Starting January 8th, 2021, I had no visa… no home… only a destination: my friend Elise’s wedding. I sat with my luggage and backpack in a silent Sydney airport terminal. No bustle of tourists, no last minute souvenir shopping, just people quietly sitting waiting for their planes. Was I crazy to decide to spend the year traveling with a pandemic raging around the world? Would this end up being the most expensive decision I could make? Would I get stuck in a state-lockdown alone? I boarded the plane to Byron Bay from Sydney anyways and the year unfolded.
I was on a “bridging visa” meaning at any time the Australian government could say “Yeah Nah” or “Nah Yeah”. I went to Byron Bay to wait for 2 weeks so I could be accepted into Queensland through the country’s state permitting process. From Gold Coast exploring waterfalls with Olivia to Brisbane with drinks with Cheynee and Kat to Noosa to Fraser Island I kept going. After spending 2 weeks in Queensland, I could apply to enter Victoria without mentioning I had been in New South Wales. I flew into Melbourne just in time to spend Valentine’s day in lockdown at my friend Maria’s house for a week.
That lockdown ended, Tasmania opened up, and Felipe and I spent 10 days on a motorcycle exploring the wild west. The next 4 months in Melbourne went smoothly and I could hike around the Grampians and work at a German restaurant. My tourist visa request was accepted here and I officially became a tourist – goodbye working holiday.
The day Melbourne entered another lockdown, I escaped across the boarder to New South Wales with Annie and some more Germans. We drove through unsealed roads to sneak into South Australia. For two weeks, we camped and hiked all around the southern part of the state. Winter camping in 50 degrees tested me but waking up to gorgeous crisp mornings surrounded by no one were the pay off.
Our group split off in Adelaide when the Germans drove north and I flew west. In Perth, Sloane met me. We first road tripped south along the southern most tip of Western Australia in a rental car. After getting my first vaccine shot and chasing quokkas, we grabbed a caravan and started driving north. 3,000km later we were in Broome. In that time, we watched cities fall victim to COVID outbreaks and lock down. Perth, Darwin, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney who had been in lockdown the first and longest. We felt safe in the west most corner of the country.
Sloane left me there and I continued on alone through the outback in a caravan towards Darwin. Crossing into the Northern Territory confirmed the impossible – in 7 months I had driven through every state. From the north to the south, east to the west. I cried speeding down the barren A1 towards Darwin.
After 2 weeks in Darwin, I had: received my second vaccine shot, befriended 20 year olds and partied at bush doofs, camped in Kakadu, and swam in places with caution crocodiles signs. It was time to head south, so I flew back to Melbourne. Naturally, lockdown greeted me after one week and I spent the month cooking and having apartment dance parties with Marizelle. I escaped on the train to Warrnambool for my last adventure with Felipe at the hot springs before the whole state entered lockdown.
Before I knew it, I found myself again sitting in a quiet Sydney airport. The last 24 hours have included: goodbye hugs to Fernanda on Hall St, sharing joints with Lais in her place, and playing Settler of Catan with my old roommates on Miller St, Martin, Stefano, and Josefina. I woke up for a cloudy rainy sunrise on Bondi Beach, and I was time to leave.
The poor unknowing people I had to interact with. The ticket agent when making small talk about how long I had been in Australia was not ready for me to respond with a teary choke “3 years”. She stopped asking questions after that. The TSA agent at the gate asking me where I lived, me responding “Bondi beach” with such sadness it prompted her to say “Bondi will always be waiting here for you”. Cue more water works.
The plane which normally holds over 200 people held just 11 of us that day. With boarders locked, the only ones leaving knew they were not returning. I laid down in my 3 rows and sobbed. I had been running for 8 months and finally knew I was going home. After two years away from friends and family I was ready to go home. Leaving this place that came to mean so much to me was not going to be easy. Luckily I had 16 hours in the sky to cry about it.
I land in LA to the overwhelming feeling of America – crowded, chaotic, no distancing – so jarring from what I had just left. It was evident these two countries operated differently in the pandemic but I was literally living through it.
First stop, Charleston, South Carolina to celebrate Christina’s 30th with my whole family. From there, mom and dad drove me through Savannah, Georgia, down to crystal rivers Florida to swim with manatees. A couple nights in Florida and I was off to New York. One COVID scare down, first PCR test in America. A month in NYC gave me all the energy I could ever need. Seeing all my best friends from college and the city at Christine & Mike’s wedding. Eating in Brooklyn with my cousin Gina. Hiking upstate with Christina & Derek. Late night dancing with Amber and Nana in Bushwick. Another COVID scare, more testing.
Next stop Pennsylvania, Philadelphia for Amy’s wedding and Pittsburgh with Peter and my uncle and cousins. We gorged on Italian food in Ohio with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. The luggage was packed up again and onward we went down to Washington DC and Virginia. Sleep overs with old friends like Patti, Carolyn, Katlyn, playing with Stasia’s baby Cora, made me so mentally happy. I was home.
Flying back to Florida for thanksgiving we cooked, drank, and lounged. Another escape to New York, for more COVID scares and more PCR tests. I returned to my parents to end the year with Christmas and COVID. 2 years dodging COVID in Australia, 4 months in America and I caught it. Fitting end to the year. I waited my 10 days, conveniently finishing just in time for my flight to Mexico.
2021 had one stand out theme to me: just go. Don’t worry about who will say what, if you think you have the money or not, whatever is holding you back let it go and go. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.