Technically I’ve been away from home now for 11 days. I spent 2 days of that in Singapore, another day roughly in travel and now I’m here: St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia.
As I write this now, I’m sitting at a wooden ledge in a café looking out at the sea, which is probably about 30 feet away from me. I just arrived here after strolling the Sunday Esplanade market and taking what has become my ‘usual’ walk down to the foreshore. I’m slurping on an iced caramel latte which cost me $6.50 (still getting used to all the costs here), people-watching and thinking about my plan for the rest of the day, which is to stay here as long as I want before taking the tram into the city to visit the Night Noodle Markets in Birrarung Marr Park. When would I have had such a casual lifestyle at home? I think that’s what I’ve been getting used to most – the whole not having a routine thing.
That, and the whole being on the other side of the world thing. I genuinely don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I mean yes, I have gotten over the jet lag now and my sleeping pattern seems pretty normal with Australian time, and my family and I have gotten used to the times of day that we can communicate with each other. But I suppose in so many ways, starting my trip in St Kilda has felt quite homely to me. Perhaps if I’d gone straight into the Outback or even up to tropical Cairns, I would’ve been hit by the distance and the contrast much harder than I have being here.
St Kilda is a beach town, around a 25 minute tram ride from Melbourne’s city centre and luckily for me there is a tram stop right on the corner of my street, Acland Street. When visiting St Kilda, you’ll come across Acland Street pretty fast. One end of the street is the buzzing haven of shops, bars and restaurants and the other is the quiet, leafy end lined with these amazing Victorian-style mansions. Parallel to Acland Street (and only a 5 minute walk for me) is the Esplanade, with slopes that lead through Catani Gardens down to the beach. I’ve never ‘lived’ so close to the coast before and that’s been my dream since a little girl.
The beach here almost has this Brighton feel to it (not to be confused with Brighton, Melbourne). There’s cafes and ice cream kiosks, a long pier and an array of sail boats. The weather since I got here has been up and down – as is the case with Melbourne most of the time, described as the city that goes through 4 seasons in one day. So the outlook at the beach most days has been cloudy, with the ocean looking a little grey and rocky – with the exception of today’s beautiful blue skies – which I guess has added to the overall ‘English’ feel. The main differences from Brighton, England are the palm trees that line the foreshore and the penguins that live at the far end of the pier (Brighton doesn’t have resident penguins as far as I’m aware). I am yet to swim in the sea, I think it looks absolutely freezing and on a walk yesterday I came across a washed up jellyfish the size of a flattened beach ball. Needless to say, kiiiinda put me off.
I will swim though, of course I will. The entire first part of my journey is up the East Coast, passing beautiful beaches all the way. For now at least my days have been spent walking. I have walked A LOT and I have trammed my way into the city a total of two times. The first time I wandered around, checking out the area of Flinders Street Station and the famous street art of Hosier Lane. The second time I ventured into Fitzroy, the oldest suburb of Melbourne, also famed for amazing street art and the all-round gritty, bohemian vibe. It was interesting to see a different side to the city, because I’ll be honest, my first visit was a little… lacking in something. I looked around me and had this ignorant thought of ‘a city’s a city’. I looked forward to returning to St Kilda that day. I think the city will grow on me but generally though, I prefer small, quirky towns and the more coastal the better so St Kilda is perfect.
Things I’ve learned so far are that Australians are a really chilled, mostly friendly nationality. And with a lifestyle and setting like this, why wouldn’t they be? Australians will strike up conversation with literally anybody. I noticed a young guy start chatting with an older woman on the tram the other day just about how their days were going. That wouldn’t happen on the underground in London. Even I struck up conversation with somebody after they noticed my English accent when asking me if I knew whether the beach volleyball was on… I did not. (Side note: as I’m typing this, there is a man behind me on the phone discussing – in a lot of detail – buying prawns for his BBQ tonight – IS THAT NOT THE MOST AUSTRALIAN THING EVER?!) The cost of things have been a struggle for me to absorb. Everything here seems expensive, from coffees to sandwiches to hoodies. I spent an afternoon looking for a cheap hoody to buy (cos I was ridiculously cold) and in one store, I happily raced to the back where I saw the word ‘SALE’ and picked out a basic hoody, which had been $65 and was reduced to $45. ‘THAT’S NOT A SALE!’ is what I screamed in my head. There’s ways around it I’m sure and I’ll get used to it. My only disaster so far being the $75 taxi-ride I took from the airport when I could’ve spent $19 on a bus (ARRRGGGGHHHH). I have at least discovered the $1 coffees in 7-11 so that’s handy.
What have I learned so far as a solo traveller? I guess it’s too early to say what ‘lessons’ I’ve gained from it but in general, I’m capable of doing a lot of stuff on my own. I can motivate myself to get out each day and make the most with my time. My emotional state has been better when the sun is shining. May sound trivial but weather affects your mood so much. On one of the earlier rainy days, I woke up and thought ‘what the hell am I gonna do today?’ and it took me some time to leave the comforts of the apartment but as soon as I did, all the negative thoughts disappeared. And I think that would be my advice to any traveller (solo or not) feeling like that in a foreign country – just go outside! Walking, breathing in fresh air, watching the people around you, listening to music and focusing on a route to follow all helps in changing your mood. I’d say every now and then it’s felt a little strange but I wouldn’t say I’ve felt really sad or lonely. Luckily I don’t mind my own company and I’m happy to just wander around for hours on end. Being a solo traveller, that is probably your best luxury – going exactly where you want with nobody else to hold you back. On the other hand, I haven’t underestimated how important it is to have human interaction and that will begin next week for me as I leave my cosy Airbnb behind and throw myself into hostel life. Goodbye gorgeous, queen-sized bed with an abundance of cloud-like pillows, hello squeaks-every-time-you-move hostel bunk bed.
Also, I’m obviously already slipping into the laid back vibe here. I don’t feel like I have to clock-watch here and sometimes I’ve had to stop myself and think ‘wait, what day is it?’ – not that it even matters! But yesterday I came to a realisation that I have accommodation booked currently until Friday and after that, I have nothing. THAT IS SO UNORGANISED OF ME! So today or tomorrow, I really need to make the decision of: staying in Melbourne a few more nights or booking a flight to Sydney. And the fact that I’m NOT stressing out about this says a lot about how my mindset must have changed already. I mean after a while, things might change again, I might wake up and have this strong desire for a routine and I might say, ‘LUCY SORT YOUR LIFE OUT’ but for now it’s not a concern to me in the slightest and I don’t feel like there’s any rush at all. And I suppose – as all the hippy travellers say – the not-knowing when and where you’re going next is the fun of it.