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The act of travelling is referred to as many activities: backpacking, hitchhiking, drifting, and roadtripping for example. With so much ground to cover, travelling around Australia is commonly considered a full-time occupation rather than a recreational activity. In order to see the 7,741,220 km2 of Australia, time-management, organisation, and thorough research is vital.
First and foremost, travellers usually obtain a map and a guidebook. Having flicked through a large majority of them, I found that each initially warned the reader of the dangers of hitchhiking. Most advise to travel by any other means than hitching. This has been a growing global opinion in the past 20 years, which was reinforced in Australia following the Backpacker Murders of the 1990s. Seven young hitchhikers were murdered in New South Wales by convicted murderer Ivan Millat. Many may have heard of these murders through the horror film Wolf Creek, which was loosely based on the Backpacker Murders.
Thus instead of hitching, travellers tend to rent or buy a car. The campervan rental industry in Australia is continually growing. Many a time have I spotted campervans parked up by the beach with people sleeping inside during the evenings; especially on the Gold Coast, which is swamped with tourists in peak summer season. Of course sleeping in a campervan in an unknown public place has its dangers, but they can be reduced as long as precautionary measures are taken – for instance, sleeping with two or more people in an area that is near to some form of contact in case of emergency.
Another option is to use Australia’s public transport system – domestic planes, trains and buses. Planes are especially useful for travelling long distances across Australia, carrying passengers between the west and east coast within five hours (which is a much shorter trip than the two day drive, or three day train journey). In comparison to the UK, trains are considerably cheaper in particular areas such as the coast of New South Wales – for instance, trains from Wollongong to Sydney (which travel around 90km) cost a mere $5 (approx. £3.20).
Like in the UK, another popular way of travelling in Australia is youth hostelling. The Youth Hostel Association (YHA) is the most prominent chain of hostels. Currently I am working at Coffs Harbour YHA, which is situated south of Brisbane on the east coast. Many interesting people pass through youth hostels, from the young to the old, and the sane to the insane. This scope also includes people that are not too far from home as last week I met a man from Lancaster! The life of a youth hosteller is not for the faint hearted though. In order to keep costs down it involves a diet of bland pasta and sauce dishes, and late nights drinking cheap boxes of wine (also called ‘goon’).
Naturally though, travelling is not necessarily about the planning and preparation. Travelling should be spontaneous and impulsive. In addition, luck is essential for a good experience. Sometimes travellers come across the most memorable areas by pure chance. In many cases, the best areas are those that are not mentioned in the guidebooks and only known through local knowledge. Thus, travelling is a fine balance between the planned and unplanned, and is much more than the instructions of a guidebook – it is a full-time occupation and a way of life.