"You're going to travel alone...?"
That hesitant, disapproving question was the most common response I heard when I told people I was going to Australia for a month by myself. I'd never traveled alone before, but I assumed I would enjoy it. I've lived alone since college, and it's not like I have a ton of friends with the means and available vacation days to tag along. So, I started planning my first solo trip.
I knew I wanted to see Sydney and Melbourne and definitely visit the Great Barrier Reef. But there were a ton of places all along the East Coast I wanted to see as well. Australians drive on the wrong side of the road, so renting a car was out of the question. And 13-17 hour bus rides every other night weren't super appealing either. The 10 day G Adventures tour from Brisbane to Cairns seemed to offer the solution. All of your travel and sleeping arrangements are made for you, and you just get to sit back and enjoy your trip--while making a bunch of new friends from all over the world.
The tour was available to 18-39 year olds, but my group of 15 ranged from 21-32. The whole thing was pure joy. We spent all of our time in one big group, huddled around a camp fire or on the beach. It felt like we all instantly reverted back to grade school--digging up every game we learned at summer camp and teaching a group of expectant 20-somethings on a yacht. We were all traveling alone--some straight out of university or using up a year's worth of vacation days--but the tour allowed us to do it together.
Day 1: Brisbane
Arrive at any time and get to know the other girls (or guys) in your shared room at the hostel. Then head down to the bar next door for dinner and a round of musical bingo/get to know each other time.
Day 2: Noosa Everglades
If waking up at 6 am every day of your vacation sounds miserable, this may not be the trip for you. After the first of many toast and cereal breakfasts, we got on a bus headed to Noosa. We settled into small cabins at a camp site near the Noosa Everglades, then spent the afternoon canoeing through the everglades. The still water was dyed brown by the falling bark of tea trees that surrounded the perimeter. Back at the campsite, we played a game of backyard cricket (my first exposure to the sport) and watched as dozens of kangaroos grazed nearby.
Day 3: Fraser Island
The next morning, the group climbed into an army-like utility vehicle that's built to handle tough terrains. It was the roughest ride of my life--if you're at all prone to motion sickness, I recommend taking precautions. Our first stop was Lake McKenzie, a beautiful rainwater lake surrounded by sand and trees, where we ate lunch and went for a swim, followed by a hike through a rainforest that grows on sand. We kept our eyes peeled for venomous snakes, but didn't see any. I was equal parts relieved and disappointed. The highway on Fraser Island is just the sand on the side of the ocean, meaning frequent detours up through the hills during high tide. We were warned repeatedly to beware of the dingos, but only managed to see one. We sat on the beach talking, drinking and playing "never have I ever" until late that night.
Day 4: Travel day
First, we got back on the giant army vehicle, then a train and lastly a bus. We got to Emu Park just in time for dinner and--after a quick game of Twister--called it an early night.
Days 5-6: Whitsunday Islands
Another long bus ride first thing in the morning then we hopped on the yacht that we called home for the next three days. We did a ton of snorkeling and went to shore once for a beach day (where--no joke--we were chased by a shark). We never wore make up and my salty, unwashed hair nearly curled into dreadlocks. It was sweaty, sunny and gorgeous.
Day 7: Airlie Beach
After one last snorkeling trip off of the yacht, we sailed back to Airlie Beach. That night we went out and stayed out until our bus arrived at 4:30 a.m.
Day 8: Travel day
Another day of travel, which we all used to catch up on lost sleep. A bus to a train to another bus finally landed us in Cairns--the last stop on our journey.
Day 9: Great Barrier Reef
Probably the best day yet. We all signed up to go snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef with the option to scuba dive (no certification required). There were a bunch of girls who had never done a dive before who hesitantly expressed interest in giving it a try (myself included). After a two hour boat ride out to the reef and a 5 minute intro course, they threw us in the water with a group of three other beginners and all of our gear. An instructor held onto us the whole time, first walking us through the safety steps on the surface, then guiding us deeper into the water. It was, in a word, spectacular. The first dive went by quickly and seemed over just as soon as it started. We all signed up for a second, longer dive at a different site. On this one, the instructor let us go, but kept us within eye sight. Learning to control your movements with your breath and glide effortlessly through the water--all the way down to the ocean floor--was indescribable. I wanted to do it 1,000 more times, but we had to head back. I had never considered diving before this trip, and now I can't wait to do it again.
,,Day 10: Thanksgiving
The last day of our tour happened to fall on Thanksgiving Day (U.S.), and, being the only American in the group, I insisted we all get together to celebrate. A few people signed up to go skydiving and bungee jumping, but I chose to get breakfast with some of my favorite new friends, then start shopping and prepping for dinner. We grilled kangaroo steaks and turkey kababs, and I attempted to make a pumpkin pie (it was more of a pumpkin custard thanks to a weak refrigerator and the humidity in Cairns). It was the perfect end to the trip--relaxed, fun and full of appreciation that we all met and got to experience it together.
10/10 would recommend. But be ready for a lottttt of travel days and not a lot of sleep.