A Parent's Tale of Travelling
As the Welcome to Travel community continues to rapidly grow, we often get carried away with immersing ourselves in the adventures and stories of our travellers. We are lucky to be a part of everyone’s journey as they join us on tour with many only having just arrived in Australia. Each traveller has a unique story, with individual aspirations and goals they wish to achieve during their time abroad. We’ve come to realise however, that we’ve been overlooking some of the most important stories this whole time. These are also the ones we tend to take for granted – our parents.
Us youngins will never truly understand what our parents go through as we head to the other side of the world for the trip of a lifetime. Perhaps we will never fully appreciate the trust they put in us until we become parents ourselves or take the time to ask.
It might even be because of our parents, that we have the courage to get on that flight. We may have grown up listening to their own backpacker stories and the amazing things they’ve seen before we came along. We subconsciously absorb this thirst for adventure and before we know it, we’re out there replicating their journeys to see what all the fuss is about.
We decided to get into contact with Fiona & John Devlin from Ireland;
parents of Ruairi (21), who arrived in Australia on a Working Holiday Visa in January 2020 and joined us on tour.
Our guide Clauds vaguely remembered him mentioning that his parents were avid travellers and had fallen in love with Australia on one of their trips. We sent some simple questions for them to answer thinking it would be valuable information for a future blog. Little did we know that we would receive the story of a lifetime in response.
The team unanimously agreed it had to be made into its own blog, so do yourself a favour and sit down with a cup of tea and enjoy.
This is their story.
Travel abroad was something which started as a small seed with us at a time when we were supposed to be planning our wedding in 1990 but spent more time fantasizing about where we would travel instead. And so our honeymoon was not the traditional one. Two days after the wedding we donned our rucksacks and headed for Europe.
Two months later travelling in the direction of North Africa to backpack our way through it.
Five months later we came home and started planning a trip to Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe where we’d be backpacking as well as overland safari trips.
What we saw and experienced at a time when travel to such places was unheard of in the small rural country area in Ireland we came from and people thought we were insane giving up employment to travel. For us, they were the insane ones not having the taste for travel and adventure and that’s what it was. Great countries, people, cultures, food, everything! Thirty years later we are still great friends with an Australian couple we met in Egypt who have stayed many times with us and now our son has stayed with them in NSW!
We eventually settled into home life and work but got the travel bug again in 1996.
This time we headed for India, Nepal, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia which took us over a year. We stood at an airport waving farewell to our parents eager to get on that plane, oblivious to their tears and worrying. Fast forward to January 2020 we both stood in an airport waving goodbye to our 20-year old son eager to get on a plane to Australia and oblivious to our tears!
How history can repeat itself. And it was only at that point when we watched our son disappear into the crowd, that we realised how much our travels and reminiscing had created the same sense of curiosity and eagerness with him. It was as they say a Deja-vu moment!
It was at that point we reconciled ourselves that he was doing what all young adults should do – experience the world, experience what life has to offer you, get adventure and find yourself. Life’s too short to sit in the comfort of your small space. We realised that for years when the children would look at our travel slides and listen to our stories that we were actually planting the seeds of travel in them and the belief that there was more to see.
Why did you travel to Australia and where did you go?
We both had relatives in Australia and heard about the vastness of the country, how much there was to see, the weather, and that Australians were similar to the Irish – very relaxed and family orientated. We saved hard and planned a year away starting in India and ending up in Australia.
We had spent 6 weeks touring in a hired van with a mattress and some cooking utensils around the North and South islands of New Zealand and in Dec 1996 we flew into Sydney to be met by our long-time friends and their new baby son. Despite years and distance separating us, our meeting was like yesterday and so we stayed with them for Christmas to experience how it’s done in Aus and were welcomed into their families. We recall Boxing Day in the heat and heading with our friends to learn to dive as they both were instructors. What better way to spend Boxing Day than exploring the ocean and its marine life – spectacular!
We bought a second hand Holden Shuttle which had been converted into a campervan,
made some finer adjustments and were off on the adventure of a lifetime. We even took our friend’s son’s little reindeer toy with us to send back pictures of him at every spot we visited in Australia, which he still has today! We started in the Blue Mountains in NSW before heading to Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Port Augusta, Coober Pedy, across the Nullarbor, over to Perth, then up the West Coast to Broome.
From there we went to Darwin before taking a jump into Thailand for a month and back to Alice Springs in the centre of Australia. From there we travelled east over to Cairns, down to Brisbane and back to Sydney . We even spent time in remote Kalgoorlie where John spent 3 days working in the gold mines – what an experience!
Equipped with the Explore Australia 15th Edition book which was given to us as a present,
we started our travels right across the country to the sound of a Pulp Fiction tape, which to this day reminds us of Australia when we hear it.
We were excited at the vastness of the countryside, the rainforests, the beaches, the cities, the outback, the national parks, the wildlife, the infamous Kookaburra, hot weather, the remoteness of places like the Nullarbor where you might not see another vehicle on the 17hr drive. The road trains, bush fires that could be seen for miles, your first wild kangaroo, your first snake, the fear when you drive into a mass of locusts.
Only Australia‘s skies can take on a different look by day and night – many times they looked like they were on fire. The colours and shadows on the land were magnificent. We challenged ourselves with bungy jumping, flying over the Bungle Bungles (Purnululu National Park). Only those who have done it and looked at them and flown between the rocks will appreciate the magnificence of the experience.
Swimming with whale sharks, Monkey Mia and the list of our adventures goes on! It was the best experience ever. It’s a country with many covers, each one better than the last.
Have you always encouraged Ruairi to travel or was it something he naturally wanted to do himself?
When travelling Australia, we planned that if we had children we would give them adventure holidays and not conform to the fortnight hotel / beach holiday.
In 2005 we bought a new 6-berth Autotrail campervan and with a 4-year-old and an 18-month-old child we started the first of many trips to France and Italy for over 10 years touring around these countries. Each holiday action packed with surfing, bodyboarding, biking, climbing, kayaking, from the beaches and woods to the snowy mountains and passes – they loved it.
We decided to go to America for 3 weeks but again this was not your normal holiday and we road tripped from San Francisco to Vegas and Los Angeles and stopped at all the national parks along the way. Afterwards we headed to Cuba for more action packed adventures. Ruairi was blown away with the country, lifestyle and people and we think that it was here that he started to think about travel and something different. He always said Australia would be our next holiday.
Ruairi finished schooling and undecided on a career pathway went to College for a 2 year Diploma. Like all young teenagers he lived the college lifestyle and enjoyed the new venture of living away from home and meeting new friends. He became your typical “ teenager” interested in cars and parties. However, shortly after finishing college and doing temporary work we started to see a restlessness in him and at this point we realised he had been researching Australia.
For months Ruairi had been checking out travel to Australia and different options with the intent on going on the Working Holiday Visa.
Part of me as his mother was inwardly screaming we don’t want you to go – what if something happens to you so far away! However the calm response given was that it was his decision and we would support him. Right up to the last minute when he pushed the send button on his application and purchased flights we didn’t think it was real.
Once the decision was made he quickly started organising and researching the trip. We realised he had everything prepared and organised. This is where the teenager becomes the mature adult and his eagerness to get away increased and losing interest in the teenage college things were clear.
He wanted to do something different realising there was more “out there”. When he was leaving Ireland on a January morning to board for Australia not really knowing what was ahead of him or if he would stick it – as parents we were so incredibly proud of him going on an adventure of a lifetime and being confident to do it by himself. We didn’t see it coming!
Were you nervous about him travelling to Australia on a working holiday visa at such a young age?
YES, YES and YES!
Like every parent we were worried; we thought back to our own days of travel with the highs and lows, the lack of IT accessibility… But there was something different now.
Ruairi had changed in his whole concept towards life. Not sure what the trigger was but we knew he had the determination to see it through, we could see he was nervous, who wouldn’t be! We knew he would miss the home comforts but also reassured him of his ability to adapt and had seen over the years how he managed and navigated himself in other countries.
Ruairi is also a person who sees his commitments through. We were glad he had enrolled with a reputable travel company for a week’s induction of Australia and be supported by them. We actually commended him on the maturity of the decision to do this. He was young but who is to say what age is the right age to travel and we knew from our own travels that he would be safe. We knew from when we were in Australia that it was a country that appeals to young people and has so much to offer to them so what better place to start!
Do you think Australia is a suitable country for young backpackers to travel? If so why?
Travelling is an art, you have to enjoy it but no matter where you are you cannot be complacent!
Even at home you cannot be complacent, we always have to have a sense of maturity and responsibility about us when going through life. At no point did we feel unsafe or worried on our trip 30 years ago – we actually thought about living there. We were welcomed no matter where we went.
Young people travelling learn so much from other cultures and nationalities – we do not give enough credit to their versatility and to the sense of responsibility when travelling. Of course as parents we will worry but to be honest every day Ruairi stepped into his car at home to go to college or work we worried – that’s what parents do – it’s inherent in our DNA!
So do we think Australia is suitable for young backpackers? Three different things to date have happened while Ruairi has been in Australia which has had the potential of being negative but such a different experience for us and so reassuring.
1. Ruairi was involved in a car accident a few weeks into Australia.
Thankfully it was not serious but still cause for worry when you are thousands of miles away!
We were extremely anxious and trying to trace his whereabouts in a hospital knowing he had just passed through the Twelve Apostles area. The Irish / Australian Embassy located him in 6 mins, phoned the hospital, spoke with consultants and nurses and updated us – unbelievable. All we had to give was his name and date of birth and meanwhile the backpackers with him looked after his gear, passport etc and got a car to travel miles to the hospital to collect him when he was discharged while one stayed with him! That’s what teenagers do – they look out for each other when travelling and as parents it was so reassuring.
2. A pandemic occured
What are the chances of that happening when starting out to travel?!
COVID-19 and lock down happened and we panicked as parents to get him out of the country. In the end we had to let him stay as borders were closing and no flights were coming home. We wanted to get him to our friends house but lockdown and travel restrictions made it difficult. A work colleague posted onto an Australian Facebook page seeking help for travel and got over 1.8K views and shares, with 885 responses offering help of lodgings and work and travel to the border!
As parents we were overwhelmed by the response from Australians who did not know our son but were going out of their way to help. We even had some Australians private message and ring us and even as I write this I am tearful at the total selflessness of the Australian people at such a difficult time towards our son.
3. Ruairi's 21st birthday
We were not with Ruairi to celebrate his big birthday and worried he would have no special day – believe me it’s a mother thing!
So on his birthday we rang to wish him a happy birthday having sent him cards from all the family and hoping he would at least have something to open on the day.
We were surprised as Ruairi said all the friends he had met at the surfers campsite had thrown him a surprise party with a magnificent cake, neon flashing lights, music, balloons and to top it all a half pack of Guinness!!! This was young backpackers who had worked together to throw a party of a lifetime for a 21 year old miles away from home ….. I cried when I saw the video as he was so happy and we knew he was experiencing far more there than we could ever have given him back home!
So YES – Australia is a great country to travel and technology is brilliant compared to the days we travelled when it was a letter to a PO Box! The pictures and videos he sends are fantastic and we are once again experiencing Australia but through a new lens.
When Ruairi phones we can hear in his voice that he has not regretted his decision and for us as much as we miss him, this has been the best experience and opportunity for him.
In your opinion, what are the benefits of travel to you, if any?
Travel is about living, it’s about learning. That adrenalin rush, the unknown and living on the edge. Being different and not doing the norm.
It’s about growing up, taking responsibility, developing, being mature, being inquisitive. It’s a curiosity that once you get the bug you will want more.
It provides fulfilment, it’s about having fun and there is so much to be explored and so little time to do it. So plant the seed early, never hold back and live the dream. Believe us you will never look back and regret it – it will shape you for the future that no text book can teach you!
What advice would you give to parents who are nervous about their young adult “children” travelling to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa?
The best advice we can give to parents from our experience is to allow them to travel. Encourage that inquisitiveness, give them the reassurance and let them know it’s OKAY to go. Never hold them back.
As someone once said to us – it’s the greatest compliment as parents, on how you have raised your child if they want to experience what you have done. You have helped developed and shape them into the young confident adults they have become and you now have to allow them to spread their wings while always reassuring them home will be there for them no matter what.
They will go through highs and lows but they will be able to work through it and you will see them develop into a very confident and mature young adult.
They will meet similar minded young people on their travels and each encounter helps develop them while they form lifelong friendships. As parents it is our responsibility to advise and support them but never hold them back and we very quickly will learn they are more responsible and mature than we give them credit for.
For us Australia was the best country for our son to go to – it has so much to offer him and 6 months into his experience it has not let us down!
A big Thank You to Fiona & John Devlin for sharing their amazing travel story and for the insight they provided as parents.