The Only Thing That Isn’t “Too Easy” About Australia? Saying Goodbye.

A note on our Australia itinerary: I realize that our dispatches from this leg of the trip have been a bit out of order (and delayed!). For those of you following along at home, our journey went thusly: Sydney, Wollongong, #vanlife (with overnight stops in Jervis Bay, Broulee, Eden, Kosciuszko National Park, Khancoban, Bright and Whitfield), Melbourne, Apollo Bay, Halls Gap, Willunga, Adelaide. PHEW. Onward!

Family photos snapped by two different sets of lovely Australians we struck up conversations with along our journey in Bright (left) and McLaren Vale (above)

Ah, Australia. Oz. The Land Down Under. The home of shrimp on barbies and g’days, mate! I’m writing the bulk of this post a couple of weeks and a couple of continents away from our monthlong, 900-ish mile trip across that most excellent country and still feeling a bit bittersweet about saying goodbye.

The tone for our Australian travels was set from the start by a customs agent of all people, who, noting we had nothing to declare, waved us through with an affable, “too easy, guys, right this way.” It was our first exposure to this “too easy” expression, which we didn’t hear on our last trip Down Under, but seems to have become ubiquitous in the intervening eight years. Need the front desk to call you a cab? Too easy! Looking for a last-minute spot to park your campervan? Too easy! An overly complicated dinner order for your overly picky kid? That, too, is somehow too easy.

Beyond just a charming local verbal tick, though, “too easy” became a pretty good motto for traveling the country in general. Because my goodness was being in Australia a breeze (save the many trials of #vanlife). And not just in the obvious developed-country-that-speaks-English way. Here are just a few of the many other things we got to take for granted while we were there:

Kind People: While Canada gets all the credit for producing the nicest people (and rightfully so, I suppose—have you met Canadians?), I’d put Aussies right up there with the loveliest of them. And sure, it may have been the collective relief of things opening back up a bit after two years of pretty severe Covid lockdowns, but the folks we encountered there were beyond cheerful and welcoming. We chatted with locals behind hotel desks, in restaurants, in laundry rooms at caravan parks, on hikes, etc., etc., sharing our travel plans and hearing about their experiences. And while some of these interactions occasionally ventured into not-seeing-eye-to-eye-politically territory, they were overwhelmingly delightful. After only interacting with such a small circle for so long, it was fun to be reminded that kind and interesting people are everywhere.

Fi playing with a friend she met in Broulee (while her very nice parents chatted with us over drinks)

Staying Well: Perhaps being happy and kind is easier when your basic human needs are taken care of. I had a couple of medical appointments the week before we left on this trip and right now, nearly two months later, I’m still dealing with them, paying bills that keep showing up in dribs and drabs (some of which can’t be paid online!?) and, in one case, contesting a suspiciously exorbitant charge. The whole experience is exhausting and I’m not even sick. Our Australian friends were baffled by these ridiculous hassles, living, as they do, with a unified healthcare system that just plain works. (This is also, by the way, one of the reasons they have off-the-charts Covid vaccination rates, which is another way in which traveling there felt so comfortable.)

Dan got to experience their system firsthand (firsteye?) after getting what he thought was a scratch on his eye when some dust flew into it during a particularly windy morning at a caravan park. It kept bothering him, so he went online and found himself an appointment with a random optometrist (In-network? Out-of-network? Who cares!) near our hotel in Adelaide. She did a full workup, gave him some eyewash and excellent advice, charged him $50 on the spot and that was that. No insurance company to deal with, no pharmacy to visit, no random bills to deal with after the fact. Living the dream!

The relaxed countenance of a man with all of his basic needs met

Public Services: This whole living-with-dignity thing seems to extend into all areas of daily life in Australia*, with public services I didn’t even fully register as lacking at home until I saw how abundant they were there. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t rest easy unless there’s a toilet nearby, and boy does OZ deliver on the WC front. Every teeny tiny town you drive through seems to have a visitor center with beautiful, clean bathrooms (and often a playground to boot). And in between towns, like when we were driving the long stretches of deserted road in South Australia, we passed rest stops with if-not-beautiful-then-at-least-clean bathrooms every, like, 10 – 20 minutes. (I’m not even sure where they find the people to clean and restock these middle-of-nowhere facilities, but they’re doing God’s work.) There were also well-marked places to pull over and sleep, with signs reminding drivers to stay alert on the roads. And so many trashcans! It’s amazing how little trash ends up on the street when there are non-overflowing bins for garbage and recycling on nearly every corner. Such small things, but they make life feel so comfortable and dignified and, well, easy.

Quintessential Australia: playgrounds everywhere, sometimes complete with a kookaburra

*Lest this post turn into an unqualified love fest, I’ll note one area where Australia falls short: yielding to pedestrians. It’s bizarre that a country in which basic human needs are so prioritized doesn’t seem to bother even slowing down for walkers (or bicyclists). I’m publishing from Spain where, as in San Francisco, you can feel comfortable stepping off a curb and into a crosswalk, assuming oncoming traffic will let you cross safely. Not so in OZ, where drivers didn’t so much as pause. Street crossings were scary. WEIRD.

Paying for Stuff: Guys, paying for stuff in Australia is TOO EASY. If you are a human with a credit card, you just tap it on a reader to pay for goods and services and go about your day. Restaurant meals (no need to calculate a tip—servers already make a living wage, so they don’t need your 20%), ice cream cones, fruit at the farmers market, anything from a store—just tap and go. And, in an innovation that blew our minds, you can tap on and off public transportation in Sydney with just your credit card. No ticket machines, no figuring out fares, they just charge the money to your card. What?? It seems so obvious! We live in the technology capital of the world and we’re still signing credit card receipts with a pen and hoping there’s enough cash on our Clipper cards to board the train. Why??

Kid Friendliness: Now, there are many countries that integrate children into society better than the good old US of A. Fiona’s first international trip as a baby was to Italy, for example, which was downright dreamy. But for a kid at the ripe old age of five, Australia really delivered. At restaurants, kids’ menus and activity packs were the norm (and while there are arguments to be made that kids should be eating off regular menus and engaging in adult conversations during meals, those lofty ideals take a backseat when you’re eating out nonstop and a plate of chicken nuggets and a new coloring book can really save the damn day). Also, there are playgrounds EVERYWHERE. Caravan parks, town parks (even in the littlest towns), visitor centers, alongside rivers and city centers—we were never far from a beautiful playground with an awesome structure and non-squeaky swings. Again, hanging around a playground isn’t my favorite activity, but kids need to wiggle, especially on travel days, and having easy access to a place to do that made Fi (and, by extension, us) very happy.

Activity set at dinner in Whitfield (left) and an amazing “General Store” playhouse at a winery in McLaren Vale (above)

Very happy? Also a pretty good summation of our time in Australia—too easy to visit, too hard to say goodbye to. Fortunately, next up was the always-wonderful (and currently nearly empty!) Bali. More on that lovely spot soon.

4 thoughts on “The Only Thing That Isn’t “Too Easy” About Australia? Saying Goodbye.

  1. Australia is a beautiful country! You summed it well at the end. Easy to visit and hard to say goodbye to.

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  2. Great summary of all the what should be obvious amenities a country should offer its residents— and guests! We are experiencing much the same in Portugal, although we pay for the occasional espresso in order to access a WC. (And we have not yet had to get any health care, but we hear it’s similar.). At logo (see you soon)!

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