Some of our friends have running bets on how long we’ll make it on the road. There’s the chance that we will drive each other crazy in three months, someone will get sick or injured in six, or the most likely in their minds, that we will run out of funds in seven. Oh, they of little faith.
After a financial rollercoaster ride courtesy of the inflating and bursting of the Nasdaq bubble in 1999-2001, I felt so nauseated by the thought of investments and returns and money in general, that I told Tom, no begged, Tom, to take complete control of our financial future and leave me to childrearing and bookwriting. I pay all the bills, keep track of earnings and spending, but want no part of the vicissitudes of markets and interest rates and retirement. Let’s just say I’m financially fragile. Tom has set a budget for the trip, which, as long as we don’t crash too many vehicles, will be generous and completely viable. We’ll return to the States a lot lighter in the checkbook, but hopefully a lot richer in family relationships and meaningful experiences.
Even though I know this, agreed to it, even pushed for it, I still get frazzled if I feel things are expensive. Most of the trip should be easy for me in this regard; there are only a few countries we will visit that will be comparable or potentially more expensive than the US. Australia is one of them. Our strategy was to rent a car, tour for a week, and then find a three to four week rental on the Sunshine Coast before heading off to China. First we rented the car (and bought the excess reduction)…way more expensive than home, but not horrible given the freedom and flexibility it will give us. Second we saw Sydney. We did the few things we wanted to do in a day and headed out for the countryside. We were slightly worried when the car rental agents told us motels might be hard to find. At home when we take roadtrips, it is not uncommon to roll up to a Holiday Inn at midnight, shell out $79 or $89 for a room with a minimum of two queen-sized beds, and move on by noon the next day. So when we pulled in to the aging Alpine Best Western in Katoomba at 9:30 pm and were greeted with a rate of $140 for one queen, a twin, and a nappy old couch, we were shocked. We cruised the town for alternatives, but after ruling out the places that were closed (about 90%) and the ones that were also saloons (the remaining 9.75%), we headed back to the Best Western. The caretaker had already retired for the evening (it was 9:55), but emerged to provide keys. Now, I know we’re going to be saying in some less than desirable places over the next 10 months, but I didn’t expect them in Australia. The room was clean, the bathroom was new, but the linens and fixtures could have been from 1965. This is what we could expect for $140?
The next night we found ourselves in the town of Dubbo and figured since it was more remote and lacking in mountains that the rates would be better. Hah. We plied the streets and got rates of $149 from fading and garish motels with names like The Scotsman, The Cattleman, and Palm Court Motor Inn. Then we spotted it–a bastion of taste and modernity in strip motel hell–the deRussie. It was the same shape as the others, but the resemblances stopped there. It looked more like a W than a Motel 6, sleek, clean, and tasteful. Tom went in fully expecting to hear $175, but with a little luck and a young lady who found his American accent endearing, he emerged with $125 and free Wifi. The room was gorgeous. There was no bad smell and they brought us breakfast the next morning. Ahhhh….
Just as our hopes rose and we thought things would get cheaper in towns without neighboring World Heritage sites or zoos, we stopped in the small college town of Armidale. There we paid a steep $140 for a room that was clean but was decorated in the early 1980s and wreaked of a deep fat fryer. The sofa bed was broken, so the kindly French proprietors gave us the room next door as well, but we were sure we would drain a significant percentage of our Australia budget on stinky, expensive motels.
We’re back in our optimistic frame of mind today, since we are spending two nights in the beach town of Coff’s Harbor, where we found a beautiful new 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom beachview apartment with a full kitchen, in-suite laundry, three gigantic balconies, underground parking, and pool, beach and BBQ access, all for the low, low price of…you guessed it…$140. Too bad it didn’t have a phone. This country confuses me.