Tag Archives: Budget Travel

The Big Hitch (Part 2)

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Steve

Steve had been expecting us in Townsville for a couple of weeks, although he was a bit unsure of the exact date we would show up. Nina contacted him through Couchsurfing whilst we were in Indonesia and we somehow managed to arrive on the proposed date.

Steve worked in the mining industry as did so many of the people we met “along the track”. He also seemed to be a professional couchsurf host having welcomed over 200 people into his apartment in the last 12 months. Nina and I had a well earned shower and joined Steve and two other couchsurfers, Anna and Pauline, for our first square meal in days.

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The following day Steve went off to work and Nina and I explored Townsville’s Botanical Gardens, traditional brewery and seafront walks before we cooked for the crew, this time joined by Steve’s brother Kevin. It was a great introduction to the east coast and after a couple of drinks we even had the brothers reciting patriotic poems and songs of Australia!

The next morning Steve gave us a little tour of Townsville and a view over the city from Castle Hill before dropping us at a suitable hitching point just out of town. We totally love couchsurfing and can’t wait to host travellers ourselves!

Thomas & Jonno

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I’m still surprised at just how little time we had to wait in Australia before people pulled over to offer us a ride. It was no different leaving Townsville. I think 15 minutes, just enough time to eat a banana and take a quick leak, before Thomas pulled in.

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Thomas was a nice enough lad. An Irishman looking for work. As we chatted about the type of work he was looking for it became apparent that a) he’d lost his wallet the previous day containing $3400 and b) he had no driving license and so was looking for cash-in-hand work. I felt Nina squeeze my left shoulder from the back seat and we implied that we weren’t going far…

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It was only 204km to Bowen where we were meeting our next couchsurf host, Jonno. Jonno had originally agreed to host us in Rockhampton but as he was in Bowen that evening he invited us to join him and a group of fruit picking hippies at a campsite for a gathering. Thomas decided to take us all the way there and join in the fun that evening, although I’m pretty sure he was more hopeful of scoring weed that meeting people!

So we ended up sleeping with Jonno in Ginola’s tent after a communal meal, card games and a few late night drinks with mostly French and Italian fruit pickers.

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Kevin (Steve’s brother)

This is where the journey gets quite funny. Whilst at Steve’s in Townsville we met Kevin who is Steve’s brother. Kevin offered to give us a ride the 717km south to Rockhampton when he returned home a couple of days later but we had already agreed to meet Jonno in Bowen. Jonno was returning to Rokhampton the following day so we would travel with him. Whilst with Jonno he changed his plans as an old girlfriend was in town and decided not to head back to Rocky.

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Nina and I called Kevin, knowing that he was coming our way in the morning and no sooner had we awoken, brushed our teeth and packed up our bedding, Kevin had arrived at the campsite fresh from a 5am departure from Townsville. We were really glad to see kevin and his granddaughter. A couple of nights previous we had got to know each other whilst putting the world to rights and we were soon at it again chatting away in the car, only stopping for ice-cream on route, before being shown around the family home in Rockhampton!

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vince (Kevin & Steve’s brother)

Who could belief that within three days we had stayed with and travelled with three brothers! Yes that’s what happened next. As we were coming into Rockhampton, Kevin’s brother Vince called to say he was in Rockhampton and would soon be heading down to Hervey Bay to meet “a friend with benefits”. Kevin immediately asked if he minded taking a couple of friends (which we were by now) the 400km south and Vince was happy to oblige, collecting us from Kevin’s house half an hour later.

Vince liked to talk. And I must say we were very interested. He was nothing like Kevin, who was nothing like Steve, but he was interesting in his own way. We got to hear about his time as a prison warden, his motivational speeches as a soccer coast, his opinions on health cures such as hydro peroxide and mega doses of vitamin C before he embarrassingly disclosed his new “before bed habit” which had recently replaced reading. He made us try to guess and then told us he was addicted to a computer game on his phone where he had to build up a farm!

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We arrived at the turn off to Hervey bay, now in Childers. Nina and I decided to jump out and try the campgrounds advertised for backpackers as it was now dark and starting to spit with rain a little, plus it was better for the next days chances of hitching, hoping that we would make it all the way to Dulong the following morning.

Jamie & Scott

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We drudged into the campgrounds at Childers to find row upon row of dorm style accommodation full of “twenty something” fruit pickers eager to do their time in the country for an additional year on their visa. It was a sorry site, looking more like the campsite on the last day of Glastonbury Festival. We snuck into the communal kitchen to make a sandwich but there was nowhere clean to prepare it, just an Italian skinning up on the bench.

We introduced ourselves to Alex and asked if people rent a bed or a dorm or what? He shot off to the next block and returned a couple of minutes later to say he had found us a bed even though the other boys in the room weren’t too happy about it. That’s when we met the boys from England, Jamie and Scott. They were paying $173 a week for a dingy dorm bed and were wary of us kipping on their spare mattress for the night. We got chatting and were sharing stories of our trip, their fruit picking adventures and a meal before the night was over. We were up with them at 5am the next morning and as they left for work we made our way to the edge of town.

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warwick, harry & the Nun

From Childers we only had 218km to Nina’s family home in Dulong. It was ironic that we would stand waiting for the longest time in all our hitching days from England to Australia on the last leg of our journey. It was a fresh morning and we welcomed the sun on our backs as we stood for an hour grumbling at the locals who wouldn’t give us a second glance.

Warwick to the rescue! As always – it’s only a matter of time. Warwick pulled over in his big 4×4, towing a boat on route to a fishing trip on Rainbow Island with friends. They’d been planning it for months and as we drove he received calls on his mobile from friends trying to think of excuses for the girlfriends to allow them fishing. We heard all the stories about how he had a reoccurring illness and time with his mates was the best cure. Warren treated us to a coffee and homemade peanut cake then dropped us at a petrol station in Gympie.

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We stepped out of the car and Nina popped in to use the ladies. As she did a man with a nepalese style hippy hoody emerged from the gents. I ran over to Warwick’s 4×4 as I thought I’d left the camera and as I walked back across the garage forecourt the hippy guy was chatting to a Nun in Tibetan buddhist attire. I only know one monastery in the area and it’s not too far from where Nina lives. They disappeared around the corner before Nina reappeared and when she did I said “quick there’s a Nun around the corner, maybe ask them if they’re going our way” and Nina shot off to catch them.

Nina asked if we could grab a ride with them and if they were going to Chenrezig Monastery. They asked Nina how she knew where they were going. Nina looked at the Nun. They told us to hop in and off we went.

The route to the Monastery took us to a turn off 8km from Nina’s family home and by this time Nina had been in touch with her Mum Christina who was super excited to see us and eager to collect us from somewhere. The Nun made us promise never to become a conservative and Harry dropped us at Palmwoods where we waited for Christina.

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christina

As we hopped out of Harry’s people carrier Nina was starting to well up. We had been dropped off at the National Express bus stop by my parents 17 months ago in Thetford and it was quite fitting that Nina’s Mum would be there to collect us for the last leg of our trip.

We felt so surreal. All those months of travel, all the memories, the people, the places and adventures and now we had arrived, stopped. We waited for a while and Christina arrived for our final hitch to Dulong. It was an emotional reunion.

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Thank you too all the folk who picked us up. Hitch hiking across Australia ended up being one of the highlights of our whole trip. It’s a great way to meet real people going about their normal life. We didn’t have a bad experience and actually only had good ones. Yes hitching is about saving money. It’s also about saving carbon. Most importantly though it’s about connecting with people. Maybe it’s easier as a couple as people feel less threatened but I believe it’s easy if you are open.

Every person that picked us up said that they do not usually pick up hitch hikers or that it’s the first time they picked up a hitch hiker and we feel hopeful that it won’t be the last. Since being home we have already collected hitchers and will continue to do so.

From a travel design perspective, hitchhiking, couchsurfing and the occasional bush sleep helped us to journey from Lombok in Indonesia, more than 5000km, over the course of 5 weeks, to Dulong in Queensland, for a total combined cost for accommodation and transport of $74. Who says budget travel is not possible in Australia?

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Surfing the Crisis

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Nina and I have been in Greece for six weeks now, certainly longer than we expected. True to our travel design we are keeping spending to an absolute minimum – the only way to prolong the trip. People have been asking how we afford to travel for so long, it will soon be six months since we left England, and how can we afford to travel in Europe especially. Greece has been the perfect example of how.

We paid for our first 3 nights in Greece when we arrived in Corfu from Italy. It was €64 in total, about £50. Since then we have not parted with a penny for a bed. Maybe we are bad tourists, given Greece’s current financial situation, spending on average £1.20 a night for accommodation during our 42 days here. We had the good fortune of friends with an empty house for two weeks, we camped between trekking days, we were offered a free room in a hotel and we slept under the stars in our sleeping bags when we missed the last bus out of the city. But how did we have four days seeing the sites of Athens, four days in Greece’s second largest city and the same amount of time in the student hub of Ioannina without parting with a single euro cent? Enter our remarkably kind and trusting new friends that we met through Couch-Surfing.

Greece has been the first place that Nina and I have bounced from couch to couch. It took a bit of forward planning, mostly by Nina, but the experience has been totally humbling. If you are new to the Couch-Surfing concept then I will explain quickly – firstly sign up on their website then once you know which places, cities or towns you are visiting search the database for like-minded (or non like-minded, if you are interested in a more eye opening experience) people and contact them to ask if their couch is free. Their profile states the type of couch. sometimes you get your own room or it could just be a space on the floor. The point really is not about the standard of accommodation but the fact that complete strangers are willing to take you into their homes. It’s an exchange network with the purpose of helping out budget travellers and making connections and friendships whilst learning about local culture.

Nina and I have had nothing but warm, kind, trusting welcomes into to each of the homes that we have stayed in here in Greece. We have been hosted by some very interesting people and learnt a great deal about Greece, the current “crisis” and home traditions, mostly involving food.

Xenofan and Maria were our first Couchsurf hosts in Greece. Both psychology students in the cosy and vibrant lake-side city of Ioannina. They were busy with studies but made time to show us around with a visit to the local produce market and a fundraising event for the immigration support team that Xenofan works with. We cooked together and planted their balcony garden with our expanding collection of seeds taken from various wwoof hosts and seed swappers. Self catering is also high on our priorities. It makes our cash go further and all the Couchsurf hosts we’ve stayed with so far have let us use the kitchen, it’s been a real place to connect and share.

We hitch-hiked (free transport) from Ioannina to Thessaloniki where we were welcomed by Spyros, a professor of political science at the university, active politician with Greece’s far left anti-euro party, writer of books on eco-feminism and public speaker on anti-facism. Spryros’ apartment was a haven for anyone interested in ism’s. Floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with English written books on everything from anarchic primitivism to eurocentrism. We spent the first evening talking about the financial situation and trying to understand what it actually meant to people on a street level. We were joined by a friend, an independent journalist and felt very removed from their struggle yet very welcome in their home. We would have liked to have spent more time with our host but he was tied up with public presentations and lectures most of the time. He very trustingly gave us a set of keys, apologised for his absence and wished us a nice time exploring the city. I’m glad we got to exchange pdf books and documentaries over lunch before we made way to Athens. You can read Spyros’ latest article for the Guardian here.

We arrived in Athens after a sleepless night train and were kindly met at the station by our host Mitsos. He had offered to come and collect us at the crack of dawn on his day off and drove us to his apartment where we met his partner Emily. This was our third back-to-back Couchsurf and we were becoming overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Greek people. We rested for a while before setting off to a beach a little drive from the city. That evening Mitsos and Emily had a family bbq and we met friends, drank home-made red wine, sat up late and put the world to rights. It felt like we had known them for years. If it wasn’t for our hosts we would have never found cafe bars in the city, making use of abandoned buildings in a sort of pop-up cafe, festival way. Emily worked in the tourist area and on our second day she whisked us round the famous landmarks and helped us get a sense of the huge city, 5m in total, half of the Greek population. Emily also worked for a theatre group who happened to be presenting a one man show of Socrates Now on our last evening. It followed a debate and brainstorm about what to do in Greece’s current “crisis”. I thought about what Cuba did when their imports were severed. Made me wanna stand up and quote Geoff Lawton – “All the world’s problems can be solved in a garden”.