’t know I’m calling. I need your help.

Big, hairy robbers: I CAN HEAR YOU! Open the door and we won’t kill you!

Me: *still whispering* Did you hear that? I’m like an hour outside of Perth. How long before you can get to me?

000 Emergency Responder: Like an hour.


Me (shouting out the window on the other side of the van): Hey robbers! I’m over here!

As footsteps are heard scampering away from the camper door and towards the other side of the van, I unlock the door and, crouching down, bolt towards the front cab to open the driver-side door. Except when I get there, I discover I’m not in the U.S., so what I think is the driver-side door is actually the passenger-side door. I have to act fast, so I open the door and jump into the passenger seat just as the big, hairy robber jumps into the driver’s seat and snatches my keys off me.

Me: Damn it, foreign cars!


Me: Ryan, wake up! There’s robbers outside our camper van!

Big, hairy robbers: Come out now! If you don’t come out, we’ll come in and get you!

Ryan: It’s just a dream. They’re not real, go back to sleep.

Me: How do you know? Shouldn’t we put up a fight in case it’s not a dream?

Big, hairy robbers laugh maniacally as they slash through the camper door with their enormous knives.


Anticipating the arrival of robbers, I grab my pillow and leave Ryan sleeping peacefully as I crawl silently in the dark to the opposite side of the van and into the driver’s seat. I lock the doors, lay down on the front seat and wait for the big, hairy men to strike.

Big, hairy robbers: Come out now and give us all your money!

Me: Not so fast, you bastards!

Turning the key in the ignition, I floor the gas and speed away, kicking dust into the faces of the big, hairy robbers as they run after the camper van, shaking their knives menacingly.


I stretch my arms and wipe cold condensation off my nose while looking around for Ryan. The sun is peeking through our miniature window shades as I hear clanking and shuffling and cheerful humming outside.

The door pops open and Ryan climbs into the camper with a cup of coffee in his hand. “Oh, you’re awake! How was your first night sleeping in the Outback?”

“Not so great,” I say, showing Ryan my iPhone screen.

“What’s 000?”

“That’s Australia’s emergency phone number,” I explain.

“What were you calling that for?”

“I had a dream we were being attacked by murderous robbers that looked like beefed up versions of Crocodile Dundee.”

“That wasn’t a dream,” Ryan says. We were attacked by murderous robbers. I fought them off with an army of drop bears.”

“That’s not funny,” I say. “I’m totally traumatized.”

“LOOK OUT!” Ryan says, pointing up and laughing.

I glare at Ryan. “You have no appreciation for my heroism. Clearly.”

apollo camper van travel in australia

Ryan making coffee, oblivious to the battles of the night before