Australia

I flew to Australia on a whim, with a loose plan and a handful of set flights. And somewhere between the wonderful people I met along the way, and the cities, ocean and mountains, it became the best trip of my life.

Everything I did there I did full on. I dove the Great Barrier Reef, I learned to surf at Bondi Beach, I immersed myself in the food and art scene in Melbourne, and I rode through the Blue Mountains on a motorcycle.

And it was epic. It was beyond epic, but what really made it was all the people I met along the way. See, I was traveling alone, but in those three weeks I never once felt alone. Everywhere I went, new friends welcomed me into their lives with open arms.

In Melbourne, from getting picked up from the airport by an old friend, Izzy, to dropped off by a new friend, Chloe, I was constantly laughing. 

On the Great Barrier Reef, my dive buddy, Seth, quickly became the little brother I never had, and my roommate, Ciara, a beautiful Aussie mermaid who hopped out the ocean and onto the boat (I have yet to confirm that theory), reminded me how much inner power women who travel alone posses. The rest of the crew and passengers made every minute between the dive-eat-sleep-repeat an absolute pleasure.

In Cairns, the liveaboard crew hooked it up. Leighton gave me a place to call home for a day and got me on my next bus, while Kim kept the JΓ€ger train running through the night.

In Ayr and Townsville, Meri, a German schoolteacher who I met at a bus stop, kept me company. She made me dinner, dove a wreck with me, shared her stories and advice, and gave me a glimpse of my future self. 

Between all the people he introduced me to in Sydney and making Bondi Beach feel like home, my friend Erik showed me how easily I could make the move to Australia one day. And of course, for giving me the most epic and unforgettable last day in Straya- I’ll always be grateful.

To the gypsies and the mermaids, and the divers and the motorbike riders. To everyone mentioned and unmentioned. To everyone who gave me a place to stay or gave me a ride, who fed me or clothed me, who bought me a drink or a coffee, who made me laugh or kept me company.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 Know that wherever I am in the world, my home is your home, and I only hope that one day I can repay the favor.


Miss Flights. Not Life.

My last day of travel was meant to be spent in Auckland, where I would have a day to explore a new country and catch a flight back to San Francisco. But the thing about plans is that sometimes, something better comes along.

I made a deal with a friend, skip work and I’ll skip my flight. What made the deal even more tempting was the suggestion of visiting the Blue Mountains, a dramatic mountain range just west of Sydney.

As much as I love spending time near the ocean, the mountains always have a way of pulling me back to them, so there I was on Friday morning, watching the sunrise over Bondi Beach instead of heading to the airport, knowing that I made the right decision. 

In the interest of transparency I did not mistakenly miss my flight. 

No, I would never (I’m too organized.) I voluntarily chose to skip it.

In high school, I had an incredible economics professor who could actually make his lessons stick. And one of the things that stuck was the concept of sunk costs. My flight to New Zealand and accommodation was already paid for, and changing my flight would cost double the original flight. But going to New Zealand wasn’t going to give me my money back, and there was no sense in going just because it’s paid for, when I would rather stay in Australia an extra day. 

It’s so easy to get caught up in money, and to forget what makes you happy. Luckily, that’s something I figured out a long time ago.

So I just booked a new flight. 

Instead of wandering around cold Auckland alone for a day, I got to spend my last day of traveling riding on the back of a motorcycle through the Blue Mountains in Australia. 

Was it worth it?

Absolutely. 

Anyways, if there’s anything to take away from this (there’s always a takeaway- you know the drill) it’s to not let money guide your decisions, especially when it’s already a sunk cost. 

Just do whatever you want, whatever makes you happy. 

Boys, Bullies and Brisbane

I’ve been on too many flights to count, and aside from the occasional pleasant conversation, all of them have been pretty uneventful. 

That’s exactly why I had to chronicle my best flight ever. If you’ve been following my adventures on snapchat, then you know I got bullied by a nine year old boy and subsequently got asked out for drinks by said boy. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard on a flight. 

I was catching the second leg of my flight, Brisbane to Sydney, and was seated next to two unaccompanied minors. Sasha, a red headed seven year old, had the window seat, and Hamish, a nine year old too small for his age sat in the middle, next to me. 

As soon as I sat down, I knew I was in for a long flight. The boys immediately pushed their devices onto my lap, Sasha insisting that I watch blurry videos of his dog, and Hamish showing off his Jedi skills in his homemade movies. 

At one point, the younger of the two boys looked at me and declared, “I have to pee!” 

I stared at him and bluntly said, “Not my problem,” yet somehow ended up holding all of his snacks and his juice while wiggled out of his seat. Clearly, they were growing on me by that point. 

A little later, Hamish and I started joking around and he decided to remind me what nine year boys are really like.

“You look like a poor person,” Hamish quipped. I had barely made the flight and was wearing a dive t-shirt and no makeup. My jaw dropped, and he hit me with another one. 

“Do you have a boyfriend?” 

“No.”

“Then you must be a lesbian.”

I realized I was sitting next to the sassiest nine year old in the world and I refused to be trolled by a little boy, so I immediately let him know that I would drop kick him through the emergency exit of this plane if he didn’t cool it with the remarks.

If you’re thinking, “Pauline, you did not say that to a little kid,” then you’re mistaken.

Hamish smiled at me because he realized I could hold my own, and that two could play his game. He spent the rest of the flight sitting politely, teaching me his iPad games and even feeding me his Pringles. He even asked me out for a drink, and when I asked him if he knew what that meant, he said, “no, but they do that in the movies!”

I think I cried laughing.

When I got up to leave, Hamish looked at me and said, “I won’t forget you, you’re the nicest person I sat next to on a plane.” 

I gave him a high five, but I wish I had given him a big bear hug. 

 “You too little homie.”

Melbourne: Straya’s Chicago

As much as I loved traveling Asia, after five weeks I was yearning for familiarity. I wanted something to feel more like home, and Australia did all that for me and more.

Melbourne was the perfect place to start simply because it’s the Australian version of Chicago. This has even been confirmed by Aussie friends who have visited The Windy City, so I’m not just making this stuff up people.

The two cities share the same general vibe, with trendy cafes and shops galore, a river running through, a gorgeous skyline, clean but busy streets, and even an accessible beach. 

On top of that, my Melbournian friends made me feel beyond welcome- seriously, from the moment I left the airport to the moment I returned, I was constantly surrounded by wonderful people.

My friend Izzy, who studied abroad at my University this spring, and his sister Hailey, picked me up from the airport and pulled me straight into Australian culture. From kebabs, to craft beers, getting a great view of the city from rooftops, to Golden Gay Times, I had the best first day in Straya. 

I spent the next four days with Chloe, a beautiful artsy girl, who I had met on a boat in Vietnam only two weeks prior to my trip to Melbourne, but felt like I had known for forever. Chloe and her roommates opened up their home to me, took me out on the town, and even clothed me since its technically winter in Australia and my shorts and tanks from Asia were certainly not going to keep me warm. 

I think what made Melbourne so great was that for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was actually living real life. Chloe took me to the theater, we went out to brunch with the girls, and we sat on her couch eating cheesecake and talking about boys. 

See, you start to miss little things like that when you’re constantly exploring something that’s completely new to you.

Melbourne was technically new to me, but somehow, between the friends and the food- it felt like home and I loved it.

Huge shout out to Izzy, Hailey, Chloe, Hannah, Jamila, Tom and everyone in between for the grand time. You’re all stars. 

Farewell to Asia

Looking back at the last five weeks traveling Asia, I can say that it was one of the most intense and different travel experiences I’ve had. I strongly encourage anyone who is planning their next trip to make your way to this amazing continent, because no matter how different it is- I promise you’ll pick up on it quickly and will be better for it.

You’ll learn to like the street food, but also know where to draw the line in terms of food hygiene.

You’ll learn that the best way to cross a street packed with scooters and motorbikes is to say a quick prayer and walk ahead with confidence, parting the traffic like Moses parting the Red Sea. 

You’ll see cockroaches on the streets, but most bathrooms will be strangely clean. You’ll see diagrams in bathroom stalls explicitly telling people to not stand on the toilets and squat over them, and signs prohibiting people from bringing their durian with them on the train. 

You’ll also notice how hard people work- in fields and farms, or weaving tapestries, in services and in hotels. Even all of our tour guides through Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia would walk through fire to make sure we had everything we needed. 

But most of all, if you travel Asia the biggest thing you’ll notice is that you’ll love it. For the people, for the food, for how different it is from what you’re use to. You’ll love it for the affordability, for the natural wonders, and for the man made wonders. You’ll love it for the culture, for the soul, and for everything it makes you reflect on. 

You’ll just love it. 

And with that, fellow readers, future travelers, wanderlusters, and nomads- all I say to you, is “Go!” 

Lena and the Habibis

As someone who prefers to travel solo and picking up friends along the road, I took a leap and said yes when my three guy friends suggested we backpack Asia this summer. It was the best decision I could have made.  

Today the remaining three of us parted ways (since Thomas got sick and unfortunately had to leave us), splitting off to different continents. I’m headed south to Australia, Alfonso is heading west Europe, and Nick is heading east back to Boston. We’ve spent every day for the last five weeks together exploring Asia- sweating, making silly bets, and ordering way too much food. We’ll see each other shortly in San Francisco to start work, so I can’t really be that dramatic about it. Nevertheless, I got use to traveling with the boys, and will miss it. 

The weather finally caught up with us in Phuket and it rained throughout our stay, which was a blessing considering we went to Asia during rainy season and hadn’t been rained out once. We were on a ferry from the Phi Phi Islands being tossed around the waves like clothes in a washing machine, while everyone around us vomited. The only thing that got us through it was a menthol oil I had bought in Vietnam that we poured liberally into our nostrils to block out all the smells.

That was easily the worst boat ride of my life, but for some reason- with Alfonso on my right and Nick on my left- I was absolutely okay with it. 

It goes to show that the company you keep means everything while you’re traveling. They can make a bad day, great. 

I think a huge part of what made us work is that each of us has traveled extensively and has done a semester abroad. Alfonso studied abroad in Madrid, Thomas in Paris, Nick in London, and I did my semester abroad in Barcelona. They’re also a great group of guys with hearts of gold. 

Our first day in Hong Kong, I wore my running shoes, thinking they would be better for my broken toe. I was almost in tears after a few painful steps and in a heartbeat Thomas ran up ten flights of stairs in the awful heat just to get me a pair of sandals. Nick always helped me make a game plan for each city, knew how to calm me down if I was stressed, and put up with every time I asked him to take my picture (which was a lot). And Alfonso always makes sure we’re hydrated and always had the wifi passwords.

They would all take a bullet for me. Okay, maybe not a bullet but a shot. They’d all take a shot for me. Like if I were at a bar and someone bought me a gross shot that I didn’t want to take, I could hand it to anyone of them and they’d be like, “yeah, sure, thanks.” 

They’re pretty great like that. 

Thomas, Alfonso and Nick- thanks for making five weeks in Asia full of laughter, joy, and stories that can only one day come out in wedding toasts. 

It’s been awesome.

American SchoolingΒ 

Spending over a week in Vietnam made me realize how very little I know about the Vietnam War, locally known as the Resistance War Against America which I believe is a more fitting name, and America’s unfortunate history in Southeast Asia.

Sadly, most people who have gone to primary and secondary school in the States are not aware that the American education system is selective about what it chooses to include in the curriculum and what details it chooses to exclude. (Just another reason why it’s so important to travel and educate yourself.)

I can spend hours running a play by play of World War II, from each concentration camp in Poland to the Nazis who escaped to Argentina. 

But when it comes to the Vietnam War, which was more recent and therefore should be taught, I could only tell you Nixon was trying to stop the commies so we went to Saigon, and then the hippie movement started. The Tet Offensive, napalm, Forrest Gump, and the Pentagon Papers fit somewhere in that chapter, too, but that’s the best I can do.

Sure we learned about the Vietnam War. It was a chapter somewhere towards the end of the school year, when teachers and students alike were anxious for summer. It was glazed over, and even looking back I realized that some parts were outright omitted. 

I don’t recall being taught about Agent Orange. I don’t recall being told that the Unites States government dropped 44 million liters of poisonous gas on the people of Vietnam that to this day has caused death, severe deformities, and health complication in over 4 million people.

No, I think I would have remembered that.

What about the My Lai massacre? American troops raided a village, killing over 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians, most of them women and children. 

I think that deserves more than a paragraph in my textbook. 

Napalm? Dioxin? These are war crimes, genocide. Yet, in school they only teach us about the war crimes of the Nazis during World War II. 

Look up agent orange victims and explain to me how we, as a generation and a nation, have just ignored our actions, when people in Vietnam are still being born with defects caused by the poisons dropped on them by the Americans almost fifty years ago. 

I try my best to stay away from polarizing topics, but after some of the things I’ve seen in Vietnam I cannot stand by and be ambivalent. I have a lot more to learn, but I urge you as well to learn more about American involvement in Vietnam, victims of Agent Orange, and in general to seek information outside of what we are taught. 

Remember that knowledge is power, and that the best way to learn about something is to go see it for yourself.