I was spending over a month living with friends and their children in Suffolk Park near Byron Bay, avoiding nits, going for runs on a beautiful, wide sandy beach and getting in the water whenever the mood took me. I was also rather unsuccessfully searching for work.
I made friends with other backpackers, people I hitchhiked with and via CouchSurfing. I went climbing and met a good little crew of mixed souls, friends of my friends took me out (out of pity or novelty, I’m not sure), and I drank and danced and hung out on the beach until the early hours with groups of lovely locals and traveller types.
It was when I realised that it was the third time in less than a week that I was sneaking into a dark, quiet house that I thought: I need to be a bit careful. Comments had been made about my love of sleeping in. How it was like living with a teenager. And although I just needed to let go, have some fun, I knew that I also needed to better fit with where I was staying.
Last year, apart from a stint in Lima where a great-aunt kindly opened her doors to me and a travel buddy, I hostelled it through Ecuador and Peru. Since I arrived into Australasia, however, I had been incredibly lucky to predominantly stay with a host of wonderful, familiar people. It was a much needed change from hostel life and the constant stream of strangers.
In a hostel, you can do whatever the hell you like: go to bed at 04:00am, miss breakfast, wake up at midday, sleep in the afternoon. Your bed even gets made for you. You can cook if you like, eat out when the fancy takes you. In short, it’s quite a selfish existence.
When staying with family and friends, their routines are already set. In order to stay on good terms, it’s pretty essential to be considerate and not treat their place as a hotel.
My friends in Byron are some of the most relaxed people I know. They wanted me to have fun, to enjoy myself. They were glad that I was making friends and socialising and seeing the area. They were grateful when I did the washing up, happy when I got involved with family stuff.
We came up with some agreements about what I could do to earn my keep. I picked the kids up from school every now and then, stocked up on groceries, cooked at least once a week. I did some babysitting, insisted the couple went out on a date or two whilst I kept the kids entertained.
It didn’t feel enough. From my point of view. Here I was, staying with people who knew me better than most I’d met on my journeying, chatting about things other than my next destination. I had my own space, somewhere to hang up my clothes. And a warm welcome to help me relax into stopping for a moment.
So I made sure to do little additional tasks: washing up, hanging up the laundry, little jobs around the house. I tried to be aware and helpful. I kept my room tidy, replaced toilet paper when it ran out. Small things to keep the cogs of the family machine running smoothly.
And then I realised: when I’m next settled somewhere, I’ll be in a position to do this for someone else. Maybe that’s what it’s all about. Being considerate in the now, but passing on the welcome in the future. Book in now for your bed.