Life before backpacks

Posted by Joey C on


Hello again!

The feedback from releasing some of my emotions in the last blog seemed to have resonated with a lot of people. So, I’m back here writing again (bit longer this time). Maybe I’ll make this a thing. Maybe I’ll start and then life will take a hold and I’ll fall into a long-time hiatus like photography and stop all of a sudden. Who knows… but someone once said to me “just keep showing up”.

For the time being, that’s what I’ll try and do. 

I think most people felt the rawness of my writing and thank you to those who complimented me on how it read. My sister even asked me how I learned to write like that (thanks sis!). It’s funny though, I wasn’t very good at English in school. I was terrible when it came to writing essays, I did not enjoy reading at all or breaking down texts and my biggest strength was spelling and grammar (he’s going out tonight, not his going out tonight FYI – also, if I make spelling and grammar errors in the future, please don’t come at me haha).

But here we are. Pouring my emotions and feelings into a word document and then copying it over to a website that was supposed to be about photography and selling prints for charity. How did we end up here?

Well… life happens.

See, I could go back to my childhood years and give you some long winded story about my life and how it led me here today. But I actually want to take you back to 2014 and my first overseas trip and how that started to shape my future.

I started full time work in 2012, straight after completing my diploma in the sport and recreation industry. I am completely sports mad and after chatting with a friend, we decided we were going to travel to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014. I would then spend the next 3 months after it, travelling around Europe. This meant a lot of sacrifice and saving my butt off the next 2 or so years (are you allowed to say butt in a blog?).

This wasn’t an easy task. When you turn 18, you’re basically beginning your prime “party years” in society’s eyes. Most of my friends were working casually, going to university or taking a gap year and working out how their future looked. There were mid-week nightclub visits, all weekend benders and house parties in between. Life was peaking! During this time, I was part time work while studying at 18 and full time employed by 19. I was also paid monthly… that was tough.

I did my best to maintain my social life as well as learning very quickly how to run a budget for life expenses – board, phone bill, car costs (petrol, rego, services), food and everything else. Pretending to be an adult sucked, but in order to save for this trip, I had to make some sacrifices.

This meant a little bit of slowing down on the partying. But, not too much. I was 19 remember…

I talk a lot. For those of you who know me personally, you can vouch for it. For those who ended up down this rabbit hole – welcome and sorry.

Anyway… It will come as no surprise that I was fortunate to have built relationships while enjoying my nights out on the town, especially local. Cheeky Jo managed to score a casual job working for a few hours at the local pub on a Friday night. This meant 3 hours of paid work, followed by hitting the dance floor and free drink cards. The perfect compliment to saving money and also still being able to see friends and enjoy my younger years. I did this leading up to the Brazil trip and what a blessing that was.

Fast forward to 2014 and actually going overseas. My family bid me farewell at the airport and my first stop was to Dubai. My plan was to visit my sister’s best friend who had been living there for a few years.

I remember sitting on the plane after it took off and just thinking to myself, there is no going back now. I was sh*t scared. First time travelling overseas and on my own (I was meeting my friend in Brazil after Dubai). I had the most terrifying feeling inside of me that I had made a massive mistake and I needed to turn back around.

But I was brave. I put on my big girl pants and disembarked that plane to touch down in the United Arab Emirates and collect my first ever passport stamp. I was greeted by my sister’s and my dear friend and suddenly everything was okay again. I told myself that this was an adventure and to embrace it.

Dubai was short lived. We did the usual tourist hot spots. Dubai Mall plus Ski Dubai (skiing in a desert, well I have seen it all), desert safari in the four-wheel drives (I think I still have concussion from my head hitting the roof of the car on the dune drops), visit to the aquarium, swimming at the beach (not getting sunburnt) and most importantly – watching the fountains at the base of the Burj Khalifa dancing to the music. It was short, but sweet.




From Dubai, it was farewell to my friend and off to South America. I was finally Brazil bound after all those years of building and saving.

I spent the next month on the most whirlwind adventure. The first part of the trip was following the Socceroos (Australia’s men’s team) around Brazil for each of their group games. We visited some really unique cities and towns and met so many kind hearted locals. We also assisted with painting at a local school in Brazil that had been vandalised with graffiti. (the pants worn on that day are still covered in paint). After taking in all of those matches, we set up camp in Rio De Janeiro (Peter Allen here we go!). It was football fever to the max. Copacabana beach with a huge fan zone for everyone to watch the games. Like thousands upon thousands of fans, every single day. Beach football competitions between supporters from countries all around the world. Visiting Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer – the big Jesus), Sugar Loaf Mountain, hang gliding above the city, matches at the Maracanã, visits to the favela Rocinha, Escadaria Selarón (the Selarón steps) and many other attractions. It was tourism at its best and I was in the thick of it.




It was a rush. What an experience it was. I had the absolute time of my life. Football (soccer for those playing at home or in the US), is the biggest sporting event on the planet to me and the World Cup being hosted in a country brimmed with passion was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. The month went by so quickly and I was finishing my time in South America when it felt like it had only just begun. I didn’t want to go, but Europe was calling!


The Maracanã


I’d be lying if I said I arrived in Europe and I slowed down the pace of the trip. So, fire up. We’ve got 3 months to work through in a short space.

My flight out of Brazil was to the UK so I could catch up with relatives from overseas. My mother’s family moved to Australia when she was 14 and being the only ones who did, it meant we had a lot of family back home in the UK. We would receive visits to Australia as we were growing up which was always nice. But it was even better now, because I was finally returning to the “motherland” and seeing some of the family history for myself.

I landed in Manchester (we don't talk about Manchester) and was greeted by one of my cousin’s who had kindly offered to collect me from the Airport and transport me to Liverpool (yay, Liverpool). Unfortunately, my case with all my belongings chose not to join me on my flight and was having a bit of extended holiday in Brazil. I don’t blame it, but it was a bit of an annoyance.

This meant smelly travelling Jo ended up at the local ASDA, shopping for some basic clothing and toiletries to get by until the holidaying case decided to re-join the family.

Now, before I continue. I spoke about being sports mad at the beginning. This means, I have my teams that I support. This means, we can hopefully still be friends after I start writing this next section. If not, it’s been nice…

One of the first things I had planned upon my arrival to Liverpool was a tour of Anfield. This is the stadium of Liverpool Football Club. I’ve been following them since I was a little girl. I used to watch SBS for the weekly highlights and results. Or look in the sports classified section where all the results would be listed. There was no Foxtel or streaming services back then. And it also wasn’t healthy for a primary school aged child to be staying up ‘til 4am and watching football matches from the other side of the world. I had to do what worked.




Anyway, back to it. Young football obsessed fan dreams about a stadium and finally gets to visit (50 shades eat your heart out). This was bucket list for me. The history of the club, the players and the fans between those walls was something I had always dreamed of. During this tour I was fortunate enough to meet two former players – Ian Callaghan and John Aldridge, who shared stories of their time with the club as we had our lunch. Each table had a box of flowers on it and each table decided on who got to keep them. My table decided that I was the token female and I could have the flowers. Little did they know, I’m not a big fan of flowers, so instead, I took them down to the Hillsborough memorial outside the stadium to pay my respects to those lives lost.

If you don’t know the history of the Hillsborough disaster, I’m not going to go into detail. A quick google search and you will find your answers. My family were affected that day in more ways than one, so when you do look into it, remember it was real people, real families who were deeply hurt by what occurred.

Liverpool was mainly family time with a bit of sightseeing in between. I managed to sneak in a couple of football matches – hearing ‘You’ll never walk alone” inside Anfield was another bucket list item. Absolute chills each time I heard it. Liverpool is also famous for the Fab Four or, the Beatles as they’re known. There are plenty of locations throughout the city where you can take in the history of the Beatles. I also visited the Albert Dock and other areas around town. It’s quite a historic city and there’s plenty to see and do.




From Liverpool it was off to London. Time to see those big-ticket attractions. Big Ben, Buckingham Palace (I actually got to go inside the State Rooms), London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Madame Tussauds, Camden Town, Baker Street, Harry Potter Studio Tour, platform 9 and ¾ at King’s Cross Station, Abbey Road, Hyde Park, Lords Cricket Ground, The Shard, Wembley Stadium – okay I’m out of breath. There was a lot going on in London town. Like a lot. I even bumped into friends from back home in Melbourne while walking down the street and watched the Socceroos play against Saudi Arabia. Absolute scenes!


Just touched down in London town

Once all the attractions were ticked off, it was back into adventure mode. London was the starting point for my Western Europe tour. For 20 days I travelled from London to different cities across many different countries, including: Paris, Nice, Monaco, Lauterbrunnen, Pisa, Rome, Vatican City, Florence, Venice, Austrian Alps, Mauthausen (concentration camp), Prague, Dresden, Berlin, Amsterdam and Bruges.

Some of those cities stood out more than others and for different reasons (I’ll touch on that another time). Some of it was just one big intoxicated blur (this is what happens when you put mainly Aussies and Kiwis on a tour together). But what I did know, is that I wanted to see more. So much more.


Rome, Berlin, Lauterbrunnen


I bid farewell to my tour group in Belgium and linked up with some fellow Aussies from the World Cup as the Socceroos were playing Belgium’s national team in a friendly. Yes, here she goes with the sport talk again… The match was being played in a city called Liège. The memory is a bit of a blur to be honest. We were all in different areas of the stadium, so it was hard to support the team as one collective group. After the game we had no idea where we were going and a couple of us ended up hitch-hiking back into the main part of town with a local (sorry mum). How we’d ended up so lost, I don’t even know. The game was enjoyable and it’s not often you get to see your country play on the other side of the world. Take those opportunities when you get them, because you never know when you’ll get them again.

I diverted back to Germany after my football expedition in Belgium to catch up with an old friend. This meant even more new places. The cities of Bonn and Köln or Cologne (as it’s more commonly known). In Bonn I learned that Haribo lollies were founded there. That blew my mind. HAns RIegel Bonn founded the company in 1920. So of course, I visited the store in town and stocked up on some very important history in the form of lollies.


Bonn and Cologne


While in Cologne, I thought it would be a good idea to climb to the top of the cathedral. I say “thought” purely because I had not been treating my body like the temple that it was, and the 533 steps to reach the south tower at roughly 97 metres was nearly enough to take all my remaining breaths away. I reached the top of the south tower and gathered myself before I was able to take in the view of the city. No regrets… apparently.

Time with my friend was short but sweet. I travelled on the famous autobahn for the very first time. We went fast! I saw a less touristy side of Germany in the form of home-cooked meals and staying somewhere other than a hostel or hotel. It was the perfect way to slow down after the chaos of the 20-day tour through Western Europe.

You would think that the story ends there and that surely, you’ve seen enough Jo. But that wasn’t the case. I was doing my best Bon Jovi impression, I was only half way there.

After Germany it was back to base camp UK and to my family in Liverpool. My plans from there were Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

When I visited Scotland, it wasn’t just any time of year. Here comes your sports girl again.

See, Glasgow was hosting the Commonwealth Games around the time of my visit and I just happened to know a couple of people competing in it. I only realised this a couple of months before I left for Brazil and my friend who is a swimmer was around for dinner at my family’s residence. We spoke about the Commonwealth Games and how exciting it was going to be for him. I never clicked at the time of year that it was on and then a comment was made about late July – early August. It was at that time I realised that I had planned to be in Scotland around then.

I set about a shuffling around my itinerary and factored in the Commonwealth Games. My friend organised tickets for his swimming events and I jumped online to find other events to watch. It was an incredible time over there. I was fortunate enough to see my friend and another friend take home a silver and bronze medal in the men’s 200m backstroke. I also saw another acquaintance who I had done some work alongside in the sport and recreation industry compete in the women’s netball for Australia. My family were able to see that I was alive and well when some of the live video crosses showed me in the crowd and also when I celebrated the boys winning the medals. Surreal.

While in Scotland, I made the dash between events and activities to visit Edinburgh and also go on some day adventures. This took me out to Loch Lomond, the forbidden forest from Harry Potter and other locations. We even stopped to feed some Highland cows biscuits and that's where I fell in love with them. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival also happened to be on at the same time, so I found myself attending a bunch of shows too. Most notably Stephen K. Amos (British comedian), who I had actually bumped into a couple of hours before his show. That was a mistake, because he ended up picking on Australia as part of his act. Thanks mate!

A visit to Edinburgh Castle during the day and again at night for the Royal Edinburgh Military tattoo was special. Due to the Commonwealth Games, they had invited military bands and musicians from around the Commonwealth to perform in that year’s event. It was incredible. The castle was the backdrop and the talent and hard work of those performers was absolutely mesmerising. I loved it. (They even came to Melbourne a few years after that with the same performance, so I went with my family again).




From Scotland it was off to Northern Ireland and Ireland. I set up camp in Dublin and because time was limited, I booked a few different day tours to try and cover as much ground as I could.

I started in Northern Ireland. Belfast was a step back into history as I took a taxi tour around “The Troubles” and also visited the Titanic exhibition. While taking in the sights and surrounds of the Titanic history, they happened to be filming a show called “Game of Thrones” in the studio nearby. I’ve never seen it, but I think there’s enough of you out there who know of it. When my history lessons were complete, it was off to the Giant’s Causeway at the north of Northern Ireland. Here you will find basalt columns dated back to 50 – 60 million years ago. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is absolutely beautiful.


Northern Ireland


Once Northern Ireland was ticked off in some capacity, I headed back to Dublin. The hostel I stayed at was interconnected with the Jameson distillery, which would be ideal for some, but lucky I’m not into whiskey. I visited the Temple Bar district, enjoying the good vibes of traditional Irish pubs and their music and walked the streets of Dublin soaking it all in. My day trip was out to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway. Breathtaking landscape. If only I was into photography back then!

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Jo, you were in Ireland and you haven’t mentioned Guinness. Don’t you worry. I stopped into the Guinness Storehouse and toured where it all comes together. I even passed my challenge at the end to “pour the perfect pint”. I nailed it. However, you have to drink it after you pour it. Sorry Ireland, I had a few sips, but Guinness is not my cup of tea (neither is tea, which I pretty bad for some who holds a British passport). I digress.




This is about all I can remember off the top of my head. I finished the trip with some family time before heading back home to Australia. It was 4 months in length and had a profound impact on my life.

New places, new cultures, new friendships, visiting friends and family and just living life to the absolute maximum. It wasn’t always smooth sailing. Travelling predominantly on your own at a young age with no prior experience certainly has its challenges. You crave home and comfort of your loved ones to reassure yourself. But when you’re out there, you’re solely reliant on yourself and the goodwill of those around you. It’s an awesome feeling and opened my mind to endless possibilities of adventure. This was just the beginning.


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