The question people ask most when I say I’m going on a working holiday is not ‘Why New Zealand?’ or ‘Do you have a job lined up?’
It’s usually, ‘Who are you going with?’
When I reply, ‘I’m going on my own,’ their response, tinged with slight panic is, ‘Do you know anyone over there?’
The answer to that is, ‘Maybe.’
Same answer could be, ‘I haven’t really checked.’
It’s the truth. I haven’t.
I suppose with the way things are in Ireland at the moment, there’s a good chance I’d know someone in New Zealand, or at least their cousin. Irish people have two degrees of separation. And from my travels around Australia in the past, I’d imagine one or two of the backpackers I met along the way there will be checking out New Zealand, the nearest English speaking place to the land Down Under.
But it’s not really an issue because I know as soon as I get there, unpack, get over the jetlag, have a quick wander around, I’ll already become acquainted with a handful of people from staying in a backpacker’s hostel.
I’ll be able to find out if there’s work going, what’s good to see or do or eat in the area, what the other cities, towns, attractions are interesting and probably much more information that I didn’t even know I’d be finding out.
I hope this doesn’t seem overly confident, but I’ve found it’s been the same everywhere I’ve been travelling on my own, from all around Australia, to Indonesia and Argentina, even with the latter two having languages that I don’t speak.
No matter where you are in the world, people are people. Even if they’ve got a different religion, language, skin colour, economic background, level of education, job, value system, culture or way of life to yours- people are people. Most people are sound and like to help others. That’s something I’ve learned from travelling and it really helps to open the world up and make everything less daunting when I remind myself of that.
I know from previous trips, I won’t be the only solo backpacker around. There’ll be loads of others. Some people will be travelling for enlightenment or to have a better life or to find love or to learn new things or to run away from problems they had. Some will be travelling for the craic. But each of us will have an immediate understanding of what it’s like to be there on your own, and because of that, we’ll have an immediate connection.
The most essential item for going solo is an open mind. Being open to the people you meet and the possibilities that await means an adventure you could never have planned for. You’ll do things you never anticipated. I once went hang-gliding on a ranch outside Buenos Aires. I spent an evening painting and eating ice cream in an artist’s studio in Ubud. A hippie gave me a free didgeridoo lesson in Fremantle. I taught a writers’ group near the rainforests of New South Wales. I saw notes that Martin Luther King Jr. scribbled and words he underlined on his books in an exhibition in Atlanta. I held a crocodile in Spain. I ate a crocodile burger in Sydney. It tasted like chicken.
Though, in saying all this, I’m not naïve enough to think everyone I meet will be good or kind or someone I’d like to be around. Some people won’t. You can’t trust everyone, unfortunately, you can only go on what you do trust – your instinct. When your life is in transit, people are transient; you quickly learn how to spot the ones you want to spend time with and avoid the people you’re not so keen on.
I love writing, I’m fascinated by human nature and interactions so I generally enjoy being around people. I enjoy listening to their life stories. But in the same way, because I love writing, all I need is a notebook to jot ideas and when that gets boring, a good book to read and study to pass the time.
When I get somewhere new, I like to explore it on foot. I walk around ambitiously, taking more unknown parts in, remembering landmarks and street names or natural spots and figuring out different ways back to where I’m staying. I learn a new place by getting lost in it then get a lovely feeling and sense of it when it starts becoming more familiar.
I’ll be travelling on the famous shoestring budget. I’ve enough money to get over there and back here and a little money to help me get set up but I will be looking to get some work when I land to tie me over. I’ll be open to what that job will be. I’ve worked for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting where I registered presidents, diplomats, chief bankers, CEOs of major multinationals and even one of the world’s wealthiest women – Gina Rinehart – to business conferences. A few weeks later, I sold pick’n’mix jellies, bubblegum and chocolates from a sweet stall in Perth Domestic Airport. The only work I want to do forever is write, everything else is research.
In summary, I don’t really know anyone in New Zealand and I don’t really know anywhere in New Zealand, I don’t really have any money to spend and I don’t have any plans on what I’ll be doing when I get there. But over the next few months, I look forward to that all changing and I’ll be writing down some of my observations and experiences on it for The Western People.