dsc_0079Nesting my toes under the burning sand, I wondered what makes the beach so special. We flock to it every chance we get, but why? Is it that humming noise, the constant sound of the crashing waves, or that salty smell in the air? Or does gazing into the horizon provide us with a calm and serenity that we’re unable to experience in our daily lives?

At the beach, we watch a spectacle unravel that we can’t quite find anywhere else. That’s what it felt like, anyway, that October morning on Murrays Beach –  a long stretch of white sand and turquoise water tucked away between the bushes of Booderee National Park.

The warmth of the sun of my back and the taste of the sea on my tongue, I watched seagulls dip their claws into the water before flying away. I stared at a woman running into the ocean, her eyes glowing with excitement, like she was entering an alternative universe, one that swallowed her up and returned her to Earth once she’d absorbed a sufficient dose of happiness.

I believe I felt very much the same – energised, relaxed and content. A world away from the stresses of work and the cacophonous sounds of Sydney.

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Jervis Bay – the jewel of New South Wales

Gilles and I had come to Jervis Bay to escape the the city for a weekend. Only a couple hours drive away from Sydney, I was told it had some of the most beautiful beaches in New South Wales. The bay area, including its surrounding national park, home to Australia’s only Aboriginal-owned Botanic Garden, is filled with secretive beaches boasting clear water and the perfect shade of white sand.

Jervis Bay is also famous for dolphin and whale sightings (sadly I didn’t see any) and a favourite amongst sport lovers, who can enjoy a range of activities including kayaking, windsurfing, jet skiing and other water sports.

dsc_0149-2dsc_0051One of the bay’s main draws is Hyams Beach, a long stretch of fine white sand, the type you’d find in an hourglass.

Layers of ocean crash into the sand, revealing pools of varying shades of blue – like a droplet of blue ink had entered the ocean and diluted itself unevenly. Then there’s the neon green moss wrapped around rocks like pillowcases.

dsc_0046dsc_0041When I returned to Sydney on the Sunday, I couldn’t stop thinking about the sea, and why it made me feel a certain way. As a child, my parents wouldn’t usually choose to holiday at the beach, favouring mountainous landscapes instead. I’d spent a fair amount of time by the ocean during my backpacking trip in South East Asia, but I hardly took the time to reflect and try to understand the impact of the seaside environment on my wellbeing.

So I Googled it, and came across this article from Wallace J. Nichols, a field scientist who’s dedicated his career to studying the human-water connection. He coined the word Blue Mind (also the title of his book which I’m very much looking forward to reading) to explain this phenomenon.

According to neuroscience, we can alter our brain’s positive neural pathways by being near or exposed to water. This allows us to experience a meditative state filled with calm, peace and contentment with the present moment. In order words, our connection with the ocean makes the pursuit of happiness much easier.

When we’re at the beach, we don’t just exist – we live.

Jervis Bay_Australia

How does the beach make you feel? Do you feel happier and more relaxed in a different type of environment?

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Katoomba_Australia

As I stepped off the train, I felt the cold air on my face and hands, exposed and vulnerable. I hurried off the platform and unzipped my bucket bag, reaching out for the beige woolly frock I’d reluctantly borrowed from a friend. She warned me about winters in Katoomba and I should have listened.

I was unprepared for what came next, too. Google Mapping my through what felt like a 1950s ghost town, I wandered off into a narrow, lightless alley. Fleeing the echo of barking dogs and the clattering of broken glass trailing behind me (the tinkle of wind chimes, I would later learn), the only thing I could see was a canvas of glimmering stars, thousands of tiny lanterns floating on the surface of the night sky. I wanted to stop and stare at them but kept walking instead, aware of my disorientated state and the burning feeling in my fingertips.

Pacing from one wooden cottage to the next, I flashed the screen of my iPhone against the timber walls, searching for number 42. It was a laughable sight, really: a clueless city girl looking for her Airbnb in the middle of the night, unable to Uber herself out of oblivion.

There’s a reason for why I ended up there, and the reason is this: I decided to go to the Blue Mountains for a weekend. Alone.  I craved to get out of the city and the small town of Katoomba seemed like the perfect escape – old-fashioned, whimsical and quiet. Tucked in a mountainous region known for its array of Eucalyptus trees, Katoomba is a place where stressed-out Sydneysiders come looking for silence and serenity.

I eventually found the lodge I was looking for. It was a homely, wooden cottage built in the 1890s, adorned with white and nautical blue walls and loose wooden beams for floors. The house smelled of pines and smoke, a little bit like Christmas. I sipped on the vegetable broth my host kindly prepared me, thinking about the generations of strangers who’d lived in this house and sat in this same spot, gazing out of windowpanes and resting their hands against warm porcelain bowls.

I spent the weekend in that state of borrowed nostalgia, trying to make sense of how I was meant to feel about this town. Wandering from bistro-style cafes to dark, musky Irish pubs, Kindle in hand, I didn’t feel like doing much sightseeing apart from a trip to Echo Point where I watched the Three Sisters, a rock formation attracting hoards of buses and selfie-sticks.

On Sunday morning I stopped by the Yellow Deli, an Amish cafe where the waitresses wore thick round glasses and grey, skinny braids. Taking in the chilly breeze of the revolving doors while picking at my plate of maple syrup waffles, I felt a sudden urge to return to the city.

While I waited for the Sydney train on the platform, I wondered whether Katoomba’s charm wore off this quickly for others too; or if maybe, I just hadn’t given it a chance.

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Girl_Gone_Vagabond_Sydney

First and foremost: please excuse the radio silence. As you can probably gather from the title (or if you follow me on Instagram), Gilles and I are no longer travelling. Our little backpacking stint came to end (somewhat abruptly – more on that in a sec) and we moved to Australia.

We’ve lived in Sydney for six months and I’ve not written a single word about it. Shit.

Why? Honestly, I don’t know why. When I first started Girl Gone Vagabond, I spent hours writing about new destinations and loved Instagramming all the beautiful sights I came across on my travels. But when I arrived in Sydney, #reality creeped in (What if I don’t find a job?/How can the rental market be WORSE than in London?!) and I didn’t really feel like writing about these things.

Originally, Girl Gone Vagabond, was meant to be a travel blog – a resource with pretty pictures I hoped would inspire people to take the leap and make travel a reality. Since landing in Australia, I’ve not done nearly as much travelling as I could (and should) have. Apart from a couple day trips and a long weekend to Bali (more on that soon), I’ve not left Sydney for six months.

So what have I been doing with my life? Well, for starters, I’m no longer unemployed, yay! I was lucky enough to snap up an awesome role at a digital content marketing agency in Surry Hills. For a couple months, I threw myself into work big time, spending weekends recovering (read: devouring books and bottles of Sauvignon).

Why Australia?

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If you’ve been following my (mis)adventures, you’ll know that Gilles and I made the rather irresponsible decision to quit our London jobs and go backpacking in South-East Asia. If you’re new to GGV, you can read more about that decision here. We travelled the region for about six months, doing lots of bucket-list worthy things like pretending to be a pirate in Vietnam, exploring Angkor Wat and meditating with Buddhist monks.

These were the best six months of my life. But it didn’t last forever. In February, the world started to feel uninteresting again. I was in Bali and no longer noticed things I would have once been in awe of, like the intricacies of the Balinese rituals local women carried out daily.

While this trip was everything we wanted it to be, and more, it was coming to a natural end. There was no point in trying to extend it when Gilles and I both knew this nomadic lifestyle was taking a toll on us. We craved normalcy – a routine, a job, a permanent home.

Now, neither of us wanted to go back to London just yet (or Europe, for that matter) so we thought we’d try another option: Australia.

Being privileged enough to hold the right passport(s), both of us are eligible to work in Australia for up to year . We booked a one-way ticket to Sydney to try our luck. And we’ve been extremely lucky – we both found jobs we love and if everything goes well with our sponsorship application (fingers crossed) we’ll be allowed to stay in Sydney permanently!

What’s next for Girl Gone Vagabond?

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Now you might be thinking: what the hell is she going to write about if she’s not travelling anymore?  I promise I won’t go AWOL again. But things will be a little different around here. To be honest, I’m not totally sure in what direction this blog will be going but I’m excited to get started.

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Cameron_Highlands_Malaysia

Is Malaysia on your bucket-list? If not, do yourself a favour and add it now.

It might not be the most popular destination amongst South East Asia’s backpacking crowd (I have no idea why) but believe me, you won’t want to miss out.

Here are 7 experiences every traveller should have in Malaysia:

1. Blend in with Georgetown’s interactive street art

Georgetown is an Instagram addict’s dream come true. Not only is there cool street art everywhere, but you can actually become part of it. Yeah, that’s right. The city is covered with mural paintings of children by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, complete with real-life swings, motorcycles and other items you can pose with. Wanna know more about Georgetown? Check out this post.

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2. Admire Melaka’s salmon pink church

It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? Melaka’s Christ Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is definitely a sight you won’t want to miss. It’s the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia and one of Melaka’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s not difficult to see why – just look at that colour!

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3. Walk through tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands

The tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands are an extraordinary sight. They’re bright green and never-ending. Standing in the middle of it all is an experience like no other. You can also enjoy a yummy cup of local tea and delicious cheesecake in one of the restaurants nearby. Once you’re done exploring, that is.

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4. Get Fat

It’s official: you can’t come to Malaysia and not put on weight. There’s so much food everywhere and you can’t help but just Eat.Every.Single.Thing. Every region has its specialities, but Hainanese chicken & rice is a must-try no matter where you are. Gourmet food is also available, like this delicious fried duck that tastes ever better than it looks.

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5. View Langkawi from above

No visit to Malaysia is complete without a couple days on the island on Langkawi. Take the cable-car to the second highest peak on the island and enjoy the spectacular view. There’s also a pedestrian sky bridge nearby if you wanna take sightseeing to the next level.

Langkawi_Malaysia

6. Walk through Little India In Georgetown

Another Georgetown favourite (can you tell I love this place?). Little India is an assault to the senses, but in a good way. Think blasting Bollywood music, bright colours and overpowering spicy smells. What’s not to love?

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7. Stare at the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur

Last but definitely not least: the famous Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. They really are one (or two?) of a kind. The KLCC park behind the towers is the perfect spot to admire the towers in all their glory. Make sure you also visit at night to see them when they’re lit up.

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Have you been to Malaysia? Do you have any other experiences to add to the list? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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Georgetown_Malaysia_Street_Art

If you’re into the whole hipster scene (like I am, although I’m a total poser), you’re going to love Georgetown.

Georgetown is the capital city of Penang, an island off the coast of Malaysia.

It’s colourful, cultural and the dictionary definition of cool. Think quirky cafes, awesome street art and the obligatory bicycle shop.

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It might as well be the South East Asian equivalent of London’s Shoreditch neighbourhood, except it’s like 100 degrees hotter and you won’t see any dudes with questionable beards and even more questionable haircuts.

In other words, it’s basically hipster heaven (minus the hipsters). Here’s why:

Georgetown’s a multi-cultural melting pot

No hipster town is complete without a multi-ethnic community.

Much like the rest of Malaysia, Georgetown’s a multi-cultural haven, with Malay, Chinese and Indian communities living side by side.

Georgetown_Malaysia_Chinese_TempleGeorgetown_Malaysia_Chinese_Temple

It’s a place where majestic Chinese temples co-exist next to Indian DVD shops blasting Bollywood music all day long.

And speaking of Bollywood, the city’s Little India district is one of the most fascinating places you’ll set foot in.

Think non-stop music, bling-tastic goldsmiths and jewellers, pastel-coloured shop houses and overpowering smells of spice.

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There’s interactive street art everywhere 

There’s no shortage of street art in Georgetown.

The city is covered with wall paintings of children. These artworks have been commissioned by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic – he created them for the 2012 Georgetown Festival.

Georgetown_Penang_Street_Art

Georgetown_Penang_Street_Art

The best (and most Instagrammable) thing about these artworks is that they’re interactive.

Not only can you admire Zacharevic’s street art, you can also become a part of it. How awesome is that?

Georgetown_Penang_Street_Art

But Georgetown’s street art scene doesn’t just end there. In addition to Zacharevic’s wall paintings, the city walls feature 52 mural caricatures made of steel.

They were created by Sculpture At Work and depict funny situations and stories.

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Georgetown has a camera museum, and it’s awesome

Because every hipster town worthy of such a title needs a good camera museum.

And Georgetown’s got it covered. It’s famous Love Lane is home to Malaysia’s first-ever camera museum.

It happens to be the first camera museum I’ve ever been to. Bear in mind that I’m an avid photographer (in the making). What took me so long?

Georgetown’s camera certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s got everything from modern SLRs, vintage cameras and disposable old-school Kodaks (remember those?).

The museum also has a dark room – complete with lots of pre-digital age photo developing equipment you never knew existed.

The town is filled with cool, quirky cafes 

One thing’s for sure: you won’t go hungry in Georgetown. From Hawker Centers to Chinese restaurants to quirky little cafes, Georgetown’s got something for everyone.

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Speaking of quirky cafes: they’re everywhere, and they’re effortlessly cool. The food also happens to be effortlessly delicious.

Take Guang Seang, a cute little eatery serving mouth-watering Laksa (a famous Malaysian/Chinese spicy noodle soup).

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And of course, there’s Junk Cafe, where you can find the tastiest gourmet burgers in Georgetown. They just melt in your mouth. Seriously.

The inevitable #foodgasm can be enjoyed in the comfort of this awesome interior. It almost distracts you from the food.

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Final Thoughts

Georgetown is most definitely South East Asia’s hipster capital. Well, as far as looks are concerned, anyway. But one thing’s for sure. A visit to Malaysia isn’t complete without a couple days in Georgetown.

Have you been to Georgetown? What did you think of it? 

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