50 countries and my favourite highlights in all my travels by Jessica Lee

Budapest, Hungary - one of the stops on my Eastern Europe tour 2018

Budapest, Hungary - one of the stops on my Eastern Europe tour 2018

I recently visited my 50th country (Romania) during my recent trip to Eastern Europe. 

When I first started solo travelling roughly six years ago), I didn't imagine it would take so long to get to 50 countries. That is roughly eight countries a year, which doesn't seem like a lot but sometimes you get to a place and you love it so much you need to visit it thoroughly, from North to South, because usually every region is very different.

Do I plan to visit all 195 countries now that I've been to over a quarter of them? Maybe. Certainly a few people have done it. But most people will live their lives not even seeing 25% of the impressively awe-inspiring world we are on.

Transylvania, Romania, my 50th country

Transylvania, Romania, my 50th country

It's true. Travelling is not always easy. You have to plan where you want to go, take time off from work, save up some money, book tickets and accommodation and plan out an itinerary.

However, I've found that as I've been to more places with more miles under my feet, that like most skills, travelling does get easier. In 2014 when I first went to Morocco by myself, I was overwhelmed by their aggressive culture that preyed on tourists. I was not used to having a local follow me around (for hours) and ask for money. This time, four years later, the locals didn't stop following me around, but I was more confident. After four years of travelling experience, I was better at asserting myself and telling people to leave me alone when I felt uncomfortable. I sought out interactions with locals where I felt safe - authentic experiences which didn't involve any monetary exchange. I am better at reading situations now and this helps as a photographer carrying thousands of dollars in camera gear (and as a regular traveller) - being able to spot danger and when you need to leave a situation.

I've also gotten better at packing light through the years. On the left is all the luggage I brought with me for a month to Eastern Europe. On the right is all the luggage I brought with me to Indonesia in 2012.

I've also gotten better at packing light through the years. On the left is all the luggage I brought with me for a month to Eastern Europe. On the right is all the luggage I brought with me to Indonesia in 2012.

I'm not done with my travels though, here's to the next 50 countries. Thanks for joining me on this journey. :)

Here's a compilation of the highlights of my travelling so far:

Living aboard an 83 feet vessel in Airlie Beach, Australia, for three days and seeing the Whitsunday Islands to this day is one of my most treasured memories. My Australia abroad trip was a pivotal moment for me because it was the first time I ever really travelled by myself to such a far away place. I had worked three jobs concurrently to save up for the trip the summer before, and it was satisfying to set off on a self-planned and self-funded adventure so far away from where I was raised.

Living aboard an 83 feet vessel in Airlie Beach, Australia, for three days and seeing the Whitsunday Islands to this day is one of my most treasured memories. My Australia abroad trip was a pivotal moment for me because it was the first time I ever really travelled by myself to such a far away place. I had worked three jobs concurrently to save up for the trip the summer before, and it was satisfying to set off on a self-planned and self-funded adventure so far away from where I was raised.

In 2012, I rented a camper van with some friends and made a road trip down the eastern coast of Australia from Cairns to Adelaide. It was thrilling to live day-to-day not knowing what we would be doing the next night or where we would park - the possibilities were open and endless.

In 2012, I rented a camper van with some friends and made a road trip down the eastern coast of Australia from Cairns to Adelaide. It was thrilling to live day-to-day not knowing what we would be doing the next night or where we would park - the possibilities were open and endless.

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef was a life-changing for me. Being underwater is completely different to what I've known and grown up in - something clicked in my mind that day, that there are entire worlds unexplored, and entire worlds that are also sadly fading away. This experience was just the beginning in a lifetime of diving that would later lead to me getting PADI-certified and swimming with sharks in Thailand, also another memorable highlight while travelling.

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef was a life-changing for me. Being underwater is completely different to what I've known and grown up in - something clicked in my mind that day, that there are entire worlds unexplored, and entire worlds that are also sadly fading away. This experience was just the beginning in a lifetime of diving that would later lead to me getting PADI-certified and swimming with sharks in Thailand, also another memorable highlight while travelling.

Seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, Iceland, was one of my most memorable experiences. This natural phenomenon is absolutely stunning and awe-inspiring. It is also free to see (if you don't count cost of gas and car).

Seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, Iceland, was one of my most memorable experiences. This natural phenomenon is absolutely stunning and awe-inspiring. It is also free to see (if you don't count cost of gas and car).

Finally, the first time I climbed outdoors (and it was in the Blue Mountains in Australia too!) was a top highlight because I had never studied rocks so intimately and it was gratifying to see your progress as you climbed your way to the top. The novel/thrill aspect was also a huge draw - there was one point where I fell and thought that was the end, luckily I was clipped on and my partner "caught" me. The view at the end of the climb was absolutely stunning as well and also different from what someone who didn't climb the route would see (just from the look-out point).

Finally, the first time I climbed outdoors (and it was in the Blue Mountains in Australia too!) was a top highlight because I had never studied rocks so intimately and it was gratifying to see your progress as you climbed your way to the top. The novel/thrill aspect was also a huge draw - there was one point where I fell and thought that was the end, luckily I was clipped on and my partner "caught" me. The view at the end of the climb was absolutely stunning as well and also different from what someone who didn't climb the route would see (just from the look-out point).

Off road: A misadventure by Jessica Lee

There's an interesting story behind this photo.

There always is.

Why am I ankle-deep in mud, holding a jug of milk and a folding chair?

While driving, we were looking for a beach to set up and eat lunch at. According to Google Maps, the place where I was standing was supposed to be a "beach".

Not all beaches are equal in Australia, apparently.

This is what we got when we drove up:


And this is what I got when I didn't realize how deep the mud really was:

I was trying to get across the river so we could set up to eat somewhere nicer without the pungent smell of whatever was rotting in the mud/clay. You know that quote "the grass is greener on the other side"?In this case I never got to see what was on the other side of the river as the guys called me back. They decided to set up on a little unimpressive stretch of sand a few meters from the car. ...clearly they're not into the whole "exploring" thing like I am.

Oh well, to each their own. Maybe they were just hungry and wanted to eat.

Romantic scenes between Geelong and Lorne by Jessica Lee

The Great Ocean Road is filled with picturesque places all along the coast. Driving by, I thought this would be the perfect location to shoot movies with dramatic or romantic scenes.

We stopped off at Geelong first, a little port town and had a simple pasta lunch with wine while facing the lake.

Then we walked along and explored.

There's a small amusement park by the dock inside the visitor's centre, which looked like fun. I can only imagine all the fun nights that were had as the sun was setting and the townspeople were meeting.

You can never look at enough shorelines. This was in Lorne, which is another seaside town a few miles further.

We arrived during "magic hour" and I got a few nice shots.

Check out that cool highway over the water.

Our van parked near the shore.

This beach, a little further down, I imagine would have made a lovely picnic spot.

The people of Australia sure are lucky folks.

Byron Bay: more evidence Australia has way too many beautiful shorelines by Jessica Lee

I've concluded that Byron Bay is for lovers. With a sandy beach, a horizon that stretches for miles and a romantic lighthouse; how can you not fall in love with this town?

It was a little rainy the day we drove in, but I was able to imagine it in sunnier weather.

I spent the morning trying to surf, then the afternoon was spent walking around town looking at the different shops.

The place is a little "tourist-geared", but I didn't mind.

I love learning about a place based on what they sell in their shops. For example, the shoes below would rarely be sold in Toronto, where I'm from. Though we have the same brands, there are no shoes like these in shoe stores in Toronto.

That's because the shoes below are lightweight, with foam soles and geared for walking on sand, they would disintegrate so quickly on the pavement/ seasonal snow/ ice we have. They are nice beach shoes though. I would definitely have bought myself a pair had there been a pair my size.

I also noticed when I was in Sydney that there are a lot more singlets (in bright colours) for guys sold in stores. Singlets just aren't very fashionable in Toronto I guess, neither are bright colours. Personally if I had to choose between the fashion in Australia or Canada, I would choose Australia. I will explain why in a later post, but for now...

We hiked up to see the light house as it was getting dark. My housemate Tara lives near Byron Bay, so she knew all of the neat places and told us to come here.

It was absolutely breath-taking. If I ever had to fill a film clip with pretty places, Byron Bay would be a top destination for sure.

What made the place more magical was the fact that we were the only ones at the lighthouse at one point. It was like the lighthouse was here just for us so we could look into the horizon and dream...

What I really learned from seven months abroad part 1 by Jessica Lee

"What have you learned from your travels abroad?"

I've been pondering this question for the last two months since I got back from Australia and Indonesia and I have a clearer idea now.

When I first got back from my trip, "what did you learn" or "how have you changed" were the most common questions. I think everyone just wanted some sort of life-inspiring tidbit that could be summed up in a few short sentences; something that could help them in their own lives without them having to live through it all.

In truth, I could probably write a book on what I've seen, the people I've met and the life lessons I've learned.

I've come back different of course. Humbled. What I've picked up clarified the truth of "the more you learn, the less you know".

I've come to see how limited staying in Toronto really is. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of opportunities here and there is definitely a lot happening within the city, but I've learned that showing up to a completely different country ie. Australia with a bunch of Canadian credentials really does nothing for you.

If I were to stay in Canada however, I've branded myself pretty well career-wise. I've worked for only big, well-known, mostly national companies which have a great reputation. It all meant nothing in Australia, however, as I soon found out. All the companies are different. And everything you have to know to function as a productive employee is different. There really are somewhat big culture differences between places, which is why travel is so fun but can be emotionally and mentally, not to mention physically demanding.

For example, if I were to try to pick up a job in photography in a new city, already I would have a disadvantage because I don't know the city well and may have the inclination to get lost. This might not seem like a huge deal, but really it is. News happens so fast that in a profession like mine (journalism), if you miss the timeline, then you miss out on the news.

But this is only one of the many things I've picked up abroad- I mean of the fact of how limited my experience in the professional world is. These are the big things.

A smaller skill, that could potentially be an extremely important skill later on is something I learned in the smaller Indonesian markets.

I like to think that I've become a better negotiator.

On the streets of Jakarta, I've talked down prices from $5 a becak ride down to $2.50 CAD. I paid for a 50 cent motorcycle ride around the block, which originally was offered to me at a much higher price. Sure I also paid for a pricey $25 CAD one hour taxi ride (that's a lot of money in Indonesian currency), but I had no other choice as I had way too much luggage at the time (another lesson I've undoubtedly learned).

University teaches you a lot of good theories, but the practical stuff you have to learn for yourself. This is why real life is so important. Where else can you learn good bargaining skills, if not for small informal markets such as these? They don't really exist in Canada (not that I know of anyway) besides on Craigslist where people sell their used goods.

I know I am going to get a lot of flack for writing the next bit because I pretty much just said that I own too much stuff while I travel, yet I am also going to advocate "going shopping" and learning to bargain. Why? Because with low risk items that cost so little, you don't really lose a lot in the process of negotiating, but rather, you gain real world knowledge of how to make a good deal. Now I'm sure they teach this stuff in more formal terms at Harvard Business School, but you can't really be sure of your  deal-making skills unless you put them into practice. Again, I am advocating the "learning to negotiate" part and not the actual "collecting items" part of the shopping experience, please be clear on that (though there is nothing wrong with collecting things either, it just makes it hard to travel around). Also, you can always talk a price down, then not buy it in the end too, but it wouldn't be fair to waste the merchant's time like that.

Another practical or not-so-practical (you be the judge) "skill" I've developed while in Indonesia is the art of J-walking aka walking across several lanes of traffic with no stop lights to help you out.

In Indonesia, pedestrian lights just don't exist. There is a stop sign pictured, but cars don't really stop. Check it out in the photo below:

The first time I tried to cross the road on my own, I had to stop and watch another woman cross first, then it took another ten minutes for me to work up the courage to cross. It doesn't look so terrible in the above photo because there aren't many cars on that street, however Jakarta is fairly busy with traffic all the time. So how do people cross the street? They just step out into the traffic and soon cars will stop for them. It's the "unwritten rule" of how to cross streets in Indonesia. There is no rude honking when pedestrians step out in front of cars. It's well established that that is how people cross streets there.

What this did for me:
1. I learned how to trust other drivers (strangers basically) to preserve my life. Of course people don't want to hit you, they've got places to go too.
2. I conquered something extremely frightening for me. Every time you challenge yourself, you become one step closer to becoming "fearless". This is not to be confused with "reckless" of course, you still have to be careful when stepping out into oncoming traffic.
3. Efficiency. Back in Toronto now, I can cross huge intersections confidently even when it's not my light. I only do this when I'm on foot and when I have a good opportunity so I don't endanger someone else's life. I reckon I save 5-20 seconds each time I don't wait for the light. This does not seem like a lot of time, but let's say I have to cross the street ten times a day, I would save roughly three minutes a day, which adds up to just over 20 minutes a week, an hour and twenty minutes a month, which is almost a whole day each year. I'm not saying you should follow my footsteps and J-walk (please, if you don't know how to do it properly, don't risk your life!), but it is nice to have almost an extra day just because of not waiting for a light to turn white.

There are some other smaller things and bigger issues (and mind-blowing stories) I've learned of during these past few months. I mean, how is it possible to not learn after being thrust into a new culture? I've learned about pickpockets, I conquered my fear of giant cockroaches and relaxed enough to sleep in the same room as a lizard. I've walked through an actual slum by myself, tested the waters of what was "safe" or not (seriously, I thought I was going to get kidnapped, murdered or raped), and learned to trust in the kindness of strangers. I have so many other stories to share, but for now, I feel like this blog post is getting really big. So until next time!

What important real life lessons have you learned while traveling?

Great Ocean Road, Victoria by Jessica Lee

I woke up on a beach this morning. There was dew in the grass and mist on the outside of our van. The waves rose and crashed in gentle caresses and the sun shone brightly, beckoning us to get out and explore. And so we did.

It was night time when we drove into the humble town of Port Fairy, Victoria. We saw signs pointing to the beach and decided to park there for the night.

When we woke, it was to this spectacular sight:

Port Fairy is a quiet, coastal town. There was only one person waking his dog when we got up. It was the kind of serenely peaceful quiet people hope for in their retirement.

I wanted to stay for longer but we hurried on and got back into the car as we would have a lot of driving to do that day.

As we drove, there were many fields. I asked to stop by this one to take a photo of some cows.

What was interesting is that when we stopped the cows were all lying on their front, but when I got closer to them, they must have felt threatened as all of them "mooed" at me and stood up.

Then they all faced me and tried to stare me down.

And finally when I still stood there taking photos, they moved in as a group.

I thought this was awesome because I had never seen anything like that. Though cattle aren't really "wildlife", when you go to the fair and meet the cows, they don't do this sort of behaviour. In petting farms and fairs, all they do is eat off your hand, which is cool as well, but I sort of felt like a National Geographic photographer watching the cows protect themselves.

We drove for a bit and got to our first lookout point.

Australia used to be used as a colony for criminals because it was so far away from the rest of the world. Honestly though, whoever made that decision clearly didn't realize Australia was paradise.

This place is not jail-like at all!

It was quite lovely.

This is somewhere near the 12 Apostles.

This was called Thunder Cave because every time a wave crashed into the cave, it's supposed to sound like thunder. I think it would be a good rafting spot.

If you walk further down the trail, it will take you to a beach.

It was too cold to swim that day, but I bet this is a popular spot during the summer.

Below is a photo of me. We tried to get one of those photos where the waves are crashing behind me but the timing was a bit off.

That's okay. The photo will forever capture the moment where I stood on a rock and got spritzed by the mist and saw rainbows in the light. The air was cold and refreshing and I could look out into the distance and see miles of the endless turquoise sea.

Later, we arrived at Gibson Steps.

As we had started our traveling early, the beaches were still pretty empty as people were probably eating breakfast at that time. (We eat breakfast too, we just eat things on the go and straight out of the box.)

Secluded beaches are my favourite kind of beaches. It felt like I owned the land for miles around.

Below was a photo I took while the wave was curling in. It looks like snow on the ground but really the water was just super foamy.

The Great Ocean Road was definitely one of my favourite moments in Australia and you should definitely give it a go if you're ever in the area, or if you've never done it before.

Petting kangaroos at Pebbly Beach, New South Wales by Jessica Lee

We almost drove by Pebbly Beach on our way to Melbourne but that would have been a shame.

Where else would I meet a real live wild kangaroos who aren't afraid of humans?

Honestly if you visit Australia, and don't even pet a kangaroo, you have failed.

I was trying to see if kangaroos actually live up to the stereotype that they like to box, but it just looked at me strangely when I held my fists up.

Then I tried to play "paddy cake" with the kangaroo. (see photo below)

Skippy clearly wasn't having any of it by the look on his face.

I then wandered to the actual beach and was greeted by more of Skippy's crew lounging on the grass.

What a life right?

Pebbly Beach is a wild life preserve so it guarantees these kangaroos will not see their homes destroyed in the years to come.

As long as the grass still grows, the kangaroos will have a home and a source of food.

You can actually camp in Pebbly Beach, which is what we were going to do initially but when we arrived, we found that there was a camping fee of $10 per person and on top of that, $7 per vehicle. And why would we pay for camping in our own car when we could camp for free elsewhere, outside of the park?

Which is why we came back the next morning.

I had way too much fun with the kangaroos.

When it was time to go, as we still had a lot of road to travel that day, I was blessed with the icing on the cake when I watched a kangaroo hop across the park.

It was a magical moment.

Kangaroos travel a lot of distance through a couple of hops.

For a Canadian girl who had never seen an animal move in such a way in her home country, this was quite phenomenal. I cannot describe it in any other way except it was like the kangaroo had springs in its legs. Within a couple of seconds (but long enough for me to grab my camera), the 'roo was half way across the park. Being that it was quite heavy-looking, you wouldn't expect it to be able to travel so quickly, but it did. And that's what amazed me.

Kangaroos are definitely a top-ten "must see" in Australia and I would recommend stopping by Pebbly Beach if you're on the way to Melbourne from Sydney. Or at least find somewhere else where you can meet Australia's mascot.

Missing pieces by Jessica Lee

In the next couple of weeks, I will be posting missed entries throughout my travels in Australia and Indonesia. I don't usually like to post things that are from months ago because you can't achieve anything by dwelling on the past (unless you are learning from your mistakes), but I figure reliving the memories and sharing stories will psych me up for my next big trip slated a couple of months from now when I finish school.

Destination? I'm not exactly sure... I'll let you know when I get there!

Until then, enjoy a continuation of Australia. Stunning photos of Clovelly Beach in Sydney will be appearing in the next couple of days.

Wanderlust by Jessica Lee

Sometimes I still can't believe I'm back in Toronto. I can still see scenes in Australia so clearly in my mind, it's like I'm there and not here.

I can still feel the sand between my toes at Whitsundays, or the cold breeze which blew my hair around my face when I was sailing the Sydney Harbour. I see orange-gold sunsets over the South Pacific all the time and can still hear the steady crash of the rolling waves along the Australian shores.

Sometimes in my daydreams, I am walking at night with a friend down the cobblestone path along the Harbour bridge. The street lamps are lit and they provide an eerie glow to the dark night, setting a mysterious mood. The cityscape is so clear from where I'm standing. As I gaze across the water, I realize standing in that exact spot is where I want to be right here and right now.

I open my eyes and I realize I've fallen asleep in a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) subway car. The  familiar, automated voice calls out "Arriving at Davisville Station". I'm in commute on my way home. Usually from work, or sailing or the climbing gym.

My life in Toronto has picked up again really quickly. Though things have changed enough to keep me mentally and physically stimulated, the routine is still frustratingly similar to where I left off.

I've discovered I need to constantly experience new things to keep me happy and out of my comfort zone- which is why I've taken up swing dancing. It's no Australia or Indonesia or even Montreal, but it will do for now.

Since being here for the last two weeks, I've fallen back to the rhythm of my hometown. The first day back, I wasn't quite sure what to do on the TTC. I had just walked from an event at Harbourfront and was standing at Union station, waiting for a train to take me back home. As the train rolled into the station, I stood at the side of the door, waiting to get in. There was a crowd of about 10 people near each subway door, and there weren't that many people occupying seats.

Usually when a the subway door opens, it's a race between everyone to get to a seat. (It's even more spectacular to observe when the subway door opens and everyone rushes to get to the escalator.)

As I was standing there, not knowing what to do, eventually indecision of which seat to take led me to having no seat at all.

This didn't happen to me in Sydney because I rarely took the train, and when I did, there were always available seats; which is why the first few days I was back in Toronto, I just ended up seatless from being out of practice in the art of seat-grabbing.

Toronto as a city is generally more aggressive than the laid-back pattern of Sydney. I find that people in Sydney seemed friendlier and a little more considerate of other people. I'm not saying it's better to be from Sydney or it's better to live in Sydney because people are nicer. Aggressiveness and going for what you want is a useful life skill too. The two cities are just different in personality.

And maybe that is the point of living in different cities- being offered the chance to take in the best of what each city offers and choosing to learn and enjoy its distinctive characteristics.

One of my favourite writers, Paulo Coelho is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a place I once briefly visited many moons ago. I only remember the scorchingly hot weather (33 C!), the dark, leathery skin of the locals who frequented the Copacabana, and of course the gorgeous waterline of the beach itself.

I wonder though- would the population think similarly to Coelho's sometimes unconventional philosophies? Do all people there follow their passions more so than people in North America where we are trained to go to university, get good grades, then get "good jobs" and eventually retire?

I would like to know all these things and more.

It doesn't look like I'll be staying in Toronto for long...

Finally home: Toronto and changes by Jessica Lee

Toronto is quite different from the state I left it in.

After my seven month jaunt around Australia and Asia- and briefly Montreal, I am finally back home.

I feel like I cheated the system. I left Toronto when it was at its coldest, enjoyed the warm weather in Sydney, and came back when summer was swinging.

It's been an incredible journey.

People always say when you come back to your own city after seeing the world, the way you see your city changes. And it's true. Four years ago I thought Toronto was the greatest city in the world. I was set on saving up a down payment to buy a condo on the Harbourfront where by the time I was in my mid-twenties, I'd have moved in, gotten a professional job and be enjoying the many cafes and breakfast/brunch places on my weekends and dining on patios for afterwork cocktails with friends. I thought Toronto was a great city because of its importance in the world- meaning that if a popular band was touring North America, they would definitely stop in Toronto. There are also many opportunities in this city. Businesses come to the city to make deals all the time, international film festivals are held here, the city is booming with arts and culture, and there is always something exciting going on.

But now that I've lived in Sydney and enjoyed the flexibility of the weather which allows for sailing all year long and soaked up some sun on a few of their many marvellous beaches, I'm having second thoughts about settling in Toronto. Surfing the waves at Bali, Indonesia, made me realize Toronto doesn't have a good surfing scene, and I miss the elegance of Montreal streets.

It's been strange coming back to Toronto. The city is the same, but different in many ways. I visited the movie rental place I used to work at and it is no longer a movie rental place. They only sell cell phones now. Lots of huge holes downtown have now been built into several story condos, and I live in a new condo myself now.

While I was in Australia, my mom sold our home and bought a new place uptown. It's a slick, new fancy apartment that looks like an upscale hotel. It is a sharp contrast from the sometimes dirty huts I was living in while in Indonesia. It's also quite a relief to be able to leave your stuff around and not worry about having to pack it up the next day.

While some things are the same in a comforting way; like the lazy pace I move during my weekends, or the familiar Canadian accents I hear in coffee shops, other things are completely different.

I picked up a new job as a waitress at a lounge/restaurant. It's something I've always wanted to do just to see what it's like. I've never worked in the food and hospitality industry so it's been a lot of learning. There is a restaurant lingo that I'm starting to pick up and its quite fascinating. I now know what chaffing dishes and heat lamps are. I also know how to properly set-up a table with salad forks and dessert forks and coffee cups at 90 degrees from the plate, etc etc.

The other night, I was working an event for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The DJ put on a song which was on the mixtape we found in the rental car of our Australian road trip and I was reminded of my wonderful adventures which happened a mere two months ago. While listening to the song, I was suddenly feeling quite smug because here I was serving ridiculous people who were blowing their money on $250 bottles of vodka and paying even more than that for "private booths" which really were just couches with a "reserved" sign on them.

With a budget of $250 a week, I got to see Indonesia! Yes. That amount covered hotels and food as well as surfboard rentals and some modest shopping. That amount has also given me incredible experiences, street smarts and a confidence where I can say I navigated a foreign country all by myself at 21.

Different people have different priorities, but personally, I think it's much more enriching to spend your money on experiences which will make you grow rather than one vague drunken memory.

FYI: Cocktails in Indonesia average about $2.50/drink, a fraction of the price of alcohol in Toronto.

But though I am back in my hometown, this isn't the end of my journey here.

I will be updating constantly with missed blog entries and photos I haven't published. I wrote a couple of entries on the road but sometimes didn't put them up because I felt they were missing something.

I will keep posting moments from my trip and saving up for my next big trek around the world. Europe? Africa? South America? Asia again? Who knows...

Lessons from the road by Jessica Lee

From what I’ve learned these past seven months away from home, I’ve found that the road teaches you far more practical life lessons than anything learned at University.

I am writing this sitting on the Greyhound bus from Montreal back to Toronto.

The obvious lesson for me would be to pack lighter.

No one really needs 40+ t-shirts on any trip. What happened was I packed 20 t-shirts originally, then little by little added more and more, rationalizing that t-shirts take up really little space. Things add up, and soon without realizing it, I was carrying 40 t-shirts to Australia.

I have spent way too much money posting things back home. I wince about the money amount, but I don’t regret it because it’s a lesson learnt.

I also spent way too much upgrading baggage or renting lockers or not walking places and taking cabs to hostels because I couldn’t carry all my stuff.

In the process, I have become stronger because I soldiered up and carried everything during the short walks from the bus stops to the hostels, but I wouldn’t backpack anywhere again with all the things I’ve been carrying around for the past month or so.

In reality, once one item in your backpack starts smelling like smoke or sweat, everything else starts to develop the same smell. Despite growing up and living in a very clean household all my life and being raised to be concerned about hygiene, during the past couple of weeks while backpacking throughout Australia and Indonesia; I’ve gotten used to not minding stale clothing. Doing laundry while traveling is always an option too.

Being on the road has also taught me about people’s motivations. In Toronto, people help you out of kindness because it’s a nice thing to do and it’s common courtesy. If I saw someone with their hands full, I would offer to help carry things for them. The same principle applies in Australia. Two strangers kindly helped me carry my 7 piece luggage from the bus stop to the bus station in Melbourne.

In Indonesia however, I once had a lot of luggage and had just boarded a train. I had avoided using the porters who would have helped me carry the luggage on the train. I made it onto the train without their help, carrying all of my things. Once on the train, I needed to store my luggage in the racks above the seats. A man dressed in a train uniform motioned for me to hand him my luggage and he put the luggage on the rack for me. I figured he was working for the train company and he would help me out because I had booked an executive business class ticket, so I expected this sort of service somewhat.

I found out later he wasn't employed by the train company, and he was a porter working for himself. He asked me for $1 for helping me lift 4 bags!

I have spent $1 in better ways. Like when I paid $1 for 18 bananas at Paddy's Market in Sydney. Or when I paid 50 cents for a motorcycle ride in Jakarta (still have to blog about that one). Spending a dollar to have someone lift four things for me is not an economical use of money.

It's okay though. It's only a dollar.

And it's a learning experience. That's what matters. I pay attention more to people's motivations more now.

Better to learn a lesson and lose a dollar than not learn a lesson and lose $50 later.

The story of the mix CD or why I know all the words of a random Portuguese song by Jessica Lee

About a month ago, I set off on a road trip with a couple of friends around the eastern coast of Australia.

We had all been on road trips before but we all made the same rookie mistake in not bringing along music for the long 3500 km drive.

We were in luck however as we found out the person who rented the campervan before us had left a mix CD in the player. The twelve songs on this CD would be the only music we had during the full two weeks of our driving. As a result, we became extremely familiar with all the songs.

Though it has been more than a month, I can still tell you which song is on which track.

We didn't mind most of the songs, in fact they were songs we would have listened to anyway. There was some Coldplay, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" (very fitting for an Australian road trip), Michael Jackson, Mumford and Sons, and some indie bands.

One song stood out in particular because it was in a language we didn't recognize and because the tune was more cultural than the rest of the songs on the CD.

I immediately took a liking to this strange and mysterious song and soon learned the words after playing it many many times repeatedly to the chagrin of my travel buddies. They liked the song too, just not as much as I did.

It's refreshing and a little exciting to not know what the words you sing mean. Or to not even know the language of what you're singing. We had deduced the song was European, but that's as far as we got despite my repeated google searches to find out more about the song. In my travels, I met a lovely German couple who recognized the song when I sung it to them, but they didn't know the origins either. However the fact that they knew the song confirmed it was popular in the European market. I didn't figure out more about the song after that. My search to find out more about the song ended soon after the trip finished.

That is, until the other day.

I met three Italian men on the beach in Bali. We got to talking about music and they revealed the song was actually Portuguese. This time, I managed to find out the name of the song through Google after adding "portuguese" beside a lyric I sounded out. After a month and a half, I FINALLY found the name of the song.

The song is called "Ai Se Eu Te Pego" and is performed by Michel Telo. In English, the title is roughly translated to "Ah When I Get My Hands On You".

Basically for the past month, I've been singing in Portuguese of the naughty things I'm going to do to some hot girl at a dance club when I get my hands on her. I think this is hilarious because now I know how to pick up chicks in Portuguese. I mean, if I ever wanted to.

It's a really catchy song so you can't really blame me for singing it nonstop. Even now that I know what the lyrics mean, I would still sing it aloud in public if I ever went to visit Portugal.

Listen here for yourself and let me know what you think:

Readers, I'd love to hear from you! Do you have any strange or funny stories involving language on your travels?

Things I will miss about Australia by Jessica Lee

I left Australia not even a month ago, but I’m already starting to miss it. The people and friendships I have made obviously rank at number one, but besides that, here is a list of things unique to Oz which I long for. (Some of these things I haven't even blogged about yet, but I will eventually, so keep your eyes peeled!)

The above photo is of me enjoying a lamington, which is a chocolate cake with a cream filling, which is an Australian specialty; it was okay. My favourite dessert in the whole world is still crème brule.  

1.     Beaches and ocean scenery. There are so so many nice beaches in Australia, it’s not fair.
2.     Sailing in Sydney harbour. It’s just beautiful; the water sparkles in the day time under the sun and at dusk when the sun sets, you can see the sky making all sorts of gorgeous colours.
3.     Melbourne cafes
4.     Vintage shopping. The vintage shopping here is substantially better than what we have back in Canada; much better finds.
5.     Kangaroo meat- just delicious when cooked right!
6.     Angry Australian men (I love overhearing Aussie men vent in their accents! Funniest thing ever.)
7.     Carmen’s cranberry muesli (I guess I will just have to find a muesli like this back home)
8.     When people call each other “mate”. (This always puts a smile on my face) I love it when people yell “Oy” as well.
9.     Red Rock Deli chips in the red chili flavour.
10. Watching kangaroos jump.

Bonus: Vita Brits! I recently discovered Vita Brits and I wish I could take a box home with me, but unfortunately I have luggage problems as it is already.

Wine tasting at Barossa Valley, South Australia by Jessica Lee

South Australia is known for its wineries. Since we were in the area, we decided to head to Barossa Valley and get cultured (read: drunk) in true Adelaide fashion.

We went with a tour since both Myra and I don’t drive/can’t drive while going wine-tasting. The tour was a little overpriced considering the tastings are free, but since there were no other options except for hiring a car, then hiring some random person with a license and trusting them to not crash/ drive us off to be sold to sex traffickers/ kidnap us; going on a tour was pretty much the only way to go.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Adelaide is full of friendly people, so these possibilities likely wouldn’t have happened, but there are also plenty of sketchy people out there and it’s best to not be naïve about such things.

The first stop of the tour took us to the town (or village?) of Gumeracha, home of the world’s biggest rocking horse. We were somewhat impressed, but not really.

Here is a photo: If you look closely, you can see Myra standing under the horse.

I think we were more impressed by the peacocks running around.

The next stop was our first winery, Wolf Blass, which has German origins. According to the guide, lots of Germans moved to South Australia to farm back in the day.

We were also taught on the best way to taste wine, which is to drink it two to three times and swish the wine around your mouth.

At wine tastings, it’s not expected that you drink everything they pour you, so they also offer a spitting cup, which I avoided at first because I didn’t want to waste any wine, but as I grew progressively tipsier, pouring the leftover wine I didn’t want just made sense.

We tried a variety of Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet and Moscato wines.

Personally, I think knowing the basics about wine is essential general knowledge for the modern day renaissance man/woman . As long as you’re not snobby about it, it’s good to know the difference between the wines. For example, in reds, Shiraz is generally sweeter than Cabernet as Cabernet is made with herbs and Shiraz is made with plums, black currents and other fruits. Also, you’re not allowed to call Chardonnay not made in the Champagne region of France “champagne”, even though they are essentially the same thing being that they both are white sparkling wines.

I can tell there is plenty I don’t know about wines and I hope to explore this further one day in a sommelier course- perhaps I will take this in France.

One more random fact though: bottles with steel caps keep wines fresher than cork caps as it makes the oxidation process slower.

The whole day had an indulgent atmosphere. I felt like a Roman where back in the day, they would eat as much as they wanted, enjoying the abundant food and wine, then throw it all up so they could eat more.

We were taken for lunch at Vine Inn, which is where I had my last meal of Kangaroo. It wasn’t cooked the way I liked (medium), but it was still a good way to end my last day in Australia, as I probably won’t be eating Kangaroo for a while. 

The meal was topped off a huge slice of mixed berry cheesecake, leaving me utterly full.

Still, we had three more wineries to go to before we could call it a day.

It was at this point where I felt somewhat queasy. All the wines from Wolf Blass and the food at Vine Inn were incredibly decadent. It was not a good feeling, but I soldiered on as we headed to Lambert Estate.

We tried all sorts of wines, a couple of dozen in total. You can smell the different flavours; nutty, lemon, cherry, vanilla, strawberry, oak, pear, citrus… I absolutely loved being exposed to such a large variety of wines.

My favourite wines I have discovered are alfresco wines, which are typically lighter in alcohol content and sweeter. My favourite so far was the Dolcetto shiraz Frizzante at Grant Burge. It was sweet and fruity.

 Another of the wines I enjoyed was the 2011 Spring Rose at Kies (which means ‘little stones’ in German). It has a “nose of rose petals and strawberries”, according to its description. I wrote that it was “fresh and light-tasting”. Honestly one day I would like to be able to describe foods with the impressive vocabulary wine/food tasters have.

I wrote down a mini review of every single wine I tried, because it’s good to keep track of what you like and don’t like. I also notice now as I’m reading back on my reviews that my writing got progressively wobblier as the day went on. Some it I can’t make out now.

We also tried dessert wines, which are sweeter wines. One of them was mixed with chocolate, which everyone loved, but I thought tasted too syrupy. It’s easy to be influenced by popular opinion, but now after all the tasting, I know exactly what I like in wines.

Things to do in Adelaide: pretty much nothing by Jessica Lee

There really isn’t much to do in Adelaide, but at least the people here are extremely friendly.

My housemate Myra and I haven’t even been in this “city” (it’s really more like a town) for 24 hours and already we have noticed the people here to be exceptionally good hosts. For example, we missed our stop on the bus, the driver noticed we were lost, asked us where we were going, then personally drove us back to the stop we had missed (about five blocks back). This definitely wouldn’t have happened in a big city.

Then, it was near midnight when we decided we wanted to go back to where we were staying, and we were waiting at the bus stop for the bus that came once every half hour. It was freezing cold. We struck up a conversation with a girl who happened to be waiting there for her mother to pick her up and she offered to give us a ride back to our place, which we took up on her offer.

Previous to all this, I sat on a 10 hour bus ride from Melbourne to here and the guy next to me decided it was alright to just share my pillow with me without making conversation first. He pretty much just rested his head on top of my head- and I know he was awake when he did this. He also decided it was okay to use my arm as his armrest later on. Perhaps being all touchy with strangers is the norm in Adelaide. Regardless, I think this says a lot about the people in this town.

Before picking Sydney as the place I wanted to go on a study exchange, Adelaide was my first choice. One of my favourite bands, Anberlin, has a song called “Adelaide” and I loved the name. Also, I had never visited Adelaide, whereas I had been to Sydney before in 2000. I had done a quick google to Adelaide and it seemed like the place I wanted to be: a very Dawson’s Creek-like a small town.

In retrospect, I’m very glad I didn’t end up going to Adelaide. I might have killed myself. There is nothing to do here! Pretty much all we did so far was eat and shop. There aren’t many interesting sites to see unfortunately. We had been warned by our friend Jess, who is grew up here that there was nothing to do so I guess this really is our own fault for coming here in the first place. I guess at least now we can see first-hand for ourselves what being in Adelaide is like- boring.

We asked a bloke named Matt from Woolsworth what do people do here and he said “Get drunk.”

This decides it. We are going wine-tasting at the nearby wineries tomorrow.

AFL in Australia: a newbie's outlook by Jessica Lee

I went to my first AFL (Australian Football League) game yesterday. It was at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne with Essendon vs. Geelong (these are suburbs in Australia).

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy going to a football game so much.

I think the reason I enjoyed it was due to the camaraderie in the stands. There were a lot of “bloke-y-bloke” types who would cheer, yell obscenities and make snide but funny statements during the game. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “dickhead” being yelled so many times in an hour, even better was the fact that all these statements were spoken in Australian accents. It was a hilarious environment. Everyone was out to enjoy themselves and I think I got caught up with their spirit.

Check out this photo of fans getting really riled up:

During the first half of the game, I didn’t know what was going on, but my friend Al quickly explained everything to me. Honestly, if I were to describe what Australian football reminds me of, it would be Quidditch in Harry Potter- mostly because of the wide goal nets.

Like many other sports, there is a lot of lingo to learn. For example, Geelong has a nickname of “the handbaggers”. Why? Because according to the burly men behind us who we asked, it’s because they “play like girls”. Ouch.

As a feminist, this came as a shock, but I learned to roll with it because they didn’t mean to harm.

Please note the differences between American football and Australian football: they don’t wear helmets and shoulder pads here! And their shorts are ridiculously short. And the field is round.

 I also think some of the team names are cute- see the “magpies”, Sydney “swans”, the “kangaroos”…

Also did you know, at the end of the game, everyone sings the song of the winning team. It was BRILLIANT. I loved how everyone was so cheerful.

I’m pretty glad I let Al drag me to a game before leaving Australia. At an AFL game, you get to experience a different side of Aussie culture. It’s like how hockey is so important to Canadians- which reminds me, I’ve only been to a Marlies game in Toronto, not a full NHL game; this is something I will have to go to once I’m back home.

Tour of Sydney harbour by Jessica Lee

It was sailing that originally drew me to Sydney, so before I left I went sailing one last time.

This time it was to the Harbour Bridge.

I arrived at Woollahra Sailing Club in Rose Bay in the afternoon and we began rigging the boat.

Here is a photo I took of the club. It is a scene I won't see again for a while in real life, which makes me sad.

This is the beach:

And the dock:

I love the feeling of being in a small boat over water. I like the feeling of the wind, balancing on the edge of the boat and hearing the waves gently lapping over the side of the boat.

It was lovely casual sailing weather; sunny, light wind and not too many waves.

Generally, you're not supposed to take electronics on small dinghies because you might capsize and lose everything, but I knew the view would be gorgeous and I wanted to capture it all. I don't mind taking reasonable risks for big rewards. The photos turned out lovely.

We spent a couple of hours on the water, passed by a military base, saw the Opera House and the bridge, saw a huge cruise ship, then headed back just as the sun was setting. There was a streak of pink in the sky which I thought was quite lovely.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the photos!

Sydney to Melbourne: day one by Jessica Lee

We left Sydney a few days ago to drive down to Melbourne onto the Great Ocean Road.

It has been lots of beautiful farmland and quaint little towns.

Driving through Australia has made me realize how incredibly large the world is. I mean, you pass through small towns, realize you're never going to meet any of these people, then pass through some more small towns and realize there are many more of these small towns you are never going to pass through or stop over and explore.

There is just so much I want to do, so many places I want to explore and stay at but not enough time. And this has only been Australia that I've been through on a drive. There are many other countries I'd like to visit in the future as well. At some point during our drive, I realized (silly I didn't figure this out before, I know) that I won't ever travel the entire world, be in all the spots I want to be before I eventually get too old and die. Sorry I am being morbid, but this greatly distresses me.

Australia is beautiful though.

The gorgeous coastlines we've been driving by make me re-evaulate Toronto's Harbourfront, one of my favourite areas of Toronto. If friends from out of town came to visit, that would be one of the places I'd recommend them to visit. I realize now our harbour is not quite as impressive as what these coastal towns have to offer. That's okay though. I still have lovely associations and fond memories from spending time there with people I love being around. I might still tell people from out of town to visit the harbour, watch the boats, go kayaking, and drink coffee with someone they like at the Second Cup on the dock. And in the summer, I'd tell them to visit Sugar Beach, walk by the sugar factory, inhale the scent of burning sugar and spend the day suntanning.

Anyway, back to Australia.

These photos were taken near Nowra.

We spent most of the first day driving, stopping off at scenic points. 

We watched the sun set from Jervis Bay, in a beach called Murray's Beach. I loved that it was secluded and clean. Bon found out that the sand squeaks when you drag your heels on it. I'm don't know how else to explain it, but if you come here and we arrange a time to meet, I could show you.

I've also developed a habit of running to the water of each beach we pass by and dipping my toe in the water. I don't know why exactly. Originally, this was so I could say I've dipped my toe in Australian waters at every beach- it seemed like a romantic notion, but really now that I think about it they are all just various points of the Indian Ocean. Oh well.

We stopped off at night in Bateman's Bay under a scattering of stars and a lovely coastline view to a gas cooked dinner of bangers and mash- which apparently is a dish originating from England, but something I only recently discovered in restaurants in Australia. I added steamed veggies to the mix because who says you can't be healthy and live on the road?

A date at Watson's Bay, Sydney by Jessica Lee

With three days left to go in Sydney, I had no intentions to meet a charming English boy who would sweep me off of my feet. I had just been hoping to cross off things I wanted to do on my sightseeing list. Sometimes though, you meet the right people at the wrong time.

The timing was horrible since I was leaving and also because I had lost my voice from recovering from a cold. I don’t usually go on dates when I am mute, but this guy was really sweet and at noon, I found myself at Watson’s Bay, which happens to be a very good first date choice (hot tip for the gentlemen reading this!)

The day felt like something out of The Little Mermaid or like the 1930’s. I was pretty much silent for the first half of the date. My voice was gone so I had to write things for him to read in a little notebook I had while he carried on talking normally. Have you ever had to communicate to someone with just facial expressions and words on paper? It’s difficult. The tone of one’s voice conveys so much and it was missing.

We had fish and chips at Doyles on the Wharf, a much-hyped-up low-key eatery at Watson’s Bay. The food was definitely delicious, possibly the best fish and chips I’ve ever had; granted my perception of the food could have been conflated with the good company I was with and the lovely view of the harbour.

 Watson’s Bay is a perfect first date choice because the area is quiet and isolated being that it’s just on the outskirts of the city. It is also a beautiful place to be. I was impressed.

After lunch, we took a stroll on the beach then hiked up to a gorgeous, secluded lookout point. There is romance written all over this lookout. There is a natural bench for two indented in the rock at the very edge of the cliff and you can watch life passing by here with all the ships and little boats sailing past and the Harbour Bridge in the background. I imagine watching a sunset and sharing a bottle of wine here would be amazing.

On the other side of the cliff, there is a lovely trail with a view of the whole city. You can hear the waves crashing and sometimes spot dolphins or whales. It was the most perfect first date I’ve ever been on. The parting was bittersweet and left me sad the whole night.

Life is never perfect. Sometimes paths intersect for a moment and never meet again. Sometimes the universe conspires to bring two people together. The world is small and large at the same time. Who knows what the future holds?

Swimming with the fishies: my snorkelling experience in the Great Barrier Reef by Jessica Lee

Magical. That is how I would describe being underwater, surrounded by colourful fish swimming around me at the Great Barrier Reef. It was as if I was in the middle of a tornado of fish. Whenever I moved, the fish would move with me, not wanting to collide. It was beautiful and one of the highlights of the trip.

If you ever visit Queensland, Australia, snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef is something you definitely have to do. It's not something you can experience vicariously by reading about it or looking at photos or videos.

I took a few photos from the surface, but these do not do the experience of being underwater justice.

Being underwater is frightening but magnificent at the same time. It's like being in a new world where you move much slower and there are new animals who swim up next to you. If I had encountered a shark, I wouldn't have known what to do. 

There are endless arrays of coral and rocks. The colours are captivating. We swam through a place where the coral looked like fluorescent blue deer antlers. We also swam to small openings of rock where we were frightened a shark would swim up from behind and corner us at any moment. It was just like being in Finding Nemo. 

Besides coral, there are many different types of fish. Believe it or not, if you don't move and just observe, you can hear the fish pecking away at the coral. It sounds sort of like two rocks hitting each other. It's really cool because the fish are completely comfortable with having people around and just go on with their eating. It's a unique experience. It's like watching a stranger in their home, but with fish, so it's not quite as weird.

The fish are gorgeous in vibrant colours and varied; they make me wish I remembered more of our studies of sea life taught to me back in year three of elementary school. Of the top of my head I can name about three species. There were about 30 different kinds of fish that I saw.

During our time on the reef, we headed to Lunchen Bay, Blue Pearl Bay and Black Island for snorkelling. All three were beautiful. Lunchen Bay and Blue Pearl Bay had plenty of fish and coral while Black Island had a colony of sea turtles. We spotted one, which was a metre long and I swam down and touched it's shell.

Back in Lunchen Bay, we also saw huge fish, more than a metre long, which scared the crap out of us. Imagine swimming and bumping into the guy below.

Here is a photo of coral. It looks more vibrant underwater but since I don't have a waterproof camera, this is what I got:

We also saw a man-ray from the boat, which apparently doesn't occur often.

It was spectacular to see one of the seven world wonders. One day I hope to see it all. I love that I am still young and there are so many possibilities.