After road tripping through Australia’s outback with four complete strangers (found on Gumtree.com, Australia’s Craigslist equivalent) I arrived in Darwin, Northern Territory with as much of a life plan as a goldfish.
My new friends (two French, one German and one Japanese) and I were all enamored with the road trip lifestyle. We had become a family and the groovily painted van was our home. On the day the van was due, we went to the rental office and begged for more time. We were granted just a few more days, which was fine since we didn’t think much further into the future than that.
After a few nights of sleeping in the van parked off random streets in Darwin, it was the final deadline. We piled our backpacks up in Mindil Beach Park. I laid across the pile in the sun, phoning hostels while the others returned the van. It turned out all the hostels were booked through the end of the month. I broke this news to the gang when they returned.
When there’s nowhere else to go, you have no choice but to stay where you are. That was the moment I became homeless. It was exactly the kind of experience I’d spent my life fearing; but the reality of it was different, and surprisingly more fun than anything I could have imagined.
Mindil Beach Park was the illegitimate home to a small population of twenty-something travelers. Many of them were French, making that the primary language spoken. Some had vans which they parked there during the day and slept in at night. Others, like my friends and I, had only backpacks; we spent our days hanging out on the grass or the beach. We used the public bathrooms to do our business, brush our teeth and even take freezing cold showers. We often went dumpster diving for free food behind Woolworth’s. On any given day, you were likely to see someone’s laundry drying, draped over a tree. The beach and park were beautiful. We had perfect weather. The cost of living was, well, free. I made many friends there and felt a really nice sense of community.
At night, we had to become invisible to park rangers and cops, so we lined our sleeping bags up on beach. We slept under the stars to the sounds of the Timor Sea. We were happy to be together, and humored by the whole situation.
We lived this way for a week. I felt a new sense of empathy for “real” homeless people, which clearly we were not. Even with money, it was difficult to transition out of that situation. We took rotations going into town and staying with the backpacks. I went into Darwin looking for work, or the next destination in my travels, but I felt limited and rushed knowing my friends were guarding my possessions. Besides, what was I going to write under ‘Home Address’ on a job application? ‘Just under the third tree from the right, Mindil Beach Park, Darwin’?
One morning, I received a phone call from a Dutch girl I had met months ago in an Osho ashram near Byron Bay.
“My Aussie visa’s ending and I’m flying to Thailand next week. Want to come?” she said.
I considered asking her what she was planning to do there, but quickly realized I couldn’t care less. My visa was ending too, Australia was too expensive, and flights from Darwin to Bangkok were cheap.
“Okay!” I said. I bought my ticket the next day.
Comment about a travel experience of your own in which you experienced a new lifestyle and a sense of freedom.