By Nicole Smith
At 19-years-old I had no real life experiences. My Australian life was somewhat of a happy bubble. I spent money faster than I earned it, I had no real direction or drive, and to top it all off I was super shy and insecure within myself having moved from Adelaide to Melbourne to study and live at a college with type-A personalities – the loud, party lifestyle something that my bookish self couldn’t get used too.
I had always dreamed that one day I would work at an American summer camp like the characters from my favourite teenage book series - the Babysitters club – did. I’d been carefully saving the deposit fee, the first time I’d ever had to pay for something myself, for months and though I’d mentioned it to my Mum in passing I think she thought it was just a phase. Soon I was marching into the office signing up to four months in the US – it’d be great, right?
It was only when I stepped onto the plane that was to carry me across to the States that everything caught up on me. What the heck was I doing?! I’d never flown long haul alone, always with the security of my family in the seats next to me. But when reality knocks on your door it knocks hard.
Thanks to a late take off in Australia I missed my connecting flight in Los Angeles by 30seconds – seriously! Worst of all American only operated one flight per day between LA and New York. My heart stopped – what was I expected to do now? My emotions caught up to me and I was soon in tears waking my family in Australia at 3am.
After talking to them for a while I had calmed down and the sensible side in myself came out, learning how to arrange new flights later in the day.. There was even a silver lining – a free upgrade!
New York was invigorating for my soul. The culture and vibe of the city captivates me no matter how many times I visit and each day I became a stronger surer person by accomplishing little goals. Navigating my way to Coney Island, haggling with vendors in China town, or finding the right piece of clothing to wear at summer camp. They may seem trivial now but accomplishing one small goal each day boosts a person’s confidence ten-fold.
My next challenge came in the form of summer camp. After two-weeks at the camp I knew that it wasn’t the right place for me. The children were from the top echelon of society and nothing like the down to earth kids I’d worked with in the past. Worst of all being the foreigner in the bunk made me ripe for the picking with their taunts. Even the people who were meant to be supporting us were no use, too busy with their own problems.
Again, I reverted to calling my parents telling them how much I hated this place and that I wished I were in Australia. “If you don’t want to be there I’ll buy you a ticket home,” was my Dad’s reply. I’d been plotting escape routes in my head for weeks but here was my way home.
I pondered the decision of the ticket for a week. The sensible side of me got the final say. If I’d left camp then I would deem myself a failure. I’d have failed at lasting the four-months, failed at making amazing International friends, and in a way failed to let myself mature through learning.
Staying may have been the best decision I made.
It did get tougher. There were days I still considered taking the ticket and running, but surrounding myself with friends and living for the weekends (the days we had ‘off’ from camp) I counted down til the day I would wave goodbye to those kids. It sounds mean but it was my coping mechanism and you know what? It worked.
I had AU$2500 in savings when I left Australia which seemed like a lot at the time but really it wasn’t nearly enough at all. The unexpected costs of the cross-country flight ate into my budget and so did the amazing shopping in New York. I’d never been on a budget at home so why should I be now? By the time camp was finishing I thought my pay of $1800 was going to last forever but two-weeks in Florida and a week in New York really cut it down.
When deciding to live in London everyone had warned me about the huge cost to living but no one had warned me about how poorly people get paid. In Australia I averaged AU$18 an hour, in London a similar job earned me £7.30 – about AU$10. It doesn’t seem huge but even when at my most frugal all I could afford was my tube pass for the week and what I called my ‘cheese toastie diet’ – a cheese toastie for lunch and dinner, with perhaps a snack – a 99pence packet of biscuits or a coke – on the side.
Learning to become frugal was hard for the inner spender in me but something I had to do to survive. I was also lucky enough to have a fellow travel blogger take me in when I became homeless in London.
It was this blogger that reignited my passion in writing. Before travelling I was thinking of changing degrees to the arts or teaching but this person reminded me how great Journalism is and more importantly reinstilled my passions for blogging. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be writing this today.
Eventually London ended up overwhelming me and I returned to Australia. Whilst a few people have said I should have tried harder I know that I did try, but more so I learnt. I learnt how to be frugal with money and become more responsible with saving now. I learnt how to become more independent and I learnt that I am capable of doing anything I put my mind too; and learning whilst travelling is always more interesting than learning at home!
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Nicole is a disgruntled Journalism student from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia ready to banish the books and set out to explore the world. When she isn’t Irish dancing or studying linguistics she runs Bitten by the Travel Bug and is planning the launch of a new Hong Kong themed website in 2012. You can also find her updating her Twitter.