I asked the members of the Amateur Traveler facebook community recently what place they would travel to but were held back by fear. I expected to hear of places like Mexico or Egypt but the most common answer was Australia. Here is what people are afraid of and what you should really be afraid of.
Things That Can Kill You
I blame Bill Bryson. In his excellent book In A Sunburned Country he talked about all the things in Australia that could kill you: 7 of the top 10 most venomous snakes, trapdoor spiders, sharks, box jellyfish, crocodiles and don’t forget stingrays (which did in the ‘Crocodile Hunter’).
But of course we tend to fear the wrong things. At the Cairns Tropical Zoo we watched as one of the crocodile wranglers would climb into the pit with 12’ long crocodilians as if he hadn’t a care in the world. He explained to us that a crocodile or alligator hunts by ambushing their prey so while it would be unsafe to swim in a murky river with a croc, he was quite safe standing near one poking it with a stick. He went on to tell us that more people are killed in Australia in any given year by vending machines (shaking them to try and get that reluctant candy bar until they fall over) than crocodiles. We have not lost our fear of crocodiles but we do now look at vending machines more warily. There is a possibility, however small, that vending machines also hunt by ambush.
It is a myth that the water in the toilet swirls the other direction in Australia, but it is true that they drive on the other side of the road. Oddly enough this may put you in more danger as a pedestrian than as a driver. You do need to remember to look both ways because those cars have an odd tendency to come from the “wrong” direction. When you are driving on the highway it does not matter too much where the other lane of traffic is. I found the biggest problem was making right turns. You have to remember to turn a bit wider than you are used to. Australians are generally incredibly friendly and easy going but even they do seem to panic a bit when you head right for them in a motor vehicle.
The Long Flight
The flight to Australia can take 14 hours even from Los Angeles and obviously longer from the east coast of North America. The number one thing that I hear that people are afraid of is in fact the long plane flight. In my mind it is ironic that the average American sits in front of a TV screen for 34 hours a week and that a flight to Australia from the U.S. takes no more effort than that. You sit in a chair, you watch some movies, sleep some if you can, someone serves you meals. You get up and go to the bathroom a few times and before you know it you are in Australia. At no time during the flight is anyone required to actually row or flap or in any way help propel the plane.
There are things you can do to help with the jet lag like stay hydrated, bring a sleeping mask and ear plugs to maximize what sleep you can get, and even take natural or other chemical sleep aids. But yes, when you get there your days and nights might be a bit mixed up at first. So just plan on going for a couple of weeks so that you give yourself time to adjust. Make your first days lighter days with scheduled activities and as sure as “Bob’s your uncle” you will adjust, probably more quickly than you would suspect.
Separated by a Common Language
What people never worry about is the language since they speak “English” in Australia. My Uncle Bob moved to Australia in the 1960s, married and Australian and had 3 kids. Two of those resultant cousins have come to live with us for a time, one for a total of two years. Through this exposure I have learned to be bi-lingual in English and whatever it is they speak over there. If you have watched a lot of English movies or television that one set of words used in Australia will come easily like:
- pram – baby buggy
- nappies – diapers
- solicitor – lawyer
- lift – elevator
- knocked up – tired (vs in the U.S. Where knocked up means pregnant)
- Australia then adds in some of its own slang:
- Poms – Brits
- ute (utility vehicle) – pickup truck
- jumper – sweater
- cattle station – ranch
- roo bar – extra bumper on your ute to protect it from kangaroos
But then things start getting weird. Australians have been known to say things like “she’ll be apples” which really means “she’ll be nice” or she’ll be alright. And this all works for them because they really mean “she’ll be apples and spice” and spice rhymes with “nice”. Get it? How about this one: an American can be referred to as a septic, short for septic tank, which rhymes with Yank. It is if a whole language has sprung up that does not actually have communication as a goal.
But still, my favorite Australian expression is easy to understand. When you ask for something don’t be surprised if the response is “no worries”. And those two words define an Australian approach to life. So if you start to get concerned about long plane flights, jelly fish or driving, let those two words be your guide instead.