10 Things They Don't Tell You About Backpacking Oz

Trip Start Jan 13, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Friday, May 4, 2012

Here's 10 Things The Guidebooks Don't Tell You About Backpacking in Australia...

      Skippy ain't so sweet.

Kangaroos are bloody scary. Honestly. A far cry from the connotations we have of fluffy life-saving friendly creatures that bound across bush land, rescuing young boys from wells. There is nothing more terrifying than seeing a pair of ears appear above long grass and hearing the loud and clear "fuck off" of the thud of a hind leg on solid earth. Actually there is; it’s seeing those ears, hearing that thud, then seeing several more pairs of ears, realising the grass is as least 5 foot tall so they are some pretty hefty kangaroos...all this having just received the warning that angry kangaroos can rip your insides out with their hind legs should they choose to do so. This happened to me and the sound of my own erratic heart beat nearly perforated my ear drum. Avoid disturbing sleeping roo’s at all costs. Also please note that you will see more dead kangaroos by the side of the road than you will alive ones.

2.       You will stoop to unhygienic depths you never imagined possible.

Everyone knows backpackers are dirty creatures who don’t wash their clothes often enough, but it goes so much further than that. It will put your university/dole years to shame. You won’t wash the bed sheets in your van, ever. You will pick up bed bugs from every hostel you stay in and bring them along for your road-trip. You will eat from dirty plates, clean cutlery with baby-wipes (thank god for baby-wipes) and eat out-of-date food, because you paid for it. You will piss in unimaginable places, whipping your pants down at the side of the highway, hoping you can finish before a truck passes/snake bites you. You will drip dry and then not change your underwear for another 2 days. Should you have a stomach upset on an occasion that you have run out of toilet roll, as my partner did, you will run into the low lying spinifex grass behind a small dead tree, armed with only a sheet of note paper and a carrier bag to wipe yourself with. You might decide to change your underwear the next day if that was the case. The best bit is that you will get so used to stinking so badly that after a while you won’t even notice it. But you know that guy who gets on the bus who reeks of cheese, body odour and piss? That’s what you’ll smell like.

3.       Oldies do it best.

On the road you’ll meet The Grey Nomads. These are the people you want to be when you are older. They’ve reached retirement age, sold their houses to buy a kick-ass mobile home and are spending their kids inheritance on touring Australia. They are first up in the morning walking their dogs and the last to bed at night after sitting by the fire, drinking brandy and playing music. They put you to shame. Their mobile homes are like space-craft. Huge things that tow their 4x4’s and their boat and their bikes behind them. They have wide screen TV’s and washing machines (I kid you not.) They have tool-kits and first aid packs and generators and more often than not are glad to bandage you up, jump start your clapped out van or let you charge a mobile phone or two. Grey Nomads are friendly and inviting. They also have the best travel advice, so say g’day and accept an invite to sit by the fire.

4.       Avoid Opal Fuel.

Every guide book tells you Opal Fuel is alright. It isn’t. You’ll find it most places in the Northern Territory because it is a low aromatic fuel and it can’t be sniffed to get high. There is a problem with petrol sniffing among some aboriginal communities and this is the government’s main attempt at tackling it. Just don’t put it in your vehicle, especially if it’s a van, especially if it’s pre-2000. Choose the Premium Unleaded instead. Yes it’s more expensive but it will save you the $300 it costs to replace your fuel pump when you break down in Alice Springs…speaking from experience.  (Note: some places don’t even label the fuel as Opal, so it’s best to double check. The people who run the service stations are used to it; they wouldn’t put that shit in their car either.)

5.       You will get homesick and miss your mum.

If not your mum then your cat/dog/bed/brother/friends/favourite tea. It usually happens when you get sick, which happens a lot as you move from place to place, hostel to hostel. Accept it. Call whoever and have a cry. Even if you are 34 years old.

6.       Not all locals are characters from Wolf Creek.

Meeting locals adds a whole new dimension to your trip, because you start experiencing it like you live there, not like a tourist. Obviously trust your judgement, if a weirdo with an axe tells you he’s just escaped prison and would love you to look at the puppy dogs in his car then I’d suggest you decline. But otherwise, if you’re offered a cup of tea or a beer then accept it. If you’re British, stop being so British. We sat up by the fire one winter in a pub in Bega with One-Eyed-Jacko and his mates and laughed the night away. We met some duck hunters at Lake Wellington and were well fed, never without a beer or warmth from the fire and spent the next morning helping them pluck and gut the ducks. You don’t get that kind of experience on a Peter Pans Under-30’s Coach Tour. We also created a little South Australian family by cuddling someone’s dogs in the back of their car funnily enough. But she didn’t have an axe and hadn’t just been released from prison so it was ok to go round for a brew. Since then we’ve had a home away from home, friendship and some incredible true South Australian experiences.

7.       Get used to the word 'BUSH.’

Bush. Bush. Bush. Big Bush. You have to be able to say it and hear it without cracking a smile. The word is used so often you can’t escape it. You may go out to explore the bush, you may go bush whacking, you may eat bush tucker, you may sleep in the bush…the possibilities of bush are endless. Say it with me: Bush.

8.       Spiders will constantly panic you.

You will learn to identify the really nasty ones, the ones you seriously want to avoid. The Red-Back, the Funnel Web, the White-Tail and so on. Unfortunately the only way to truly identify one is to see one and once you’ve seen one you’ll feel so close to inevitable spider related death it is unreal. You’ll learn to recognise the friendly Huntsman who is massive and fast but eats all the other nasties. You’ll learn to love or at least tolerate him. However, every other spider you can’t identify will in your mind be one that is going to kill you. A lime green one on the van perhaps, one with weird orange legs in the toilet, the black one on your bed. Then you’ll feel something you’re sure is a spider bite even though it didn’t go anywhere near you, you’ll get palpitations, text your mum to tell her you love her and prepare for your untimely death. On the upside, when you do actually wake the next morning you’ll feel lucky to be alive and seize the day for sure.

9.       Going home will be scary.

I’ve not done it yet, I’ve not ventured home. But the thought of it is in fact scarier than taking the step to come out here in the first place. I can’t wait to see my family, my newborn nephew, my friends…but the thought of leaving all of this behind paralyses me. Here I have purpose, a reason to get up every morning, something new to explore, another adventure. This life makes so much sense. There is so much more colour, so many more sounds. I dread the post-travelling blues. So maybe I won’t go home. Or maybe I’ll just pay a visit. But the 9 to 5 working-to-survive attitude fills my heart with fear. More fear than I felt when I took that first step backwards over the edge of the cliff and felt the wind on my ankles when I abseiled at Kangaroo Point. The unknown is exciting. The inevitable is terrifying.

10.   Koala’s have Chlamydia.

Sorry, but it’s true.  
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