I broke down camp and drove north to Fremantle on Saturday morning, arriving in late afternoon at my last stop in Western Australia.
I hurried to erect my tent so I could rush out – I had to pick up some things at the store and I remembered from when I lived in rural New South Wales back in 2002-2003 that some parts of Australia close at five or six on Saturdays and sometimes don't open at all on Sundays.
But I needn't have worried. I drove my rental car to the centre of Fremantle.
A lovely city that was open late! And Fremantle's shopping district was also open on Sundays.
There were even a couple of flea markets that opened only on weekends, and these included fruit and vegetable sections, a fair amount of junky trinkets, and even a few little kiosks selling unique handmade goods.
I spent all of Sunday walking around the centre, buying cool souvenirs for my MariesWorldTour.com souvenir programme (readers would send funds and I’d send them a souvenir) and checking out boutiques stocked with handmade designer wear. These were great, worthy of independent designer clothing anywhere. I bought a T-shirt I liked.
"Do you have another in the same size?" I asked the shop owner.
"You want two?"
"Yeah, well, if you see something you really like, you should buy multiples."
She laughed but didn't have another.
Back at camp, I organised and reorganised. Tomorrow night was flight night, on to Tasmania. This was the end of the camping part of my round-the-world trip, but I planned to carry along some of my gear to hand off to a friend arriving in Sydney in a few weeks.
I’d loved staying in my little tent. It had been a bit inconvenient to take my house up and down all the time, and yes, it leaked and once had nearly blown away, but it was such a cosy little nest, and best of all after months of sleeping in budget lodges, it was all mine.
But tomorrow, I'd sleep on the plane.
The next morning, I peeked out of my tent at six to a grey sky.
Oh no, I thought. I need a dry tent that I can pack.
I jumped up and got to work to beat the rain. I had a 23-kilo luggage allowance. I knew I had under 15 kilos in my regular pack, but how much would all this camping stuff add? Could I even judge a kilo? I’m American – we still use pounds. My kilo-estimating skills were second-rate.
Out went my cheap folding chair, tarp, plate, bowl, mug, cooking pot, tea towel, and extension cord. They looked a little forlorn sitting in the campground kitchen with a note.
"Free to good home. Or not-so-good home. Yours for the taking either way."
I rolled up my mat and packed my sleeping bag, then turned to carefully folding my tent, wiping down the bottom as each bit was turned up from the ground. I rolled it up – no, that wasn't right. I tried again, this time on the nearby picnic table. Now it fit into the tent bag. I put the sleeping bag, mat, tent, and coffee press into my blue IKEA bag and packed it all into the rental Hyundai's hatchback. I showered, had my breakfast, and was approached by a tanned older Australian man.
"You sure were particular about packing that tent," he said.
I reddened but muttered, "I'm taking a plane tonight."
After a quick stop at the post office to send off the latest batch of souvenirs, I headed to the airport to drop off my rental car. My flight wasn't until almost midnight, but the car was due back by 2pm.
A worker covered in titanium oxide sunscreen checked the car in.
"Oh, by the way, the back passenger-side tyre has a slow leak," I said without thinking that there might be consequences.
It turned out that something like this gets you charged $55 in Australia. I went into the terminal – in an outraged huff, and somewhere along the way, the coffee press fell out of the IKEA bag (one less thing to carry). I marched up to the rental car desk.
"There is no way of knowing that I did anything to that tyre. It's a slow leak and the morning I noticed it, I hadn't even driven the car the entire previous day. It could easily have been the last renter! The cap was missing on the valve – ONLY ON THAT TYRE. Why? Because someone's been messing with it, and they didn't report it because they didn't want to be charged, like you're charging me – for being honest!"
The guy behind the counter actually listened to me and agreed I had a point. I could have run over something that caused the leak, sure. But there was an equally good chance I didn't. I had even taken out the excess insurance, which would have reimbursed me the $55, but I resented the idea that because I’d mentioned it rather than quietly letting the next customer have the same situation I had, I was getting charged.
We agreed that the boss would call me, and for now I wouldn't be charged. I headed off to check-in, where I learned that I was three kilos underweight.
* * *
The night’s red-eye flight took about three hours from Perth to Melbourne, and we changed time zones as well. So while I was in the terminal at Melbourne at six in the morning, it sure didn't feel like six to me. I was so tired that I nearly missed my connecting flight – the entire plane had loaded and I hadn't even noticed. I was the last one to board the flight and the door was closed behind me.
Once in Hobart, I collected my tent, sleeping bag, mat, and backpack and caught a shuttle to Hobart Hostel. My room wasn't ready for an hour, so I ate at the cafe across the street. I was delighted to learn eating out cost a whole lot less in Tasmania than it had out west.
The real challenge came with keeping my eyes open in my room while doing laundry nearby. I seemed to do la lot of laundry, I realised, but that’s the nature of living out of a bag for months on end. I also went through all my possessions – when had I lost my mini MagLite, which I’d bought in Singapore in 2001? Where did I leave it? Bangkok? Bali?
I packed up what I wouldn't need and put it in the hostel storage cage along with my leftover camping gear. Tomorrow, I’d be heading out on a six-day hostel-based trip around Tasmania with an organised group, and didn't want to drag along anything I didn't need.
Deciding to go with a group had taken me ages to commit to. I’d noticed how much cheaper it was (I even had a coupon code for the operator) than going it alone, but my real incentive to book was when my Australian friends told me that Tasmanian weather is erratic. I decided I'd be better off with a small group in dorms rather than in my own little tent.
And brrrr – Hobart was chilly at night. I was glad now to have made that decision.
Of course, the group trip was cheap because we had to sleep in dorms. I have issues with other people in my space, and my friends always laugh at me when I overreact to houseguests. I am also no good at being a guest, and prefer to stay in a hotel than with friends.
But in a month, when I got to the Aranui freighter in French Polynesia, I’d have to stay in a dorm. I couldn't afford the thousands of dollars extra to upgrade to my own room. I couldn’t actually afford anything from here on in, having run through my budget for the year a few weeks earlier. And my journey was only going to get pricier from here on in, with my stops in Tahiti and Easter Island on the way home to New York.
So I thought I'd get a head-start on overreacting now, and take the dorm thing for a little test drive.
But could I handle a group after being alone for so long?
We'd find out in the morning.
Love travel quizzes, events and competitions? Then sign up today for free so you don’t miss out!