As it’s been 24 years since I set foot in Australia, I wouldn’t even try to dish out travel advice for Down Under. Never fear, I’ve called in an expert! If you have any thoughts or ideas about going there–especially if you’re a female solo traveller–Michela Fantinel is a woman you need to know. (Note: in honor of this post’s subject matter and our guest’s Italian roots, we’ll be using the non-American spelling of “traveller” today.)
Founder of the popular Rocky Travel Blog, Michela is also the author of Your Australia Itinerary, a beautifully laid out e-book with a series of comprehensive itineraries that can be chain-linked together, depending on your time allotment. Plus she’s a good sport for having put up with my questions. I hope you enjoy getting to know Michela and hearing a few of her tips.
Let’s start with stats. How many times have you presented your passport for inspection at Australian Immigration? And what’s the combined number of months you’ve spent there?
Thanks for this question, it put a smile on my face! This is the first time I’ve thought about it. My first trip to Australia was in 2004 (on a gap year); since then, I’ve been 5 more times, but in my last trip (in 2015), I had to leave to get a travel-visa extension. So, in total, I have presented my passport 14 times for inspection at Australian Immigration. And in 6 trips over 11 years, I’ve spent 17.5 months travelling alone in Australia.
You cover a huge range on your site, from the best websites for domestic flights to specifics like tips for driving to Uluru. Which topics do you feel most “proud” about, because you’ve done such extensive research, or the information isn’t widely available elsewhere, or maybe you’ve covered it with a unique angle?
Definitely the female solo travel aspect is what I take pride in! My website covers a niche within a niche: Australia budget travel that’s tailor-made for the solo traveller. This isn’t covered much by other bloggers. Well, there are a few travellers and bloggers who have occasionally travelled solo in Oz, but I am the only female solo traveller and blogger aged 50+ who has travelled alone in Australia extensively, over a longer time, covering nearly 100,000 kilometers and writing about my travel adventures. In addition, the second topic is the local experience; meeting the locals is my specialty, and with this, I don’t only mean humans. As a wildlife warrior (volunteer work) and Australian Zoo member, I am a proud supporter of Australian wildlife.
You’re a fair lady. Not as in “Julie Andrews in the Broadway show,” but as in “a hole in the ozone can’t be good.” What’s your favorite sunscreen?
Oh, I like this question cause I struggle with the intense Australian sun. While I do use sunscreen, this is not enough to prevent burning. The outfit is essential: I wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants almost all the time. I prefer technical outdoor wear (with UV protection 50+) as well as a wide-brim hat and good-quality glasses to protect my eyes, too.
I know you’ve fallen in love with Australia. But have you ever fallen in love in Australia?
This question makes me blush… I am a shy person. 🙂 To tell you the truth, on my first solo trips in Australia, I wasn’t interested in meeting men. When you’re on the road, time is so short to get to know someone. But in the last years, I have taken the time to stay longer in a place and be more open to getting to know the locals. As a solo traveller, I naturally attract lots of locals, and as a woman, obviously men, too! While I have had short romances, I cannot really say that I’ve ever fallen in love…but who knows what the future will bring! :))
Tell us about a place there that really surprised you, good or bad.
There are a few. One I fondly remember is Cunnamulla in South Western Queensland. This is a small Outback town in the middle of nowhere with 1,500 inhabitants. It took me one night by train and an extra half-day of car travel to get there, and my first thought was “what the heck am I going to do here?” Well, it was a big surprise. This place that at first looked like a boring village unfolded a rich natural and cultural heritage that was astounding. Not only did it offer many outdoor activities, including natural spa pools with artesian spring water, and birdwatching spots, but it also had great infrastructure that you don’t expect in a remote Outback town, including a top functional hospital, swimming pools and recreational areas, a local airport to fly into Brisbane and much more! This was a real Aussie experience, full of life and great in spirit!
Your Alexa website rank in Australia is 6,233. That’s 3,774 spots better than the Australian prime minister’s website. Are you finding you’ve become an Australia expert even to the locals? (Note: your global ranking is also 237,530 spots higher than Kylie Minogue’s, just in case you feel like feathering your cap for a sec.)
Yes, that’s true. I have become an Australia expert to the Aussies, too. I’m not bragging about this, it’s a fact. Why? Australia is a big country. If someone living in a remote village in Queensland wants to travel to the other end of the continent, for example to South Western Australia, they are likely to Google for travel tips, and this is where Rocky Travel Blog comes in, with my travel expert’s insight that helps them craft their trip.
You’re all about low-budget, solo female travel, which is one reason I’m so happy to host you, because, like, YES, traveling alone is freaking awesome and really not very scary, and it doesn’t take a lottery pay-out to do it. Can you tell us your biggest budget tip for Australia? Also, who was the oldest female solo traveler you met there?
I would say make a plan, find out which expense has the biggest impact on your budget, and work around it. For instance, if this is accommodation, then try to reduce the cost and stay for free: Ask friends to host you, try out housesitting, look for a female-travel forum where you can be hosted for free, or stay in budget accommodation like hostels. Doing good research and pre-planning your Australia trip at least 4-6 months ahead is also going to save you lots of money.
Australia is one of the friendliest countries for solo travellers in the world. I personally never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. And there are many ways to save money even in an expensive country like Australia. I love travelling alone and enjoying the freedom that comes with it. Of course, it is natural to be apprehensive and feel worried about the first solo trip, but once you get started, it’s difficult to give up travelling alone, because it is very rewarding.
On my travels, I keep meeting solo travellers, mostly women, and to my great surprise, the majority are not young, they are aged 40+. The oldest was 80 years old, a mother of 4 and a grandmother. She turned into a solo traveller out of necessity. Somehow her travel plan didn’t work out, nobody wanted to join her on her road trip around Australia. So at the age of 76, she didn’t want to wait for a travel companion and went off on her own. What her children thought was going to be a 4-week road trip turned into a 6-month solo trip. This was such an amazing and inspiring experience, considering her age. But it also brings a clear message: Nothing is impossible, and limitations only live in our minds, when we stop dreaming. The funny thing is that she was so proud of this trip that she was planning her next adventure, at the age of 80. I loved her attitude, and I believe this serves as an example to many women wanting to venture out on a solo trip in Australia.
Michela Fantinel is the founder, blogger and publisher at Rocky Travel Blog, where she not only inspires independent-minded solo travellers, but also helps them create their travel itinerary and make the most of their time and money in Australia. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and on her website.
Do you have any Australia travel questions or tips of your own for Michela? Share them in the comments below!