Leah Explores … Canberra

I’ll admit it, I haven’t met a single backpacker so far who has told me they have been to Canberra, or that it is on their list of places to go. Even some of the Australians I have met so far, haven’t even been. So after a week of job hunting and feeling a bit blah about everything, I decided to pack up Bertha (my backpack) and head off on a weekend getaway to the ACT and see what Canberra had to offer. I’m not going to lie, my expectations were pretty low, I mean I’d literally not heard a single thing about the place. But, I figured that as it is the capital city it had to have something going for it.

House of Parliament
House of Parliament

Stay:
There wasn’t a load of options when it came to hostel accommodation in Canberra, in fact when I checked Hostelworld, I had a grand total of two options. I went with the Canberra City YHA. It was higher rated, in a better location and I know I tend to have good experiences staying at YHA’s. I managed to get a weekend deal through the YHA website, which included two nights accommodations, daily breakfast and a full days bike hire for $99. The hostel was nice enough, and on the empty side, which made a nice change coming from Sydney.

Do:
I checked my Lonely Planet guide before heading out, and it was without a doubt the smallest section in the whole guide book. I also went looking for inspiration on Pintrest and good old Google, but there weren’t a load of blog posts or guides available. I was so pleasantly surprised by just how much there was to do and see in Canberra.
Big Red Explorer Bus
A bit like your average hop on/hop off bus, except on a smaller scale, and much more personal. Michael was my driver and he was amazing. It takes you to all the main galleries and museums that you would want to see, as well as around the embassies, and down ANZAC Parade. Canberra is definitely a city where you need wheels, 2 or 4, so this is the perfect solution. The only downside of it, is that you don’t get long between pick ups, so you have to race through places. If you have more time you can make your ticket into the two day pass and solve this problem.
War Memorial
Without a doubt, one of the best things I saw in Canberra. This isn’t just a memorial, it is also a museum dedicated to conflicts from WW1 onwards including recent conflicts. It is not only incredibly poignant but full of interesting information about smaller battles that happened within larger conflicts. As well as this there are planes and a Japanese submarine to look at too. If you go towards the end of the day you can be there to experience them play the Last Post, which I imagine would be extremely moving.
National Library of Australia
Honestly, I was a little disappointed by this, the NSW State Library is magnificent and this one just didn’t quite live up to my hopes. They had an exhibit all about 1968, and also a permanent exhibit both of which were interesting.
National Portrait Gallery
I really enjoyed looking around here. There was a great mixture of photography and more traditional painted portraits, all of which were stunning. Definitely recommend stopping in for a look around.
National Art Gallery
The main draw for me here was the Cartier exhibit, which I happily paid $28 to see. It was absolutely stunning, and being able to see the tiara that Duchess of Cambridge wore on her wedding day was amazing. Sadly, I didn’t have time to look around the rest of the gallery, as I had to hop back on the Big Red Explorer, but it was pretty huge and looked amazing, with a good mix of art.
Parliament House
This was my final stop of the day, and I really enjoyed being able to wander around and enjoy all the art that was displayed. I stopped off at the Queens Terrace Cafe for lunch, which I would highly recommend, not just for the food but also for the amazing views of the Old Parliament House, ANZAC Parade and the War Memorial.
Lake Burley Griffin
Hire a bike and cycle around this spectacular manmade lake that is at the heart of Canberra. Choose from the East, West or Central Basin, or if you’re feeling sporty, you can tackle all three. The views are stunning and it’s the perfect way to see the city from a new perspective.

War Memorial
War Memorial

Getting There:
I took the coach from Sydney with Murrays, and it was a painless three and a half hour journey straight through. I went with Murrays as it was cheaper than the train or flying. And the same price as Greyhound, except they had a lot more departure options daily. It cost me $38 each way. I was also really lucky both ways as they didn’t charge me extra for having a second bag – thanks guys!

Lake Burley Griffin

Top Tip:
Pack light
Don’t take a backpack when exploring the galleries and museums. It is a huge pain, as you have to leave it in the cloakroom every time, which is free of charge, but still annoying.
Time your visit
Visit when parliament isn’t in session. Accommodation and transport is much cheaper. As well as this, the city is a lot emptier and getting into restaurants is so much easier.
Have wheels
Either a car or a bike, or a ticket for the Big Red Explorer are needed to best experience Canberra. There are a lot of things to see just outside of the city, vineyards and mountains but you’ll need wheels to get there.

 

Thoughts on being a backpacker at 30!

As I type this, I am still 29, just about, although I am such a procrastinator that this most likely won’t get published until I hit the big 3-0. So far I have been backpacking Australia for just over six weeks, and I’ve definitely noticed that my attitude is somewhat different to other travellers I am meeting who are (for the most part) younger than I am.

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Food and Drink:
For starters I don’t have the same desire to go out and get drunk most nights, don’t get me wrong, I like going out for a drink, but not every single night. I’d rather have a fancy cocktail from time to time than cheap larger and goon every night. I did that at uni, and feel like I’ve got it out of my system. It also takes me a hell of a lot longer to bounce back from a night of heavy drinking than it used to, and to be honest I’m more concerned with putting my money into something that I’m going to remember.
   Which brings me onto food. I am definitely more inclined to spend my money taking myself out for a nice meal each day than a night on the tiles. For me one of my favourite parts of exploring somewhere new is finding delicious food, cute restaurants and coffee shops. Yes you can look back on a night out (if you can remember it) but some of the best meals I’ve eaten have happened when I’ve been travelling (I’m looking at you Coachella snow crab fries and brunch at The Parker in Palm Springs.)

 Experiences:
After travelling by myself and with others for years, I’ve nailed down what I enjoy doing, and I don’t have as much time for all the tourist traps. This comes from knowing what I do and don’t like, and for me, I’d much rather sit on the beach or in a coffee shop reading than going to a zoo or a theme park. There are definitely times and places for both. That doesn’t mean I am completely averse to all tourist destinations, and some you have absolutely got to do. There is normally a reason they are popular, and a lot of the time they are enjoyable but a lot of the time I also find them a bit of a waste of money. It’s definitely something I tend to weigh the pro’s and con’s of before going for it.
I also know that whilst it is sometimes essential, I don’t always like to be constantly on the go. I quite often need a day to settle into a new place, also a lot of the time I find that my bus won’t get me somewhere until the afternoon, and knowing my self, I know that the rest of that day is probably going to be a write off. That way, by giving myself the extra day, I feel a lot less stressed out and rushed when exploring somewhere new. 

Treat Yo’Self:
I’m much more likely to throw money at a situation and have a “treat yo’self” moment. Be this a meal, an attraction, or an experience. Knowing what I want from travel means that I can normally pretty accurately know if I will like a place and if it’s worth my money, therefore I am less likely to feel that I am constantly wasting money. As well as this, 
I can only ‘slum it’ for so long, she says from a 5* hotel bed 😉 but seriously, I am so much more likely to check into a “nice hostel” as opposed to a cheap one. I also now know that if it is more than a 5-10minute walk from the bus station and there is no hostel shuttle, I am not willing to lug all my stuff there in the heat, and I will happily pay for a cab/uber/bus to get me there.

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Me Time:
I’m so completely happy in my own company that I am much less likely to make an effort to socialise. I’m aware that sounds very anti-social, and one of the best parts about travelling is definitely the people you meet along the way. I just think that for me, I don’t need to make a new best friend in every new destination I go to. I’m enjoying having all this uninterrupted “me time”. I have no responsibilities at the moment and I am bloody loving it. For the past two years I was working two jobs, one full and one part time, and it was exhausting. Most weeks I would be working 7 days, as well as making time to socialise and have a life outside of work. So for me to not be working at the moment is a complete luxury.
   I also know how to make myself feel like me again. Travelling can take its toll on you mentally and physically. Some days I just need to take a day off from it and feel like me again. For me this is things like going and sitting in a coffee shop, going to the cinema, walking around a book shop and wandering around shops. All of these are things that I do in my everyday life and doing them when I’m a few thousand miles away from home just make things feel “normal’ again.
   Finally, I’m much more present. I’ll “do it for the ‘gram” as much as the next person, but at the same time I am very happy to switch off from technology and social media a bit. There are a few places I’ve been where my phone has been on SOS only, and it’s been so nice. I’m not constantly Snapchatting every second of my day, and I’m way too lazy to be constantly taking the perfect Instagram shot, which in turn means I’m much more present in the moments that are happening around me.

The beauty of traveling is that you can make the experiences whatever you want them to be, and to suit your personality, which is why you can enjoy travel at any age. So go forth, and explore!