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.

“Scotland.”

“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

On travel and the joy of new beginnings

Ryan turns the key in the ignition of our “Adventure Camper” and pulls out onto the long, straight, dusty road that leads to National Highway 94, on to Coolgardie, down to Norseman and across the 1,100 kilometer (684 mile) stretch of Nullarbor Plain.

Every Australian we’ve met has told us this is the longest, dullest stretch of nothingness we will ever regret driving across, but these off-putting descriptions have done little to dampen Ryan’s enthusiasm as he turns up the radio, bounces in the driver’s seat and accelerates towards the desert. You can see from the smirk on his face that his imagination is not dulled, but rather stimulated by the emptiness on the horizon.

There is a distinct feeling like none other when you start a new journey and a world of possibilities is laid out before you like a breadcrumb trail to your future, better self. Whether you are stepping on to the deck of a sailboat, getting behind the wheel of a camper van or standing in front of the departures board at a train station with a backpack and no itinerary, in those still moments before your journey is set in motion, you can almost see your future travel-worn self relishing in the experience of new and strange foods, sharing a beer with a wise old storyteller or taking in the sunrise from a mountaintop. And the motivation to move forward is never stronger than in those moments before a journey begins.

I think back to the many great journeys of my life so far and I feel incredibly fortunate that, 15 years after I first left the U.S. to teach English in Russia, I am still in love with that exhilarating feeling of moving towards the delicious unknown.

That feeling has pushed me onto the platforms of the Trans-Siberian railway, onto a ferry to Finland, into a Jeep driving through the Caucasus Mountains, to the deserts of the Middle East, to the cobbled streets of Spain and onto the colorful buses of South America. And with my English teaching certification in hand, I could get work wherever I went, ensuring my travels would never have to end.

Along the way, that meandering path I forged as I taught English around the world inspired me and Ryan to build Teaching House, now the largest CELTA teacher training school in the world, which has sent thousands of teachers abroad to do just what we’ve done. And, in turn, this inspired us to build IH New York and IH Boston, two English language schools that bring students from all over the world to learn English in the U.S. and experience life in New York and Boston.

So, what may have looked at the time like aimless travels into an unstable future, in fact, formed the very livelihood that allows me to continue doing what I love after all these years – traveling, teaching, writing and discovering new passions, whether it be sailing, surfing, ski racing, roller derby or racing across oceans in the Clipper Round the World Race.

And here I am now, sitting in the passenger seat of a camper van as it rolls towards the Outback, oddly excited to see tumbleweed blowing across a barren landscape. Because against the backdrop of the Australian bush, I can see what lies ahead is another journey, a new experience and an opportunity to grow.

That is the beauty of new beginnings: roads, oceans and train tracks are blank slates on which you can scribble your own route leading to an endless network of beautiful, unimaginable possibilities. The only thing you need to be sure of is the desire to take those first few steps. Knowing where those steps lead is not important, and there’s no point worrying about where you’ll end up because worrying will only slow you down.

As a wild kangaroo bounces alongside us on the road, Ryan shifts into gear, kicking up a cloud of dust as we pull away from Perth. We have no idea how long we will spend in Australia, or even where we want to go next. But none of that matters. We have the open road, our wild imagination and the experience to know that opportunities are created by those who go looking for them.

on travel in australia

post-line-divide

What part of a new adventure do you love most? What is it about a journey that speaks to you?

Photo Essay: Animals of Australia

By the time we pick up our dollar-a-day Apollo camper van, Ryan is chomping at the bit to put miles behind us and get out into the middle of the big, wild Australian Outback.

Except I’m still looking for kangaroos.

And I’m concerned that if we start driving, we won’t get very far because I’ll have to chase down every kangaroo I see until it agrees to pose in multiple Tasha + Kangaroo selfies.

“It could take days just to reach the Nullarbor,” I warn Ryan.

“But it’s getting late,” Ryan complains in the Apollo parking lot. “If we don’t get moving, we’re not going to get anywhere by sunset.”

“Yes, but think of how long it could take us otherwise. There are kangaroos, koalas, wombats… so many animals! I could just get it over with now, cuddle ALL OF THEM, and then we’ll be free to drive to your heart’s content.”

“What is this place you want to go to?” Ryan says, looking defeated.

“It’s called Caversham Wildlife Park and it’s like 20 minutes north of here and they have a kangaroo petting zoo, and koalas and tons of weird animals. Can we, can we?” I plead.

Ryan looks at his watch, then looks at the camper van and sighs. “But we’re going east, and we still need to go to the store and pick up supplies…”

“Just think of my safety,” I say, as Ryan squints at me skeptically. “You don’t want me jumping out of a moving vehicle every time I see fur. That will totally happen. I need to cuddle some kangaroos. Pete told me they have Albino kangaroos at Caversham and you can pet them, and feed them and take pictures of them.”

“Pete also said there are drop bears,” Ryan says.

“PETE WOULD NOT LIE TO ME ABOUT THIS.”

caversham wildlife park animals of australia

We both win! I get kangaroos and Ryan gets his picture taken…as a koala.

feeding kangaroos animals of australia

I am in Kangaroo Heaven. Pete was totally not lying.

caversham wallabee photo essay animals of australia

Wallabees! I had no idea these guys were like tiny, adorable kangaroos. I’m offering this little guy a home in our new camper van. I think he’s considering it.

caversham koala photo essay animals of australia

I once begged my parents for a pet koala and they said, “Eucalyptus trees don’t grow in New York.” What they should have said was, “Koalas don’t do anything but sleep.” Not that that would have put me off…

koala caversham photo essay animals of australia

Yep, still sleeping. But they’re so cute, aren’t they?

parrot photo essay animals of australia

In the “Wombat & Friends” tent, we get to hang out with some pretty birds…

strange bird animals of australia photo essay

And some less pretty ones. Like this guy, who looks like someone glued a frog to his face. (High fives to anyone who can identify this strange bird, BTW.)

animals of australia owl

Anyone know what kind of owl this Aussie relative of E.T. might be?

owl animals of australia photo essay

“Dude, am I the only normal-looking owl in here?”

photo essay animals of australia bandicoot

It’s a mouse! It’s a kangaroo! It’s a kangaroo mouse! No? Oh, of course, it’s a bandicoot!

animals of australia adorable bandicoot

These adorable bandicoots are marsupials, like so many of Australia’s strange animals.

golden possum caversham animals of australia

This is  “Buttercup,” a friendly golden possum, and also a marsupial.

caversham wildlife wombat and friends animals of australia

The audience’s reaction to meeting the “star of the show.” At least the children weren’t alone in their confusion. I was also there, asking “WTF? That’s a BAT?!”

caversham animals of australia wombat

It turns out a “wombat” is not a bat. But a “flying fox” is. Go figure.

apollo camper van australia road trip

“Okay, NOW can we get this road trip started?” Ryan asks.

What other weird Australian animals do you know of? Other than the dubious Nannup Tiger (aka Thylacine), that is… I might just go back and track them down. Seriously.

Watch out for drop bears

The night before we pick up our Aussie adventure-on-wheels, Ryan and I are sitting in a wine bar in Perth with our friend Pete, a native Aussie.

“Don’t drive after sunset,” Pete says. “Kangaroos are stupid. They’re attracted to your headlights and they’ll run towards your car. It’s bad news if you hit one. Some of them are as big as cows.”

“Okay,” I say, nodding my head. I’ve not even seen a kangaroo yet, but I definitely don’t want to hit one.

“And if you DO hit one and it comes through the windscreen, get out of the car immediately,” Pete says. “Sometimes they don’t die right away and they can kick you to death.”

“Okay,” I say, slightly traumatized at the thought.

“And look out for road trains,” Pete continues. “When they come plowing through, they can kick up stones like bullets. I had one kick up a rock that smashed my windscreen.”

“Geez,” I say.

“And bring plenty of water. Like an obscene amount of water. And if you break down in the desert, DON’T leave your car,” Pete says. “Every year some stupid tourist makes the news for trying to walk and get help. THERE IS NO HELP. Stay with the car.”

I nod my head. “But where are these kangaroos? I’ve been here a week and I haven’t seen a single one!”

“Oh, you’ll see them. As soon as you get outside the city, you’ll see them,” Pete says.

“Yay! I can’t wait to cuddle a kangaroo and a koala and I heard you have these mice —  kangaroo mice — they’re like mice but they hop like kangaroos…what other weird animals are out there?”

“All kinds. Just don’t park your camper under any trees,” Pete says.

“Why? What’s in the trees? Pythons?”

“Drop bears,” Pete says.

“Drop bears? What’s a drop bear?”

“It looks kind of like a koala, but he drops out of the trees when you’re standing underneath. They’re really dangerous.”

Ryan and I look bewildered, and then suspicious.

“I’m dead serious. Google it.” Pete says.

I start tapping away on my iPhone and then crack a smile. I look up at Pete, who is now half giggling. “You mean, like a koala with vampire fangs?”

watch-out-for-drop-bears“Yep, that’s him!” Pete says, now laughing uncontrollably.

“And this?”

Drop-bear-dropping“Yeah, you see? They should’ve looked up!”

I scroll through the endless photos and warnings about drop bears in amazement. “Is this a thing you tell children to make them go to bed at night? Is this like the Boogie Man?”

“Bogey Man,” Ryan corrects.

“What? No, it’s pronounced BOO-gie Man.” I insist.

“What is that, like a dancing man? That’s not scary. It’s definitely the Bogey Man in Britain,” Ryan says.

“Yes, this is what we tell kids in Australia,” Pete says. “And tourists.”

“That is GENIUS!” I say. “When I was a kid my parents would tell me to stay in bed so the Boogie Man…”

“Bogey Man.”

I glare at Ryan. “…So the BOOGIE Man wouldn’t get me and I knew it was a lie. But now parents can actually tell their kids to Google it. Parents totally have the internet on their side these days!” I say, now Googling images for “boogie man.”

“Oh, wait. Boogie Man propaganda is not quite as consistent as the drop bear stuff. Ooh. This is horrible, actually. I’m not sure I’d show this to kids.”

boogie man“I mean, what is this? Does the Boogie Man have a side gig as a WWF Wrestler?”

“What and you’d show THIS to your kids to make them stay in bed?!” Ryan says, sticking this image in my face:

Government_Drop_Bear_Warning

“You can TOTALLY tell that’s fake. I mean, look, his hand is rubber. It’s SO obvious.”

“Don’t show this to our kids,” Ryan says.

“You have kids?” Pete asks.

“No, he means our future kids,” I explain. “Okay, maybe we can make up our own scary-but-less-scary monster to keep them in bed,” I say, googling images of “killer unicorns.”

“Like this… that’s totally scary. He can stab you with his horn.”

killer_unicorn_bunny_by_sebreg-d399amu

“What? A cartoon killer unicorn BUNNY? There is no realism in this monster.”

“What about this one. This killer unicorn will stab and kill your stuffed animal and make it bleed stuffed animal blood. That’s pretty scary. I’d stay in bed for that.”

killer unicorn stuffed animal

“That’s totally traumatizing. Killing a kid’s stuffed animals? What is wrong with you?”

“Okay, okay. Realistic but not traumatizing.” I say, tapping on the iPhone. “I got it. KILLER PUPPIES.”

stone cold killer

“Don’t you want these killer puppies to keep our kids in bed?” I say, showing Ryan my iPhone.

Killer puppy adorable

“Awww, they’re so cute!” Ryan says.

“That’s not scary. Drop bears are scary, that’s the point.” Pete says.

“Well maybe it can be like a less traumatizing, less threatening threat,” I say, showing him this photo:

killer puppy boogie man

“Like, hey, if you stay in bed and go to sleep, this killer puppy will come cuddle you. Don’t you want that?”

“I want that,” Ryan says.

“We had drop bears and boogie men…”

“BOGEY men.”

“…and our children will have killer puppies.

killer puppy slobbery kisses

Driving across Australia on the cheap

One of the greatest experiences in travel is turning up to a new country with no plan whatsoever. No guidebook, no stacks of printed recommendations, no bookings. Just you, a grand idea of the adventures that lie ahead and the enthusiasm to go out and chat up locals to find out where they love to go and how they get around.

It allows a journey to develop organically from a seed of inspiration to discover the things you love, which may or may not be similar to what travelers before you loved. Not having an itinerary also means your plans will change often along the way, allowing you to forge a path that is uniquely tailored to your whims and desires.

By the time Ryan and I pull into Albany, Western Australia on our respective Clipper racing yachts, Ryan has spent three weeks at sea with a boat full of Aussies who have a lot of ideas about how we should go about traveling in Australia. “Sydney, Gold Coast, Byron Bay, do some diving, do some surfing, don’t go to Canberra – it’s shit.”

clipper race to australia albany turf to surf

Clipper fleet docked in Albany, Australia, after a 5,000-mile journey from South Africa

But Ryan’s idea is to buy or rent a camper van and drive across the Nullarbor, the expanse that lies between Perth and Adelaide, which every Aussie says is a terrible idea. They try to convince us to get a camper in Adelaide and drive east from there so we don’t die in the desert because we hit a kangaroo and didn’t have enough water to survive until the next car drove past…five days later.

Australia, it turns out, is the 52nd country I’ve visited, and never having been here before, I am positively giddy at the idea of seeing kangaroos, koalas and Crocodile Dundee. Because, really, that is all I know about Australia. So no matter how many times our Aussie friends tell us we’re going to hit a kangaroo and die, all I can think is, “Kangaroo! Where?!” And “Crocodile Dundee will save us!”

Thankfully, we are able to move our Aussie friends past the part in the conversation where they tell us we’re going to die and eventually they give up and tell us how they would go about driving across Australia, if they were crazy enough to think that was a good idea, which they want to make perfectly clear they do not.

And they tell us about car and camper relocations in Sydney, using campervan hire sites like www.campermanaustralia.com. Which turns out to be the single greatest Aussie travel tip EVER. Basically, whenever rental companies like Camperman Australia need to move a car, van or camper from one location to another, they advertise the dates and the type of car on their website and offer super low prices if you want to relocate a car for them during the time frame they need. Genius!

So, sure enough, after a little internet research, we find ourselves an Apollo 4-wheel-drive “Adventure Camper” at www.apollocamper.com/reloc.aspx, which needs to be picked up in Perth and relocated to Brisbane 12 days later, at the bargain price of $1 a day. Score!

apollo relocations driving across australia cheap

Note: “Perfect for adventurous couples and adventurous mates”

So, as soon as our “Adventure Camper” is booked, the wheels start turning and we start dreaming of all the things we can do with our 12 days on the road. For instance, we can go find some kangaroos (we’ve not seen a single one), hang out in one-horse mining towns, chat to bogans (Aussie rednecks), see some beautiful beaches, visit friends in Melbourne and Brisbane, check out the waterfront bars in Sydney, camp out in national parks… and who knows what else we’ll discover along the way!

For now, we only have a few days left to see Albany and hang out with our Clipper crew mates before they sail off again on their next race to Sydney. But we’re not feeling so sad anymore to say good-bye to our boats.

Because a plan is in bloom and we have a four-wheel-drive adventure-on-wheels waiting for us in Perth. And I cannot wait to see where it takes us.

driving across australia the cheap way

The plan: Drive 5,500 km (3,400 miles) from Perth to Brisbane

driving across australia the cheap way turf to surf

Let’s get this road trip party started!

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha competed on Henri Lloyd and Ryan competed on PSP Logistics, and now they are traveling through Australia, Southeast Asia and the U.S., doing a full circumnavigation, before heading to the Dominican Republic to carry on sailing their own boat, Hideaway.

7 sailing blogs to follow in 2014

It’s amazing what a little dry land, a comfortable mattress and unlimited hot showers will do to restore one’s love and nostalgia for the sea.

It was just a month ago that I crawled off the deck of Henri Lloyd and onto the docks of Albany, Australia, with an acute disdain for my crusty foul-weather gear and an intense thirst for beer.

Yet, no sooner did I dry out than I began missing life at sea again. Which compelled me to get back in touch with some of the amazing cruising couples we met as we sailed south from New York to the Caribbean last year.

And when I started reading their blogs again, I was amazed at the incredibly different paths they all took after we left them to go our own way. Which just illustrates the infinite number of options open to cruisers and sailors alike when they ask themselves the question “What’s next?”

So I thought it would be fun to introduce you to some of the great sailors with sailing blogs we met in 2013 and give you an overview of where they are now and where they’re headed in 2014. Though, keep in mind the plans of cruisers (and any travelers, really) are written in sand at low tide.

1. Gretchen and Chris, s/v Alchemy and now s/v Gossamer

chris gretchen s:v gossamer sailing blogs 2014

Chris and Gretchen on their new boat, Gossamer

It was the combination of a marathon, a desperate cry for help on Facebook and an email from Brittany at Windtraveler that brought us together with Gretchen and Chris in Oriental, North Carolina one chilly, serendipitous weekend. Their willingness to help out two strangers in a bind and give us a lift to the airport (not to mention a loaf of homemade bread), totally blew us away. And they have a fluffy white cat. And we have a fluffy white cat. Um, fate?

What they’ve been up to

Gretchen and Chris cruised Alchemy up the east coast U.S. to Maine and then stopped in Massachusetts on their way back down to buy a bigger boat – a 1978 Camper & Nicholson 44 — which means they’re trading the title of “cruisers” for “full-time mechanics” for the time being. So, if you’re looking to buy a boat, you should check out Alchemy, for sale at Crusader Yacht Sales in Annapolis, MD.

2014 Plans

This winter and thereafter, Gretchen and Chris will be doing a refit on s/v Gossamer to get her ready for her trip south to the Bahamas sometime in the distant future (we all know how refits go). For now, they’re based in Annapolis, MD while their new boat rests at the city docks downtown. If you’re interested in the psychology behind the cruising life, Gretchen writes a lot about the mental side of sailing here: www.witzgall.org/blogs/gretchen

2. Jessica and Matt, s/v Serendipity

MJ Sailing Sailing Blogs 2014

Matt and Jessica (aka Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Klein)

A young couple in their early thirties, Jessica and Matt often look like they’ve stepped out of a Calvin Klein ad and could give Alex & Taru a run for their money at modeling (I mean, look at these guys! No photo-shopping necessary). After meeting them for the first time in North Carolina, we kept close to them for most of our journey down the ICW, until their unfortunate accident in St. Augustine, Florida, which put a stop to their cruising for a bit.

What they’ve been up to

After several months spent in St. Augustine doing repairs on Serendipity, Jessica and Matt went back out to sea with a vengeance and cruised to the Bahamas, Cuba, the Cayman Islands and hunkered down in Rio Dulce, Guatemala for hurricane season. After the weather cleared, they made the jump to Belize and on to Cozumel, Mexico.

2014 Plans

Right now they’re on Isla Mujeres, Mexico and are planning to make their way to Florida before heading to the Bahamas, the BVI’s and the Lesser Antilles and maybe even the Mediterranean. They’d like to cruise around Europe for a while and get off the boat to do some backpacking on land, but you’ll have to follow their blog to see where they actually end up: www.mjsailing.com

3. Stephanie and Brian, s/v Rode Trip

Stephanie Brian Rode Trip Sailing Blogs 2014

Stephanie and Brian, the most hard-core young sailors I know.

We met Stephanie and Brian about the same time we met Jessica and Matt, and our friendships were solidified one drunken Thanksgiving in St. Marys when we boat-hopped from vessel to vessel, drinking up everyone’s booze stores and collecting more cruisers until we finally stuffed everyone into Hideaway to party it up into the wee hours of the morning. Expert sailors and spearfishermen, Steph and Brian are responsible for teaching us how to find and catch fish, which we’re forever grateful for.

What they’ve been up to

After we went our separate ways from the Bahamas – us to the Dominican Republic and them to the Jamaica — they joined back up with Jessica and Matt and sailed with them to Cuba and the Cayman Islands, then went off again on their own path to Bermuda and back to Maine for hurricane season. Right now they’re in the Bahamas again, spearfishing, swimming with pigs and visiting some of the spots they missed the first time around.

2014 plans

This year, Steph and Brian hope to transit the Panama Canal and, as they say, who knows? You’ll have to follow their blog to find out: www.rodetrip.net

4. Brittany and Scott, s/v Asante

Windtraveler Sailing Blogs 2014

Windtraveler family of 3, soon to be 5!

Not only has Windtraveler played a big part in inspiring us to go cruising, but when we finally got to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and started preparing Hideaway for her first big crossing, they also welcomed us into their community of cruisers. Brittany and Scott (and little Isla) had made a home in Fort Lauderdale as they refitted their boat Asante for their trip south and, having stayed there for a while, connected with some amazing couples on boats who we were fortunate enough to meet and stay in touch with.

What they’ve been up to

After we met them, Asante headed south through the Bahamas and on to Grenada before heading north to St. Maarten, finally putting their boat to rest in the BVI’s to prepare for a new adventure: the arrival of twins. Which, when those little babies arrive, will officially make Windtraveler the largest family EVER on a boat, with three kids. THREE!

2014 plans

For now, the Windtravelers have become landlubbers in Chicago as they await the birth of their girls in February. As Brittany says, “Nothing like having a ‘bonus baby’ to throw a major ‘jibe’ in one’s cruising plans!” Their plans are to cruise on Lake Michigan regularly with their girls, and from there they’re going to do a Lake Michigan “test” cruise with the kids before flying south to Asante sometime in 2015. Follow this expanding family afloat as they continue their adventures with three kids in tow: www.windtraveler.net

5. Melody and Chris, s/v Vacilando

melody-chris-vacilando sailing blogs 2014

Melody and Chris, the artist and the musician.

Mel and Chris are an amazingly creative couple who we met through Brittany and Scott at a BBQ in Fort Lauderdale. And we’ve been following their travels up and down the ICW ever since. Melody is tied to waters where they can get a good internet connection because her income depends on it, and Chris is currently working on his music, which is amazing and very affordable on iTunes. Check out him out at www.chrisdicroce.net. He’s like a folksy Bruce Springsteen, but with a better voice. If you want to sign him onto your record label, though, you’ll have to take it up with his manager, Melody.

What they’ve been up to

Since we last saw them, Mel and Chris have been cruising up and down the ICW working on their boat, working on music and making money doing whatever work they can come by. They’re a great example of how you can still take the leap and live the traveling life even if you can’t afford to quit working. Ryan and I know how that is, so we have huge amounts of respect for working cruisers like Mel and Chris.

2014 Plans

Right now they’re in Fort Lauderdale because, well, Polar Vortex. And also because Chris found some solid work doing everything from high fashion to feature films. Their goal for this year is to try to score some music gigs in places like Ireland, where Chris’ music has done well in the past, and get to the Bahamas one day on their boat. You can follow their journey at www.mondovacilando.com

6. Alex and Dave, s/v Banyan

s_v Banyan Sailing Blogs 2014

Dave and Alex (aka Troublemakers)

Be warned: these two are a very bad influence. If it weren’t for Alex and Dave, we’d probably have headed back to Florida for hurricane season after a few months of cruising through the Bahamas. But after a few pep talks from these two (and a few rum punches), we decided hurricanes were no longer a problem and we were heading south to the Caribbean, like our friends on Banyan.

What they’ve been up to

Causing trouble all over the Caribbean – these guys have been moving! I can’t even list all the islands they’ve been to, as it would take up too much blog space. But as of now, they’re in Antigua after spending three weeks up to Christmas in Sainte Anne, Martinique.

2014 Plans

Right now these two are undoubtedly in a pub in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, convincing more unsuspecting cruisers to throw caution to the wind and go follow their dreams. Their plans are to explore the island until they get the itch to head north to the BVIs/USVIs and work their way back down the chain of islands to Grenada for June/July and hurricane season. But aside from their sailing plans, Alex’s last email to me was full of goals for 2014, like run more, write a cookbook and maybe even race in the Dark-n-Stormy regatta in Anegata. They’re as full of energy and ideas as ever. So, as I said, be warned – you can read their blog, but you might start making crazy plans too. Proceed with caution: www.sailblogs.com/member/banyan

7. Genevieve and Eben, s/v Necesse

it's a necessity sailing blogs 2014

Arias and Ellia, the stars of “It’s a Necessity”.

Normally, I wouldn’t forgo a picture of my friends just to show their kids, but are you kidding? Just look at these faces! And if you think they’re cute, you should see their gorgeous parents, Genevieve and Eben (sorry, guys, your pictures come second. What can I say? CUTE!). We met this wonderfully sweet and incredibly photogenic family in Cabarete, Dominican Republic one weekend during our long stay there and they’ve been up to nothing but good ever since.

What they’ve been up to

After we left the D.R., Necesse waited until the end of hurricane season before continuing on to Puerto Rico. But now they’re back in the D.R. in Sosua working with Live Different, a non-profit organization that builds homes for people in need in Puerto Plata. Even the kids are pitching in to help – go to their blog to see pictures of the project. GO! Trust me, it will warm your heart.

2014 Plans

Genevieve and Eben are considering their options for the moment, but it’s possible they may have a job offer to work for Live Different for several months, so if that works out, they’ll be in Sosua. Either way, you’ll have to check out their blog to find out more about the good work they’re doing: www.itsanecessity.net

Playa Grande

The lucky parents: Eben and Genevieve.

So there you have it!

If you’re looking for a sailing journey to follow in 2014, these guys are out there and we’ve met them. In person. And it was wonderful. Some of them even have cats.

We’ve also been contacted by scores of other cruisers who I haven’t met in person, but feel like I know through email and Facebook. Like Rebecca and Brian of the blog and boat Summertime Rolls, who have even hung out with some of our sailing friends back in New York. They’re from New York and are currently heading south. They also have cats. Not to be confused with the cat they sail on.

Got a sailing blog to share? (Or motorboat blog?) Comment below with a link so we can follow and share the love!

A conversation about driving across Australia

As Ryan sails from South Africa to Australia on board PSP Logistics, a predominantly Aussie boat, he takes the opportunity to glean some info from his Aussie crewmates about things to do and places to see in Australia. And the conversation goes like this:

Ryan: Tasha and I are talking about getting a camper van when we get to Oz and driving across the Nullarbor. I’ve always wanted to drive across Australia.

Aussie: What, from Albany?

Ryan: Or Perth. Wherever we can find a camper.

Aussie (Frowning and shaking his head): Don’t do that. Internal flights are cheap. Just fly to Adelaide or Sydney and then get a camper van.

(Other crew are nodding their heads in agreement. “Just fly to Sydney. Don’t waste your time,” they all say.)

Ryan: But I really want to drive across the Nullarbor. I want to see it.

Aussie: Why would you want to do that?! There’s nothing to see! It’s just desert. You can fly across it in a few hours.

a conversation about nothing in the southern ocean

What the Southern Ocean looks like…FOREVER  (Photo: British Antarctic Survey )

Ryan (Looking out at the unchanged Southern Ocean expanse): What are you on about?! There’s nothing to see here either! We could have flown from Cape Town to Albany in a few hours, but instead we’ve been on a bloody boat for three weeks!

Aussie (Looking out at the water and shrugging): Fair point. But it’s still a terrible idea.

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia, with Tasha competing on Henri Lloyd and Ryan competing on PSP Logistics. After getting off the boats in Australia, they have continued their circumnavigation of the globe using other modes of transport.