Traveling Australia as a Teen

When I was a little girl I dreamed of seeing the world, I’m not sure where the passion came from because as a family we stuck pretty close to home. We toured around to different camping sites within a short driving distance and those were our vacations. Somewhere along the line I started to connect with kids my age from around the world with pen pals. From Japan, Africa, Australia and the USA, I made friends with girls and boys just like me living their lives in other countries. I learned about their families, friends, hometowns and countries and I soaked it all in, eager to know everything!

When I was 18 years old, I was chosen to take the trip of a lifetime through our local Lion’s Club program. Having had 3 different pen pals from Australia in the past, I had already developed a great love for the country and their animals and chose Australia as my destination! As far as countries go, Australia was an easy country for a first travel experience as their money, culture and language is so closely matched to our own. 

Heading to the airport, I really felt at peace. Despite the uncertainty of what lay ahead,  I had said good bye to everyone important in my life, I felt loved and I felt ready. 

Australia koala

From Koalas to Kangaroos

As a child, we read picture books and see tv shows with strange animals and if we are lucky we might get to peek at one from a distance at a zoo, but there’s nothing like meeting these creatures up close. I had a couple of chances to hold a koala in my arms (they are kind of stinky!) and I had the rare and extraordinary opportunity to bottle feed a joey (baby kangaroo) at the home of an animal rescuer. Pretty amazing right? I watched sheep being sheared, cattle being sold at a live auction and even got to hand feed parrots in the rainforest. I was lucky enough not to have encountered any of Australia’s more dangerous spiders or snakes, but standing side by side with an emu, I did come to realize that humans aren’t as big as we think we are. 

baby kangaroo



From Vegemite to Baklava

I come from a simple eating family that’s riskiest spice was salt and pepper. I don’t think I even ate a real taco until I was in my twenties so eating away from home for weeks at a time was a pretty big experience! I’m lucky that Australian cuisine isn’t too off the wall and they certainly enjoy a good cut of meat. I would far more appreciate the food today than I did back then. My host parents seemed a little grossed out that I preferred ground beef and my first host mom called the next to tell her she thought that I was really a vegetarian lol But I did try lamb for the first time ever (not bad), ate at my first German restaurant, and tried a delicious baklava while out at the mall with a friend, so I was up for trying some new things. I was excited to write home about the BYOB restaurants and snuck a box of Tim Tams (chocolate cookies) into my luggage.


From Wake Boarding to Pepe Le Pew

Being in another country allowed me to try all kinds of things I had never tried before. I went wake boarding with jelly fish (they didn’t tell me about those until after I got out of the water), hugged favourite characters at Warner Bros. Movie World, visited a pineapple plantation, took a treetop walk  in the rainforest and attended a footy game (Australian football). Every single day was a new and exciting opportunity to grow and challenge myself!

pepe le pew pm

From the Opera House to the National Capital

Getting my first look at the Sydney Oprah House was one I will never forget, but being immersed in a new country is more than the glitzy tourist attractions, it’s learning about all the quirky local historical sites as well. I spent time in Gundagai with the dog on the tucker box and posed for a customary photo in front of Tamsworth’s Golden Guitar. Visiting Canberra to see the parliament house was a treat and I even had the chance to attend the site of the 1988 World Expo in Brisbane. So much fun history!

dog on tucker box Australia

Making Friends

From houses on stilts in the mountains to poinsettias growing on trees, I saw sites I had never even dreamed imaginable. But the best part of traveling is the people, I met friends from all over the world on this trip, but it was the locals that made the trip special. Families who took me in and treated me like their own, who spent their time and money to show me their hometowns, cities and country. Teens who introduced me to their friends, who took me out for nights on the town, into their own classrooms and home for sleep overs. I felt like I belonged. Years later, one of the girls who’s family I stayed with was all grown up and living in the United States as an au pair. She came to visit me in my first apartment and I got the chance to show her around my country for a couple of days. I still keep in touch with the family on Facebook to this day! (hello Bocks!)


I did a lot of growing up in those six short weeks. I learned to put my faith in strangers, and trust in myself. I put fears and doubts aside and stepped way, way, way outside my comfort zone. I took risks, kept an open mind, and pushed myself more than I even realized at the time. I flew home with a renewed confidence that served me well for years. At 18, I was heading into my final year of highschool, applying for college and attending job interviews. I couldn’t have picked a better time to explore the world or myself. It’s still one of my proudest moments and greatest memories of my life. 


I travelled across the world to find Australia, more importantly, I found myself. 



  1. Great post! This is making me re-think my 18 year olds desire to go to Europe this summer. I was worried about her doing this on her own, but maybe it’s time to let go, right? I also went to Australia, in my 20s – awesome country. It looks like you made some lasting memories.

    • momvstheboys says:

      well, I did stay with host families, so I wasn’t just out there roaming around on my own! It’s a big decision though, my parents never really showed it, but I imagine watching their baby walk through the security gates, headed to the other side of the world was one of the hardest things they ever had to do!

  2. Looks like you had such a wonderful time, you were so brave to set out on such a great adventure at such a young age! I love were you said…” Despite the uncertainty of what lay ahead, I had said good bye to everyone important in my life, I felt loved and I felt ready.” Wow, very mature for 18…I’m not sure I’m that mature even in my advanced years…lol. I have always had a strong desire to visit Australia, have not as yet made it, but it is on my bucket list!
    {PS – Except for the curly hair you haven’t changed much at all, you still look 18!}

  3. what an amazing experience! I am way too much of a home body to ever do that; I have a girlfriend that did teachers college in australia, and she stayed! She has been living their for 8 years now. She brings me TimTams when she comes home at Christmas time ! (although I HAVE found them in our grocery stores!)

    • momvstheboys says:

      I know! I have started seeing the Tim Tams here in recent years, but you can also buy vegemite here too now!

  4. Thanks for sharing this story Jen!
    My cousin is in Australia for a year as a nanny (au pair) and she is loving her time there too.
    Do you think you will ever go back?

  5. What an awesome experience! I know exactly what you mean about having the travel bug; when I was ten, I saved up my money to go visit my aunt and uncle for two months in Cyprus. I got to see Egypt and Israel on that trip too and it was one of the best times of my life. Australia is one place I’ve never been though; I really hope I get there one day now!

    • momvstheboys says:

      lol you had a lot more money than me at 10! lol sounds like an amazing adventure!! Now we have to plan a trip together!!

      • Ha! I actually started saving at eight, so it took two years, and my mom matched the money I saved. That was also back when kid’s plane tickets were about a third the price of adult tickets; gosh I miss those days! And YES, we do!! Somewhere completely exotic!

  6. My husband went to Australia a couple years ago and had an amazing time. I have pics of him with koalas and kangaroos and am so jealous! Lookls like an amazing adventure!

    • momvstheboys says:

      what?? he didn’t take you with him? Was it for business? I am always jealous of my hubs travel for work

  7. One of my college roommates spent a semester in Australia. I still regret not going, too!

  8. What an incredible experience!! I would still love to visit Australia. I thought that koalas were actually not as friendly as that but there you are hugging one. How fun! My kids would be all over this. You look like you had a lot of interaction with the wildlife. Also my hair was as curly as that in high school too. LOL.

  9. what an amazing adventure! would LOVE to travel and visit Australia! i actually have a friend who is there right now. And I’m jealous every day of each of the pictures she shares. I so want to visit.

  10. Look at you!!! What an amazing experience. I have always wanted to visit Australia – it is on my bucket list not I just need to figure out how to get DH on the flight for that many hours

    • momvstheboys says:

      the flight is soooo long! it was my first time on a plane and it was about 24 hours in the air and 36 hours altogether with the connections.

  11. My sister is there right now for a school trip. I never got anything like that! She gets to go to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. What an amazing experience to have at such a young age.

  12. What a fantastic experience you were able to enjoy! We had a few exchange students in our town/school when we were growing up and I had two friends who went on exchanges to France and the other to Australia through the Rotary Club. The difference was these exchanges were a year long. I wish I had been braver back then and would have applied to do an exchange as well. I have a longing now to travel the world that I never really had when I was a kid. Although I did dream of going to Europe when I was a teen. Thank you for sharing your fabulous trip with us!

    • momvstheboys says:

      we had international rotary students in our school too, I was always fascinated to meet them! A year is a long time, but I think especially as a teen, so much goes on without you!

  13. Wow! What an amazing experience. I think it is so important for people to get the chance to travel in their lifetime. I’m going to have to look into something similar to this for my oldest daughter.

  14. Those photos of you as a teen are adorable! It looks like you had a fantastic trip to Australia and that the country left a real impression on you. I’ve always wanted to visit Australia, New Zealand, The Galapagos and other great locations…one day when the kids are older.

  15. What a great blog post. I spend my 17 year in Paris France. It was a great year for me. I do love your story. I love all the pictures and hairdo! Oh, to be 17 and 18 now…

  16. Linda Bragg says:

    What a great opportunity you had as a young woman to travel clear across the world to a country I love so very much!! As a child growing up, my mum (an aussie born lady!) talked and told me about her homeland and family over the years. I was mezmerized with all the stories. After I was grown up and married with a child and later on into my years, and a while after my mum had passed, I too had the opportunity to go visit my Australian family and see all the wonders of the down under land. It was a trip I will never ever forget….made many memories of a lifetime. I would love to be able to travel again and see and meet all the family that are now, all the cousin, small kids etc. but not sure if that will ever be….here’s to dreaming!!

  17. kathy downey says:

    Wow,so much excitement and so many amazing memories

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