There is no return to normal. Annie, like the rest of us, is on a one-way trip, and we can not return to normal on this type of fare. And bad weather, “wobbleboxes” and breakdowns are a part of the journey, which makes it an adventure.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ― Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning.
Covid started with a ripple and finished like a Tsunami, and each of us in the travel industry had our lives changed forever.
Some had decisions made for them, some had to reinvent themselves, but each of us had to find our own unique path. For Just Cruises’ Annie Graham, in that space between stimulus and response, she saw a gap, or more specifically, she saw a gap year (or two) and decided to look at the halt in travel as an opportunity.
40 years after leaving school and 30 years spent in the travel industry, Annie took her long-overdue Gap year, and found her path…on the road, behind the wheel of “Betty Benz,” her converted Mercedes Sprinter LWB Van.
“Nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a (wo)man than a secure future. The very basic core of a (wo)man’s living spirit is their passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” – Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Annie feels joy and counts her blessings every day, and feels fortunate she had this option available to her. Like many who had been in the industry for a while, she still wears the scars of 9/11, GFC, SARS, Swine Flu, ash clouds, etc. 30 years in travel made her tough, 30 years taught her to save for a rainy day, and 30 years taught her to be prepared for anything.
Covid struck when she was in the September of her career – she spent her life building a business, paying off mortgages, making investments, having incredible employees, having three successful adult sons, and an incredibly supportive business partner /ex-husband, Paul, and all these things made the ambitious gap year plan a reality.
“My family encourage me to continue finding my inner gypsy,” Annie said.
Plus, with vast improvements in technology in the last few decades, Annie said, “I have been fortunate enough to work remotely for over 20 years, so it really doesn’t matter where I am, provided I have internet, I can work from anywhere.”
So with $20,000 taken out of her Super (Thank you very much, Australia Government!) and an additional $20,000 invested, Annie gave birth to “Betty Benz,” her home away from home for both her and her two poodles. Betty boasts air-conditioning, a microwave, an air fryer, a refrigerator, fans, lights, a television, shower and an ensuite toilet.
In travel industry terms, Annie is travelling full time in Etihad’s “The Residence” on wheels.
9 months and many kilometres later, the Australia Travel Industry’s answer to “Fern” from “Nomadland,” has never once looked back in her review mirror…metaphorically. Betty now has a companion in “Betsy,” the pink e-bike.
Annie too has made many new companions. She joined a group “Rolling Solos,” and has just returned from a week with “340 women aged from 25 to 90, in everything from tents to luxury motorhomes. Some are retired, single, gay, straight, divorced, grand (and great) grandmothers, childless, or furbaby, bird, cat and even snake mothers.”
The Academy Award winning “Nomadland” brought to life the stories of the tribes of women that criss-cross the blue highways of America, fuelled by a deep connection to their nomadic sisters and a lifelong love of travel. The Aussie version shares many similarities. It too is nearly a “no-man’s land.”
Most Aussie nomads are women who are either happily independent, leaving their male partners at home, or painfully aware that men have an earlier use by date.
Annie has embraced the lifestyle, she said, “Joining Rolling Solos was THE best decision I have made. I now feel that I have found my tribe of like-minded, free-spirited, brave women who have the balls to get out and do it.
“It’s also made me happy in my own company, given me the courage to meet new people, and the confidence that I can do anything.”
The new-found confidence ensured that “Betty” wasn’t the only one to go through a conversion. Annie is now a pro-working the CB radio, challenging herself daily to find harmony between solar input and battery consumption, studying for a Diploma in Leisure and Health, teaching other nomads how to play the ukulele and training to be a dance and exercise instructor aimed at older women having fun, whilst keeping mentally and physically fit.
It’s not all “unicorns and rainbows.” The fear of breakdown is a constant weight. Getting behind or trying to pass grey nomads towing “wobbleboxes” (Caravans) scares the hell out of her. Bad weather can bring in dark clouds quickly.
Thankfully, the connection she has to her massive network of friends and family through social media, and the joy of discovering her new favourite place, the South Coast of New South Wales, quickly brings her spirits back up.
For Annie, the next stop will be a tagalong to a haunted pub Cracow with 70 Rollers, Clermont (for red claw fishing) and Airlie Beach. Then a pub crawl to Alice from Brisbane with a few girls, where she will meet up with over 500 women from “Rolling Solo” in August.
For Annie, the journey of self-discovery will never end.
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